Raised with Christ
Seated at the right hand of God
1. At the right hand of the Father
2. Seated at the right hand
Seek the things that are above
Hid with Christ
Paul’s got a great memory - and he expects his readers to have, as well.
If I’d been writing the letter to Colossae and was beginning the new sentence which opens this chapter, I’d probably begin something like
‘Now remember that we’ve previously seen that we’ve both died with Christ and been raised with Him through the resurrection, therefore...’
but he goes straight into a conclusive statement (Col 3:1 - my italics), writing
‘If therefore you have been raised with Christ...’
which doesn’t relate this conclusion back into the statements of the previous handful of verses. That is, the deduction which is being drawn doesn’t come as an inference of his words about ‘human precepts and doctrines’. We may say that the words stand as a contrast but they certainly don’t follow as a consequence and, perhaps, a more logical construction would have had the apostle write
‘But if you have been raised with Christ...’
to show how the fact of the resurrection stands opposed to the way of life which he’s just outlined. But there is a sense in which we can accept this conclusion as following on from what’s been written so long as we look back to Col 2:12, for the apostle’s one and only direct reference to the resurrection and it’s relationship to the believer (though, perhaps, we could also accept Col 2:13 and Paul has already spoken of Jesus and the resurrection in Col 1:18) and see this concluding thought - before he goes on to speak about the battle between the old and the new (Col 3:5-17) - as coming directly out of that.
But Paul’s observations about the resurrection don’t stop there for, as soon as he mentions being ‘raised with Christ’ he goes on to exhort the Colossians (my italics) to
‘...seek the things that are above where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God’
and so immediately leaves the resurrection behind to go on to see the ascension as being the fullest outworking and conclusion of His rising from the grave. In the Church, we often leave the ascension to one side and dwell consistently on the death and resurrection but, for Paul, the latter is the means whereby God the Father removes Jesus into a position of unequalled authority over the earth, second only to His own rule.
We aren’t looking at God being second in command to God, of course, but Man being restored back into His original place of having authority over the Creation (Gen 1:28 - and see my notes here under the heading ‘Man - created to rule’) where believers are raised with Him by faith into that same position.
We’ll say more on this in a moment but, for now, we need just to note that Paul’s conclusion seems to be more dependent upon Col 2:12 than it does on the few verses which immediately precede Col 3:1 and that, far from stopping at the resurrection from the grave as being the completed work of Christ, he sees the ascension as being vital to the full outworking of the purposes of God and to the salvation of the believer.
The ascension is so much an integral part of the work of Christ that I’ve already dealt with the subject on the web page entitled the same in my ‘Cross’ series of notes here. Some of the following observations have been taken from these and redeveloped to apply more specifically to the verses under consideration.
Raised with Christ
Col 3:1 - adapted from here
If we’re united with Christ in a death like His, then we become participators in the full provision of the cross (Rom 6:5a, Col 2:11). If we’re united with Christ in a resurrection like His, then we become participators in all of its provision (Rom 6:5b, Col 2:12).
Similarly, if we’re united with Christ in an ascension like His, then we become active participants in all that it has effected for us. Notice that Col 3:1 states that
‘If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God...’
and that, far from being a temporary arrangement that can now be put to one side and forgotten, Paul goes on to speak about the present condition (Col 3:3) that
‘...your life is hid with Christ in God...’
We would immediately interpret the phrase ‘raised with Christ’ as referring to the resurrection and as a reference back to Col 2:12 where Paul has previously been dealing with the event but, looking at the context, we see that the relevance of the words applies to the ascension which followed for Paul writes concerning the believers (Col 3:1) that they should
‘...seek the things that are above, where Christ is’
which cannot refer to the resurrection. Colcar writes
‘The christian...has experienced a radical change of spiritual environment and this should effect his whole mode of life. Having been raised with Christ, he now moves in a new sphere...Normal human ambition is in terms of this world. But the one who has been raised with Christ sees things from an eternal perspective, and so should aim that his life on earth should be dominated by the pattern of life seen in the glorified Christ...to “seek those things which are above” is to aim at emulating the characteristics of the Christ in glory’
These three foundational concepts of the single work of Christ are summed up in Eph 2:5-6 where Paul writes that
‘...when we were dead through our trespasses [the solution in the cross], [the Father] made us alive together with Christ [the resurrection]...and raised us up with Him and made us sit with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus [the ascension]’
and which refers us back to Eph 1:20-23 where the intention of God is shown through Christ’s ascension. It’s important to realise that just as Christ is
‘...far above all rule and authority and power and dominion...’
‘...He [God] has put all things under His feet...’
so the believer participates in that exaltation and position if they live in the reality of being ascended with Christ. If we’re united with Christ then we’re co-ruling with Him, viewing events from a heavenly perspective with Heaven’s authority to change situations to obey the will of Jesus.
Notice also Heb 12:22-24 which talks of believers as already living in Heaven (Mount Zion) so that earth is more a foreign land than our security that we can call ‘home’ - that the Church has often made itself very comfortable and forgotten that where they are is transient and to be used for the advancement of the Kingdom has been true of a great many believers but, if we truly understood our spiritual position and began living in its reality, we’d soon forget about beautifying our buildings and get on with heavenly matters.
To be a christian, one must be living in the provision of the cross. All true christians live in the cross’s reality, yet not all christians have experienced or are living in the provision of the resurrection.
Even fewer live in the reality of the ascension. It seems a matter of fact that there’s a progression in a christian’s life from the experience of the cross to the resurrection and through to the ascension over a period of time - but this needn’t be so! Peter, on the day of Pentecost, preached the three-fold provision in Christ as one work (Acts 2:14-39) and this is how it should be today.
I’ve hinted above at this re-siting of believers from residing on earth to being united and resident with Christ in Heaven as being indicative of the believer’s authority over matters on earth - and so it is.
But Paul’s argument in Col 3:1-4 isn’t to point out to his readers that they should begin to exercise that authority but to encourage them, firstly, to realise the fallacy of living by earthly regulations and commandments (as in Col 2:21) and, secondly, to turn their attention onto heavenly matters instead.
This will have practical outworking in the exhortations of Col 3:5ff to leave behind the old, earthly lifestyle and to live, rather, in the reality of the new nature that was placed within them when they first came to know Jesus. The consequence of being in Heaven, though, is the forsaking of earthly matters which have no relevance to the life united with Christ.
We would do well to remember this as a guiding principle in our own lives.
Seated at the right hand of God
Col 3:1 - adapted from here
Paul doesn’t develop any theology or teaching with regard to the importance of Jesus being seated at the right hand of the Father in Heaven except insofar as it relates to the believers in Colossae and the outworking of their own lives on earth. But it will be beneficial to us if we pause for a moment and consider the phrase that the apostle uses and how it tells us something about Jesus Christ.
1. At the right hand of the Father
Various Scriptures inform us that Jesus is now at the right hand of the Father (Mtw 26:64, Mark 16:19, Acts 2:33, 5:31, 7:55-56, Rom 8:34, Eph 1:20, Col 3:1, Heb 1:3, 8:1, 10:12, 12:2, I Peter 3:22). We therefore need to determine what this statement means by referring to other Scriptures where the meaning appears to be straightforward.
Firstly, Gen 48:8-20. Here we find Jacob (Israel) being brought Joseph’s two sons, laying his hands upon them shortly before his death and blessing them both. In Gen 48:17 we see Joseph trying to remove his father’s hands from off his children and swapping them over so that his right hand rested on the firstborn son, Manasseh, for it was the firstborn who had special rights concerning inheritance (see, for instance, Deut 21:15-17. Even though this law was given after the incident recorded in Genesis, it presupposes that some sort of extra honour was already being distributed to the firstborn within Israelite society - Manasseh therefore had the right to receive more than Ephraim).
But Israel prophetically saw that Ephraim would be greater than his elder brother, Manasseh (Gen 48:19), and so had deliberately laid his right hand upon the head of Ephraim.
The right hand is, therefore, a position of superiority over and above others (notice that in Gen 48:19 Jacob says clearly that Ephraim ‘...shall be greater...’) and of greater blessing than being positioned at the left hand. In short, the right hand is a place of honour above all else and all others.
Secondly, in Gen 35:18 we read of the naming of Benjamin. Rachel was greatly loved by Israel (Gen 29:18) so that his children by her he loved far more than the children of Leah, his first wife. When she gave birth to a child, Rachel called his name ‘son of my sorrow’ due to the pain of childbirth but Israel changed his name to ‘son of the right hand’ denoting honour and favour.
When Joseph had been sold in to slavery and the famine grew severe in their land, Jacob sent all his sons into Egypt to get grain but wouldn’t permit Benjamin to go (Gen 42:4) because
‘...he feared that harm might befall him’
Again, even though the brothers had obtained food for the family by leaving Simeon behind in Egypt as security that they’d return with Joseph’s blood brother Benjamin, Jacob refused to let him go (Gen 42:38) saying
‘...my son shall not go down with you...if harm should befall him on the journey...you would bring down my grey hairs with sorrow to Sheol’
though he had to finally relent under protest (Gen 43:1-15). This illustrates how much importance Jacob attached to Benjamin and why the translation of his name (the ‘son of the right hand’) was so significant, denoting honour above his brothers.
Thirdly, the phrase ‘the right hand of the Lord’ that’s frequently used in the OT (for example, in Ex 15:6 and 15:12) is a figurative way of expressing immense power. If God had delivered Israel with His left hand, the thought would be that He didn’t use His omnipotence, only a part of what was available to Him. But, because He loved Israel, He used all the power at His disposal.
So, the Bible speaks of God stretching out His right hand and delivering them from the oppressing nation. To use the right hand, therefore, is to use the fulness of one’s strength (see also Ps 98:1, Is 41:10).
Fourthly, Ps 16:11 speaks of the great blessing and provision that there is at God’s right hand for all His saints. In this context of OT Scripture, when David speaks of the Messiah as being seated at the right hand of the Lord (Ps 110:1), he’s saying that the Christ is to be given a position of great power and authority, a place of unequalled honour and blessing.
It’s these concepts that are at the heart of the NT usage of the saying that Jesus has been exalted to the right hand of the Father in Heaven. He’s been elevated into a position that can be neither equalled nor bettered. He is the supreme Head over all things - something which Paul has already stated in different words in Col 1:15-20. There’s no other position that can possibly exist that’s more elevated than the One that Jesus now occupies. Moore writes that
‘...to sit on the right hand is to occupy a place of the highest confidence and authority, and when spoken of a king, in oriental idiom, means to share his royal authority. In regard to the Person of Christ, it means that He was to have the highest majesty and glory placed upon it, and that it was to be invested with universal dominion’
Jesus’ position is therefore seen to be one of co-equal rule with God Himself. As this statement may confuse us with reference to the deity of Christ, a little explanation is required. There are numerous Scriptures where Jesus proclaimed Himself as being the self-existent God, YHWH (see, as a prime example, John 8:58 where He took upon Himself the revelation of God’s name as revealed to the Israelites through Moses at the burning bush in Ex 3:14) and where His followers proclaimed the same (Paul, a Jew, proclaiming Jesus as ‘Lord’ was the same as saying that Jesus is God for, at that time in Israelite history, the Jews would not pronounce the Tetragrammon - YHWH - for fear of taking the name in vain and, instead, used the Hebrew word for ‘Lord’ to denote Him. Paul’s use of the word, therefore, is more than saying that he considered Jesus to be his master) but, when we think of Jesus being elevated into a position of authority, second only to God, we’re thinking of Jesus in His humanity (that is, as a man) rather than in His deity (as God).
These statements aren’t saying that God has elevated Himself into a position where He has subjected Himself to Himself (?!), but that He’s elevated a Man, Jesus Christ, into a position of sovereignty that it had been His original intention at the start of Creation to do (see my notes on ‘Creation/Restoration of Creation’ in part 2 section 3).
We must view this elevation to God’s right hand, then, from the perspective of Jesus’ humanity and not His divinity.
2. Seated at the right hand
There are a number of passages that teach us that the ascension was a direct consequence of the crucifixion. These are significant because they demonstrate to us that the work of Christ shouldn’t be considered solely in terms of the death and resurrection but going on to be completed by His subsequent ascension into Heaven. We read, then, that (Heb 10:12)
‘...when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, He sat down at the right hand of God’
that (Heb 1:3)
‘...when He had made purification for sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high...’
and that (Heb 12:2)
‘...for the joy that was set before Him, [Jesus] endured the cross...and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God...’
Phil 2:5-11 alludes to this when it outlines the fact that, because of Christ’s humiliation, He’s obtained the exaltation (which could only have come through the literal ascension).
In all these passages it’s evident that the crucifixion of Christ cannot be complete without the subsequent exaltation of the Christ from earth into Heaven. Indeed, it’s noteworthy that, in all four passages quoted, not once is the resurrection mentioned, only the crucifixion and the ascension - not that the resurrection is being denied by both writers but because the ascension presupposes the bodily resurrection of Christ. Therefore Ephfoul on Eph 1:20 writes
‘To Paul...the cross, the resurrection and the ascension are considered as three parts of one great act of God’
It’s because Jesus Christ took the lowly place that He now occupies the highest place seated at the right hand of God the Father. Hebguth on Heb 12:2 accurately notes that
‘...the passion is seen as part of the path to the Throne’
Incidentally, this is the reason why the temptation by satan in Mtw 4:9 was a very real one for it by-passed the suffering of the cross for dominion of the world - and it’s also a valid point to note that the way of suffering (possibly through resisting temptation) often leads to the believer’s glorification in this life where he discovers more power after the time of testing than he does before (I Peter 5:8-10).
In each of the Hebrews passages quoted above, it talks of Jesus being ‘seated’ - not ‘standing’ (like He is in Acts 7:55-56 where He’s standing ready to receive Stephen’s soul) - at God’s right hand, the significance of which being that the work of redemption is now completed and finished - there remains nothing more to be accomplished. To be ‘seated’ is a position that denotes a rest from one’s labours and it’s this that’s in mind. It wasn’t possible that Christ could be referred to as being seated at the right hand of the Father until His work had been accomplished.
The writer to the Hebrews compares the Old Covenant way of sacrifice with the one sacrifice offered for all in Heb 10:11 in which he talks of the OT priests standing daily, offering repeatedly sacrifices that can never deal with sin, whereas in Heb 10:12 he goes on to speak of a single sacrifice so that Christ no longer stands offering but sits having accomplished. Hebguth on Heb 1:3 writes that
‘...the act of sitting...carries a strong sense of fulfilment, for a sitting position is more suggestive of a finished task than a standing position. Indeed, this emphasis on Christ seated...shows conclusively that the sacrificial work is done’
and, on Heb 8:1
‘The fact that our High Priest sits at God’s right hand enhances His status compared with that of Aaron’s line, whose priests could only stand in God’s presence, their task never finally completed’
Having accomplished the one supreme work of God whereby the world can be reconciled to Himself, Jesus has taken His seat in the position of supreme power and authority at the right hand of God in Heaven.
Seek the things that are above
We’ve already seen above that Paul presupposes that the resurrection wasn’t the end of God’s work in Christ and that the ascension was a hastily put together ploy to move Jesus out of the way - rather, he sees it as integral to His purpose of raising a Man into Heaven with the full authority that he’d been given at the very start of time (Gen 1:28) and which he’d forfeited through the Fall (Gen 9:1 - where it should be noted that the command to ‘subdue’ is deliberately omitted).
But, just as the believer has died with Christ and has been raised from the dead with Him, so too he must consider himself to be raised into Heaven just as He ascended to the right hand of the Father. That this speaks of the believer’s position of authority over earthly circumstances shouldn’t be missed but Paul’s intention in Col 3:1-4 isn’t to dwell or even hint at such a set up but, rather, to urge his readers to forsake earthly concerns and to concentrate on heavenly ones.
There are two commands by Paul which go together in Col 3:1-2. The first urges the readers to
‘...seek the things that are above where Christ is...’
and the second that they should
‘Set [their] minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth’
When we think of this idea of either ‘seeking’ or ‘setting the mind’ on heavenly realities, we tend to think in terms of Bible study or prayer, of evangelisation or attending meetings where the breaking of bread takes place. I’ve just asked my wife who’s sitting beside me reading a magazine what such phrases conjure up in her own mind - just to make sure that I’m not deluded - and she reckons it must refer to prayer, preaching and using gifts of the Spirit such as healing and performing miracles.
Either great minds or warped ones think alike - you can make up your own mind on the matter.
But not so Paul. He moves immediately on with a ‘therefore’ in Col 3:5 to speak at length about putting to death wrong conduct and attitudes and putting on the right ones which flow from the imparted new nature within.
Now I’m not saying that those things that we consider as being ‘seeking heavenly realities’ aren’t at all (Paul will outline some of these in Col 3:16) - what I’m trying to point out is that Paul’s primary application of the concept in this letter was to killing off the old nature and releasing the new in one’s own life which was to serve in contradistinction to the way of the false teaching which represented a danger to the fellowship (Col 2:4,8,16-23).
We’ll be looking at what it means to live out the reality of the believer’s position throughout our discussions on Col 3:5-17 (and beyond, as Paul gives specific instructions to groups of people within the fellowship) so his words here stand more as an introductory foundation from which specific details will be consequently outworked.
There are at least two other places in Paul’s writings where these two ways of earthly and heavenly living are mentioned and which give us other aspects of what it means to go after that which is of heaven at the expense of striving after that which is of the earth.
In Phil 3:17-21, he speaks of those who
‘...live as enemies of the cross of Christ’
and observes that their ultimate destination is destruction because (my italics)
‘...their god is the belly and they glory in their shame with minds set on earthly things’
There’s a very real sense in which the believer must be concerned with natural provision so that he continues to function properly, but the problem with being on the earth is that too often those things that we take for granted as being necessary elements of survival move to the centre of our lives so that we give more time to their construction than we do to the advancement of the Kingdom of Heaven.
When Jesus spoke about over-concern for the matters of earth (Mtw 6:25-34), he began with a word of observation that a man can only be committed to serve the one master - for the love of one automatically reaps a hatred of the other - and concluded (Mtw 6:24)
‘You cannot serve God and material riches [RSV has ‘mammon’]’
For Paul in the context of his letter to the Colossians, this is seen to be a contrast between the institution and observance of man-made rules and regulations (Col 2:20-23) and the outworking of the new nature which has been placed within upon conversion (Col 3:5-17) whereas, in Philippians, it’s seems more to be excessive freedom which gives liberty for individuals to experience whatever their heart desires (Phil 3:19) in contrast with the attitude that presses on to receive the resurrection from the dead but which holds true to all that has already been attained (Phil 3:14-16).
In both these passages, though, the idea of the return of Jesus Christ is integral to the appeal to seek those things which are above (Phil 3:20-21, Col 3:3-4) and which we’ll look at in the next section. For now, all we need to note is that, if Jesus is indeed seated in Heaven, if the believer wishes to seek Him, He must necessarily be a seeker of heavenly things and, if he’s looking to Heaven for the final outworking of his salvation, then it’s only by being concerned with those things of Heaven that can possibly guarantee that it will be experienced.
If the form of this world is to pass away (I Cor 7:31) then unity means destruction alongside it. The choice is a plain one and something that’s simple in its logic - if you buy shares in a company, you expect a dividend when it makes a profit but, if you invest in an organisation that goes bankrupt, you can’t expect other than to lose everything.
The conflict between following after things of the earth and things of Heaven is also the subject of Rom 8:1-17 where the apostle uses the labels ‘flesh’ and ‘Spirit’ to denote the two ways of living on the earth and seems to compare the former with the observance of Law. With a simple logic, he writes (Rom 8:5) that
‘...those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit’
and goes on to note that one leads inevitably to spiritual death and is hostile to God while the other guarantees life. This idea of the two ways of living is again tied up with right living where the man who is displeasing to God is the one who tries to please Him by law observance but the one who is acceptable to God is the one (Rom 8:13) who
‘...by the Spirit...put to death the deeds of the body...’
Again, the teaching is of the contrast between the human observance of law and right conduct - as it is also in his letter to the churches of Galatia. Paul goes on at some length to point out the insufficiency of the observance of the Law and asks his readers (Gal 3:3)
‘Having begun with the Spirit, are you now ending with the flesh?’
We may have been mistaken for thinking that all he’s concerned about is to remove them from the observance of the Mosaic Law - and the rules and regulations which were placed upon it - and to transfer them to the teaching of the Gospel which we would tend to interpret with a whole range of concepts depending upon our religious background.
But the apostle takes care to define the issue with regard to lifestyle in Gal 5:16-26 so that observance of the Law can be seen to allow for the manifestation of the flesh, and liberty in Jesus Christ is equated with putting to death such attitudes and, rather, demonstrating of the fruit of the Spirit.
Colwright puts it rather poetically but his words are good. He writes that
‘The old taboos put the wild animals of lust and hatred...into cages: there they remain, alive and dangerous, a constant threat to their captor. Paul’s solution is more drastic: the animals are to be killed...The old method of holiness attacked symptoms: the true method goes for the root’
The conclusion in Galatians (Gal 6:8) is that
‘...he who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption; but he who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life’
showing once more that legal observance is a matter of spiritual life or death for the follower of Christ rather than an incidental which really does no harm and which can be tolerated.
In summary, the believer is being exhorted to leave behind the concerns which he has over earthly matters and to fix his attention solely on the matters which are heavenly. What this seems to mean for Paul time and time again in his letters is that any observance of a written code - whether the Mosaic Law, regulations which have been drawn from it or rules which are simply based upon nothing recognised from God but the product of a man’s mind - should be forsaken, for it only promotes a manifestation of the sinful nature.
Rather, the believer is exhorted to ‘throw the rule book away’, to put to death what’s of the old age, of the flesh, and to live out the reality of the new age in which not only the believer is considered righteous because of Christ but he allows the new nature to cause them to be righteous.
Hid with Christ
Just in case his readers have missed the earlier part of his letter (Col 2:11-12 - perhaps they were late turning up for the meeting that morning. Perhaps one of the kids was screaming when they got to that bit of the message and they didn’t get time to turn their hearing aid up), Paul doesn’t rely simply on stating the positive aspect of their new relationship with and position in Christ. He reminds them that the reason for them forsaking earthly matters is that (Col 3:3)
‘...you have died...’
which points back once more to the crucifixion as its basis. We should take note here that the foundation of the ‘positive’ is the ‘negative’ - that is, one can’t speak about the benefits that Jesus Christ has come to bestow upon the believer unless one securely roots it in both His own and the believer’s death. We might like to think of ourselves as courageously moving forward, advancing the message of the Gospel and the reign of Christ into areas where His will has seldom - if ever - been done, but unless the basis of the Church’s action is cross based, there can be no thought of ever receiving what’s both resurrection and ascension based.
The Church’s social action and welfare programs can be seen immediately to resemble only the latter in most places where that sort of work is being done but, for the apostle, it wasn’t a matter of proclaiming (Col 3:11) that
‘...there cannot be Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free man...’
and of seeking to bring material benefits to each man and woman regardless of class or racial distinctions without first laying down the need for death to the old way of life (Col 3:5-10) which brought about it’s reality. If the cross is not central, the resurrection and ascension have no basis of reality and provision - it’s only as the believer experiences death that the logical necessity of the subsequent events propels them into the fulness of Christ.
But this isn’t the main thrust of these two verses - even though it’s the foundation upon which what’s about to be written is based. Rather, the insistence to both seek and set one’s mind on heavenly matters is that the position of the believer demands it. For Paul, it isn’t enough that the believer should consider himself being in Christ as if he was united to Him but that (Col 3:3 - my italics)
‘...your life is hid with Christ in God’
where the idea of being ‘hidden’ (Strongs Greek number 2928) has the implication that what’s there is concealed and covered to protect it (as Kittels - John 10:28-29). Colcar sees the use of this word to denote that
‘...this new life is hidden from view’
and that the world is blind to the realities which have become the believer’s lot. While this may well be true (and Colbrien notes that it’s the usual interpretation placed upon it), there’s no follow through with this idea in Paul’s words. Rather, he goes on to look at the outworking of the implications upon the return of Jesus Christ from Heaven to earth that their present location achieves.
Colwright echoes this ‘hidden from view’ idea and notes that, although it seems natural that it would be hidden from the view of the unspiritual, it is
‘...often enough, [hidden] from themselves too’
This is, of course, quite true. The believer often fails to grasp the unique position in which he now stands either through a lack of perception as he approaches the Scriptures, as he thinks about the work of Christ or simply through never having thought about it - and so he continues to live more ‘earthly’ than ‘heavenly’.
But, as I noted when I dealt with the first half of Col 3:3, the lack of the centrality of the cross in the believer’s life may be one of the main reasons why someone who confesses faith in Jesus Christ never goes that one step forward to think about the heavenly realities.
After all, if the old hasn’t been crucified and removed, why would there be a need to look for something new? The problem, then, might not be as simple as thinking that, through no fault of our own, we fail to see the realities of the work of Christ - there may also be an aspect to our lack that shows up our relationship to Christ for what it is.
The teaching moves forward directly to the end of the age when Jesus Christ will appear. Paul writes (Col 3:4) that
‘When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory’
As we saw in the previous section, Phil 3:17-21 parallels the statements here that there are two ways of living and that the way of those opposed to Christ is to have
‘...minds set on earthly things’
But, no sooner has he outlined the false way, he goes on to note that
‘...our commonwealth is in Heaven, and from it we await a Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will change our lowly body to be like His glorious body, by the power which enables Him even to subject all things to Himself’
so that seeking after heavenly realities means that a harvest is reaped from Heaven. In Col 3:4 the idea is that, if the believer is securely concealed within Jesus then, when He appears in glory, so must they (I John 3:2). To ally oneself with the world brings upon oneself the same judgment that the world will reap on that final day but, to have one’s life in Heaven, means that eternality is guaranteed.
The stakes are raised to the highest possible level, therefore, with the believer’s choice to either continue pursuing those matters which are earthly (observance of rules and regulations in order to gain acceptance before God) or those which are the same concerns as the One who resides in Heaven.
The choice is one of either following after the concerns of the new age which has already been inaugurated or of continuing in the old, something which has already raised it’s head in our discussions concerning ‘Suffering’ in Col 1:24 (see here under the heading ‘The Suffering and the Glory’). Although the two ages overlap, the believer must be concerned to choose the new so that, when the old is finally concluded, all who are firmly rooted in the new will remain immovable.
Jesus is also called here ‘the life of believers’ (not ‘the life given to believers’ but the life itself of believers) which is no more than what Paul has already stated earlier in the letter in Col 1:18 as a parallel truth to Him being the source from which the entire Creation finds sustenance (Col 1:17). Colcar speaks of Jesus as being
‘...not only the author of [the believer’s life]; He is its constant source of support and supply’
and we would do well to remember that Jesus is continually portrayed as no mere incidental to the continuance of a believer’s life but is fundamental as Author, Sustainer and Concluder of all things (Col 1:16 - where I’ve dealt with the phrase ‘to Him’ in the previously cited notes).
The believer isn’t seen as being on his own following initial conversion but, as with all his past writings in this letter, the all-sufficiency and the believer’s dependency is once more being proclaimed though, at this point, it stands as an aside to his more specific teaching of the return of Jesus and the position of the saints in glory with Him.
In closing, I note that Colbruce ends this section of Colossians with the statement that
‘With this reaffirmation of the christian hope, the apostle concludes the more strictly theological section of the letter’
meaning that, from Col 3:5 until Col 4:6, his words become more a matter of ‘ethics’ or lifestyle than attempts at founding the believers in Colossae onto a firm basis of belief. However, the subsequent verses are only possible if they come out of the previous words - that is, the basis of a man or woman’s reaction to put to death the old and to follow after the new can only come about if they fully perceive the implications of the work of Jesus Christ.
Otherwise, the danger is that their ‘service’ becomes, as Paul has already hinted, a continuation of the old way of earthly rules and regulations which don’t find acceptance with God. Theology and lifestyle are inseparable concepts, therefore, and shouldn’t be treated as distinct and separate entities.
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