But once again, we need to see this through the background of Paul. When we see a redemption theme in Paul’s writings, he was speaking about the beginning of this gospel story, the paradigm by which he and all Jews understood the work of Christ. That paradigm was the Exodus.
In the Exodus, the people of God were purchased. They were saved and brought out of bondage and into a new land. In this new land, they received Torah, God’s wisdom to dwell securely and renew their relationships, not only among themselves, but in the nations around them. They were bringing forward Adam and Eve’s commission of shalom to the world.
That is, Israel’s redemption wasn’t just personal, it was as a group, with a group assignment to impact the world. When Paul spoke of redemption, this was what he was speaking about. He was asking how this Hebrew paradigm would be fulfilled. He noted the Hebrew hope, evoked by the Exodus from Egypt. This hope had somehow gone very wrong in Hebrew history. They had gone into captivity, even in Paul’s day, under Rome. How was God going to put it right? How was God going to use the Hebrew people to fulfil his purposes in the world? Paul saw the gospel of Christ in relation to this question.
To the Hebrew people, the Exodus reflected strongly upon the creation in Genesis 1. In that creation, God rolled back the sea and the darkness. He brought order out of chaos. He made mankind as his priesthood, gave them a good land, and made it a temple for him to dwell in. From there, God’s humanity was to reflect his image into the world, bringing his ongoing wholeness to all life.
The creation narrative wasn’t just history, it was also written in a kind of Hebrew poetry. By parallelism, it spoke to Israel of their own calling. By bringing them out of Egypt, God was once again rolling back the waters (this time, the Red Sea) and overcoming the forces of darkness.
He was calling Israel to be his priesthood and tabernacling with them in their land, to renew the nations. With the Torah, they were to use God’s creational wisdom, his renewing power, of care for the stranger, to renew the poor. This would bring justice and therefore peace to the nations. This was the wisdom of the Law and the Prophets. “The fruit of justice will be peace.” New Creation
The Psalms repeatedly saw the Exodus as overcoming the powers of darkness, mixed with creational language to show God’s plan in making a new world through his people. Throughout the wisdom literature of the bible, like the Psalms, the Proverbs and Job, poetry was constantly used to reflect on God’s creational purposes. Primary in this poetic story, was the place of wisdom, knowledge and understanding in forming, and reforming, creation.
Paul launched into his prayer for the Colossian believers. He retraced all the themes of creation in that prayer. He spoke of their wisdom. In Hebrew thinking, when wisdom is mentioned, creation and the reforming of creation was the topic. Paul was speaking about the believers’ role in bringing rule and deliverance to our current world, reforming our creation in justice, living out the Adamic call in Colossae, fulfilling the purpose of the Exodus of Israel. Paul was saying that Jesus was the fulfillment of the Jewish hopes of new creation.
The use of the term wisdom, points not only to the commission of the church in the world, but also to our lifestyle. This wisdom, as we saw briefly in our previous section of these notes, refers to a wisdom of Christ. This wisdom is found throughout Christ’s teachings in the Gospels. His teachings showed how the promised land would come about. It would not be by force, for that would not change our hearts, and enmity would continually arise in a cycle, just like it did in the Old Testament.
It had to by the values of a new kingdom.
Paul used terms like “hope, reserved in heaven.” He didn’t mean the gospel was about going to heaven when we die. He meant the consolation we have, knowing we are reconciled to heaven, despite what we face on earth. This draws us on to live a life of faith and love, to live by the values of heaven now.
It’s like Jesus saying to Pilot, “My kingdom is not of this world.” His kingdom is for this world, but the values by which it thrives are not of this world. Otherwise, Jesus said, his disciples would fight for him. Reserved in heaven, means that the power of God will keep his church in the world, while we live out his wisdom in bringing renewal to our surroundings.
Wisdom of Reconciliation
This wisdom is seen throughout Jesus’ teachings. We live in a reconciliatory way towards our enemies, instead of treating them with force. Yes, this may mean our own cross, as it did with Jesus, but it brings into creation a new tone, and exposes the darkness around us. This is the light John spoke of, when he said that light shines in darkness and the darkness cannot resist it. John was speaking of the same kind of church Paul was writing about.
Jesus spoke about serving the man on the road to Jericho, Lazarus at the rich man’s gate, inviting our enemy to our table. In Hebrew culture, Jesus was following the Old Testament Prophets, about a wisdom that builds a new world. “Wisdom has built its house, and filled it with every good thing.” This Proverb referred to creation, and also forward to the life and teachings of Christ. By forgiving our enemy, by suffering and serving in return, we are God’s light of new relationships and thus new creation. This is what God is like. This is his wisdom.
When the bible speaks of wisdom, it is speaking of that which builds new community, which brings shalom to our world. The wisdom of God is simple. It is, “Bring in the poor and outcast and there will be peace on earth.”
Skill of Peacemaking
But it also takes skill. This is what the bible means by, “He teaches my hands to war, and my fingers to battle.” It is this battle of wisdom that builds peace. Anyone can destroy. To reconcile enemies takes skill. God wants to teach us the skill of redemptive living, even in hard places.
James spoke of this wisdom, to be lived if Jerusalem was to be saved in his time. He said, the wisdom from below responds by what seems good to one’s own personal advantage. The wisdom from above responds by what seems good for our neighbours, the “royal law.” This is where healing comes from. This is how a house is built and filled with good things. This is the wisdom that builds God’s temple, meaning God’s house, or renewed creation.
The Old Testament tabernacle was a microcosm of the universe. The tabernacle/ temple had depictions of the sky and stars of heaven and of plant life and animals on earth. It was the place where heaven and earth came together, where healing came to the nations.
And it was built with skill and craft. “See, I have chosen Bezalel son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah, and I have filled him with the Spirit of God, with wisdom, with understanding, with knowledge and with all kinds of skills.” (Exodus 31:2-3)
This was Paul’s prayer for the believers of Colossae, that God would fill them with wisdom, knowledge and understanding. They would be building God’s new house to dwell in, a place where heaven and earth come together in global healing.
Paul used terms such as “light, Spirit, word and darkness,” all taken from Genesis 1, to show that the church was God’s new creation project. The church was God’s restored Israel, returned from captivity in Babylon and Rome, redeemed by an everlasting Passover, to complete Adam and Eve’s creation project.
Paul then continued in Colossians to explain more about what it means to have our inheritance reserved in heaven. Christ created all the powers of the world. Coming to Israel as a man, he took on Israel’s death in exile on their behalf, and was restored in resurrection, for us all. This places him above all the powers that held God’s renewing people in captivity. He now rules above them, above Babylon, Persia, Greece, Rome and all the powers of our own time.
There is now no power on earth, or in heaven above, that can take away our inheritance in Christ.
But this doesn’t mean we will be affliction free. We may be persecuted on earth, but our inheritance is secured in Christ, by a higher power. As members of Christ, we also bear the afflictions of the powers, just as he did. In this way, the church also embodies God’s reconciliatory nature in the world he came to renew. This is how his renewal comes.
Image of God
In Col 1:24-25, Paul told the Colossians that he followed Christ’s afflictions, as the church brings a transformative service into the world. The same is outlined in Romans 8. The world is delivered from its corruption, during the church’s own sufferings. At the same time, the Spirit is working to transform us into the image of Christ. The image of God means the self-giving dominion that God showed us in Christ. He is bringing the church into this same image in the world.
Paul’s soteriology includes our redemption from the dominion of the powers, to become part of a family that bears rule in the world according to the image of God seen in Jesus Christ. This rule, depicted in the book of Revelation as sharing thrones with Christ, is lived out in service in the world.
It is a rule by transformative relationships, which is the true power of heaven that inherits the world.
“The meek shall inherit the earth.”
The soteriological project reconciles everything in creation. It is to bring peace to all things in heaven and upon earth. (Col 1:20) All things in heaven are reconciled. This means heaven itself, where God is. The Old Testament heaven, the heaven that in the fearful human mind was shut off from ourselves, has passed away. A new heaven has come. God has acted in Christ to reconcile our conscience with heaven, by revealing forgiveness, acceptance and love on the cross.
All other powers of the heavenlies are also reconciled to us. The accuser who ruled us through the law has been defeated by self-giving love. Now, with the law written on our hearts, we are empowered to live new reconciling lives, transforming the former powers which ruled over us: governments, cultures, religious traditions, patriotism, the dominion of all self-centeredness.
Our new power in the heavens, in the place of control, means we can reconcile all things on earth.
This is our relationships with others. We have a new reconciling living, the wisdom Jesus revealed to us in his teaching and life, by which we bring together a broken world for healing. We see this in the church in the book of Acts, setting a table where caring relationships become the chief priority, above all the former powers.
“And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.” (Col 2:15)
The word here for disarmed means to strip naked. It’s another one of the paradoxes in the kingdom.
It shows the way God fights. It shows that his weakness, or foolishness, in the world’s eyes, is wiser than man. It shows he overcomes by love and not by hate, or by the weapons of this world. It shows us the wisdom of his new creation, the armour that we ourselves are to wear.
When Christ was stripped naked, and hung to die as a slave, this act brought the destruction of the powers that ruled this world. This is speaking of spiritual, human government, and religious powers, that ruled the world in brutality and force.
First, the spiritual. Satan’s hold over us, the condemnation of the law, which ruled the human conscience, was shown to be a false power. Satan, “the great ruler,” was stripped naked by the cross. The love of Christ towards those who hated him, showed that God does not hold the law against us. This condemnation was shown to be a false power, by the love of God which overcame it.
Second, the human governments. Rome held itself to be a just and worthy ruler of the world. The crucifixion put this lie of our human empires on public display. It’s the same today. Any world power that claims to be doing justly, is measured by how the weakest and most vulnerable people in the community are being treated.
The cross uncovered the brutality of human power, compared to the self-giving love of the God of heaven. The nakedness of Christ stripped the powers naked, and exposed them before all history.
The cross showed Rome to be a false power. The cross has become the measure of all human leadership from that day to today. No single leader can escape that reality. The cross is the greatest renewing power in the world. The weakest action of God achieves the greatest good ever. Wisdom!
Third, the cross showed the nakedness of our religious traditions. These religious powers were laid bare on the cross. Though we claimed these traditions, in this case, circumcision and the laws of Moses, made us holy, the crucifixion of Christ displayed publicly their bankruptcy. The religious powers that divided us were seen for what they really were, our excuses not to serve the weakest and most vulnerable, who we instead cast out as sinners.
God is building a new creation today, by laying these powers bare before us, so we will embrace Christ and his self-giving wisdom, to love and serve our neighbour and enemy. This is all he calls us to do. This is his soteriology, his true salvation, working in our hearts by faith, and outward into our communities.