Like Ephesians, Philippians and Philemon, Paul’s letter to the church at Colossae is one of the “prison epistles,” penned while he was a captive in Rome. “Christ” is the theme of this letter, and Paul writes about both the deity of Jesus and His superiority to all human ideas and concepts. While there are some words of correction here, this letter is very similar to Philippians, in that it is focused on encouragement rather than condemnation.
After beginning with a typical expression of thanksgiving for the Christians at Colossae, Paul expresses his wish for these brethren to continue growing spiritually so that they could enjoy all the blessings of salvation in Christ. As he writes about the great change that had occurred when they became Christians, he also begins (at chapter 1:13) to describe the church with a series of words that should help us understand some very basic facts about it. Those who are “partakers of the inheritance of the saints” (vs. 12) are also those who have been “conveyed…into the kingdom of the Son of His love” (vs. 13). Did you notice? Paul told these Christians, living in the first century, that they were in the kingdom of God’s Son! He did not say they “would be” in the kingdom “someday,” or that the kingdom “would come” at some point in the future. Paul’s words indicate very plainly that the kingdom of Christ was present in the world right then! In verse 18 (in this same context), Paul also equates the “body” of Christ and the “church.” Paul uses these three terms – kingdom, body, and church – as synonyms, meaning that the kingdom IS the body of Christ, which IS the church. Therefore, if we are now in the church, we are also now parts of (“members” of, Romans 12:4; 1 Corinthians 12:12-20) Christ’s body, which also means that right now we are citizens (Philippians 3:20) in His kingdom
This last point is important because it shows that the claim of many denominations – that the effect that the church is merely a “placeholder” until Christ returns to establish an earthly, political (millennial) kingdom – is wrong. Christ’s kingdom has existed in our world since the day when the apostles first preached the gospel on Pentecost in Acts 2. Christians are told to “serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear” because we have already received that kingdom (Hebrews 12:28).
Next, we need to understand what the term “firstborn” means, in Colossians 1:13 and 18. On the surface, we might assume that it simply denotes an oldest child, “the first one born.” In biblical usage, however, “firstborn” refers to “rank” or position, a place of pre-eminence – NOT order of birth. (Judah, Jacob’s fourth son in order of birth, was given the position and authority of “firstborn” in Genesis 49:8-10). Far from suggesting (as the Jehovah’s Witness cult claims) that Jesus is merely the “first one born” or created by God, Paul is actually telling us here that Jesus is the “Chief” of creation (cf. John 1:3-4) – the One who existed before creation. In verse 16, Paul says that “all” things were created by Him, and His being the “beginning” in verse 18 means he is the origin, the source of all things. This harmonizes perfectly with Paul had written about the Christ in Philippians 2:6, that He was equal with the Father (i.e., not a “creation” of the Father).
In verses 21-23 Paul writes of the fact that we can be reconciled (brought back) to the Father through the sacrifice of Jesus. He offered His body (vs. 22) to pay the penalty of our sins. In verse 23, however, Paul says in no uncertain terms that we must “continue” consistently in the faith, without being shifted or moved away from the hope presented by the gospel. This agrees exactly with the words of Hebrews 3:14, which admonish us to “hold the beginning of our confidence steadfast to the end.”