By: Mark Tabata (Evangelist)
Over the last several weeks in our Wednesday Evening Bible Study at couchtown church of Christ, we have been studying a teaching of Scripture which had mostly been quite unfamiliar to me: the Descent of Christ Into Hades.
To be quite honest, I was quite shocked about the things which I discovered in our studies of this passage (and I am sure my amazement will continue as we continue our studies of these passages of the Word of God).
In our studies, I have come across a passage of Scripture which has thoroughly amazed me. In fact, “amazed” is not even the correct word.
It is a passage of Scripture which has SHOCKED me, UPSET me.
It is a passage which has LEFT ME WITH UNSPEAKABLE JOY AND GRATITUDE.
In this article, I would like to share this passage with you and carefully study it.
It has left me completely amazed in the knowledge that what Jesus accomplished at Calvary may be even more Earth-shattering and mind-boggling than I could ever have imagined.
Let’s notice the passage and then we will dig into the Word. (Let me encourage you to please read this passage in each of the quoted Bible translations).
Colossians 1:16-20 (NKJV)-16 For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. All things were created through Him and for Him.
17 And He is before all things, and in Him all things consist.
18 And He is the head of the body, the church, who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in all things He may have the preeminence.
19 For it pleased the Father that in Him all the fullness should dwell,
20 and by Him to reconcile all things to Himself, by Him, whether things on earth or things in heaven, having made peace through the blood of His cross.
Colossians 1:16-20 (ERV)-16 Through his power all things were made: things in heaven and on earth, seen and not seen— all spiritual rulers, lords, powers, and authorities. Everything was made through him and for him.
17 The Son was there before anything was made. And all things continue because of him.
18 He is the head of the body, which is the church. He is the beginning of everything else. And he is the first among all who will be raised from death. So in everything he is most important.
19 God was pleased for all of himself to live in the Son.
20 And through him, God was happy to bring all things back to himself again— things on earth and things in heaven. God made peace by using the blood sacrifice of his Son on the cross.
Colossians 1:16-20 (GW)-16 He created all things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible. Whether they are kings or lords, rulers or powers- everything has been created through him and for him.
17 He existed before everything and holds everything together.
18 He is also the head of the church, which is his body. He is the beginning, the first to come back to life so that he would have first place in everything.
19 God was pleased to have all of himself live in Christ.
20 God was also pleased to bring everything on earth and in heaven back to himself through Christ. He did this by making peace through Christ’s blood sacrificed on the cross.
Colossians 1:16-20 (Amplified)-16 For it was in Him that all things were created, in heaven and on earth, things seen and things unseen, whether thrones, dominions, rulers, or authorities; all things were created and exist through Him [by His service, intervention] and in and for Him.
17 And He Himself existed before all things, and in Him all things consist (cohere, are held together). [Pro 8:22-31]
18 He also is the Head of [His] body, the church; seeing He is the Beginning, the Firstborn from among the dead, so that He alone in everything and in every respect might occupy the chief place [stand first and be preeminent].
19 For it has pleased [the Father] that all the divine fullness (the sum total of the divine perfection, powers, and attributes) should dwell in Him N1 permanently.
20 And God purposed that through ( N1 by the service, the intervention of) Him [the Son] all things should be completely reconciled N2 back to Himself, whether on earth or in heaven, as through Him, [the Father] made peace by means of the blood of His cross.
Studying The Context
It has been said that the Books of Colossians and Ephesians are in many ways parallel together. The theme of the Book of Ephesians is said to be the church of Christ, while the theme of the Book of Colossians would seem to be the Christ of the church. Throughout the Book of Colossians, Paul elaborates in many ways upon Jesus. The kingdom (church) belongs to Jesus (Colossians 1:13), and it is through the redeeming price of His blood that we have been saved from our sin (Colossians 1:14). Indeed, Jesus is the “image” of God (i.e., the full representation of God’s attributes), just as He is Ruler and owner of the entire Creation (Colossians 1:15). This is not surprising since all things in Heaven and on Earth were made through Him and for Him (Colossians 1:16).
It is by Jesus that all things “consist” or are “held together” by His sustaining grace (Colossians 1:17). Indeed, the Son of God is the Head of the church, even as He is the “firstborn” from the dead (not the first One to rise from the dead, but the One Whose Resurrection is the most important in its’ far-reaching implications-Colossians 1:18). It is through Jesus that Christians have access to all wisdom and knowledge (Colossians 2:3), and by His Word we have access to what we need to have spiritual life (Colossians 2:6-7).
While the world offers “vain” (empty) philosophy (Colossians 2:8), in Jesus we have the Son in Whom the Godhead fully dwells (Colossians 2:9) and in Whom we are complete (Colossians 2:10) so that through what He has accomplished in His life and death, we have received salvation and remission of sins through Him when we were baptized into Him (Colossians 2:11-3). It is Jesus Who brought the curse of the Old Law to an end (Colossians 2;14) and Who has defeated the principalities and powers by His death (Colossians 2:15). Thanks to what He has accomplished, we are not bound to the Old Testament Law (as the Judaiers teach), nor are we bound to Gnostic philosophies which combined Christianity with pagan Greek religions (Colossians 2:16-23).
Throughout the rest of the Book of Colossians, Paul continues to discuss the priority and the preeminence of Jesus Christ (3-4).
The Specifics Of Our Passage
In Colossians 1:19-20, Paul discusses how God has made it possible for “reconciliation” to take place. What does this mean? The word “reconcile” simply means “to make friends again,” and has reference to people who were in a state of hostility who are brought back to a relationship of peace.
Yet W.E. Vine says that the Greek word used here (apokatallsso) literally means to “reconcile completely” (W.E. Vine, Merrill F. Unger, William White, Jr., Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words, 50929 (Kindle Edition); Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers).
So, Paul says that there are things which have been at war, and which have now been “reconciled” to God again. What things were at war that are now able to be reconciled to God?
Colossians 1:19-20-19 For it pleased the Father that in Him all the fullness should dwell,
20 and by Him to reconcile all things to Himself, by Him, whether things on EARTH or things in HEAVEN, having made peace through the blood of His cross.
The Things On Earth
The things which are on Earth which have been reconciled to God are identified in the next verses:
Colossians 1:21-21 And you, who once were alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now He has reconciled…
The Lord has reconciled sinful humanity to Himself through the Sacrifice of Jesus. Specifically, those whoa re reconciled are the ones who respond to the message of the faith (Colossians 1:22-23) in repenting of sin as believers and being baptized into Him (Colossians 2:12-13).
Things In Heaven…
Yet what are the things “in HEAVEN” that are reconciled to God?
Fortunately, the text tells us.
Colossians 1:16-For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. All things were created through Him and for Him.
The things that are “in Heaven” are identified by Paul as: thrones, dominions, principalities and powers.
What does this mean?
Throughout the Hebrew Old Testament, ancient non-canonical Jewish works, and the writings of the rabbis, we find that these phrases were used to refer especially to the fallen angels. For example, Clinton Arnold has documented:
“While all three texts refer to the angelic hierarchy surrounding God’s throne, the Jews believed the same hierarchy existed in the kingdom of evil. Furthermore, many of these terms were commonly used to refer to various ranks of human leaders in governmental positions of authority. The angelic kingdom was widely believed to be structured in an analogous way to earthly political kingdoms….While “principalities” (archai) and “authorities” (exousiai) seem to be uniquely Jewish expressions for the unseen realm, many of the other words he used were also used by Gentiles to refer to the world of spirits and invisible powers. Words like “powers” (dynameis), “dominions” (kyriotetes), “thrones” (thronoi), “angels” (angeloi), “world rulers” (kosmokratores), “demons” (daimonia), “elemental spirits” (stoicheia) and “rulers” (archontes) were known and used by pagans, as evidenced in their magical and astrological texts.”” (Clinton E. Arnold, The Powers Of Darkness: Principalities & Powers In Paul’s Letters, 90-91 (Kindle Edition); Downers’ Grove, Illinois; InterVarsity Press)
The renowned series of books, The New International Greek New Testament Commentary, agrees with this assessment:
“Rather, we should suppose a hierarchy of heavenly powers -“thrones” superior to “lordships,” and so on (see particularly Lightfoot 151-52). The “thrones” are assuredly to be located in heaven (cf. Dan. 7:9; Rev. 4:4; though cf. Wis. 7:8), not least because the word is used for heavenly beings in Testament of Levi 3:8 (in the seventh heaven, with “authorities”); 2 Enoch 20:1; and Apocalypse of Elijah 1:10-11. Likewise the “dominions” (xvptotirltiES) are almost certainly to be taken as referring to heavenly powers, in the light of Eph. 1:20-21 (also I Enoch 61:10 and 2 Enoch 20:1; F. Schroger, EDNT 2.332). But the same must be true of the “principalities” (apxai) and “authorities” (~4ovaiat) in the light of 2:10 and 15, not to mention the other New Testament parallels (I Cor. 15:24; Eph. 1:21 again; 3:10; 6:12; see also on 2:10). The fact that all four terms thus refer only to the invisible, heavenly realm23 and the repeated emphasis on Christ’s supremacy and triumph over the “principalities and powers” in 2:10 and 15 do therefore strengthen the likelihood that the two lines were inserted by the author(s) of the letter, sacrificing the balance of the hymn in order to add a further reference to Christ’s superiority over all beings in heaven as well as on earth.” (James D.G. Dunn, The New International Greek Commentary: The Epistles To The Colossians And To Philemon, 1292-1301 (Kindle Edition); Grand Rapids, Michigan; William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company)
So…because of what Jesus accomplished at Calvary…the Lord has made it possible for reconciliation to take place-not only for humans-but even for the angels who have sinned against Him.
Just stop a moment and think carefully about that: let that sink in (Selah).
Putting It All Together
The Bible teaches clearly that the fallen angels as well as accountable humanity have sinned against God (Genesis 6:1-4; 2 Peter 2:4; Revelation 12:7-12; Romans 3:23; Ecclesiastes 7:20, 29; Isaiah 59:1-2), and are therefore justly condemned before Him. Our fate is deserved (Romans 6:23)! The penalty against an offender rises in accordance with the character of the of subject of the offense, as well as the nature of the offense. We deserve eternal separation from God because every of sin (Romans 6:23).
What Jesus accomplished at Calvary has made it possible for everything to be reconciled back to God. Not only “reconciled,” but COMPLETELY reconciled.
“Throughout the New Testament are more Scripture passages indicating that the ministry of Christ on earth also accomplished final reconciliation in heaven. Many times we read these passages and simply skim over them because we really don’t grasp their import. We have not understood that the ministry of Christ, God the Son, has significance far beyond the confines of earth and humanity. It is true that the ministry of Christ-His Incarnation, life, atoning death, resurrection, and glorification-took place in interaction with humanity. However, the efficacious effects of His ministry go far beyond humanity. This will become clear as we explore further. One of these passages is in Paul’s epistle to the Colossians. In this passage, Paul describes the vast magnificence of Christ and Christ’s ministry…This is a wonderful, powerful passage extolling the surpassing magnificence of the Savior. Each verse deserves full exploration. However, for our purposes, let us focus on a few key phrases…Each of these translations agree on this essential point: In this passage Paul is saying that all “things in heaven” were reconciled to God “through the blood of His (Christ’s) cross.’ In these verses, Paul is declaring something astonishing-that Christ’s ministry of reconciliation reached into heaven…Therefore, it is easy to simply slide over the rest of the words in the passage without truly grasping the full impact of their meaning. We do this because we are not used to thinking that ‘things in heaven’ were also reconciled to God through Christ. Yet, this is exactly what Paul is saying in this passage! To what is Paul referring when he says ‘things in heaven’ are ‘reconciled’ to God through Christ? It might be easy to read this passage and assume that Paul is referring to those saints who have died and gone on to heaven before the Incarnation. This is not sufficient. There is no indication that Paul is referring to earthly saints now in heaven. In the context of these verses, Paul is intending to portray the vast scope of the work of Christ. To interpret ‘things in heaven’ to mean earthly things that have gone to heaven would be to still limit the work of Christ to merely earthly things-just earthly things that have been moved to a new place. The only satisfying interpretation of Paul’s phrase ‘things in heaven’ is to understand them to mean things native to heaven. The Theological Dictionary Of The New Testament echoes this understanding of Colossians 1:20: ‘Reconciliation with God…also embraces Supra terrestrial beings…’. The Jamieson, Fausset, Brown Commentary says, ‘An actually reconciliation or restoration of peace in heaven, as well as on earth, is expressed by Paul’ (emphasis in the original). There can be little doubt that this is Paul’s plain meaning. If we interpret ‘things in heaven’ the same way we interpret ‘things on earth,’ we must understand Paul to mean heaven’s sentient population-the angelic host and other heavenly creatures…The Greek word translated “reconcile” in this passages is apokatallasso. It is a stronger form of katallasso which is used by Paul to mean humanity’s reconciliation to God through Christ (2 Cor. 5:18, 20; Rom. 5:10). Apokatallasso not only means ‘reconciling,’ it has a stronger meaning to ‘reconcile completely.’…In the ages to come, Christ will be fully Lord of all on earth and in heaven because His Incarnation, life, sacrificial atoning death, and resurrection has directly affected all of God’s creatures on earth and in heaven.” (Michael A. Wiley, The Salvation Of Angels: Understanding The Heavenly Impact Of Jesus Christ, 109-113 (Kindle Edition); Xulon Press)
Now, there are still many things about all of this that I do not understand. For example,
How does this harmonize with what Paul wrote in Hebrews 2:14-16?
Or how does this all jive with what the Lord Jesus taught in Matthew 25:31-46?
Is it possible that the fallen angels would one day repent of their wickedness against God?
I do not know the (full) answers to these things, but I sure that one day I will find out!
In the meantime, the things covered in this study leave me standing absolutely amazed at the incredible and unfathomable grace of God.
What Jesus did at Calvary goes far beyond anything I have ever imagined (or possibly beyond anything that I can imagine).
At Calvary, God showed His incredible love for us: for while we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8). Jesus death at Calvary, His burial and Resurrection three days later, serve as the basis of the Good News or “Gospel” (1 Corinthians 15:1-8). Today, the Good News is that God loves you and calls you to come to Him to be saved (Matthew 11:28-30). Believers who repent of sin, confess their faith in Jesus Christ as the Son of God, and are baptized into Him will receive the forgiveness of their sins and the gift of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:36-38; 8:35-38). When we obey His Gospel, God adds us to the church (Acts 2:47) which Jesus purchased with His own blood (Acts 20:28), and in which are found all spiritual blessings (Ephesians 1:3-7). He calls on us to live faithfully to Him, even to death, to receive the blessed Home of Heaven (Revelation 2:10). When we as Christians sin and fall short, He assures us of forgiveness when we repent and confess those sins to Him in prayer (1 John 1:8-2:2).
“Could We With Ink The Ocean Fill,
“And Were The Skies Of Parchment Made;
“Were Ev’ry Stalk On Earth A Quill,
“And Every Man A Scribe By Trade;
“To Write The Love Of God Above,
“Would Drain The Ocean Dry,”
Nor Could The Scroll Contain The Whole,
“Tho’ Stretched From Sky To Sky”.
“O Love Of God, How Rich And Pure!
“How Measureless And Strong!
“It Shall Forevermore Endure,
“The Saints And Angels Song!”
(Frederick M. Lehman, The Love Of God)
The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.