God’s Word for You
Colossians 3:1-3 The three kingdoms
by Pastor Timothy Smith on Saturday, June 1, 2019
This part of the letter (3:1-4:6) is about life in the all-sufficient Christ. Paul encourages us to live completely within the sphere of Christ, to put our faith to work by putting to death fleshly and earthly desires and urging the pursuit of Godly things. He says, “Whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus” (Colossians 3:17). Paul finishes the chapter with a short form of the table of duties.
3 Therefore, since you were raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. 3 For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.
When we think about our risen and ascended Lord Jesus Christ ruling from heaven, “seated” (as Paul says) “at the right hand of God,” we consider his three kingdoms as they are described in the Bible. The three kingdoms are:
1, The Kingdom of Power
2, The Kingdom of Grace
3, The Kingdom of Glory
The first of these, the Kingdom of Power, describes God’s power and authority over the irrational creatures (animals) to whom the gospel does not apply, over the fallen angels (for whom hell was created), and the unbelievers, to whom the gospel is still offered in this lifetime. Christ reigns over this kingdom because God the Father “put everything under him” (1 Corinthians 15:28). Quenstedt noted, “The Kingdom of Power is regulated so as to serve the Kingdom of Grace” (Systema II, p. 383).
The Kingdom of Grace is identical to what we call the Church Militant, the believing church on earth, to which more souls are added every day (Acts 5:14). Christ reigns over this kingdom: “God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church” (Ephesians 1:22).
The Kingdom of Glory is simply the Kingdom of Grace extended into eternity. We depart from the one and enter into the other at the moment of death. For those who remain living when the end comes, the judgment of Christ will be their ascension into heaven with Christ and all believers. The holy angels are also members of this kingdom, as the Apostle says: “You have come…to the city of the living God. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly” (Hebrews 12:22).
The Christian lives in the Kingdom of Grace. Although passages like this one (Colossians 3:1-3) depict this Kingdom alongside the Kingdom of Glory, they are not quite the same in certain details: “Now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known” (1 John 3:2). Nevertheless, we strive to live by faith. Paul tells us to set our minds “on things above,” the things of the Kingdom of Glory and which lead to it.
Why does he say that “your life is hidden with Christ in God”? It is hidden, because no one can see by looking at me, nor can I even tell by looking into a mirror, whether I am a hypocrite or a Christian. I know that I am a Christian because I have faith, and I know my own thoughts, which are the thoughts of a Christian. But I can’t read anyone else’s thoughts, nor can I see their faith except in their words and works, and these things can be falsified or feigned.
Luther says: “For if Christendom were a physical assembly, one could tell by looking at every single body whether or not it is a Christian, a Turk, or a Jew, just as I can tell by looking at someone’s body whether it is a man, a woman, or a child, black or white. Again, with regard to a worldly assembly, I can tell whether a person has assembled together with others at Leipzig or at Wittenberg, or wherever. But I cannot tell at all whether or not he believes” (LW 39 p. 69). Artists used to paint halos over the heads of saints, but this was only a “charitable belief” (Pieper, Christian Dogmatics III p. 409). We don’t really know for certain who is a Christian and who is not. We behave as if everyone who confesses faith really has faith, and we reach out with the gospel to those who do not.
To truly set your mind “on things above,” to meditate on them and apply them to all the passages of the Bible and all the incidents of our lives, is perhaps a lost art that needs to be rediscovered. But the true Christian finds his delight in the word of the Lord, and on it “he meditates day and night” (Psalm 1:2).
“I meditate on your precepts” (Psalm 119:15).
“I meditate on your decrees” (Psalm 119:23).
“I meditate on your wonders” (Psalm 119:27).
“I meditate on your law” (Psalm 119:97).
“I meditate on your statutes” (Psalm 119:99).
“I meditate on your promises” (Psalm 119:148).
“I meditate on all your works” (Psalm 143:5),
“I meditate on your wonderful works” (Psalm 145:5).
Let me be hidden in Christ, and may God enable me to contemplate all the wonders of God’s word and work on my behalf.
Pastor Timothy Smith