by Gabe Bernal
Read Colossians 1:15-17
Reread it again.
Only a couple of verses today, and we'll come back to them briefly next week as we look at the whole of what some call the "Messianic Poem" (v15-23). But I think it is important to park in these three verses first because they are so deep and meaningful, they need an examination into themselves.
Remember when you had to write an essay for school? Especially long ones. I was taught that start off with a thesis statement and build your essay from that. Within the first couple of paragraphs, the thesis statement needs to be declared so that it is clear what the purpose and starting point is.
Paul and I must have had the same teacher because here in the third paragraph, and the first part of the letter proper, Paul is stating his thesis and builds on these few verses as the primary truths the rest of the letter builds on.
Remember, Paul is writing this letter to the Church in Colossae because of reports of false teachings. Even though we can't know what the specific teaching was since they were never mentioned explicitly, from later verses in this letter (2:8, 2:16-23) and from the historical study of the time, we can make a few educated guesses and suppositions.
What we do know is someone, or some group is trying to deviate from the idea that Jesus alone is not primary. Jesus alone was not enough. I think because of this "heresy" is why Paul comes out guns blazing.
"You think Jesus is not enough?! Let me tell you about the Jesus I know!" (well... at least that's how I picture Paul feeling).
In these verses, Paul employs his authority as an apostle sent by God to call the church in Colossae back to "the word of truth, the gospel": Christ and Christ alone is primary.
The Image (v15a)
He begins with a familiar verse to most Christians - "He is the image of the invisible God."
He being Jesus since we read Paul praising Him at the end of the opening prayer in v13-14.
Here are a couple of questions to ponder before we move forward:
What do you think it means when it is said Jesus is the "image" of God?
How is He different than us? We are made "in the image" of God, right?
The difference can be seen when we look at the Greek word that is used - eikon, Paul uses this word to express two ideas about Jesus:
Likeness - as in the image on a coin or reflection in a mirror
Manifestation - with the sense that God is fully revealed in Jesus.
Therefore, He is not only in the likeness of God like humans, but He is also the literal manifestation of God on Earth. That means if you want to know what God is like, we don't have to speculate or guess - we only have to look at Jesus.
Theologian Arthur Peake says, "God is invisible, which does not merely mean that He cannot be seen by our bodily eye, but that He is unknowable. In the exalted Christ, the unknowable God becomes known."
Because of this, we can KNOW the character of Jesus is the character of God. Jesus is the fulfilment of the law because His life reflects what it looks like in practice.
And how He loves and forgives, that is our example.
So remember this when you read the gospels. When you read about Jesus and the things He did, you are seeing what God on Earth looks like.
This next question may take some time as you'll need to reflect on the actions of Jesus in the gospels, but:
What can we learn about God by looking at Jesus?
Even though we are only fully human and not fully God, what are some ways we can follow in Jesus' example of his time on Earth?
As you may have noticed, I will key off of certain words when I study the bible. And an interesting one sticks out here.
Before we dive into that, a couple of quick questions jump out immediately...
What do you think is meant by "firstborn?"
Does it mean that Christ was the first creation?
I'll stop you there.. the answer is no. Christ is not the first creation. And in no way is Paul suggesting that Jesus is less than God.
Believing this falls victim of all three traps that I mentioned in the introduction-
1.) we are more likely to water down the Gospel
2.) we are more likely to accommodate Scripture to our cultural expectations
3.) we are more likely to draw our own conclusions in what we read instead of learning what the author is trying to teach us
This falls deep into the second trap, but in this instance, misinterpreting this here will lead us into unintentionally falling into the first and third traps as well.
In fact, falling into any of these traps can be unintentional. And when we do, we unintentionally create counterfeit gospels, which is why we need to carefully examine and learn what is really being said.
We need to set aside our contemporary western mindset and see what is really being said.
With that said- what does this word "firstborn" really mean?
Firstborn is used in again Colossians in v18 but is also used elsewhere in the New Testament in Romans 8:29, Hebrews 1:6, and Revelation 1:5.
Firstborn is also an Old Testament term used 130 times to describe status and power. One example is in Exodus 4:22 when Moses is speaking to the Lord, and the Lord calls Israel his firstborn, then in v23 threatens Pharaoh's firstborn.
We can determine two things about this term "firstborn." Jesus has power and authority over everything created. But it also signifies inheritance.
Israel were the ones who would inherit not only the Promised Land but the promises of God. But also, Pharaoh's firstborn was the one who would inherit the throne.
In proving the power and authority of Jesus, in one verse, Paul affirms two other titles.
First, Paul affirms the introduction of John and, in doing this, he affirms Jesus is the "author of creation." Read John 1:1-5
This alone proves our above point that Jesus was not the first born. He was not a creation. He was "in the beginning with God." Not, in the beginning, Jesus was made.
In the beginning "All things were made through him and without him was not anything made that was made."
Sounds an awful lot like Paul, "For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth."
And neither of them could just look up each other's teachings on Wikipedia or download their podcasts. Separately they both were inspired by the Holy Spirit to confirm this truth that Jesus is the author of all creation.
Everything. Not just in the beginning. All creation of all time. At the start, He was there and in the end, He will still be there.
Paul also affirms in this verse the "Son of Man" title first introduced in Ezekiel but prophesied in Daniel. Read Daniel 7:13-14
Unfortunately, we don't have time to deeply examine the weight of the title "Son of Man" because did you know that Jesus called himself the "Son of Man" more than "Son of God."
And in Mark 14 (v62-64) we see that Jesus claiming himself to be the "Son of Man" was one of the most offence claims to the High Priests during his trial. The trial ended with a guilty sentence from that one claim.
That has to mean something... But that's a blog or sermon for another time.
In those verse in Daniel, we see him introduce this "Son of Man" as the one above all. The King of all Kings, who will come down from heaven to rule an everlasting dominion that will never be destroyed.
This was the Messiah the Jewish people thought was coming. A conquering warrior who would defeat their enemies. So when you hear and read that the Jewish people believed the Messiah was going to be a conqueror, this is where that belief came from.
But we know Jesus didn't come as a conquering warrior for the nation of Israel, but as a servant leader for all people.
Which title resonates more with you? "Author of Creation" or "King of Kings"?
Whichever it is, take comfort in knowing, he is both. Whether he is "Author of Creation" or "King of Kings," Jesus is sovereign over all.
So if creation works for him - why do we make those things primary?
We as humans make idols of anything and everything. We'll make all kinds of things primary in our lives, and it is different for different people. Obvious ones are money, sex, and material things. But you can even make things like your husband or wife, your children, or friends, even certain types of food can be idols in our lives.
Most of the things we make primary are not bad or wrong in of themselves. But it's placing these things above everything else when we start to make idols. When our joy and happiness is dependent on them and not God, that is when they are primary.
We elevate the gift above the giver.
Take some time to ponder:
Why do we make other things primary in our life?
What are some ways we can be sure to make Christ primary?
That second question is important. It takes intentionality to make Christ primary because if we don't, we can start to drift away from Him. It also becomes an opportunity for the enemy to take advantage, a chink in our armour.
But if we make Christ primary, all of a sudden realise how much those other things never live up to the standard we held them to and never satisfy us.
But since "He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together," when we make Him primary, we realise only Christ can fully sustain us, only Christ can complete us. Only Christ is the source of all joy.
I can not stress enough how much I love these few verses. I return to them often.
Paul, right away, wants to hammer into our hearts that Christ is supreme. He is enough! It doesn't matter what time we live in - now, 2000 years ago, or 2000 years from now, Jesus is the centre of all things.
As we finish, take a moment and make a list of all the ways that Christ is more than the things of the world.
Going forward, I invite you to place this somewhere you can see every day and add to it whenever He reveals a new way He is more.
If you are studying and discussing this with a group, this last part is optional. Still, I encourage you to at least do it on your own because it will not only help you with the previous question but will help reveal the depths of your heart:
What are the things that are you are putting primary, ahead of Christ?
Why are they primary?
Why is it challenging to put Christ ahead of these things in your life?
These three questions will take some prayer, reflection, and probably plenty of time as well. Some of the stuff that we hold above Christ may be buried deep or are hiding from plain sight.
But if we are to fully understand and accept the Supremacy of Christ, we need to acknowledge these heart issues.
In Christ alone can we see the fullness of God on Earth ("Fullness" is a word we'll look at closer next week). Because of what He offered, what He sacrificed, and that He defeated death is why we can say Jesus is the image of the invisible God.
It goes beyond our understanding. We can't fathom it entirely. But since "He is the image of the invisible God," Jesus is who we need to pursue.
In CS Lewis' book, Prince Caspian, Lucy sees Aslan for the first time in a long time, she observed that Aslan had gotten bigger. Aslan responds with "every year you grow, you will find me bigger."
What a beautiful analogy for our relationship with Christ.
The more we grow, the bigger He gets. The more we press into Him, the more He reveals to us.
Before I close, I once again extend this offer to you - if there is anything during your discussion or journaling as you went through those questions that you found encouraging... let me know! I'm no expert, and this blog is definitely not exhaustive. I am learning as much as you and would love to hear how God spoke to you through this passage.
-Pray that you will be given a desire to make Christ primary in your life.
-Pray we are helped in recognising the power and authority Christ has as the "firstborn" of all creation
-Thank Jesus He is the "author of creation" AND "king of kings."
-Pray that you will be given a desire to make Christ primary in your life.