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.

Study Notes 4-15-12

3:31 He who comes from above is above all. He who is of the earth belongs to the earth and speaks in an earthly way. He who comes from heaven is above all.

John MacArthur really lays out convincingly that this section of scripture is all about the preeminence of Christ.  He says that there are 4 or 5 different ways in which the scripture shows this, and I’m going to create sub-headings here for each one since it was so good, and I will write my own thoughts underneath his sub-headings.

Christ is declaring to us the absolute authority and singularity with which He reigns.  If you are a sinner, lost without Christ, this is a terrifying truth.  If you are a Christian, held closely to the bosom of Christ, this is a magnificent truth, it is a beautiful truth, for He is your sovereign.  He is sovereign, He is sufficient, and He is supreme.  As Abraham Kuyper once famously said, “Oh, no single piece of our mental world is to be hermetically sealed off from the rest, and there is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry: ‘Mine!’”

Now onto the first heading…

First: Christ had a Heavenly Origin

  • His claim to be divine is at the essence of His supremacy.  If He is divine, then His words have a force behind them that ordinary men’s words would not have.
  • If you are to tell someone you’re above all, it indicates that you have more authority than anyone else.  This is the kind of statement that causes some secularists to call Christ an “ego-maniac” and the like.  And surely He would be, if He did not have the right to claim the things He did about Himself.  Similarly, these are the kinds of statements that cause us to deal with what kind of man Jesus was.  Josh McDowell, the famous Atheist turned Christian-apologist, said that we must all deal with Jesus in some way and that we end up either having to call Him “liar, lunatic, or Lord.”
  • This is something that every non-believer must be confronted with, and it’s the same question that Jesus put to Peter “who do you say I am?”  Your response to that question will reveal whether or not you will spend eternal life with Christ or not.

3:32 He bears witness to what he has seen and heard, yet no one receives his testimony.

Second: Christ Knew the Truth First Hand

  • Being divine, and having come from heaven, He would have heard God’s words first hand.  Being both God and man, He understood the will of God for mankind perfectly.  He was able to testify to God’s words with perfect accuracy because He was in the presence of God, but also because He was/is God!
  • When we start to think about Christ “hearing” testimony, we quickly begin to picture in our minds the conversation between members of the Trinity from before the world was created.  We don’t exactly know how they communicate one to another since they all have the same mind.  These are the kinds of things that men cannot know; they are mysteries fall too deep for us to plum.  But Christ realizes this, so He speaks in ways that He knows we’ll comprehend, and this is why He was a great “rabbi” because He could communicate the heavenly things so well, and yet the heavenly things were so wonderful that many in His day didn’t have a clue what He was talking about, and we’re still unpacking them today.

3:33 Whoever receives his testimony sets his seal to this, that God is true.

Third: Christ’s Testimony Always Agreed with God

  • Naturally, if Christ is God, then He will always agree with what God has to say because He is agreeing with Himself. Though it is difficult for us to grasp the complexity of the trinity, the doctrine of the trinity is well established in these verses. All three forms of the Godhead are mentioned in this section.  Each member of the Godhead is mentioned as unique, and yet each one is mentioned as part of the One whole true God.
  • As to the text, we see that John is presenting us with a reality, and that reality is that if we accept the testimony of Jesus, then we must necessarily accept the premise that what God says is true, and therefore whatever Jesus says is true.  Once we agree (“set our seal to”) that God is the very essence of truth, we necessarily have a basis for putting our trust in the testimony of His Son.

3:34 For he whom God has sent utters the words of God, for he gives the Spirit without measure.

Fourth: Christ Experienced the Power of the Holy Spirit Without Limit

  • Because Jesus is divine, He was filled with the Spirit during His time on earth – and not just a little power of the Spirit, but power “without measure.”  This is an incredible thing to think on.  I have no doubt that the Spirit of God was working in compliment to His own deity to perform many of the miracles that He performed on earth.  I have no idea how this worked, but we read that it happened, and we know that it happened, and we know that Christ had the Spirit without limit.
  • As Boice points out, some have erroneously thought this passage means that God gives the Spirit to believers without measure, but that is obviously not the case as our own experience bears witness.  It is also preposterous to think that mere humans without the nature of divinity (as Christ had) could possible contain the fullness of the Spirit.  If this were the case, we would see miracle after miracle.  Lastly, we know it is not the case because we are such sinful creatures that the Spirit of God, while striving with us, is often ignored by our disobedience.  We do not tap into the power of the Spirit nearly as much as one would expect who had the full and unlimited power of the Spirit “without measure.”

3:35-36 The Father loves the Son and has given all things into his hand. [36] Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.

Fifth: Christ Received all Authority from the Father

  • If Jesus is divine, as we have reasoned from above, then it means that everything He has to say is something we need to be paying attention to.  He has all authority.  By way of analogy, it reminds me of when I was growing up and my parents would go out for the evening, leaving us with a babysitter.  The babysitter was not (in our view) endowed with all of the authority that our parents had.  Though she may have been acting as a sort of regent of my parent’s authority, I certainly didn’t take her word as having the same power as my parent’s word.  My parents were the supreme authority.  And by way of extension to this analogy, if my mom gave me an order, and testified to me that my father was in agreement with her on this matter, I certainly believed her.  Why?  Because my parents were a united front.  Anything my mom said my dad agreed upon and vise versa.  They had the same mind, and there was no disunity between them.
  • So it is with the authority of Christ – and so it ought to be with us by way of extension.  That is to say that we are co-regents with Christ on this planet.  We reign with Him.  Paul says that we have the mind of Christ, and that is because we have the Spirit of Christ who is the one giving us the thoughts of the mind of Christ.  Furthermore, we are being conformed into the image of Christ. Now, we don’t perfectly represent the mind and authority of Christ, just as my babysitter didn’t perfectly represent my parents.  I remember a few times when babysitters did really foolish things and said foolish things that my parents would never have approved of.
  • In verse 36 John tells us that whoever believes in Christ will reap eternal life.  There is a connection here between obedience and belief, and disobedience and wrath.  Note that it isn’t as though our actions reap a reward immediately upon their execution.  That is to say that the word “remains” indicates that we are already going to incur the wrath of God – it is the de-facto state of affairs for humanity until we do something about it (believe in Christ).
  • Lastly, it’s important to remember that we’re talking life and death here.  The Bible is a book that deals with the most difficult matters human beings have to deal with in life. When we read about what Christ said, it isn’t the story of a man who wasted His words talking about things that were fleeting.  So as a consequence, when we study the Bible we end up confronting these “ultimate” issues.  And if we read the gospels, this is especially true.

A Few Questions to ask ourselves:

  1. If Christ is supreme over my life, am I striving toward pleasing Him with my life?
  2. If Christ is supreme over all humanity, am I striving to present my family to Him as ones cleansed by the Word of God?
  3. If I believe that this man Jesus’ message is truly from God, what steps am I taking to obey it?

How do we teach this to our children? Here’s an example: Today we talked about Jesus and about His nature – who He is as a person and how He learned everything He knew from God the Father before He even came to earth.  Because His message was from God, and because God is completely truthful in everything He says and does, that means that Jesus’ message to us is completely truthful, which means that we need to pay very close attention to what we learn in the Bible about Jesus (Heb. 2:1) and what He says.