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Colossians 1 - IVP New Testament Commentaries

The New Exodus

The outworking of divine grace within the history of the faith community is first of all understood by Paul as God's rescue of sinners from the dominion of the evil one. The special vocabulary of this passage--"inheritance of the saints" (1:12), rescued us, brought us into the kingdom, redemption, the forgiveness of sins--employs the "terminology of conversion . . . which makes fit for service those who are unfit" (Schweizer 1976:50). Also, Paul is able to frame the experience of conversion by a familiar historical event (the exodus) and a particular people (the Israelites; compare Lohse 1971:33-35). Jewish religion seems a prominent source for the teaching of Paul's opponents in Colosse, and Jewish holy days and dietary rules continue to be observed by some believers there, so the apostle draws on biblical traditions that remind his readers that the authentic celebration of exodus belongs to those who are brought into the kingdom of the Son through the proclamation of the Christian gospel.

Paul's conviction that believers already realize the promises of God's future salvation--a "realized eschatology"--is actually informed by his "realized Christology": the true Israel (see Rom 2:28-9) enters the place where God's salvation is found because of what the crucified Christ has already accomplished for them. Characterizing the congregation as belonging to the realm of light, Paul sets up a contrast with the dominion of darkness (1:13), a metaphor for evil. That is, the church's rite of passage from darkness into light, out of sin and death into holiness and life, is through Christ's completed work. In Christ the new exodus of the true Israel has already occurred, and God's people have already entered their promised land to receive the good gifts of their Lord and Savior.God's Rescue Operation (1:13)

Paul's confession of God's gracious decision to usher the church into the promised land continues by specifying its result: God rescued us . . . and brought us into the kingdom of the Son. God's action is described in the aorist tense (has rescued), which suggests that the defeat of demonic enemies and the church's entrance into God's kingdom have already taken place. The verb translated rescue (rhyomai) echoes the Old Testament stories of God's intervention to deliver an embattled Israel from its enemies, especially the master story of the exodus, when God delivered Israel from the pharaoh's tyranny and the avenging angel. For Paul, the climactic act of God's intervening grace, which constitutes the church's Passover, occurred when Christ trusted God even to death. In a sense, the saving result of Christ's death reoccurs whenever a person trusts in Christ for salvation (compare Rom 3:22; 7:24--8:1).

The perverseness of sin is such that those who live within the dominion of darkness will consistently choose against God's good intentions for them. Sin is not simply rebellion against God; rather, it is the refusal of God's grace, which aims to bring the sinner from death into life, from bad news into good news. It would be absurd to think that God desires the ugliness of death or the self-destructiveness of sin (see Jas 1:13-18); God wants to rescue us from the terrible results of sin.

God's salvation, then, is a rescue operation, because sin imperils the redemption of the sinner. Sinful humanity is seduced by the fictions and falsehoods of the secular order, which promise that good things result from individual effort aided by technological advancement and that military superiority assures our national sovereignty and economic prosperity. According to Paul's teaching, the spiritual struggle we routinely experience is prompted by invisible forces that belong to two competing kingdoms. The evil one works to separate us from God (and thus from the transforming power of God's grace), while the other works to reconcile us with God (and so to participate with Christ in the wondrous results of God's grace). For those who belong to Christ's kingdom, God has triumphed over the powers of the evil realm; the sense of personal well-being we now experience results from our liberation from the evil powers.

Paul's worldview prevents the separation of spiritual from historical. Whatever happens in the spiritual and invisible realm will have its historical consequence in human life. Thus, God's triumph over the evil powers at Christ's death and exaltation has its current effect in transformed human lives and will have its full historical effect at Christ's return, when all of creation will be restored. While Paul imagines the church's salvation to be an exodus from one spiritual kingdom into another, the results of conversion are experienced and very real. This emphasis by Paul throughout Colossians is a very important corrective to the false teachers, who insist on the importance of heavenly visions (2:18) and earthly asceticism (2:20-23) as the means of divine grace. In fact, God has already done everything necessary in heaven (through the work of Christ on earth) to transform human existence, both spiritually and materially, personally and publicly.

One final comment about the kingdom of the Son [God] loves, which is the church's destination as it is liberated from the evil kingdom. Several expositors have suggested that this phrase alludes to God's promise made to David about his eternal kingdom (2 Sam 7:8-17, esp. v. 16) and to his subsequent coronation as Israel's king (see Ps 2:4-9). Paul recognizes that Jesus, not David, has established God's eternal kingdom and is the Son he loves (see Mt 3:17; 17:5). This implied meaning may be important to Paul's readers, if they have heard from messianic Jews in Colosse that the biblical David is the ordained pattern the coming Messiah would follow as David's son (compare Mt 1:1). Like David, Messiah would enjoy an intimate relationship with God and mediate God's rule over Israel. But messianic Jews believed that unlike David, whose disobedience prevented God from fulfilling the promise of an eternal kingdom, the coming "son of David" Messiah would mediate God's reign forever. Some Jews even believed that the Messiah's reign would be inaugurated by Israel's return from its spiritual exile in an "old age" of disobedience into a "golden age" of holiness. I think Paul understands the result of Christ's work in exactly this way (compare 1 Cor 15:24-28): those believers who are now in Christ have returned from their spiritual exile and participate daily in the "golden age" of grace, enjoying the pleasure of God.God's Forgiveness as Exodus (1:14)

Under the pressures of the crisis in Colosse (see the introduction), Paul's description of God's rescue operation modifies his earlier teaching. For example, Paul's futurism is softened by his emphasis on the new life believers already attain by the working of God's redeeming grace in Christ Jesus. Thus, believers now experience the reality of God's redemption as the forgiveness of sins. Earlier in his ministry, Paul spoke of human "sin" (singular) as a world force, "a power which found entrance into the world through Adam's deed and since then has exercised its tyranny over men" (Lohse 1971:39; see Rom 5:12--8:2; 2 Cor 5:16-21). When Paul uses the plural sins, as he does here, he means specific acts of disobedience and their real and terrible consequences. Thus the idea of redemption, which pictures slaves set free from the Roman slave market, takes on a personal and practical meaning as well: God rescues us from the results of our sinful acts which we experience in our daily lives and read about in our daily newspapers.

As a feature of Paul's retelling of the exodus story, God's gracious work in Christ liberates a true Israel from the consequences of their former rebellion against God, which had prevented God from transforming them in accord with his original intentions at their creation. Grace not only rights our relationship with God; it also redeems us from those actions that deny God access into our lives, so that God can heal us and help us along the narrow way that leads into the promised land.

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