Paul’s hymn in Colossians 1:15-20 is perhaps one of the most theologically profound passages in the New Testament; and so, it’s difficult for me to move on in our journey through the letter to the Colossians without spending more time investigating the significance of these few verses. Last time we were in this passage, I made it a point to draw out the logical halfway point. There are two key themes addressed, designed to be patterned after each other; and because they’re so intentionally similar, you should know that Paul wants us to compare them. But the similarities and intended comparisons run far deeper than just the two halves—check out the parallels between the key statements in each half:
Let’s dive a bit deeper into these ideas, then. Each of theses stanzas tells us two things about Jesus, gives us the reasons why those things are true, and then the purpose for all of it—and they work together to help us understand God’s purposes in all things.
Look at the first statement (v. 15a)—what are the key words?
Image. Jesus is the image of the invisible God. Now, I think for most of us, when we think of the word "image" a picture comes to mind. It’s a helpful comparison to get us started—a picture represents whatever the subject of the picture is. So, when you look at that picture, you see a representation of the subject. But the Greek gives us a little more here—Jesus isn’t just a representation of God.
The Greek word here is eikon—and when this is the word used for image, it’s more than just a representation: it’s a visible expression. Jesus is the visible expression of the invisible God! Jesus is God brought into the human sphere of understanding—he manifests God. So, what do we learn about Jesus here? When we look at Jesus, we see the embodiment of God himself.
Look at the second statement (v. 15b)—what are the key words?
Firstborn. Jesus is the firstborn of all creation. Now this word can be a bit hard for us, because to me, when I hear the word firstborn I think of the oldest son in a family—the mom and dad exist, and then they birth (create) a son. But is Jesus created? Did God exist and then create Jesus? No way! That wouldn’t make sense with what we’ve just learned. Jesus is God, so how could God exist and then create Jesus?
The word firstborn has a different meaning for people in the Bible than it does for us—and it gives us some really awesome insight into Jesus. It’s about two things: 1) a special position, and 2) a special inheritance. I’ll give you an example—David in the Old Testament is called the firstborn of the kings. Was David the first king? No. But David had a special position and relationship with God, and he inherits and is given authority over God’s people—at the time, Israel. So, what is this telling us about Jesus? Jesus has a special position, and Jesus is given authority over all of creation.
The next statement (v. 16) tells us why this is true: Because in and for and through Jesus everything in heaven and on earth was made. Three distinct statements that all carry significance.
1. In Jesus everything was made—that means without Jesus, nothing could exist.
2. Through Jesus everything was made—that means everything has come into existence through Jesus’ power and ability.
3. For Jesus everything was made—that means the goal of all creation is for a relationship with Jesus, the visible expression of the invisible God.
He is before all things, and only in him do all things hold together.
So, let me bring you back to our original question as we approached this passage last week—what is the will of God? To be united in relationship with Jesus! That’s how we were created to be, and how humanity originated. But we’ve all chosen at one point or another to go against the authority of the one whose very nature commands authority over all creation. And if it’s in him and under his authority that we are held together, then outside of his authority we fall apart—we die. Creation’s relationship with God has been broken, and so we need reconciliation.
And Paul, aware of this problem, points us back to Jesus (v. 18a)! Jesus is the head of the church, and he is the beginning. If we took some time to look at the Greek here, “beginning” carries with it a sense of a new beginning—a new start—a new way for us to be in harmonious relationship with the visible expression of the invisible God again. And I love the next sentence because it tells us where that all happens—in his body: the Church!
Look at the next statement (v. 18b)—remember the meaning of the term firstborn? Jesus isn’t just the one with authority over all life and creation; he’s the one with authority over death! Why? Because in him all the fullness of God dwells (v. 19-20)—his power, his supremacy, his authority. Just as creation depends on Jesus for existence, we also have to depend on him for our resurrection—our reconciliation.
So, what’s the point? Jesus has made peace by the blood of his cross. It’s possible for all things to be held together again—for people who have fallen apart to have a new beginning and a new life in harmonious relationship with our creator. And that’s the gospel—that Christ died, he was buried, and he was resurrected so that we who are dead in our sins can trust in Christ to lead us into resurrection.
“For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son, that whoever believes in him will never die, but have eternal life.” (John 3:16).
If you haven’t put your faith in Jesus, today your response is this: trust in him to lead you through resurrection and into eternal life with our Creator.
If you have, then share this incredible news of reconciliation with someone else today!
Interim Student Ministries Pastor