Christ, the Image of God




Colossians 1:15–20 (NRSV) The Supremacy of Christ

15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; 16 for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers—all things have been created through him and for him. 17 He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything. 19 For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20 and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.

Colosse was a main commercial city on one the main Roman roads in the region.  The church in Colosse was being troubled by false teachers who insisted that the church must continue to observe the Jewish feasts and keep the Law, particularly those that pertained to the body.   Also these false teachers emphasized the worship of angels and other spiritual beings.  Paul, who is in prison (Col. 4:18), hears about these false teachers who were confusing the church, and sends this letter in response.  He also sends a letter to the church in Laodicea at the same time, which is now lost.

In this passage, Paul argues for the supremacy of Christ in all things.  Christ is not another created being, like the angels, but “Christ is the visible image of the invisible God.”  (v. 15).  Many commentators believe that this passage was originally an early Christian hymn.  So some translations have this as poetry (eg. NLT).  Paul presents Jesus as the supreme creator (cf. John 1:1), and redeemer (Col. 1:18-20).

This short hymn teaches us some fundamental truths about the nature of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

1.  Jesus Christ is the visible image of the invisible God (v. 15a)

The Greek word for image is eikon, “an image.”  Christ uses the word when speaking of the image of Caesar on a coin (Matt. 22:20).  Paul uses it to speak of humanity bearing the image of Adam (1 Cor. 15:49).  The author of Hebrews uses the word to speak negatively of the Law as “a shadow of the good things to come, not the very image (eikon) of the things.”  (Heb. 10:1)  In this case, Paul refers to Christ as “the image of the invisible God.”  (Col. 1:15; also 2 Cor. 4:4)  Vine says that “Christ is essentially and absolutely the perfect expression and representation of the Archetype, God the Father… Christ is the visible representation and manifestation of God to created beings; the likeness expressed in this manifestation is involved in the essential relations in the Godhead, and is therefore unique and perfect.”  (Vine, v. 2, p. 319)  So Jesus said, “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father!”  (John 14:9)

2.  The preexistence and supremacy of Christ over all creation (v. 15b)

The nature of Christ is not that of a created being as some still teach.  Rather, Christ shares with God the fullness of the deity and all the characteristics of deity, such as God’s eternal nature, because Jesus Christ is God the Son (e.g. Matt. 4:3; 27:54; Mark 14:62; Luke 1:32; 2:7; 9:35; John 3:16; Acts 13:33; Rom. 1:4; Gal. 4:4; Heb. 1:5; Rev. 1:13).  God the Son has always existed (vv. 15a; 17 and John 1:1, 2).

3.  Christ is supreme over all creation, because Christ has created everything.  (v. 16; John 1:3, 4)  The literal phrase in Greek says that Christ is the “firstborn” of creation, a title drawn from the Old Testament meaning that Christ is first in rank and priority (Ps. 89:27).

4.  Christ is supreme over every created thing in the universe, both seen and unseen.  (v. 16b)  “Thrones, kingdoms, rulers, and authorities in the unseen world” refers to the various spiritual powers in the universe, perhaps suggesting the hierarchy of angelic powers.  This includes the fallen angels, the demonic powers.   Christ is supreme even over the demons, although they are now somewhat free to act as they are in rebellion against God, yet there will come a day when Christ will defeat them with a word and judge them.  (Rev. 20:10)

5.  Christ holds all things together (v. 17b) in the universe.  This verse speaks to the providential care of God the Son, superintending over God’s creation.  (Heb. 1:3)  The universe is not static, in fact, thermodynamics tells us that everything in the universe is in a state of decay.  The Bible explains this as a result of sin.   God the Son holds the universe together and keeps it from flying apart.  God the Son provides the cohesiveness of the universe.

6.  Christ is the head of the church, the body of Christ (1:18, 19).  Christ as the head of the church implies the authority of Christ over the church, the body of Christ.  (Col. 2:10, 19; 1 Cor. 11:3-10; Eph. 4:15; 5:23)  The church as the body of Christ expresses the essential unity of Christ and the church.  So Christ is supreme over all who have been raised from the dead, that is, all Christians.

So many people say that they can be a Christian apart from the church, that they don’t need the church.  Paul says that to be a Christian is to be a part of the body of Christ.  You don’t get a choice.  They go together.  Does that mean that the church is perfect?  No.  Clearly that is not the case, since it is filled with imperfect and sinful people.  But we are all sinners saved by grace.  Christ’s intention is for every believer to be a part of a local body of believers.  The church is God’s tool “to equip God’s people to do God’s work and build up the church, the body of Christ…until we all come to such unity in our faith and knowledge of God’s Son that we will be mature in the Lord, measuring up to the full and complete standard of Christ.”  God’s intention is for every Christian to become like Christ, holy.  And this cannot be accomplished alone.  God intends for us to be in community.  And God’s intended community for Christians is the body of Christ, the church, the family of God, the fellowship of believers.  We work together to accomplish the work of Christ in the world, which Paul here calls reconciliation.

7.  God’s fullness lives in Christ.  (Col. 1:19)  God has chosen to reveal himself to the world fully in Jesus Christ.  To see Jesus is to see God the Father (John 14:6-11).  Seeing Jesus and understanding him are the means of seeing and understanding God (Col. 1:16, 20).  And to know Christ is sufficient for all our knowledge of God (Col. 2:8, 9).

In v. 20, Paul introduces his next theme, reconciliation in Christ.

8.  Through Christ’s atoning work on the cross, God reconciled everything to himself both in heaven and on earth.  (v. 20)  The verse is spoken of as if everything has already been accomplished, because Christ’s atoning work has already been accomplished on the cross.  Through the shed blood of Christ, God has reconciled himself to the world by means of Christ’s sacrifice upon the cross, that is, his suffering, and death.

What Paul is saying is that the entire universe was in rebellion against God as a result of sin entering Creation (Gen. 3).  In order to make peace with God, and reconcile all of creation to God, Christ died upon the cross.

The word translated here as reconciliation is also translated “atonement” in the KJV (Rom. 5:11).   Vine says that karallage means properly “reconciliation” as in NRSV and NLT.  The concept of reconciliation means “an exchange.  Reconciliation of humanity to God by his grace and love in Christ was accomplished by the death of Jesus Christ upon the cross.  (Col. 1:20; Rom. 5:11; 11:15)  Through Christ, God has reconciled everything to himself, reestablishing his rule over all creation, including both the spiritual world and on earth.  Christ’s death was sufficient for the reconciliation of all humanity by grace through faith in him.

Lord, you are reestablishing your reign over all Creation through Christ.  So we pray, your Kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.  May God help me to preach the truth of your Good News to everyone.  And help those who do not know the reconciling power of Jesus Christ to come to know him as both Lord and Savior.  Amen.




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