The second part of Colossians 1 walks us into one of the deepest, most profound and glorious statements of the person and purpose of Jesus Christ given us in the Bible. In these verses are the most sublime expression ever spoken to humanity about the incarnation and the PRE-incarnate state of Jesus.
There is no way to overstate what we encounter in Colossians 1:15-23. In these verses we find ourselves confronted by the Deity of the Son of God and the proclamation of His supremacy over all creation. No place else in the Bible compresses this much doctrine and theology and truth into such a few verses.
While many of our Bible publishing houses try to set the verses apart to reflect their importance and their poetic style, some print the words as though they are simply prose. They are not.
According to Dr. AT Robertson, Paul’s exaltation of the pre-eminence of Jesus is in direct contrast with the Gnostics degradation of Jesus in their philosophy. (Robertson, *Paul and the Intellectuals*, p 40). This agrees with JB Lightfoot and other excellent commentators.
While these words are a tremendous exaltation of Christ for the Christian, (and some believe these words either became or came from a hymn being used as a teaching tool by the church in that time), they are at the same a polemic statement against those who would seek to reduce Jesus in any way. This reduction by the Gnostics and other advocates of religions serving other gods was exactly what Paul was attacking with these inspired words.
Let’s remember that Paul is not writing here in a vacuum. There was a very real threat growing that, were it allowed to go unchallenged, would lead to a very dangerous marriage of Greek philosophy and early Christian thought.
The Gnostic movement of the day (AD 60-62) was still in its infancy, but there were aggressive movements beginning to spring up. When false teaching is encountered, it must be addressed aggressively and immediately. To allow the leaven of half-truths and outright lies to ferment could pollute the whole loaf.
The Gnostics (the name means “the knowers” or “the knowing ones”) were considered the intelligentsia of the day. There were some truly brilliant thinkers who were involved in this movement. It seems to parallel roughly the movement of Scientology in our day, and Scientology seems to attract elite entertainment types and those who see themselves as very intelligent. While the claims made by L. Ron Hubbard and his movement are bizarre, the people attracted to it give it cultural legitimacy it doesn’t deserve. So with the Gnostic movement.
In a few basic statements, Gnosticism claimed to be a way to truly know God. They claimed that, since God was spirit and matter was evil, God could never touch the world directly. Therefore He put out a series of “emanations,” each a little further removed from God, until there was one far enough away that it could touch matter. It was that emanation that created the earth.
Another part of their teaching said that this creator-emanation had been so far removed from God that it was now hostile to God. Therefore the world, matter, and all that is in it is separated from God. The freedom for people came when they could be finally free from all “evil” matter in death. The Greek philosophers had long taught that the body was a prison house for the spirit, and death was the only way to be free from it.
We need to be aware at how closely some of our Christian thinking has come to this, and crossed over into Greek philosophy. Is the body a prison? Is this world something we should long to escape to arrive at a “purer” home in heaven? Many of our songs we have sung and sermons we have heard preached seem to affirm this.
But the Bible does not. The resurrection of Jesus PHYSICALLY as “the firstfruit from the dead” affirms the eternal plan of God to redeem the MATERIAL of the world as well as the SPIRITS of those who are human.
God’s plan is not ultimately to destroy the world and the universe, but to RESTORE it to its original splendor after it has been purified. We will live in a LITERAL and PHYSICAL world for eternity, not on a cloud floating in the sky.
And if you read the Bible carefully, you will see throughout that, while our desire is to get OUT of the world, God’s desire is to come INTO the world and to dwell with man here forever!
Christians are taken at death, not into a permanent dwelling place with God, but will be “in the Lord” or “with the Lord” until the day that Christ returns to bring the Kingdom of God in fullness. Then we will see our PERMANENT home established and “the dwelling of God will be with man” forever.
So we can see how much in conflict the Gnostic teaching was with Biblical thought. They also taught that Jesus was one of countless “emanations” that came from God, but was certainly not co-equal with God nor “God incarnate” in human flesh. That, to them, would be unthinkable.
The Gnostics believed that, with their superior knowledge and access to spiritual secrets, they could help you relate to a higher emanation…one close to God than Jesus Himself…if you would just follow them. Again, we can see how insidious and dangerous this philosophy was.
As we read the words of Colossians 1:15-20, let’s remember the context into which they were first spoken. Each statement was designed to attack another level of false teaching that was threatening this fledgling fellowship of Christians.
Jesus Himself said that “if I am lifted up, I will draw all men unto Myself.” This “lifting up of Jesus” is exactly what is lacking, sadly, even in many Christian gatherings today. When what we are about becomes anything less or other than Jesus, then we have, maybe unwittingly, done the same thing that the enemies of Christ seek to do: Make Him less than He is.
We must return in the church to doing as Paul and the early church did so fervently. We must make sure we are focusing on Jesus. D.L. Moody, before the beginning of the celebrated Chicago evangelistic campaign in 1873, had many come to him with ideas about how he should use his platform during the World’s Fair in Chicago. His response was, “I am going to make Jesus so attractive that men will turn to Him.” And in that campaign, thousands did. (Hughes, *Colossians*)
When we make much of Jesus, when we “make Jesus attractive,” people will come to hear about Him. Jesus promised that. Nothing else will do the same. Our focus must be to make much of Jesus!
15. He is the image of the invisible God,
the firstborn of all creation.
16 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.
17 And he is before all things,
and in him all things hold together.
18 And he is the head of the body,
He is the beginning,
the firstborn from the dead,
that in everything he might be preeminent.
19. For in him all the fullness of God
was pleased to dwell,
20 and through him to reconcile
to himself all things,
whether on earth or
making peace by
the blood of his cross.
Colossians 1:15-20 ESV
We sometimes hear this passage taught at Christmas as part of a series of messages on the incarnation. That is certainly fine to do it there, but this is not simply a holiday devotion. I think it best to treat each phrase of this great section independently and then pull the whole together at the end.
HE IS THE IMAGE OF THE INVISIBLE GOD
Christ is the Agent of Creation (1:15-16)
The Book of Colossians was written in a time of a proliferation of images. The “social media” of the day was an image, or icon, of the Caesar (at the time of this letter, Nero). This practice was common in the Roman world, and spurred Jesus’ interaction with the Pharisees about taxation. Jesus confronted them with a question: “Showing them a coin, He asked, ‘Whose image is on it?’ And they answered, “Caesar’s.” “Then render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that belong to God.”
Caesar’s image was stamped on all the coins. It made his face and his image ubiquitous in the world, like getting millions of likes on a Facebook post. It was everywhere! And just to be certain the image was being circulated properly, (even among those who did not have money), statues and busts would also be erected everywhere; not only of the Caesar, but even of the Caesar’s family!
Historically it is also significant to note that Rome had just received a brand new Caesar. He was said to be a spokeman that could “charm the birds out of the trees.” He had led troops in battle as a commander of soldiers. He was an artist, and an accomplished musician. A violinist, in fact. His name was Nero.
In the early days of Caesar Nero coming to the throne, there was a tremendous wave of excitement in the empire. A new leader! A winsome, multitalented, powerful leader who can lead Rome to a new day! It was believed that Rome was the light of the world. All of the hopes of the people of Rome were placed on Nero, before his power went to his head and he lost his influence and some argue, his mind. Nero became the first Roman emperor to commit suicide.
But there is no wonder statues were erected and songs written about and to Nero. People were eager to see the light Rome would now bring to the world. Their hopes were destined to be dashed.
Icons (images, statues, stained glass windows) are still common in some Catholic and other Orthodox religious systems. They represent a pope, an angelic being, or a person considered a saint in the depiction. Many evangelical traditions have rejected this practice as the creation of a “graven image,” prohibited by the Ten Commandments.
As a bit of a tangent here, it should be pointed out that, in the Book of Genesis, man was created “in the image of God.” (Genesis 1:26-27, 1 Corinthians 11:7). While man was created as a reflector and representative of God’s image, sin has marred our ability to do that perfectly and in fact man was never able to fully contain or reflect God’s image. We do not perfectly reflect the unchanging and eternal-the “immutable”-attributes of a holy God.
So here, Paul borrows a common word from the Greek language in describing Jesus: He is the “ikon,” the image of the invisible God. Our Savior said, “No man has seen God at any time. But the only begotten of the Father has made Him known.” (John 1:18)
As we behold Jesus, we see the Father. Jesus said to Philip during the Last Supper, “He that has seen Me has seen the Father.” (John 14:8). But this means more than revealing a physical image. Jesus was not, and Paul was not saying “Jesus looks like God.” That’s beside the point.
Paul is telling us that, in Jesus Christ, the very nature of God is being revealed. We see, not the physical contours of the Father’s face, but the contours of His heart. How does God think? What is important to Him? What does He want of us? How do we live to please Him?
All of these questions, and more, are answered as we behold the face of God in Jesus Christ. Hebrews 1:3 says, “He is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of His being.” God’s glory and beauty is radiating out through the person of Jesus Christ. We are seeing in Jesus, not simply one of many steps to know God, but the only way to the Father.
This statement alone was enough to devastate the argument of false religions which claim other ways to God than through Jesus. It certainly flew in the face of the Gnostics assertions. But the argument goes even further with the next phrase.
THE FIRSTBORN OVER ALL CREATION
Now we need to be careful in our usage of language to state that this does not mean Jesus was created. The idea of “firstborn” can be traced back to Psalm 89:27 where David is called “the firstborn of the kings of the earth.” While certainly David was not the “firstborn” in the sense of being born first in time, he was called the “firstborn” as an order of priority and privilege. (Melick, New American Commentary, V 22)
This phrase has nothing to do with birth order, or order or hierarchy of time. It is a word that means “prominent,” or “first in order of importance.”
The church has struggled at times throughout history to understand this phrase. A preacher in the Fourth Century named Arius, who came from Alexandria in Egypt, taught that Jesus was the “created creator” and was one step less than God. He did this in an effort to guard the church against the charge of polytheism.
Arius’ views were rejected by the church in AD 325, but some groups (including Jehovah’s Witnesses) continue to follow this flawed train of thought. (Melick, New American Commentary, V 22) It is not commonly accepted Christian belief, however. It would have been more in line with the Gnostics in Paul’s day!
Jesus was the One Who “created all things.” We live in a galaxy called the Milky Way. Our little “cul-de-sac” in the universe contains literally billions of stars. We can only see a few hundred with the naked eye.
Each of these stars that pinpoint the darkness at night are orbs of fire and light, even the smallest of which dwarf our sun by comparison. Our ability to see with huge telescopes and send interstellar probes out on exploratory missions is still in its infancy. We cannot even count how many galaxies exist, but of those we know about we’ve found we’re among the smallest.
Jesus created all of this. He did it, we are told, by the power of “His Word.” It is this that makes Him “most important,” or “most prominent” among all of creation. Everything exists because He says so!
This also allows us to understand where we came from and why we are here. We forget that the answer to those two questions will be the steering current for a human life.
If we think we are here by cosmic accident, and when life is over we just cease to exist, then everything between our birth and death is meaningless. We have successfully indoctrinated most of our children with this view in our culture. And we are reaping the whirlwind in skyrocketing suicide rates among young people and out of control addiction and substance abuse.
Without Jesus, LIFE MEANS NOTHING. It is “just a vapor.” A puff of smoke. A cloud that vanishes in the heat of day. We have no eternal destiny or purpose. We have literally become complicit in the deaths of an untold number of young people by indoctrinating them with this lie that is commonplace in our culture, our media, our universities and our textbooks, that life is essentially random at the outset and meaningless at the end.
If Jesus is the “firstborn over all creation” then we have a Creator and we have a destiny and this means we have a purpose! Without this understanding (which, by the way, is ridiculed in most circles that claim to be populated by the intelligentsia), our life is futile and suicide actually offers a plausible though tragic alternative to some.
This text teaches that in all of creation, nothing and no one is more pre-eminent; of higher priority or of more importance that Jesus. Jesus was not a created being in His essence, though His earthly body was “prepared” for Him by the Father.
He could not be the perfect image of the invisible God if He was created by God. My son has many of my qualities and physical characteristics, but our children cannot perfectly reflect their parents. Most breathe a sigh of relief that this is true.
Jesus was “the image of the invisible God” and “the firstborn” (protokos, Gk) of all creation but as we will see next, “all things were created by Him.” He could not create Himself.
There is no way Biblically that an argument can be made to make Christ a created being in any way, though many through the years have tried to do just that.
FOR EVERYTHING WAS CREATED BY HIM
He is Lord of the Universe
No doctrine has been more heavily debated than the assertion that the world was created and did not just randomly form in a collision of molecules and matter. Both sides of this argue regularly lob shells into the opposing camp.
I do not wish in this section to dissect the views of those who reject the idea of creation. While I vehemently disagree with any view that posits an argument against the creation claims of Scripture, many books have been written and sermons preached that critique these viewpoints.
Scientific or philosophical naturalism is a closed system that only allows things of the material world to be knowable. The entire assertion of the Bible is that an unseeable, invisible God -Who is Spirit-created all things seen and unseen. Scientific naturalism asserts the opposite; that those things that are seen (human beings) created the invisible (God).
Scientism claims precedence since they only allow that to be true which can be seen or proven or tested empirically. Christian theism claims that the greatest truth that can be known is unseen to us. So on the argument goes, and there is no reconciliation of it nor compromise to be found.
I will say that, if you are struggling with what you believe on the idea of creation verses evolution, or science verse faith, it is essential that you prayerfully resolve this tension. If you reject God as Creator of all things, you have essentially made the truth of Scripture a non-starter and the things of God are reduced to fiction.
Can one be a faithful Christian and an advocate of science? Absolutely! Many are brilliant scientists, but none who believe the tenets of naturalism can hold to the truths of the Bible at the same time. They are diametrically opposed positions. And none who reject the hundreds of Scriptures built on a foundation that “God created…” can claim a faithful adherence to Holy Scripture. It is impossible to navigate the Bible and sidestep the understanding that God created everything.
These verses assert three things:
- Christ is the agent of creation (v 16).
“…everything was created by Him.” While God the Father was the architect of creation, God the Son was the implementer of the plan. Jesus is the Word of God, and “by His Word all things exist.” (Hebrews 11:3) The earth, the universe, and things visible and invisible were created by the Word.
The sheer magnitude of the universe is staggering. The sun has a diameter of 864,000 miles. That is one hundred times the size of earth. Our sun could hold 1.3 million planets the size of earth’s diameter inside of it.
The star Betelgeuse, however, has a diameter of 100 million miles, which is larger than the area of the earth’s orbit around the sun! The light that travels the distance from our sun to the earth takes 8.5 minutes to arrive. By contrast, the same ray of light would take four years, traveling at 186,000 feet per second, to reach the nearest star, Alpha Centauri. (Colossians, MacArthur)
This verse strongly advocates against the Gnostic position that the material of earth was too evil for God to touch. Paul advocates that Jesus made it all. “By Him…” means “in His mind or in His sphere of influence or responsibility.” Practically this means that Jesus conceived of creation and its complexities (Melick, NAC, V22). William Hendrikson suggested that this means “Jesus is the cornerstone from which all of creation takes its bearings.” (Hendrikson, Colossians and Philemon, NTC) The phrase points to Jesus as the “detailer” of Creation. In other words, Jesus “originated the details of creation and brought them into existence by His own creative energies.”
It was the Holy Spirit Who actually does the hands-on work of bringing these plans into reality. Jesus was, we would say, the foreman of the construction process! (Melick, Colossians, NAC, V 22) Creation was, in essence, the product of the Trinity in creative power.
But it’s also important to note the text says, not only “by Him,” but “through Him.” This means that Jesus was the effectual agent of creation, the One by Whom all things, seen and unseen, were brought into existence.
2. “Jesus is the goal of creation…” (v 16)
Finally, it was all done “for Him.” Literally the phrase means, “unto Him.” Jesus is the ultimate goal of creation. Everything is moving toward a terminal point, or “Omega Point.” (Pannenburg, Systematic Theology V 1) Jesus is that terminal point.
In the same way that a statue is conceived by an artist, and then crafted and shaped by his own hands, Jesus conceived of and crafted all things. As we remember the artist as long as the statue stands, so we remember Jesus as we admire His handiwork in the universe. (Melick, op cit)
But not only did create the things that are seen, He also created those things that are not seen: “…whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities-“. So even the unseen things…powers, dominions, thrones, and authorities…have their existence because of Jesus.
Simply put, this indicates that Jesus is Lord not only of all the things we can see and study and understand with our minds and eyes and ears and hands, but He is even Lord of those powers we cannot see but are nonetheless real.
It is just the possibility of the existence of such a spirit world that the secular world and a naturalistic worldview seeks to discount. And yet most thinking people have a sense (that God gave them) that such a world does exist and somehow has varying degrees of influence over us.
This is not to make us afraid, but to give us assurance that Jesus Himself is Lord of such a domain. While we may not understand all of these unseen realities, Jesus created and controls even them!
These unseen realities are in all likelihood the various ranks of angels. Paul says in a parallel verse in Ephesians 1 that Jesus “has been exalted far above all rule and authority and power and dominion and every name that is named…” (Ephesians 1:21) This is a crucial part of Paul’s argument against the Gnostic threat in Colossians, since even the angelic “emanations” which the Gnostic heretics claimed to control with secret names and rituals and knowledge were put in place and are ruled over by Jesus.
No domain escapes His rule and authority. Nothing “in Heaven and earth” exists but that which Jesus created. He is Lord and Creator of the seen as well as the unseen realities of the world and the universe.
It has become in vogue once again to hear intellectual discussions about the possibility of extra-terrestrial life existing somewhere. The conspiracy theories around the celebrated Area 51, where it is suspected the government has hidden evidence of such life flare up every year or so.
I will sometimes be asked by an earnest person if I believe such life does exist. Some of the most acclaimed intelligentsia of our day (Stephen Hawking and the atheist Richard Dawkins) have affirmed their belief in them. In a sense, this is exactly what the Gnostic heretics were affirming as well, though their view was less “scientific” and more spiritual in tone. My opinion is such an existence is doubtful, and the Bible does not affirm it at all.
But from this text (and no, this really isn’t a verse about UFOs) it can be implied that, were they to exist, (1) Jesus created them and (2) Jesus has dominion over them. Now please don’t walk away thinking, “I didn’t know our pastor was a UFO conspiracy guy.” I’m not. Again, my strongest opinion and assertion is that we are alone and the only living creatures out here as we circle on the third rock from the sun and as such are the sole focus of God’s reconciling work.
My certainty, however, is that nothing in this universe, known by us or not; SEEN by us or not, escapes the rule of Christ. And since He made everything, He is the most powerful force that can be known.
So let me extricate myself from this argument with this:
“May the force —of Jesus— be with you!”
3. “He is the sustainer of creation...” (v 17)
The third assertion of these verses is that Jesus is the One Who not only CREATED all things that exist, and Who is not only the GOAL of creation and the point to which everything is headed, but Jesus is the One Who, by His personal presence and care, SUSTAINS all creation.
There is an order to creation, and a design that can only be attributed to One far greater than us Who set these things in place. Max Plank, one of the founders of modern physics and a Nobel prize winner, wrote in his book Design in Nature:
According to everything taught in the exact sciences about the immense realm of nature, a certain order prevails in terms of purposeful activity. There is evidence of an intelligent order of the universe to which both man and nature are subservient. (Deyoung, p. iii)
This from a man who was not espousing a religious or faith-based position, but was simply an honest scientist making an observation about our known universe. There is an order. There is a design in nature. There is a “purpose” in our universe that seems to be designed for the well-being of mankind.
We exist in the exact orbit around the sun necessary for life to survive. A degree closer, and we would burn up. A degree further away from the sun would cause the earth to freeze. We live in world that is delicately balanced to preserve life, and all provisions are made for us: oxygen to breathe, water to drink, and predictable seasons with periods of sunlight suitable for growth.
If you are ready to do mental gymnastics you can seek to calculate the chances that such a planet would exist in our universe, (though none other seems to), where humanity can flourish. The mathematical odds alone are staggering and mind blowing!
And yet some find it easier to live in the odds of that happening by chance than to accept with simple faith that “all things were created” by God, and “He is before all things, and by Him all things hold together.” We live in a world uniquely suited for us to survive and thrive.
If we live in a world with such delicate balance, how can it stay in place? With asteroids, and solar flares exploding, how does it stay exactly where it does?
Well, science tells us there is an invisible force called gravity that we can’t see. And there certainly seems to be that. And the spinning motion of the earth, combining with the gravitational pull of the sun, holds the earth in its perfect orbit.
I have no reason to question or doubt that. The law of gravity seems pretty solid to me. But with such a delicate balancing act, why don’t we get knocked off our orbit by some random space object flying our way? Does it kind of make you lose sleep to know we are hanging by an invisible thread tied to….what?
Some friends got me a Christmas gift last year that is fascinating. It is a globe that floats between two magnets. When you put it in just the right distance from the magnets, the globe floats and spins. But nothing holds it in place except for the invisible force of magnetic poles.
My granddarlin’ McCail was quite fascinated by Poppy’s new toy and her first inclination as a curious preschooler was to touch the globe with her finger. And of course, it knocked the globe out of that magic, invisible place where it floated effortlessly and fell to the floor with a crash.
How has the earth, for as many years as it’s been around, ever been “knocked off it’s pins” by some force or power? Because of Jesus. “By Him all things hold together.”
And let’s turn the telescope around and observe a microscopic universe. We are made up of atomic and sub-atomic material. The more powerful we make the microscope to observe the world unseen by the naked eye, the more of that universe we discover exists. We have not yet gotten to the bottom of the world of the atom and our atomic structure yet. We just haven’t invented the lens that is powerful enough to see it through.
My suspicion is we never will. What we do know, and scientific theory supports this, is that atoms defy anyone’s understanding. How do they hold together? Why do they not simply fly apart in a massive nuclear holocaust? Scientists have dubbed this phenomenon “strong nuclear force.” But they have no idea why it exists!
Physicist George Gamow, one of the founders of the Big Bang theory, wrote,
The fact that we we live in a world in which practically every object is a potential nuclear explosive, without being blown to bits, is due to the extreme difficulties that attend the starting of a nuclear reaction.
Or maybe the fact that “by Him all things hold together.” In other words, all things do NOT blow apart in multiplied trillions of potential nuclear explosions because Jesus is the “force” that is holding all things together.
I, for one, am not prepared to state, “well we’re just lucky it doesn’t happen.” Is that the best we can do? Or can we find the faith to believe that there IS a Creator Who put all things in place after the pleasure of His will and purpose and He knows how to keep it all from splintering into oblivion?
You grasp what this implies? It implies that all the massive nuclei combined have no right to be alive! It implies that they have no right to be alive at all, and if created should have blown up instantly. Yet, here they are!
This unseen “force” that holds the nucleus of the atom together has been called Coulomb’s Law of electrostatic force. That, combined with the laws of magnetism, are the theories science believes “hold all things together.”
Even honest scientists, on observation and setting aside their philosophical preconceptions, are amazed at the world and the universe we live in. There are so many fundamental things that have no logical reason for existence!
It reminds us of the verse in Romans which, read properly, says it is impossible to be an atheist:
Since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and Divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse. (Romans 1:20)
Unbelieving man willingly ignores the evidence before his eyes and chooses not to believe. The same evidence is presented to every person. But people will look at the same phenomenon, and some will allow it to lead them to belief and others will claim these things as “chance,” or “good fortune” or “luck.” They willfully deny what is plainly before them.
The world we live in, created and upheld by the One Who holds all things together will one day be dissolved, when “the heavens will pass with a roar and the elements will be destroyed with intense heat, and the earth and all its works will be burned up.” (2 Peter 3:10)
But until then, we live by the grace of the One by Whom “all things hold together.” The One is Jesus Christ, our Creator and our Savior; our provider and our sustainer. He is the One Who is “before all things and by Him all things hold together.”
HE IS THE HEAD OF THE BODY, THE CHURCH
He is also the head of the body, the church… (v 18)
Most of the metaphors for the church found in the Bible; a family, a vineyard, a kingdom, a flock, a building…are all found in the Old Testament.
But the picture of the church as the Body of Christ is uniquely a New Testament metaphor. There is nothing else that defines the unity between Christ and His people as intimately as this. The church is His body, a living organism that is tied to the living Christ.
As our bodies take our direction and find our fulfillment when connected to our brains, so the body of Christ finds its highest function when tied in an unbroken connection to the Head which is Christ.
But just as frail human flesh, sometimes the body refuses to do what the brain instructs. Disease, dysfunction, brokenness all disrupt this desired unity between head and body. The results are sad to see.
Likewise, as the head of the body, the church is to move in complete harmony with Christ. We become unmanageable, dysfunctional, and broken when we do not walk in harmony with our Head.
The disunity, argumentation, and unChristlike behavior that at times characterize the Body grieves our Head. If we truly were looking to follow the Head the body would never behave in a dysfunctional or disjointed way. Disunity would not happen if we were all following the direction set by the One Who is “the Head of the body, the church.”
I have always been attracted to the more organic images of the church as the body. The church, in its essence, is an organism more than an organization, though qualities and ideas of both are present in Scripture.
There is a need for organizational guidelines and understandings for a group of people to function. Some denominations have sought to simply related organically, but those usually fall short of what is needed to survive together. Dimensions of both are essential for a church to flourish.
But I lean toward a preference for the organic comparison. Just as it is hard for a body to function without a skeletal structure, so it is hard for a church to function without some sense of “skeletal” organization.
He is the beginning…
The church was not man’s idea, nor man’s creation. Jesus did not come along and “adopt” a structure that was already in place. He is the beginning. This word can have either a temporal application (first in time) or a positional one (first in authority). It is more likely the positional idea in view here, and that is modified by the second phrase:
The firstborn from among the dead…
This clearly is a phrase that asserts Jesus’ supremacy in His resurrection. The idea of “firstborn” ties back to “the beginning” to help us understand clearly what is being said.
The statement is telling us that, through redemption and resurrection, the church had it’s beginning and Jesus being “the firstborn from among the dead” sets a new direction and new order for redeemed humanity.
The entire verse provides the reason that “Jesus is the head of the church.” As it’s beginning due to His cross and His victory due to the resurrection the church now exists. It is His church. “I will build my church,” Jesus said, “And the gates of Hades will not prevail against it.”
No man is head of the church. No group of people, no board of directors, no pope, no bishops or presbytery serve as the “Head” of the church, since His role is unique due to His sacrifice for it. This assures His continuing authority, leadership, and care for “the body…the church.” Only Jesus is the Head. Our role is simply, as the Body, to follow.
that He might come to have first place in everything. (v 18)
At the end of all this, the purpose is “that He might come to have first place…” or, as some translate this, “the supremacy” in everything.
Let’s hear this first as a rebuke to the Gnostics who lowered Jesus’ position to one of the bottom levels in their hierarchy. “How,” they reasoned, “could God make Himself known in a person Who occupied flesh?” One branch of this movement, know as “Docetics” (“seemists”) argued that Jesus only “seemed” to have a human body, since deity could not be lowered to occupying flesh and blood. Their writings reflect their effort to eliminate references to the reality of “God in flesh” in Jesus.
But Paul’s conclusion was that in all of this, Jesus is to have “first place” or “supremacy” in everything! “Everything” extends the supremacy of Christ far beyond any conceivable scope and beyond. He must have first place in everything!
- First place in our family
- First place in our marriage
- First place in our profession
- First place in our missions and ministry
- First place in our thinking
- First place in time
- First place in love
- First place in conversation
- First place in pleasure
- First place in eating
- First place in play
- First place in athletics
- First place in our entertainment
- First place in art
- First place in music
- First place in worship
- First place in living
- First place in dying
- First place in His body, the church!
“It’s crazy if you think about it. The God of the universe—the God Who created nitrogen and pine needles and E-minor, loves us with a radical, unconditional, and self-sacrificing love. And what is our response? We go to church, sing a couple of tunes, and try not to cuss.” —Francis Chan
What should our response be? We give Him the supremacy in everything!
FOR IN HIM ALL THE FULLNESS OF GOD WAS PLEASED TO DWELL
In verse 19, we encounter one of the most mind-blowing realities we can contemplate about Jesus. “All the fullness of God” was dwelling in Jesus.
In our human frailty and our sometimes apathetic attempts at understanding our Savior and our salvation though we plead it as the most important thing if we’re believers, we lose sight of important truth.
Jesus is God. Not fifty percent God. He was not a “hybrid” of God and man. He was fully God, and fully human. Both. One hundred percent both.
That is the doctrine of the incarnation that we must think about other than a few weeks during Christmas. God dwelt in Jesus. The concept, if you seriously think about it, is mind numbing. How can this be?
Wasn’t Jesus born in Galilee of a human mother? Wasn’t He a Jew by race? And wasn’t He a human being Who felt the sting of the lash and the piercing pain of the nails that tore His flesh on the cross? How could that happen…to God?
But the Scripture here (and several other places) affirms that “all the fullness of God was dwelling in Jesus.” Everything there was about God was resident in the body of Jesus of Nazareth, Mary’s baby.
The Creator of the stars, the planets, the galaxies…was compressed into the fetus of a Jewish virgin named Mary. To borrow from the age-old hymn, “How Can It Be?”
When false teachers arise with their doctrines to deceive, it is this truth that is attacked. This truth is assaulted by half-truth and distortion. “All the fullness of God” lived (and by the way, still lives) in Jesus. He is “the exhaustion of God” to quote one theologian.
This statement too was an assault against the false teaching of the Gnostic heretics. They taught that Jesus was one of the “emanations” that flowed forth from God. All of the emanations together, they believed was the “pleroma,” the Greek word for the “fullness.”
But Paul says, “NO!” ALL the pleroma of God is in Jesus. ALL the fullness has taken up residence in Jesus. He is not one dimension of the fullness of God, He IS the fullness of God!
Later this is reiterated in Colossians 2:9: “For in Him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily…”. So this is no mistaken gloss or statement taken out of context. It is reinforced over and again in Scripture. The fullness of God lives in Jesus PHYSICALLY.
“The totality of Divine essence and power has taken up its residence in Christ.” (FF Bruce). Everything there is to know about God is found in Christ. Everything there is to life is found in Christ. Everything there is to salvation is found in Christ.
“Jesus Christ is the ultimate. There is none before Him, nought beyond Him, and nothing without Him. Other than Jesus will not do; less than Jesus will not suit; more than Jesus is not possible. More than all in Him we find. Everything of God is to be found in Him and little of God is to be found apart from Him.” (Dermot McDonald)
There is nothing in this statement that says this indwelling of God in Christ was a temporary arrangement. If this is true, the God Who is Spirit, will be visible in the Son throughout all eternity.
Our eternal life with God will be a life with One Who occupied and still occupies the body in which He was crucified, wrapped and buried in a borrowed tomb, and raised to life. God never withdraws or abandons that physical, now glorified body. We will see Him, relate to Him, love Him, and worship Him in our own glorified flesh forever.
and through Him to reconcile all things whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of His cross. (v20)
Charles Wesley wrote the words to one of our more popular Christmas carols, Joy to the World
No more let sins and sorrow grow
Nor thorns infest the ground;
He comes to make His blessings flow
Far as the curse is found.
Our understanding of salvation is typically very short-sighted. In the songs we sing, the sermons we hear, and books we read there are dimensions of salvation that are overlooked or worse, disregarded as unimportant.
God’s eternal plan was, “through Him (Jesus) to reconcile all things…” We sometimes mistakenly think that salvation’s plan was to save people. And certainly that is so.
But what we fail to take into account is that, because of sin that came by man’s disobedience to God, ALL of creation…living and inanimate…all of the universe…is out of relationship with the Creator.
When our federal (representative) head, Adam, chose to follow the his own path in the Garden instead of God’s, everything that Adam had dominion over as the first created man fell with him.
God’s plan (2 Peter 3) is to finally and ultimately purify all that He created in the first six days and proclaimed was “good” (interestingly a word that also means “beautiful”).
But now, because of the blight of sin, “the whole creation groans,” and decays, and dies, and suffers with war, and cancer, and broken relationships, dashed hopes, weeds in our gardens and thorns in our hands. “We who are in this tent do groan….” Childbirth brings pain before it brings joy. But creation is now in something like the pain of childbirth, and will sooner than later give birth to the joy God intended! God never meant His creation to live in conflict with itself…or with Him. His plan is to reconcile “all things” to Himself through the now accomplished redemption through Jesus “whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of His cross.”
The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration (futility), not by its own choice, but by the will of the one (Adam) who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. (Romans 8:19-22)
Now the focus shifts from “all things on earth and in heaven” to the personal reconciliation of alienated and hostile people. You. And me.
Who were once alienated and doing hostile deeds…
We have to acknowledge within ourselves that WE are the main thing that is wrong with the world. WE are alienated from God and hostile to Him, and the fruit of that hostility is a mind that is turned away from the things of God and therefore “we do evil deeds/actions.”
Our actions flow from a mind that is corrupted by sin and a spirit that is living in hostility against the things of God. We are alienated. We have done it to ourselves. And the proof is in the deeds we do.
But now… (Colossians 1:22 CSB)
The great reprieve comes here. BUT NOW these things can be remedied. NOW there is a way to turn away from our inner and outer hostility which characterizes our lives. “Now is the accepted time…” Now the doorway to peace is open, through the shed blood of Jesus Christ.
…He has reconciled in His body of flesh by His death
We did not reconcile ourselves. Estranged as we were from God, we did not even desire to reconcile to Him. Even the very motive to seek reconciliation and the faith applied to make it true in our lives came from God. It was His blood. His flesh. His body. His plan. But we live eternally as glad recipients of it!
In order to present you holy, and blameless, and above reproach before Him.
God’s plan is not to redeem us so we could then spend the rest of our lives slavishly attempting to “clean up the mess” left behind. Through the blood of Jesus, the sacrifice of the cross, we receive a sentence that says “you are holy, blameless, and above reproach” instead of one that says, “Condemned.” This declaration is because of Christ’s sacrifice, not our own action.
If indeed you continue in the faith…
Luther used the illustration of our salvation being like a dying patient taking a medication delivered by the doctor. When the medicine passes the dying man’s lips and enters his body, he says, “He is cured.” But it may be some time before the patient begins to demonstrate evidence of the cure the medicine is bringing.
That seems to be something of Paul’s argument here. We have been “cured” from the curse of sin through the reconciling work of Jesus Christ on the cross. However, it may still be the case that we still demonstrate symptoms of our former “sin sickness” that, while it cannot reverse the cure, it can keep us living in sin’s foul grip.
We are to “continue in the faith.” We are to grow up in our faith (2 Peter 1). Some of that growth must be efforts we make to learn more about the “cure” we have received by God’s reconciling work.
We are to be “stable and steadfast.” We are to set our face toward Jesus. Many distractions and attacks will come our way to discourage us and seek to “destabilize” our beliefs and convictions. But the greatest testimony we can bear to the truth of God’s Word is a stability that cannot be shaken.
We are not to “shift from the hope.” We keep placing our confidence in Jesus Christ. We are to keep our eyes on the horizon for His return. We are to be a hopeful people, standing on a rock that cannot be moved.
Our hope is in “the gospel which we heard, and which has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven.” “All creation under heaven” is where the Gospel needed to be proclaimed, because only there are those whom God has chosen to be reconciled. The stars and planets and galaxies above do not need the Gospel broadcast to them. But people on earth do, that they might hear and be saved.
Finally, Paul concludes this incredible passage by affirming that he has been “made a minister” of this Gospel hope. He is a servant of it, a proclaimer of it, and witness to it, and an apostle for it.