Paul, in his letter to the Colossians, writes in response to some false and destructive teachings on the gospel message being spread in the early years of Christianity. These were not unique to that time, however, for we are faced with similar distortions today. Interestingly Paul never specifically identifies or confronts the actual false messages, but simply presents Christ as the CENTER of our faith; the very image of God, the Creator, the sustainer of all things, the fullness of God in bodily form, and the reconciler. With all we face in the world today, we need this reminder as well. Our CENTER, Jesus Christ, is completely adequate regardless of whatever false doctrines are presented to us. Paul writes that we “have been given fullness in Christ” – what a promise – what a victory!!!. The world offers us hollow and deceptive philosophy; empty of any real value to restrain our sinful nature. We need a reminder of our center – Jesus Christ and Him alone.
Paul’s opens with this letter (Col 1:1-14) with a prayer for his readers on the “content” or true knowledge of what Christian faith is all about. In this he stresses that the only source of real knowledge is God Himself; the only place from which to draw “spiritual wisdom and understanding”. He further cautions that his readers (and us as well) keep our focus on Christ as our center, and not be tempted to follow strange promises of “hidden, secret, and special” knowledge. Christian faith is not an intellectual exercise, but instead is bound up in our relationship with God through Jesus as his only begotten son. So just what is this content of the faith that Paul wants us to know? His next verses reveal this.
The Supremacy of Christ (Col 1:15-20)
Col 1:15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 16 For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by and for him. 17 He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. 19 For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.
The content of the faith that Paul wants the Colossians (and us) to know is the “beloved Son”, Jesus Christ, the center of our faith. Consider what this passage is telling us – who Jesus really is.
1:15 image of the invisible God. Christ is called the “image of God” (Greek “Icon” – the imprint of the invisible God) in accordance with 2Cor 4:4 “The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” Further, Heb 1:3 presents Christ as “The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word.” So if you want to know what God looks like, take a look at Jesus Christ. If you want to know God’s character, take a look at Jesus Christ, He is the “imprint” of the invisible God expressed in a human form to whom, as humans, we can relate. These passages suggest two truths: (a) God is invisible (Jn 1:18 No one has ever seen God, but God the One and Only, who is at the Father’s side, has made him known.) and (b) Christ, who is the eternal Son of God, reflects and reveals him (Jn 1:18, 14:9-10 Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ’Show us the Father’? Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you are not just my own. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work.) The tight Father-Son union confirmed!!
1:15-16 firstborn over all creation. Just as the firstborn son had certain privileges and rights in the Biblical world, so also Christ has certain rights in relation to all creation; priority, preeminence and sovereignty (vs 16-18). by him all things were created. Paul mentions “all creation,” “all things” and “everything,” stressing that Christ is supreme over all. Consistent with this, John begins his gospel by presenting Christ as the “Logos” – the explanation and grounding for everything; the Creator, not a part of creation.
1:17 He is before all things. Referring to time and precedence as in Jn 1:1-2 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. and Jn 8:58 “I tell you the truth,” Jesus answered, “before Abraham was born, I am!”.
1:17 In him all things hold together In the context of today’s science, this is an intriguing statement. Modern physics identifies four basic “forces” (electromagnetism, gravity, and the strong and weak nuclear forces) that form the “glue” which keeps everything together in the physical universe – from the smallest atomic particle to the largest cosmic body. Science calls these “forces” because there does not seem to be anything materially substantive to identify, just “forces” – a nebulous concept that is as far as human science can go. Further, as science has delved into what makes up the physical reality we consider “solid”, at the atomic level there is no basic “stuff”, just empty space and “forces” It is interesting that here Paul says that Christ Himself, as the Creator, operates continually to keep everything together and functioning. What would happen if He just got tired, got fed up and quit? Interesting!
1:19 fullness. For Paul, “fullness” means the totality of God with all his powers and attributes. It is noteworthy that the writer of Hebrews used Psalm 8:5 about Christ; Heb 2:5-9 It is not to angels that he has subjected the world to come, about which we are speaking. But there is a place where someone has testified (Ps 8:5) “What is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him? You made him a little lower than the angels; you crowned him with glory and honor and put everything under his feet.” In putting everything under him, God left nothing that is not subject to him. Yet at present we do not see everything subject to him. But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, now crowned with glory and honor because he suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.” There is no conflict here between God’s “fullness” dwelling in Jesus, while at the same time God the Father had Jesus made “little lower than the angels”. Jesus was not “made” by God, but rather was “made” flesh (human), and in that sense was a “little lower than the angels” who are spirit beings. Note Jn 1:14 “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.”
1:20 reconcile to himself all things. Reconcile (Greek katallaste) gives us “catalyst” which in chemistry is something that changes what it touches, but is not itself changed. [A catalyst causes a chemical change but is not itself permanently affected by the chemical reaction] Jesus Christ does not change, even after absorbing all of our sin; He stays who He is and changes everything He touches. 2Cor 5:17-19 “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation.”
Col 1:15-20 points to the essential center of our faith – who Jesus Christ really is. Our center is not an idea, a program, or even the result of all the good things that God is doing, like our “liberation” from the consequences of our sin. Instead Paul focuses not on the result (i.e. liberation), but on the person, the “Liberator”, the one who is the catalyst. The giver of the gift is more important than the gift itself. Jesus Christ is not a mystical, unknowable, indefinable, divine something standing over us as a dominating power. Rather we have a concrete figure – the man Jesus Christ who bears a name, comes from a place, and has a life history in time – He is our Lord. This is the great fact that Paul wants the Colossians (and us) to know, and then to live under this great fact. In making this point, note the four markers Paul gives us on the significance of Jesus Christ;
- He is the image (imprint) of the invisible God!. John’s gospel begins with describing Jesus Christ as
the “Word” (Greek “Logos”) – that which gives meaning to everything.
- He is the firstborn of creation – the Lord of Creation! – the Source of all that is, all creation.
- In Him all things hold together! Paul states that Christ is the binding power that keeps everything from falling into complete chaos. He uses this same idea in 2Cor 5:14 (NIV) “For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died” and the KJV says “For the love of Christ constraineth us; because we thus judge, that if one died for all, then were all dead.” Think of the banks of a river that hold the water together so that it can freely flow and not become a fetid swamp. Likewise, Jesus Christ personally holds us together – he integrates us and makes us whole persons.
- He reconciles us to God!. He stays who He is, but enables our forgiveness and sets us free. So now we can have full fellowship with God the Father. Christ enabled this by making peace through His blood; His life given on our behalf on the cross. He took upon Himself our humanity, our sin, the power of evil, and even the power of death – He absorbed it all at the cross. No one else can be our redeemer, nobody else has taken death and absorbed and conquered it. No one else has taken our sin and the power of evil, and absorbed it in Himself. Now, because of Christ’s willing sacrifice, there is no longer despair, but hope that our sins will no longer control our lives. His life was given for us.
This is who Jesus really is – fantastic!!!!