Colossians 1:15-20


As we come to this section of Paul’s epistle to the Colossians, we are going to hear his say some amazing things about Jesus.  He is going to say some things about Jesus that you don’t say about anyone except God.  What is more striking is that Paul did not always believe these things about Jesus.  To the contrary, there was a time when Paul looked at the followers of Jesus as being blasphemers and heretics worthy of death.  That all changed on the day Paul actually met Jesus.


You remember the story.  It took place on the road from Jerusalem to Damascus.  Paul had been persecuting Christians in Jerusalem and he had chased most of them out of town and then he heard there were Christians to be found in Damascus, so he headed there to continue this work of Christian-hunting.  He was looking for followers of Jesus and, instead, Jesus came looking for him.


A blinding light and a beseeching voice brought the young Christian-hater to his knees, not to be destroyed, but to be converted into perhaps the greatest missionary Christianity has ever known.  Paul went through a complete paradigm shift as he came to recognize the true identity of Jesus of Nazareth.  That identity will be unveiled for us in these verses.


This passage can be divided into two parts.  The first deals with Christ and His relationship with creation; the second deals with Christ’s work in redemption:


Colossians 1:15-17

Colossians 1:18-20



                He is the image of the invisible God

                The firstborn of all creation

                By Him all things were created

                Both in the heavens and on earth

           He is also head of the body

                The firstborn from the dead

                All things reconciled to Himself

                Whether things on earth or things in heaven





            He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.  16 For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities__ all things have been created through Him and for Him.  17 He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together. (Colossians 1:15_17).


1.         The Image of the Invisible God:  He is the image of the invisible God (1:15).


Most of the gods of the ancient world were visible.  You went to a temple and you saw an idol and you prayed to it.  By contrast, the true God is invisible.  But God took on flesh and came among men.

Various sorts of fictional literature have played with the idea of invisibility.  H.G. Well’s book in 1897 was a short science fiction novel about a man who found a way to make himself invisible.  Though he was invisible, his image could still be seen if he put on visible clothes or wore a hat or moved this or that object.  Though he was invisible, he could leave a visible image.


The Greek term for “image” is eivkwn (eikon).  It is from here that we derive our English word “icon.”  God is a spirit.  Spirits are invisible and this means you cannot see God.  John 1:18 says that no one has seen God at any time, but that Jesus has explained Him.  When you look at Jesus you are seeing the image of the unseeable God.


This same word for “image” is used in Genesis where we read of God’s plan to create mankind in the image and likeness of God.  Indeed, the Septuagint uses the same Greek word found here to describe how man was made in the image of God.  It is for this reason that Paul elsewhere refers to Jesus as the Last Adam (1 Corinthians 15:45).


The First Adam

The Last Adam

Was created to be in the image of God

He is the image of the invisible God.

He was created on the sixth day as the apex of the creation.

He holds a position of preeminence over all creation.

He was placed into a garden where he was tempted and fell into sin.

He was tempted in a garden and then went forth to pay the penalty for our sins.

Because of his sin, he was cast out of the presence of God.

Because of His obedience, we are brought into the presence of God.


Moses stood in the presence of God and asked, “Show me Your glory!”  Philip asked something very similar when he asked Jesus to show the Father.


            Philip said to Him, “Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.” 9 Jesus said to him, “Have I been so long with you, and yet you have not come to know Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father; how do you say, ‘Show us the Father’? 10 Do you not believe that I am in the Father, and the Father is in Me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on My own initiative, but the Father abiding in Me does His works.” (John 14:8_10).


When you looked at Jesus, you got to see the imprint of the Father.  He not only communicates who God is, He is that communication.  He is in the Father and the Father is in Him.


There is a sense in which we also bear the imprint of God.  We are born with this image.  It is a limited image and a reflected image.  It is the image that the Creator has stamped upon His creation.  We could perhaps describe it as a self portrait.  It is not the same as the real thing.  This is quite different from Christ being in the image of God.  He bears the image of God, not because of an imposed or created image, but ontologically and by His very eternal nature and power.  It is for this reason that theologians correctly make a distinction between the communicable attributes versus those attributes that are incommunicable; those attributes which are passed onto mere creatures versus those attributes that are found only in the Creator.


With this limitation in view, we can affirm with the Scriptures that we share in the image of God.  To be sure, it is an image that has been affected by the fall.  Yet there is a sense in which even fallen man continues to reflect the image of God.  But because it is a fallen image, there is in Christ a redemption of that image and the process of sanctification involves a restoration to that image.


When we come to Colossians 3:9_10, Paul is going to warn us not to lie to one another “since you laid aside the old self with its evil practices, 10 and have put on the new self who is being renewed to a true knowledge according to the image of the One who created him.”  The work of sanctification in our lives involves our being conformed to the image of God.


            For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the first_born among many brethren; 30 and whom He predestined, these He also called; and whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified. (Romans 8:29_30).


Notice the correlation between our being made in the image of God with the position of Jesus as the first_born among many brethren.  A part of the preeminence of Jesus is the fact that we have been predestined to be conformed to His image.  He is the master image.  The goal of our sanctification is that we might come into conformity with that image.


            But we all, with unveiled face beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit. (2 Corinthians 3:18).


2.         The Firstborn of All Creation:  He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation (1:15).


The term “firstborn” can have one of two possible meanings.  The literal meaning describes the first of a series of children to be born in a family.  For example, Esau was the first to be born to Isaac and Rebecca and is appropriately called their firstborn (Genesis 27:19).  There is also a non-literal use of the term that is regularly found in the Bible.  The firstborn can refer to one who holds a position of preeminence.  Such a use can be seen in a number of instances:


     Ephraim was called the firstborn of Joseph and he was not the literal firstborn (Jeremiah 31:9).

     Solomon was described as the firstborn of David and yet he was not the literal firstborn (Psalms 89:27 ).

     God says in Exodus 4:22, “Israel is My son, My firstborn.”  This does not mean that Israel was the first nation ever to be formed.  It means that Israel held a special place of preeminence in the heart of the Lord.

     In describing the ravages of disease, Job 18:13 speaks of how “the firstborn of death” devours a person’s limbs.

     The Hebrew text of Isaiah 14:30 speaks of how “the firstborn of the poor” will be fed.  The New American Standard correctly understands this to be a figure of speech and therefore renders this “those who are most helpless.”

     Later in church history, Polycarp refers to the heretic Marcion as the “firstborn of Satan” (Polycarp to the Philippians 1:7).


Hebrews 12:22_23 has an interesting use of the term when it refers to “the church of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven.”  This is part of a larder description:


            But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to myriads of angels, 23 to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the Judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect (Hebrews 12:22_23).


Though you cannot tell from the English translation the term “firstborn” as it appears in the Greek text in Hebrews 12:23 is in the plural and therefore speaks of “those who are the firstborn.”  It is a description of the church.  We are the firstborn in that we share a portion in that inheritance that belongs to Christ.


In the ancient world, the firstborn always occupied the position of preeminence.  He received the inheritance and the double portion.  He was the number one child.  What we see here is that it is Jesus who is preeminent over all creation.


3.         The Creator of All Things:  For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities__ all things have been created through Him and for Him (Colossians 1:16).


The clause translated “for” (o`ti hoti) serves to introduce why Jesus holds the position of the firstborn.  We are going to be told why He is to be considered preeminent.


Before anything was created, Christ existed.  John opened up his gospel account with this message: In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God.  He goes on to identify the Word as the One who became flesh and who dwelt among us (John 1:14).


It was by Christ that all things were created.  When Paul speaks of Him creating all things, he wants you to be very sure that you understand there are no exceptions.


     That which is the heavens and that which is on earth.

     That which visible and that which is invisible.

     That which holds power.


4.         The Sustainer of All Things:  He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together (1:17).


Christ not only created all things, He also holds all things together.  His work in the creation is both past and present.  He created in the past and He sustains in the present.





            He is also head of the body, the church; and He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that He Himself will come to have first place in everything.  19 For it was the Father's good pleasure for all the fullness to dwell in Him,  20 and through Him to reconcile all things to Himself, having made peace through the blood of His cross; through Him, I say, whether things on earth or things in heaven. (Colossians 1:18_20).


Paul now moves from Christ’s work in creation to His role in redemption and as the head of the church.  While this is a distinctive role, it will be presented, at least in part, using phrases and words that were already seen in verses 15-17 to describe Christ’s role in creation.  We can therefore view this as being Christ role in re-creation.


1.         Head of the Church:  He is also head of the body, the church (1:18).


We have already seen Christ as preeminent and head over all things.  He is preeminent over all creation.  He stands at the head of creation as its sovereign and lord.  Now we see that He holds a similar relationship to the church.  He is the head of the church.


The body of Christ is an organism.  It is a living body.  He is the head; this points both to His being the source as well as the leader of the church.


2.         Firstborn from the Dead:  He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead (1:18).


We have already seen where Jesus is called the firstborn of creation in verse 16.  We saw in the passage that this was a reference to His preeminence over all creation.  Now we see a similar use of the term firstborn.  This time He is called the firstborn from the dead.  This does not mean Jesus is the first to have ever risen from the dead.  He is not.  There have been several resurrections described in the Bible that took place before Jesus rose from the dead.  But His resurrection was like no other.  His is the preeminent resurrection.  It is because He rose from the dead that we shall also one day rise from the dead.


3.         The Dwelling of God’s Fulness:  For it was the Father's good pleasure for all the fullness to dwell in Him (1:19).


The translators have supplied “the Father,” even though it is missing from the text.  On the other hand, it is evident that we can supply the idea of either God or the Father who is the source of the “good pleasure” that is being referenced in the text.


4.         The Purpose of Preeminence:  So that He Himself will come to have first place in everything (1:18).

Here is the conclusion.  It is introduced with a purpose clause.  The logical conclusion to which we are drawn as we look at the preeminent position held by Christ is that He is to have the first place in everything.  He is to be the first in my life.  He is to be the first in my loyalties and in my devotion.


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