The Subject of the Ministry
that is, the mystery which has been hidden from the past ages and generations; but has now been manifested to His saints, to whom God willed to make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. (1:26–27)
The message Paul proclaimed in his ministry was the mystery which has been hidden from the past ages and generations; but has now been manifested to His saints. There are some things God reveals to no one. Deuteronomy 29:29 says, “The secret things belong to the Lord our God.” God reveals other things only to certain people. “The secret of the Lord is for those who fear Him” (Ps. 25:14). Proverbs 3:32 says, “He is intimate with the upright.” Still other things were hidden in the Old Testament but have now been revealed in the New. The New Testament calls them mysteries (mustērion). Paul’s use of this word is not to indicate a secret teaching, rite, or ceremony revealed only to some elite initiates (as in the mystery religions), but truth revealed to all believers in the New Testament. This truth, that has now been manifested to His saints, is that which has been hidden from the past ages and generations, namely the Old Testament era and people. Now refers to the time of the writing of the New Testament. Such newly revealed truth includes the mystery of the incarnate God (Col. 2:2–3, 9); of Israel’s unbelief (Rom. 11:25); of lawlessness (2 Thess. 2:7; cf. Rev. 17:5, 7); of the unity of Jew and Gentile in the church (Eph. 3:3–6); and of the rapture (1 Cor. 15:51). This mystery truth is available only for those who are saints—true believers (cf. 1 Cor. 2:7–16). The phrase to whom God willed to make known clearly indicates that the mysteries are not discovered by the genius of man, but are revealed by the will and act of God. It is God’s purpose that His people know this truth.
Of all the mysteries God has revealed in the New Testament, the most profound is Christ in you, the hope of glory. The Old Testament predicted the coming of the Messiah. But the idea that He would actually live in His redeemed church, made up mostly of Gentiles, was not revealed. The New Testament is clear that Christ, by the Holy Spirit, takes up permanent residence in all believers (cf. Rom. 8:9; 1 Cor. 6:19, 20; Eph. 2:22). The revelation of the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles awaited the New Testament (Eph. 3:3–6). Believers, both Jew and Gentile, now possess the surpassing riches of the indwelling Christ (John 14:23; Rom. 8:9–10; Gal. 2:20; Eph. 1:7, 17–18; 3:8–10, 16–19; Phil. 4:19). The church is described as “the temple of the living God; just as God said, ‘I will dwell in them and walk among them; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people’ ” (2 Cor. 6:16). That Christ indwells all believers is the source for their hope of glory and is the subject or theme of the gospel ministry. What makes the gospel attractive is not just that it promises present joy and help, but that it promises eternal honor, blessing, and glory. When Christ comes to live in a believer, His presence is the anchor of the promise of heaven—the guarantee of future bliss eternally (cf. 2 Cor. 5:1–5; Eph. 1:13–14). In the reality that Christ is living in the Christian is the experience of new life and hope of eternal glory.
27 Thus far in this section Paul has spoken of his ministerial vocation in terms of suffering on behalf of the church (v. 24) and fulfilling the word of God, i.e., declaring the now-manifested mystery to the saints (vv. 25–26). In v. 27 Paul reflects further on what God has willed to reveal to his holy ones. God chose to make known to the saints, the text contends, “what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles” (NASB). Though this expression is rather cumbersome, at its heart is Paul’s abiding conviction that the gospel is for all people, be they Jew or Greek (3:11; cf. Ro 1:16; Gal 3:28). In conjunction with Israel’s vocation to be a light to the nations (Isa 49:6), Paul was divinely commissioned to take the gospel to the Gentiles (Ro 15:8–12, 15–16; Gal 1:16). As an apostle to the Gentiles (Ro 11:13), Paul was given the opportunity and responsibility to declare to them the spiritual life available in Christ (cf. Eph 3:7–8). Paul sought to convey to Gentiles that they did not need to remain spiritual “foreigners and aliens”; instead, alongside Israel, they could be “fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household” (Eph 2:19). God used Paul’s ministry among the Gentiles to reveal a particular mystery to the church, namely, that Christ could indwell and dwell among (even) Gentile people (Eph 2:11–21; cf. Ac 10:45; 11:1, 18; 13:47; Gal 2:15–16).
In 1:26 Paul employs the term “mystery” as more or less a synonym for the gospel. Later in the letter, Paul will equate God’s mystery with Christ himself (2:2). Here in 1:27 “mystery” is used to speak specifically of Paul’s proclamation and the Gentiles’ (particularly the Colossians’) reception of Christ. Paul instructs the fellowship that the rich and glorious mystery is Christ “in” and/or “among” them (the “you” is plural). Both the NIV and NASB render the preposition en as “in”; in doing so they underscore the personal indwelling of Christ in the lives of (Gentile) Christians, not unlike the Colossians. If en were translated “among” (so NJB), it would emphasize the presence of Christ in the midst of the Christian community (cf. Mt 18:20). While both renderings are possible (and a double entendre may be intended), I am inclined to translate en as “in.” Even as the Colossians are “in Christ,” so also Christ is “in” them (cf. Gal 2:20).
The presence of Christ in the Colossians gives rise to and reinforces “the hope of glory.” Although Christ (by his Spirit) already indwells the Colossians (cf. 2 Co 3:17) and is able to meet their every spiritual need (Ro 8:9–11; cf. Php 4:19), additional revelation and transformation will yet occur. As 1 John 3:2 states, “Now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known” (cf. 1 Co 2:9). Hope is a recurring theme in Colossians (1:5, 23). In this verse, “hope” connotes an eager expectation of and steadfast confidence in God’s glorious future for his children and his creation (see esp. Ro 8:18–25). Like the word “hope,” “glory” (doxa, GK 1518) appears three times in Colossians (1:11, 27; 3:4). Both here and in 3:4 the term is essentially equivalent with what we might refer to as “eternity.” For Paul, the presence of Christ in believers’ lives was an enabling power for the day and an abiding hope for the morrow. Christians, therefore, are able to stand in grace and “rejoice in the hope of [sharing] the glory of God” (Ro 5:2).
27 For Paul the moment of revelation came on the Damascus road. He did not instantly grasp the full significance of what was revealed to him then: it had to be worked out and appreciated in the course of his apostolic experience. It was Christ in person that was revealed to him with special reference to his role in Paul’s Gentile mission. “God,” as he says, “was pleased to reveal his Son in me, in order that I might preach him among the Gentiles” (Gal. 1:15–16).
The saving purpose of God was a major theme of the OT prophets, and that Gentiles as well as Israelites were embraced within its scope was also foreseen. But the manner in which that purpose would come to fruition—by the incorporation of Gentile and Jewish believers alike in the common life of the body of Christ—was not made known. That remained a secret, a mystery, until the time of fulfilment, and now Paul, as steward of this mystery, unfolds its wonder to his readers, that the glory of God’s rich grace thus lavishly dispensed may move them to grateful adoration. Had this grace been shown to believing Jews alone, it might not have excited such wonder; they, after all, were the messianic people. But non-Jews are included as well, and included on an equal footing with Jews; and it is Paul’s supreme joy, as it is his divinely imposed obligation, to “make known the glorious wealth of this mystery among the Gentiles.”
Christ is himself “the mystery of God” (Col. 2:2); in him the deus absconditus has become the deus revelatus. But Paul’s special stewardship of this mystery involves its disclosure to Gentiles. “Christ is in you,” he assures his Colossian readers, “Christ is in you (even in you Gentiles) as your hope of glory.” The phrase “in you” might mean “in your midst” (as a community) or “within you” (as individuals). Neither sense should be excluded, but the thought of Christ as indwelling individual believers is completely in line with Pauline thought. The indwelling Christ and the indwelling Spirit are practically interchangeable thoughts for Paul (cf. Rom. 8:10–11), although elsewhere it is the indwelling Spirit that he presents as the hope or guarantee of coming glory. In this letter, however, he expresses himself in christological terms, and the readers are assured of the hope which is bound up with the indwelling Christ. The fact that here and now, as members of his body, they have his risen life within them, affords them a stable basis for confidence that they will share in the fullness of glory yet to be displayed, on the day of “the revealing of the sons of God” (Rom. 8:19).
27 Another explanation by way of explanation now follows his comments about the “saints,” or as the NIV has it, “the Lord’s people.” Again, the diagram:
The christologically based suffering ministry (1:24)
The servant-based ministry of the Word (1:25)
The Word is a mystery (1:26)
The mystery extends to the Gentiles (1:27)
The Gentiles become mature in Christ (1:28)
The christologically energized ministry (1:29).
To this people “God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery.” The word “make known” parallels the “now disclosed” of v. 26, and “the Lord’s people” is defined as including “the Gentiles.” The word “mystery” in v. 26 finds a parallel in “the glorious riches of this mystery,” which is itself now made more clear with “Christ in you, the hope of glory.” In effect, v. 27 repeats v. 26 by way of slight expansion. To circle back to v. 25, we are learning more and more what “commission” (oikonomia) means: God’s plan all along has been to expand Israel by extending Abraham’s blessing to the Gentiles, and Paul’s mission is precisely that—to gospel the Gentiles with the message about Christ. But “God has chosen to make known” reveals that gospeling is the work of God—the missio Dei. To repeat, the work of God is to declare God’s Son, Jesus, to be King for all people, Jews and Gentiles, males and females, slaves and free, Scythians and barbarians.
The focal point of this mystery’s glorious richness is Christ himself; the Christocentrism of Paul’s theology in the Prison Letters must be acknowledged for what it is. Paul sees the ground and the goal of all history to be Christ, and we perhaps need to remind ourselves of two things: first, that “Christ” means “Messiah” and therefore evokes a history of expectation in Israel’s story that leads to God finally sending his Son to be Israel’s one true King; and second, that soteriology flows out of Christology, or that the gospel message is first about Jesus and only then about salvation. This ordering turns Jesus from simply being a means of redemption into the subject of the gospel itself. It is in this Christocentric context that the word “glorious” gains its most important evocation: Paul is not using “glorious” just as an adjective,540 as if he were saying “marvelous” or “magnificent.” No, this term evokes the very presence of God in Christ (the Glorious One), and one is not off base thinking here of the christological reflection of Heb 1:1–4, and one might also take a long drink over a similar usage at Jas 2:1. As will be clear a few words deeper into v. 27, Paul will define “the glorious riches of this mystery” to be “Christ in you,” and Christ is defined then as “the hope of glory.”
This Christ the King can be described only with the term “riches,” an important if minor theme in Paul at this period in his ministry (cf. Rom 9:23–24; 11:33; 16:25–26). “Riches” can refer to the gospel response in generosity to others (2 Cor 8:2), to the gracious gift of election and covenant redemption in Christ (Eph 1:7; 2:7; Rom 2:4), to the incomparable goodness and abundance of that gift (Phil 4:19; Eph 3:16; Rom 9:23; 11:33; 1 Tim 6:17), and to the mystery of God’s redemption expanding to the Gentiles (Col 2:2; Eph 1:18; 3:8; Rom 11:12).
And this gloriously rich mystery, Paul continues in v. 27, is flourishing among the Gentiles. They are not the object of God’s choice to make the mystery known but the ones among whom this knowledge is now circulating. In other words, God is making known to the “Lord’s people” the mystery that is at work now among the Gentiles. What is known is the story about King Jesus expanding to include Gentiles into the people of God. This kind of Christocentricity of history characterizes so many paragraphs of the Prison Letters because the gospel itself is Christocentric. It is a mistake to think the gospel can be reduced to the message of our salvation; the gospel is the message about Christ who is King, Lord, and Savior. The gospel saves because the Messiah is the Savior; the Savior is not the means of the gospel but its content. The missio Dei is to announce Jesus because, as the hymn in 1:15–20 makes clear, he is the Creator and the Sustainer and the Redeemer and the telos of all creation.
What does “Christ in you” mean? It can be either individual (in you personally) or corporate (among you Colossians). There is plenty of evidence that the apostle Paul believed Christ took up residence in the heart of each believer (Gal 2:20 [referring to Jewish believers]; 2 Cor 13:5; Rom 8:10; Eph 3:17), but the term “you” here is plural, and Paul’s theme of Christ’s presence transcends individuals.543 That is, because he dwells in the new people of God, the church (corporate), through the Spirit, he truly also indwells the believer (individual). This sense has an immediate parallel in the preceding clause: “among the Gentiles,” which uses en, meaning “in, or among, you.” Having said this, there is some trendiness is asserting that the use of plural nouns means that Paul is not speaking to individuals or that such plurals counter modern-day individualism. These plurals can just as easily mean “each one of you—that is, all of you” and not be seen as a razor’s edge cutting into individualism. It is a false dichotomy to pose individual (as personal) vs. corporate in New Testament texts; the language operates in both directions—which is not to say that our modern context is not too individualistic and that we are not in need of a more robust ecclesiology. Paul’s ecclesiology does not colonize the individual into a collective but reorients the selfishness of individuals toward a cruciform existence for others.
“Christ in you” is further clarified as v. 27 comes to its end: the indwelling of God in Christ among and in the Colossians generates “the hope of glory.” As we have already stated at 1:5, Paul’s sense of hope refers to the future, final, and eternal salvation of God in the kingdom that has been now manifested in Christ himself and in God’s people, the church, and that glorious residence is spreading throughout the world through that indwelt people. The presence of Christ among the Colossians, then, is ground for their hope of life in the age to come.
The mystery of Christ (vv. 26–27)
The ‘mystery’ Paul speaks about is not ‘something paradoxical or puzzling but a truth revealed now that Christ has died’. The ‘spoilers’ in Colosse were accustomed to using words like ‘mystery’. Paul is counteracting this because there are no secrets now. The Messiah has come and there are no guilds, societies, orders or cults which have more divine light than the gospel Paul preaches. The gospel of Jesus Christ reveals the whole picture to all who will listen and believe. Here are four things about the mystery:
The ‘mystery’ is the content of Paul’s preaching ministry, ‘hidden from ages and from generations, but now … revealed to his saints (v. 26).
The ‘mystery’ has two elements that climax in Christ himself. (1) The Gentiles are now included in the plan of God (v. 27). This was new and it created a problem for established Judaism. (2) The ‘mystery’ is actually a person who is ‘Christ in you’ (v. 27b).
The phrase ‘Christ in you’ speaks of the indwelling presence of Jesus Christ in the believer’s heart in the Person of the Holy Spirit. This leads to love, joy and peace.
The phrase ‘the hope of glory’ refers to eternal life. Christ possessed within is eternal life. This ‘hope’ is always looking forward to the future resurrection and the fulfilment of God’s promises in the Scriptures.
The ‘mystery’ is what God had revealed about Christ and not simply what the church came to believe about him and pass down to posterity. This distinction must be noted as the latter idea is propagated by those who reject the revelation of the historical Jesus found in the New Testament.
1:27 / Paul leaves his readers in some suspense before disclosing the content of this mystery. God has chosen, he begins, to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery. And that mystery, he goes on to clarify, is that by virtue of their incorporation into Christ his readers will share in the glory of God. The gospel, in other words, initiates a process that moves toward a goal that is yet to be fully realized. The content of the mystery is expanded in Ephesians, where the author shows that God’s plan was to include the Gentiles in his plan of salvation so that they, along with the Jews, are members of his body (Eph. 2:11–22; 3:2–12).
It is possible to translate the Greek en to read Christ among you rather than Christ in you. If so, the emphasis is upon the preaching of Christ in their midst rather than Christ dwelling within their hearts. But though this may fit the context, it is also true that the Colossians personally share in this mystery by virtue of the indwelling Christ. The mystery is that Christ is both in and among them. They are members of Christ’s body here and now; nevertheless, there is an eschatological ring to this concept because their hope is directed toward the glorious future.
26, 27. That word of God centers in Christ, God’s glorious mystery. Hence, the apostle continues, the mystery hidden for ages and generations but now made manifest to his saints. Paul uses the term “mystery,” but not as indicating a secret teaching, rite, or ceremony, having something to do with religion but hidden from the masses and revealed to an exclusive group, the sense in which the term (generally in the plural: mysteries) was at that time being employed outside of the circles of true Christianity. On the contrary, in the Pauline literature a mystery is a person or a truth that would have remained unknown had not God revealed him or it. Such a mystery is said to have been revealed in the fullest sense only then when its significance is translated into historical reality. The mystery of which the apostle is thinking here in Col. 1:26, 27 had been hidden; that is, for ages and generations (lit. “since the ages and since the generations”) it had not been historically realized. It was present, to be sure, in the plan of God and also in prophecy, but not in actuality. Now, however, that is, in this present era which began with the incarnation, and even more specifically with the proclamation of the gospel to the Gentiles, it was made manifest to his saints, that is, to the entire church of this new dispensation, none excepted. It was there for all to see! To describe more fully what he has in mind Paul continues: to whom God was pleased to make known what (is) the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. The mystery, accordingly, is Christ himself, just as in 1 Tim. 3:16; cf. Eph. 3:3, 4, 9. It is Christ in all his glorious riches actually dwelling through his Spirit in the hearts and lives of the Gentiles. In all the preceding ages this had never been seen, but now every child of God (“saint”) could bear witness to it. The Colossians themselves offered proof. To be sure, even during the days of the old dispensation there were predictions which, with ever-increasing clarity, foretold that the Gentiles would one day constitute part of God’s people (Gen. 22:18; 26:4; 28:14; 49:10; Ps. 72:8; 87; Isa. 54:2, 3; 60:1–3; Micah 4:1, 2; Mal. 1:11, to mention only a few), but in the divine good pleasure the realization of these predictions did not arrive until this present Messianic Age. “Christ in you, the hope of glory” had to wait until now. “Christ in you” means Christ in you Gentiles, and that on a basis of perfect equality with Israel, the “middle wall of partition” having been completely removed (Eph. 2:14)!
Christ in you, the hope of glory, an Easter theme
- Its meaning
Christ in you is here proclaimed as the hope or solid basis for the expectation of future, eschatological glory. The content of this glory is set forth in the context: “the inheritance of the saints in the light” (verse 12), “the presentation” of the bride to the Bridegroom (verses 22, 28); see also Col. 3:4, 24; Rom. 5:2; 8:18–23; 1 Cor. 15; Phil. 3:20, 21; 1 Thess. 2:19; 3:13; 4:13–17; 2 Thess. 1:10; 2 Tim. 1:12; 4:8; Titus 2:13. While the apostle included the intermediate state in this concept of glory (2 Cor. 5:1–8; Phil. 1:21, 23), his horizon was Christ’s second coming and never-ending bliss.
- Hopes that deceive
In all ages men have tried to establish their own basis for belief in immortality and even in a future state of perfection.
- Some reason from the premise of unsatisfied desire. We desire to see a perfect landscape. Yet when, standing on a hill, we think we see one, the descent into the valley with its rotting logs and decaying fruit, disillusions us. Nevertheless, the desire persists. This guarantees future realization.
- Others derive their proof from the unheeded voice of conscience. A voice within me is constantly saying, “Thou shalt do this, that.” Yet, no one has ever fully obeyed this categorical imperative. Is not this unrelenting demand a prediction of a future state of strict compliance, a state of perfection?
- There is also the argument from the enduring character of the self within me. In a steady line of progress I as a person have already survived successive stages of being. I was an embryo. When that stage ceased my self persisted. I was born, became an infant. I survived that stage too. And so after boyhood I became a young man, then a man of middle age, etc. Consequently, as I have survived every one of these stages, will I not also survive the last stage, namely, physical death, and rise to an immortality of bliss and glory?
A moment’s reflection is all that is necessary to show the weakness of this type of reasoning in any of its forms. Persistent yearning for the ideal in the realm of beauty, inner compulsion to obey the moral law coupled with the realization that in the here and now one can never obey it fully, and also the self’s leapfrogging of biological stages, these facts do not guarantee immortality, much less perfection in a future existence. As to the last argument, even a dog, in proportion to its own life span, passes through and survives various stages, yet does not thereby attain to immortality!
- Christ … the hope of glory
Now over against these fallible reasonings Paul proclaims Christ as the one and only solid basis for the expectation of immortality not only, but of future, eschatological glory. The evidence, moreover, which Christ gave to the world of a future state of perfection lay not only in his words or deeds but in himself. Our persistent yearning for the ideal in the realm of true, spiritual beauty is realized in him. And because his soul is beautiful, words of grace and beauty fell from his lips.
“Fair are the meadows,
Fairer still the woodlands,
Robed in the blooming garb of spring:
Jesus is fairer, Jesus is purer,
Who makes the woeful heart to sing.”
As to the persistent demand of conscience, he was the only one who satisfied it in every respect. He was able to say, “Who of you convicts me of sin?” (John 8:46).
“Weak is the effort of my heart,
And cold my warmest thought;
But when I see thee as you art,
I’ll praise thee as I ought.”
And finally, as to surviving every stage of earthly existence, even the last one, he did that very thing! Easter proclaims in every land, “Hallelujah, Christ arose.” In Paul’s day there were witnesses—many of them, in fact—who had seen him alive after his resurrection (1 Cor. 15:6). And was not the apostle himself also a witness? (1 Cor. 15:8).
“Death cannot keep his prey—
Jesus, my Savior;
He tore the bars away—
Jesus my Lord.
Up from the grave he arose,
With a mighty triumph o’er his foes.
He arose a Victor from the dark domain,
And he lives forever with his saints to reign.
He arose! He arose!
Hallelujah! Christ arose!
But granted that Christ does indeed satisfy the desire for beauty, for moral and spiritual perfection, and for ultimate survival, is not he an exception to the rule, an interruption in the race of Adam? How can his adequacy satisfy my inadequacy? How can he really be the solid basis for the hope of future bliss for the entire church, and particularly, in the present context, the Gentiles’ hope of glory?
- Objection answered
Christ in you, the hope of glory.
“This Christ through his Spirit is dwelling (and this not passively but energetically) in you,” says Paul. Hence, “If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also, through his Spirit who dwells in you” (Rom. 8:11).
1:26–27. Paul calls the message he was responsible to announce a mystery. The word mystery should not evoke images of Agatha Christie or Sherlock Holmes. The term really means secret. It is something that was kept hidden for ages and generations but is now disclosed to the saints. What’s the secret? That God has chosen to include the Gentiles in the blessings of salvation (see Eph. 3:1–6). What’s the secret? Jesus Christ is the secret. He opens the door to everyone. The unprecedented secret is that all are included. The unprecedented truth is that Jesus Christ lives in all who trust him. Not only does he live in us; he is our hope of glory.
 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1992). Colossians (pp. 78–79). Chicago: Moody Press.
 Still, T. D. (2006). Colossians. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Ephesians–Philemon (Revised Edition) (Vol. 12, pp. 301–302). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
 Bruce, F. F. (1984). The Epistles to the Colossians, to Philemon, and to the Ephesians (pp. 85–86). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.
 McKnight, S. (2018). The Letter to the Colossians. (N. B. Stonehouse, F. F. Bruce, G. D. Fee, & J. B. Green, Eds.) (pp. 197–200). Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.
 McNaughton, I. S. (2006). Opening up Colossians and Philemon (pp. 34–35). Leominster: Day One Publications.
 Patzia, A. G. (2011). Ephesians, Colossians, Philemon (p. 44). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.
 Hendriksen, W., & Kistemaker, S. J. (1953–2001). Exposition of Colossians and Philemon (Vol. 6, pp. 88–91). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.
 Anders, M. (1999). Galatians-Colossians (Vol. 8, p. 285). Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers.