It might help to step into the shoes of someone in the ancient world. What do kings/kingdoms, emperors/empires care about? What is a central concern? Loyal citizens. Obedient subordinates. And how did Rome deal with disloyalty and disobedience? They, like all empires and kingdoms, 'pacify' such elements. One instrument of such pacification was the crucifixion. Crucifying rebels sends a certain unequivocal message. If your town or colony was in rebellion and the imperial forces showed up, there was a HIGH probability of brutal retribution. The "Pax Romana" (peace of Rome) was basically good for the citizens of the empire and the empire resented it deeply when their services were not appreciated. Now, the 'gospel' of Isaiah, the prophecy of Daniel and the message of Jesus precursor, John the Baptist all indicated that in some way God was going to be showing up. John asks his audience "Who told you to flee from the wrath to come?" Jesus' 'gospel' indicates that "the kingdom of God" was "at hand." It might even be breaking out "in the midst of you" which was a weird way to think about it. What was this going to be like? The early Christians might have said, "Too bad we never got to find out" and gone their separate ways, but they didn't.
Now, let's look at what some Christians were saying about Jesus after he was crucified and (Christians' claimed) resurrected from the dead. Here are the claims that were being made about the Roman Emperor, which we looked at in the last post, juxtaposed with the claims made about Jesus in Colossians 1:
Caesar: "equal to the beginning of all things" "the beginning of life and vitality"
Jesus: "the firstborn of all creation; 16for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers—all things have been created through him and for him. 17He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together."
In other words: Caesar and his throne subordinate to Jesus. Ouch.
Caesar: "when everything was falling into disorder and tending toward dissolution, he restored it once more and gave the whole world a new aura"
Jesus: "through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross."
In other words: Jesus restored everything disordered and chaotic to its right place through Rome's crucifixion of him?
Caesar: "who being sent to us and our descendents as Savior, has put an end to war and has set all things in order;" Jesus: 13He has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son, 14in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. v21 "And you who were once estranged and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, 22he has now reconciled in his fleshly body through death, so as to present you holy and blameless and irreproachable before him"
Assuming we already know how Caesar "puts an end to war" Jesus does it differently - through "reconciling" and "forgiving" rebels and presenting them blameless. Blameless? Not just "forgiven"? What a weird emperor?!
Caesar: "having become god-manifest, Caesar has fulfilled all the hopes of earlier times…the birthday of the god (Augustus) has been the beginning of evangelion concerning him…"
Jesus: 15 "He is the image of the invisible God,... 19For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell," and a bit later: 9"For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily,"
In other words, "Yes, the great emperor of emperors did come to a rebellious people in and through Jesus, but instead of coming with retribution, he came and allowed us to do our worst to him. He exposed our fear and animosity but somehow transformed it through suffering."
The message is remarkably consistent, from the parables of the kingdom that Jesus describes where the kingdom becomes a rather indiscriminate home for the riff-raff of the world, to Luke's Jesus saying "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do" while he's hanging on the cross, to the (THE) major theme of Paul's letters which are overwhelmingly concerned with reconciliation and the unity of formerly divided people (ethnically, religiously, nationally) in the church. Even the 'gospel' of John has Jesus telling Nicodemus that "unless he is born of water and the Spirit" he cannot "perceive the kingdom of God." Indeed, who COULD perceive it without a radical paradigm shift?But even here, we have Jesus (or John) saying, "God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him." But those who run in fear from the emperor; who cannot imagine that they might be rendered "blameless" cannot find out that this is the verdict - they are running from a messenger of good news because they fear the news is bad.
The passage we've considered from Colossians concludes with this: "I, Paul, became a servant of this gospel." Indeed. The books of Acts that recounts Paul's travels concludes with him living under some sort of house-arrest and:28:30 "He lived there for two whole years at his own expense and welcomed all who came to him, 31proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness and without hindrance."
Next, we'll have to backtrack a little bit and consider 1) The divinity of Jesus? and 2) What are the implications of this message? Wright (a major influence for me) sums things up well here: