When we read the Epistle of Paul to the Colossians, we are at once impressed by the words of affirmation directed by the Apostle to them. “We heard,” he says, “of your faith in Christ Jesus, and of the love which ye have to all the saints” (1:4). But as we progress through the epistle we encounter, time and again, stern words of warning from the Apostle. Consider these examples:

  • “And this I say, lest any man should beguile you with enticing words” 2:4;
  • “Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit” 2:8;
  • “Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holyday…” 2:16;
  • “Let no man beguile you of your reward in a voluntary humility…” 2:18;
  • “…if ye be dead with Christ from the rudiments of the world, why, as though living in the world, are ye subject to ordinances” 2:20.

We read chapter 2 with a sense of foreboding. There were many Jews in the Phrygian territory, where Colossae was situated; clearly the Judaisers were there too, attempting to influence the ecclesia and turn them back to a strict application of the Law. What was to be done?

Paul admonished them to consider the Lord Jesus Christ and the great blessings that were theirs in him. Their faith in Christ Jesus, for which Paul had commended them, must be renewed and made stronger, he argued. They must be “filled with the knowledge of his will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding… fruitful in every good work… increasing in the knowledge of God” (1:9-10).

Paul had opened the Epistle by laying claim to his own high position as “an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God”. He continued with his thanks for all the commendable aspects of the Colossians which had been brought to his attention. This leads him to pray for them that they might indeed “walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing” (1:10).

Now he will show them the exalted position in which the Lord stands (1:15-19).

Here he is, the Lord Jesus Christ:

1) Who is the image of the invisible God

Christ is the “image” (Gk ‘eikon’) of God. This cannot be interpreted literally because you cannot make a physical representation of something invisible. The Greek word ‘eikon’ comes from the ‘eioka’ which means, ‘to be like’, ‘to be a resemblance’. The term takes us back to Genesis 1:26 where “God created man in his own image after his own likeness”. Adam’s likeness to the Creator was marred through transgression, but Christ’s resemblance to the Father’s character is absolute. John declares that “we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father full of grace and truth”. John later tells us that “God giveth not the Spirit by measure unto him” (John 3:34). He was given full access to divine power. Furthermore, “The Father loveth the Son, and hath given all things into his hand” (v35). These expansive testimonies give us some sense of our Lord as the image or resemblance of the invisible God. That invisible God was made visible in His glorious Son—invested fully with divine power, glory, grace, truth, and holiness (Heb 1:1-2).

2) The firstborn of every creature

This can be translated: “the firstborn over all creation” (Gk “ktisis”) (NIV, Holman, ISV, NET Bible).
The creation here cannot refer to the Genesis creation because there were no thrones and dominions and principalities in existence at that time (Col 1:16). The creation refers to a new, spiritually-related creation which is defined in 2 Corinthians 5:17-18 as a new relationship with God based on the work of reconciliation achieved in Christ: “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away. Behold the new has come. And all things are of God, who hath reconciled us to himself by Jesus Christ” (ESV, NET Bible, ISV etc).

In what sense is Jesus firstborn of all creation? The answer is supplied in v18: he is “the firstborn from the dead”. He is the first one to experience eternal life after a life of obedience unto death. The new creation starts with Christ, and all who are linked with him share in that new status. Colossians 3:10 further expands on the transformation that takes place when we become part of this new creation in Christ: “And have put on the new man, which is renewed in knowledge after the image of him (Christ) that created him”.

3) For by him were all things created

The word translated “by” is the Greek word ‘en’ which means ‘in’. Hence the Diaglott, Rotherham, RV, and other more conservative translations render this phrase: “For (i.e. because) in him all things were created”. Those baptised are ‘in him’ (2:12). Redemption is only ‘in him’ (v14). True wisdom is ‘in him’ (2:3). Our walk must be ‘in him’ (2:6). We are built up ‘in him’ and are complete ‘in him’ (2:7). Hence, every element of the new creation in Christ is related to him; even the angels in heaven, who are now subject to him. Without him the new creation could not come into existence. He and his work are the great subjects of Scripture.

4) All things were created by him and for him

The ASV puts it this way: “all things have been created through (Gk: dia) him, and unto (Gk: eis) him”. The outworking of the new creation came about through him, through his faithfulness, his sinlessness, his obedience to his Father’s will. And the final culmination of this creative work will be evident in the kingdom, when all honour will be directed “unto him” as its King (Psa 72:17; Rev 5:9-14). Christ is the centre of God’s purpose and grand design.

5) And he is before all things

The expression in the Greek, ‘pro panton’, here translated in the AV as, “before all things,” only occurs twice more in the New Testament (Jas 5:12 and 1 Pet 4:8). In each place it is translated, “above all things,” in the sense of the highest priority. Hence Strong says this of the word ‘pro’: “A primary preposition; ‘fore’, that is, in front of, prior (figuratively superior) to”. So, we should not understand it in the sense of time but of precedence or priority; hence the Diaglott translated the phrase, “in advance of all.” Jesus Christ is our leader, well ahead of everyone else.

6) And by him all things consist

Better rendered: “in (Gk: ‘en’) him all things hold together” (NIV, ESV, NASB). In him the new creation goes forward purposively towards the final goal. Brother TJ Barling notes: “the words are to be taken primarily in their moral and spiritual sense”. It is Christ’s example, his teaching, and his role as our mediator which holds us all together. Everything created in him is for him. As God’s Son, he is heir of the world and everything associated with it. He is the cohesive force that keeps everything together. His example, his love, his influence, his power, his greatness—he holds everything together in unity and harmony. He is the head controlling the body (the point in Col 1:18).

7) And he is the head of the body, the ecclesia

The term “he is” is emphatic. Both here and in verse 17, Weymouth capitalises the phrase “HE IS”. The Apostle makes sure his readers get the point. HE IS the head of the body—the ecclesia. All who will be part of his body must conform to his will. We must read the gospels, listen to his voice; he is our head.

8) Who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead

The beginning is defined here, not as the beginning mentioned in Genesis 1:1, but the beginning of a new line of immortal beings through the resurrection from the dead. This beginning is a new chapter in the purpose of God where the Father gave to His Son pre-eminence over all things. Hence Christ is described as “the beginning of the creation of God” (Rev 3:14)—the first to be exalted to glory; “the first begotten of the dead”.

9) That in all things he might have the pre-eminence

Literally: “he might become being first.” He is now foremost in everything. In Colossians 2:10 he is the head of all principality and power.

10) For it pleased the Father that in him should all fulness dwell

The expression, “the Father,” is not in the original, though it seems to be implied, hence the AV translation. The ESV has: “For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell”. The NIV translates: “For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him”.

What was the reason for this exaltation above everything? God’s good pleasure. The word “pleased” is used in Matthew 3:17: “This is my beloved son, in whom I am well pleased.” The Son of God was filled with God’s characteristics and because the Father was pleased with His Son, He blessed him with the fullness of the divine nature. That fullness now dwells in him.

The Apostle has described the fullness of the resurrected, glorified son of God, our Lord Jesus Christ, the head of the body, the ecclesia. In fully acknowledging their exalted Lord, the Colossians were now well placed to resist the blandishments of the Judaisers. They were now able to comprehend the power and love of Christ that they too “might be filled with all the fulness of God” (Eph 3:19).