The Incomparable Lord Jesus Christ
From Paul’s petition that the Colossians be enlightened about God’s redemptive working in their lives, he moved naturally into his epistle’s main emphasis—the exaltation and preeminence of Christ. In this paragraph (vv. 15–20) Paul mentioned seven unique characteristics of Christ, which fittingly qualify Him to have “the supremacy” (v. 18). Christ is: (1) the image of God, (2) the Firstborn over Creation, (3) Creator of the universe, (4) Head of the church, (5) Firstborn from the dead, (6) the fullness of God, and (7) the Reconciler of all things. No comparable listing of so many characteristics of Christ and His deity are found in any other Scripture passage. Christ is the supreme Sovereign of the universe!
Geisler, N. L. (1985). Colossians. In J. F. Walvoord & R. B. Zuck (Eds.), The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures (Vol. 2, p. 672). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.
1:15. First, Christ is the image of the invisible God. Besides the obvious meaning of likeness (cf. 2 Cor.4:4), “image” implies representation and manifestation. Like the head of a sovereign imprinted on a coin, so Christ is “the exact representation of [the Father’s] being” (Heb. 1:3). As Jesus said, “Anyone who has seen Me has seen the Father” (John 14:9). Anyone who saw Christ, the visible manifestation of the invisible God, has thereby “seen” God indirectly. For “no one has ever seen God, but God the only Son … has made Him known” (John 1:18). Paul wrote of the “invisible” God (1 Tim. 1:17), but Christ is the perfect visible representation and manifestation of that God. Though the word “image” (eik?n) does not always denote a perfect image (cf. 1 Cor. 11:7), the context here demands that understanding. Indeed, like the word “form” (morph?; trans. “nature” in Phil. 2:6–7), eik?n means the very substance or essential embodiment of something or someone. In Hebrews 10:1 “shadow” and “the very image” (eik?n), which is Christ, are contrasted (cf. Col. 2:17). So Christ’s supremacy is first shown in His relationship with God the Father. Christ is the perfect resemblance and representation of God.
Second, Christ’s supremacy is shown in His relationship to Creation. He is the Firstborn over all Creation. Though it is grammatically possible to translate this as “Firstborn in Creation,” the context makes this impossible for five reasons: (1) The whole point of the passage (and the book) is to show Christ’s superiority over all things. (2) Other statements about Christ in this passage (such as Creator of all [1:16], upholder of Creation [v. 17], etc.) clearly indicate His priority and superiority over Creation. (3) The “Firstborn” cannot be part of Creation if He created “all things.” One cannot create himself. (Jehovah’s Witnesses wrongly add the word “other” six times in this passage in their New World Translation. Thus they suggest that Christ created all other things after He was created! But the word “other” is not in the Gr.) (4) The “Firstborn” received worship of all the angels (Heb. 1:6), but creatures should not be worshiped (Ex. 20:4–5). (5) The Greek word for “Firstborn” is pr?totokos. If Christ were the “first-created,” the Greek word would have been pr?toktisis.
“Firstborn” denotes two things of Christ: He preceded the whole Creation, and He is Sovereign over all Creation. In the Old Testament a firstborn child had not only priority of birth but also the dignity and superiority that went with it (cf. Ex. 13:2–15; Deut. 21:17). When Jesus declared Himself “the First” (ho pr?tos; Rev. 1:17), He used a word that means “absolutely first.” “Firstborn” also implies sovereignty. The description “firstborn” was not a fairly common Old Testament designation of the Messiah-God. “I will also appoint Him My Firstborn, the most exalted of the kings of the earth” (Ps. 89:27). While this regal psalm refers to David, it also designates the Messiah, as seen in Revelation 1:5, where Christ is called “the Firstborn from the dead (cf. Col. 1:18) and the Ruler of the kings of the earth.” So “Firstborn” implies both Christ’s priority to all Creation (in time) and His sovereignty over all Creation (in rank).
1:16–17. The third characteristic of Christ is that by Him all things were created. In fact all things were created by Him (di’ autou, instrumental Cause) and for Him (eis auton, final Cause), and in Him (en aut?) they hold together (He is the constituting or conserving Cause). Christ is not only the One through whom all things came to be, but also the One by whom they continue to exist. Two other New Testament verses parallel this description of Christ: “Through Him all things were made” (John 1:3), and Christ the Son is the One “through whom [the Father] made the universe” (Heb. 1:2). The Father, then, is the ultimate Source (efficient Cause), and the Son is the mediating Cause of the world. The Son was the “master Workman” of Creation, “the beginning (arch?) of the Creation of God” (Rev. 3:14, NASB).
The Son’s Creation includes “all” things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible. These indicate the entire universe, both material and immaterial. The hierarchy of angelic beings—thrones (thronoi) or powers (kyriot?tes) or rulers (archai) or authorities (exousiai)—indicate a highly organized dominion in the spirit world, a sphere in which the Colossians were engaged in the worship of angels (Col. 2:18) and over which Christ reigns supreme (cf. Eph. 1:21; 3:10; 6:12; Phil. 2:9–10; Col. 2:10, 15).
1:18. Fourth, Christ is the Head of the body, the church. Besides being the Lord of the universe He is also the church’s Head (cf. Eph. 1:22–23; 5:23). The reference here is to the invisible or universal church into which all believers are baptized by the Holy Spirit the moment they believe in Christ (1 Cor. 12:13). This work of the Spirit began on the day of Pentecost (Acts 1:5; 2:1–2; 11:15–16). It is a special body in which there is “neither Jew nor Gentile” (Gal. 3:28) but a whole new creation of God (Eph. 2:15). The church is a “mystery … which was not made known to men in other generations” (Eph. 3:4–5; cf. Rom. 16:25–26; Col. 1:26).
Fifth, Christ is the Beginning (arch?) and the Firstborn from among the dead (cf. Rev. 1:5). Christ was the first to rise in an immortal body (1 Cor. 15:20), and as such He heads a whole new order as its Sovereign (cf. “Firstborn” in Col. 1:15). Also Christ’s resurrection marked His triumph over death (Heb. 2:14; 1 John 3:8). He was the “Firstfruits” of those who die (1 Cor. 15:20) since, unlike others, He rose never to die again. He “was declared with power to be the Son of God by His resurrection from the dead” (Rom. 1:4). So He continues to live “on the basis of the power of an indestructible life” (Heb. 7:16). All this is so that in everything He might have the supremacy. Christ is given first place over all Creation. He is preeminent. The same eternal Logos (John 1:1) who “became flesh” (John 1:14) and “humbled Himself” (Phil. 2:8) is now “exalted” by God the Father “to the highest place” and has been given “the name that is above every name” (Phil. 2:9).
1:19. The sixth description of the exalted Christ is that all God’s fullness dwell[s] in Him. Later Paul wrote, “In Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form” (2:9). Colossians 1:19 is one of the most powerful descriptions of Christ’s deity in the New Testament (cf. Heb. 1:8). “Fullness” (pl?r?ma), a key word in Colossians, is used in 1:19 and 2:9. (The verb pl?ro? is used in 1:9, 25; 2:10; and 4:17.) The noun means “completeness” and is used of a wide range of things including God’s being (Eph. 3:19), time (Gal. 4:4), and grace in Christ (John 1:16). This full and complete Deity is said to “dwell” (katoik?sai, “abide lastingly or permanently”) in Christ.
1:20. The seventh feature of Christ is that He is the Reconciler. Through Christ God will reconcile to Himself all things. The phrase “all things” is limited to good angels and redeemed people since only things on earth and things in heaven are mentioned. Things “under the earth” (Phil. 2:10) are not reconciled. On God’s restoring of nature, see comments on Romans 8:19–21; and on the reconciling of sinners, see comments on Romans 5:10–11 and 2 Corinthians 5:17–20. It is important to note that people are reconciled to God (“to Himself”) not that God is reconciled to people. For mankind has left God and needs to be brought back to Him. In 2 Corinthians 5:19 “reconciliation” was used by Paul in a judicial (vs. an actual) sense in which the whole “world” is made savable through Christ’s death. Paul spoke of “the many” (i.e., “those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace”) being “made righteous” through the Cross (Rom. 5:19). To make peace through His blood means to cause God’s enemies (Rom. 5:10; Col. 1:21) to become, by faith, His friends and His children (cf. Eph. 2:11–19).
Geisler, N. L. (1985). Colossians. In J. F. Walvoord & R. B. Zuck (Eds.), The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures (Vol. 2, pp. 672–674). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.