The Glory of Christ in Colossians

As I was reading Colossians this past week, one of the things that struck me is how often I come to the Word of God seeking what it has to say about me and what I should do etc. This is all well and good, but what has hit me is that I’ve been so focused on the didactic, that I have not reveled in the glory of Christ and who He is.  It’s been all about me, me, me…

It is not hard to feel such conviction while reading over what is perhaps one of the richest Christological passages in Scripture. Colossians 1:15-20 presents us with a picture of Christ that is nothing short of mind-blowing, and mind renewing.

Meditating on this passage provides for some wonderful Christ-drenched thought, and it is in that spirit that I thought I’d take a brief look at these verses and make a few remarks. Stop with me for a few minutes and set your mind upon Christ…

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

Much of this passage reminds me of Hebrews 1:1-3, but this verse most of all because it proclaims that Christ is the “image” of God”, just as the author of Hebrews proclaims that Christ is “the exact imprint” of God. And so the first thing that Paul tells us here is that Christ is a perfect replication of the God that no man can see. In other words, if you ever wanted to know what God was like up close and personal, then set your gaze upon Jesus. God was pleased to send His Son, His only Son, to be born of a virgin and dwell among us, as one of us, and so even though Christ was fully God and perfectly divine, He was also fully human and perfectly displayed what it means to be truly human in the way that God originally intended – that is why we call Him the ‘Last Adam’.

John’s opening prologue the first chapter of his gospel states this truth very clearly, “No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known” (John 1:18).

The second thing that Paul says is that Christ is the “firstborn of all creation” and then goes on explain that some more in verse 16…

1:16 For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. 

There are two great truths here for us to discover, first, Christ is the maker of all things (John 1:10), and second, all things exist for Him. It is often difficult for us to think about Christ in the role of Creator, because many of us have grown up thinking that the second person of the Trinity really didn’t arrive on the scene until we open our Bibles to the New Testament. But Scripture is clear that all three members of the Trinity were involved in Creation. Because we know that all things were created “through” Him, and because we know that Christ is “the Word” of God, its probably safe to assume that when God spoke things into existence in Genesis 1, it was Christ who was uttering the words (although I’m sure our anthropomorphic language really doesn’t do justice to what occurred). This is an amazing thing to think about, but it makes a lot of sense when we consider that even during His ministry here on earth He used His voice to calm the stormy sea, and to bring life from death (as in John 11 and Lazarus). “The Word became flesh” seen in this light now adds another dimension to our understanding of Christ’s role in the creation account. For it does not say “the word became the word” as if He wasn’t the word prior to His incarnation, but rather that “the Word became flesh.” The preexistent Word, the second person of the Trinity, was poured into the flesh of a man.

The second great truth here is that “all things were created through him and for him.” Therefore, all of the things that He spoke into existence were made for Himself. God made all things “for His own glory” as the Westminster Divines tell us, and it is texts like this that give them the footing to declare such a statement.

There are obvious (and several) ramifications for this, but let me mention just one for now, namely that He made you for Himself. This is a very previous truth indeed, and it reminds me of what Augustine said, “Thou hast made us for thyself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in thee.” It is a wonderful thing to think about that I was made for Jesus. He knows me, loves me, and actually made me for Himself. If that doesn’t send tingles down your spine then check your pulse…

1:17 And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 

This is similar to the point Paul made earlier about Christ being the “first born” of all creation because “first born” is indicative of his preeminence. There are two ways in which Christ is “before all things”: First, He existed before all things from a time-perspective. John the Baptist declares this truth when he states, “This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks before me, because he was before me’” (John 1:30).

Secondly, He is “before all things” in that He is over, or above, or in charge of all things. The Greek word here though is “pro” which usually means “before” as in “prior.” So I don’t want to read too much into it as meaning “above” because it only means that a few times in the New Testament, however, this second sense of the word might just be what Paul is referring to since he then proceeds to tell us that it is Christ who holds all things together. This holding of all things together is a role carried out by someone who is of a higher order than us humans, and therefore it makes sense that Paul would say that He is “before” all things.

The last part of the verse is interesting because it can kind of get your mind in a bind if you think too hard on it.  We just touched on it briefly above, but Paul says that in Christ “all things hold together.” Similar language is used in Acts 17:28 when Paul tells the gathering at Mars Hill that, “In him we live and move and have our being.”  But perhaps Hebrews 1:3 is the closest we come to a similar thought when the author says that Christ “upholds the universe by the word of his power.”

That is an amazing statement, and the more you contemplate it the more you grow amazed at the shear power of God. Sometimes we read the gospel accounts and the weakness of our finite minds we see Jesus, the man, teaching us, caring for the sick and so forth. But we must not forget the same Jesus who cared for the sick also calmed the raging sea, and we’re told here, upholds the entire universe by the word of His power.

What this means is that if Jesus were to utter the word, the entire universe could collapse into a blackhole, or evaporate into nothingness. It means that chaos is kept at bay by the fact that Jesus keeps it at bay. All science, and all math, operates upon the rules of His decree. We live and breathe and exist because it is His pleasure that we do so. When one truly comprehends who “the boss” of the universe is, the spectacle of the cross becomes all that much more radical and offensive. One begins to shake at the fact that humans – created beings – put their creator to death in response to His loving them, and that the Creator would condescend to such depths of pain and shame on our behalf, all in order to show forth the glory of His Son.

1:18 And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. 

Now Paul begins to talk about how these facts influence ecclesiology. If Christ is the first born of all creation, if he is the One through whom all things have been made, then should it come as a shock that He is the head of the church? Of course not! For He is preeminent over “everything.”

It’s also interesting to hear Paul refer to the church as “the body” and Christ as its head. He’s used this anthropomorphic language in other letters to other churches as well, and it signifies how closely we have come to be associated with our Savior. We are part of Him – we are His body!

Therefore, if He is our head, we must contemplate what that means for our daily lives. How does our own physical head function in relation to the rest of the body? Well, it may sound odd to put it this way, but one might say that the head is “in charge” of the rest of the body. The rest of the body functions because the head tells the rest of the body to function. The head sends the orders and the body obeys. Such is the relationship between Christ and His people. He sends the orders and we obey.

Lastly, Paul sums up his thought process by restating again that Christ is preeminent, and this is because God the Father wanted Him to be preeminent in “everything.” Drilling down to what that word “everything” means is important because up until now Paul has been talking about very big concepts – creation, the church, the universe, heaven, earth and so on. He is saying that Christ is above all of these things and actually made all of these things and directs them according to His own will.

This too has ramifications for our lives, not simply so that we can know “how things works as they do” (to quote the Children’s Catechism), but so that we can order our lives around the same facts that the universe (both heaven and earth) are ordered around. What I mean by this is that if Christ is preeminent over all things, why do we fool ourselves into believing we are preeminent over all things? You think I go too far? I doubt it. For we not only place our own desires before serving and communing with Christ, but we also place our own opinions above His revelation to us (the Bible). Therefore, if what Paul is saying is true (and we can be assured that it is), then we ought to be making Jesus Christ the top priority of our lives. That means all things ought to revolve around Him. Anything other than that is not living in reality, but rather creating a false reality that denies His preeminence. Therefore creating our own self-centered priorities that usurp the priorities of Christ is, in essence, creating for ourselves a fairyland.

The benefit of living in reality, and ordering life on the priority and preeminence of Christ, is that we’ll be made into His image, which means that we’ll become more truly human (the way we were created to be) than we would if we were simply focused on our own fleshly desires. Ironically, becoming truly human means dying to ourselves and living in the reality of the supremacy of Jesus Christ by submitting to His Lordship and renewing of our image.

1:19 For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 

Paul now gets to the point of things. Christ is preeminent because He is God. God is the highest Being in the universe, and because Christ is God, He is therefore preeminent by default.

Paul uses the word “fullness” – plērōma in the Greek – to indicate that Jesus didn’t lack anything in His Godness (so to speak). He never ceased being God. He did “lay aside” (if it is proper to speak so) some of His attributes (omnipresence etc.) due to His humanity, but He never ceased from being fully God – a truth of such magnitude and such incomprehensibility that scholars of every generation have had to defend it against “critical scholarship” and heretics throughout the centuries since Christ’s time on earth.

The last thing I want to examine here is that God was “pleased” to dwell in and with humanity. Let it be known to every Christian that God does what God does for His pleasure. All things happen by and for Him as we read earlier – and note especially “for” Him. That word “for” is indicative of “His pleasure” because whatever He does He does for His own good pleasure. Let that sink in…

1:20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.

Verse twenty is remarkable because after describing all of who Christ is, Paul now goes on to remind us of why He came to earth, namely to die for our sins. Paul has us so enamored with the magnificence of this God-man that we are in a state of adoration until He preaches to us the gospel in verse twenty and we can do nothing at this point except weep and praise God for His mercy. For here is the Christ, the preeminence of all creation, the God-man, the only begotten Son of heaven, the King of kings and Lord of lords and now Paul is saying this Being, this Radiance, has sacrificed His blood for the goal of reconciling us to God. Here we are, hostile rebels who have had the mercy of obtaining favor from heaven. God sent His Son instead of His wrath and we stand in the merciful wake of this unbelievably awesome act of mercy.

This verse reeks of mission. It is Christ’s mission, to seek and save the lost, to reconcile us to God…this is why He came, and what blows my mind even further is that when we put all the pieces together from the last few verses, we see that He does this for His own pleasure. How then can we not surmise, with John, that “God is Love”?

And so after Paul commends to us the magnificent nature and person of Christ, he ends on the magnanimous work of Christ on our behalf. He reminds us again that it was because of our sin that the beauty of the Son was marred. What an amazing story of grace! Paul ends with this sentence because he knows that one cannot separate the attributes of Christ from the work of Christ. His righteous work flows from His holy character.

I hope this passage has brought your mind once again to that place of worship and adoration and that you can join me in saying “Soli Deo Gloria!” for the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Advertisement

3-18-12 Study Notes

3:1 Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews.

  • Not only was he a religious leader, but he was on the Sanhedrin Council; the powerful ruling body of the Jews which made civil, legal, and religious decisions (carried out sentences as well – everything except the death penalty).
  • When I think about a similar kind of historical politico/religious council as an example, I think of the Geneva Council during the time of Calvin, which acted as a sort of political-theocratic governing body.

3:2 This man came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.”

  • There are many aspects to this verse that need to be noted.  Firstly, we see that Nicodemus came to Christ at night…its said by many commentators that he was likely ashamed of being seen with Jesus.  Surely we ought to ask ourselves the question: Are we ashamed of Christ? Do we come to Him by night because you are afraid to ask the questions you have to ask?
  • The second thing is that Nicodemus says “we” here.  By “we”, he probably means ‘we on the Council know that you have to be from God.  We can tell that you must be from God…there’s a consensus building and we know that you must be from God.’
  • Also, they assume that because He is doing these miracles through the power of God…though later some of them would say that Jesus was doing His miracles through some kind of satanic power (John 8).

3:3 Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.”

  • When Jesus says that we must be born again, it means that the Spirit of God must bring us to Spiritual life.  He must raise us from the dead (Eph. 2:1-10) and unite us to life in (and with) Christ.  It is the Spirit who makes us alive, and it is life that comes from Christ/in Christ.  So what the Spirit is effectively doing is uniting us to Christ.
  • In order to really appreciate and/or understand what it means to be made spiritually “alive” to Christ, we must first understand the nature of being dead.  Dead men cannot see the kingdom of God according to Jesus.  Dead men cannot be made alive on their own either, as we will see in verse 5.
  • John Piper says that we have a very difficult time understanding ourselves and the depth of our sin in this spiritual deadness.  “No one knows the extent of his sinfulness. It is deeper than anyone can fathom…Our rebellion is so deep that we cannot detect or desire the glory of Christ in the gospel” says John Piper.  “Therefore, if we are going to be born again, it will rely decisively and ultimately on God.  His decision to make us alive will not be a response to what we as spiritual corpses do, but what we do will be a response to His making us alive.”
  • Certainly its important to realize our former state, for as Piper says, “We will never experience the fullness of the greatness of God’s love for us if we don’t see His love in relation to our former deadness.”

As we examine this mighty truth about our former state, it would be wise to look at a few other verses that give more context to this:

  • Colossians 2:13,14 says, “And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross.”
  • Ephesians 2:1-10 says, “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins 2 in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— 3 among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. 4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— 6 and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”
  • Galatians 2:20 says,  “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”
  • Romans 6:2 says, “By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?”

3:4 Nicodemus said to him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?”

He didn’t understand what Jesus said because he was blind to the reality of the things Jesus was saying.  Dead men can’t understand the gospel because it is foolishness to them (1 Cor. 1).

3:5 Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.

  • The first thing I want to address here is the meaning of the “water” here.  Calvin notes that “water” is really similar to the New Testament’s use of the word “wind”: “Accordingly, he employed the words Spirit and water to mean the same thing, and this ought not to be regarded as a harsh or forced interpretation; for it is a frequent and common way of speaking in Scripture, when the Spirit is mentioned, to add the word Water or Fire, expressing his power. We sometimes meet with the statement, that it is Christ who baptizeth with the Holy Ghost and with fire, (Matthew 3:11; Luke 3:16,) where fire means nothing different from the Spirit, but only shows what is his efficacy in us.”
  • To further illustrate the point, the ESV Study Bible notes make the point that, “Wind and Spirit translate the same Greek and Hebrew words.”  Indeed these are meant to convey the same concept.  Calvin certainly agrees with this when he summarizes, “By water, therefore, is meant nothing more than the inward purification and invigoration which is produced by the Holy Spirit.”
  • John Piper makes several good arguments as to why the word “water” here doesn’t refer to baptism, as some would suppose. He says that the words “spirit” and “water” refer to “a cleansing of the old and a creation of the new.”  Piper argues that even though we are a new creation, we still have the old man, the flesh, and therefore need that cleansing, “If the old human being, John Piper, were completely obliterated, the whole concept of forgiveness and cleansing would be irrelevant.  There would be nothing left over from the past to forgive or cleanse.”  “My guilt must be washed away.  Cleansing with water is a picture of that.”

3:6-7 That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. [7] Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’

  • Here our Lord enumerates on the contrast between that which is the flesh and that which is the Spirit, and what the differences are.  When He says “flesh” it is to mean the same type of “flesh” that Paul mentioned in Romans 7 – this is the human personality, the human will and mind/heart.
  • Just like a human being is in the flesh by God ordained means, so the Spirit creates in us a new creation, a spirit that was dead is now alive.  And this transformation can only be done by the Lord God omnipotent.  There is nothing in the creative process here that we contribute.  We are given faith and place that faith upon the Lord Jesus Christ, and we are saved.  The Spirit takes care of the rest!

3:8 The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

  • It’s amazing to think that Jesus, who tells us here that no one knows where the wind comes from or where it goes, was the One who calmed the wind on the Sea of Galilee.  And, of course, the Spirit is not going to do anything that isn’t in perfect harmony with Christ’s mind and the Father’s plan from all eternity.

3:9-10 Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?” [10] Jesus answered him, “Are you the teacher of Israel and yet you do not understand these things?

  • And here we find a stinging rebuke of Nicodemus.  The Lord is telling him that these truths are things that he should have known from close study of the Old Testament.  But Nicodemus was not a believer, nor did it seem he was much of a scholar (though that commentary might have been made about many of the ruling class of the Jews during Jesus’ day).

In summary, how do we teach this to our children? 

When we are “born again” it is God’s supernatural work within us to save us from our sins.  The Holy Spirit breathes brand new spiritual life into us and creates a “new creature” (2 Cor. 5:17) uniting us with Jesus Christ (this includes the promise of being forever in heaven with Him).  Before being born again we are spiritually dead people (Eph. 2:1-10; Col. 3:17) who do not want God or the things of God (Rom. 3:11) and are actually enemies of God (Col. 1:21), slaves of sin (John 8:34, Rom. 6) and Jesus called us children of the Devil (John 8:44).  But God has intervened on our behalf (Eph. 2:4-5) so that we might trust in Jesus. Our part in salvation is to place our faith/hope in Christ for this salvation. We have to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ (Acts 16:31) in order to be saved.  But even this faith we place in Jesus is a gift from God (Ephesians 2:8) and happens the very moment that the Holy Spirit regenerates us (causes us to be born again).

Additional resources: ‘Finally Alive’ by John Piper