Verses 15-20 elaborate on the ultimate subject of Paul’s prayer in 9-14. They take the finishing reference to the beloved Son and show just exactly who He is. Who is the One we are to walk in a manner worthy of? Who is the One we are to please in all respects? Whose glorious might gives us all power to bear fruit in every good work and increase in our knowledge of God? Whose kingdom have we been transferred into? Who is this Person in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins? He is the firstborn of all creation and the firstborn from the dead – supreme in creation and redemption – first place in everything.
The Beloved Son in whose kingdom we now live since we were delivered from the domain of darkness is the image of the invisible God. Man was created in the image of God (Gen 1:26), but Jesus IS the image of God. No one has seen God (Jn 1:18) but Jesus is the full representation of Him and has been seen. He IS God in all respects. He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature (Heb 1:3). Jesus is the image man was created in.
He is also the firstborn of all creation. He is above all created things. He is supreme. He is preeminent. Nothing in the universe is greater than Him and nothing and no one that has been created is His equal. That He is called firstborn does not mean He was created (contrary to the teachings of some religions). It means that He is superior to creation (see similar usage in Ps 89:27) and in first place (note that He is also called the firstborn from the dead in vs 18, which cannot mean that He was somehow born of the dead). It also means He is the heir of all things – as the firstborn to the king. Creation is wondrous and amazing and beautiful and glorious and miraculous and wholly inferior to the beloved Son.
He is the firstborn of all creation who created all things. He is the agent through whom God created. All things came into being by Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being (Jn 1:3). And one Lord, Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we exist through Him (I Cor 8:6). All of creation came into being by Him.
All things are defined as what are in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities. Tangible things we can see, spiritual things and beings we cannot see, authority on earth and authority in spiritual realms – ALL came into being through Jesus. The entire universe and everything in it both realized and unrealized is here because of Him. And since all things came into being by Him, then all things and all authority – both earthly and spiritual – are subordinate to Him (this is important where the Colossians are concerned because of the heresy telling them that they are missing out by not worshiping angels and other spiritual beings – 2:18).
Not only that – they were created FOR Him. All things have been created by Him and for Him. The whole purpose of creation is Jesus. The reason God created was to glorify the Son. Jesus is both the means and the purpose of all things. Everything that was made was made to glorify Him. So mountains, rivers, valleys, oceans, animals, forests, jungles, prairies, hills, stars, planets, galaxies, angels, and humans – ALL were created FOR the Son.
He is the Creator of all things and the purpose of all things and is also before all things. He preexisted all of creation (Rev 3:14). This makes sense, as He could not have created if He did not preexist what He called into being. This obviously argues against any interpretation that says God created the Son. He cannot be created if He preexisted all of creation. It does go right along with John – In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God (Jn 1:1).
He is both Creator and Sustainer – and in Him all things hold together. He brought all things into being and is the One who maintains them (…upholds all things by the word of His power – Heb 1:3). He is the One who makes sure the universe functions. He is the One who holds the atoms together and makes sure the orbits of the planets are right and the tides are on schedule and that lungs work and blood flows (do we think about this when we use our bodies as instruments of sin?).
Can you bind the chains of the Pleiades, or loose the cords of Orion? Can you lead forth a constellation in its season, and guide the Bear with her satellites? Do you know the ordinances of the heavens, or fix their rule over the earth? Can you lift up your voice to the clouds, so that an abundance of water may cover you? Can you send forth lightnings that they may go and say to you, ‘Here we are’? Who has put wisdom in the innermost being, or has given understanding to the mind? Who can count the clouds by wisdom, or tip the water jars of the heavens, when the dust hardens into a mass, and the clods stick together? Can you hunt the prey for the lion, or satisfy the appetite of the young lions, when they crouch in their dens, and lie in wait in their lair? Who prepares for the raven its nourishment, when its young cry to God, and wander about without food? (Job 38:31-41).
He really does hold the whole world in His hands (He’s got you and me, brother, in His hands…). So He is the means of creation, the purpose of creation, and the upholder of creation. He is the beginning, the end, and the middle of all things.
He is not only the firstborn of creation, He is also the firstborn from the dead and the head of the church. He is the first to be resurrected in His body (this is reminiscent of what Paul said when he testified before Agrippa – that by reason of His resurrection from the dead He should be the first to proclaim light both to the Jewish people and the Gentiles – Acts 26:23, see also I Cor 15:20), and as the One who redeemed the church He is its head. He is the Bridegroom and the church is His bride. He loved her and gave Himself for her (Eph 5:23-25), and as her Savior is the ultimate authority over her. He is preeminent in all of creation and preeminent in the church because of His redemptive act. His death and resurrection make Him supreme in the church.
This means there is no higher authority believers need to appeal to, and nothing/no one else to worship. The redeemed owe their salvation to Jesus and He is the ultimate head of the universal body of the redeemed – His church. Thus the body is guided and receives its strength and growth from Him, the head (2:19). I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me, and I in him, he bears much fruit; for apart from Me you can do nothing (Jn 15:5).
Paul finishes his testimony to Christ by reemphasizing Jesus’ divinity and further explaining redemption. He already said God delivered us out of the dominion of darkness and into the kingdom of His beloved Son and that it is through the Son that we have redemption. Here he says again that Jesus is God – it was the Father’s pleasure for all the fullness to dwell in Him (a topic he will expand further in 2:9 – For in Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form – all that makes up the essence and glory of God is in the Son) – and that because in Jesus all the fullness of the Father dwells, the Father could reconcile all things to Himself through Him (effectively reconciling through Himself to Himself). Because of the blood of the cross, God could make peace with all things [it could be that the pronouns in this verse refer to Jesus rather than God the Father – either way the meaning is roughly the same] – things on earth or things in heaven (meaning that all evil and evil beings will be conquered). Creation groans under the weight of sin now, but because of Christ’s work it will eventually be fully redeemed and reconciled to its Creator (Rom 8:19-23).
So Christ’s redemption is sufficient to reconcile all things. Nothing else is needed beyond His death and resurrection. The gospel is whole and the gospel is complete.
The combination of verses 19-20 and verses 15-18 completes Paul’s point to the Colossians. Christ is supreme and Christ is sufficient. The heresy the church is hearing is that the gospel is not enough on its own and there is more the Colossians need. Paul shows by his hymn to Jesus that the gospel is all they need. Christ is all they need. The supreme and beloved Son described in this text does not need anything added to His authority or His work to enable salvation. His preeminence in creation and redemption and His status as head of the church and the completeness of His reconciliation of all things mean that anything added to His gospel is damnable. And every priest stands daily ministering and offering time after time the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins; but He, having offered one sacrifice for sins for all time, sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time onward until His enemies be made a footstool for His feet. For by one offering He has perfected for all time those who are sanctified (Heb 10:11-14).
The Savior described in these verses is the One who died FOR US. Read back through the descriptive terms in this text. This is the One who condescended and came to earth to redeem us. This is the One who willingly became man and walked among us. What do these verses do for our perspective on and appreciation for the gospel? HE IS SUPREME OVER ALL THINGS AND YET WILLINGLY CAME TO DIE FOR US. How many times do we think about that and thank God for it on a daily basis?
God’s gifts in nature have their limitations. They are finite because they have been created, but the gift of eternal life in Christ Jesus is as limitless as God. The Christian man possesses Gods’ own life and shares His infinitude with Him. In God there is life enough for all and time enough to enjoy it. Whatever is possessed of natural life runs through its cycle from birth to death and ceases to be, but the life of God returns upon itself and ceases never. And this is life eternal: to know the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom He has sent. (AW Tozer, The Knowledge of the Holy; 47.)
What does this text say about our casual approach to prayer? Our casual approach to God’s word? Our perspective on time spent communing with Him? Can we defend giving God our leftover time and attention and resources in light of the description of the Son in these verses? Can we defend our small view of sin that treats choosing something other than Christ and then coming to Him for forgiveness as not that big of a deal?
The core problem isn’t the fact that we’re lukewarm, halfhearted, or stagnant Christians. The crux of it all is why we are this way, and it is because we have an inaccurate view of God. We see Him as a benevolent Being who is satisfied when people manage to fit Him into their lives in some small way. We forget that God never had an identity crisis. He knows that He’s great and deserves to be the center of our lives. Jesus came humbly as a servant, but He never begs us to give Him some small part of ourselves. He commands everything from His followers. (Francis Chan, Crazy Love; 22.)
When we combine this text with the preceding prayer, it further illuminates Paul’s requests. Christ, the image of the invisible God and the firstborn of all creation and the One who created the universe and for whom the universe was created, is the One we need to walk in a manner worthy of. He created all things, he preexisted all things, He reconciled all things through His death and resurrection, He was the firstborn from the dead and enabled resurrection to be promised to us – HE is the one we must please in all respects. He is the beginning of creation, the purpose of creation, and the upholder of creation – and His power is available to us in glorious might to enable us to bear fruit in every good work and grow in our knowledge of God and increase in all steadfastness and patience. It is HIS will we can be filled with in all spiritual wisdom and understanding. It is HIS kingdom we have been transferred to from the dominion of darkness.
For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen (Rom 11:36).