The pronoun ‘you’ in this phrase is plural, which has caused some expositors to ask whether ‘in’ is the appropriate English word to describe the nearness of Jesus. They suggest that the word ‘among’ might be a more suitable rendering to indicate corporate nearness. Yet the preposition normally means ‘in’. It is sufficient to note that there is both a personal and congregational emphasis here.
Of course, one could respond by asking, ‘Since the Son of God is omnipresent, what is so surprising about him being in his people?’ Paul is not here referring to that omnipresence, which is real in all people wherever and whoever they are. Instead he is referring to the way that Jesus comes to his people by the Holy Spirit. This does not mean that they get a lesser Jesus. Instead the Spirit functions like a bridge or a ladder that spans the gap between Jesus in heaven and his people on earth and enables them to interact with him.
So in what ways does Jesus reveal himself to his people? The illustration here, of Christ living within them as in a house, suggests several ideas. We should not forget the various ways that Paul has identified his Master in the previous verses – it is wonderful to have the Creator and Upholder of the universe in one’s heart.
First, Jesus is with them as their Saviour. He came to them as the crucified Christ and showed them his sufferings on their behalf. He is always present in this manner and each of his people are delighted he is. They love to look on him whom they pierced and be reminded of the reality of their salvation. At the same time, recognising him in this manner leads them to repent of their sins as they continually behold the cost of their deliverance.
Second, he is with them as their elder brother who reminds them that he and they belong to the same family. They realise that he is the one who enables them to have fellowship with the heavenly Father and who gives to them the right to all the privileges of the sons of God and comforts them with family provisions.
Third, Jesus is with them as the heir of all things. The future belongs to him, but he does not intend to have it merely for himself. The new heavens and new earth are the inheritance, but he will share it with his fellow heirs, his people. He delights to point out to them many promises in his Word that deal with this aspect of his presence.
Fourth, Jesus is with them as their teacher. He has many things to teach them, and many of his teachings concern obedience to his commandments. Not only does he provide information about his will, he also goes with them every inch of the way in order to help them obey his requirements.
Fifth, Jesus is in them as the fruit-provider. They become increasingly like him as they become conformed to his image. The spiritual life that he provides continually brings forth its rich characteristics in their lives, and people recognise them as those with whom Jesus is at home and who are themselves at home with Jesus.
We could extend the number of ways by which Jesus is with his people. Paul tells us here that the effect of Jesus’ presence is that his people have the hope of glory. This hope is not a vague notion; instead it is a spiritual awareness that they will get to the perfect world. Such a confidence is not independent of Jesus. The various points listed above – Jesus present as the Saviour, the elder brother, the heir of all things, the teacher – all stress that his presence clarifies and produces the longing desire of his people to experience glory.
How is this outlook maintained? Paul tells the Colossians that it is by listening to faithful proclamations about Christ (of course, there are also other essential practices such as prayer and fellowship). The faithfulness is seen in wise warning and instructing by such a pastor, and Paul indicates that such is hard work requiring divinely-provided help (vv. 28-29).