God in Christ has reconciled everything. This includes the mighty forces that wield formidable power in the world, as well as flawed material products.
The phrase ‘all things’ appears in Paul’s great passage on the person and work of Christ, Colossians 1:15-20. Here Paul portrays Jesus as both lord of the universe and head of the church. He is the ‘image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation’ (1:15), as well as ‘firstborn from the dead’ (1:18). Fascinatingly, the word ‘things’ appears six times and ‘everything’ once:
- In Christ all things in heaven and on earth were created (1:16)
- These things were created through him and for him (1:17)
- Christ is before all things, and in him all things hold together (1:17)
- He will come to have first place in everything (1:18)
- Through Christ God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things (1:20)
Human beings are infinitely precious in God’s sight, and, understandably, when we consider God’s purposes in salvation we think principally of people being reconciled to him. But this passage says that God’s saving purposes entail things as well. What are these things?
Paul says they are ‘things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers’ (1:16). These seem to be the rulers and authorities which he describes as the ‘cosmic powers of this present darkness’ and ‘the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places’ in Ephesians 6:12. But his scope here runs wider than that. They are things visible as well as invisible, both on earth and in heaven. The phrase appears to include all that wield authority. Caesar and the Roman Empire probably loomed large in Paul’s mind.
Today, along with countries that occupy or aspire to ‘superpower’ status, we might mention the media, the Internet, the advertising industry or even the global market economy. These are all forces that wield formidable power, in ways seen and unseen. Although they can be used for good, they often seem to be in the grip of evil: the sinister heavenly forces subvert earthly realities.
Colossians 1 reassures us that though these things are powerful, they don’t possess ultimate power. Created in and by Christ, they are reconciled through ‘the blood of his cross’ (1:20). The great global forces find their true meaning and fulfilment when subject to Jesus Christ.
The first step towards this may occur when those with mighty power are forced to apologise for abusing it. An example of this came when Rupert Murdoch and News International printed full-page advertisements saying ‘We’re sorry’ for serious wrongdoing in all the UK’s national newspapers.
‘Things’ also means the world of material, manufactured things that business produces. Along with products of excellent quality, there are those that are damaged and rejected. Things go wrong in industrial processes, or indeed natural disasters. When I visited Chile in 2011 I saw how a major earthquake of the previous year damaged wine vats and destroyed a harvest as well as killing people – evidence of a creation that is ‘in bondage to decay’ and ‘groaning in labour pains’ (Romans 8:21-22).
Fit for Purpose
The Christian hope, however, is that the creation will be liberated from this, obtaining the ‘freedom of the glory of the children of God’: another clear statement that salvation embraces not just us but the world we inhabit. We may be pleasantly surprised to discover in the transformed creation some of our products, purged of their defects and made fully fit for purpose.
Intriguingly, Revelation 21 speaks of people bringing into the heavenly city ‘the glory and honour of the nations’ (21:24-26). Commentator Michael Wilcock takes this to mean: ‘all that is truly good and beautiful will reappear there, purified and enhanced in the perfect setting its Master intended for it; nothing of real value is lost.’ What people do in this life is swept up into God’s eternal purposes. The products of business endeavour are as likely to feature in this glorious new creation as those of other human activities.
It is interesting how Revelation 21 and the later chapters of Isaiah share common images and concepts. Revelation 21:24-26 is close to Isaiah 60:11: ‘Your gates shall always be open; day and night they shall not be shut, so that nations shall bring you their wealth, with their kings led in procession.’ The prophet pictures the holy city, a transformed Jerusalem, as a centre of commerce, a place that receives vessels, goods and animals that are beasts of burden.
Richard Mouw, author of When the Kings Come Marching In, a fascinating study of Isaiah 60, asks: why are the ships of Tarshish (60:9) and the cedars of Lebanon (60:13) so prominent in this vision? He notes how in Isaiah 2 they are symbols of cultural arrogance. The Lord of hosts ‘has a day against all that is proud and lofty’ and both are listed among the items that represent the ‘haughtiness of peoples’ (Isaiah 2:12-17). The beautifully crafted ships of Tarshish ‘were possessions that engendered pride in their owners and crews, instruments of pagan commercial power.’ But in the later vision they no longer flaunt alien power; the ships bring silver and gold into the city (60:9). Similarly, ‘the glory of Lebanon’ is made to beautify God’s sanctuary (60:14).
Eating Humble Pie
The message is that objects cleansed of their idolatrous functions become fitting instruments of service for God and his people. The kings of the nations (who are also mentioned in Revelation 21:24) are made to eat humble pie. As rulers they are both particularly prone to the corruption of power and symbolise the faults of a national culture. God’s judgment entails bending them to a servant role (Isaiah 60:10). The picture is again transformative rather than destructive.
Mouw makes a telling application of this chapter to the present day:
God will stand in judgment of all idolatrous and prideful attachments to military, technological, commercial, and cultural might. He will destroy all of those rebellious projects that glorify oppression, exploitation, and the accumulation of possessions. It is in such projects that we can discern our own ships of Tarshish and cedars from Lebanon…But the “stuff” of human cultural rebellion will nonetheless be gathered into the Holy City. God still owns the “filling”. The earth – including the American military and French art and Chinese medicine and Nigerian agriculture – belongs to the Lord. And he will reclaim all of these things, harnessing them for service in the City.
From Faith, Hope & the Global Economy, pp.205-209
 Richard Mouw, When the Kings Come Marching In: Isaiah and the New Jerusalem, Eerdmans, 1983, p.28.
 Ibid, p.39.