By Christopher VanDusen
In Colossians 1:13-20, the apostle Paul writes:
“He [God] has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.
He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities — all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.” (ESV)
In this passage, Paul teaches on some of the most important topics of the entire Bible. Here, he exalts Christ by describing His nature, mighty acts, and unique roles in God’s work in history.
There are 10 main characteristics of the Lord Jesus Christ in the second paragraph of this section, which are absolutely essential for the Christian to understand:
- Christ is God’s Image (v. 15a)
- Christ is God’s Firstborn (v. 15b)
- Christ is God’s First Cause (v. 16a)
- Christ is God’s Favorite (v. 16b)
- Christ is First for Existence (v. 17)
- Christ is Head of the Ekklesia (v. 18a)
- Christ is the Firstborn from the Dead (v. 18b)
- Christ is First in Everything (v. 18c)
- Christ has the Fullness of Deity (v. 19)
- Christ has Furnished Peace (v. 20)
First, Paul tells us that Christ is God’s image by calling Him “the image of the invisible God”. What does this mean? Notice that Paul calls God “the invisible God” here, so he’s emphasizing that Christ is the One who makes God visible. That is, Christ is the physical representation of God Himself. If you want to see what God is like, then consider what Christ is like, and was like.
Second, Paul calls Christ “the firstborn of all creation”. Does this mean that Christ was created? Absolutely not. The very fact that Paul calls Christ “the image of God”, and not “the bearer of the image of God” implies that Christ images God precisely because He shares His divine nature, and is one in essence with Him.
So what does the term “firstborn” mean here? Paul is using language that would have been familiar with anyone who knew the Old Testament use of it. One of the best examples of how Scripture uses the word “firstborn” is Psalm 89:29, in which the psalmist quotes God as saying,
“And I will make him the firstborn, the highest of the kings of the earth.” (ESV)
This verse is a Hebrew parallelism, in which the second line explains what the first line means. Hence, God makes this man “the firstborn” by making him “the highest of the kings of the earth”. In other words, “firstborn” here means having an exalted position over others. This meaning comes from the ancient practice of Semitic families — such as Abraham’s family in Genesis — of giving the best of the family inheritance to the firstborn son. However, this practice was changed in Genesis by God, so that this inheritance was given to a son who wasn’t the firstborn, as in the case of Jacob. Therefore, the word “firstborn” took on the meaning, not of literally being the firstborn, but of being the favored son who was exalted above the others.
So, when we come to Colossians 1:15, Paul isn’t saying that Christ is the first creation of God, but that He’s the most exalted Person over “all creation”.
The third characteristic that Paul describes about Christ is that He’s God’s first Cause:
“For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities . . .”
Notice the word “for” here. Paul uses it because he’s explaining why Christ ought to be called “the firstborn of all creation”. It’s because all things were created “by him”.
And what were created by Him?
- Everything in heaven
- Everything on earth
- Everything visible
- Everything invisible
- All thrones, dominions, rulers, and authorities, which, according to Ephesians 6, include angels
Fourth, Paul finishes this sentence by implying that Christ is God’s favorite:
“. . . all things were created through him and for him.”
Here, instead of saying that all things were created by Him, he says they were created through Him. What does this mean? The word “through” is used to speak of the means, instrument, or agent by which something is accomplished. In this case, the Agent is Christ. This implies that God used Christ to create all things.
Secondly, Paul says that God did this for Christ. That is, God had Christ create all things to belong to Christ, and for Him to enjoy.
The fifth description that Paul gives us of Christ is that He is first for existence:
“And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.”
The Greek word translated “before” means “in front of”, and can refer to time or space. In this case, since Paul immediately follows his first statement with the fact that “all things hold together” in Christ, the context tells us that Paul’s saying that Christ existed before all things, and is therefore the Creator of all things.
However, He’s not just the Creator of all things, but the Sustainer of all things, since “in him all things hold together”. The Greek word translated “in” is en, and could also be translated “by”. The Greek word translated “hold together” literally means “stand together”, or “line up together”. Hence, the meaning is that Christ is the Person who causes everything in the universe, including every atom and molecule, to hold together and function as it does. In other words, He is the One who causes the continued existence of every thing, and every person.
The sixth description of Christ in this passage is that He’s the Head of the ekklesia:
“And he is the head of the body, the church.”
What does it mean that Christ is “the head of the church”? It means that He’s like the head of a body. Just as the rest of our body is controlled by the brain in our head, so also the church is controlled, or governed, by Christ. Where the head tells the body to go, it needs to go. Hence, Christ uses the church like a person would use his body — to accomplish His purposes.
But what is the church? The Greek word translated “church” is ekklesia, which literally means “the called out”. This title means that every member of the church is a person who has been called out by God from the world to be a person separated for, and devoted to, God. In the first century, Paul and his audience would have understood this word as referring to an assembly, since that’s the way it was used in non-religious talk.
The seventh description that Paul gives about Christ is that,
“He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead . . .”
What does Paul mean that Christ is “the beginning”? The beginning of what? Well, he explains what he means by calling him “the firstborn from the dead”. Again, there’s no reason to think that Paul is calling Christ “the One who was created first from the dead”, since Christ was never created. Rather, Paul is saying that Christ is “the most exalted and favored One from the dead”.
What is he referring to by this last phrase? Obviously, it has be referring to Christ’s resurrection from the dead. Therefore, Paul must be saying that Christ is the beginning of “the resurrection from the dead”. This doesn’t mean that Christ was the first man to be raised from the dead, since He clearly wasn’t. Rather, it must mean that He’s the first One to be raised from the dead with an eternal body that is fit to last forever.
Paul states this in 1 Corinthians 15:20:
“. . . in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.” (ESV)
In that time, the firstfruits were the first crops that were harvested from the fields, and showed that more was to come. In the same way, Christ’s resurrection from the dead is the first resurrection that assures us that “those who have fallen asleep” will be raised from the dead. In fact, Jesus taught that everyone will be raised from the dead, as He says in John 5:28b-29:
“. . . an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his [Christ’s] voice and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment.” (ESV)
In addition to the fact that Christ is the beginning of the resurrection, the more important thing is that He’s the beginning of the new creation. Paul explains this in 1 Corinthians 15:45:
“Thus it is written, ‘The first man Adam became a living being’; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit.” (ESV)
Here, Paul contrasts the first man, Adam, with the last Adam, Christ. The implication is that just as Adam was the head of the first creation, Christ is the Head of the new creation, which is described at the end of the book of Revelation.
Paul’s eighth description of Christ is that He’s first in everything:
“He is . . . the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent.”
So, why is Christ the most exalted Man to be raised from the dead, and the beginning of the new creation? So “that in everything he might be preeminent.” The Greek word translated “preeminent” literally means “first” in place or position. Thus, Paul is saying that Christ is the beginning of the new creation and the resurrection, so that He now is the most important Man in every area of reality. Why? Because He’s God’s firstborn Son, who is the King of the universe, which belongs to Him.
The ninth description of Christ is that He has the fullness of Deity:
“For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell . . .”
In this verse, Paul further explains why Christ has first place in everything — God was pleased to fully dwell in Him. What does this mean? It means that God the Father was pleased, by the power of the Holy Spirit, to dwell in Christ, and manifest all of His divine attributes through Him. In other words, Christ is God in human form.
Finally, Paul concludes this magnificent description of Christ by saying that He furnished peace:
“. . . in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.”
First, Paul says that God was pleased to “reconcile to himself all things” through Christ. The word “reconcile” means to bring into harmony two or more things that are opposed to one another. But what was opposed to God “on earth” and “in heaven” (or space) that He has reconciled to Himself? Well, this must refer in general to the whole creation, as Paul describes it in Romans 8:20-21:
“. . . the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.” (ESV)
Here, we see that the creation is in a state of “futility” and in “bondage to corruption”. This is definitely opposed to God’s character of being meaningful and life-giving. Further, Paul describes the reconciliation of all things to God in a different way in Ephesians 1:7-10:
“In him [Christ] we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.” (ESV)
In this passage, Paul calls this reconciliation the “uniting” of all things in Christ. The Greek word translated “unite” literally means “to bring together under one head”, and refers to God’s consummation of the universe and history in the coming, life, death, resurrection, and exaltation of Christ, who is the Head of the new creation.
Therefore, what Paul means when he says that God reconciled all things to Himself through Christ, is that, through Christ’s life, death, and resurrection, the renewal of the universe has begun, and will be completed one day. And how has it begun? Paul says, by God “making peace by the blood of his [Christ’s] cross”. The way that God began to reconcile all things to Himself was by sending Christ to suffer and die on the cross, in order to punish Him for our sins, satisfy His wrath and justice against those who eventually believe in Him, and thus make peace with them through Christ’s death.
So how does this passage apply to you?
- Since Christ is God’s image and His firstborn Son, He deserves your worship and love.
- Since Christ is the Creator, you ought to live your life as if you and everything else belongs to Him.
- Since all things were created for Christ, you ought to live your life to please Him.
- Since Christ causes all things to exist, you ought to live as if Christ is in control of everything.
- Since Christ is the Head of the church, you ought to obey Him and imitate Him if you claim to be a part of the church.
- Since Christ is the beginning of the new creation and the exalted King from the dead, you ought to live as if He has first place in everything.
- Since God is reconciling all things to Himself through Christ, you ought to be reconciled to God, and seek to persuade others to be reconciled to Him as well.
- Since God has made peace with His people through the blood of Christ’s cross, you ought to have peace with God, and be willing to tell others that they can have peace with Him as well.
Are you sure that you’ve been reconciled to God through the blood of Christ’s cross? If not, the good news is that God sent His Son who always existed with His nature to earth to become a Man, Jesus of Nazareth, to live the perfect life, to willingly suffer and die to pay for our rebellion against God, to rise from the dead, appear to hundreds alive, and to take Him into heaven as the King of the universe. God is now commanding everyone to change their minds and trust in the risen Lord Jesus Christ and His death for our sins as the only grounds of His forgiveness of our sins because Jesus is going to perfectly judge us all by everything we’ve done, said, and thought. If He finds any sin on your record, He will send you to hell to suffer torment for eternity as punishment for your rebellion against Him. He promises to forgive all who change their minds about Him, God, and themselves, and trust in Him and His death to receive His forgiveness and peace with Him. Please make sure you’ve changed your mind and are trusting in the Lord Jesus Christ as your King and Savior, and if you are, make sure you obey Him by being immersed in water by one of His churches.
All Scripture quotations are taken from the:
English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Text Edition: 2016. Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.