The Preeminence of Jesus Over Creation – Colossians 1:15-17
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Pastor Scott L. Harris
Grace Bible Church, NY
August 15, 2010
The Preeminence of Jesus Over Creation
Paul warned in 2 Timothy 4:3-4, “For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but [wanting] to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires; and will turn away their ears from the truth, and will turn aside to myths.” We live in such a time and one of the key evidences of this is the aversion that people now have for doctrine. Even saying the word makes a lot of people want to go the other way claiming that doctrine only leads to quarreling and division. Yet, doctrine fills our lives and is what enables us to accomplish our goals. And contrary to the claim that it causes division, there cannot be any unity without doctrine.
It is not doctrine that causes divisions but the conflicts that arise out of each person wanting it their way. James 4:1-3 states,
“What is the source of quarrels and conflicts among you? Is not the source your pleasures that wage war in your members? 2 You lust and do not have; [so] you commit murder. And you are envious and cannot obtain; [so] you fight and quarrel. You do not have because you do not ask. 3 You ask and do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend [it] on your pleasures.” That selfishness and self will are what cause people to “accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires.” What is it that teachers teach? Doctrine which is just the Latin word for teaching and learning. Doctrine is simply the beliefs or principles held and taught by a group. Doctrine is actual what brings unity to the group as it brings those within it to conformity with the same set of beliefs. As Ephesians 4:4-6 explains, those who are true disciples of Jesus Christ share in one body, one Spirit, one hope, One Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all. Without that unity of doctrine there cannot be unity within the church. The lack of it explains why there are so many denominational divisions among those who claim to be Christians. Add to this that it also takes humility and diligent effort to preserves unity even when the same doctrine is shared, and we can account for the reasons behind splits in churches that are part of the same denomination.
Tragically, I am well aware of many people over the years that have left this church for both doctrinal reasons and reasons of selfish pride. While that is always disappointing, the greater tragedy is not that they left, but that so few of them made even a feeble effort to examine their doctrinal differences by the light of the Scriptures or to work through personal conflicts as the Scriptures admonish to do. Our goal in this church is to follow what God has revealed in the Bible, so we are always open to doctrinal challenges that cause us to examine God’s word more carefully to make sure we are following His will and not our own. We also strive to help one another live in Christian unity in the bonds of peace and therefore work through our differences.
It was not really any different for the believers in Colossae. Because false teachers had come in among them they were in danger of becoming divided as had happened in the Corinthian church. Though Paul does not cite any specific division that had already occurred, he does make a lot of admonishments in chapters 3 & 4 about behaviors that could easily result in such division. However, Paul first addressed the issues underlying such behavior by correcting their doctrinal errors. Our conduct is always the fruit of what we believe, so if we want to correct wrong behavior, we must first correct wrong belief. That is exactly what Paul starts to do in the next section of Colossians which we will be studying this morning. Turn with me to Colossians 1:15
This passage arises directly out of Paul’s prayer for them (Colossians 1:9-14) (See: The Prayer for the Colossians). Remember that Paul and his companions in Rome had been praying for the Colossians ever since they had heard Epaphras’ report about what was happening there. The focus of their prayer was that they be filled with the full knowledge of God’s will with all spiritual wisdom and understanding. Paul wanted them to be able to apply what they had learned with godly discernment. The fruit of this would be that they would walk in a manner worth of the Lord, pleasing Him in all respects. This in turn would be demonstrated by their fruit of good works, increasing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened by God to be able to even patiently endure difficult circumstance and people with joy, and in giving thanks to God for what He has done in saving us from our sin. Last week we looked at the four aspects of this that Paul cites in verses 12-14. God has qualified us for heaven. He has delivered us from the devil’s domain. He has transferred us to Jesus’ kingdom, and Jesus has redeemed us so that we can be forgiven our sins. (See: The Prayer for the Colossians, Pt. 2 )
The next section, Colossians 1:15-23, is an expansion on the identification of the beloved Son in whom we have redemption. Paul does this by pointing out the unique position our redeemer has in His relationship to God, creation and the church. In doing this, Paul establishes the nature of Jesus which corrects the false doctrines being promoted among the Colossians that deny His deity or humanity.
As a quick note for those who like to read commentaries or are interested in grammatical structure, these verses contain several repetitions of words and phrases and even chiastic parallelism. Because of this, most commentators consider this to be an ancient hymn of some sort inserted into the letter. However, no reconstruction of the supposed inserted hymn is convincing. If there was some hymn in Paul’s mind as he wrote, he freely adapted and changed it for his own use to lay a foundation to refute the heretics in Colossae.
And He is the image of the invisible God, the first-born of all creation. 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 by Him and for Him. 17 And He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together. 18 He is also head of the body, the church; and He is the beginning, the first-born from the dead; so that He Himself might come to have first place in everything. 19 For it was the [Father’s] good pleasure for all the fullness to dwell in Him, 20 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. 21 And although you were formerly alienated and hostile in mind, [engaged] in evil deeds, 22 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– 23 if indeed you continue in the faith firmly established and steadfast, and not moved away from the hope of the gospel that you have heard, which was proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, was made a minister.
This morning we are going to concentrate only on verses 15-17 and the relationship that our redeemer has to God and creation. These verses will demonstrate the deity of Jesus.
The Image of the Invisible God – vs 15
Paul begins this section stating, “And He is the image of the invisible God.” This sentence establishes Jesus’ deity.
First, the term for image, eikwn / eikôn, from which we get our English word, icon, has a range of meanings from a literal rendition of “statue” to figurative usages such as representation, form, likeness or manifestation. The exact meaning is determined by its context.
The word is often used of being a representation that is a copy of a prototype such as a statue would be of person or thing it represents. Such a copy could vary greatly in the degree to which it is a faithful image of the prototype. A picture is a more exact likeness than a line drawing, and a statue is more exact than a bas relief carving. The term is used that way in Matthew 22:20 of the image of Caesar on the coin used to pay taxes and in Romans 1:23 to refer to the various idols that pagans would worship.
That is not the usage of the term here since the prototype is invisible and it is impossible to make a physical representation of something that cannot be seen. Since God is spirit, no picture, drawing or statue can be made in His image. That is why the second of the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:4-5) prohibits making an idol to worship it, for any graven image made would be a false representation of God and therefore using it for worship would be false regardless of how good the intentions. Those that use statues and images as aides to worship should take warning that they are practicing false worship.
I need to also note here that the idea of being invisible (aoratoV / aoratos) is not restricted to just the ability of the eye to perceive something physical, for the term was also used in Greek philosophy to speak of ability to understand ideas. In this case, God is not just invisible to the human eye because He is a spirit, but He is also incomprehensible to the human mind because He is infinite. The thoughts and ways of God are beyond humans as much as the heavens are higher than the earth (Isaiah 55:8), so that man cannot know God by his own wisdom and even the foolishness of God is wiser than the wisdom of men (1 Corinthians 1:21-25).
Taking both of these ideas into account, the term eikwn / eikôn is used in the sense of manifestation. In other words, Jesus is not a copy of God as would be a statue or graven image. Jesus is both the physical expression of the invisible God in visible form and the manifestation of God so that men can grasp the nature and character of God. John 1:18 explains, “No man has seen God at any time; the only begotten God, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained [Him.]” That is, Jesus, God the Son, has made known God the Father by declaring the Father in and by Himself. In John 12:45 Jesus said, “And he who beholds Me beholds the One who sent Me.” In John 14:9-11 Jesus told His disciples in answering Philip’s question, “Have I been so long with you, and [yet] you have not come to know Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father; how do you say, ‘Show us the Father’? 10 “Do you not believe that I am in the Father, and the Father is in Me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on My own initiative, but the Father abiding in Me does His works. 11 “Believe Me that I am in the Father, and the Father in Me; otherwise believe on account of the works themselves.”
Several other passages give further insight into this idea. We are told in Philippians 2:6 that although Jesus “existed in the form of God, [He] did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped.” In other words, since Jesus has the intrinsic and essential attributes of God, He did not need to seek equality with God. Hebrews 1:3 adds that Jesus “is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power.” Jesus demonstrates the character and nature of God in a similar way in which light radiating from the Sun reveals the nature of the Sun.
Please note here that Jesus is the image of God and not a being that was made into His image. 2 Corinthians 4:4 declares the same thing. Man was made into the image of God (Genesis 1:26) in reflecting particular attributes of God such as cognition, emotion and volition – that is, man can think, feel and make decisions. That image has been terribly marred by sin, but even before the fall into sin man’s reflection of God was very limited. Jesus is not so limited and He is the image of God.
The hope of mankind is in being fully restored in being made into God’s image by being changed into the image of Christ in this same sense. As we mature we reflect to a greater degree the character of Jesus within us. The desire of the true Christian is to be crucified to himself and that Christ is seen living through him (Galatians 2:20). We have confidence that this is occurring because “we all, with unveiled face beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit (2 Corinthians 3:18), and we “have put on the new self who is being renewed to a true knowledge according to the image of the One who created him” (Colossians 3:10). God’s promise in Romans 8:29 is that we will be conformed into the image of His Son.
The declaration that Jesus is the image of God is Paul’s first step into establishing Jesus’ deity and crushing the heresies being promoted in Colossians. The proper understanding of Jesus’ relationship to God the Father is that Jesus is the image of the Father, and our hope is in being transformed into the image of the Son.
The First-born of all Creation – vs 15
The next step Paul takes in establishing Jesus’ deity is in declaring His relationship to creation. He begins with the statement that He is “the first-born of all creation.” This a clear statement in Greek and in the context, but this phrase of the English translation is often pulled out of its context by heretics as an argument against Jesus’ deity. The Jehovah Witnesses are the largest cult group doing this at present, and in doing so they demonstrate their utter ignorance of the terms being used here in verse 15, and their total disregard for the context in which this phrase occurs and especially verse 16.
The term first-born, prwtotokoV / prôtotokos, can be used in either the sense of first begotten or foremost in importance. The two ideas merge together in the rights in inheritance in which the supremacy normally belongs to the first begotten, but not always. For example, in Genesis 25:23 the Lord told Rachel that she would bear twins and that the older would serve the younger which would be opposite of birthright. That is exactly what happened when Jacob gained Esau’s birthright in Genesis 25 and the blessing in Genesis 27. A similar event occurred with Manasseh and Ephraim, the sons of Joseph. Manasseh was born first, but the preeminence was given to Ephraim (Genesis 48:18-20). In Exodus 4:22 the Lord calls Israel His “first born” even though Adam was the first man and even God’s covenant was made with Abraham, Israel’s grandfather. God made Israel His “first-born” in the sense that God had given superiority to the descendants of Israel as a nation that He called to Himself to bear His name. Then there is the statement by God in Psalm 89:27, “I also shall make him my first-born, the highest of the kings of the earth.” This is another clear statement of being first in order of importance instead of being first in the order of time, and if this is Messianic as some commentators suggest, then Paul’s usage of the term may also specifically be Messianic.
Jesus is “first born” of all creation not because of an order of birth, but because He is preeminent over creation and has the right of inheritance of all of it. Hebrews 1:2 states that God appointed His Son “heir of all things.” Jesus has all authority in heaven and on earth (Matthew 28:18) for all things that the Father has are His (John 16:15) and one day every knee of those in heaven, on earth, and under the earth shall bow to Him and confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father (Philippians 2:9-11).
The idea promoted by the Jehovah witness that Jesus is first born in the sense of first begotten of creation is contrary to the both the word used here and the context. First, if Paul had meant that he could have a used a different word (prwtokistoV / prôtokistos) that actually means first created. Second, if Jesus was to be the first begotten of a class of others also begotten, then how is it that He is also the only begotten (monogenhV / monogenês – John 1:14)? He would have to be one or the other. He cannot be the first of a group and also the only one in that group. Third, context of the book and this passage are solidly against such a heretical interpretation. In this letter as a whole Paul will be correcting a heretical teaching that Jesus is less than God, so he would not include something that is in agreement with the heresy. In this specific passage Paul had just stated that Jesus was the image of God in the sense that to have seen and known Jesus was to have seen and known God, and the next two verses demonstrates Jesus’ superiority over all of creation and not one who is part of it.
The Creator – vs 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 by Him and for Him.” This is a comprehensive statement of Jesus as preeminent over all creation because He is the creator. Paul uses parallel phrasing to emphasize the point.
First, Jesus is superior over creation because by, or more precisely, in Him all things were created. Christ is the sphere in which creation took place. In other words, all the plans and forces of creation were residing in Him so that God’s Creation takes place in Christ and not separate from Him. Jesus is the architect of Creation.
The emphasis here is that this encompasses all of creation and not any subset of it. For the ancient Arian doctrine now taught by the Jehovah Witnesses to be correct, a different phrasing would have to be used so that in Christ “all the rest of the things” or “everything else” was created. The parallel phrasing of what Jesus created is meant to emphasize that “all” means everything. Heavens and earth encompass every locality in the physical universe from where you are seated to the farthest imaginable object at the edge of space. Visible and invisible encompass every kind of created being both physical and spiritual, material and immaterial. It includes everything you can perceive by any of your five senses and those that you cannot such as angelic beings and even your own soul. There is nothing created that does not fit within these four spheres.
Paul then continues on to specifically delineate positions of power as being created by Christ – thrones, dominions, rulers and authorities. A throne (qronoV / thronos) represents the authority and power of a king for his decrees are made while seated on his throne. Dominion (kuriothV / kuriotês) represents the authority and power of a government. The usage of this word in 2 Peter 2:10 and Jude 1:8 suggests this may be referring to earthly authority as compared to the power and authority of angels in those verses. The next two words, rulers (arch / archê) and authorities (exousia / exousia) probably refer to authority and power in the angelic realm since Paul uses both of those terms in Ephesians 6:12 in describing the organization and rank of spirit beings that are against believers. One of the heresies that was being promoted in Colossae was the worship of angelic beings (Colossians 2:18), so this statement shows that all powers including those of angelic beings are subject to Christ.
Paul then repeats something similar to what he said at the beginning of the verse with two significant changes. “All things have been created by Him and for Him.” The change in word order is not significant, but the change in preposition from in (en / en) to by or through (dia / dia) is significant as is the additional phrase “for Him.” All things are created both in Christ and by or through Christ for the purpose of being for Christ. He is the architect, the builder and the possessor of Creation.
These three truths contradict the gnostic thought that was beginning to be formulated that made a dichotomy between the material world and the immaterial world claiming that the physical was evil and the spiritual was good. The effort was then made to develop a philosophy to remove God from and make Him distant from the physical world. Paul’s statements make it clear that Jesus is God and that He is the designer and maker of all creation and that it is all for His own possession. God is intimately involved with creation.
The Sustainer – vs. 17
In verse 17 Paul makes two more statements which demonstrate the deity of Jesus, our redeemer. 17 “And He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.
The first statement addresses the eternal nature of Jesus in relationship to creation. He existed before anything was. He was already present at the beginning. John 1:1-2, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God.” He is the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end (Revelation 1:8; 22:13). Jesus told the Jews in John 8:58, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was born, I am.” They understood exactly what He meant in using the name God used to identify Himself in Exodus 3:14, and they took up stones to stone Him for blasphemy. But it is not blasphemy to declare the truth and proclaim yourself to be the “I am,” the self existent one, if that is who you actually are, and that is who Jesus is. He is before all things.
The second statement, “and in Him all things hold together,” is an incredible mind-boggling truth. Jesus not only created everything, but He also continues to hold everything together. The verb tense here is a perfect indicating that this is something He did in the past and continues to do through the present. He did not create everything and then walk away from it as is believed by the deists, and gnostic dualism is false. He continues His involvement to the very present and in fact without His continued intervention creation would not continue to stand. It would not hold together and would disintegrate.
Interesting enough, though science has progressed in its understanding of the atom, there are still huge questions about what keeps it together. There are all sorts of sub-atomic particles beyond protons, neutrons and electrons which are now classified according to the force thought to control them. Joining the neutron and proton as Hadrons which are controlled by strong nuclear force are hyperons and mesons. Joining the electrons in the group of Leptons, which are controlled by electromagnetic and weak forces, are the tau, muon, and neutrinos. Bosons are particle-like objects associated with interactions and include the photon and the hypothetical carriers of the weak force and of gravitation. There is also the weak nuclear force which is evident in radioactive reactions as alpha decay. Exchange forces involving the pion are supposed to hold the nuclei together. What holds it all together? Scientist postulate all these various forces though we do not understand them. What we do know is that when what holds atoms together lets let go there is a huge release of energy which can lead to the chain reaction of a nuclear explosion.
We also know from our study of 2 Peter 3:10-13 that during the day of the Lord there will be such a release of energy resulting in the heavens passing away with a roar and the elements melting with intense heat so that the earth and its works will be burned up. Then, according to His promises, He will make new heavens and a new earth. What our Creator did in the past will not be difficult for Him to do again in the future.
Our Lord and redeemer, Jesus Christ, is the image of the invisible God, and He is the architect, builder and possessor of all Creation. He existed in eternity past and He will continue in eternity future. He currently holds all of creation together, but when He releases that hold all of it will be destroyed just as He has said. He will then recreate it all just has He did the first time only this time there will not be any sin allowed in it. Seeing these things will be so, what manner of life should you live? It only makes sense that we should be diligent to be found by Him in peace, spotless and blameless living in holy conduct and godliness for in that way we walk in a manner worthy of our Lord and pleasing Him, our creator, redeemer and sustainer.
Parents, you are responsible to apply God’s Word to your children’s lives. Here is some help. Young Children – draw a picture about something you hear during the sermon. Explain your picture(s) to your parents at lunch. Older Children – 1) Write down all the verses mentioned. 2) Count how many times Jesus is mentioned. 3) Talk with your parents about Jesus’ relationship to God the Father and the Creation
THINK ABOUT IT!
Questions to consider in discussing the sermon with others. Why do so many people reject truth in favor of myth and stories? What is the source of conflicts within the church? What is doctrine? Why are so many people against it? What is its proper place in the church? What should be the result if we pray for other believers following the example of Colossians 1:9-14? What would change in your life if others were praying for you in that manner? Explain what are the two general usages of the term “image” in Col. 1:15? Give examples. What does it mean that Jesus is the image of invisible God? In what ways is God invisible to man and why? How does Jesus reveal God the Father to man? What is Jesus’ relationship to the God the Father? In what sense is man made in the image of God? What is God’s promise to believers about becoming like Jesus? What are the two ways in which “first-born” can be used? In what way is Jesus “first born of all creation”? Explain. Why are the Jehovah Witnesses wrong in their belief that Jesus is the first creature made in creation? What is the significance that “in Him all things were created”? What is the significance of listing out in the heavens and on earth? What is the significance of listing out visible and invisible? What do thrones, dominions, rulers and authorities refer to? What is the significance that “all things were created through Him” and “for Him”? What is Jesus’ relationship to time and creation? What does it mean that “in Him all things hold together”? How does that refute the ideas of deism and Gnostic dualism? What would happen if Jesus stopped holding all things together? Are the present heavens and earth eternal? Why or why not? How should you live in light of these truths? What needs to change? When will you make those changes? Who will you have help you make those changes?
Sermon Notes- 8/15/2010
The Preeminence of Christ Over Creation – Colossians 1:15-17
Introduction / Context
A sign of the times – 2 Timothy 4:3-4 _____________________________________________________
The source of conflict – James 4:1-3 _______________________________________________________
_____________ is the foundation for unity – Ephesians 4:1-6
Our goal is to understand what God has revealed in the _________and help one another live accordingly
The Colossian church was in danger of ____________ caused by the false teachers
The prayer for them would lead directly to correct _____________ and practice and therefore unity
Paul points out the _______position our redeemer has in His relationship to God, creation and the church
The Image of the Invisible God – vs 15
Image, eikwn / eikôn= icon, statue, representation, form, likeness or ___________________
God is invisible because He is a _____________, therefore no physical image can be made of Him
Using statues and images as aides to worship results in ___________worship (Exodus 20:4-5)
Jesus is both the physical expression of God and the manifestation of God’s ___________and character
Man is _____________ in the image of God (Genesis 1:26)
The First-born of all Creation – vs 15
First-born (prwtotokoV / prôtotokos) can be used either the first begotten or ___________in importance
The first born usually received the ____________, but not always – Esau & Jacob; Manasseh & Ephraim
A different ___________would have been used if Jesus was the first created (prwtovkisto” / prôtokistos)
Jesus could not be both the __________ begotten and ___________ begotten of a group.
To have seen and known Jesus was to have seen and known __________
The Creator – vs 16
Jesus is superior over creation because it was created in Him – He is its _____________
“By Him all things were created,” not “by Him everything ______ was created”
Heavens and earth encompass every __________ in the physical universe from earth to the edge of space
Visible and invisible encompass every ____________both physical & spiritual, material & immaterial
He created thrones and dominions = _________and governments
He created rulers and authorities = every kind of ___________being (cf. Ephesians 6:12)
All things have been created by / through Him – He is the __________ / maker of all creation
All things have been created for Him – He is the ______________of all creation
The dichotomy of the spiritual being good and the material being evil in Gnostic dualism is _________
The Sustainer – vs. 17
Jesus holds all of creation __________. His active involvement in His creation refutes deism & dualism
Science understands more about the atom, but not what actually keeps it _____________
Creation will be destroyed in the future, but Jesus will make a _______earth and heavens (2 Peter 3:10-14)
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