Following aspects of the atonement, Paul turns to the magnificence of Christ, 1) His significance as image of the Father, 2). as forerunner and Creator of all, 3) as sovereign Head of the Church, and 4) as ‘all fulness’ – in which we may participate.
Colossae was an ancient city in Phrygia (part of modern Turkey). It was pagan, and it was proud. But it was also a city in economic decline. It had a population of about 25-30,000 – somewhat bigger than Chichester, somewhat smaller than Brighton, but a large city for those times – and it lay about 100 miles east of Ephesus.
Paul’s epistle was written around AD 60, while he was in a Roman prison. Almost five years later, a major earthquake hit Colossae, devastating nearly all the historic buildings. But here is just a small insight into the pride of Colossae: although it was in decline it managed to rebuild itself without any aid from the Roman overlords. So the Colossians were a capable and industrious people.
Paul had never actually been there. While he was preaching in Ephesus, there was a man there from Colossae named Epaphras; he heard Paul preach the Gospel and was saved. On returning to Colossae, Epaphras preached the gospel himself and a church was founded and grew – amazingly so, because it was such a proud, pagan city. The Spirit moved, many were converted, and the church thrived.
But the church was subject to difficulties. Although it seems to have been a wholesome church, it had been penetrated by heretics advocating Jewish ceremonies, not unlike those that infiltrated the church at Corinth. (There was a large Jewish community in Colossae, even though it was a Gentile city.)
Then the church had to contend with another cult, called Gnosticism. The Gnostics taught that Christ was not a real person with a human body but a kind of emanation from the Father, and they disparaged the Scriptures, believing that knowledge was gained mystically. They did not believe the gospel and certainly did not believe in Calvary. They were also prepared to use clever language to insinuate their way into the Colossian church, if they could. Paul has to warn against and counter these errors in his epistle.
But Colossians is not just a warning epistle, as some commentators claim. There are tremendous passages that exalt Christ and teach of Him, and the fundamental purpose of this epistle is to give the Colossians (and us) tremendous encouragement and help.