By Gregg Bing
Paul’s letter to the Colossians was written to correct false teaching which was prevalent in his day and which continues to lead people away from the truth even today. The Colossians were being exposed to a combination of ideas from gnosticism, legalism, and asceticism. These false teachers denied basic truths about Jesus Christ which are critical to our salvation. For instance, they denied the superiority of Jesus Christ, refusing to acknowledge His deity and relegating Him to the position of a created being. Paul addresses this issue in the opening chapter of Colossians.
Image of the Invisible God
Jesus Christ is declared to be “the image of the invisible God” (Col. 1:15a). The word “image” is translated from the Greek word “eikon” from which we get our English word “icon.” It is used of an image, a figure, or a likeness. Jesus Christ, however, is not just “like” God or “similar” to God, He is an exact representation or manifestation of God. John refers to Him as the eternal “Word” (Greek “logos”) who, in the beginning, existed “with God” and who existed “God” (John 1:1-2). This Word then became flesh and dwelt among us, allowing us to behold the glory of God (John 1:14). Jesus Christ, in His incarnation, “declared God” to men enabling them to see the invisible God (John 1:18). This is what Jesus meant when He said to His disciples, “He who has seen Me has seen the Father” (John 14:9). The writer of the book of Hebrews described Jesus as “the express image of His (God’s) person” (Heb. 1:3), an exact reproduction of the person, substance, essence, and being of God.
Firstborn Over All Creation
Jesus Christ is described as “the firstborn over all creation” (Col. 1:15b). Cults such as the Jehovah’s Witnesses use this statement to try and prove the inferiority of Jesus Christ to God the Father. They claim this statement implies that Christ was the first creation of God. A careful analysis of this passage, in its context, shows that these assumptions are absolutely false.
The word “firstborn” is not the same as the idea of “first created.” What does “firstborn” mean? The underlying Greek word is “prototokos” which literally means “first born,” and is found eight times in the New Testament. It is used three times for a firstborn son in a family: two times of Jesus as the firstborn of Mary and once of the firstborn sons killed in Egypt at the first Passover. The other five times “firstborn” is used, they speak of Christ, but with a different emphasis.
In Hebrew culture, the firstborn son was in a position of prominence over the children who were born after him and was given special privileges as his birthright. These privileges included a double portion of the inheritance, spiritual headship over the family, and the father’s blessing which officially recognized the firstborn’s position and authority over the rest of the children. However, firstborn privileges were not always given to the physically firstborn son. Jacob was chosen of God over his older brother, Esau, to have both the birthright and the blessing of his father, Isaac. God would later say of Jacob (whose name was changed to Israel), “Israel is My son, My firstborn” (Exo. 4:22). Similarly, Ephraim was blessed above his brother, Manasseh. Though Manasseh was Joseph’s oldest son, God referred to Ephraim as “My firstborn” (Jer. 31:9). In the 89th Psalm, God speaks of anointing “My servant David” (verse 20) and making him “My firstborn, the highest of the kings of the earth” (verse 27). Though David was the youngest of Jesse’s sons, God made David the firstborn giving him the authority and privileges of this position. While this passage does refer to David, the son of Jesse, it also seems to point beyond him to the greater Son of David, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, as God’s Firstborn, will one day reign as King over all the earth (Psalm 89:27-29).
When Christ is called “the firstborn over all creation” it does not have anything to do with Him being born of or created by God the Father. It simply means that He holds the position of authority and blessing over all created things. Why does He hold this prominence over all creation?
In Him All Things Created
Jesus Christ is the One by (in) whom “all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. All things were created through Him and for Him” (Col. 1:16-17a). The word “all” means exactly that. Because He is God, everything that was created was created by (in) Christ. Who else but God has the wisdom and power to do so? John said of Him, “All things were made through Him, and without (apart from) Him nothing was made that was made” (John 1:3). These verses are devastating to the blasphemous idea that Christ Himself was a created being. That is why the Jehovah’s Witnesses, in their perversion of the Scriptures, add an extra word to Colossians 1:16 so that it reads: “For by him all [other] things were created.” The word “other” is not found in any Greek text. Christ is “the Firstborn over all creation” because all things were created in Him (sphere), through Him (agency) and for Him (purpose).
He is Before All Things
Jesus Christ is “before all things” (Col. 1:17b). Being the eternal Word, Christ is before all things as to time. In the beginning, when the universe came into being, Christ already existed (John 1:1-2). Being Almighty God, the Creator of all things, and thus the “Firstborn,” Christ is before all things as to position and authority.
In Him All Things Consist
Not only did Jesus Christ create all things, bringing them into existence out of nothing, He is also the One by (in) whom “all things consist (hold together)” (Col. 1:17c). Hebrews 1:3 says that Christ, “being the brightness of God’s glory and the express image of His person” upholds “all things by the word of His power.”
Head of the Body, the Church
Just as Jesus Christ is over all the created universe, He is over the new creation as well, being “the Head of the Body, the Church (Col. 1:18a). After His death on Calvary, God raised Christ from the dead, exalted Him to His own right hand, “far above” all authority and rule and every name that is named, and gave Him to be “the Head over all things to the Church” (Eph. 1:21-23).
He is the Beginning
Jesus Christ is Head over the Church, because “He is the beginning” (Col. 1:18b). The word “beginning” is from the Greek word “arche” which speaks of that which holds the highest position. For example, Michael is called the archangel. “Beginning” carries the ideas of both originator and ruler. Christ says of Himself: “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End” (Rev. 1:8). He is the beginning of life, not just physical life, but spiritual life as well, for “in Him was life” (John 1:4).
Firstborn From the Dead
Jesus Christ is not only the “firstborn over all creation,” “He is the firstborn from the dead” (Col. 1:18c). Jesus was not the first man to be raised from the dead, but He is the first to be raised unto eternal life, never to die again. Christ’s resurrection ensures resurrection and eternal life to all who will trust in Him as Savior. Paul assures us of this truth from the negative standpoint in 1 Corinthians 15:17-18: “And if Christ is not risen, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins! Then also those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished;” Then from a positive standpoint in 1 Corinthians 15:20-23: “But now Christ is risen from the dead, and has become the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since by man came death, by Man also came the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive. But each one in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, afterward those who are Christ’s at His coming.” Christ is, therefore, both “the Author and Finisher of our faith,” having endured the cross for our sins and being raised from the dead (Heb. 12:2). He is our risen and glorious Savior and Head.
That He May Be Preeminent
Jesus Christ, simply because of who He is, is to “have the preeminence (first place)” in all things (Col. 1:18d), for He truly is superior to all things. He is the eternal God; He is the Creator and Sustainer of all things; He is the Firstborn from the dead; He is the Alpha and Omega; He is the Head over all things to the Church, His Body. “In Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily” and, because of this fact, those who trust in Christ as Savior are “complete in Him” (Col. 2:9-10). How important it is to acknowledge the superiority of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, and to give Him the preeminence in our hearts and lives.
Next Issue: “Sufficiency of Christ”