Colossians 1. Christ Pre-eminent.
Key Notes: The Gsspel's spread in the world. Twelve lines on Christ: Icon; First-Born; Creator; Holder of four forces; Head of the Body; First-risen; Reconciler. TheArian teaching and its opponents: Christ, apostles, and Athanasius.
The first chapter of Colossians contains an important series of statements about who Jesus is. We will read about His existence before He came to earth as a human being, His role in creation and important words on salvation and His place in the Church. Other chapters will give us valuable information about heresy in the early Church, and we will conclude the book with teachings on moral living.
Colosse's church had been started by Epaphras. (1:7). Paul was in prison in Rome (Col 4:3) where he wrote Ephesians, Philippians and Colossians as well as Philemon. They are called the Prison Epistles. Tychicus will take this letter to Colosse, and escort Onesimus back to his former owner, Philemon. 4:7
Paul expresses concern about Colossian philosophy and tradition (2:8); the elemental spirits of the universe (2:8, 20); principalities and powers (2:15); worship of angels (2:18); and various ascetic practices (2:20–23). All of these distractions were taking away from their spiritual vision. This set of problems has been used to make a case for an embryonic form of Gnosticism, a heresy of the next century. It is also possible that these problems were a part of a non-traditional form of Judaism, as we shall see. The message of Colossians features a great piece on Christ Pre-eminent (1:15–20), intended to counteract these problems.
We can see a Christ-theme in each of Paul's four little epistles.
Galatians: Christ gives us freedom from the Law.
Ephesians: Christ predestines us to live to the praise of His glory.
Philippians: Christ humbles Himself for our salvation.
Colossians: Christ is Creator over all things.
1:1–14 "Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother, to the saints and faithful brethren in Colosse." He has heard of their
Faith in Christ
Love for all the saints
Hope laid up in Heaven.
Faith, hope and love are the cardinal virtues of I Corinthians 13:13. The Colossians, like the Corinthians and others, are saints, sanctified by their position in Christ; Paul will work on their continued spiritual growth and their practical sanctification.
“…in the whole world it [the Gospel] is bearing fruit and growing.” (1:6)
It is hard to grasp this breath-taking statement. But Paul will say it again.
“…which has been preached to every creature under heaven….” (1:23)
Paul had himself evangelized Asia Minor (Syria and Turkey), Greece and Macedonia, and was now a tethered evangelist in Rome. Thirty years have passed since the death of Christ, and in a world that was verbal, and dependent on caravaneers and traders to carry the news, I guess that the Word had reached to Spain and China and Africa in some form. Recall that the Ethiopian Eunuch, perhaps the first convert in Africa, found faith in Christ through reading Isaiah 53, the Gospel of the OT, and took the Faith with him to Ethiopia . (Acts 8:26–40) Tradition says that the Apostle Thomas established the Gospel in India.
“’Their voice has gone out to all the earth, and their words to the ends of the world.’” (Rom.10:18, from Psa.19:4)
[A Hindu woman walked passed my son coming through a rice-paddy in the desolate back-country of Nepal. She said "I hear you have good news." He did. Good news travels fast.]
Paul prays that they may be
Filled with the knowledge of His Will,
Leading a life worthy of the Lord,
Bearing fruit in every good work,
Increasing in the knowledge of God—going well beyond the knowledge of His will.
Paul will work at these aspects of their spiritual growth, as well as praying for them.
“Strengthened with all power…for all endurance and patience” in trials.
Giving thanks to the Father who
Qualified us to share the inheritance,
Delivered us from the dominion of darkness,
Transferred us to the Kingdom of the Beloved Son, in Whom
We have redemption and forgiveness of sins.
1:15–20 Now Paul gives us a rhythmic hymn-like praise poem to the Beloved Son in twelve lines. The word “all” is repeated seven times. Note also the words “first”, "before”, and “beginning”.
He is the image of the invisible God,
The First-born of all creation,
In Him all thing were created;
All things were created through Him and for Him;
He is before all things;
In Him all things hold together.
He is the head of the body, the Church.
He is the Beginning, the Firstborn of the dead,
That in everything He might be pre-eminent.
In Him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell,
Through Him to reconcile all things to Himself,
Making peace by the blood of His Cross.
“He is the image of the invisible God.” Image in Greek is transliterated" icon” in English. Other words used in a similar way to described Christ’s identity are “the form of God”(Phil.2:6) and “ the exact stamp of His nature” (Heb.1:3). Christ in both Testaments is God made visible. These are quite different words from words used to describe the earthly Tabernacle in relation to the true Tabernacle in heaven, where the words are tentative-- “type”, “shadow” and “pattern”. Jesus is not "type", "shadow" or "pattern" but "the exact stamp of God's nature."
“...the firstborn of all creation”
“Firstborn” (Gr. prototokos) is derived from the noun for “birthright”. Israel is called “my firstborn son”, (God addressing Pharaoh). That is to say that Israel is most important in God's eyes, not that it came into being before other nations. Edom, Ammon, Moab, Egypt and Syria precede Israel. Christ has priority over all others in time and rank.
“For in Him all things were created”—even political and spiritual entities—“created through Him and for Him. “ “He is before all things”, before time, and before matter. “Without Him was not anything made that was made.” (Jn.1:3). He is the Creator, not the created.
“In Him all things hold together.” There are four forces in nature:
- The strong force holds protons in the nucleus of the atom.
- The weak force causes beta decay and controls radioactivity.
- Gravitation is the attractive force between large astral bodies.
- Electromagnetism holds electrons in orbit, holds atoms in molecules. It is our source of light, electricity, radio waves, etc.
As Hebrews says, Christ is "upholding the universe by His word of power.” (Heb.1:3). We should not think of God participating in nature only in phenomena we cannot explain. We believe that most of what God does is through what we think of as secondary, “natural” forces. After we have explained thunder, for example, we should not dismiss it as no longer the voice of God. Now that we can measure light with utmost accuracy, it is no less a part of His work. The fact that mathematics is used everywhere to describe the physical world makes the universe even more Christ’s creation—rational, predictable, beautiful.
“He is the head of the body, the Church.” Here "head" does not merely indicate that He is the Church's source, but also its leader. Without Him, there is no Church.
“He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything He might be pre-eminent.” The firstborn from the dead, like "the firstborn of creation" declares His priority and his heirship. He is our leader, our pioneer, showing us the way through death to life by His resurrection from the dead.
“…designated Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by His resurrection from the dead.” (Romans 1:4).
He is “the first-fruits of those who have fallen asleep.” (I Cor inthians 15:20). The redemption of His body, and the “redemption of our bodies” is the basis of a future reconstituted universe. Rom.8:18–25
“In Him all the Fullness of God was pleased to dwell...." This phrase adds to "He is the image of the Invisible God...." (1:15) and "the Word was God" (John 1:1) and "...He bears the exact stamp of His nature". (Hebrews 1:3)
"...and through Him to reconcile to Himself all things…making peace by the blood of His Cross." The Cross determines our salvation from sin and its power. We have peace with God. (Rom.5:1). The Resurrection guarantees our future.
A problem presented in this passage is that the first “firstborn” may simply mean born first, as Jesus was to Mary. (Lk.2:7). But “firstborn” in other places refers to priority and privilege. "...That in everything He might be pre-eminent..." (Col.1:18)
"The first-born from the dead..." (Col.1:18) The Resurrection is uniquely diferent from resuscitation.
Firstborn (Heb.1:6) and King over all creation. "Thy throne , O God, is for ever and ever." (Heb. 1:8)
"In Him all things were created" (1:16) and "He is before all things. " (1:17)
Arius (259–336AD) noted that Jesus grew in wisdom and stature (Lk.2:52) whereas God is unchangeable. He thought Jesus’ subordination to the Father was evidence of His inferiority. He interpreted Prov.8:22 to read that Wisdom (meaning Christ?) was created at the beginning of God’s work. (However the word He “created” me in Proverbs is different from the word used in Genesis 1 and is better translated He “possessed” me.) Arius concluded that Jesus was a created being, like, but inferior to the Father, and that the Holy Spirit was even less, perhaps an exalted angel. The Arian slogan was “There was a time when He was not.” That was a major attack on the Trinity.
To respond to such a challenge, we might ask the Person, Himself, something Arius apparently did not consider. Jesus said,
“…Father, glorify Thou Me in your own presence with the glory which I had with You before the world was made.”(Jn.17:5)
“I and the Father are One. “ (Jn.10:30)
“He who has seen Me has seen the Father.” (Jn.14:9)
"No one knows the Father except the Son..." (Matt.11:27)
“Believe Me that I am in the Father and the Father in Me….” (Jn.14:11; 10:38)
“Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM. (Jn.8:58)
Ask one of His disciples.
“My Lord and My God.” (Jn.20:28). Thomas
“...the word was God.” (Jn.1:1). John
“…the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ.” (IIPet.1:1). Peter
Or we might ask His fore-runner. John the Baptist
“Make straight in the desert a highway for our God.” (Matt.3:3).
Or consider one of the ancient prophets. Isaiah
“Unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given and His Name shall be called… Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace …." (Isa.9:6).
Athanasius took the challenge that Arius presented to the Church. Only-begotten and First-born show priority and privilege, not origin. Subordination is not inferiority. In the Trinity there is a subordination of roles, but not of essence. The Athanasian Creed proclaimed the truth about Christ's eternal deity, and His equality with the Father from Scripture. It was a battle fought 1600 years ago. The battle goes on, with many pseudo-Christian religions taking Arius’ part. These include well-meaning but ill-informed Christians (Isaac Newton and John Milton) , as well as Unitarians, and Jehovah’s Witnesses.
Don’t go there. "No one who denies the Son has the Father. He who confesses the Son has the Father also. ...then you will abide in the Son and in the Father."(IJn.2:22–24)