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Colossians: The Supremacy of Christ (1:15-20)

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The Supremacy of Christ

Colossians 1:15-20 has one of the greatest expressions of who Jesus is. Paul wrote this to a church that seems to have been tempted by pagan philosophies and Jewish ritual practice. He wrote to convince them that no other philosophy or religion is superior to Christ. And to go in a different direction is to settle for second best.

Did Paul author this passage? Many scholars believe this passage is from an early hymn that the church used in its worship. And Paul, under the leadership of the Holy Spirit, included it here to help in his argument. But regardless of who the original author is, it has great value for us today.

Whole books could be, and have been, written about this passage. But hopefully, this brief overview will help you to appreciate just who Jesus is.

Who Is the Son

This hymn can be broken up into two parts. The first describes who the Son is, while the second concerns his purpose. So who is the Son?

Orthodox Christianity holds that the Son is the second person of the Trinity. He is one in essence with the Father and the Spirit but is distinct in his personhood. The Son also has two distinct yet fully integrated natures. He is fully God and fully man. And his humanity in no way detracts from his divinity.

In Paul’s prayer for the Colossian church, he ended with giving joyful thanks to the Father—the first person of the Trinity—who has rescued us from darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son—the second person of the Trinity—he loves. Then, Paul uses this hymn to describe who the Son is.

The Image of the Invisible God

The Son is the image of the invisible God

Colossians 1:15a NIV

The Greek word translated here as image is eikōn. This word has two related meanings. The first deals with representation. The reflection in a mirror represents the person looking into the mirror. And the image on a coin representsed the ruler whose image was on the coin. If this were Paul’s intended use here, it would mean that Jesus was a representative of God, a symbol of deity.

Or it can have the notion of manifestation. This makes Jesus, as the image of God, more than a symbol. It includes the actual presence of God. The Son is the visible manifestation of the invisible God. Hebrews 1:3 expresses something similar, with the Son described as the exact representation of God’s being. And John 14:9 does as well when Jesus tells Phillip that when he had seen Jesus, he had seen the Father.

Hebrews 1:3 also says that the Son is the radiance of God’s glory. We do not see the sun itself. What we see instead is the light radiating from it. In the same way, we do not see the invisible God, but in Jesus, we see his radiance. As the image of the invisible God, Jesus is more than a symbol. He is the visible expression of the glory of God. When we see Jesus, we see God.

Firstborn over All Creation

the firstborn over all creation.

Colossians 1:15b NIV

Jesus is the firstborn over all creation. Some have understood that firstborn in this passage means first in the sense of time, one who was born –or created– before any others. For instance, I am the firstborn among my parent’s children. The word is used this way extensively, although not exclusively, in the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament.

This word can also be understood to relate to primacy, firstborn, not in time, but in position. It is used this way in Psalm 89:27, where God declares David to be his firstborn, the most exalted of the kings of the earth. And this is the most likely usage of this word here.

Jesus is the firstborn over all creation. He is not the firstborn of creation, implying the firstborn in the sense of time. Instead, he is the firstborn over creation, indicating his primacy of position. He is over all of the creation. The next verse supports this understanding, declaring Jesus to be, not a part of the creation, and not even the first of creation, but the creator of all things.

The Creator of All Things

For in him [the Son] all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him.

Colossians 1:16 NIV

This verse describes the relationship between the Son and the creation. All things were created in the Son, through the Son, and for the Son. That all things were created in the Son does not imply that the creation is a part of the Son, nor included in Christ, like his elect people are. Instead, the creation was in his mind; he designed it according to his own plan.

The Son is also the agent of creation, the one who created. And the creation is for him. You might compare this to a potter who designs a vessel, forms it on the wheel, and then claims it for his own use.

The Extent of the Creation

The other half of this verse describes the extent of the creation. Things in heaven and earth, and things visible and invisible, describe two realms. The natural world is on earth and visible. The supernatural is in heaven and unseen. But regardless of which realm something is in, Christ is the creator of all things that have been created. And that excludes only the triune God.

This hymn refers to thrones, powers, rulers, and authorities as a part of the Son’s creation. These are generally understood to be some form of supernatural beings. They may have different roles or be a hierarchy, but just what is beyond what the Scripture teaches. These terms, though, are often used concerning fallen spiritual beings (Eph. 6:12). Even the fallen spirits were created by the Son and for his use.

Before All Things

He [the Son] is before all things, and in him all things hold together.

Colossians 1:17 NIV

The Son is before all things. This can have two meanings, both of which are true. As the creator, he was before his creation, time-wise. He existed before the creation did.

And the Son is first in priority. Nothing in all of creation is more significant than the Son. He is before all things.

The Son did not just create and then step back and allow the creation to function independently. The Son continues to hold the creation together. Were he to let go, the creation would cease. All that we see around us is maintained in existence, moment by moment, by the Son.

The Son is both the first cause of creation and the ongoing cause of creation. Why the creation came into being and why it continues to exist.

Redemption and Reconciliation

The second stanza of this hymn is about his relationship to the church and his reconciliation of all things to himself.

The Head of the Body

And he [the Son] is the head of the body, the church;

Colossians 1:18a NIV

The church is described elsewhere as the body of Christ (1 Cor. 12:12-30). Each of us within the body has a part to play. We may be hands or feet, eyes or ears, or other parts. But we form one body, an organic body.

But this body belongs to Christ, and he is its head. This refers to leadership. Christ is in charge. The body should do what the head directs it to. And, as its head, the body’s life comes from him. He is everything to the church.

Supremacy in Everything

he [the Son] is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy.

Colossians 1:18b NIV

The Son is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead. Others in both Testaments were indeed brought back to life. But theirs was a simple resuscitation. The life they had originally was restored for a while. But eventually, they all died again.

But the Son was not just resuscitated; he was resurrected to a new life. A life that would never die. He was the first to experience this new life, defeating death. But there will be many more who will follow him in resurrection to new life. He is the firstborn from the dead, both in time and priority.

The Son has supremacy in everything, as the image of God, the creator of all that has come into existence, the sustainer of the universe, and the firstborn of a new humanity. In all things, he is supreme.

All the Fullness of God

For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him [the Son],

Colossians 1:19 NIV

Many people are satisfied that Jesus was a man, even a good man. And many recognize him as a teacher, even a very good teacher. But this hymn takes us way beyond being just a man and just a teacher.

In Jesus, the Son, all the fullness of the Godhead had come to dwell. This is reiterated in Colossians 2:9, where Paul says that “in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form.” Jesus wasn’t just a little bit God. Or even mostly God. He was fully God. That is the mystery of the incarnation That God the Son became fully human just as we are (Heb. 2:17) yet gave up none of his divinity,

Being fully human, Jesus grew tired, hungry, and thirsty. He could be tempted and was limited in knowledge. He faced all of the challenges that we face as humans. Yet he remained fully God.

Another thing this verse tells us is the Son is not a distinct entity from God. Instead, the Son is God. All the fullness of God dwells in him. The Son is God. Just like the Father is God. And the Holy Spirit is God. They are not each a part of God. They are fully and completely God.

Reconciling All Things

and [God was pleased] through him [the Son] to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.

Colossians 1:20 NIV

Reconciliation is about restoring a broken relationship, restoring to favor. Much of the story contained in the Bible is about reconciliation. Our first parents rebelled against God, and humanity has been in rebellion ever since. Yet we find God working throughout history to overcome our fallen state, to reconcile us to himself.

And it is ultimately through the work of the Son that that reconciliation takes place. Through Jesus’ blood, shed on the cross, we can experience reconciliation with God. All who put their faith in the Lord Jesus and what he has done for us will be saved–reconciled to God.

But this verse goes beyond the reconciliation of humanity to God. In some way, Christ’s death on the cross reconciles all of creation, including the material world and spiritual beings, to God. Just what that will look like is hard to say. The Scripture tells us that much of humanity will reject Christ’s work on the cross on their behalf. And there is no hint in the Scripture that fallen spiritual beings have any chance of restoration.

Rather than indicating some form of universalism, God’s reconciliation of all things to himself likely refers to Colossians 1:17, which says Christ is the creator of all things. And this reconciliation restores the creation to a proper state, at peace with God. With all that is evil is removed from the creation.

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Ed Jarrett

Just an old clay jar that God continues to see fit to use in his kingdom's work. I am retired, married with 2 children, and 4 grandchildren. I have followed Jesus for many years. And I love to share what He has given me from His word.

A Note to Readers

The views expressed here are solely mine and do not necessarily reflect those of any other person, group, or organization. While I believe they reflect the teachings of the Bible, I am a fallible human and subject to misunderstanding. Please feel free to leave any comments or questions about this post in the comments section below. I am always interested in your feedback.

2 thoughts on “Colossians: The Supremacy of Christ (1:15-20)”

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