We come today to the glorious passage found in Colossians 1:15-20. It is important to note that this is all one Greek sentence starting in verse nine. Paul explains that he gives thanks to the Father, who has qualified, delivered, and transferred his people into the Kingdom of His beloved Son (Col 1:12-13). Interestingly Paul does not mention Christ’s name in this section nor in the passage, which is often called a Christological Hymn (He does mention Christ previously Col 1:1, 3, 4, and 7). Paul has referred the God the Father and Jesus as his Son (Col 1:3). From verses 15-23, Paul refers to Christ about 18 times (he, him, himself). In today’s passage, Paul speaks specifically about Christ, compared to Ephesians 1:3-14, which focuses more on the Father, with mentions of the second and third persons of the Trinity. Paul begins his letter going straight to the point. He begins with Christ, who is supreme and sufficient. As always, I feel like this could be a sermon series in these six verses. Each line is filled with deep theological riches that could indeed be mined a thousand times over. However, we will look at three main headings.
The verse has a clear structure that could be compared to a hymn or poem. Some people claim Paul is using an ancient hymn from the church. Although possible, I do not put it past Paul to be able to write these words on his own eloquently. He often will skillfully and beautifully write vibrant doxological statements (Rom 11:36, 16:25-27, Eph 3:20-21). It is hard to structure the text (via this medium) visually, but you can see the literary devices through similar phrases and words. Colossians 1:15-20 is a great passage to commit to memory for this reason.
I. Christ is God (15a, 17b and 19)
The simple statement seems plain to us. However, in church history, this has been one of the most debated topics leading to councils (Nicaea 325, Constantinople 381 and 553, and Ephesus 431, Chalcedon 451). Even today, some groups deny Christ as God (Jehovah’s Witnesses, The Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter-Day Saints, and Unitarians). However, even within modern-day evangelicals, we struggle to understand orthodox Christology. In 2018, Ligonier Ministries surveyed evangelicals, asking them questions about theology. One question asked, “Jesus is the first and greatest being created by God.” 78% agreed with this statement, and 18% disagreed with this statement. Though the question is worded in a manner that might seem correct due to (Col 1:15b), it is heresy and denies Christ as God. The Church today, in general, has done a poor job of teaching rich orthodox theology. The early church fought so hard to teach these theological truths because they have vital consequences to the gospel. We should always seek to grow in our understanding of God, as we looked at last week (Col 1:9).
Christ is the Image of God (Vs. 15a)
Philip, one of Jesus Disciples, asked if they could see the Father. Christ’s response was, “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father (John 14:9).” Currently, Calvin looks almost identical to me when I was his age. If you were to ask me what I looked like as a child, I would point to Calvin and say, “I looked like Calvin.” The author of Hebrews eloquently states this, “[Christ] is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature” (Heb 1:3a). Jesus was able to explain that Philip had seen the Father because he and the Father are one (John 10:30). Christ, the second person of the Trinity, came to earth, became flesh, and dwelt among us, and everyone saw the glory of the only Son from the Father (John 1:14). All mankind is made in the image of God (Gen 1:26-27 cf. 5:1-2, 9:6). However, we cannot make the same statement that Christ did; whoever sees us sees the Father. Christ is the perfect image of the invisible God. We one day will bear the image of the man of heaven (1 Cor 15:49 cf. Col 3:10). A picture never captures the moment, hence the saying, “You just had to be there.” Standing on the top of a mountain and pointing your phone to capture a picture, but it never does it justice. This is even more true of pictures of Christ; they lie about Christ. Christ is the image of the invisible God; therefore, any representation of Christ is false.
Christ is before all things (vs. 17a)
God is eternal; Christ, who is God, is also eternal. Before here could either be a reference to time and/or rank. Paul will write a verse later; Christ is the beginning. John writes about Christ in Revelation 22:13, “[Christ is] the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.” Genesis 1:1 states, “In the beginning God…” John 1:1 says, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” Jesus even explained this about himself, “before Abraham was, I am” (John 8:58). Christ is eternal; the Pharisees knew exactly what Jesus was saying. Hence that is why they wanted to stone him (John 8:59). Christ is the second person of the Triune God, not a created being who became God through adoption (error of Arianism/Adoptionism). Christ is creator (more on this later). The Westminster Confession of Faith explains this point simply, “The Son of God, the second person in the Trinity, being very and eternal God, of one substance and equal with the Father” (WCF 8.2). Hence Christ is not a created being but rather God, who is the creator.
Christ is the fullness of God (vs. 19)
Christ did not become God, rather the Son the second person in the Trinity, took on flesh (John 1:14). When the fullness of time had come, Christ was born of a woman (Gal 4:4). Again, the Westminster Confession of Faith explains, “So that two whole, perfect, and distinct natures, the Godhead and the manhood, were inseparably joined together in one person, without conversion, composition, or confusion” (WCF 8.2). Fully man and fully God, the hypostatic union united the second person of the Trinity to a human body. Paul emphasizes that the fullness of God was pleased to dwell. Later in the epistle, he writes, “For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily” (Col 2:9). We cannot spend extensive time on the doctrine in the incarnation, but we will now turn to Christ and his relationship to creation.
II. Christ is creator and sustainer (15-17)
The question I mentioned before from Ligonier’s State of Theology asks if Christ created by God. Colossians 1:15b states Christ is “firstborn of all creation.” This verse is the go-to verse that Jehovah’s Witnesses might turn to for the foundation of their argument. This verse, I believe, is the verse people ran through their heads when they asked the above question. Firstborn can mean either first to be born or the title of firstborn referring to the rank or position of one getting more inheritance. We generally think of this word in a chronological manner, first to be born (The Bible does use it in this sense, see Luke 2:7). However, Paul uses this word to point to rank rather than first to be created. Firstborn is used of status rather than literally the firstborn (Ex 4:22, Jer 31:9, Ps 89:27). If you look at the following verse, Paul writes, “For by him all things were created.” The better translation is “For in him…” If Christ is created, then he would be considered in the ‘all things,’ but how can he create when he is created. The Jehovah’s Witnesses have their own translation of the Bible, which is translated by someone who doesn’t know Greek. They translate this verse, “because, by means of him, all other things were created.” They translate all things as all other things. However, there is no word for ‘others’ in the Greek text (ἕτερος); it does even appear in Colossians.
Christ is God, and therefore Christ is creator, John in his prologue explains, “All things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made” (John 1:3). Paul, in this passage explains, that creation is made ‘In him,’ ‘through him,’ and ‘for him’. Similar to the passage found in Romans 11:36, “For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.” Hence, Paul explains that even the mundane things we do, eating and drinking, are to be done for the Glory of God (1 Cor 10:31). Not only is Christ, the creator, but also the sustainer. Paul writes, “in him, all things hold together” (Col 1:17b). That God not only decrees the works of creation, but also providence. That God did not create the world and leave it to its own devices, but he sustains it. He holds it all together. Hebrews 1:3 says, “he upholds the universe by the word of his power.” What a glorious thought; not only can we praise God for creating the beautiful sunrise, but also, he holds it together. Sometimes it takes all of my energy not to fall apart to keep myself together when I am tired, hungry, and upset. However, Christ holds all things together.
III. Christ is Mediator and Redeemer (vs. 18-20)
Christ’s supremacy and sufficiency are the overarching messages Paul will explain in this compact yet eloquent letter. Christ is preeminent over everything. Christ is God, creator, and sustainer, and specifically, the second person of the Trinity is the mediator of God’s elect people. Hence Chapter 8 of the Westminster Confession of Faith is titled, “Of Christ the Mediator.” Christ to carry out this office of mediator needs to be very God and very man. Christ, as mediator and redeemer, has three important factors.
Christ is head of the Church (Vs. 18a)
The cry of Presbyterians has been “Christ is King.” Christ is the head of the church, not man. Catholic’s believe that the Pope, bishop of Rome, has a special office of ‘head of the church or Vicar of Christ.” Anglicans/Episcopalians have given the title of Head of the Church (1534) of England later changed to the supreme governor (1558). To be fair, I believe the above churches believe that Christ is the head; however, in practice, this might seem convoluted. Christ, as head of the church, is the one who gives the commands and ordinances to the church. Jesus Christ, as King and Head, has given the gift of Kingdom authority to the Church’s officers to enforce God’s laws and to establish God’s reign. The church receives its authority from Christ (Matt 28:18-20, 16:19; John 20:21-23). The true church is not built on the foundation of man’s tradition or progressive inclinations (Col 2:8). The Church is not built on the foundation of sociological studies or democratic consensus. The Church is built upon the foundation of the Prophets and Apostles. The Prophet and Apostles do not refer to Spiritual Gifts or ranks of offices within the church. Built on the foundation of the prophets and apostles refers to the Old and New Testament (Cf. 2 Pet 3:2). The Old and New Testament point towards Christ in which the church points to build the foundation (1 Cor 3:10-15). Everything in the life of the Church should be founded upon Christ as king and head of the church.
Christ is preeminent (vs. 18b)
In the life of the Church, we need to ensure that Christ is exalted. In our personal lives, Christ should be first. This is the issue that the church in Colossae is facing, that Christ is being demoted, diminished, and devalued. We can do this in two ways. First, we actually downgrade them. We don’t think of Christ as highly as we ought. We do this when we believe he is less than God or treat him as our ‘buddy’ and not the creator of the universe who sustains it by the power of his word. The Second is that we increase other things equal to or above Christ. The first is extreme, but the second is common. We often place things in our life above Christ and do not exalt him in our lives. We can do this subtly and frequently. Christ needs to be first in our lives, marriage, families, time, profession, parenting, ministry, love, tongue, even in the tasks of eating and drinking.
Christ is Reconciler (vs. 20)
We will look at this more in-depth next week (Col 1:21-23). Not only is Christ, the creator, but he also is the creator of the new creation. That what was lost in the fall is found in Christ. Christ is the successful mediator between God and Man. Christ has made peace between God and Man. Through the fall of Adam, man was separated from God, the war was declared, and the payment of sin is death. Christ made peace through the blood of his cross. We often give praise to Christ for his actions on the cross (which we should). These six verses show us more that we can praise Christ for. Let us think and consider how we worship Christ as God, creator, sustainer, meditator, and redeemer.