In Christ Jesus
The Letter to the Colossians
In Colossians again we meet the phrase, in Christ Jesus, in the very salutation (1:4). And in the prayer that immediately follows, "that ye might be filled with the knowledge of his will," et cetera, we first strike the great word of this epistle, pleroma -- an untranslatable word.
The substance of the teaching of Colossians is this: In Christ Jesus we have the pleroma of God. This idea is inwrought into the structure of the epistle and curiously into its language. [We meet here and there words into which the root pleroo enters: "filled," 1:9; "fulness," 1:19, 2:9; "fill up," 1:24; "fulfil the word," 1:25; "full assurance," 2:2; "complete," 2:10, 4:12.]
The idea is that all this divine fullness dwells in Him, and may dwell in us by our dwelling in Him.
This introduces us to the power and perfection of Christ, as the sphere of our new life: in Him, complete.
Here, as in Ephesians, there are ten blessings that are already ours, and one that is to be ours at His coming. And it is curious to compare the ten things of Ephesians, with those of this epistle:
to be gathered in one
to be manifested
Three in both lists are alike (which we mark with an asterisk), all the rest are unlike;.but in Ephesians the list has reference to oneness of saints in Christ and the present privilege of life in Him; in Colossians, to the completeness of all and every believer in Him, and the perfection and power which are realized in Christ.
Hence the same figure in both epistles: Christ the Head of Body; there with reference to unity, and here, to vitality. The ruling thought then in this epistle is found in the fullness of Christ, as the sphere of our life. He is filled with God, and in Him we also are filled with God. In fact the word, pleroma, as already remarked, cannot be translated. It means more than fullness. It is a term used by philosophy, and borrowed by Paul from philosophic authors. They claimed to know the secret of something that filled up all human deficiency -- a plenitude of knowledge and power. Paul claims that in Christ the true pleroma is found: that He as the Son of God has all the plenitude of the godhead in Him, in full measure, and running over -- and so, if we are in Him, all that divine pleroma becomes ours. Whatever perfection is in God, in His knowledge, power, strength, wisdom, love, holiness, thus fills up to the full our measure of capacity.
In the light of this truth the whole epistle becomes luminous:
1:27. Paul speaks of the riches of the glory of this mystery -- "which is Christ in you, the hope of glory."
1:28. "That we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus."
1:19. "It pleased the Father that in him should all [the pleroma] dwell.
2:3. "In whom are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge."
2:6-7. As ye have received... Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk... in him: rooted and built up in him, and stablished in the faith."
Note particularly verses 8, 9, etc., as the heart of the epistle. He warns against philosophy, which holds out its false pleroma, and says: "In Him dwelleth all the [pleroma] of the godhead bodily, and ye [have the pleroma] in him" (2:9-10).
The vine and the branches
If the word pleroma is untranslatable, what shall we say of the thought of the epistle! What words shall adequately translate such a conception into human language, or convey it to human minds! It is the same essential idea as that which seeks expression in that last and greatest parable ever spoken by our Lord: the vine and the branches. There several words form the salient points of thought, arresting attention: vine, branch, and fruit; abide, ask; love, joy. The grand word of the seven is abide, and the grand lesson is absolute and perpetual dependence on the one hand, and perfect and perpetual fullness of blessing on the other.
Let us remember that in the vine dwells all vegetable fullness, all the fullness of soil and sap, of life and strength; and that the branch abides in the vine that it may be filled with all the fullness of the vine. Branch life, like limb life in the body, can never become independent. The child may outgrow the mother's care, and support and nourish the parent; but the branch can never outgrow its dependence, nor can the limb ever become independent of the body. The same in nature and nurture, in root and soil and sap, in life and growth, the very leaves, blooms, clusters of the branch are the leaves, blooms, and clusters of the vine. It is the full life of the vine, pushing its way through the branch's channels, that exhibits itself in every new twig, bud, flower, grape; and, as the grape rounds out into luscious fullness, it is the vine which imparts its own fullness in the juice and color and perfection of the cluster.
The disciple abides in Christ, and so his asking becomes Christ's asking; his love and joy are in fact Christ's love and joy abiding in him and filling him. So what in the parable is suggested or enfolded, is, in this epistle, unfolded. In Him dwelleth all the fullness of the godhead bodily and substantially, and we are filled full in Him of the same pleroma of God. The thought is inexpressible. Even the Holy Ghost finds no intelligible terms to convey it; all attempts are like groanings unutterable.
The ten or eleven specific statements of what the disciple has in Christ, all have reference to this pleroma or fullness of power and perfection. We ar rooted in Him -- and so like a plant we have fullness of strength and life -- so well expressed by the roots which take fast hold on the soil and absorb whatever promotes growth and strength.
We are built up in Him -- like the building which gets stability from its rock foundation, and beauty and completeness as carried on to completion.
Christ, the representative Man
When we are taught that in Him we are circumcised, buried, made alive, risen, seated, hid in God, and to be manifested when He is -- one of the greatest thoughts of the Word is put before us. Christ is the great representative Man -- the second and last Adam, the Son of Man. All that He experienced, from His miraculous conception to His session at God's right hand, is representative -- that is, it is in our behalf, typical as well as historical, and we are to look upon ourselves as going through all these experiences in Him. When Adam was on trial, the whole race he represented was on trial, and his fall was representative. When Christ was on trial, it was a representative of the race -- the last Adam -- who was tempted, and triumphed.
God in Christ sees us, who believe, victorious over the devil and death, the world and the flesh. It is a great mystery of grace; but in Him we were circumcised, and put away fleshly lusts -- in Him buried, that the old corrupt nature might be left in the tomb, and in Him by the Holy Ghost we were made alive unto God, raised to live a new life, by His power lifted to the heavenly sphere of life; so that now our real life is not that which is seen. It is a hidden life. The world knows us not, because it knew Him not. The springs of our true life are in Him, and in heaven. This thought is not capable of conveyance by human language or illustration.
Zechariah seeks to forecast it in the vision of the golden candlestick, whose lamps are fed through golden pipes from the two living olive trees. Every disciple is united to Christ by unseen channels, and the life we live is by the faith of the Son of God -- as the branch receives life from the vine, or the plant from the sun and air of heaven. Every day of holy living is a day of living contact with the invisible world and the unseen God -- heaven's power is communicated to earthly beings. And not until Christ is manifested, coming out of His long hiding beside the Father, will this hidden life of ours appear. When He is manifested in glory with His resurrection body, and ours is made like unto His and we are seen bearing His perfect likeness, it will be seen that all this is absolutely true; as He is, so are we in this world.
Christ came to do God's will, and took in His incarnation a body prepared for Him, and in a higher sense, another body -- the Church -- after His resurrection. This body is thus seated with Him in the heavenlies, and all enemies are to become the footstool of Christ and His mystical body, bruised under His feet. We have a right in Him to this exalted seat in the heavenlies, and to sit down with Him in peace, as those who have the sense of a finished work and completed conquest, henceforth in Him expecting -- anticipating, that all foes will be made our footstool. So far as we can take this in by faith, they are already subdued. He says, to every believer who can receive it, "Stretch forth thy withered hand!" and henceforth to find restored faculties for holy work; "Rise, take up thy bed, thou paralytic!" henceforth to find power to walk with God; "Woman, thou art loosed from thine infirmity!" henceforth be erect and upright and no longer bowed down and bent into deformity by Satan.
The present fullness
The greatest difficulty today among us believers is that we have no true apprehension of the actual present fullness, the pleroma of divine power, wisdom, strength, victory, which is in God for us, and may be found in Christ, as the sphere of our full life and energy. There is the secret of all failure: we do not avail ourselves of this fullness of God. We do not practically believe our high calling, nor perceive the riches of the glory of God's inheritance in the saints, and consequently the exceeding greatness of His power to usward who believe -- the standard of which is the working of that omnipotence in Christ, when God raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His own right hand in the heavenlies. Oh, the unclaimed riches of the believer in Christ Jesus!
This pleroma may be viewed in two aspects, and is so presented in this epistle: the completeness in Christ, first, as my representative before God; and, secondly, as God's representative before me.
It must be remembered that He is both the Son of Man and the Son of God, and perfect in both relations.
It is a curious fact, showing the marvelous completeness also of the teaching whereby this truth is presented, that there are but two cases in this epistle where this word, pleroma, recurs, and they mark the divisions of thought we are now considering. Chapter 1:19: "It pleased the Father that in Him should all fulness dwell." This is spoken of Him as Head of the body, the Church, which is a human institution, composed of redeemed sons of men. Chapter 2:9: "For in Him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily." Here the statement is made as to His relation to the Godhead, not manhood.
In Him we are circumcised, buried, risen, seated at God's right hand; that is said of Him as my representative; what is true of the Head of the body, is true of the body whose head He is.
But, when we are told that in Him we have redemption, that by Him God reconciles all things to Himself; that in Him are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge, it is manifest that the fullness of God toward us is meant.
These two thoughts may find an imperfect illustration in an advocate at court. Let us suppose a very difficult case at law, but on which everything hangs, property, reputation, character, life. I secure the services of the most competent and eminent of lawyers. Now, what does he do? First, he represents my case before the court, but he also represents the court before me. He could not take my case in charge if he did not understand my case perfectly, nor could he if he did not understand the law perfectly. Christ is my Advocate before God, for He is the Son of Man and understands me; He is the Son of God and understands Him; and being perfect in both relations, He becomes my Mediator; in Him I have a perfect Representative Godward, and God has a perfect Representative manward.
The practical bearing of this double truth is immense; a whole lifetime will give us but a glimpse of the infinite value of such a Saviour. As Son of Man everything about His human character and life has reference to the believer. As He is, so are we in this world. Because I believe in Him, and am united to Him, all His experiences become my own. His sinless perfection, His divine patience, His holy obedience, His triumph over Satan, are imputed to me: in Him I am presented as perfect before God. But, as Son of God, whatever He is to me, God is. I am to know the mind and heart and disposition of God toward me by knowing Christ's attitude toward me, because as He is, so is God in heaven. Hence He said to Philip: "Have I been so long time with you, and yet hast thou not known me, Philip? he that hath seen me, hath seen the Father; and how sayest thou then, Shew us the Father?" (John 14:9).
The second and last Adam
In this Epistle to the Colossians we reach almost the climax of the scripture teaching about the second and last Adam. Four or five passages need to be carefully studied by those who would take in the full meaning of this wonderful teaching: Psalm 8, compared with Hebrews 2:6-18, Romans 5:12,21; I Corinthians 15:21-28 and 45-49; and the epistles to the Ephesians and the Colossians. In the Epistle to the Romans, Adam is the figure of the coming One (5:14). In I Corinthians, He is the Lord of resurrection life and victory. In the epistles to the Ephesians and Colossians, He is the representative of the believer in His whole human and heavenly experience. He stands in his stead, and in His own miraculous birth, circumcision, baptism, temptation, crucifixion, burial, resurrection, ascension, session at God's right hand, and coming again, the believer may see, set forth, his own regeneration, separation unto God, confession of faith, conquest over Satan, satisfaction of legal penalty, life in the Spirit, exaltation to heavenly privilege, and inheritance of final glory.
This prepares for the absolute climax of this teaching in Hebrews 2, where we see Jesus Christ, finally exalted to universal dominion, and, in Him, the redeemed Adamic race once more raised to the throne and scepter. The eighth Psalm is not to be fulfilled in the first Adam, whose fall wrecked all his prospects of sovereignty, until the second Adam restores the ruins of the first, and gives lost man his true seat at God's right hand.
Chapter Seven: Thessalonians
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