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Colossians 1:15-21 Preeminence of Christ

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The whole Bible is all about the Lord Jesus Christ. The Old Testament is the preparation and the prediction of His coming. The New Testament Gospels present His coming as God in the flesh whose atoning work on the cross saves believing sinners like us. Acts is the history of the first century church, and Acts presents the narrative of how the Gospel of Jesus Christ was spread throughout the world. The epistles (letters) give the details and doctrine of Christ’s work, both for initial salvation and also the sanctification of the universal church. Finally, the last book, Revelation, presents Christ on his throne in heaven, and then the second coming to reign on earth as well. The Apostles and the first century church faced many questions such as: Is Jesus sufficient for all our needs? Do we also need laws, works, ritual, penance, etc.? The apostles were diligent to write these letters we have in our New Testament to make it clear that Christ is preeminent over all things, and Christ is sufficient for all that we need to be saved and also to live a holy life. When false teachers added works and law to the way of salvation they reduced Christ and put the emphasis on peoples works and obedience to earn salvation. All the early cults as well as the cults of today fail primarily about the nature of Christ and His all sufficiency in saving us. Therefore Paul begins His letter to the church at Colossae with a clear defense of the deity of Christ and His all-sufficient work on the cross.

Christ is the Exact Image and Essence of God

After Paul gives a salutation, a blessing, and a prayer for the believers in Colossae, Paul gives a short Gospel message, “God has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” (Col.1:13-14) In the following verses Paul will explain who Jesus is and why He has the authority to save us and reconcile us to God. Jesus Christ is God in the flesh just as the word incarnation suggests. Jesus is the exact likeness or image of God. We humans were made in God’s image, but Jesus is God in power, holiness, omniscience, and eternality. Jesus reveals to us what God is really like just as John 1:18 says “The only begotten God…He has explained Him (God).” And also Hebrews 1:3, Jesus is “the exact representation of God’s being”. Colossians 1:15 says that Jesus is “the first born of all creation”, meaning by position or rank. Because of the English translation it may sound like Jesus is created, but of course as God He always existed just as John 1 says He existed as God before the creation. In Colossians 1:16-17, Paul went on to say Jesus created all things and Jesus is “before all things and sustains all things”. Therefore Jesus is preeminent to all creation, and He is exalted in rank above creation. These passages reveal the function of the Godhead. God the Father has the plan, the will, and the decree, to redeem mankind. Christ the Son physically carried out the necessary work to redeem mankind, and the Holy Spirit convicts and confirms within us the truth of Christ’s atoning work for us.

In Col.1:16-17 we find three reasons for Christ’s preeminence over the creation. First He is the creator of all things that were created. Secondly, Jesus preexisted all things as God. He existed outside of the creation, and therefore is bigger than the creation and as God is not subject to the natural laws of the creation. Christ is also the Sustainer, meaning He keeps everything going and holds everything together by his power. He maintains the delicate balance necessary for life’s existence. Nuclear physicists cannot figure out why the nucleus of atoms holds together. They do a good job of describing it, but I think Paul has the real explanation—“in Him all things hold together”. Paul used interesting terminology in v.16 saying Christ created all things, even “thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities”. We can only speculate that Paul was referring to the Emperor worship required in the Roman Empire, or possibly the spirit beings that the Greek religions believed in.

Christ’s Relationship to the Church

Paul, the author of Colossians 1:18 uses the human body as a metaphor for the universal church. The universal church being defined as all believers/followers of Christ worldwide as opposed to the local church, which is a specific local congregation. It is interesting that our English word church is derived from the Greek word kyriakos, which means House of the Lord, but the New Testament always used the Greek word ekklesia, which means an assembly of people. I speculate that when the New Test. was written there were primarily small house gatherings of people. The actual church buildings were not built until Christianity became legal in the Roman Empire after 312 A.D. Therefore the N.T. authors were primarily interested in local gatherings of believers wherever it occurred.

In Colossians 1:18, Paul used the human body as a metaphor for the universal church with Jesus as the head of the body. All believers are pictured as a human body made up of many parts, all having the same head, which is Christ. What is Jesus’ special relationship to the church? Christ is the head of the church in rank and power. All the information the body needs and thrives on comes from Jesus the head of the body. Christ also invented the church, and he is the originator of the church begun by Christ in Acts 2 by sending the Spirit to indwell the Apostles as well as new believers from that time on. Christ was also the “first-born from the dead” referring to His resurrection. His resurrection is also promised in the future to all who are a part of the body of Christ, which is the church. The church is seen as a living organism with Christ ruling over it. He gives the church life and direction, and He coordinates all the diversity of people’s spiritual gifts and ministries. Therefore Paul describes Christ’s supremacy in at least four ways. He is first in rank, He is the Creator of all things, and He is the goal or the end in the sense that everything began with Him and everything will end with Him. In addition, Christ is the sustainer who holds everything together by the power of His word.

At the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair, there was a large exhibit building entitled the Parliament of World Religions. It was the first ever formal gathering of all the major world religions. 27 million people visited the World’s Fair from all over the world. The idea was to get all the world religions to share what they all had in common, and maybe even have them all come together in agreement. D. L. Moody was a famous Christian evangelist in Chicago at that time, and his supporters wanted him to attack and expose all the other religions as false. Moody took the high road and said, “I am going to make Jesus Christ so attractive that men will want to turn to Him only”. He preached Christ as without peers, first in rank of all things, and as the Creator of all things who alone accomplished the atonement for sin. The World’s Fair turned out to be the greatest accomplishment of Moody’s life as an evangelist. As Moody took the high road, people figured out for themselves that there is no room for a parliament of religions or a variety of ways for salvation. During Paul’s era in the late first century, in the Greek world there were several heretical cults such as Gnosticism, which sprang up alongside the church saying that Jesus was not fully God. They watered down Christ’s deity by saying He was a divine emanation, or a lesser God. They used the Greek word “pleroma” for all the lesser gods together. Therefore, in Colossians Paul counters that all the totality of God is in Jesus alone. There is no room for a “Parliament of Religions” because only Christ is preeminent as God.

Reconciliation Only Through Christ

God did not create evil, but by giving man a free will God made possible the introduction of evil into the world. God created all things “good”, and God created man in His image, but man exercised his free will by disobeying God and breaking the intimate relationship he originally shared with God. Man desired to be independent of God and to know what God knows. This sin destroyed the harmony in creation, and man’s relationship with God was broken. God knew that it was not good for man to be alienated from God like Isaiah 53:6 says, “all (people) like sheep have gone astray, we have turned, every one of us to his own way.” Therefore God acted to insure man would never find fulfillment in the world apart from Him. Romans 8:20 says that “the creation was subjected to futility”. God rigged the world so that it would not work, and God allowed the adversary of God to rule it as we read in 2 Corinthians 4:4, “the god of this world has blinded the minds of unbelievers”. If you doubt this and believe you can find fulfillment in this world alone, I remind you that the statistics on death are impressive. The essence of the curse God put on the world because of sin is death. Nevertheless, God also provided a loving solution. God’s holiness required consequences for sin, but His love moved him to accomplish justice through the incarnation, sinless life, and vicarious death of Christ. A perfect man died for mankind’s sin, and the sacrifice was of infinite value. As Colossians 1:19-20 says, “For in Christ all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through Him to reconcile to Himself all things”. By all things Paul means all things that are reconcilable by faith. Paul went on to say that we who believe in Christ now have peace “by the blood of the cross”. Before Christ, we were alienated from God, but now in Christ we have been reconciled and have peace. What does the blood of the cross have to do with it? Hebrews 9:22 says “without the shedding of innocent blood there is no forgiveness”. Because the blood of Christ atoned for our sin we have been reconciled to God, and He will present us “holy and blameless …before God”.

Whatever you may think of God requiring consequences for sin, whatever you may think of God holding man accountable, whatever you may think of God demanding justice—you must admit that God took His own medicine by sending His own innocent Son to die for our sin. Let’s conclude this by quoting Hebrews 12:2-3, “Jesus the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” having accomplished our reconciliation.

All People Have Need of Reconciliation

In 1912, the Titanic sank in the frigid waters of the Atlantic Ocean. 1600 people were not able to get in lifeboats even though eighteen of the boats were half empty. Most of the 1600 who drowned were thrashing around in the frigid waters while the half empty boats pulled away to keep from being capsized by all the desperate swimmers. Each of the boats voted on whether to go back in to pick people up but the voters said no, fearing their boat would be capsized. This is a picture of the world gone wrong. Not only had the White Star Line committed the crime of not having enough boats, but the people in the lifeboats were like “fallen humanity adrift on the unfriendly sea, alienated, unable to help one another” (to quote theologian Kent Hughes). We live in a world desperately in need of reconciliation, but unable to help itself. But what we couldn’t do for ourselves, God has done through Jesus Christ.

About the Author: Charlie Taylor
About the Author: Charlie Taylor

Charlie Taylor grew up in Dallas, Texas, graduated from the University of Texas Business School and went into the commercial real estate business for about twenty years before enrolling in and graduating from Dallas Theological Seminary with honors.

Since that time he has been a sought after Bible teacher in the Dallas area. He currently is teaching about six different non-denominational weekly Bible studies to different audiences at different locations throughout the Dallas area.

Charlie is a born humorist and storyteller. He describes himself as a “nobody telling everybody about somebody who can save anybody”.

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