|Volume 23 Number 4 April 2021
Reconcile Heavenly Things?
T. Pierce Brown
There is an interesting expression in Colossians 1:19-20 about which I have been unable to find any commentator who seems to have a satisfactory answer for its meaning. It says, “For it was the good pleasure of the Father that in him should all the fullness dwell; and through him to reconcile all things unto himself, having made peace through the blood of his cross; through him, I say, whether things upon the earth, or things in the heavens.” The problem has to do with the question, “What are the things in the heavens that need reconciling to God?”
While I am not arrogant enough to assume that I can give a definite answer to a question that has puzzled some of the greatest Bible scholars in all ages, there are a few things I can suggest that may be helpful in reaching some sensible conclusion. The simplest and easiest answer may be the best solution. It may be that Paul was simply saying all things that are in the whole universe (thought of as on earth or in heaven) will be made right as a result of Christ’s dying for us. Even the curse of Genesis 3:17, which may be the cause of all disorders such as the thorns and thistles, storms, hurricanes and earthquakes, will be removed when we have the “new heavens and the new earth wherein dwelleth righteousness” (2 Peter 3:13), which will result from Christ’s death for us and our ultimate redemption.
However, we would do well to be aware of several other factors as we study this subject. First, we need to be aware that the term “heaven” does not always refer to the dwelling place of God. We read of the birds of the air (heaven), stars of heaven, clouds of heaven, the heaven and the earth that will pass away and melt with fervent heat (2 Peter 3:12), the heaven of heavens where God dwells, and other such expressions.
Second, we need to know that when the Greek expression “ta panta” is used, translated “all things,” it does not refer to “all things” without restriction or limit but should be translated “all these things.” What “these things” are will be determined by the context. Perhaps the clearest expression of this is in Colossians 3:8, which reads, “But now do ye also put them all [ta panta] away: anger, wrath, malice, railing, shameful speaking out of your mouth.” This expression by itself deserves a whole article, but a serious student may want to look at every expression where “ta panta” is used, and he may discover that, although it may be literally translated “the all,” it is an idiomatic expression referring to something that has been mentioned or will be mentioned in the context in which it is used. There are about three dozen times the expression is used in the New Testament. So, when we read that “all things” will be reconciled to God, it would not necessarily include such things as the devil, fallen angels, etc. but the things mentioned in verse 16.
Third, when God, through the Bible, spoke of reconciling things to Himself, He did not mean that there will be an automatic or an inevitable reconciliation. This should be clear when one reads 2 Corinthians 5:19, where we read, “God was in Christ reconciling the world unto himself, not reckoning unto them their trespasses.” Surely no Bible student could assume that God reconciles the world to Himself in some arbitrary or automatic manner. We are reconciled to God as we surrender to His will. If an inanimate thing is said to be reconciled, it would simply mean that it would be made to conform to His will.
Some commentators assume that the reference in Colossians 1:20 means that angels who sinned, and perhaps even Satan himself, will be reconciled to God. This view is wrong for several reasons. First, if “heaven” means “around the throne of God,” they are no longer there, so it could not include them. Second, there is no hint in the Bible that God has a plan to redeem fallen angels, for they are reserved in chains of darkness (2 Peter 2:4), and Hebrews 2:16 in the original language suggests God does not give help to angels. The fact that the lake of fire is reserved for the devil and his angels (Revelation 20:10) should settle that matter.
There are a few other verses in the Bible that may be suggested in searching for a possible answer. Ephesians 6:12 says, “For our wrestling is not against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world-rulers of this darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.” The King James translation of “spiritual wickedness” is wrong, for “spiritual” is accusative, neuter, plural and “wickedness” is genitive, singular. The term “spiritual” refers to that which is produced by God. He does not produce wickedness. However, there are persons and things that were produced or provided by Him that are used for wicked purposes. God produced Satan and all his angels, and all their power was given by Him, but it was perverted to wicked purposes. Paul wrote in Romans 1:2, “There is no power but of God; and the powers that be are ordained of God.” So, there is no power that is not given of God, but that does not mean that the improper exercise of that power pleases Him. It is not to be assumed that because our wrestling is not against flesh and blood that the fight is against some immaterial or angelic forces. When preachers of the Gospel fight against false doctrines of human teachers, the battle is not against flesh and blood, but that does not mean that those who teach the doctrines are not human beings.
So, when we wrestle or fight against those who are in high (heavenly) places who are using their God-given powers (spiritual forces) for wicked purposes, we are simply doing what we are supposed to do when we put on the whole armor of God. We may note that the expression, “in heavenly places,” is exactly the same in Greek as the expression in Colossians 1:21, “en tois epouraniois.” It is the same expression as in Ephesians 3:10 where we are told, “To the intent that now unto the principalities and the powers in the heavenly places might be made known through the church the manifold wisdom of God.” If it is possible that through the church the principalities and powers in high places might know of the wisdom of God, then it should not be hard to see how those powers could be reconciled to God.
However, it seems to me that the most significant clue to His meaning may be found in His unique use of the word translated “reconcile.” Since Paul alone uses it, for we can find no other record of it, either in the Bible or in any Greek literature, it is probable that he coined the word with a special meaning in harmony with the basic root meaning of all of its parts. We know that a preposition added to a word usually intensified and slightly changes the meaning of any word. In this case, we have an addition of two prepositions, “apo” and “kata” to “allasso,” which means, “change.” When the word is used with reference to sinners changing their relationship to God, it normally suggests that those who have been alienated from Him by sin are no longer that way. They are reconciled, justified or forgiven.
When the word “apokatallasso” (or apokatallatto) is used with reference to things, it is evident that it cannot mean “justified” or “forgiven,” but it can still have the idea of being brought back into subjection or submission to. In 1 Corinthians 15:24-27, Christ is presented as reigning until He has put all things under his feet, including all rule, authority and power – including death. Hebrews 2:14 shows that through the death of Christ He will destroy him who has the power of death – the devil.
Surely, there is little doubt that the devil is included in the spiritual host of wickedness in high places (Ephesians 6:12). There should also be no doubt that any rule, authority or power the devil has, along with all his followers, will be destroyed or brought to naught. If we recognize the right of Paul or the Holy Spirit to use this special word, “apokatallatto,” to refer to bringing all things in the universe into subjection to Christ, then we should have little trouble understanding that it was through the death of Christ that this is accomplished. The fact that “ta panta” (all these things) instead of “persons” is used may strengthen this conclusion. Also, the fact that when we are reconciled to God, we are brought into subjection to Him helps to show that reconciliation does not necessarily simply refer to forgiveness, although when we choose to be in subjection to Him, we are forgiven.
Of one thing we can be reasonably certain. All things that have any choice in the matter and are willing to conform to the will of God will be as fully made perfect as it is possible to be, including the saints of old whose sins were not actually forgiven by the blood of bulls and goats but will be completely reconciled (apokatallatto) by the blood of Christ. All creation that was in any way “subjected to vanity” or cursed because of Adam’s sin will also be removed or re-done so that all things will be brought into perfect harmony with God’s will.