The Supremacy of Jesus, the Christ
November 2, 2003. © 2003, J.W. Carter
www.biblicaltheology.com Scripture quotes from KJV
Who is Jesus, and what is He to you? Paul wrote the letter to the Colossians in response to numerous heretical teachings that had entered the congregation. Epaphras, possibly the founder and pastor of this church visited Paul in Rom, and shared with him the state of his church. Colossae was located in a multi-cultural area of Phrygia, and it is evident that much of the beliefs of that culture entered the church. When we examine the letter for arguments made by Paul we get an idea of how common Greek paganism was being mixed with Christianity. Some others that were of Jewish background practiced a rigorous form of self-denial that included self-abasement and the following of restrictive rules concerning food and drink and the practice of ritual observances, circumcision, and Jewish tradition. Greek philosophy was also entering the church, most notably the idea that all physical objects (including the human body) is evil, and all that is spiritual is good. Since Jesus could not be evil, his incarnation was denied, and the Greeks taught that he was fully a spirit. The Greeks also believed in the veneration (praying to) of angels with the purpose of obtaining deliverance from the problems of the world. This same group taught that people were too unworthy to approach God directly.1
All of these systems of belief compromised the supremacy of Christ, placing their dogma before Christ and simply reducing Christ to another of the many persons through which people approach God. After greeting the Colossians in the first half of chapter one, Paul jumps immediately into a defense of the supremacy of Christ, an argument that refutes those who are trying to diminish his Name.
Who is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creature:
This sentence is actually a continuation of the previous one, where in the Greek text, the sentence does not stop until the end of verse 18. Paul uses what appears to be an oxymoron when he describes Jesus as the "image of the invisible" God. Paul is about to describe the attributes of deity of Jesus and the saving work that He did on the cross. One fact about Jesus that some often forget, or they do not understand is that Jesus is the Messiah, the incarnation of the eternal God, who was prophesied in the Old Testament. Much of the world today still thinks of Jesus as a good man, and a good teacher. However, they do not understand that the Messiah existed, or exists, with God in eternity. Consequently, in Jesus we see the God of Creation, the Son of the Father. No effort is being made here to imply that Jesus' physical appearance in any way resembles that of God. However, the Spirit in Jesus Christ is the Spirit of God Himself, and in Jesus we see that spiritual image.
The word translated 'firstborn' has caused some theological confusion when rendered as 'firstborn." The Son of God is eternal, and was not born or created at the beginning of the process of creating the world we know. This word was appropriate in ancient culture because the firstborn of a family held a preeminent place in the family. What Paul is saying is that Jesus is supreme over every created thing. The reason for this is described as his sentence continues in the next verse. Paul wastes no time in going from his greeting to the Colossians to a defense of the supremacy of Christ, because the errors being made in the church all deny His supremacy. If the Colossians take this and the next few sentences to heart, much of the errors of their doctrine will be corrected, and many who have been holding to those beliefs may come to salvation.
For by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him: 17And he is before all things, and by him all things consist.
Jesus has authority over all of creation, not only by virtue of who He is, but also because Jesus was the agent of creation. This concept can be hard to understand if we misunderstand the Messiahship of Jesus. It is also hard to understand if we limit God's experience of time to ours, expecting Him to be limited by our time frame rather than being the Eternal God. The Messiah, the Son of God, from His point in eternity created all that is. Many people would argue that this creation took place several billion years ago. At the appropriate time, God sent His Son to Earth in the form of a baby to bring to fallen man the way of salvation from their sinful and disobedient lives. When Jesus ascended into heaven, He returned to His eternal home to serve as the judge over fallen man and the path for salvation for all who would place their trust in Him.
As the agent of creation, Paul states that not only did Jesus create the physical objects of this universe, but also those things that we cannot see, whether they be the authorities of this world including both those of Satan and those of man. All that is was created by Him, and He has authority over them.
Understanding this one attribute of Jesus Christ (Note: the name 'Christ' is simply the Greek form for the name, Messiah.) alone can help us to place our faith and trust in Him, for if we reject this attribute of Jesus, we perceive Him to be less than He is. This is the problem in the Colossian church, and is the problem in the world today. Unfortunately, it is also a problem in our churches where people do not understand or accept that Jesus Christ is also the creator of the universe.
And he is the head of the body, the church: who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things he might have the preeminence.
Paul then moves from describing Jesus as the Lord of the universe to His rightful place as Lord of His Church. The church in Colossae had reduced Jesus to a position alongside many other pagan and/or worldly deities that work together to provide mankind a way to God. This is the primary error in world religions today. A religion is a system of rules and rituals that have been instituted by man as a way to either get to God, or to be accepted by Him. Christianity, is not a religion. Christianity is a faith in a God who, knowing that there is nothing that mankind can ever do to reach Him, reached down to mankind. He made His full revelation of Himself known to man through Jesus Christ, and as the agent of salvation, the advocate of the saved, and the judge of the lost, Jesus' rightful place is at the head of the church.
The word translated 'firstborn' here is different from that used in verse 15. In this case the language is referring to Jesus' resurrection from the dead. Jesus was fully God, yet fully man. As the man Jesus, He died on the cross. Jesus was the first man to be resurrected. Yes, Lazarus and others are recorded as having been raised from the dead. However, they rose from the dead to receive back their healthy physical bodies only to become sick and die again. Jesus was the first to be resurrected to new life in the eternal heaven with God. It is this resurrection that will take place for all mankind at the end of the age when Jesus returns. When that happens, those who are still alive will be taken up with Him, and all of the people who have died since they were first created will rise in the same manner that Jesus rose. However, they will face the final judgment, only to realize whether they will spend their eternity with God, or spend it separated from Him with Satan and his demons. As the Judge of that judgment, Jesus is the authority over all spiritual matters. Not only does Jesus have authority over all physical matters, He also has authority over all spiritual matters.
This flies in the face of the philosophies of the Greeks who were deifying all manner of things in an attempt to explain that which they did not understand. Likewise, the philosophies of today are largely unchanged. Mankind looks for every way to get to God, usually missing the fact that they simply cannot. It was necessary that God reach down to man, and ultimately, through the atoning act of Jesus Christ on the Cross, He built the bridge between man and Himself that man could never do. It is Jesus who is the way, the truth, and the life. No creation of man's hands or man's mind can take His place.
For it pleased the Father that in him should all fulness dwell; 20And, having made peace through the blood of his cross, by him to reconcile all things unto himself; by him, I say, whether they be things in earth, or things in heaven.
It was God's plan from 'the beginning' that salvation would come to man through Jesus Christ. Salvation always came to mankind through faith in God, and prior to the coming of Jesus, that same plan was firmly in place. It was by faith that Abraham, Isaac, and the other patriarchs came to God. They also had faith in a God who promised them that the Messiah would come. Therefore, it was God's good plan and pleasure that Jesus would, indeed, step out of eternity and abide among mankind, bringing to them the clear revelation, the clear message of God's plan for their salvation. Because of Jesus' act on the cross, serving as the blood sacrifice for the sins of man, a means for peace between man and God is now plainly visible and attainable. The word 'reconcile' use here refers to a peace made between two factions who had been embroiled in a bitter battle when the victor accepted the total surrender of the defeated. This agreement among ancient warring nations is referred to as a 'Suzerain covenant,' and is an archetype of the covenant that God made with man through the atoning death of Jesus Christ. God has all the authority in the decision. Man comes to God only by submission to Him. This is what separates the knowledge of God that a Christian has from the knowledge of God that Satan has. Peace between man and God comes when man turns from their selfish and wicked, worldly ways and turns to God in faith, accepting God as the sole authority in their lives. Since Jesus is the authority over all things, when we come to God in faith, we do so through Jesus Christ, and Him alone. The doctrinal arguments may be complex, but the truth of the gospel is simple: man can be saved by placing their faith and trust in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord.
Note that Paul states that this reconciliation with God provided through Jesus Christ applies to all of creation, whether it be in the hearts of physical men or in the spirit, both on this world and in eternity. There is no person or authority who can substitute for that of Jesus Christ.
And you, that were sometime alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now hath he reconciled 22In the body of his flesh through death, to present you holy and unblameable and unreproveable in his sight:
Now Paul makes it personal. The same wickedness that is in this pagan world is a part of every person's life before they come to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. Before a Christian comes to God he is an enemy of God in that God who is Holy will simply not bring unholy people into fellowship with Himself. As much as people try to be 'good', they never can measure up to the purity and holiness of God. The bulk of our Bible is the Old Testament, and the bulk of the Old Testament has a simple message: no man can keep the law and there is no forgiveness of sin without the shedding of blood. Jesus reconciled those who place their faith and trust in Him because, though Christians still cannot keep the law, Jesus served as the blood sacrifice that provides for the forgiveness of that sin. Certainly, Christians are responsible for the sinful acts they commit, and they and those around them may have to pay for the consequences of it. However, because of Jesus' atoning death on the cross, Christians will not be condemned at the final judgment, but will find in Jesus their Advocate with the Father. If Jesus is your Lord, you will not be rejected at the final judgment because your sin has been reconciled on the cross.
Salvation through Jesus Christ is the only way that one's sins are reconciled. The world, who hates Jesus, rejects this truth, and because of that rejection, they will not find that advocate at the final judgment. Only through the atoning death of Jesus is the debt of sin paid, and that gift of grace is given only to those who accept it.
Mankind has formulated many plans for salvation, plans that would reconcile themselves to a God who they know to be Holy and Mighty in Majesty beyond any man's understanding. Why is it so hard for religious people to accept the gift of grace that is offered by God through Jesus Christ? One thread that ties all of the world's religions together is that they are plans that have been devised by man to, on their own power, whether physical or mental, to be worthy of God. This makes their salvation an act of pride: pride in accomplishing the task, the pride of being 'good'. Christians understand that no man is good, no man is righteous. It is only through the righteousness of Jesus Christ can man be found by God to be 'good.' Many men have come to lead others to God, and without exception, they all met a common solution: they died. Jesus, on the other hand was born human like the others, but also was the incarnation of the Messiah, fully owning the deity and holiness of God. When He died, he rose again from the grave and spent forty days among the apostles and disciples before he ascended into heaven where He, by returning to the eternal heaven, 'sits at the right hand of God, the Father' and serves as mediator and judge. There is no other mediator. The New Testament clearly teaches that people can pray to Jesus directly. There is no mediator, nor is there a need for one. The ancient Greeks looked to other forms of mediation, just as people do today. It is Jesus only who is superior to all of these pagan deities. Many Greeks also thought that there was a finite separation between the mind and body with the mind tied to good spiritual things, and the body tied to worldly, evil things. To them, salvation is a state of mind. Likewise in our modern world, many believe in the same philosophy where peace is found by the 'training of the mind.' This includes many Eastern and new-age philosophies as well as some pseudo-Christian groups that reside on the fringe of doctrine, maintaining a position that is not in conflict with this humanistic society.
Jesus is the supreme authority over all things, both physical and spiritual. People can be saved from an eternity separated from God only by recognizing that Jesus is, indeed, Lord, by turning from their reliance on self and on the world and turning to Him as their personal Lord and Savior. God has promised that when we turn to Jesus Christ in faith, it is the Holy Spirit of God who will preserve that faith until the coming judgment. Because of this promise, all who truly claim the name of Christ can know for certain that they will spend eternity with God, and experience the peace and joy in this life that can come from no other place.
Jesus is Lord.
1Woodward, C. Alan (2003) Heresies in the Colossian Church. The Biblical Illustrator, 30(1). Nashville, TN: Lifeway Christian Resources. Pages 18-19.