Colossians 1:15-20 (Week 3)
“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all Creation. For by Him, all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through Him and for Him. And He is before all things, and in Him, all things hold together. And He is the head of the body, the Church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. For in Him, all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to Himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of His cross. And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, He has now reconciled in His body of flesh by His death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before Him, if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the Gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, became a minister.”
This is absolutely awesome! It is slamma jamma full of deep theological truths. This little section is packed with the knowledge of how we need to view Jesus more accurately and, in turn, how we should respond. It has been characterized as an early “Christ hymn” and is definitely written in a way to make it more easily memorized. (You should also listen to Andrew Peterson’s song “All Things Together” so you can memorize it easily as well.)
This section follows the last section as a deeper explanation of the “in Him” in whom we have redemption and will focus on the exaltation of Jesus. We will see Him exalted both in creation and in redemption. Simply put, He is exalted in the created order, because He, Himself, brought it all into existence and is actively sustaining it. He is exalted in redemption rising from the dead and providing the only means of reconciliation with God the Father. His sacrificial death and resurrection are presented as the only means of attaining genuine, eternal peace.
For us to really get to what God is saying to us through this passage, we are going to have to do a couple little word studies.
Word of Caution: you can get yourself into dangerous waters by doing word studies – just because someone uses the same word as someone else doesn’t mean that they mean it in the same way. Every word (regardless of language) will have a certain “semantic range.” That is just a fancy way of saying that it can mean different things or ideas. So what is the determining factor? And they all said…”context.” That’s right, context. We need to work hard to see how the biblical writers are using these specific words in context to understand what they mean by them. Now, with those words of caution, we will proceed.
WHAT IS THE TEXT SAYING?
IMAGE OF GOD
When you see “image of God,” it should bring several different ideas into your thoughts. First, we remember that Adam was created “in the image of God.” And Paul, very well, could be referencing this passage from Genesis 1:27. We saw in the last section that he could have alluded to Genesis 1:28, so it would make sense if that is in his conscious thoughts as he writes this. Not only that but this beginning section of the “Christ hymn” is focusing on the supremacy of Jesus in creation. Plus, Paul will often make comparisons in his writings between Adam and Jesus. We know that Jesus was the perfect Adam, He was the only human being to ever be 100% faithful to God in all things.
Next, we turn to the idea that Jesus, Himself, is the image of God. What does he mean when he says that Jesus is the “image of the invisible God”? He is saying that Jesus is the visible image of the invisible God. This doesn’t mean that Jesus is less than God. In fact, it means that He, Himself is God. Paul talks about this on other occasions as well. An important cross-reference here is:
2 Corinthians 4:4-6
“In their case the God of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the Gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.”
In both of these texts, it is clear that Jesus is God and the representation of the glory of God. As we continue in this text, it will become even more clear that Jesus Christ is God and should be worshipped, both by virtue of His creation of all and the salvation that He offers.
The last aspect of the “image of God” is a logical outcome of the first two. Human beings were made in the image of God and failed to be obedient. Yet Jesus came as the perfect Adam who fulfilled all righteousness. Now, in Christ, we too, are being made into the image of God. This is a common theme in Paul’s other writings that he is setting up here and will bring back around in Colossians 3:10.
First, let’s look at those other passages to get a frame of reference:
“For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, in order that He might be the firstborn among many brothers.”
1 Corinthians 15:49
“Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the Man of Heaven.”
2 Corinthians 3:18
“And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.”
See all these themes coming together? We are human beings after the image of Adam in our physical realities, but God made us (and is making us) like Jesus, after His image. This is exactly where Paul is heading in the letter to the Colossians. And since we can, let’s peek ahead for just a second to Colossians 3:10 “and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its Creator.” This is where we are going, both in the letter and in our sanctification.
FIRSTBORN OF CREATION
This is a very interesting concept that we need to take a second to think through since it is pretty foreign to our cultural context. When the Bible uses the term “firstborn,” it isn’t always referring to the actual first child born. And in this passage, we know that it couldn’t be used that way because Adam was the first human born in creation, not Jesus. So it must mean something else. Instead of thinking of firstborn in a literal birth order way, we need to think of it as a “positional” reality. Does that make sense? When you get a minute, you can check out the Hebrew practice regarding the privileges of the firstborn (Deuteronomy 21:15-17), but for now, let’s focus on the idea that the firstborn has a special, preeminent position.
Jesus is said to be the firstborn in two different aspects in this hymn: “of creation,” and “of the dead.” The first is “of creation.” And look at how Paul grounds his argument. He is saying that Jesus has supremacy in creation because He is the one who created all things. Now, in case you wanted clarification for what he means by “all things,” Paul is happy to oblige.
HE CREATED ALL THINGS
Here is where Paul gets super technical and over communicates. He is not satisfied to leave it as “all things.” Jesus created everything in heaven and everything on earth. Want more specificity? If it is visible, Jesus created it. If it is invisible (which I’ll be honest, I don’t even have a concept in my head how somebody could create something that is invisible), Jesus created that too. If you are thinking about earthy rulers or spiritual powers…Jesus created all of those as well. All kings, all governments, all angelic beings, all realms, dominions, and kingdoms were created by Jesus Christ. And because of that, He has the supreme position over all of them.
HE IS BEFORE ALL THINGS
Not only that, but Paul wants to make very clear so that we understand that Jesus is so much greater than the created order because He existed before all of it. When Paul says, “He is before all things,” notice that the verb “is” is in the present tense. There are two things that this leads us to think about.
First, He continually is before all things both temporally (He pre-existed) and in status (He holds the preeminent position). And then second, describing Jesus this way points us back to the “I am” sayings of the Gospels (specifically John) and the covenant name of God in the Old Testament, Yahweh, which is literally translated as “I am.”
HE SUSTAINS ALL THINGS
But Jesus is not the type of God that Deists teach about, the kind that started the universe and then let it go. He is actively sustaining the universe, every second of every day, He is holding all of it together. Paul uses a different verb tense here that would literally be translated as, “all things have been held together in the past and continues now by Him.”
HE IS THE HEAD OF THE CHURCH
In verse 18, Paul changes the direction of the hymn. In the first section, he focused on how Jesus has supremacy in creation based on being the firstborn of creation. Now he transitions to Jesus as supreme in salvation based on the fact that He is firstborn from the dead.
He starts this by saying that Jesus is the head of the Church, which is His body. This is a word picture that we often neglect. We are his body, we are intimately connected to Him and to each other. He is our head, we follow where He leads, it is in Him that we are supposed to find our identity. He is the beginning and the source of the Church.
FIRSTBORN FROM THE DEAD
Jesus is the firstborn from the dead. Now, you might be thinking, “Weren’t a lot of people resurrected before Jesus?” Yes and no. Yes, there are people who died that God brought back to life, yet those were resuscitations. They came back from the dead to die again. Jesus was the first to rise from the dead to not die again. And in so doing, He made the resurrected life available to those who would follow after Him. In this way, He is the “first of many brothers” (Romans 8:29).
HE IS PREEMINENT
Next, Paul uses a word that is only used once in the whole New Testament (Bible scholars have a term for a word used once in the Bible, “hapax legomenon”… you need to know that). Jesus is the firstborn from the dead so that in all things, He may have preeminence. He holds the highest place above all things. Paul grounds this in the fact that all of what he calls “the fullness” was pleased to both dwell in Him, that is, in His incarnation, and to reconcile all things to Him. Scholars go in different directions as to what exactly “the fullness” refers to, but they all agree that it is an indication of His deity. All of the fullness of God or “God-ness” was in Him, and it is through Him that reconciliation is made possible with the creatures which He, Himself created.
We all know that man was created good but is now fallen. Sin separates us from God, and the penalty for sin is death. We need a perfect sacrificial lamb to make atonement for our sins and to bring us back into fellowship with God. Before Christ, we all stood in hostility toward God in need of peace. This peace can only come from the blood of Jesus Christ on the cross for our sins. He willingly took our sin on Himself to make peace between God and us. This is the only way for reconciliation to take place.
What Does This Mean for Me?
- Do you honor Jesus as God and give Him thanks?
- Do you see Jesus as supreme in Creation? Do you worship Him as Creator?
- Do you acknowledge His sovereignty over all? Do you worship Him as the one holding all things together?
- Jesus is Lord of every authority in all the universe. How is that reflected in the way you live your life? Are you living as if He is really your Lord?
- Do you see yourself as a part of the body of Christ? Do you follow Him as your head? Do you seek for peace and unity in the body? Or are you dishonoring Him by dishonoring your brother/ sister?
- Do you realize that your salvation cost the blood of Jesus that was shed on the cross? How are you treating that precious sacrifice?
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