Colossians 1:19 and 20 read like this: “For in him (Christ) all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.” Paul, here, speaks of Christ’s incarnation (vs. 19) and Christ’s crucifixion (vs. 20) as the means through which God effects reconciliation. That is to say, reconciliation not just for us but for the whole of creation.
Notice that this reconciliation that God has accomplished began with his incarnation: “For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell.” Scholars remind me that Paul’s language here of God’s fullness dwelling in Christ is a significant revision of the Old Testament understanding of God dwelling primarily in the temple. For ancient Israel, God dwelled uniquely in the temple of sacrifice, and more specifically in the Holy of Holies. That was then, but now, Paul claims, the utter and complete fullness of God’s glory dwells not in a building, not in a statue, not on an altar, but in his Son. This is the remarkable reality of the incarnation. God reconciles with us not far off in the distance, detached, as it were, from the frailties and pitfalls of our humanity. No! God reconciled with us by becoming one of us, and in doing so, he brought the glory of heaven to the wretchedness of this earth. When heaven comes to earth, nothing is ever the same.
While God’s reconciliation began with the incarnation, it culminated in his crucifixion: “…and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.” For God, reconciliation of the whole cosmos to himself was costly. Indeed, it cost God everything, even “the “blood of his cross.” Scott McKnight names the radicality of Paul’s theology: “what the apostle claims here is that the whole created order finds its only lasting peace in the ignominy of a bloody act of execution…an act God unzipped and reconfigured by raising his Son from the dead.” While reconciliation cost Jesus his earthly life, it was a cost he willingly paid out of love for the world he created. Furthermore, it was a cost that God transformed—through Christ’s resurrection—into an ultimate gain: lasting peace and reconciliation. Jesus gave his life for us, so we now live our lives for him (Romans 12:1-2).