“Christ, who existed prior to creation, is the visible expression of the invisible God. As God’s firstborn Son He has supremacy over all creation. For by Him everything in both heaven and earth was created, whether spiritual or material, including all angelic powers and rulers in the spirit world. The entire universe was created through Him and for Him, for He precedes everything and sustains everything. He is that head whose body is the Church. He is preeminent and sovereign over all things because life from the dead has its origin in Him.” (1:15-18, paraphrased)
The question of mediation is the heart of the Colossian heresy. Paul refutes the complex Gnostic system of angelic mediators that threatens to undermine the absolute supremacy of Jesus Christ. He contrasts Christ’s vast accomplishments with their narrow intellectual speculations. Gnostics theorize a chasm separates the finite world from an infinite deity. They believe this breach is the sinister work of evil angelic powers. To countermand this doctrine, Paul connects Christ’s creative work with His redemptive work by profound statements concerning the absolute primacy of Christ as Lord of both the universe and the Church.
In these verses, Paul establishes both the self-existence and pre-existence of Jesus Christ. He proves the Lord is omniscient (all knowing), omnipresent (able to be everywhere at once), omnipotent (limitless in power and authority), omnicompetent (having jurisdiction over all things) and omnificent (unlimited in creative power).
Although no one has seen God, He can be known through His Son (Jn. 1:18). To see the Son is to see the Father (Jn. 14:9). Christ has always existed and continues to exist. All knowledge regarding God comes through Him (II Cor. 4:6). As the image (eikon) of God, the Son perfectly expresses the essence of the Father and makes the invisible visible (II Cor. 4:4). Eikon bespeaks a likeness, reflection, or representation, like parental features seen in the face of a child. The phrase “image of the invisible God” encapsulates the deity, preexistence, and creative activity of Christ. Perfect humanity and perfect divinity epitomize Jesus Christ. Through His teachings the Father’s thoughts becomes audible, making the unseen God known to us. (Jn. 16:13).
In Jewish familial life, the firstborn male (prototokos) is the representative of his father and enjoys privileges other siblings do not (Ex. 4:22).Applied to Christ, prototokos denotes primacy regarding His position, His timelessness, and His creative prowess. The term is equal in value to phrases such as “the Heir of all things” and “The Only Begotten” (Heb. 1:2 & Jn. 1:14). The rights and privileges originally extended to Israel as God’s prototokos can now be claimed by every Christian. However, no use of prototokos in the New Testament suggests Jesus is a created being. The phrase “firstborn of creation” does not infer the Son is a part of creation but emphasizes His eternal preexistence. These words refer to His sovereignty over all created things both on earth and in the heavens.
Because Christ is Prototokos, all life owes its existence and continuance to Him. The three prepositional phrases of “in Him,” “through Him,” and “for Him,” denote His comprehensive role in creation as the Father’s sole mediator. Within Christ’s persona resides the creative energy of God.
“All things” (ta panta), used twice in this verse for the sake of emphasis, encompasses the entire universe. Everything seen and unseen are under Christ’s dominion and control, including all spirit beings both angelic and demonic. “In heaven and earth both visible and invisible” is an all-inclusive phrase which extends to the farthest galaxy, but also includes the invisible souls of human beings. The earth is built as the stage on which Christ incarnates. His passion, death, and resurrection are the wondrous drama that redeems the human race. Today Christ holds the universe in His nail-scarred hands.
A prominent aspect of Gnosticism includes a perverted form of angelology. Without discussing the specifics of the heresy, Paul makes reference to their “angelic hierarchy.” Gnostics see themselves in a world estranged from God whose destinies are controlled by myriads of celestial mediators. In their minds, Christ is only one of countless intermediaries. Paul uses four terms designed to show that all supernatural powers are inferior to Christ.
1. Thrones indicate positions or seats of royal power for divine administration held by those who exercise authority.
2. Dominions refer to the strength, power, might, and lordship of those who dominate or rule others.
3. Principalities point to beings that commence something; an origin or active cause which suggests governance through assigned power.
4. Powers means the mental and physical strength needed to rule; the freedom to govern; jurisdiction; the authority to control or manage.
These words are not listed in a specific order. They are not exhaustive, for each definition contains aspects also found in the others. Such terms are often used interchangeably in the New Testament in reference to human, demonic, or angelic beings. Since Paul’s aim is to show the supremacy of Christ, he makes no specific distinction between these terms. He means whatever supernatural powers exist are subservient to Christ who made them all (I Pet. 3:22). Although the ranking of angelic beings is foundational to Gnosticism, their doctrine of celestial hierarchy is extremely obscure. Conversely, Paul clearly depicts Christ as the commencement, continuance, and consummation of all history. He is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Heb. 13:8).
The words “he is” emphasize both Jesus’ personality and preexistence. Paul affirms God’s Son is the agent and Lord of creation past, present, and future. “Before all things” indicates Christ’s eternality. Jesus refers to Himself as the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end (Rev. 22:13). He has a unique relation to creation, for He exists prior to anything else. As Creator, He has preeminence over all He creates (Gen. 1:1 & Jn. 1:1). He is independent of all metaphysical systems for all things are created by Him and for Him (v. 16).
Gnosticism holds that the universe is a chaotic, confused, unorganized state of matter under the direction of mysterious angelic powers. Although Gnostics believe matter to be evil, the Lord creates and sustains a cosmos He calls “very good” (Gen. 1:31). Paul states all things “consist” (sunesteken) through Christ. Sunesteken refers to that which is held together and has cohesion. By using this word, Paul refutes the false teachers who attribute creative powers to angelic entities that allegedly undergird and sustain the cosmos.
Genesis describes the universe as an orderly, harmonious system. Orbits of the planets, tides, and gravity all function under Christ’s specific direction. Christ is the divine catalyst by which all things are sustained and unified. He is the reason everything exists, for “in Him is life,” whether material or spiritual (Jn. 1:4). As its creative source, Jesus designed and continuously controls the universe.
Paul quickly transitions from the infinite Son of God to the incarnate Son of God. His final affirmation in this passage concerns Christ’s ultimate creation: His Church. What Christ is to creation in His preincarnate state He is to the Church in His incarnate state. As Prototokos, Christ has absolute authority over all creation and over all His followers. The word “he” is emphatic, for Jesus alone heads His Church.
Paul’s logic is simple:
<> Because Christ existed prior to creation, He was not created.
<> Because He was not created, He is self-existent and infinite.
<> Because He is self-existent and infinite, He must be the Creator.
<> Because He is the Creator, He far outranks all others.
<> Because He outranks all others, He alone can be Lord of His Church.
<> Because He is Lord of His Church, He is superior to all celestial powers.
He is the Master of what Paul has metaphorically deemed “His Body” in earlier epistles (I Cor. 12:13 & Rom. 12:5). The Church (ekklesia) refers to an assembly or congregation and is always pictured as a living organism rather than an organization. Just as the mind gives direction to one’s physical body, “head” (kephale) indicates rule and authority (Eph. 1:22). This metaphor is used to denote the close relationship between Christ and His Church. Jesus compares His association with Believers to a vine and its branches which can only function efficiently by interdependence (Jn. 15:4). The relationship between Jesus and His Church is necessarily intimate, for through His people He guides, sustains, and carries out His evangelistic purpose. The word “beginning” or “origin” (arche) refers to Christ’s precedence regarding time. There was never an era when Christ did not exist. The Source of the universe is the Source of the Church.
The justification for His supremacy is His preeminence as the firstborn (prototokos) from the dead. The same word is used earlier regarding Christ’s creative initiative (v. 15). Paul now applies the term to Jesus as the first to be resurrected. His dual use of this word is intentional, for together they form a parallelism concerning His primacy in both creative and resurrection power. The clause “in order that” means all supremacy belongs to Christ by virtue of His resurrection. As the first to be raised from the dead, Christ proves He truly does have preeminence over all things.
Through the triumph of His resurrection Christ is the spiritual head of His Church. Because of their union with Him, all members of His Body possess eternal life. Thus the resurrection of every Believer is dependent upon His resurrection. As the first begotten from the dead Christ enjoys all the dignity, rights, and privileges belonging to the Firstborn Son. As Jesus was raised never to die again, so will all true Believers (I Cor. 15:52).
“So that in all things He might be first and foremost” is Paul’s summary statement. In these four verses, he has shown Christ to be preeminent in all things both universal and ecclesiastical. He sets forth Christ as the means, goal, and sustainer of all creation. In addition, he has depicted the Church as a living organism, composed of members intimately connected to one another, yet all are dependent upon Christ as the head of the Body. Throughout his epistles, Paul never allows heretical insinuations to undermine the sovereignty of Christ or the unity of His Church.
Points to Ponder
A. existed prior to creation
B. was not created
C. is Lord of His Church
D. is self-existent and infinite
E. all of the above
2. The Greek term ekklesia refers to:
A. a house
B. the Church
C. a temple
D. a building
E. a synagogue
3. A one-word definition of prototokos is:
4. Paul pictures the Church as an organization rather than an organism. True or False?
Briefly define the following terms:
10. The Gnostics view the universe as an orderly, harmonious system. True or False?
11. The Gnostics believed in an angelic hierarchy of celestial mediators. True or False?
12. Who reveals the truth about God the Father (John 16:13-15)?
13. What does Jesus say regarding Himself in John 14:9?
14. What ability does Jesus possess (Hebrews 1:3)?