Read Colossians 4
This is a composite of online offerings in response to the questions concerning the identity of many listed in Colossians 4. This is not an original composition and while the answers seem valid, they are often those of site contributors, but the references are most useful in this navigation of biblical identity.
This is to serve as a study primer for the adult Sunday school classes for 24 July 2022.
Who is Tychicus?
Tychicus is one of those Bible characters who probably
doesn’t receive the recognition due them. True, Tychicus is only mentioned five
times in the New Testament, but the ministry he provided was noteworthy.
We first meet Tychicus in Acts 20:4, during Paul’s third missionary journey. He is mentioned as one of Paul’s companions on the way from Corinth to Jerusalem to deliver a gift to the church there (see Romans 15:25–26). We learn that Tychicus was a native of Asia, or what we would call Asia Minor today.
Tychicus is called a “dear brother” of Paul’s and a “faithful servant” of the Lord’s (Ephesians 6:21). In Colossians 4:7, Tychicus is a “faithful minister and fellow servant” who was with Paul during his first Roman imprisonment. He was entrusted to deliver Paul’s epistles to the Ephesians and Colossians and to bring news of the apostle to those congregations: “Tychicus will tell you all the news about me. . . . I am sending him to you for the express purpose that you may know about our circumstances and that he may encourage your hearts” (Colossians 4:7–8). Encouragement is also mentioned as part of Tychicus’s ministry in Ephesians 6:22.
In traveling to Colossae, Tychicus accompanied Onesimus, the former slave who was returning to Philemon. No doubt, Tychicus, as a good friend of Paul’s, emphasized the need for grace in receiving Onesimus back home (see Philemon 1:17).
Paul intended to send either Tychicus or another man to Crete in order to give Titus a chance to visit Paul (Titus 3:12). Later, Tychicus was with Paul in Rome during the apostle’s second Roman imprisonment, and Paul sent him to Ephesus in order to free up Timothy for a visit (2 Timothy 4:12). In both Crete and Ephesus, then, Tychicus was an “interim pastor” of sorts, filling in for Titus and Timothy.
There is an unnamed believer alluded to in 2 Corinthians 8:22, described as a “brother who has often proved to us in many ways that he is zealous, and now even more so because of his great confidence in you.” Many commentators surmise that this is a reference to Tychicus. The description seems to fit.
We may not know much about Tychicus, but what we do know is impressive and praiseworthy. Tychicus was a trusted messenger, faithful preacher, and loyal friend. Paul placed great confidence in him, sending him to accomplish important works. Tychicus obviously had the ability to minister in a variety of situations, bringing encouragement to those he served. Tychicus surely modeled the quality that all church elders are to possess: “He must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it” (Titus 1:9).
Who is Aristarchus?
Aristarchus, whose name means “best ruler” or “best prince,”
was a fellow worker with the apostle Paul. He
is first mentioned in the book of Acts during the riot in Ephesus. Both Gaius
and Aristarchus, described as “Paul’s traveling companions from Macedonia,”
were seized by the angry mob (Acts
19:29). Paul’s preaching had upset Demetrius and other
metalworkers who made idols of Artemis for
a living (Acts 19:21–27). It seems the mob couldn’t find Paul, so they
seized Paul’s fellow workers instead. Aristarchus and Gaius were in a
precarious position until, two hours later, the city clerk was finally able to
persuade the crowd to disperse.
Aristarchus is described as a Macedonian who lived in the capital city of Thessalonica (Acts 27:2). Nothing is known about Aristarchus’ background or how he became a Christian, although some commentators have suggested he could have been a Jewish convert to Christianity. In any case, Aristarchus was a faithful companion to Paul and accompanied the apostle on a few journeys. After the riot in Ephesus, Paul headed for Greece and decided to return through Macedonia after a stay of three months (Acts 20:1–3). Many men accompanied Paul on this journey back through Macedonia, including “Aristarchus and Secundus from Thessalonica” and others (Acts 20:4).
Later, Aristarchus traveled with Paul on his initial voyage to Rome, although it is unknown whether Aristarchus journeyed all the way to Rome at that time (Acts 27:1–2). Paul later indicated in his letter to the Colossians that Aristarchus was with him at some time during his first Roman imprisonment: “Aristarchus, my fellow prisoner, greets you, as does Mark, Barnabas’s cousin” (Colossians 4:10, HCSB).
The last time Aristarchus is mentioned in the Bible is in Paul’s short letter to Philemon. In the greeting section of Paul’s letter, he wrote, “Epaphras, my fellow prisoner in Christ Jesus, sends you greetings. And so do Mark, Aristarchus, Demas and Luke, my fellow workers” (Philemon 1:23–24). Clearly, the apostle valued Aristarchus’ work as his companion in Christ, as Aristarchus faithfully served the Lord.
Nothing is known of what became of Aristarchus; the Bible is silent about the rest of his life. Tradition places Aristarchus as bishop of Apamea, Syria, although nothing is mentioned in Scripture of this position. Aristarchus’ martyrdom under the reign of Nero is also part of church tradition.
Although Scripture mentions Aristarchus only a few times, and his background and later life are unknown, we know that Aristarchus was a faithful follower of Christ and served alongside Paul. The few biblical references to Aristarchus remind Christians that a believer does not need to be “high-profile” in order to accomplish great things. We may not be very visible to others in serving Christ, but we are still seen and valued by the Lord (see Colossians 3:23–24).
What about Mark and Barnabas?
John Mark, often just called Mark, is the author of the gospel of Mark. He
was a believer in the early church mentioned directly only in the book of Acts.
John Mark is first mentioned as the son of a woman named Mary (Acts
12:12), whose house was being used as a place for believers to
gather and pray. Later, Mark is mentioned as a companion of Barnabas and Paul
during their travels together (Acts
12:25). John Mark was also Barnabas’ cousin (Colossians
John Mark was a helper on Paul and Barnabas’ first missionary journey (Acts 13:5). However, he did not stay through the whole trip. John Mark deserted Paul and Barnabas in Pamphylia and left the work (Acts 15:38). The Bible does not say why Mark deserted, but his departure came right after a mostly fruitless time in Cyprus (Acts 13:4–12). Only one conversion is recorded in Cyprus, but there had been strong demonic opposition. It’s likely that the young John Mark was discouraged at the hardness of the way and decided to return to the comforts of home.
Some time later, after Paul and Barnabas had returned from their first journey, Paul expressed a desire to go back to the brothers in the cities they had previously visited to see how everyone was doing (Acts 15:36). Barnabas agreed, apparently upon the provision that they take John Mark with them. Paul refused to have Mark on the trip, however, citing Mark’s previous desertion. Paul thought it best not to have a quitter with them; they needed someone more dependable. Paul and Barnabas had a “sharp disagreement” about John Mark (verse 39) and wound up separating from each other and going on separate journeys. Barnabas took John Mark with him to Cyprus, and Paul took Silas with him through Syria and Cilicia to encourage the believers in the churches in those areas (Acts 15:39–41).
Barnabas, the “son of encouragement” (Acts 4:36), desired to forgive John Mark’s failure and to give him another chance. Paul took the more rational view: pioneering missionary work requires dedication, resolve, and endurance. Paul saw John Mark as a risk to their mission. Luke, the writer of Acts, does not take sides or present either Paul or Barnabas as being in the right. He simply records the facts. It’s worth noting that, in the end, two groups of missionaries were sent out—twice as many missionaries were spreading the gospel.
John Mark sails off to Cyprus with his cousin Barnabas, but that is not the end of his story. Years later, he is with Paul, who calls him a “fellow worker” (Philemon 1:24). And near the end of Paul’s life, Paul sends a request to Timothy from a Roman prison: “Get Mark and bring him with you, because he is helpful to me in my ministry” (2 Timothy 4:11). Obviously, John Mark had matured through the years and had become a faithful servant of the Lord. Paul recognized his progress and considered him a valuable companion.
John Mark wrote the gospel that bears his name sometime between AD 55 and 59. There could be a veiled reference to John Mark in Mark 14:51–52. In that passage a young man, roused from sleep on the night that Jesus was arrested, attempts to follow the Lord, and the mob who had Jesus in custody attempts to seize him. The young man escapes and flees into the night. The fact that this incident is only recorded in Mark’s gospel—and the fact that the young man is anonymous—has led some scholars to surmise that the fleeing young man is actually John Mark.
What about Jesus also called Justus (sometimes referred to as Jesus Justus)?
je'-zus jus'-tus Iesous ho legomenos Ioustos, "Jesus that is called Justus," Colossians 4:11):
1. A Jew by Birth:
One of three friends of Paul--the others being Aristarchus and Mark--whom he associates with himself in sending salutations from Rome to the church at Colosse. Jesus Justus is not mentioned elsewhere in the New Testament, and there is nothing more known about him than is given in this passage in Colossians, namely, that he was by birth a Jew--"of the circumcision"--that he had been converted to Christ, and that he was one of the inner circle of intimate friends and associates of the apostle during his first Roman captivity.
Who is Epaphras?
paphras is mentioned three times in the New Testament, twice
in Colossians and
once in Philemon. He was
a believer in Christ who served with the apostle Paul, who referred to him as a
“fellow servant,” “faithful minister,” and “servant of Christ Jesus” (Colossians
His name and Paul’s comment in Colossians 4:11 indicates that Epaphras was a Gentile. We also surmise that he was from Colossae in Asia Minor, since his name appears in the letter to the church there and Paul says that he “is one of you” (Colossians 4:12). According to Paul, writing during his first Roman imprisonment, Epaphras was the one who shared the gospel with the Colossians and possibly started the church there: Paul speaks of “the day you heard [the gospel]” and reminds them that “you learned it from Epaphras” (Colossians 1:6–7). Epaphras traveled to Rome to visit Paul, informing Paul about the Colossians’ “love in the Spirit” (Colossians 1:8).
In his letter, Paul told the Colossians about how Epaphras cared deeply for their spiritual growth and maturity. Epaphras had committed to praying for the Colossians, “always wrestling in prayer for [them]” (Colossians 4:12). Epaphras desired for the Colossian Christians to stand firm in their faith and become mature. Paul gave testimony that Epaphras was working hard for the church in Colossae, just as he was for the believers in Laodicea and Hierapolis (Colossians 4:13).
Aside from the letter to the Colossians, Epaphras’s name shows up in Paul’s personal letter to Philemon. Like Colossians, Paul wrote Philemon during his first imprisonment in Rome. Epaphras had apparently been imprisoned while in Rome visiting Paul: “Epaphras, my fellow prisoner in Christ Jesus, sends you greetings” (Philemon 1:23). Tradition teaches that Epaphras eventually returned to Colossae where he remained a faithful servant of Christ and was later martyred. But those details are not found in the Bible.
The descriptions of Epaphras are significant: “our dear fellow servant,” “a faithful minister of Christ,” “a servant of Christ Jesus,” “always wrestling in prayer,” and “working hard.” The brief sketch Paul provides shows that the apostle thought highly of this follower of Christ and fellow laborer. Epaphras demonstrated a strong faith, a rich prayer life, a boldness in sharing the gospel even at the risk of suffering, and deep care for those in whom he had invested spiritually. Epaphras is probably not the first name that comes to mind when we think of Bible characters, but he faithfully served Jesus, and his reward is sure (see Hebrews 6:10).
What about Luke and Demas?
Demas had at one time been one of Paul’s “fellow workers” in
the gospel ministry along with Mark, Luke, and
others (Philemon 1:24). During Paul’s first imprisonment in Rome,
Demas was also in Rome (Colossians 4:14).
There is also biblical evidence that Demas was with Paul during Paul’s second imprisonment in Rome, at least for a while. Then something happened. Demas forsook Paul, abandoned the ministry, and left town. Paul wrote about the sad situation: “Demas, because he loved this world, has deserted me and has gone to Thessalonica” (2 Timothy 4:10).
The Greek verb used in the original implies that Demas had not merely left Paul but had left him “in the lurch”; that is, Demas had abandoned Paul in a time of need. The apostle was in prison, facing a death sentence, and that’s when Demas chose to set sail. Undoubtedly, Paul was deeply let down by Demas. It’s never easy to see a friend and associate in whom you’ve placed your trust forsake you in the midst of hardship.
The separation caused by Demas’ desertion of Paul was not merely spatial but spiritual. Demas left Rome because he fell in love with the world. In other words, Demas chose the corrupt value system of the unsaved world over what heaven values. As the NLT translates it, Demas “loves the things of this life” (2 Timothy 4:10). We don’t know the details of Demas’ situation, but it is evident that Demas decided that what Satan has to offer in this life is better than what God has to offer in the next.
Much can be said in support of the view that Demas, in love with the present world, was never a born-again believer in Jesus Christ. Paul makes a sharp contrast in 2 Timothy 4:8 and 10. In verse 8, Paul speaks of those who love the Lord: “There is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award . . . to all who have loved his appearing” (ESV). Demas, in contrast to those who love Jesus’ return, loved the present world (verse 10). First John 2:15 is clear about the spiritual state of those who love the world: “Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them.” Nowhere in the Bible do we read of the restoration of Demas.
The tragedy of Demas is still being lived out today by those who choose the temporary benefits of this world over the eternal riches of heaven. Today there are still those who seem to receive the Word but then “the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, making it unfruitful” (Matthew 13:22). Past service is no guarantee of future faithfulness; we must depend on the Lord, our Strength (Psalm 28:8). We must be born again (John 3:3); otherwise, we have no foundation of faith. “They went out from us, but they did not really belong to us. For if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us; but their going showed that none of them belonged to us” (1 John 2:19; cf. Matthew 7:22–23).
What about Archippus?
Archippus is mentioned in Colossians
4:17 and Philemon
1:2. In his letter to Philemon, Paul refers to Archippus as a
“fellow soldier.” In Colossians
4:17, Paul requests his readers to “tell Archippus: ‘See to it
that you complete the ministry you have received in the Lord.’” Apparently,
then, Archippus was a young man from Colossae tasked with some sort of ministry
in the church.
Many believe Archippus to have been the son of Philemon and Apphia, close friends of Paul’s. The connection between Archippus and Philemon seems clear in Philemon 1:1–2, “To Philemon our dear friend and fellow worker—also to Apphia our sister and Archippus our fellow soldier—and to the church that meets in your home. . . .” Paul is writing to a household. Philemon; his wife, Apphia; and his son, Archippus comprise the family unit. The church of Colossae met in their home.
Some believe Paul’s words to Archippus to “complete the ministry” are a gentle rebuke for having neglected certain of his duties. But a majority see Paul’s admonition to Archippus as simple encouragement, similar to Paul’s exhortations in his epistles to Timothy and Titus (see 2 Timothy 4:5). One tradition holds that Archippus was a leader in Laodicea, a city about 12 miles away from Colossae. It seems strange to send an admonition to Archippus through leaders of another church, but Paul’s intent was that the letter to the Colossians should be read in Laodicea, too: “After this letter has been read to you, see that it is also read in the church of the Laodiceans” (Colossians 4:16). In any case, Archippus would receive the message.
Ultimately, we do not know much about Archippus other than he was a Christian in the early church who was granted a ministry from the Lord and who soldiered for the faith. Paul’s encouragement to Archippus and his family should encourage all of us to also “complete the ministry” God has given us.
There is much more information available, most of it in accord with these selections. Search to your hearts content, but keep the primary references close (scripture citations) so you don’t venture too far down any rabbit trail.
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