A present experience
Out of, in to
1. The authority of darkness
Redemption and forgiveness
We’ve already seen that, beginning with Col 1:9, Paul and Timothy continue with one long sentence until the conclusion of Col 1:23 and that the opening words have been centred around their prayer for the fellowship in the city.
With the conclusion of their desire that the church might give thanks to the Father, they now seem to be caught up with declaring His action in saving them (Col 1:12b-14) before moving on to declare truth about Jesus, the Redeemer (Col 1:15-20). The RSV certainly brings home the change of thought to the reader by beginning a new paragraph with the advent of Col 1:15 so that the two and a half verses under consideration here can easily be seen to be a small, individual section within the overall letter.
God’s saving act on the behalf of mankind is spoken of in terms of the old Exodus of the children of Israel from the land of Egypt and into the promised land of Canaan, though how much this is a deliberate ploy in the writers’ minds to allude to it is difficult to determine. After all, Jesus dying as a fulfilment of the Passover (I Cor 5:7) is necessarily imagery of a new Exodus, a fulfilment of the old which can be seen as a picture of the greater deliverance of all men and women by the blood of a better and more lasting sacrifice in Jesus.
Nevertheless, we will do well not to miss each allusion in these few short words.
So the reader can follow Paul’s thought of being considered acceptable to receive the inheritance of all God’s people (Col 1:12a) and of being brought out of the former place of residence and into the new (Col 1:13) by receiving redemption from the house of bondage (Col 1:14). Each of these are paralleled in the original Exodus and of God’s great work in taking a people out of slavery and into the freedom of serving the one true God.
Although there’s enough to deal with in the straightforward interpretation of the passages, we’ll also concentrate on the allusions in the OT which find a fulfilment in the new.
We also must note from the outset that we’re looking at present realities and not future hopes and dreams that might come about through the continued response of the individuals within the fellowship. Therefore the letter speaks about being qualified, of having been delivered and transferred and of having been redeemed as events which have taken place in the past but which have both present and future consequences. The life of the believer, then, isn’t - as one series of introductory notes I saw said
‘Pie in the sky when you die’
‘Steak on your plate while you wait’
A present experience
At face value, this verse has nothing much more to say to the reader than it’s Paul recognising that it’s He alone who’s done something about the future inheritance which will belongs to each of the Colossian believers on the final Day.
However, as we’ll see, there’s more to the verse than meets the eye and the reader should be careful to note the way certain of the words are used elsewhere in the NT which colours the passage with a slightly different interpretation than we’re use to.
Paul and Timothy speak of being ‘qualified’ to share in an inheritance where the RSV’s rendering of the Greek word (Strongs Greek number 2427) is an excellent choice, for Kittels, looking at the word group of which it’s part, defines it as a
‘...recognition of personal inadequacy [which] goes hand in hand with recognition of God as the source of all adequacy’
where emphasis is laid upon the work of God the Father necessary in a man’s heart and life for him to be able to share in the inheritance of the saints. But we shouldn’t think of personal inadequacy as being something that the early Church revelled in rather than to use it as a springboard to look at the work of God in their own lives.
In the only other place where the Greek word occurs, II Cor 3:5-6 records Paul as noting that he knows that the apostolic band isn’t
‘...competent of ourselves to claim anything as coming from us...’
where he could have gone on to bemoan the fact of his inadequacy and to find himself cast down by the great burden of the churches which had been placed upon him. Rather, he turns it into a declaration of the work of God, announcing that
‘...our competence is from God, who has made us competent to be ministers of a new covenant...’
Again, we often point out Paul’s statement (I Cor 15:9-10) that
‘...I am the least of the apostles, unfit to be called an apostle because I persecuted the Church of God’
and can often mimic his words in our prayers, by declaring our personal inadequacy for the tasks which seem to confront us both individually and corporately. But Paul doesn’t leave a truthful recognition of his unworthiness hanging in the air and allow it to be the final word on his condition. Rather, he turns the acknowledgement into a positive declaration of what happened. With a big ‘But’ (which should probably be written in capitals to contrast the two differing statements), he declares
‘But by the grace of God I am what I am and His grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I but the grace of God which is with me’
Paul is willing to declare his own shortcomings but he won’t dwell on them when they aren’t the final word on the matter. He goes on to declare the gracious work of God in his own personal experience and, in I Cor 15:10, notes how it inspired him to work hard as a response to that move, even feeling it necessary to point out that it had as its source God.
God’s transforming and helping hand isn’t seen so much as a once for all impartation of provision but as a continuing well from which the apostle needs to draw to be able to sustain those things that he’s busy doing.
In Col 1:12, the use of the word translated ‘qualified’ implies something that has already taken place and which has caused them to already stand as the rightful inheritors of the ‘saints in light’. So Peter also sees the inheritance as being a gift of God through the work of Jesus Christ when he notes (I Peter 1:3-4) that
‘By His great mercy we have been born anew to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and to an inheritance which is imperishable, undefiled and unfading, kept in heaven for you’
In my teaching notes on repentance, I noted the need of the work of God to convict men and women of their sin that they might have opportunity to turn to Him for forgiveness and healing, a sense of personal inadequacy in one’s own life as one is revealed the perfection of God shining the requirements throughout their own dealings in the world.
It’s far too easy for a man to stay at this juncture and think that such an inadequacy must be continually confessed and laboured. All a confession shows is that the work of God hasn’t been fully understood and seen to meet all the follower’s shortcomings, transforming them into a man or woman who’s completely acceptable to God because it’s He who provides the adequacy.
A follower does well to return to remember what sort of person he was and to reflect on the life which was lived before the cross in their own life but they shouldn’t live there continually. Paul should be the prime example to follow who used his own past unworthiness to catapult himself into a glorifying of God for His gracious work in his life.
Having said this, it must also be pointed out and remembered that the revivals of yesteryear have often started with a fresh conviction of sin when a group of followers have slipped away from a pure devotion to God and that such an experience shouldn’t be pushed against should it take place. The believer often needs to feel what his life is like before God to then go on and receive more of His grace and to commit themselves more fully to the revealed will of God.
What he shouldn’t do, however, is to continually live in a state of unworthiness where he gets little or nothing done because he’s bemoaning the fact of his inadequacy. Rather, such an experience should be a springboard for acknowledging God’s work and of going on to receive God’s transforming grace.
This ‘worthiness’, then, isn’t earned but given (Rom 5:15-16, I Cor 6:9-11), a free gift of God who had to do something on mankind’s behalf because of their inability to be able to do anything themselves. And yet we also saw above that Paul doesn’t rely on either the remembrance of what he was or that he thinks God’s grace directed towards him is the final word on the matter and that he has no responsibility. Rather, he notes (I Cor 15:10) that he
‘...worked harder than any of [the other apostles]...’
still founding that work as the continuing move of God by His grace within him. So, too, having been made worthy of the Kingdom of God and having been qualified by the death of Jesus Christ to share in the inheritance of God’s people, a believer is still constrained to live according to the Spirit and not follow after the old way of personal choice, proving themselves to be worthy of their calling. Therefore Paul warns the Galatians (Gal 5:19-21) that
‘...those who do such things [fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, anger, selfishness, dissension, party spirit, envy, drunkenness, carousing and the like] shall not inherit the Kingdom of God’
and to the Ephesians (Eph 5:5) he observes that
‘...no fornicator or impure man or one who is covetous (that is, an idolater) has any inheritance in the Kingdom of Christ and of God’
where the riches of God’s goodness even towards His enemies is expected to return a response of repentance (Rom 2:4). But, nevertheless, Paul’s declaration here is one of the dynamic actions of God in making His people totally adequate that they might gain acceptance before Him and so inherit the promises of God which belong to all God’s saints.
We should, perhaps, also note that Paul’s already spoken about the Colossians being saints in his opening salutation (Col 1:2) - what he does here is to give them grounds for seeing that they already have the reality of that label through a work of God and not through personal or natural ability.
That they already are saints is certain (Col 1:2) and that they equally share in the inheritance of the former and present day saints is equally sure (Col 1:12). The suggestion that Paul and Timothy now suddenly change the meaning of the Greek word (Strongs Greek number 40) from being ‘saints’ (that is, followers of and faithful before God) to angelic beings has little to commend it here and a unity of interpretation is to be preferred.
As Colbrien also observes, in every other place where the Greek word occurs in the letter to the Colossians, it’s use to refer to the believers isn’t in question.
The Greek word translated ‘inheritance’ here (Strongs Greek number 2819) is the normal one employed to denote a lot or, as Kittels defines it, an ‘allotted portion’. The main Greek word (Strongs Greek number 2817) translated as ‘inheritance’ by the RSV and AV, however, comes from the same group of words.
This latter word usually seems to conjure up the idea of a future possession that has yet to be received when used in the letters of the NT while the former is more specifically used when the present is in mind.
So, the latter word is used when Paul speaks about the Holy Spirit as being (Eph 1:14 - my italics)
‘...the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of His glory’
and, later on in the letter to the Colossians (Col 3:24 - my italics), Paul records that it is
‘...from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward...’
the idea of a reward speaking of a life of service rather than as the end result of a life which has striven to be saved and to achieve God’s required standard. Peter also speaks of the believer as having been born anew to a living hope and to an inheritance (I Peter 1:4 - my italics)
‘...which is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you’
(see also Acts 20:32 and Heb 11:8 for the ‘future’ aspect of the word).
It can be used, however, where the inheritance spoken of is thought to be something which can be received in the present in Mtw 21:38, Mark 12:7 and Acts 7:5 and there are three occurrences where the inheritance could be thought of in either present or future terminology (Gal 3:18, Eph 1:18, Heb 9:15).
The other word, however - the one which is employed in Col 1:12 - is normally used of that which is a present experience. We have to contend with its alternative meaning of ‘lots’ that are cast and which select an individual or group of people for a task but, even here, the thought is of choosing someone for a particular service in the present. This is how it’s used in Acts 1:26 (twice) when the disciples gather to decide upon Judas Iscariot’s successor and in Mtw 27:35 (twice), Mark 15:24, Luke 23:34 and John 19:24 where it’s Jesus’ garments that have lots cast over them.
In each of these cases, however, it’s the present selection of a person to a current function or the present possession of an object that’s being determined. Equally in the present is the idea of Peter’s words to Simon the magician (Acts 8:21) when he tells him that
‘You have neither part nor lot in this matter for your heart is not right before God’
where the allotted portion is refused to be given to him because of the attitude of his heart before God. I Peter 5:3 is also a place where the ‘allotted portion’ of the elders (that is, the sphere of influence that they have within the Church) is being spoken about and where they’re urged to be examples to the flock.
It’s perhaps being too certain to interpret Acts 26:18 in terms of a present reality as well but, when Paul speaks directly to king Agrippa concerning his own experience of Jesus and the Way, he speaks of his own ministry in terms of bringing the Gentiles to a place where they might
‘...turn from darkness to light and from the power of satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in Me’
It’s this ‘place’ which Paul notes that the Colossian believers have already received in Col 1:2 in his opening salutation and which we’ve already noted Paul as commenting on in Col 1:12 that his readers share in a similar inheritance with these other ‘saints’. The more natural way to interpret this verse, therefore, is not to see the mention of either the ‘saints’ or the ‘inheritance’ as something which Paul and Timothy envisage as being in the future and to be received at a later time or, ultimately, upon the believer’s death.
Rather, he’s speaking of a present experience where followers of God are tasting the inheritance which is theirs as a birthright. This also seems to be confirmed by the mention of ‘light’ and through a comparison of Acts 26:18 where Paul notes his ministry is one of turning the Gentiles ‘from darkness to light’ in the present day.
Perhaps, then, we need to reconsider this verse from the perspective of the believers already being a part of the number of the saints, of already experiencing their inheritance and of already participating in ‘light’. The present or current qualification of the Colossian believers isn’t meant to secure them into a future inheritance but a present one, confirmed by the present experience noted in the subsequent two verses - even though the basis for them is an event in the past.
It remains for us, therefore, to try and come to some definition of what the ‘light’ is - if that’s the correct understanding of the verse that it’s being ‘in light’ which describes the substance of the believers’ inheritance - Colbrien sees these last two words as being affixed
‘...with the whole phrase which precedes it’
and is best taken to be a descriptor of the substance or type of the inheritance which they’ve been qualified to receive and experience. So ‘in light’ shouldn’t refer primarily to the saints who’ve died and gone before them and who now live ‘in’ the light of God’s glory in Heaven but to the substance of the inheritance which is ‘in’ light.
Colwright (with Colbrien) translates the verse that the Father
‘...has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light’
where the italicised words seem to be a pure fabrication to enable more of an interpretation of what Paul and Timothy are intending by their words than a strict word for word rendering of the Greek. Colbruce also attempts an interpretation by translating the last phrase as
‘...in the realm of light’
making it a place or area over which light is thought to rule.
It’s best to simply stay with the more straight-forward translation, however, as the RSV renders it and attempt an interpretation of the inheritance of the saints which can be described as being ‘in light’.
There’s no doubt that the contrast between the concepts of light and darkness have been present in the Bible from the opening words (Gen 1:4) and that the fabric of the universe seems to have been sown with this contrast between two mutually exclusive states (for, once there’s light, darkness is consumed and dispelled) but that it was apparent that it could be used to provide a framework for man to understand the difference between both doing what was right and that which was wrong or opposed to God’s will for him. That God saw that both light and darkness were ‘good’ shows the neutrality of the original created order (Gen 1:18) and points towards only a concept that can take upon itself either intrinsic good or evil by its context (Job 30:26).
Darkness was also frequently used to speak of a barren or difficult time through which God’s people were travelling and, in it, could look to God not only to be their ‘light’ - their source of comfort and protection from the calamity of those days - but to bring back the light of their fortuitous experience by His direct action (Job 29:3, Ps 18:28, 112:4, Micah 7:8).
Of Jesus it was also written that in the land that had been considered to be forsaken by God - a land of darkness - a great light would arise and be seen (Is 9:2, Mtw 4:16) where the light seems to be paralleled with God’s unmerited favour in doing a work in their midst which was a response of God’s character rather than a reward based upon the people’s righteousness.
It’s this ‘light’ which John sees as shining into the darkness of the world and of not being overcome by it (John 1:5) where the ‘light’ is defined in the previous verse where the writer comments (John 1:4) that
‘In [Jesus] was life and the life was the light of men’
This life, the presence of God, is seen clearly in this place to be representative of the concept of ‘light’, the Psalmist also bringing this to mind when he proclaims (Ps 36:9) that
‘...with Thee is the fountain of life; in Thy light do we see light’
Light as a symbol of God’s presence is also the driving force behind Jesus’ proclamation that He’s the light of the world (John 8:12 - see my notes here under the heading ‘The Illumination of the Temple’) where the ceremonies which were taking place in the Temple at that time were speaking to the Jews of the return of the glory of God into the Holy of Holies to take the place of residency that had been made for Him there. Jesus also equates light with life in this passage which, as we’ve seen, is how both Old and New Testament writers understood it.
From the Book of Acts onwards, we also find the contrast between light and darkness and the call of the Gospel upon men and women to turn from the latter to receive the former (Acts 26:18, Eph 5:8, I Peter 2:9) and, for believers, to forsake the works of darkness to live in the light (Rom 13:12, Eph 5:8, I Thess 5:5).
In the following verse to Col 1:12, Paul also continues to speak of being delivered from the dominion of darkness and transferred into the Kingdom of the Son which heightens the contrast being made. Light, then, in the context of other places in the Bible, seems to be indicative here of the presence of God which brings spiritual life to mankind in response to the message of the good news of the Kingdom.
Col 1:12-13 also parallels Acts 26:18 fairly closely in which God is quoted as sending Paul to preach the Gospel
‘...that they may turn from darkness to light [Col 1:12b-13] and from the power of satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins [Col 1:14] and a place [the ‘inheritance of Col 1:12b] among those who are sanctified by faith in Me [the ‘saints’ and of Col 1:12b]’
Although we’ll be looking at the allusion to the Exodus in the next section, we should, perhaps, note that the inheritance which was given to the children of God in the Old Covenant was a piece of land called Canaan which they eventually went in to take possession of but that, in the New, it becomes none other than God Himself - the one possession of a believer which can alone guarantee the possessor eternal life and present light in their lives.
But it wasn’t without witness in the OT of the way that God would form the New Covenant, the fulfilment of the promise to Abraham that (Joshua 13:33 Pp Deut 10:9)
‘...to the tribe of Levi [the priests] Moses gave no inheritance; the Lord, God of Israel is their inheritance...’
so that, in the new priesthood of all believers (I Peter 2:9), the inheritance can be seen to be fulfilled in the spiritual descendants of the priestly tribe of the flesh who serve, not according to the observance of a written code, but in obedience to the Spirit of God Himself.
And, as we’ve previously noted, Col 1:12 is the more likely to speak of a present experience of the inheritance than a qualification to taste only of something in the future. Although the fulness of the promise awaits the end of the age, there’s still the promise which experiences (Heb 6:5)
‘...the powers of the age to come’
here and now. Knowing God’s presence and the consequences that that brings with Him is based firmly upon God’s qualifying His followers through the work of Jesus Christ and of allowing them to participate in a measure of the fulness of their final inheritance.
To have God is to have everything - and it’s this which is the believer’s possession.
I’ve already noted in the previous section the contrast between the old and new Exodus which Col 1:12 seems to demand to be made and the perfect fulfilment of the promise given to the Levites as now rightfully falling upon all men whom God has ‘qualified’ - a clear indication that the reception of the promises of God isn’t through the natural line of those related to Abraham by the flesh but those who are related spiritually to him by sharing a similar faith and who are joined supernaturally to Jesus. Here, we need to note a few other concepts which have not yet been covered.
The inheritance Abraham went out to receive was the land of Canaan but it wasn’t to be given directly to him but to His descendants after him (Gen 15:13-16, 18:21, Ex 32:13, Heb 11:8). This is the land that God came to bring the Israelites into from out of the bondage of Egypt (Deut 6:21-23).
God’s great act of redemption through the Passover - and the other acts of judgment - wasn’t because of the Israelites’ righteousness or natural worthiness, but based on God’s love for them (Deut 7:7-8) and on the commitment of God to keep His promise to their fathers to bring them in to His inheritance (Deut 9:4-5).
The first Joshua had caused His people to inherit the promised land (Deut 1:38) - the second Joshua (the Hebrew form of the name ‘Jesus’) has also caused His people to inherit the land promised to them through His work on the cross, qualifying them to share in the inheritance that belongs to all God’s saints (Heb 4:1-10). Colbruce is correct, then, when he writes that
‘...the inheritance in view here belongs to a higher plane [than an earthly inheritance] and a more enduring order than any terrestrial Canaan’
The Church is the Body of Christ that presses on in to lay hold of more of the inheritance of Jesus, their promised land, tasting of the future inheritance by faith and bringing it into the present (Heb 6:5). For a long time, the Church has envisaged itself as being a group of believers travelling through the wilderness of the world and ‘crossing the Jordan’ upon death to receive their final inheritance.
However, the NT pictures the new believer crossing the river upon conversion and of continuing to take increasing possession of that which has been promised until, on their final day, they enter into the fulness of that inheritance.
For example, it’s plain that followers have been promised the future inheritance of eternal life (Mtw 19:29, Mark 10:17, Luke 10:25, 8:18, Rev 21:6-7) but, equally so, they’re spoken of as having already passed from death to life (John 5:24, 8:51) where a relationship with God is eternal life now (John 17:3).
Likewise, believers are promised the future inheritance of an imperishable, resurrected body (Eph 1:14 Cp II Cor 5:4-5) but also are to live in the power of the resurrection by their faith (Rom 6:4, 8:11, Phil 3:10). And, that they’ll finally be admitted into the Kingdom of God is certain (I Cor 6:9, Gal 5:21, Eph 5:5) but that they live in the Kingdom now is equally true (Col 1:13, Heb 2:8, I Cor 15:25-27).
Like the children of Israel who first began experiencing their own possession of the land when they dispensed with the manna and started eating of the fruit of the land (Joshua 5:12), so too God’s people under the New Covenant begin to experience their inheritance even before they’ve fully taken possession of all of it.
Out of, in to
I make no excuse for not liking the RSV’s translation of this verse. It seems to obscure the seemingly very deliberate allusion to the Exodus and also renders one of the Greek words with one which seems totally unwarranted. It runs
‘[God] has delivered us from the dominion of darkness and transferred us to the Kingdom of His beloved Son’
whereas, with the words which underlie the text, it would seem better to translate it
‘[God] has delivered us out of the authority of darkness and transferred us into the Kingdom of His beloved Son’
The first two italicised words are the Greek word ‘ek’ which, as Vines observes, has the primary meaning of ‘out of’ and goes on to contrast the preposition with ‘apo’ by noting that ek is usually used to denote
‘...a starting point...from within...’
Whether or not this holds true in all of its occurrences in the NT is not as important as seeing that, in Col 1:13, the point being made is that those believers had once existed within the ‘authority of darkness’ and so needed to be removed from within its grasp. This twin concept of viewing salvation as being something which brings a man or woman ‘out of’ in order that they might be brought ‘in to’ is important for the reader to be able to fully grasp the allusion to the Exodus where God took a people out of bondage and in to a place where they were set a liberty to serve Him.
1. The authority of darkness
The ‘authority’ that the Colossians have been delivered out of also needs to be defined before the entire phrase can be explained, for the AV translates it with the word ‘power’ which, in the present day, conjures up a different concept. We may speak about a policeman having the authority of the State as he goes about his business but, when he comes against a situation which is far stronger than his own resources, that authority needs the backing of a power which will act in unity with the authority invested in him and so overcome the opposing force.
Vines notes that the Greek word (Strongs Greek number 1849) primarily denotes
‘...freedom of action, right to act...’
and then, consequently, authority. Colcar pulls away from many commentators’ interpretation of the word as meaning ‘power to act’ by observing that the word
‘...is normally used in the NT in the straightforward sense of authority exercised over someone’
Kittels, on the other hand, comments that the word
‘...denotes first the “ability” to perform an action. It then means the “right”, “authority”, “permission” conferred by a higher court’
and goes on to interpret Col 1:13 as being indicative that
‘God’s will also encompasses satan’s sphere of dominion...’
seeing in the mention of ‘darkness’ a reference to the rule of the enemy who is envisaged, it would appear, as setting up his own area of rule under which men and women serve. Colwright also speaks of
‘...the harsh rule of the prince of darkness...’
as being the antithesis of the sovereignty of God’s Son, the contrast in Col 1:13 where the believers are said to be transferred in to Jesus’ Kingdom probably being taken as a fitting comparison which suggests this interpretation. The Dead Sea Scrolls are also cited in support of this dualistic set up within the world where both God and satan rule over certain people who are opposed to one another. That satan has authority over men and women and seeks to influence them against the will of God is not denied in the NT - rather, it’s firmly upheld - but the concept of what this alternate kingdom is doing in the world as commented on in the DSS is opposed to the concept revealed in the NT in one of the main works of Qumran cited. In 1QS3 we read that
‘...all the children of falsehood are ruled by the angel of darkness and walk in the ways of darkness’
which we would go along with to a certain extent. But the following statements (my italics) that
‘The angel of darkness leads all the children of righteousness astray and, until his end, all their sin, iniquities, wickedness and all their unlawful deeds are caused by his dominion in accordance with the mysteries of God’
seems to consign freewill to the rubbish heap. Satan seems to be raised up for the attribution of mankind’s sin rather than to put the blame fairly and squarely at the operational will of an individual. As such, there’s a grave danger in seeing the reference to ‘the authority of darkness’ in Col 1:13 as being indicative of an alternative kingdom. Colbruce also cites Luke 22:53 where the only other use of the exact phrase is used in the NT to suggest that a kingdom of satan is being referred to (he also notes John 14:30 as being an explanation of the arrest) but the end of the verse which has Jesus speaking to those who’ve come out to arrest Him reads (my italics)
‘...this is your hour and the power of darkness’
where the freewill of those who stood opposed to Jesus is being noted and where ‘the authority of darkness’ could equally well be a label put upon the way of life which stood opposed to the will of God and which was being demonstrated in their action of seeking to oppose the One who was actively doing the will of the Father.
But we should also stop a moment and look at Acts 26:18 - previously quoted above and noted as running parallel closely to Col 1:12b-14 - which records Jesus as saying that Paul would
‘...turn [men and women] from darkness to light and from the power [authority] of satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in Me’
While we might accept the mention of the authority of both satan and God as being directly comparable to what we’ve just read in Col 1:13, there’s the problem that darkness and light seem to stand independently as two contrasting concepts and which are mentioned before either satan or God - indeed, they seem to hold slightly differing meanings.
In other words, although we must interpret the new position of the believer as being in the Son’s Kingdom as one where Jesus is getting His will done on earth now, the contrast is with a place of darkness where God’s presence is rejected and where sin and rebellion holds pre-eminence. Instead of seeing in the mention of the ‘authority of darkness’ a reference to satan’s sphere of influence (which it can do by inference), it seems best to take Paul and Timothy’s words here to be referring to the authority of sin, the considered right of the secular world to choose to go its own way apart from God - with or without the stimulating force of satan.
Darkness is portrayed as the master with the right of freedom to act within a life and situation but out of whose authority the believer has now been removed. Colcar parallels this verse with the message of Romans chapter 6 observing that
‘...we might say that, in Paul’s view, sin has a legal authority over those who, as law-breakers, have become slaves of sin’
where slavery to do what’s against God’s will is on the basis of a freedom to sell oneself over to that way of life rather than through an unopposeable force that dominates individual lives to the point where rebellion to its demands becomes impossible. Man is a slave to sin solely because he operates his freewill along that path of choice.
In this way, the contrast is with a way of self-determination imposed by the desire to sin as opposed to the way of obedience which comes about as a response to the demands of the Gospel. Colcar’s decision to label this alternative way of life as a ‘rebel kingdom’ is absolutely correct, even though we may then allow to be conjured up in our own minds a sphere of rule over which satan reigns as king and who is almost being held responsible for the action of men and women - as some believers maintain when they insist that they were ‘forced’ into such an action or that ‘satan made them do it’. While satan must be removed from having the responsibility for our lives when we’ve allowed ourselves to live those ways, he should also be seen to be the originator of temptation. Colcar goes on to comment (my italics) that
‘The realm in which we were slaves is described as “darkness”. This implies not only the absence of light but opposition to the light...’
and, therefore, the contrast with the inheritance of the saints in light in the previous verse is the more striking. He also goes on that
‘It is not only a condition of being without God but of being against God’
It isn’t that the Colossians - or mankind in general - were simply born under the wrong authority and that, through no fault of their own, they’ve been condemned to a life of alienation from God. Rather, man’s life is knowingly served under the authority of darkness that permits or, better, encourages them to go their own way and to live lives that are at enmity with God.
If this were the end of the story there could be no hope for anyone. But God chose to qualify (Col 1:12b) men and women to be transferred out of their present position and in to the Kingdom of Jesus Christ where the Greek word employed to speak of this change (Strongs Greek number 3179) literally means ‘to change position’.
The implication is that the Father has altered the place in which the believer now operates, from one of rebellion against Him to one of obedience towards Him through an admission into the Kingdom of Jesus Christ, the loved One. This change of standing can only be achieved by a buying out of slavery, of a redemption of the believer from out of the hand of the master, and this becomes the subject of Col 1:14 where the action of God is further spelled out in the second half by expanding the word to mean the forgiveness of sins.
If the control of satan had been in mind in the phrase ‘authority of darkness’, we might well have expected Paul and Timothy to speak of a liberation from the hand of satanic forces that held the Colossians captive but, rather, the basis of the transference is redemption through the forgiveness of sin and the annulling of its consequences.
And, even more than this mention of ‘redemption’ is the word employed and translated by the RSV as ‘forgiveness’. As we’ll see in the next section, Colcar observes that, in the LXX, the word seems never to be used with the meaning given to it here but is used of the year of Jubilee in Lev 25:31 where it speaks of the release which comes at that time. In other words, both ‘redemption’ and ‘forgiveness’ direct the readers’ minds to a deliverance from the power and control of sin that had caused a rift to appear between God and mankind.
Satan has no reason to be introduced into these verses, therefore, and to envisage God’s hand of provision putting right the effects of man’s own freewill seems to be the bottom line.
As we saw in the previous verse and as we noted at the beginning of this web page, what Paul and Timothy here write about concerns the believer’s present experience. It’s not that the Father has made it possible for them to be transferred into a future coming Kingdom upon death or Jesus’ return but that, currently, they are still necessarily bound under the authority of darkness, but that they have the right of entry into the final outworking of the Kingdom of God because of their continued experience within its present outworking.
God’s qualification (Col 1:12) means something now and demands a continuing positive reaction in the life of the follower of Jesus Christ. Being in God’s Kingdom means doing God’s will, of establishing the decrees of the Throne throughout their own sphere of influence (for a longer explanation of what this Kingdom means for the believer and the three elements of a kingdom which apply equally to a secular reign as to God’s own, see my notes on the Feast of Tabernacles under the heading ‘The Feast of Tabernacles in the Present’).
Although I noted at the beginning of this web page that it’s not totally certain whether all the allusions to the Exodus that can be drawn out of the entire three verses were meant to be there when originally written, there seems little doubt that the mention in this verse of being brought ‘out of’ and of being placed ‘in to’ is not only deliberately done but is also a common enough expression within the first century Church to explain the significance of their conversion.
That the oppression which the Israelites experienced in the land of Egypt can be considered in terms of darkness seems plain from the experience which fell on Abraham in Gen 15:12 where the ‘great darkness’ seems to have been explained by YHWH in this way (Gen 15:13). It seems well paralleled, therefore, by the mention of the oppression which was exerted upon God’s people who, although they resisted the imposition of Egypt’s will upon them, still found resistance difficult.
Just as the Israelites were ‘brought out’ to be ‘brought in’ to the inheritance promised to Abraham (Deut 6:23, Ex 6:6-8), so individuals are ‘brought out’ from their bondage to sin to be ‘brought in’ to their inheritance in Christ, the seed promised to Abraham (Gen 15:14, Gal 3:16). As Colcar notes
‘We were liberated from bondage and led into the land of liberty’
where this latter concept shouldn’t be defined as a freedom which denies Jesus the right to get His will done but as a submission of service from sin to God - after all, mankind serves something throughout his life and the liberation which comes from God makes available the power to live righteously before Him.
Followers who were once the slaves of sin (Rom 6:17,20) - which is the authority of darkness and the power and sting of death (Heb 2:14, I Cor 15:56) - have now become the slaves of righteousness, having been set free from their former master (Rom 6:18,22).
Redemption and forgiveness
There are a few manuscripts which add the phrase ‘through His blood’ after the mention of ‘redemption’ but this is normally rejected as being a copyist’s error in repeating the phrase which occurs in Eph 1:7 and which would have been expected to have occurred here as well. Whether or not this is the case seems unimportant solely because the Ephesians’ text is certain to have centred the redemption in the shedding of Jesus’ blood and, by inference, the same must be implied here.
Indeed, Eph 1:7 runs closely to Col 1:13, speaking as it does of the redemption which is in Jesus, going to speak of the forgiveness of sins and concluding with the reason for man’s receipt of that forgiveness as being in the character of God, spoken about throughout these two and a half verses we’ve been considering where God is seen as the originator and initiator of what is the Colossians’ experience.
We should note, however, a clear difference between the two texts in that, while some translations use the word ‘sins’ in both places, they’re actually two different words even though they mean very similar things (Col 1:13 has Strongs Greek number 266 used 174 times in the NT while Eph 1:17 uses Strongs Greek number 3900 used just 23 times).
The words for both ‘forgiveness’ and ‘redemption’ are identical, however.
I don’t need to write very much at this point on the subject of ‘redemption’ as I’ve gone through a detailed explanation of the word on my web page and shown how the context of the first century is necessary to understand the fulness of its usage and meaning in the NT.
To summarise those notes, however, we should observe that the redemptive act had four specific elements which came together in many different situations to complete a redemption of either an object or person. As I wrote on that web page (italics added to show the four elements)
‘...the action of the redeemer by paying the ransom effected freedom from bondage, a release. Here we have the concept of redemption in one short sentence...’
As can be clearly observed, therefore, Exodus terminology is still being used and, in the context of the ‘forgiveness of sins’ which follows and the deliverance out of darkness and into light which has preceded, we can note that it has to do with the circumstances surrounding the dealing with of sin.
Man is seen as the slave to sin through a choice of his own freewill (John 8:34, Rom 6:15-23) but that a redemption has been initiated by Jesus Christ by the shedding of His blood (Acts 20:28, Eph 1:7, I Peter 1:18-19, Rev 5:9) so that a liberation from sin and a transference to obedience to God is effected (Rom 6:18,22, Gal 5:1).
One final point needs to be made here before we move on. Some manuscripts read (my italics)
‘...in whom we had redemption...’
and Colcar notes that the choice between this and the one employed by the RSV is
‘...one of emphasis, whether on the fact that in Christ’s death we were once and for all redeemed or that, in Him, we now have redemption as a present possession’
But the point is an important one and Colbrien observes that the evidence of the manuscripts is strongest in support of the translation ‘have’, speaking, as he notes, of ‘an existing reality’ which is in keeping with the other descriptions of God’s work which have preceded it. The believer’s life, then, is seen as having a present consequence of past action, where the setting free from committed sins through forgiveness is an on-going experience.
Colbruce starts his commentary on the phrase ‘the forgiveness of sins’ by describing it as
‘the companion blessing’
but this seems to miss the point. Forgiveness is an intrinsic and inseparable part of Redemption so as to stand or fall alongside it and we shouldn’t think of ‘another’ work of God but the consequence of what’s just been announced to Paul and Timothy’s readers. Besides, there’s no ‘and’ between the two phrases and it’s easier to understand the second as an explanation or the first than to take them as standing as two unique and separable concepts.
The word employed also needs careful consideration to understand its connection to the concept of ‘redemption’ seeing, as it does, imply a release from that which held something in bondage and a deliverance into freedom. The Greek word (Strongs Greek number 859 - aphesis) lying behind the English word ‘forgiveness’ is used seventeen times in the NT and is used as a companion to ‘sins’ or ‘trespasses’ in thirteen of these (Mtw 26:28, Mark 1:4, Luke 1:77, 3:3, 24:47, Acts 2:38, 5:31, 10:43, 13:38, 26:18, Eph 1:17, Col 1:14, Heb 9:22) and, in two more, it’s context seems to show that it must be referring to them even though it stands on its own with no immediate descriptor (Mark 3:29, Heb 10:18).
It’s the final two uses of the word which are significant, seeing as they both occur in Luke 4:18 where the RSV runs
‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me because He has anointed Me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent Me to proclaim release [aphesis] to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty [aphesis] those who are oppressed’
where the verse is a clear statement concerning a spiritual fulfilment of the Year of Jubilee through a quotation of Is 61:1-2 (see my notes on the Year of Jubilee). Concerning this Greek word, Colcar comments that it
‘...does not appear in the LXX with this meaning [of forgiveness]. It does, however, appear (for example in Lev 25:31) to describe the Year of Jubilee as being the year of release. To forgive is thus to release a man from the debt which he owes to God’
Kittels, however, does see it’s use in the LXX as meaning ‘forgiveness’ but their citation of Lev 16:26 as a proof text seems wholly inappropriate. There’s no doubt that the word was used not only in the NT but in secular Greek to denote a pardon for unlawful or offensive action but that it was also employed by the OT translators to speak of a release should alert us to the perfect companion that the word becomes for the preceding one of ‘redemption’ which implies a release from bondage.
This forgiveness of sins, then, is seen as the release from a bondage into which the Colossians had found themselves entrapped and from which there could be no escape unless a ransom price was paid on their behalf that would secure their release. The committing of sin, therefore, isn’t seen as some incidental in the life of mankind and neither as a minor aspect of what it means for a man to be converted into the Church of Christ.
The forgiveness of sins is a fundamental event which must take place to release a man or woman from their bondage of living against the will of God for their lives. Simply having the right ‘qualifications’ of church membership or of having gone through the ‘correct’ religious rites (like infant sprinkling, confirmation, baptism in water, confession, communion, mass and having death rites said over the corpse) are insignificant (and some of those in the previous parentheses are totally inappropriate, anyway) unless there’s been a work of God in the person’s heart to effect a deliverance.
And the forgiveness is seen to be much more than the washing away of committed wrong against God - it’s also seen as an inseparable part of what it means to be released. Therefore, Colbrien’s correct observation that the phrase ‘the forgiveness of sins’
‘...does not occur frequently in Paul’s writings’
needs to be balanced by the words he uses which must incorporate forgiveness as part of that work of God. While forgiveness is an essential part of what it means to become a follower, it remains only one work of the whole rather than the exclusive one.
One of the main descriptions of the Exodus that the OT writers used was the word ‘redemption’, especially so in the scroll of Deuteronomy. In Deut 7:8, for example, we read
‘...the Lord...redeemed you from the house of bondage, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt’
and, in Deut 15:15, the people are commanded to
‘...remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God redeemed you...’
(see also Ex 6:6, 15:13, Deut 9:26, 13:5, 24:18, II Sam 7:23, I Chr 17:21). The Bible, however, doesn’t seem to speak of the ‘ransom’ that was paid to secure the redemption of Israel from slavery, but it should be noted that the slaying of the Paschal lamb and the application of the blood saved them from the death of their first-born (Ex 12:12-13) and that it was through this final judgment that God broke the yoke of Egypt from off their necks and set His people free.
In the NT, we see that Christ, a fulfilment not just of the lamb but of the Passover (see my notes on the Passover under the heading ‘Christ, our Passover’ for a chart paralleling the fulfilment of the OT shadow in the festival), has been sacrificed on His people’s behalf (I Cor 5:7, Gen 22:8 Cp John 8:56), releasing them from the house of bondage, the enslavery to sin that rests upon each individual through the Divine judgment in the cross that effected the forgiveness of sins. Therefore I Peter 1:18-19 comments that
‘...you were ransomed...with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot’
where redemption terminology is seen to sit comfortably with the thought of a lamb which releases the people from their bondage to slavery. To give some parallels in the two events - of the OT Exodus and the NT deliverance from sin - we can note that it was the death of the first-born which was the ultimate price paid which secured the release of God’s people from slavery (Ex 12:12) even though we tend to think of the ‘release’ in terms of the lamb being sacrificed - while the blood of the lamb covered the people to deliver them from judgment (the death of the lamb was necessary - Ex 12:6-7, Rev 5:6, John 1:29, Mtw 27:45, the application of the blood saved - Ex 12:13, Mtw 26:28, I Peter 1:18-19), it was still the death of the first-born (Jesus being the first-born - Luke 2:7) which unclenched the fist of Pharaoh to secure their release.
This is why Jesus is seen as the fulfilment of the Passover and not simply as the Passover lamb.
The judgment of Egypt was also a necessary part of their deliverance - both of the ruler and the nation (Ex 12:12). In the NT, Jesus speaks of the cross as being a place where satan was to be finally judged (John 16:11) and Paul speaks of Jesus becoming sin for His people to take upon Himself the judgment of God that they might become God’s righteousness (II Cor 5:21).
While satan might be seen to be a type of Pharaoh who held some authority over men and women though their commitment to do what was unacceptable in God’s sight, freewill is still very much a part of the plight of mankind in the same way as it was by choice that the family of Jacob went into Egypt at the bidding of Joseph.
He who held the ‘power of death’ (Heb 2:14) - that power being ‘sin’ (I Cor 15:56) - needed also to be judged that his control over civilisation would be broken and that mankind would have the opportunity to experience a release from his tyranny and leading.
The dilemma in which every man finds himself is that he’s in need of redemption but is unable to effect it himself. Therefore the sons of Korah wrote (Ps 49:7-9) that
‘...no man can ransom [his brother] or give to God the price of his life. For the ransom of his life is costly and can never suffice that he should continue to live on for ever and never see the Pit’
and yet being led to prophesy in Ps 49:15 that this wasn’t the final word for
‘...God will ransom my soul from the power of Sheol, for He will receive me’
This clear proclamation concerning God’s great work of redemption shouldn’t be missed. The ‘power of Sheol’ is clearly sin (I Cor 15:56, Heb 2:14) and, by dealing with it, the grave no longer remains a barrier which should pose any fear to the believer. It seems, though, that the authors of the Psalm felt that their statement that God would redeem them was as unexpected as it was thrilling, for the translations note that, immediately following, there exists a ‘Selah’, a musical interlude which is normally interpreted as a time for the listener to think about those things which have just been sung. An old lady once defined the ‘selah’ in a meeting I was in as meaning
‘What do you think of that, then?!’
and this may well be the force of it. The thought of their assertion was so incredible that it needed careful contemplation upon, even though the answer couldn’t have been imagined at that time.
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