The Eschatological Time Texts in Colossians
1) “…which things are a shadow of those things about to come. But the body belongs to Christ.” (Cols. 2:17WUESTNT)
This imminent time text is consistent with the immediate context of the Great Commission having been fulfilled by Paul in the first century Mt.24:14/Col.1:5-6, 23. The great commission here is the fulfillment of Gen.1:28 and paradise is being restored and about to come in its fullness. G.K. Beale correctly makes the parallels:
Colossians 1:6, 10
‘increase [auxano] and multiply and fill the earth…and rule over all the earth’.
‘in all the world also it [‘the word of truth, the gospel’] is bearing fruit and increasing [auxano] (v.6); ‘in every good work bearing fruit and increasing [auxano]…’ (v.10).
“Several commentators have noticed that verse 6 and 10 are an allusion to Genesis 1:28 (and perhaps 1:22). It appears that the Hebrew text may be the focus, since the Greek Old Testament renders the Hebrew para (‘bear fruit’) by auxano (‘increase’) and raba (‘to multiply’) by plethuno (‘to multiply’).”
There is a new Adam—Christ, and He is exercising dominion through His seed and progeny--the Church. This is being accomplished in Paul’s day by the gospel filling the earth/land in expelling the darkness of the evil one’s kingdom in plundering his house by taking back the hearts of His people shining through them as God’s new creation in (verse 3; cf. 2 Cor. 4:6; 5:17). Christ is the Sun of Righteousness who through the Holy Spirit and the gospel, is bring to life Israel (“the fig tree”) and the Gentiles (“and all the trees”) as a new creation before the old-covenant “heaven and earth” passed away (Lk. 21:29-33).
In Colossians 1:15-20, Christ is the new Adam carrying the fullness of God’s “image” and is therefore the “head” and “firstborn” of this new-covenant creation. He was the sustainer of the old-covenant creation of Israel and has now begun a creation (the “already”) process through the cross, reconciling things in heaven (regenerated Jews) and things on the earth (regenerated Gentiles) for Himself and therefore is the “head” of the Church (the new creation). Since I favor John Locke and other’s interpretation of “heaven” (being the Jews) and “earth” (being the Gentiles) in Ephesians 1:9-10, it seems only natural according to Pauline theology, to identify the same terms here as Jew and Gentile being reconciled together under the headship and placed within family of God--the church.
He is the “first born from among the dead” meaning He is the first to rise victoriously over the spiritual sin/death that came through Adam and in Him is realized the new-covenant Passover and redemption. Christ is not reconciling fallen angels or rocks and trees to himself “on the earth” or “things in heaven” through His blood. These are the souls of people -- Jews / Gentiles, making up Christ’s new creation.
Once again we encounter the traditions and philosophy of the Judaizers whom are seeking to deceive these Gentile Christians to become enslaved to the “elements” of the old covenant world in Colossians 2:8. But since only “in Christ” can all the fullness of all of God’s promises be realized, they too share in this fullness through faith. Therefore, according to Paul’s logical argumentation they are not subject to these self seeking religious authorities, because they are united to Christ who is ruling over them 2:9-10. The “already” of overcoming the law and participating in a new circumcision and life has come through Christ’s victory in the cross--verses 11-15. The reason these Gentile Christians were not subject to these old-covenant foods, festivals, and Sabbath days, is because in Christ the substance of these types were found. The “things” of this new covenant creation or the substance of what the old pointed to, were “about to come” in there fullness in verse 17. An imminent expectation of the “about to come” new covenant or new creation promises (cf. Heb.10:1WUESTNT) included the coming of Christ in a “very little while” (Heb.10:37).
Amillennialists and sovereign grace new covenant theologians make a mistake in positing the cross as the termination and fulfillment of the old-covenant Mosaic law. As we have seen in our study of Matthew, all the Mosaic law would not fully pass until “heaven and earth” passed away (Mt.5:17-19). The New Testament authors tell us the promises contained in the “shadow” of the old-covenant law found in the Law and the Prophets, were “ready” or “soon” to disappear Heb.8:13 and so too were the “elements” of that old-covenant world in which Paul references here in Cols.2:8, 20à2Pet.3:10/1Pet.4:7. Since the old were only “shadows” of the new which was “about to come,” and they had died to that old world, Paul exhorts these believers to not be “subject” to these regulations.
Gentile Christians are predominantly addressed here as was the case in Paul’s letter to the Galatians. Paul preached to the Jew first and then to the Greek or Gentile, as he traveled to various synagogues or religious institutions throughout the Roman Empire. The first Gentiles to be converted had already been apart of the Jewish old covenant system for they were proselytes. Some of these Gentile believers had already undergone circumcision while others believed in Jehovah from afar, in order to avoid this painful ritual. So it is proper to have Gentile Christians dying to that system along with Jewish Christians since it would “soon disappear.” Jewish Christians however did continue to obey the law of Moses as exhorted by Christ (cf. Mt.5:17-19/Acts 21), which included observing Jewish ceremonial and civil laws of the land. However, this observance was not in the sense that the Judaizers were trying to impose the law upon the early Church – Jewish or Gentile. They sought to obey and be justified through the law in order to achieve a works righteousness in the continuance of the Mosaic economy. Paul would have none of this! Obedience to the law of Moses never could bring complete justification for the observer but only a painful awareness of ones insufficiency (cf. Rms. 4 and Paul’s struggle in Rms. 7).
It is often taught that Paul is combating Gnosticism in Colossians but Gnosticism would not be a major issue for the church until post A.D.70. Issues surrounding “the flesh” and “the Spirit” in Pauline theology often have to do with dying to the old-covenant mode of existence and living in the new. As in Galatians and Philippians there is a heavy tone of the Judaizers influence in the areas of obeying feast and Sabbath days along with succumbing to “the mutilation” or circumcision. To deny that Christ came in the flesh and died in or to that realm (as was an error corrected in John’s writings) is a false teaching that more applies to the Judaizers whom wanted Christ PLUS the continuance of the fleshly old-covenant system. Recent scholarship has proven that Gnosticism could hardly be seen as having an influence on the church during this period.