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Jesus as Embodiment of Fullness

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What are the characteristics of Jesus as described in the Book of Colossians? How should we view philosophy that isn't according to Christ? How are Christ and Christians "full"?

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Introduction

The book of Colossians is a great book for studying Christology. Multiple things are declared about Jesus in Paul’s writing to the Christians at Colossae.
In this lesson, we will:
Examine the different things that Paul says about the Christ
See Paul’s admonition against the philosophy of man
Note Paul’s description of Jesus as the embodiment of fullness
Examine our own fullness that is possible with Christ

Descriptions of Christ

Paul writes to the Colossians as those who have been brought out of darkness and into the kingdom of God.
Colossians 1:13 KJV 1900
Who hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated us into the kingdom of his dear Son:
It is in Christ that there is forgiveness of sins.
Colossians 1:14 KJV 1900
In whom we have redemption through his blood, even the forgiveness of sins:
Now, Paul will begin to give descriptions of Christ. Later, we will see the purpose that Paul has in giving the Colossians these descriptions. For now, let us notice what Paul says about the Christ.
We will do so by examining what has been called a Christological “hymn.” It may be that what we read in verses 15-20 of chapter 1 was being used as a hymn in the early church.
“We must also give attention to two great Christological “hymns,” Philippians 2:5-11 once again and Colossians 1:15-20. There has been considerable dispute over whether these were hymns already in use in the church, which Paul then adopted for his own purposes. If they are hymns which Paul utilized, they are indications of the church’s belief at a very early stage in its development.” Millard J. Erickson, The Word Became Flesh: A Contemporary Incarnational Christology (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1991), 35.
One argument against Christianity might be that the idea of Jesus being God developed later in church theology. However, if what we are about to examine in this Christological hymn was really a hymn in the early church, it shows that the idea of Christ’s deity was an earlier belief, not a later belief. Even if it was not a hymn in the early church, it is stated by the Apostle Paul at around A.D. 60, which would be only about 30 years after the crucifixion of Jesus.
Colossians 1:15 KJV 1900
Who is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creature:
Verse 15 - The word for image here is the Greek word “ikon.” We use the idea of an icon when we see an image that represents something, such as the silhouette of a man or a woman to let me know which bathroom to use. However, the idea of an object that resembles something is only one definition of this word. Another definition appears to be in use here in verse 15.

that which has the same form as someth. else (not a crafted object as in 1 above), living image

William Arndt et al., A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 282.
We might call the first definition we mentioned as this crafted object, or the first definition to which the lexicon is referring. A silhouetted image on a door is a crafted image that resembles the original. But the lexicon is telling us that is not the definition in use here. Instead, in verse 15, the icon, referring to Jesus, is the same form as something else, a living image. When we look at Jesus we are not seeing a crafted, graven image of God, we are seeing a living image of God.
Christ is also called the “firstborn of every creature.” This does not mean God created Christ and then Christ created the world. It means,

of Christ, as the firstborn of a new humanity which is to be glorified, as its exalted Lord is glorified

William Arndt et al., A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 894.
Colossians 1:16–17 KJV 1900
For by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him: And he is before all things, and by him all things consist.
Verse 16 - Jesus is the Creator.
Verse 17 - Jesus is pre-existent. He came before the universe. He is eternal. Not only is He the Creator, but all things consist by Him. The idea of consist might be phrased as “held together.”
“Then the hymn’s thought proceeds with the assertion that the same cosmic Lord is the unifying principle that establishes the unity of the cosmos and holds the particles of matter together. This is the sense of the verb “hold together” (sunestēken). As the center around which all things revolve and which gives coherence to the whole creation, he is the head or ruler of the cosmic body.” Ralph P. Martin, “The Christology of the Prison Epistles,” in Contours of Christology in the New Testament, ed. Richard N. Longenecker, McMaster New Testament Studies (Grand Rapids, MI; Cambridge, U.K.: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2005), 203–204.
Colossians 1:18–19 KJV 1900
And he is the head of the body, the church: who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things he might have the preeminence. For it pleased the Father that in him should all fulness dwell;
Verse 18 - Jesus is the head of the church, the saved. He is also first in all things.
Verse 19 - Jesus is fully and genuinely God.
“Two additional statements served as an especially powerful influence. One is the declaration in verse 15 that Jesus is the image of the invisible God. “Image” was interpreted as being not merely a copy, or a representation, but actual similarity of essence as a son is the image of his father; in other words, Jesus is God as is the Father. The other statement occurs near the end of the hymn: “For in him all the fulness (πλήρωμα) of God was pleased to dwell” (v. 19). What could it mean for all the fulness of God to dwell in someone other than that the person in question must indeed be fully and genuinely God himself?” Millard J. Erickson, The Word Became Flesh: A Contemporary Incarnational Christology (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1991), 36.
Colossians 1:20 KJV 1900
And, having made peace through the blood of his cross, by him to reconcile all things unto himself; by him, I say, whether they be things in earth, or things in heaven.
Verse 20 - Jesus is the reconciler of all things to Himself. When the creation rebelled against God’s commandments and sinned, we might describe it as being out of harmony with God or being in error. When Jesus died on the cross, He was able to restore the relationship between God and man.
To summarize, notice the different descriptions of Jesus that Paul has given:
Living image of God (v. 15)
Firstborn of the glorified (v. 15)
Creator (v. 16)
Eternal (v. 17)
Sustainer (v. 17)
Head of the church, the body of the saved (v. 18)
First in all things (v. 18)
Fully and genuinely God (v. 19)
This is an impressive resume. But why has Paul given the Christians in Colossae this long list of descriptions of the Christ. If they were already Christians, what was Paul’s motive?

Philosophy of Man

Paul’s lessons include both warning and teaching.
Colossians 1:25–28 KJV 1900
Whereof I am made a minister, according to the dispensation of God which is given to me for you, to fulfil the word of God; Even the mystery which hath been hid from ages and from generations, but now is made manifest to his saints: To whom God would make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles; which is Christ in you, the hope of glory: Whom we preach, warning every man, and teaching every man in all wisdom; that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus:
Paul is making known the mystery of God, which is Christ. The original plan of God to save mankind was carried out by Christ, and the mystery is now known.
Paul wants everyone to know about Christ so that they may be presented perfect in Him.
Colossians 2:1–3 KJV 1900
For I would that ye knew what great conflict I have for you, and for them at Laodicea, and for as many as have not seen my face in the flesh; That their hearts might be comforted, being knit together in love, and unto all riches of the full assurance of understanding, to the acknowledgement of the mystery of God, and of the Father, and of Christ; In whom are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.
He wants Christians to be “knit together in love” and to acknowledge the mystery of God. Remember from 1:27 that the mystery of God is “Christ in you, the hope of glory.”
So, why is Paul telling the Colossians this?
Colossians 2:4 ASV 1901
This I say, that no one may delude you with persuasiveness of speech.
The Colossians were apt to hear some persuasive things, but these things are not going to compare with what they can know about Christ.
Colossians 2:8 LEB
Beware lest anyone take you captive through philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world and not according to Christ,
The philosophy and deceit that the Colossians may hear is “empty” or “vain.” Why? Because it is according to human tradition and not according to Christ. Why does Paul want them to acknowledge Christ? So that no one can pull them away to something that does not have the impressive resume that Christ has. We might say that Christ’s resume is full, and the resume of the traditions of men are empty. If the philosophy and deceit is empty, then it is not according to Christ. Christ is not empty. He is full. He is the embodiment of fullness.
Colossians 2:9 KJV 1900
For in him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily.
“The pastoral concern in Paul’s mind is that the believers at Colossae were in danger of resorting to human wisdom and traditions (2:6–23) that were less-than-perfect foundations when compared to the fullness in Christ (2:1–5). In one of the most distinctive christological claims in the New Testament, Paul intends to show the inadequacy of all human wisdom and traditions in light of the fullness of Christ (2:6–23): Paul states that “in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form” (2:9; see also 1:19). Not only in his state of exaltation but also in his incarnation, Christ represented divine fullness.” Veli-Matti Kärkkäinen, Christology: A Global Introduction (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Publishing Group, 2016), 36.
We will see more about the fullness of Christ in the next section.
What type of philosophy was potentially going to lead the Colossians away? Paul may not specifically name a particular philosophy, but he can let the Colossians know that if it isn’t according to Christ, it can be rejected.
Colossians 2:16–18 KJV 1900
Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holyday, or of the new moon, or of the sabbath days: Which are a shadow of things to come; but the body is of Christ. Let no man beguile you of your reward in a voluntary humility and worshipping of angels, intruding into those things which he hath not seen, vainly puffed up by his fleshly mind,
Verse 16 - The Jews observed food laws and specific holy days that Christians did not.
Verse 17 - Paul points out that the things of the old law were a shadow of what was to come later, namely Christ.
Verse 18 - Do not intermingle worship of other beings with worship to God.
Revelation 22:8–9 KJV 1900
And I John saw these things, and heard them. And when I had heard and seen, I fell down to worship before the feet of the angel which shewed me these things. Then saith he unto me, See thou do it not: for I am thy fellowservant, and of thy brethren the prophets, and of them which keep the sayings of this book: worship God.
Jesus is not the same as the angels.
Hebrews 1:13 KJV 1900
But to which of the angels said he at any time, Sit on my right hand, until I make thine enemies thy footstool?
“The very nature of God is fully present in Christ. False teachers may have asserted that Christ was one of many divine beings or that God’s fullness was distributed throughout supernatural beings, not just Christ—claims that Paul rejects.” John D. Barry et al., Faithlife Study Bible (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2016), Col 2:9.
“Access to the divine realm is not attained through a philosophically savvy spin on Judaism with angelic furnishings, but through the God-in-Christ event, whereby the body of the Messiah becomes the very locus of God’s holy presence and saving activity. Thus, Jesus is not merely another cosmic aeon or angelic intermediary, but the self-revelation of God in human form.” Michael F. Bird, Colossians and Philemon: A New Covenant Commentary (Cambridge, UK: The Lutterworth Press, 2011), 77.
Colossians 2:19 KJV 1900
And not holding the Head, from which all the body by joints and bands having nourishment ministered, and knit together, increaseth with the increase of God.
Verse 19 - Hold fast to the head, which is Christ.
Colossians 2:8 KJV 1900
Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ.
Whatever the philosophy may be, it is to be rejected if it is not according to Christ.
“In this verse, in contrast to ‘Christ,’ this empty and deceitful philosophy is clearly understood as a force that must be denied. ‘Not according to Christ’ provides the strongest argument against this false teaching. This phrase also brings us back to the center of Paul’s argument: any teachings that challenge the supremacy and sufficiency of Christ are to be unmasked to reveal their true nature as personal spiritual forces that threaten the Christian community. These forces, bound with this ‘world,’ cannot be compared to Christ, through whom ‘all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities’ (1:16)” David W. Pao and Clinton E. Arnold, Colossians and Philemon (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2012), 157.
Paul wants the Colossians to reject teachings that challenge the 1) supremacy of Christ, and the 2) sufficiency of Christ. Paul earlier said in 1:18 that Christ was preeminent or first in all things. Therefore, Christ is supreme over other beings, such as angels. Now, in verse 9, Paul says that Christ is sufficient, and thus other things are not needed.
Colossians 2:9 KJV 1900
For in him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily.
“Paul now provides the grounds for the previous warning: because ‘all the fulness’ can be found in the incarnated Christ, one should not be deceived by ‘empty and deceitful philosophy’ (v. 8). Moreover, this verse explains why a teaching that is not ‘according to Christ’ (v. 8) is to be rejected.” David W. Pao and Clinton E. Arnold, Colossians and Philemon (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2012), 157.
Other philosophies from humans are empty, but Christ is full. You don’t need to look elsewhere for the sufficiency of God. You don’t need other beings to show you the divine. In Jesus, all the fulness of the Godhead dwells.
Christ is both 1) supreme, and 2) sufficient. Therefore, if the teaching is not according to Christ, it is 1) inferior and 2) insufficient.

Fullness of Christ

Paul lets the Colossians know that when they look at Christ, they are seeing the fullness of God.
The word translated “Godhead” is from the Greek word theotes.
“The Greek (theotes) means the essence and nature of the Godhead, not merely the divine perfections and attributes of Divinity (Greek,theiotes”). He, as man, was not merely God-like, but in the fullest sense, God.” Robert Jamieson, A. R. Fausset, and David Brown, Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible, vol. 2 (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1997), 376.
There is no reason to look for deity spread out among different beings, such as angels. In order to look at God in the fullest sense, we can look at Jesus.
John 1:18 KJV 1900
No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him.
Jesus is the declaration of God. To know Jesus is to know God, for Jesus hath declared God.

Our Fullness in Christ

Now, Paul continues to talk about fullness.
Colossians 2:10 ASV 1901
and in him ye are made full, who is the head of all principality and power:
Paul was referring to Christ in verse 9 and he is still referring to Christ in the first part of verse 9 when he tells the Colossians “in him ye are made full.” But now, it is Christians who are full.
“Paul turns and says that the Colossians have been filled in him, specifying not what they are filled with, but in whom they are filled. The chief thought is of fulfillment or completion of communion with God by union with the Messiah.” Michael F. Bird, Colossians and Philemon: A New Covenant Commentary (Cambridge, UK: The Lutterworth Press, 2011), 77.
Remember that Paul said Jesus was the reconciler.
Colossians 1:20 KJV 1900
And, having made peace through the blood of his cross, by him to reconcile all things unto himself; by him, I say, whether they be things in earth, or things in heaven.
That means that Jesus has restored us to a right relationship with God. The disharmony between God and man has been reconciled. Therefore, those that are “in Christ” are in a right relationship with God. We are full. We are complete.
The Greek verb used here is plerao, which means here to be made full. Paul uses the same word and definition over in Philippians.
Philippians 4:18 KJV 1900
But I have all, and abound: I am full, having received of Epaphroditus the things which were sent from you, an odour of a sweet smell, a sacrifice acceptable, wellpleasing to God.
To be full and to have all means that you are without want. If we apply that meaning to what Paul is telling the Colossians, we see that “in Christ,” Christians are made full (2:10). That means that in Christ we have all that we need and we are without want. Our relationship with God is good and we are back in harmony with Him. That is the most important thing we could have, and Paul says we have it in Christ. Thus, the philosophizing and wisdom of men becomes unnecessary.
As the Christian moves forward in life, he or she does not have to look to philosophies of men for meaning, various spiritual beings for spirituality, or any other type of mysticism to provide answers. In Christ, they are made full.
“The one who is the fullness of the Godhead is likewise the fullness of each believer. The community is fulfilled in him. The Colossians do not need to look beyond Christ for their understanding of the universe; nor do they need to supplement him in their personal lives, because those who are “in Christ” participate in his fullness now (the Greek present tense este, “you are”). In other words, there is nothing lacking in their relationship to God.” Arthur G. Patzia, Ephesians, Colossians, Philemon (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1990), 51.
The Greek verb plerao is also in the perfect tense, meaning a completed action with results extending into the present. As mentioned, the verb translated “you are” is in the present tense in the Greek, meaning a continuous action. Therefore, we might paraphrase 2:10 as meaning “you have been filled and now you are full in Christ.”
But, in a move that might seem strange, Paul goes on to talk about things in heaven.
Colossians 3:1–4 KJV 1900
If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God. Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth. For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God. When Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shall ye also appear with him in glory.
If we are full in Christ now, why should we look to those things that are above and to the return of Christ? The answer may lie in what theologians call “already, not yet.” This idea was proposed by Princeton theologian Gerhardus Vos. The idea is that we are partakers of salvation and the kingdom now, but we do not have full realization of that salvation until later when we are taken to heaven and the kingdom is delivered to God.
Think of it in terms of the account of Noah. Noah was told of an impending flood, so God told him to build an ark. Once Noah and his family went into the ark, they were located in the place of salvation. But until the flood actually came, there was nothing from which they had to be saved. It was only when the judgment of God upon the world came through the flood that Noah’s salvation was fully realized. Similarly, when we obey God by performing works of obedience to obtain the free gift of salvation, God places us in the church, the body of Christ, the kingdom of God. However, right now we are not facing judgment because the Judgment Day is not here. It is only when the judgment of God comes at the return of Jesus that our salvation will fully be realized. You can be saved now, but later your salvation will be fully realized. Our salvation is already, but not yet.
We can see this idea in the Book of Acts.
“The text shows that Luke, for all his emphasis on what is happening now eschatologically, has not abandoned the idea of a future eschatology. Luke’s eschatology is now and not yet. In Acts 2 the now is emphasized. In Acts 3 what is to come is highlighted. No one can know the timing of the end (1:6–7), but one can know what this return means and what it will bring (3:20–21).” Darrell L. Bock, Acts (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2007), 174.
So, Paul is telling the Colossians, in Jesus we are already full, meaning that we need nothing or are in want of nothing now. But later, after the return of Jesus, we will receive the full reward of being “in Him,” but not yet.

Conclusions

The resume of Jesus is impressive. He is the:
Living image of God
Firstborn of the glorified
Creator
Eternal
Sustainer
Head of the church, the body of the saved
First in all things
Fully and genuinely God
Christ is both 1) supreme, and 2) sufficient. Therefore, if the teaching is not according to Christ, it is 1) inferior and 2) insufficient.
There is no reason to look for deity spread out among different beings, such as angels. In order to look at God in the fullest sense, we can look at Jesus.
Our fullness is in Christ
Our relationship with God has been reconciled.
We have what we need and are without want.
Later, after the return of Jesus, we will receive the full reward of being “in Him.”
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