At some point after the gospel began to take root in Colossae, a number of teachers arrived and compelled the Colossians to incorporate elements of the law into their Christian faith. For Paul, Christ plus anything implied that Christ meant nothing. Paul argued that Christ is supreme over all spiritual authorities (Col 1:13-20) with the result that believers are complete in Christ alone (Col 1:28; 2:6-10), awaiting a secured heavenly inheritance (Col 1:3-6, 9-12; 3:1-4). Earthly expressions of this heavenly hope included walking in moral purity and love for the church (Col 3:5-17). For the believers in Colossae to flourish, they needed to understand the supremacy of Christ in Scripture’s storyline.
(1) In Col 1:12, Paul reminded the Colossians of their inheritance with the saints in the light, echoing themes of Canaan as Israel’s inheritance in the Old Testament. In Gen 12:1-3 and 15:1-20, the Lord promised Abraham that He would make Abraham a great nation and give him the land of Canaan as a possession. When Sarah died, Abraham purchased a burial site for her in Canaan (Gen 23:17-18). When Joseph was dying, he made his brothers swear that they would not burry him in Egypt but take his bones to the land God promised Abraham (Gen 50:24-25). When the Lord called Moses, He told Moses that He was going to use him to bring Israel out of Egypt so that the people would go to the land He promised Abraham (Exod 3:7-10). As Israel prepared to enter Canaan, Moses described the boundaries of the land Israel would inherit (Num 33:54; 34:13-18). Moses exhorted Israel to seek the Lord and follow His law in the land as a testimony of His greatness (Deut 4:1-8). Though Joshua and Eleazar divided the land among the tribes that would reside in Canaan (Josh 14:1-4), and Solomon restated that the Lord gave His people the land as an inheritance (1 Kgs 8:36), God’s people did not obey and were ultimately removed from the land (2 Kings 17, 25). Paul wrote that those united with Christ in His death and resurrection obtain a share in a heavenly inheritance (Col 1:12; 2:12) and must live in a manner on earth that reflects their heavenly security (3:1-11).
(2) In Col 1:19, Paul stated that all of God’s fullness dwelt in Christ bodily, reflecting statements of God’s transcendence and integrity in the Old Testament. When Moses asked to see God’s face, the Lord told Moses that He would pass by and allow Moses to see His back (Exod 33:12-23). When Moses completed the tabernacle, the Lord’s glory filled it (Exod 40:34-38). Solomon witnessed the same phenomenon when he completed the temple (1 Kgs 8:10-11). As Israel prepared to enter Canaan, Moses reminded the people that the Lord is One (Deut 6:4). When the Lord called Isaiah, Isaiah saw the Lord seated on a throne and the Lord’s glory filling the temple (Isa 6:3-4). Isaiah prophesied that God is transcendent, sitting in the heavens with earth as His footstool (Isa 66:1). Paul told the Colossians that God was pleased to have all of His fullness dwell bodily in Christ (Col 1:19). Because of Christ’s deity, the Colossians could trust that His death was the basis of forgiveness and peace with God; they needed nothing else.
(3) In Col 2:6-23, Paul contrasted faith in Christ Jesus as Lord and Jewish laws like circumcision, Sabbath-keeping, and ritual purity. The covenant of circumcision that God made with Abraham in Genesis 17 shaped Israel as a nation. All Israelite males were to be circumcised on the eighth day (Lev 12:3). Observing the Sabbath (Exod 20:8-10; Deut 5:12-15; Jer 17:21-27) and abstaining from certain foods (Lev 11:1-23, 41-47; Deut 14:3-21) also distinguished Israel from other nations. Paul’s opponents in Colossae proposed that followers of Christ could find a greater sense of fulfillment if they would incorporate some of these elements of the Mosaic law into their Christian lifestyle. Paul, however, assured the Colossians that they were spiritually complete in Jesus—needing nothing beyond sincere faith and devotion to Him (Col 2:10). While some claimed that the Colossian Christians needed to be circumcised, Paul reminded his readers that they were circumcised and raised with Christ (Col 2:11-15). Though ascetic practices of the law gave the impression of humble devotion to God, Paul countered that these practices were a mask for pride (Col 2:18). Paul exhorted the Colossians that true spiritual progress resulted from reliance on Christ (Col 2:19).
(4) In Col 3:17, Paul exhorted his readers that their lifestyle should reflect the name of Christ, echoing God’s name upon Israel and the temple in the Old Testament. In Num 6:22-23, the Lord told Moses to command Aaron and his sons to pronounce a blessing upon Israel. God said, “In this way they will put My name on the Israelites, and I will bless them” (Num 6:27). As the Israelites lived in the land and obeyed the law, they would represent God (Deut 4:1-8). When Solomon dedicated the temple, he said that the temple would be the place of God’s name (1 Kgs 8:29, 43, 48) and the Lord affirmed that He would put His name upon the temple (1 Kgs 9:3). Paul told the Colossians that they were united with Christ as Lord (Col 2:6-7, 11-13; 3:1-4), the One in whom all of God’s fullness dwelt bodily (Col 1:19; 2:9-10). The Colossians, as the people of Christ, were therefore to live in accord with Christ, doing everything in His name (Col 3:17).