Colossae contained a mixture of Greeks, Romans, Jews, and Phrygians. With these people came differing cultures, religions, and philosophical thoughts that contradicted the Gospel Epaphras (a man discipled by Paul) taught the Christians in the city. The Bible study titled Background of Paul's Letter to the Church at Colossae teaches about the forces and people that affected the Colossian church.
In Colossians 1:1-2, Paul introduced himself to the church at Colossae by telling about his calling by Jesus. He identified himself and Timothy as connected with them through Christ and as ones who had lived in Asia Minor, the region of Colossae. The Bible study called Identification helps us understand what Paul told the Colossians in these two verses. Paul’s and Timothy’s identification with the Colossians as residents of the region and as fellow brothers in Christ was significant because other people in Colossae caused the Christians of Colossae to question their faith.
Paul almost always began his letters with a prayer for the people to whom he wrote. His prayer of thanksgiving to God for the Colossian Christians in Colossians 1:3-8 shows Paul’s thanks to God for the growth of the Christians in Colossae. In the Bible study titled Thanksgiving in Colossians, his prayer expressed the believers there continued to grow in their faith and show their love for God and the saints. Paul remarked they bore fruit and matured in their faith. He identified Epaphras as their pastor and as one who told them the Gospel truthfully. Paul identified him as a “beloved fellow bond-servant,” who was a faithful servant on his behalf.
Paul’s prayer for the Colossians in verses nine through twelve included intercession for them. The Bible study titled Glorious Might tells us Paul prayed for the Colossians daily that they would grow in Christ so they would be well-pleasing to God. He prayed for God to fill them with the knowledge of His will with spiritual wisdom and understanding so they would bear fruits of good works. Paul prayed asking God to increase their knowledge of Him, strengthen them with all power, and give them steadfastness and patience. He ended his intercession by asking God to give them joyous thanksgiving to Him who qualified them to inherit eternal life with the saints and the Son in His kingdom.
The Bible study from Colossians 1:13-14, titled Snatched and Delivered, explains who the “Father” of verse twelve is. Paul said He is the One who will give them the gifts of verses nine through twelve that Paul prayed for the Colossians. He explained the Father rescued the Colossian believers and all who trust in Jesus for salvation. The Father snatched (rescued) them from the domain of darkness in which Satan immerses people, then transferred them to His Son’s kingdom. Through His Son, each believer receives deliverance (redemption) from his/her sins. In verses thirteen and fourteen, Paul told what the Father can and wants to do. He began his segue to verses fifteen through twenty that contains his understanding of who the beloved Son is.
In verses thirteen and fourteen, Paul told the Colossian church what God did to answer his prayer for the believers there. With this study of Colossians 1:15-20, he told the Christians how God qualified them and all Christians to share in the kingdom of Light. The beloved Son of verse thirteen is the One who redeems in verse fourteen. The Son’s role, characteristics, and activities in the Godhead also show his relationship to all people and to believers. In verses fifteen through twenty, Paul helps us recognize God considers Christians beloved, people who receive His pure love (agape) and who share it with others because Christ redeemed them and His Spirit lives in them. Colossians 1:15-20 is about Who Christ is.
“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.” (Colossians 1:15 [NASB])
As we read verse fifteen, we must first recognize the pronoun “He” refers to the person in verse thirteen, to the Son. The Son of God is the image of the invisible God. Remember, the Son of God was Jesus, the embodiment of God, not just a likeness. Jesus was the incarnation of God on earth. This means Jesus was visible as God with us; whereas, in the past, God was invisible to our human eyes. God is spiritually visible to believers because of their faith. He gives faith to those who truly seek Him. This means faith and seeing go hand in hand. When a person seeks God, He gives them faith, and they spiritually see Him to trust in Him as their Savior. This faith and sight cause the believer to grow and live out their belief in Him so others can come to see and believe in Jesus, too.
The Son of God is “the firstborn of all creation.” This does not mean God created the Son. In Genesis, we read the Son was there during creation. He actively participated in creation. When Paul said “firstborn,” the Greek word he used was prototokos. Prototokos means preeminent (distinguished and peerless) over all created things. The Son is the image of God from all eternity, so he was preeminent over all creation. As the likeness of God, the Son was the firstborn King over all the kings of the earth. Because God gave humans freewill, He knew they would sin. He planned from before creation to provide a sufficient sacrifice for the sins of all people. God knew from the beginning the only sacrifice that would be sufficient would be one He offered for them. That One would have to be the sacrifice for all people. The only one pure enough is the One most pure, God through His Son. So, God came to earth to live in human form as Jesus, remain sinless, and die a sinner’s death. His death would provide redemption from the slavery to sin and death for each person who believes in Jesus as the Son of God. Jesus truly was born from the womb of a woman implanted by the Spirit of God. He was 100% divinity and 100% man. He was the Firstborn of God Himself.
As firstborn and pre-eminent over all things, and as the image of the invisible God, the Son was preeminent over all creation. God – Father, Son, and Spirit – created everything out of nothing, ex nihilo. Nothing existed before creation, so nothing was used to create all that exists. Everything that is and ever has been, triune God created ex nihilo, with His creativity, power, knowledge, and wisdom. The Son created all things ex nihilo. He was from before time, is throughout time, and will continue to exist when time ends when God’s new Kingdom, the new Jerusalem, comes to be. The Son is unified with God. This begotten Son of God, the human and divine Jesus, was the one the Jewish people awaited to be begotten among them. He is the image of God, was visible as God with us when He lived on earth and is preeminent over all creation as creator of life and as the firstborn from death, the re-creator of life for all who put their trust in Him.
“For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities-all things have been created through Him and for Him. He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.” (Colossians 1:16-17 [NASB])
Notice first, the Son of God is the one “by” whom “all things were created.” This word “by” translates as “through,” too. Only through Christ is anything created, which includes any actual living thing and the Church. This brings forward what Paul said before, He is the firstborn of all creation. Without Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, the Church would not exist because redemption would not have occurred. Death - eternal separation from God - would still enslave each intelligent being.
Paul expanded what he wrote in verse fifteen to make sure the Colossian believers understood, the Son of God created all things on earth and in the heavens. The Gnostics thought material things, like the body, were evil and spiritual things, like angels, were good. Since the Son, as the image of God, created both, then both earthly and heavenly beings were good.
Next, Paul said the Son created what is visible and invisible. Each thing a person sees, the Son created. The material world is not bad and can lead a person to recognize someone greater than him/herself exists. A person can see the invisible with spiritual eyes, not the naked eye, once that person receives faith from God because of his/her seeking Him. The Son created all that is in heaven and on earth, what is visible to the eye and what only is discernible with the spiritual eyes God opens. Again, material and spiritual are good, though the Gnostics saw the material world as evil.
Paul continued in verse sixteen when he expanded what the invisible things are that the Son created and over whom He reigns as King. These beings are on thrones, have dominions, are rulers, and have authority. Like Paul expanded for the people of Colossae what visible things Jesus created, he expanded what invisible things He created, too. Paul wrote Colossians and Ephesians nearly the same time. Because he wrote in Ephesians 1:21 about all rule, authority, power, and dominion, and every name that is not named, commentators think the thrones, dominions, rulers, and authorities of Colossians are angels and their different levels of work. In Ephesians, God exalted Christ above all things and seated Him above all rule, authority, power, and dominion. These words from Paul in Ephesians 1:21 teach us angels are not more important than religious creeds or God. Paul used the terms - thrones, dominions, rulers, and authority - the Gnostics used at the time. The Gnostics used these words to convince the Colossians believers they needed more than faith in Jesus for them to have salvation, to be an advanced Christian. To the Gnostics who taught this, Jesus’ sacrifice was insufficient for salvation. So, they added their own philosophical reasonings and thoughts to what Epaphras proclaimed to the Colossians. By doing this, the Gnostics caused disturbances, confusion, and disagreements in the city and within the church. The main point in this verse from Paul is that Jesus greater than everything created since He created them. This includes angels. The Son of God is Lord of creation, not the angels. He created all creation, visible and invisible, in heaven and on earth. He is superior and His salvation is sufficient.
The Gnostics believed all matter, including the body, is evil and so resurrection from death is impossible as is the full incarnation of God in the form of Jesus. They did not believe Jesus was 100% divine and 100% human. The Gnostics said He was not equal to God or angels. They trusted in salvation by knowledge. This meant they considered themselves more advanced Christians. As more advanced Christians, the Gnostics considered themselves enlightened because they held advanced philosophical thoughts about life and spiritual things. For them, God was far off and spiritual beings of descending importance. Angels who held positions as/on thrones, dominions, rulers, and authorities filled the gap between God and people. Jesus countered all the thoughts of the Gnostics. He creates, sustains, saves, and is greater than all things. God elevated Him above them in His kingdom.
Paul further wrote the Son is before all things. He is prior. The Son of God, as one who created all things, came before everything that is. He also held all things together. The Son did not just create and then let each creation exist in chaos. He had a purpose for each creation and held them together with His power, knowledge, and wisdom for the continuation of the universe. The Son made each created thing unite perfectly into a whole He supports and keeps together. When a person believes in Him for salvation, He unites the person spiritually to be a part of the body of Christ. Only in the presence and power of Christ is everything He created unified and intelligible, not chaotic.
“He is the head of the body, the church; and He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that He Himself will come to have first place in everything.” (Colossians 1:18 [NASB])
When Paul said the Son of God was the head, he used this term metaphorically to refer to Jesus as the most prominent, the Master and Lord. Of what is Jesus the head? Paul said in verse eighteen He is the head of the body. A body without a head to guide it cannot happen. With this word, Paul spoke of the mystical/spiritual body. This body, Paul said, was the Church. The word church comes from the Greek word ekklesia, which means people called out from the world and saved from their sins and from death. These Christians are God’s and they make up the church. With Christ as the head of this body of believers, He leads them physically where to go, what to do, and what to think so they sin less each day as they grow in, through, and by Him. The believers grow to be more like Jesus as they journey with Him each day. The Son is the head of the church spiritually as He leads them into God’s kingdom, their eternal inheritance.
Paul continued to speak about the relationship between Christ and the church in this verse. He said the Son is “the beginning, the firstborn from the dead.” Because of Jesus’ resurrection, He is the firstborn from the dead just as He was the firstborn (preeminent) before creation and created all things. This means Jesus, as the firstborn from the dead, created the way for humanity to live after death through resurrection for all believers in Him. He is the beginning and chief or foremost of all things and life and the beginning of the church when He called the disciples to follow Him. John 1:1 says Jesus is the beginning of the new creation (redeemed Christians), physically, and spiritually upon their faith in Him. He then gives them the right to be co-heirs with Him in heaven with eternal life. That is what “firstborn” meant for Paul. He used the word prototokos here, too, meaning Jesus was preeminent and the first of the dead to be raised. Because of this, He will lead other people to become new creations formed in His righteous image. By each of these things, Jesus will be first over all things.
Up to this point in these four verses, Paul had said who the Son of God is and His relationship to God, people, and the church. He said Christ is pre-existent before creation. He is God incarnate and visible with us as “God with us, Emmanuel.” The Son is Creator, crucified, and resurrected. He is more than what the Gnostics taught and more than what the Jews believed. The Jews believed the Messiah had not come because they expected Him to be their warrior king to remove from them the rule of foreign leaders. With these ideas from Paul, we realize, the Son of God, Christ, is supreme in the universe, in the Church worldwide, and in the Colossae church. How can we know this is true? Verses nineteen and twenty tell us.
“For it was the Father’s good pleasure for all the fullness to dwell in Him, and through Him to reconcile all things to Himself, having made peace through the blood of His cross; through Him, I say, whether things on earth or things in heaven.” (Colossians 1:19-20 [NASB])
With these two final verses in Paul’s Christology, he emphasizes verse fifteen and God’s good plans and pleasure. The first phrase of verse nineteen says, “It was the Father’s good pleasure for all the fullness to dwell in Him.” This is an emphatic expansion of verse fifteen’s statement, “He is the image of the invisible God.” Remember in Colossians 1:10-11 when Paul prayed for the Colossian Christians to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord. This manner worthy of the Lord means walking in a way God is well pleased or for His good pleasure. People can only walk in a way that pleases God when they trust Christ as their Redeemer; then the Spirit of Jesus who lives in them guides them. Christians will do good works that bring glory to Him and share the gospel of salvation to other people. For this section, The Father’s good pleasure was for the Son of God, Jesus, to have God’s full image, purpose, and characteristics in Him. Within Christ dwelled the superabundance (the fullness) only God has. The Son of God is fully divine. He has the purposes God has had from the beginning of time, to redeem humanity from Satan, his deceptions, sins, and death. The Son is the “image of the invisible God” because the “fullness (superabundance) of God dwells in Him.” (vs. 15 & 19)
Paul explained what God’s purpose is and why the Son came to earth in the form of a man. He came to be the Redeemer, Reconciler, Unifier, Sacrifice, and Resurrection so all people who believe in Him can be well-pleasing to God, that is to be made righteous and live their lives glorifying Him. Jesus came to be the superabundance people need to get out from the weight of the life they chose that led them away from God. He came to give them what they need to live for and with God during their lifetimes and for eternity. With faith in Jesus as the Son of God, Christians spiritually see the invisible God, then become people of God upon whom He bestows His superabundance, His fullness and good pleasure. The idea that divinity could live within a body totally went against the teachings of the Gnostics who believed the body is evil. They could not understand God made a way for each person to be made righteous, holy and not evil.
This superabundance of God included being made righteous, not because of what any person has done or could ever do, but because of His mercy and grace. Paul said forgiveness and reconciliation with God comes, “through Him (the Son) to reconcile all things to Himself.” God wants people to experience this fullness that comes from Him, this being made whole, redeemed, and clean. Verse twenty is the rest of verse nineteen. The Father’s good pleasure for His fullness to reside in the Son was so that through His Son, through His fullness, all of God’s characteristics, could reside in Christians once reconciled to Jesus, who redemption for all humanity. Did you catch that? God’s superabundance is available to us because of Jesus’ redeeming us. When people accept Jesus as the Son of God, He reconciles them to God. He changes them from one state (sinner) to another (redeemed and cleansed). Jesus brings each believer into a state of harmony with God and gives them peace with Him.
It is impossible to have peace and harmony with God when we sin (rebel) against Him. Yet, because of God’s great love for us, He provided the sacrifice needed for us to be redeemed, made righteous, and put into harmony and peace with Him! That is reconciliation. Paul said this twice in verse twenty. Paul said Jesus reconciled us, which means brought into harmony. He also said Jesus made peace for us with His blood. The Son reconciled us to God with His blood. Because the Son of God is preeminent, His bringing harmony and unity through His blood to each person who believes in Him affected all creation, “whether things on earth or things in heaven.”
Jesus’ life on earth as the Son of God and the Son of man is more than a theological doctrine. His life, death, and resurrection provide the reconciling and unifying atonement for all creation. He was the firstborn, preeminent before creation, firstborn from the dead, and firstborn (preeminent) as the head and founder of the body of believers, the Church. The Son created our physical bodies, and He re-created us in His image, spiritually. The fullness of God truly, visibly and invisibly, rested upon the Son to cleanse humanity for God’s good pleasure. God planned for this from before He created anything. He is faithful and has superabundant grace, mercy, and love to make it happen. God is faithful to Himself, His plan, His creation, and His born-again sons and daughters.
Today is the time for you to decide who the Son of God is for you? Will you believe in Him and be reconciled with God? Or, will you keep running away from Him and struggle?
For next week, read chapter one again, especially verses 21-23.
“And although you were formerly alienated and hostile in mind, engaged in evil deeds, yet He has now reconciled you in His fleshly body through death, in order to present you before Him holy and blameless and beyond reproach” (Colossians 1:21-22 [NASB])