“…whether things on earth or things in heaven”
by Sandy Simpson, 6/2/15
Col. 1:19-20 For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.
I ran across this verse again the other day and it made me stop and think. Why would Jesus Christ have to reconcile things in heaven? I understand fully why He had to do that on earth where sin took control, as well as the physical universe which was also affected by sin, but in the third heaven? In looking at the various commentaries on this subject it is apparent that people have different ideas about what this means.
Whether they be things in earth, or things in heaven. That is, to produce harmony between the things in heaven and in earth; so that all things shall be reconciled to him, or so that there shall be harmony between heaven and earth. The meaning is not that "the things in heaven" were alienated from God, but that there was alienation in the universe which affected heaven, and the object was to produce again universal concord and love. (Barnes New Testament Notes)
Made peace; opened the way for peace. Things in earth—things in heaven; that the opposition between heaven and earth, which sin has occasioned, may be removed, and all things in heaven and earth may be united under Christ as their head in one harmonious body. (Family New Testament Notes)
… by him, [I say], whether [they be] things in earth, or things in heaven: by which are intended not the whole universe and fabric of the world, all creatures and things, animate and inanimate, rational and irrational, which have been cursed for the sin of man, and have proved unfriendly to him, but, in consequence of redemption and reconciliation by Christ, will, as some think, in the time of the restitution of all things, be restored to their former state, and to their friendly use to mankind; nor elect men and elect angels, and their reconciliation together, for the apostle is not speaking of the reconciling of these things together, but of the reconciling of them to God, which though it is true of elect men, is not of elect angels, who never fell, and though they have confirming grace, yet not reconciling grace from Christ, which they never needed; nor Jews and Gentiles, for though it is true that God was in Christ reconciling the world of the Gentiles, as well as of the Jews to himself, and the chosen of God among both are actually reconciled to God by the death of Christ, yet the one are never called things in heaven, or the other things on earth, in distinction from, and opposition to each other; but rather all the elect of God are here meant, the family of God in heaven and in earth; all the saints that were then in heaven, when actual reconciliation was made by the blood of Christ, and who went thither upon the foot of peace, reconciliation, and redemption, to be made by his sacrifice and death; and all the chosen ones that were or should be on the face of the earth, until the end of time; all these were reconciled to God by Christ: and then the apostle proceeds particularly to mention the Colossians, as also being instances of this grace, good will, and pleasure of God by Christ. (John Gills Expositor)
… things in earth . . . in heaven—Good angels, in one sense, do not need reconciliation to God; fallen angels are excluded from it (#Jude 1:6). But probably redemption has effects on the world of spirits unknown to us. Of course, His reconciling us, and His reconciling them, must be by a different process, as He took not on Him the nature of angels, so as to offer a propitiation for them. But the effect of redemption on them, as He is their Head as well as ours, is that they are thereby brought nearer God, and so gain an increase of blessedness [ALFORD], and larger views of the love and wisdom of God (#Eph 3:10). All creation subsists in Christ, all creation is therefore affected by His propitiation: sinful creation is strictly "reconciled" from its enmity; sinless creation, comparatively distant from His unapproachable purity (#Job 4:18 15:15 25:5), is lifted into nearer participation of Him, and in this wider sense is reconciled. (J.F.B. Commentary)
This mode of redeeming mankind by the death of Christ was most suitable. Here is presented to our view the method of being reconciled. And that, notwithstanding the hatred of sin on God’s part, it pleased God to reconcile fallen man to himself. If convinced that we were enemies in our minds by wicked works, and that we are now reconciled to God by the sacrifice and death of Christ in our nature, we shall not attempt to explain away, nor yet think fully to comprehend these mysteries; but we shall see the glory of this plan of redemption, and rejoice in the hope set before us. If this be so, that God’s love is so great to us, what shall we do now for God? Be frequent in prayer, and abound in holy duties; and live no more to yourselves, but to Christ. Christ died for us. But wherefore? That we should still live in sin? No; but that we should die to sin, and live henceforth not to ourselves, but to Him. (Matthew Henry Concise Commentary)
Things in heaven. Chrysostom explains: Christ not only reconciles man on the earth, but raises him, who had been an enemy to God, to heaven and gives him a place there at peace with God, so that in the heavens the fruits of reconciliation are seen forever. (People’s New Testament Notes)
Finally, Paul's idiom is inclusive: all things are reconciled to God through Christ. In a passage that explores the importance of Christ in terms of God's creation, I am led to understand God's reconciliation of all things as encompassing the nonhuman and inanimate worlds, so that "even the stones will cry out" in praise of God (Lk 19:40; see also Rev 21:19-21). While I think it unwise to speculate how God might restore each part of the natural world or whether there are animals in heaven, I also think it unwise to limit God's reconciliation to the human order of creation, for that denies grace its unconditional and universal character. (IVP New Testament Commentary)
Col 1:20 The high point of the hymn. Humankind’s fall into sin brought with it the corruption of all creation, seen and unseen (Gen. 3; Rom. 5:12; 8:20; Eph. 2:2; 6:12). Through Christ’s incarnation and atoning death, God’s righteousness is satisfied (Rom. 3:21–26), peace between God and humankind is restored (2 Cor. 5:17–21), the eventual glorification of the created order is assured (Rom. 8:18–21), and the rebellious spirit beings have their powers limited (2:15 note). (Reformation Study Bible)
There are some good truths in the commentaries above, one of which is that Jesus Christ has and will continue to have supremacy in all things, in heaven and on earth.
Colossians 1:18 And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy.
This is contextual. But they did not specifically address the issue of the Son “reconciling to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven“. We bears consideration and explanation because we do not consider things in the third heaven in need of reconciliation. Since the fallen angels will not be reconciled, and the angels need no reconciliation because they did not sin, then what is this addressing? We need to “reconcile” this statement to be able to understand in what sense there is anything in heaven that needed reconciliation; otherwise this statement makes no sense.
You will remember, when Jesus died to provide salvation and eternal life to those who would believe, He descended into Hades to tell the Old Testament saints what He had done. Why did He do that? Because they needed to understand that what they were looking forward to that would provide final salvation and reward was fulfilled in Him. They ultimately needed the perfect Sacrifice for sin.
Hebrews 11:10 For he (Abraham) was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God.
We who come after Christ, Jew and Gentile, are looking forward to heaven just as our forefathers in the Faith were.
2 Peter 3:13 But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, where righteousness dwells.
Now this does not mean that people post-Christ can be saved by general revelation. The patriarchs of the Faith were saved by faith, not by works of the Law since some of them preceded the Law such as Abel, Enoch, Noah and others. All those mentioned in Hebrews were in the line of Adam to Noah and then Noah through Shem to Abraham, and consequently Israel. God set a line of people who “knew God” and would eventually become the lineage of Jesus and Israel, God’s chosen people. Those patriarchs were then God’s chosen also through faith. In the end it will be seen that all who are saved are saved by Faith in the Messiah, Jesus Christ. Therefore it is proven that “Salvation is by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone” for all eternity.
So Jesus, before His resurrection, went to Hades to take those in the bosom of Abraham, those in the Faith, to heaven (Eph. 4:8). Therefore those Old Testament saints are justified by Christ fully in the afterlife so that they no longer need to wait in Hades but could be taken to heaven by Christ.
I need to reiterate, at this juncture, that Jesus did not descend into “hell”, the lake of fire, but into “Hades”, the holding place of souls, the “lower, earthly regions” into the bosom of Abraham. The unbeliever’s section of Hades also heard the same announcement.
Eph. 4:9-10 (What does "he ascended" mean except that he also descended to the lower, earthly regions? He who descended is the very one who ascended higher than all the heavens, in order to fill the whole universe.)
It is important that we understand what Eph. 4:9-10 is talking about. Jesus descended into the lower earthly regions upon his death, Hades or sheol. He did not descend into hell. Hell is the lake of fire, gehenna. No one is in hell until the Antichrist and False Prophet are thrown there first (Rev. 20:10), then Satan, the demons and unbelievers on judgment day (Rev. 21:8). Jesus descended into Hades. The Bible indicates he went to Hades, to the bosom of Abraham (Luke 16:19-31) where the Old Testament saints where waiting for Him. In Luke it is sometimes translated as “hell” but the actually Greek word is “Hades”, the holding place. Jesus then told the saints in Hades with Abraham of His death and resurrection plan (1 Pet. 4:6). He then took the Old Testament saints to heaven with him (Eph. 4:8). The Bible also states that the others, those who were in the other part of Hades (Luke 16:19-31) held till judgment day, also heard the Gospel (1 Peter 3:19) so that they would have no excuse on judgment day but would stand condemned. It was too late for them because they had no faith in God while they were alive like the Old Testament saints did. (Ephesians Study by Sandy Simpson)
I believe that Col. 1:20 is referencing the Old Testament saints, now in heaven, who were looking forward to the Messiah and had Faith in the Messiah to come, as it states in Hebrews. Those are the “things” reconciled in heaven.
Heb. 11:1-2 Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. This is what the ancients were commended for.
Hebrews lists many of those who had faith and therefore assurance of salvation because they were looking forward to a Messiah they had not yet seen.
Isaiah 7:14 Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.
Genesis 12:1-3 Now the Lord said to Abram, "Go forth from your country, And from your relatives And from your father's house. To the land which I will show you; And I will make you a great nation, And I will bless you, And make your name great; And so you shall be a blessing; And I will bless those who bless you, And the one who curses you I will curse. And in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed"
For a good reference on the anticipation of the Messiah throughout the Old Testament read this article: The Anticipation of Israel's Messiah by Bob Deffinbaugh
They were foreknown and predestined to salvation because of their forward looking faith but Jesus was tasked with descending to Hades to let them know that He accomplished their salvation and eternal life through His death and, soon to happen, resurrection. When you understand what Col. 1:20 is referencing then it is easy to understand. Here are a few commentaries I think got it right (there may be others). This is a case in point for studying the Bible by comparing translations, researching the original languages, and seeing what various commentaries state since many times they are different on the difficult verses.
Now he teaches how Christ executed that office which his Father gave and commanded to him, that is, by suffering the death of the cross (which was joined with the curse of God) according to his decree, that by this sacrifice he might reconcile to his Father all men, both those who believed in the Christ to come, and were already under this hope gathered into heaven, as well as those who should upon the earth believe in him afterwards. And in this way justification is described by the apostle, which is one and the chiefest part of the benefit of Christ. (n) The whole Church. (1599 Geneva Bible Footnotes)
If the phrase be not a kind of collective phrase to signify all the world, or all mankind, as Dr. Hammond supposed the things in heaven may refer, according to some, to those persons who died under the Old Testament dispensation, and who could not have a title to glory but through the sacrificial death of Christ: and the apostle may have intended these merely to show that without this sacrifice no human beings could be saved, not only those who were then on the earth, and to whom in their successive generations the Gospel should be preached, but even those who had died before the incarnation; and, as those of them that were faithful were now in a state of blessedness, they could not have arrived there but through the blood of the cross, for the blood of calves and goats could not take away sin. (Adam Clarke Commentary)
Through the blood of the cross - The blood shed thereon. Whether things on earth - Here the enmity began: therefore this is mentioned first. Or things in heaven - Those who are now in paradise; the saints who died before Christ came. (Wesley’s Explanatory Notes)