Colossians 1:15-17: Jesus the Lord over All Creation

January 15, 2015

The high point of Paul’s presentation of God now moves from the Father (vs. 12) to the Son (vs. 13b) who, so far, is identified as the source of our redemption and the forgiveness of sins (vs. 14). What follows is a well-constructed, eloquent statement of the supremacy of Christ over creation and his unique preeminence as the world’s only redeemer.

15He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation;
16for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created,
things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions
or rulers or powers—all things have been created through him
and for him.

17He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together.

Wow. Paul just puts it all out there: there is nobody who can light a candle to the rank or power of Jesus Christ, the Lord. Nobody. His emphasis, and the length of his statement (because there is more to come), suggests that this was a sticking point with the Colossians. Textual evidence points to the possibility that the little church in western Turkey might have been tempted to recognize other gods as rivals of Jesus. If a Jewish influence had caused a drift in the Colossian church, as N. T. Wright claims, then the other god would be “the Law.” If pagan doctrines-de-jour have infiltrated the church, then the other gods would be from the Greek pantheon or local inventions. In either case, the weakness being addressed is consideration of anything other than Jesus Christ being the most important and only truly powerful God known to all creation.

In the first half of the passage (verses 15-17 above), Paul describes the Lord with phrases that stretch a Jewish mindset (among his first readers), challenge a Greek-pagan mindset (the background of many church attenders in Colossae), and dethrone a modern mindset that puts the individual in sovereign position. The basic points are these:

  1. Jesus Christ is the image of the invisible God. God is spirit, invisible, but his full glory was reflected in and by his Son, Jesus, who became visible to us as a human being. The fact that God wanted us to see his image in Jesus says something about God’s relational character, his love, and his passion to be known by those he created.

  2. Jesus Christ was before anything created came to be. “The firstborn” is a Jewish idea, representing the fact that Jesus has everything that belongs to the Father, all the rights and privileges of the oldest son, and therefore authority over everyone else to follow in the family. Specifically, before anything was created (cf. Genesis 1 and 2) Jesus already existed. The logic of this claim insists that he had never not existed. Who else can make that claim?! If Jesus was here first and lay claim to everything that followed in creation, that puts him in a pre-eminent position and us in a place of service.

  3. Everything that was created came into being in him, through him, and for him. Fundamentally, this means that nothing exists that didn’t get its life (or being) from Jesus and through his agency, and nothing has been created that wasn’t for his pleasure and use. This category is not limited to plants, animals, people, and the natural world; it includes realities, entities, powers that cannot be seen but which—in the first century and even now—claim their own counterfeit realm.

  4. The false world of illegitimate claims to power simply cannot be sustained because Jesus is before them: a sight to behold and worship. Further the false claims of pagan gods are unsustainable because Jesus—who is bigger, stronger, and wiser—holds even them in the palm of his hand. “In him all things hold together” (vs. 17b).

The prophets very pointedly challenged the prevailing pagan views by mocking the blind, deaf, and mute nature of idols made with hands. A piece of wood, even beautifully carved, cannot see. A stone, even intricately hewn into the shape of an animal, has no life and no caring in it. But Jesus, through whom even we were fashioned and shaped (also in God’s image), is heavily invested in us by his love, compassion, and mercy. In this he has no true rival.

If Jesus is Lord of all creation, then those among us who are spiritual sojourners—the unchurched, de-churched, and decommissioned Christians—must realize that in our independence we are not God. We are not sovereign over our destiny. We do not rule our world. We have not escaped the tyranny of a corrupted church or the sadness over a disappointing leader, only to be thrust out on our own to fend for ourselves. We are assured that the Lord Jesus Christ sees us, knows us, hears us, and is acting on our behalf even as he reigns over us. Detachment from the gathered church does not make us unreachable or unknowable by God. And in some mystical sense, perhaps we can acknowledge that part of what Jesus is “holding together” is our belabored souls, even when our ties to the family of God appear to be weakened or invisible.

Next post: Jesus Christ as Lord of redemption

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