If we were asked to list the most important books of the New Testament, we could not fail to leave off the list the critical book of Ephesians, along with its companion book Colossians. These books truly form the capstone of Divine revelation, and the final destination, as far as believers today are concerned, of progressive revelation. We see in these books God’s revelation of truth for today, along with His revelation of the company of believers of which we are a part. We learn of our special place in God’s plan in these books, along with our marching orders as believers living in our day. That is the important place that these two books should have in the lives of present-day believers in our Lord Jesus Christ.
To really grasp the importance of these two books, we must understand the dispensational change that took place with Paul’s great pronouncement of Acts 28:28. Many people are familiar with the important events that took place on the day of Pentecost in Acts 2, when the Spirit descended with power upon the one hundred and twenty disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ, and they spoke a message that, by day’s end, increased the number of believers to three thousand one hundred and twenty. We know of the spectacular events that happened to that company of people, and the many miracles, signs, and wonders that happened among them. Yet few realize the fact that before the Bible was completed, a new company of believers appeared on earth who were not a part of that special company we read about in the book of Acts. That company appeared after Paul made his momentous statement in Acts 28:28.
If we would look at Acts 28:28, we would see that Paul says, “Be it known therefore unto you, that the salvation of God is sent unto the Gentiles.” However, that word “salvation” is the Greek word soterion, which is an adjective, not a noun, and should be translated “salvation-bringing.” Yet “the salvation-bringing of God” makes no sense, and we can see that a word has been left out here. The word to be supplied should be found in the context, and in context we can see that Paul has been speaking a message to the important Jewish leaders of Rome for an entire day regarding the kingdom of God and the Lord Jesus Christ. This message could have brought them salvation if they had believed it, which about half of them did. So in context it was a message that brings salvation, so this could be translated, “Be it known therefore unto you, that the salvation-bringing message of God is sent unto the Gentiles.”
Yet again we would note that the word “sent” is the Greek word apostello, which is the verb form of the word “apostle.” An apostle is one who is sent with authority or commissioned. Yet when this word is used of an inanimate object it means to authorize or make freely available, as we can see in Mark 4:29, “But when the grain ripens, immediately he puts in (authorizes, apostello) the sickle, because the harvest has come.” The farmer does not necessarily do all the harvesting himself, but as the landowner he is the one who authorizes the sickle to be used when he believes the harvest should begin. Since a message is an idea, not a person, we would take it as having more of this thought, and make this, “Be it known therefore unto you, that the salvation-bringing message of God is authorized (or “made freely available”) to the Gentiles.”
Now this last word “Gentiles” is the Greek word ethnos, which is often translated as “nation.” If we make it “Gentiles,” then Israel is excluded from the salvation-bringing message, which would be a grim fate indeed. Yet I do not believe that this is at all so. An Israelite can believe this message just as much today as anyone else. This should read “nations,” not “Gentiles.” So to further translate, we would make this, “Be it known therefore unto you, that the salvation-bringing message of God has been authorized to the nations, and they will hear it.”
That word “hear” is also important. It is the Greek word akouo, and means not just to hear, but also to understand or comprehend. I can hear someone speaking in a language I do not know, but I will not comprehend what the person is saying, so this would not fit with the Greek word akouo. If they hear in an akouo way, they not only hear, but they also understand. So we could finalize our translation as: “Be it known therefore unto you, that the salvation-bringing message of God has been authorized to the nations, and it will get through to them.”
The significance of this verse can only be appreciated if we understand how it differs from what had been true before this time. In Acts 13:26, Paul declares to the synagogue in Pisidian Antioch, “Men and brethren, sons of the family of Abraham, and those among you who fear God, to you the word of this salvation has been sent.” Though the Greek word for “salvation” here is soteria, which is a noun, still the “word of this salvation” is not significantly different from “the salvation-bringing message.” The word for “sent” here is apostello, just as it is in Acts 28:28. Yet here, Paul declares that the word of salvation is authorized only to “sons of the family of Abraham, and those among you who fear God,” which latter group refers to the proselytes, since only they are allowed among the Jews in the synagogue. (Other God-fearing Gentiles who had not become proselytes had to sit by themselves in a separate place.) So salvation here was not authorized to all nations. Not by any means! Rather, it was restricted to the Jews and any proselytes who were among them. Yet that all changed at Acts 28:28. Now, the salvation-bringing message was authorized to everyone. The sons of the family of Abraham no longer had any kind of priority, for now the word was available to all.
The second thing that changed at Acts 28:28 was how the message was spread. In Romans 10:14-15a, Paul sets forth how the gospel was spread in the Acts period, when he declares:
14. How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? 15. And how shall they preach unless they are sent?
During the Acts period, no one could proclaim the message that brings salvation unless he was sent. This is again the Greek word apostello, and means commissioned. The record of the book of Acts is really the record of the actions of these God-commissioned men as they went out and carried the word to every place in the world where the Jews had come to reside. Yet at Acts 28:28, a new order of things took hold, for now it was the salvation-bringing message itself that was commissioned. Now, the word was the apostle. Now, anyone could hear it, and anyone could believe it.
The result of this was that the word was written down, even as it is now contained in our Bibles, especially in the book of John. This word then went forth, either as a written copy, or else carried by men who were not commissioned, but who had the written record and were eager to set it forth. The result of the proclaiming of these men and of the reading of this written word was that a new company of believers came into being. This company had not believed upon hearing the message proclaimed by a God-commissioned man, accompanied by signs and God-ordained miracles to prove its veracity. Instead, they had believed without seeing, but only upon hearing the message that God gave through John and its companion gospels. These believers were not followed by signs and wonders, as the Acts period believers were. Instead, they had only an inward faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, which faith affected their lives and character to the extent that they started to become like Christ. Yet this faith was not attested to by any miraculous outward manifestation at all.
When this company of believers came into being, two books were written especially to them, and both these books were written by the apostle Paul. This made sense, for who better to reach this new company of believers than the man who had been proclaiming the word for years before this great change took place? So Paul was commissioned to write to these new believers, and the books he wrote were the books of Ephesians and Colossians.
Now we today are a part of this new company of believers. We are no part of the miraculous company of the Acts period, as is evidenced by the fact that signs and wonders do not follow us, and are not manifested either before or after we believe. So we are a part of this company, but we live over nineteen hundred and fifty years after this company began. Paul wrote the book of Colossians to those of this new company who were living only a few years after this change took place, yet many of the issues they faced and things they needed to know are still the same issues we face today and the same things we need to know ourselves to understand how we should function as believers in the time in which we live.
The Colossians were a group of this new, believing company who lived in the city of Colossae, as we read in Colossians 1:2. Colossae means “Monstrosities.” It was near another city named Laodicea, which is mentioned several times in the book. Colossians is never mentioned in the book of Acts, and we have reason to believe that Paul never traveled there.
Colossae was in the region of Phrygia, which in Roman times had been divided, with half being considered part of Galatia and half part of Asia. When we read of “Asia,” we are likely to think of the giant continent containing places like Russia, China, and India. Yet the Roman province of Asia was not that giant continent at all, but a portion of what we call Asia Minor today. It was not even all of Asia Minor, but just a little Roman province in it. Colossae, Laodicea, and Hierapolis, all of which are mentioned in Colossians 4:13, were in the western half of Phrygia that belonged to Asia.
Of Asia, we read in Acts 16:6 of Paul and his company that “when they had gone through Phrygia and the region of Galatia, they were forbidden by the Holy Spirit to preach the word in Asia.” This probably means that, at that time, he only passed through the eastern part of Phrygia, since Colossae was in the western part of it in the province of Asia. Yet later Paul was allowed to proclaim the word in Asia, and in Acts 19 Paul spoke daily in the school of Tyrannus in Ephesus until “all who dwelt in Asia heard the word of the Lord Jesus, both Jews and Greeks.” (Acts 19:10) Since this included Colossae, the law-keeping Jews and the ancestral Israelites who had adopted the Greek culture in Colossae had all heard the word in the Acts period.
Yet Colossians is not written to these same people, but to those in Colossae who had believed since the dispensational change, as we can tell from Paul’s words in Colossians 1:4, “since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus.” Paul had only heard of the faith of these people. He had not seen it first hand by proclaiming to them in the Acts period. This is also clear from Colossians 2:1, “I desire you to understand the deep anxiety I am having on behalf of you, and on behalf of them at Laodicea, and on behalf of as many as have never seen my face in the flesh.” If the Colossians he is writing to had never seen Paul’s face, then he must not be intending this letter for believers who met him during the Acts period, but for new believers instead. I believe that a reading of the book will convince us that the new believers he had in mind were those who had believed since the start of the dispensation of grace at Acts 28:28.
In Ephesians 4:1 (The Resultant Version), Paul refers to his binding. “I am admonishing you, therefore, I, the bound one in the Lord, to order your behavior in a manner worthy of the position in which you have been placed.” In Ephesians 6:20, Paul speaks of being “in a chain.” “In behalf of which I am conducting an embassy in a chain, that in it I may be speaking boldly as I must speak.” In Philippians 1:7, Paul speaks of his “bonds.” “Even as it is right for me to be inclined in this way over you all, because I have you in my heart, both in my bonds, and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel, you are all joint partakers with me of the grace.” He also speaks of his “bonds” in Philippians 1:13, 14, and 16. (Note: in some versions, Ephesians 6:20 also speaks of “bonds” rather than of a chain, but the word is different in Ephesians than the word “bonds” in the other books, as The Resultant Version has rendered it “in a chain.”) In Colossians 4:3, he also speaks of his “bonds.” “I want you to pray for us, that God would open unto us a door of expression, to speak the secret of Christ, for which I am also in bonds.” Also in Colossians 4:18, he tells them to “Keep my bonds in mind.” Finally, in Philemon 1:10 (New King James Version), Paul says, “I appeal to you for my son Onesimus, whom I have begotten while in my chains,” In Philemon 1:13 (The Resultant Version), he mentions being “in the bonds of the gospel.”
In these verses, then, Paul considers himself in “a chain,” in “bonds,” or else a “bound one of the Lord.” Most conclude that this refers to his two years in his own, hired house during his two-year stay in Rome, as we read of it in Acts 28:30. “Then Paul dwelt two whole years in his own rented house, and received all who came to him.” Paul was probably in Rome between 61-63 A.D. If Colossians and Philemon were written after Philippians and Ephesians, it could have been late in those two years. (Note: some argue that Philippians was the last of these, not first.) Since Colossians corrects a failure to adhere to Ephesian teaching, it is fairly clear that it at least was written after Ephesians.
Colossians and Philemon were apparently written together. Both are by Paul and “Timothy brother,” as we can see by comparing Colossians 1:1 with Philemon 1:1 (all in The Resultant Version.)
Colossians 1:1. Paul, a commissioned one of Jesus Christ in harmony with the will of God, and Timothy the brother.
Philemon 1:1. Paul, a bound one of Jesus Christ, and Timothy our brother, unto Philemon our dearly beloved one, and our fellowworker.
Moreover, Onesimus was one of those who carried it to Colossae, as we read in Colossians 4:9.
9. With Onesimus, a believing and beloved brother, who is one of you. They shall make known unto you all things that are done here.
Onesimus clearly carried Philemon as well, as we can see in Philemon 12.
12. Whom I have sent back: you therefore receive him, that is, my most compassionate feelings.
Archippus is mentioned as being in Colosse in Colossians 4:17.
17. And say to Archippus: “Look to the service that you accepted in the Lord, in order to fulfill it.”
Archippus is also with Philemon and is part of his household and probably of his family, according to Philemon 2.
2. And to our beloved Apphia our sister, and Archippus our fellowsoldier, and to the out-called in your house:
Because of this, it seems clear that Philemon was at Colossae, and so both letters were carried at the same time.
Yet Philemon is one of what is called “Paul’s personal letters,” whereas Colossians is one of his letters to ekklesias or to groups of people. If we were to put a structure to these, it would be as follows, borrowing freely from the structures in the Companion Bible:
A. Romans. Doctrine. Regarding salvation and the “worthy walk” of the Acts period.
B. I and II Corinthians. Reproof. Regarding failure to walk the “worthy walk” of the Acts period.
C. Galatians. Correction. Regarding failure to understand salvation.
A. Ephesians. Doctrine. Regarding the new dispensation and the “worthy walk” that accompanies it.
B. Philippians. Reproof. Regarding failure to accept the new dispensation.
C. Colossians. Correction. Regarding failure to walk the “worthy walk” of today and to hold Christ as the head and value our completeness in Him.
A. I and II Thessalonians. Instruction in righteousness. Regarding salvation, prophetic issues, and the “worthy walk” of the Acts period.
If we divide Paul’s books into chronological periods, early (Acts period) books, prison epistles, and later (post-Acts period) books, Colossians belongs to the prison epistles. It was written during his two years in his own hired house in Rome, as we read of it in Acts 28:31. This book was probably written around 62-63 A.D., and at around the same time as Philemon, as the last two books Paul wrote during his stay in Rome. It is particularly relevant to us today, as it was written while God’s current work was already in effect, and to people who were living under that plan and learning to live as part of it. We can learn much of God’s work today from Colossians, and we will seek to learn as much as we can from this book as we study through it.
One note on our studies. As we study Colossians, I am not going to include only the text of the New King James Version, as I usually do, but also the text of The Resultant Version of Otis Q. Sellers, which he calls the “result” of all his studies of the Scriptures and of the Greek. I believe Sellers did an excellent job with the translation of Colossians, and much of my commentary will match what he has in his translation, so I will include it with my study.