Question: "What does it mean that believers are transferred into the kingdom of His beloved Son (Colossians 1:13)?"
Answer: A primary purpose of the apostle Paul’s letter to the Colossians was to combat the work of false teachers who were invading the church and undermining the simple truth of the gospel. In his opening prayer, Paul states that God the Father “has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son” (Colossians 1:13, ESV).
The verb rendered as “transferred” in the English Standard Version of Colossians 1:13 is alternatively rendered “translated” (KJV) or “brought us into” (NIV). In the original Greek, the term literally means “to move something from one place or sphere to another.” When God rescues Christians “from the kingdom of darkness” through the saving work of Jesus Christ on the cross, He packs them up and moves them, spiritually speaking, into “the Kingdom of his dear Son” (Colossians 1:13, NLT).
Paul likens salvation to acquiring a brand-new address in a shiny new domain. This imagery of deliverance evokes the Lord’s dramatic rescue of His people out of slavery in Egypt (Exodus 6:6; 12:27; Deuteronomy 13:5). God brought the Israelites out of the dark land of Egypt and transferred or “translated” them, eventually, into the Promised Land. Today, He moves believers into the kingdom where His Son reigns as King over every power of darkness (see Acts 26:17–18; Ephesians 6:12).
Paul’s imagery also recollects the prophet Isaiah’s hope-filled vision of the Messiah: “There will be no more gloom for those who were in distress. In the past he humbled the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the future he will honor Galilee of the nations, by the Way of the Sea, beyond the Jordan—The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned” (Isaiah 9:1–2; see also Isaiah 42:6–7; 58:10; Isaiah 60:1–3). At the moment of salvation, God plucks us out of Satan’s dark domain and transplants us into the brilliant light of Jesus Christ’s kingdom.
Believers are transferred into the kingdom of His beloved Son means our citizenship changes when Jesus becomes our Savior. Before being rescued, we walk in disobedience and sin, obeying our commander, the devil (see Ephesians 2:1–3). After salvation, our passport gets stamped “citizen of heaven,” and our King is now “the Lord Jesus Christ” (see Philippians 3:20). We are “no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household” (Ephesians 2:19). The apostle Peter declares, “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light” (1 Peter 2:9).
Much of Christ’s teaching focused on His kingdom (Matthew 4:17; 5:1–12; Luke 12:32; Matthew 13:10–52). Believers must be “transferred” into the kingdom of heaven because we can’t move there of our own volition. The Bible says we are powerless to save ourselves (Romans 5:6–8; Ephesians 1:7). The heavy lifting can only be accomplished by God, who “saved us, not because of the righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He washed away our sins, giving us a new birth and new life through the Holy Spirit. He generously poured out the Spirit upon us through Jesus Christ our Savior. Because of his grace he made us right in his sight and gave us confidence that we will inherit eternal life” (Titus 3:4–7, NLT; see also Ephesians 1:7; 2:4–9, 13).
Believers are transferred into the kingdom of God’s beloved Son “by the undeserved grace of the Lord Jesus” (Acts 15:11, NLT; see also Romans 3:21–24). In Christ, God gives us the golden ticket that transfers us from death to life (John 5:24); from alienation to acceptance (Colossians 1:22); from separation to nearness (2 Corinthians 5:18–20); from despair to hope (1 Peter 1:3); from darkness to light (1 John 2:8); from slavery to freedom (Romans 6:16–23; 8:2; John 8:32); from enemies to friends (Romans 5:11); and from strangers to compatriots (Hebrews 11:13–16).