Colossians 1:15-23: The Pre-eminence of Jesus and the Wonders of God

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Bible Studies in Colossians

Colossians 1:15-23: The Pre-eminence of Jesus and the Wonders of God

by I Gordon

It is good that we are in Colossians because it is possibly the most 'Christ-centered' book in the Bible. Now the whole Bible, both Old and New Testaments, is about Jesus... no doubt about it! But Colossians focuses greatly on the person and work of Jesus Christ, which is good! In this study we will look at verses 15-23 where the overriding theme is the pre-eminence of Jesus.

To get a little more specific, it is His pre-eminence:

  1. Based on the unique person of Jesus Christ (vs.15,19)
  2. As creator of Heaven and Earth - All that we see and don't see (vs. 16,17)
  3. As the head and beginning of a whole new creation (vs.18,20-23)

Now we'll spend more time on the first few verses but there is quite a bit to do so no more dilly-dally!

The Unique Person of Jesus Christ

Col 1:15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.
Col 1:19 for it was the Father's good pleasure for all the fullness to dwell in Him

The most important question that anyone can ask and explore is 'Who is Jesus Christ?' So much rides on knowing the answer to that question.  [1]  Jesus Himself, when he walked on this earth turned to His disciples one day and said 'Who do you say I am?' It is a critical question. Now the church at Colossae was coming under attack from different groups. You had what would later become known as Gnosticism and one of their beliefs was that Jesus was not God but was Himself a created being. So it doesn't matter if it is 2000 years ago or today - the enemy, if he is to be successful, always tries to undermine the foundation. And that foundation is the person and work of Jesus Christ. So it is today - look at what some of the different religions/cults teach concerning Jesus:

BUDDHISM - Christ is not recognized as Deity. Zen Buddhism also does not affirm the existence of the living God.
HARE KRISHNA (ISKON) - Jesus is one of their gurus, but Hare Krishna is their god.
HINDUISM/NEW AGE - Do not recognise the need for a personal Saviour as each one can become god through attaining "cosmic consciousness".
ISLAM - Jesus is only a prophet of Allah who was superseded by Mohamed.
JEHOVAH'S WITNESSES - Jesus created as Archangel Michael/lesser god; Not God, not Jehovah.
MORMONS - Jesus was born in heaven as the spirit child of Elohim (Heavenly Father) by one of his wives, and Jesus' brother was Lucifer, who became Satan. Jesus was just one of many gods.
SCIENTOLOGY - L. Ron Hubbard taught that Jesus was a false memory implanted into humans as a result of the Xenu  space opera  and that Christianity evolved from an R6 implant. 

Ok. Thanks for that Ron... Whatever that is! So the enemy does a good job sowing seeds of error and doubt. But Paul was in no doubt and starts off by saying that He, Jesus, is the image of the invisible God. This means more than just saying that Jesus was like God. It has the thought of the exact representation and manifestation of God.  [2]  This is of course what Jesus said on different occasions during His ministry. One example is when He said 'Before Abraham was I AM!' The reaction of those hearing Him was to stone Him to death for blasphemy because He was making Himself equal with God! (John 8:58)

Jesus explaining His equality with God to His disciples 

Some read the gospels and are drawn to Jesus but aren't too sure about Yahweh/Jehovah from the Old Testament. Some (though misguided) see Jesus as gracious and kind, but see the God of the Old Testament as more judgemental and harsh. It is of course a false impression for Jesus is God. And He sometimes had a hard time even getting His disciples to grasp that He is God in the flesh. One example is from the book of John where Jesus said to the disciples:

John 14:7-11 If you really knew me, you would know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him." (8) Philip said, "Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us." (9) Jesus answered: " Don't you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father  . How can you say, 'Show us the Father'? (10) Don't you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you are not just my own. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work. (11) Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the miracles themselves.

So we no longer need to be in any confusion  [3]  . He, Jesus, is the image of the invisible God. He who has seen me, has seen the Father, Jesus said. He was and is, God in the flesh!

And He is the firstborn of all creation. Firstborn, not first-created! 

Col 1:15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.

Some cults, like the JW's, try to use this verse to mean 'first created' but that is a different Greek word and it isn't what Paul is saying. While this term is used in the Bible literally of those that are 'born first', it is also used to represent a preeminent position. For example, Israel, as a nation, is called the firstborn in the Old Testament (Exodus-4:22) as is King David (Psalm 89:27). Yet neither was 'born first'. David was the youngest in his family. But both Israel as a nation and King David were called the firstborn because of their position and rank in God. They were exalted and given the rights and privileges before God that the 'first-born' had. In like manner, this verse tells us that Jesus is the chief, the master, the head over all creation. And there is a pretty good reason for that position... He created it all!

He is the Creator of Heaven and Earth

(16) 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. (17) He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.

We live in an age where most don't know who the creator is. In fact many don't even know if there is a creator at all! They can see a creation, but they don't want to submit to a creator. They can see evidence of design everywhere - but they don't want to acknowledge a designer. Maybe it all just, well, 'happened'. It's all just about 'chance', 'mutations', 'random processes' & 'time'. To quote the Tui Ads - 'Yeah right!'  [4] 

Society tells our kids that this world is the product of random force and chance - that they are really just evolved animals and when they die they just go back into the dirt. Meditate on that long enough and it is enough to create an upside down smile on even the happiest person. It makes it all meaningless in the end. Nobel Prize winning physicist and Atheist Steven Weinberg famously remarked,  'The more we find out about the universe, the more meaningless it all seems.'  Um, excuse me while I go snuff myself. 'The more meaningless it all seems?' I don't think so Tim!

Listen to King David: Psalm 19:1-4  the heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. (2) Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge. (3) There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard. (4) Their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world. 

Or listen to Job 12:7-10  But ask the animals, and they will teach you, or the birds of the air, and they will tell you; (8) or speak to the earth, and it will teach you, or let the fish of the sea inform you. (9) Which of all these does not know that the hand of the LORD has done this? (10) In his hand is the life of every creature and the breath of all mankind. 

It doesn't matter what you are looking at... whether it is the heavens, the animals, the birds of the air, trees or seeds... it doesn't matter what you look at - there is a wonder and majesty in all of it. There is a design and there is a designer!  [5]  And Jesus, Paul tells us, is the one who created it! John said it like this: John 1:1-3 '  In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being'. 

Two Examples of God's amazing creation

Let's look at a couple of examples concerning this... namely this planet and your body. As soon as we take the time to investigate these things we see that everything just cries out what an amazing creator Jesus is!

  • Our planet: We live on a planet that is perfect for human life. You think you are pretty stable and stationary sitting there reading this study don't you? Well, you are neither! [6] You are currently doing 30 km per second and spinning at up to 1700 Km per hour! And yet this is totally required for sustaining life. In fact scientists tell us about the 'fine-tuning' of the universe and specifically the fine tuning of planet Earth within the universe. As a quick example, they tell us that our planet is situated in the 'Goldilocks zone'. That is, the zone that is not too hot and not too cold... it's just right! If we were a few percentages further or closer to the sun, no life could exist. We are just in the right spot. But that is only one of hundreds of factors. It turns out that everything is 'just right'. There are so many constants that have to be exactly as they are for life to exist, including the force of gravity, the oxygen/nitrogen ratio, the distance and size of the moon, the force of electromagnetic fields, and the tilt of the earth, and the location and age of the sun... Mathematically, taken as a whole it means that it doesn't matter how large the universe is... it can't just happen by chance! There are too many factors involved. It all screams out that there is a wonderful designer behind it all!

  • Human Body and DNA -  'Human DNA is like a computer program but far, far more advanced than any software ever created.' - Bill Gates , that is so true! I write computer programs for a living. I've yet to come across a computer program that didn't have a computer programmer or a team of programmers behind it. And yet that is what we are told when it comes to mankind and this universe. That creation doesn't have a creator. Regarding DNA, the 'Wonders of God' DVD talks about the amount of information that can be stored in DNA the size of a pin head. It could fill a stack of books 500 times higher than from here to the moon! Now that is incredible. But think of this... We all start out life as a single cell. How does that cell know how to multiply and build a body? How incredible is it that you came from a single cell that multiplied into 100 trillion (or so) cells. And encoded into those cells in the DNA is all that it needs to know what its function is and to what part of the body it belongs to, and what it will become. Each cell is microscopically small, yet has activities comparable to those of a modern city! [7] 

How incredible is our creator? How does Jesus know all these things? Where did all this limitless knowledge come from? My little pea-brain, as well designed as it is, soon hits a wall! But this is the God whom you will one day stand before and see Him face to face.

Science - Can't tell us the 'Who' and the Why' 

Lots of people put their faith in science to tell them all the answers to life's mysteries. Now science tells us many things but science can only go so far. Consider the following example: Let's say that you're walking along and you stumble upon a cake on the side of the road. Granted - it's not an everyday event but you never know your luck! Curious about the cake you take it to the lab to have it analysed. What do you think the scientists can tell us about the cake?

The biochemists will inform us about the structure of the proteins.
The nutritionists declare it to be a chocolate cake and calculate the calories.
The chemists give a total breakdown of the elements making up that cake.
And the mathematicians have a nice set of equations giving the total circumference and volume of the cake

Now that these experts have given us an exhaustive description of the cake, can we say that the cake is completely explained? Suppose you were to ask them... "Who made the cake", or "Why was it made? For what purpose was is made?"

Science can't answer these questions by science alone. Such questions are outside the scope of science. They would need to somehow find the source of the cake - that is, the person who made it and ask why they made it. Now I like that illustration because Colossians tells us both the 'who' and the 'why'.

Col 1:16 for by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him.

And that, my friend, includes you! You were made by Him and for Him. You were created to be in a relationship with Jesus Christ and to find your purpose and joy in Him. Are you giving Him that place in your life?

His Pre-eminence over the New Creation

(18) He is also 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.

When you think of all the wonders of God in creation, it is slightly staggering that none of what we have been talking about is His greatest wonder. As marvellous as the first creation is, God's plan and purpose don't lie there. It says here that He, Jesus, is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead. In other words, through the resurrection He began something entirely new - and that is the new creation! The first creation didn't cost Jesus anything. He spoke it into being. The new creation cost Jesus His life. The first creation started with the Heaven and the Earth and mankind was created later on the 6 th day. In the new creation the order was reversed - He began with mankind and will later create a whole new Heavens and Earth  [8]  .

And when Christ returns to take His bride, His body, the Church, out of this world, then your physical body that was sown in corruption (as wonderful as it is) will be raised and changed and we shall be like Him. Finally the new creation that started within with the spirit will be manifested outwardly through the body and entire life!

1Jn 3:2, 'Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when He appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.'

The Greatest Wonder of All

Col 1:19-22 For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, (20) and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross. (21) Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behaviour. (22) But now he has reconciled you by Christ's physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation.

That is the true wonder of God. That a man, though fallen, desperately wicked and an enemy of God, could, through the work of the cross and the shed blood of Jesus, be reconciled to God and be found holy, without blemish and free from accusation! Spurgeon said,  'Creation and providence are but the whisper of His power, but redemption is its music, and praise is the echo which shall yet fill His temple.' 

I've focused more in this study on some aspects of His physical creation (this earth, the universe, the wonder of a single cell growing into a marvellous indescribable organ called the brain) because we can kind of grasp some of these things seeing that they are physical and visible. Kind of! But I totally agree with Spurgeon. These things, as mind boggling as they are, are only but a whisper of His power. The real miracle and wonder of God is the miracle of the new birth. Whatever work of Jesus that you take the time to study is a wonder all of itself. But none of it comes close to what God has done in the heart of man. Study that work and you will find it to be perfect as well. And miraculous! One day we will know. One day you will see all that God did to draw you and change your heart. We will grasp it all. We see dimly today. We will see and know even as we are seen and known.

What about the Final 'If'?

Colossians 1: 23 'If you continue in your faith, established and firm, not moved from the hope held out in the gospel. This is the gospel that you heard and that has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven, and of which I, Paul, have become a servant'.

Sometimes when the New Testament talks about your perfect position as holy and blameless before God, it states it without any conditions. Sometimes it is stated with an 'if' condition based around maintaining our faith to the end.
For example:

 Some passages without any conditions

Some passages with 'if' conditions

 1Th 5:23-24, Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be preserved complete, without blame at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. (24) Faithful is He who calls you, and He also will bring it to pass.

 Col 1:22-23 But now he has reconciled you by Christ's physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation-- (23) if you continue in your faith, established and firm, not moved from the hope held out in the gospel. 

 Jud 1:24-25 Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling, and to make you stand in the presence of His glory blameless with great joy, (25) to the only God our Saviour, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen. 

 1Co 15:1-2, Now, brothers, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. (2) By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain. 

 1Co 1:7-...awaiting eagerly the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ, (8), who will also confirm you to the end, blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. (9) God is faithful, through whom you were called into fellowship with His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. 

 Heb. 3:14, We have come to share in Christ if we hold firmly till the end the confidence we had at first. 

So what are we to make of this? The Bible is clear, I believe, that Jesus will not let one true sheep perish. They are eternally secure and He will lose NONE of all those that the Father gives Him. Yet at the same time, we see these 'if' warnings given, also through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, declaring that we must maintain the faith until the end. So, again, what do we make of this? The Believers Bible Commentary states the following useful thoughts on this matter:

'The Spirit of God has seen fit to put many of these so-called 'if' passages in the word of God in order to challenge all who profess the name of Christ as to the reality of their profession. We would not want to say anything that might dull the sharp edge of these passages, for as someone has said: 'These 'ifs' in Scripture look on professing Christians here in the world and come as healthy tests to the soul.'
 Pridham comments on these challenging verses as follows:

The reader will find, on a careful study of the Word that it is the habit of the Spirit to accompany the fullest and most absolute statements of grace by warnings which imply a ruinous failure on the part of some who nominally stand in faith. ... Warnings which grate harshly on the ears of insincere profession are drunk willingly as medicine by the godly soul. ... The aim of all such teaching as we have here is to encourage faith, and condemn, by anticipation, reckless and self-confident professors.' ' 


There is a key verse is this passage that I have not focused on yet but it needs to be mentioned for it sums up the entire passage! It is this:  "that he should come to have first place in everything" We have seen that Jesus is pre-eminent because of His unique person - there is no one else like Jesus! He is pre-eminent because of His role as creator of Heaven and Earth and all it contains - He made it all! He is pre-eminent because He is the beginning of a New Creation - Death could not hold Him down!

And all these things are pointed out by the Apostle Paul so 'that he should come to have first place in everything' - and that includes you and your life! So I hope this little study has focused your thoughts back upon the wonderful person of Jesus Christ and His position in your life. That is the goal of all these things. He will take His rightful place in all things at the end of the age when He returns as the king of kings! But in this age He desires, and deserves, His rightful place as the king of your heart. May it be so!

[1] ↩  Have you heard of Larry King? Larry King, the CNN talk show host, was once asked who he would most want to interview if he could choose anyone from all of history. He said, 'Jesus Christ.' The questioner said, "And what would you like to ask Him?" King replied, "I would like to ask Him if He was indeed virgin-born. The answer to that question would define history for me."

[2] ↩  The Bible Knowledge Commentary states on this verse:  'Besides the obvious meaning of likeness (cf. 2Cor.4:4), 'image' implies representation and manifestation. Like the head of a sovereign imprinted on a coin, so Christ is 'the exact representation of [the Father's] being' ' 

So Paul is saying He, Jesus, is the exact likeness of God - He is the manifestation of God. He is God. This shouldn't come as a surprise for both the Old and New Testaments declare this very truth.

[3] ↩  There was a little boy drawing pictures on the floor one day as his mother was working. She said to him, "What are you drawing?" He said, "I'm drawing a picture of God." "But no one knows what God looks like," she said. "Well, they will when I get through!" the boy replied. Like I said... no one has to be in confusion anymore for in Jesus we see the exact image and representation of God the Father.

[4] ↩  William MacDonald, in his book 'Our God is Wonderful' writes: Even Darwin had grave doubts about his theory.  He said that it was 'grievously hypothetical.' He said, 'The eye to this day gives me a cold shudder.' To think that it evolved by natural selection was 'absurd in the highest possible degree.' The likelihood of even a peacock's feather evolving by chance 'makes me sick,' he said. 

[5] ↩  When asked if he was an atheist, Albert Einstein responded:  'I'm not an atheist. The problem involved is too vast for our limited minds. We are in the position of a little child entering a huge library filled with books in many languages. The child knows someone must have written those books. It does not know how. It does not understand the languages in which they are written. The child dimly suspects a mysterious order in the arrangement of the books but doesn't know what it is. That, it seems to me, is the attitude of even the most intelligent human being toward God. We see the universe marvellously arranged and obeying certain laws but only dimly understand these laws.' (This was first published as 'What Life Means to Einstein,' Saturday Evening Post, October 26, 1929.) 

[6] ↩  Again, William MacDonald in His book Our God is Wonderful writes:  'The whirling sphere on which we live is a masterpiece of creativity. As it spins through space, its direction is well regulated and predictable... The earth spins at approximately 1040 miles per hour at the equator. It moves around the sun at an average of 18.5 miles per second. The sun moves around the Milky Way at 150-155 miles per second. Our Milky Way moves within a cluster of galaxies at about 75 miles per second. Like it or not, we are in the fast lane of the universe.

And you wondered why you've been feeling a little dizzy lately!

[7] ↩  One last (long but worth it) quote from Our God is Wonderful. William MacDonald writes: 'Few writers can rhapsodize over the wonders of the cell better than Lewis Thomas. Speaking of the marvel of a single cell growing into a human brain, he wrote;

 'The mere existence of that cell should be one of the greatest astonishments of the earth. People ought to be walking around all day, all through their waking hours, calling to others in endless wonderment, talking of nothing except that cell. It is an unbelievable thing, and yet there it is, popping neatly into its place amid the jumbled cells of every one of the several billion human embryos around the planet, just as if it were the easiest thing in the world to do. 

 One cell is switched on to become the whole trillion-cell, massive apparatus for thinking and imagining and, for that matter, being surprised. All the information needed for learning to read and write, playing the piano, arguing before senatorial subcommittees, walking across a street through traffic, or the marvellous act of putting out one hand and leaning against a tree, is contained in that first cell; as is all grammar, all syntax, all arithmetic, all music. 

 No one has a ghost of an idea how this works, and nothing else in life can be so puzzling. If anyone does succeed in explaining it, within my lifetime, I will charter a skywriting airplane, maybe a whole fleet of them, and send them aloft to write one great exclamation point after another, around the whole sky, until all my money runs out.' 

[8] ↩  In fact, the current entire current universe has an inbuilt mechanism to destroy itself if need be through atomic reactions.

 2Peter 3:10-12 But the day of the Lord will come like a thief.  The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare.  (11) Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives (12) as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming. That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat. 

As a side note there are more atoms in your body, a single human body, than there are stars in the universe! So it is a good thing that it says above that 'in Him all things hold together' otherwise you could be one very powerful walking bomb! But the greatest miracle is the new creation. That is what He began with the Church, the body of Christ of which He is the head - again showing His pre-eminence.