Call To Die

Then [Jesus] said to them all, "If anyone wants to come with Me, he must deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow Me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life because of Me will save it. (Luke 9:23-24, HCSB)

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Follower of Christ, husband of Abby, member of Kosmosdale Baptist Church, and tutor/staff member at Sayers Classical Academy.

Saturday, August 09, 2014

The Image and Firstborn of God: Notes on Colossians 1:15-17

[The following blogpost is re-edited and expanded from posts originally published on 3/19/2009 and 6/26/2012.]

Text


15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 16 For everything was created by Him, in heaven and on earth, the visible and the invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities: all things have been created through Him and for Him. 17 He is before all things, and by Him all things hold together. (Colossians 1:15-17 HCSB)

Who and What is “He”?

Son, Firstborn, and Image. The antecedent of this pronoun–He–had been revealed two verses prior: “He” is “the Son He [that is, God] loves” (Col 1:13). In relation to God, He is God’s “image”. In relation to creation, He is the “firstborn,” holding preeminence over all things. Both terms–“image” and “firstborn”–are indicative of Christ as the new Adam. "Image of the invisible God" is "at least in part, an allusion to Gen 1:27.... Paul's language here is virtually identical with his reference elsewhere to 'man' being in the 'image and glory of God' (1 Cor 11:7, where clear reference is made to Gen 1:27)…. Christ has come in human form and accomplished that which the first Adam did not; consequently, as…ideal human, Christ reflects the image that Adam and others should have reflected but did not." [G.K. Beale, "Colossians," Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2007), 851-852.] “Jesus is the firstborn in the sense that He has the preeminence (1:18) and that He possesses [like Adam possessed, before the Fall] the right of inheritance ‘over all creation’ (Heb 1:2; Rev 5:1-7, 13)” [MacArthur Commentary, p. 1735]. "[Firstborn] signifies his dominion over all things, as the first-born in a family is heir and lord of all, so he is the 'heir of all things' (Heb 1:2)" [Matthew Henry’s Commentary]. Christ is first in rank and exercises lordship over all creation.

Distinct. Colossians 1:16 provides grounds for verse 15, and begins to demonstrate Christ’s deity, but it also demonstrates the role distinction of His Person in that everything was created “through” Him. "[Colossians 1:16] indicates that Christ is in a quite different category from creation, since all things (ta panta) are said to have been created 'in him,' 'through him,' and 'for him.' The scope of the items mentioned in this verse indicates that this creation is not some partial or local event but the sum total of physical and 'spiritual' reality. Christ is not said here to be [the ultimate source of being for all things]: they are created (by God) 'in him'; but neither is his role simply that of agent or mediator, since the 'in him' and 'through him' are supplemented by the striking 'for him' (eis auton) at the end of 1:16. Comparing this formula with that in 1 Cor 8:6 (another confessional statement) highlights the importance of this addition, since there 'all things' are said to come into existence 'from' and 'to' (eis) God... Thus here in Colossians Christ is seen not merely as the instrument of creation, the tool of God's creative power, but as the one to whom all creation tends, the goal and purpose of its existence" [John Barclay’s Commentary (Sheffield, 2001, p. 80)].

Divine. “Image” and “firstborn” are significant for our understanding of Christ’s humanity, being indicative of Christ as the new Adam. However, these terms are both also significant for our understanding of Christ’s divinity. Christ perfectly reveals who the Father is.

In Colossians 1:15-17, “image” speaks not only to Christ’s identity as ideal Man, but it speaks to His ontological identity with God as well. The term “image” certainly indicates that Christ is the new Adam, but "at the same time, we gather also from this [term] his (μοουσία) identity of essence [with God], for Christ would not truly [and fully] represent God, if he were not the essential Word of God" [Calvin’s Commentary]. "In His essence, God is invisible; but Jesus Christ has revealed Him to us (John 1:18)…. The author of Hebrews, in a passage that certainly speaks to Christ’s deity, affirms that Jesus Christ is 'the express image of [God’s] person' (Heb 1:3)"  [Warren Wiersbe’s Commentary].

Firstborn” in verse 15 similarly speaks to Christ’s ontological identity with God, carrying the exact opposite import than what is imagined by the Arian heretics. Christ does not become “firstborn” at the incarnation, but this passage speaks to the state of Christ as He was “before all things”. “All things” includes time, and so we confess that there NEVER was a time when Christ was not in existence. “Firstborn over all creation” (some versions translate the phrase “firstborn of all creation, ” which is true to the Greek form, though “over” does give the proper sense of the passage): this phrase does not mean that Christ is part of creation, for “all things have been created by Him.” (The text does NOT read ‘all other things,’ as if He Himself were created.) Creation, made by the Son, is not the source of His title “firstborn”. Nothing within creation is the source of the Son’s nature. From whom does one who is born receive his nature? Is it not from his parents? The Son receives His nature from His Father. God the Son is consubstantial with His Father. He is eternally generated.

Hypostatically United."[T]here is a close association between the doctrine of man's creation in the divine image and the doctrine of our Lord's incarnation. It is because man in the creative order bears the image of his Creator that the Son of God could become incarnate as man and in his humanity display the glory of the invisible God” [F.F. Bruce’s Commentary]. As seen in Colossians 1:17, Christ is the Creator and Sustainer– these are the cosmic functions of the Son; in his deity, the incarnate Christ upheld all creation even in His nativity and all throughout His life.

How Can These Things Be?

The realities concerning Christ that are proclaimed in these verses come about by the power of God (Col 1:12), who is the Source of all being. These realities come about due to the eternal divine will. The Son or Word was in active existence previous to the creation of all things, and He transcends the heavens and the earth (Col 1:16-17).

So What?

Christ in Creation and Revelation. This passage teaches us concerning the preeminence of Christ in revelation and creation. Each person is made in God’s image (Gen 9:6). However, Christ is uniquely declared to be the image of God. As Calvin notes, "We must, therefore, beware of seeking [God] elsewhere, for everything that would set itself off as a representation of God, apart from Christ, will be an idol" [Calvin’s Commentary]. Mystical experiences or religious ceremonies are no substitute for Christ Himself.

Christ in Our Thoughts and Words. This passage certainly offers a rebuke against those who would deny Christ’s divinity or affirm that He was only a good teacher. But this passage also offers correction to those who are prone to frivolous thoughts concerning our Lord [i.e., “buddy Jesus” or “Jesus is my homeboy”]. This passage trains us regarding the kind of language that we must use to identify our Lord: exalted, worshipful language. More accurate knowledge of who Jesus is allows us to improve our worship and our witness.

Christ in Our Redemption. This passage is introduced by the phrase, “We have redemption, the forgiveness of sins, in Him” (Col 1:14). Colossians 1:15-17 provides grounding for how the Son is able, according to the divine will, to bring us “redemption, the forgiveness of sins”. Christ’s Person is the basis for His work.

As God, all things are created through Christ and for Christ. God cannot be successfully robbed. He will possess His creation.

As Man, Christ entered into creation. As Man, He became a suitable substitute for us: we, who have been made in God’s image, but who have become alienated from God and hostile in our minds towards Him because of our evil actions (Col 1:21). In His physical body, on the Cross, Christ took the penalty of death that we deserved, as we had made ourselves rebels against our Sovereign Creator and Sustainer (Col 1:20, 22). Christ thus secured our reconciliation to God.

As the God-Man, death could not hold Christ. He became the firstborn from the dead (Col 1:18). Christ thus secured our resurrection unto God.

DEAR READER: Trust in Christ today. In Christ, find the peace with God that you so desperately need. Find the hope of eternal life in Him. 

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