Saturday, September 17, 2011

Buried with Jesus, Raised with Jesus

Buried with Him in baptism, in which you also were raised with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead. (Colossians 2:12)

Paul quickly moves from one sign to another, from circumcision to baptism. In verse 11, he contrasted physical circumcision with a non-physical one, a circumcision of the heart. This circumcision is one Jesus does for us and is “made without hands.” It is the “putting off the body of the sins of the flesh.” That is, it frees us from the sinfulness of human nature, which is put off, stripped from us like old clothes, because it is dead and does not have the life that comes from God.

All that is left for a body that is dead is to be buried. Which brings us to verse 12, where Paul explains to the believers at Colosse that they were buried together with Him in baptism. Baptism was practiced in the Old Testament as “various washings” (Hebrews 9:10), rituals of purification. But in the New Testament it is given new meaning for the community of Jesus believers. It signifies the spiritual circumcision that Jesus has performed for us. It says that we are dead to sin and that we have been buried together with Jesus, as if in the tomb. But that is not all, for we have also been raised with Him.

Pay close attention to tense, voice and mood in this verse: “Buried with Him” and “raised with Him” are in the Greek aorist tense, indicating completed action. Both are in the passive voice, indicating what was done to and for us, not something we did for ourselves. However, the moods are different. “Buried” is a participle — “having been buried,” as the Lexham English Bible has it — and “raised” is in the indicative mood. The two go together: having been buried with Him, we have also been raised with Him. Baptism signifies both!

Just as Jesus was buried but did not remain in the grave, because God raised Him up, so baptism shows that that we, too, have been “buried together with Him” and also “raised together with Him.” Baptism is a physical sign indicating a spiritual reality, but there is also a physical resurrection coming, of which the resurrection of Jesus’ physical body from the dead is the beginning (Paul details this in 1 Corinthians 15). So baptism also prophesies our future bodily resurrection even as it portrays Jesus’ own bodily resurrection.

However, we have already been raised spiritually with Jesus. How was this done? The NKJV says it was “through faith in the working of God,” as do many other versions. So it is usually taken to mean that God raised us up through our faith in the working of God, or that we appropriate this truth through our faith. Indeed, we do come to God by faith. “By grace you have been saved through faith,” Paul says (Ephesians 2:8). However, although the Greek text can be translated as “through faith in the working of God” it can also be “through the faith of the working of God.”

So there is another way of approaching this. Actually, there are a few different ways. One is to take it as Weymouth translates it in his New Testament in Modern Speech: “through faith produced within you by God.” Adam Clarke’s commentary also treats it this way, as faith produced by the working, or energy (the Greek word for “working” is energeo) of God. This would go along with what Paul teaches us elsewhere, faith is the gift of God (Ephesians 2:8) and comes by hearing the Word of God (Romans 10:17).

Yet there is still another way to translate this phrase, and the one I am most inclined to. The Greek word for “faith,” pistis, can also mean “faithfulness,” and I think this is one place where that fits better. The emphasis here is not on us but on Jesus, in whom all the fullness of God dwells in bodily form (Colossians 2:9), and what He is doing in us. It seems to me, then, that what Paul has in mind here is not so much about our faith, even though that faith comes to us from God, as it is about God’s faithfulness.

Having been buried together with Jesus, we have also been raised up together with Him through the faithfulness of God’s work. Baptism is an outward, visible sign of this inward, invisible condition.

The Focus of Our Faith
The Focus of Our Faith
Paul’s Letters to the Jesus Believers at Colosse
Bite-Size Studies Through Colossians
by Jeff Doles

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