Christ the Firstborn

“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether they are kings, lords, rulers, or powers. All things have been created through him and for him. He himself existed before all things, and in him all things hold together. He is also the head of the body, which is the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he himself might have first place in everything.”
Colossians 1:15-18 (ISV)

Herein Paul records some great truths concerning our Lord, truths that have mighty implications. Satan, too, knows this and so has sown in the minds of many the seeds of interpretation which seek to undermine the truth of this passage. The truth is this: Jesus is both God and man. How can this be? Let’s go back and examine this passage more closely.

We will analyze the text in 2 formats; first, concerning His humanity, and second, His deity.

Let’s first look at His humanity.

Verse 15
This first phrase appears in the form of a Hebrew couplet, using a common device known as parallelism. This is when you have two thoughts, with the second thought closely relating to the first in some way. Here are the 2 thoughts:

  1. He is the image of the invisible God, and
  2. He is the firstborn of all creation.

Notice that Christ is the image of the invisible God. I believe this statement supports the view that He is still a man, even in His glorified state. It does not read, “He was“, but “is” the image of God. This term “image” refers to Christ’s being a reproduction of God, a manifestation of Him. When He was on earth, when people saw Him, they saw God; when people heard him, they heard God. He “revealed” God (cf. John 1:18). Paul may have been combating an ancient false teaching which said that because all matter is evil, and God is holy, Christ was not really a man–physical. Here, Paul is not only saying that Christ, while on earth, was physical–a man, but that He still is, even in heaven.

Let’s move on to the second phrase, which adds to the first, and gives further reason to believe that He is human. The term “firstborn” primarily has to do with rank or priority in relation to other things (cf. Psalm 89:27, Jeremiah 31:9), although it could also mean first in a group. Context will determine which is meant here. Notice that His being firstborn is in relation to “all creation.” This tells us that Christ is a part of creation. Before you stop reading and announce me a heretic, let me explain. I am not saying that Christ was the first one created by God, as some groups teach. The context here and in many other passages makes it clear that Christ is eternal (cf. Isaiah 9:6, Micah 5:2, I Timothy 1:17, 6:16, Hebrews 7:3). What I believe Paul is referring to is Jesus’ incarnation, that is, His birth on earth as a human. His being fully human makes Him a part of creation. This provides a devastating argument against the teaching of a group known as the Gnostics, who did not believe that Christ could have been human. Yet, by Paul’s use of the terms “image” and “of all creation,” he made sure that the Colossian believers understood that Jesus Christ was, and is, man.

In what way was Christ “firstborn?” Verses 16 and 17 explain why Christ is firstborn. Paul explains in these 2 verses that Christ both existed before all things, and that He created all things. This puts Him outside the realm of creation. Therefore, He could not be “first in a group.” Christ, as a human, is first in rank and supreme to His creation. As an aside, notice the other use of the term “firstborn” in verse 18. His being firstborn from the dead didn’t mean He was the first one raised from the dead. Others were raised from the dead before Him. They, however, are now dead. Christ lives. In relation to others raised from the dead, He is supreme; His resurrection was supreme.

Notice, lastly, that the reason Jesus was firstborn of all creation, the head of the church, and the first to come back to life, was “so that He would have first place in everything.” The whole context is speaking of first place, or supremacy, not the order of things.

Now let’s look at His deity.

There are three points given concerning Christ and creation in verses 16 and 17. They are as follows:

  1. He created all things.
  2. Everything was created through and for Him.
  3. He holds all things together.

In order for Him to have created all things, He Himself must be uncreated. Some have argued that the Greek word for all, “panta,” should be rendered “all other things.” It is true that there are times when the word should be rendered “all other things,” when the context demands it. However, the context here demands the first rendering, “all things.” If there are still doubts, probably the clearest text which shows the extent of Christ as Creator can be found in John 1:3. It reads, “Everything came into existence through Him. Not one thing that exists was made without Him.” (ISV) Here, not only does John write that “everything came into existence through Him”, which is the same basic phrase as in Colossians 1:16, but he adds the phrase “not one thing”, which should remove all doubt. Christ created every single thing that exists, except Himself.

Not only did He create everything, but He also did it for Himself. In other words, not only does everything come from Him, but it also goes back to Him, as the Zondervan NIV Bible Commentary says: “Creation is for Christ in the sense that He is the end for which all things exist, the goal toward whom all things were intended to move. They are meant to serve His will and to contribute to His glory.” (volume 2, page 820)

All matter is made up of atoms. Within each atom is a nucleus which is made up of protons and neutrons. Neutrons have no charge whatsoever. Protons, however, are positively charged. There is a physical law that states that like charges repel each other. For example, take two magnets which are marked positive at one end and negative at the other. Place the two positive ends together and what happens? They push away from each other. The only way to hold two magnets together is to put one positive end next to a negative one. Because of this law, every proton in every nucleus should repel one another instead of holding together as they do.

The reason I bring all of this up is because there is presently no natural answer to this problem. However, Colossians 1:17 provides the answer: “in (or by) Him (Jesus) all things hold together.” (ISV) He keeps the universe together and orderly. In Scriptural thought, to say that a mere creature is the end for which all things exist and that a mere creature holds the entire universe together is the height of blasphemy. These things can only be said of God.

The passage compels the conclusion that Jesus Christ is both man and God.

Written by: Ron Gregory, isvbible@christianity.com

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