The Epistle to the Colossians - Part 4
William Banks, Hamilton, Scotland
The Majesty of Christ 1. 15-23
Recall that the assembly at Colossae appears to have been subjected to false teaching. It has been appropriately called Judaistic Gnosticism – a mixture of Greek philosophy, 2. 8; Oriental mysticism, 2. 18, 23; and Jewish ritual, 2. 11, 16. It detracted from the person of Christ making Him one of many ‘aeons’, powers (the totality of powers were called ‘pleroma’) between God and man, detracting from His essential deity and true humanity. It was the occupation of intellectuals.
Paul’s approach in dealing with the false teaching is to stress the all-sufficiency of Christ – His pre-eminence, 1. 18, and His fullness, pleroma, v. 19. In Colossians, the word pleroma is ‘removed from the precarious foundation of philosophy and mythology and set upon the impregnable rock of inspiration’. 1 The word is also used in chapter 2 verse 9, where the meaning is ‘in the Son there dwells all the fullness of absolute Godhead, essentially, perfectly, the very Personality of God’. 2
The section from chapter 1 verses 15 to 23 is the central Christological passage in the whole of the book. An understanding of these verses would prevent the Colossians (and us) from having wrong thoughts about Christ and avoid the Colossian heresy. They deal with two majesties of His person in beautiful balance and symmetry.
The majesty of Christ in creation, vv. 15-18 – ends with His pre-eminence
- His relation to God, v. 15a – the Image;
- His relation to the universe, vv. 15b-17 – the Firstborn – note the prepositions ‘in’, ‘through’ and ‘unto’ in verse 16 RV;
- His relation to the church, v. 18 – the Head.
The majesty of Christ in new creation, vv. 19-23 – evidence of His pre-eminence
- His relation to God, v. 19 – the Fullness (pleroma);
- His relation to the universe, v. 20 – the Reconciler – note the prepositions, ‘through’ (three times – see the RV) and ‘unto’;
- His relation to the church, vv. 21-23 – the Reconciler – ‘and you . . . hath he reconciled’, v. 21.
This article deals with the former of these.
The majesty of Christ in creation, vv. 15-18
This paragraph is the death blow to evolutionary hypotheses. The Bible gives no leeway whatsoever to the evolutionary ‘process whereby natural selection turns one fully formed animal into another’. 3 While developments have evidently taken place within particular created species (note e.g., different skin colours), the theories for natural selection developments as indicated above are without reliable scientific foundation, in spite of elaborate claims made by the scientific community.
His relation to God, v. 15a
The title used in this case is that of ‘the image of the invisible God’. It has within it the idea of representation and manifestation. Christ is the visible expression of the invisible God. The title should be contrasted with ‘likeness’, ‘likeness of sinful flesh’, Rom. 8. 3, and ‘likeness of men’, Phil. 2. 7, where the idea of resemblance and reality is to the fore. In the case of ‘image’, the title is indicative of equality with the Father in respect of His substance, nature and eternity. It is an affirmation of His essential deity and parallels the statement, ‘the express image of his person (God’s substance)’, Heb. 1. 3.
In this presentation of His person, the Lord makes the invisible visible, 1 Tim. 1. 17; Heb. 11. 27; the unapproachable approachable, 1 Tim. 6. 16; the inconceivable conceivable, John 14. 9, and, in addition, as ‘the Word’, John 1. 1, He makes the silent expressive and audible.
His relation to creation, vv. 15b-17
The title used in this case is ‘the firstborn of all creation’ JND. While the word ‘firstborn’ can have chronological significance, e.g., Luke 2. 7, when used of the Lord Jesus in the present context it has to do with pre-eminence rather than chronology. This unique title indicates both priority in time and superiority in dignity. The fact that chronology is not to the fore is indicated by its use in relation to the nation of Israel, Exod. 4. 22, Jer. 31. 9. There are three other connections in which it is used of the Lord, indicating His superiority in a further threefold sphere:
- The Firstborn from the dead, Col. 1. 18; Rev. 1. 5 – in resurrection;
- The Firstborn among many brethren, Rom. 8. 29 – in redemption;
- The Firstborn at His second advent, Heb. 1. 6 – in regeneration.
Three important prepositions, v. 16
There are three important prepositions in verse 16. In the KJV they are ‘by’, en, ‘by’, dia, and ‘for’, eis. The Revised Version translates them respectively ‘in’, ‘through’ and ‘unto’, which gives a more accurate picture of the truths being addressed.
‘In him were all things created’ RV emphasizes that Christ is the Architect – the One in whom all creative forces reside – see also John 1. 4. Note, also, that the phrase ‘all things’ is repeated five times in verses 16 to 18. The verb ‘created’ is in the aorist tense, indicating a historic act, while the repetition of ‘all things’ indicates both the whole sum and the unity of the final product. This includes heaven and earth. Note the important order – God always starts with heaven, cp. Gen. 1. 1 – and both what is visible and invisible, incorporating a fourfold hierarchy of angelic beings, cp. Eph. 1. 21. Since Christ created the angels, He is, by definition, greater than them! This meets one of the doctrinal errors of the Gnostics head on. Christ is not just one of many ‘aeons’! He is the creator of ‘all’!
‘All things have been created through him’ RV indicates that Christ was the Agent – the medium of the divine energy in the creation process, Ps. 33. 6-9; John 1. 3. The verb ‘created’ is now in the perfect tense indicating permanence, progress and purpose. The same thought is found in Hebrews, ‘through whom also he made the worlds’, 1. 2 RV.
‘All things have been created . . . unto him’ RV indicates that Christ is the Aim or final objective of creation. ‘All things’ were brought into being to serve His ends and His Kingdom as the Alpha and Omega, Rev. 22. 13. The same idea is found in Romans, ‘for of him, and through him, and to him, are all things: to whom be glory for ever. Amen’, 11. 36, and in Revelation, ‘for thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created’, 4. 11. The glad day is yet to dawn when, ‘in the dispensation of the fulness of times he might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth; even in him’, Eph. 1. 10. Note, again, the reference to ‘all things’!
The inherent power, v. 17
Two truths with respect to the Lord Jesus in His relation to creation are emphasized in verse 17, viz. His eternality, v. 17a, and His energy, v. 17b. His eternality is emphasized by the present tense, ‘he is (not “was”) before all things’. The present tense is most enlightening. It is a reminder of the Lord’s claim, ‘Before Abraham was, I am’, John 8. 58; cp. Exod. 3. 14. Here, in unambiguous language, is a definite statement of our Lord’s eternality. It parallels also the statement in John chapter 1 verse 2.
His energy is emphasized in the second half of the verse, v. 17b – ‘in [en] him all things consist [hold together]’ RV. This is why there is cosmos instead of chaos – ‘Christ is the personal means by which all the parts of the universe are maintained in cohesion’. 4 Again, the idea is paralleled in Hebrews, ‘upholding all things by the word of his power’, 1. 3. The meticulous movements of the heavenly bodies, and their relative positions in the astronomical spheres, are all under the control of the spoken word of Christ, expressing the appropriate divine energy for their motion and subsistence.
His relation to the church, v. 18
The important title in this case is, ‘the head of the body, the church’, v. 18a, see also chapter 2 verse 19. The title indicates that the Lord Jesus is the source of all the church’s spiritual life, cp. John 15. 1-11. As such, He controls all its movements and ministry and is the source of its entire authority. Indeed, the language of 1 Corinthians chapter 12 verse 12 is most instructive, where the dispensational church is called ‘the Christ’ – ‘so also is the Christ’ JND. The emphasis is on the mystical union between Christ as the head in heaven and the church under His control on earth. There are several other headships in the New Testament:
- His headship of a new race, Rom. 5. 12-21;
- His headship ‘of man’, 1 Cor. 11. 3 (universal);
- His headship of ‘all things’, Eph. 1. 10 JND;
- His headship ‘over all things’, Eph. 1. 22 (fulfilment of divine purpose);
- His headship ‘of all principality and power’, Col. 2. 10; 1 Pet. 3. 22;
- His headship of ‘the corner’, 1 Pet. 2. 7.
The intrinsic features associated with headship of the body, v18
There are two titles given to the Lord Jesus in the balance of verse 18 which make Him fully qualified to be the head of the body. In the first case, He is the originator, v. 18b – ‘the beginning’, cp. Rev. 3. 14; Heb. 1. 10. Inherent power and initiative resides with (in) Him. He is the One who brought it into being by the baptism in the Spirit, Acts 2. 1-3. This is affirmed categorically by Peter, ‘Therefore being by the right hand of God exalted and having received of the Father the promise of the Holy Ghost, he hath shed forth this, which ye now see and hear’, v. 33. As John the Baptist had promised in the four Gospel records, 5 the exalted Christ inaugurated the church by the baptism in the Spirit. 6 In addition, having established the church He builds what He inaugurated, Matt. 16. 18.
The authoritative basis upon which He can be ‘the beginning’ is given in the second title, viz. ‘the firstborn from (ek, ‘out from among’) the dead’, v. 18c. The foundation was laid in His death and resurrection. He was thereby the source of life for the maintenance of the church and, as ‘the firstfruits of them that slept’, 1 Cor. 15. 20, gives unqualified assurance that He will raise every believer to share in His supreme victory over death.
It is surely fitting that a paragraph detailing the majesty of Christ in creation should indicate the purpose for such an unfolding – ‘that in all things’ – relative to God, the universe, the church, He (emphatic) ‘might become preeminent’, v. 18d Newberry. Hence, surely the church (we!) should live in and through and for Him!
1 J. M. DAVIES, Prison Letters. The Epistles to Colossians and Philemon, Precious Seed Publications, 2008.
2 W. E. VINE, Colossians, in The Collected Writings of W. E. Vine, Gospel Tract Publications, 1985. See also chapter 3 verse 11, ‘Christ is all, and in all’ (note ‘all’ in both verses).
3 R. Slane, The God reality. A critique of Richard Dawkins’ the God Delusion, Day One Publications, 2008.
4 W. E. Vine, Colossians, in The Collected Writings of W. E. Vine, Gospel Tract Publications, 1985.
5 See Matt. 3. 11 and parallel passages.
6 Doctrinal affirmation is given in 1 Corinthians chapter 12 verse 13.