Believers are regularly accused of not living in the “real world.” This accusation assumes that the fallen world is normative and Christians should come to terms with the consequences of Adam’s sin. But Paul states that we are rather to seek and desire the things which are above where the victorious Christ sits at the right hand of God. This is not an admonition to be “other worldly” or to focus on our own reward in heaven. It is a directive to keep our priorities straight, to focus on the way things really are. In particular we must focus on Jesus Christ the Mediator worshipped in heaven with the Father until His return as Judge. We must see that event as a predestined certainty as we also must see ourselves appearing “with him in glory” (v. 4). If we see Christ as He really is right now, and if we see ourselves as not only desiring and rejoicing in His return, but being personally and eternally enveloped in His glorious presence, we will understand what is real and see all else as pretense and sham.
Paul had been speaking to the church of the “tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world” through which by “philosophy and vain deceit” false teachers had tried to manipulate them by means of false piety rather than emphasizing the person and work of Christ. In doing so he had emphasized that, as baptism signified, Christ’s death was our death, and His victorious resurrection was ours. Now Paul tells the Colossians to think after and seek Christ’s glory and exaltation here, as it is in heaven. Specifically, Paul was opposing this to the “shadows” of rules and other “commandments and doctrines of men” which are too easily equated with true piety. In general, Paul was reminding us to keep focusing on our new relationship to the Father because of Jesus Christ. If we see Jesus “at the right hand of God” our thinking will be clearer, our sense of duty will be keener, our contempt for the sinful will be sharper, and our vision of what constitutes true godliness and holiness will be separated from false, man-made piety.
Paul tells us that if we share in Christ’s death we share in His resurrection. This victory must direct our thinking and our actions to serve our Redeemer. Because Christ died, our penalty is paid; because Christ rose, we are raised as new creatures; and because Christ sits at the throne, our thinking and action must be predicated on His victory and rule.
Christ at the right hand of God is an image used repeatedly in the New Testament. In the ancient world, and even now where it endures, royalty was not only untouchable to the masses, but unapproachable. The king issued directives to his “right-hand man” and received information from him with which to make decrees. Speaking to the king without permission meant swift punishment. The references to Christ at the right hand of the Father emphasizes the role of Christ as our Intercessor and Advocate before the Father—hence the appropriate custom of praying to our Heavenly Father “through Jesus Christ our Lord.”
When Paul urges us to think and act in terms of those things which are above as opposed to those things which are on earth, we must keep in view that the purpose of his letter was to warn us against traditions of men (2:8) which could easily become the “commandments and doctrines of men” (2:22). He is not talking so much about avoiding sins as he is avoiding false views of piety which only are a “shew of wisdom” (2:23). His point is that if we first of all focus on Whom we serve, and see Him not just in the past as the incarnate Christ, but in the present and in the future as reigning Lord, we will have a better understanding of our role. Paul was trying to get his readers to see that the Christian life was not avoiding certain things (the fallacy of Pietism) so much as it was being a part of the kingdom of God even now.
Because we have died with Christ, our life is now “hid with Christ in God” (v. 3). Our new life is the life we have because of Jesus Christ. But that life is “hid”; it is not clearly visible. We must therefore walk by faith, not by sight (2 Cor. 5:7). But because our life is with Christ and in God, it is safe. Christ and the Father are one in nature, power, and glory. This is the security of the saints (Jn. 10:28-30).
Now if we believe our eternal life is secure in Christ, and we see Christ at the throne, we should feel that our day-to-day existence on this earth is safe and secure in His eternal will. We should feel a desire to be consciously and conspicuously Christian, and to serve God in obedient confidence. After all, how hard can duty be when we know we are on the victorious side?
We may not see victory now, but Paul reminds us that we shall see it, for even the dead in Christ will be raised in the last day. Even our bodies, though long decayed, will share at the last in the victory of Christ over death. Like Christ, our real life is now hid from view. But when Christ appears, our real life will also appear. Our purpose will then be apparent to one and all. Paul thus tells us to think on our Lord in heaven so that we may see our purpose now on earth and not be distracted by the carnal things and false piety of this earth. We shall see Christ revealed from heaven. To some this will be the terror of judgment, but we will see him as ours. All men will one day see Christ as the Sovereign God—some as Lord and some as Judge. He will appear with majesty, power, and authority, to which every knee must bow. We will be with Him forever in glory, such glory that the sufferings of this present life are not worthy of comparison.
This picture of the victorious, risen Christ in heaven at the right hand of God is what is real, Paul says. Focus on it—then go out and act in terms of that reality.