Filled with Divinity (Colossians 1:15-23)

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This sermon is part of a series on Colossians titled “Filled: Finding Wholeness in Christ.” Previous sermon: Filled with Christian Instinct (Colossians 1:9–14).

We are who we are because Christ is who he is. Colossians 1:15-23 contains the grandest theological statement about Jesus Christ in the whole New Testament. It tells us that the Jesus who created the world in the beginning is the same Jesus through whom all things can be created anew in salvation. Jesus our Creator is Jesus our Savior.

Colossians 1:19 is the key verse in this passage: “For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell.” We find fullness in Jesus Christ precisely because He is the fullness of God.

We find fullness in Jesus Christ precisely because He is the fullness of God.

This passage follows Paul’s lengthy two-part prayer in verses 3-14. And now Paul goes into a very poetical theology of who Jesus Christ is. I like the way Greg Beale has divided the passage:

  1. Christ’s supremacy over first creation (vv. 15-17)
  2. Christ’s supremacy over new creation (vv. 18-20)
  3. Christ’s supremacy in reconciling fallen creation (vv. 21-23) (Beale, Colossians and Philemon, 79)

Before we dive into the passage, let me share a general observation that helps us understand what Paul is doing. The previous passage concluded with Paul’s description of what God has done for us through Jesus Christ. Notice the “He has” statement in verse 13. Then notice that in verses 15-20, there is a series of “He is” statements, followed again with a “He has” statement in verse 22.

13 He has delivered us…
15 He is the image of the invisible God
17 He is before all things
18 He is the head of the body, the church
18 He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead
22 He has now reconciled…

The Supremacy of Christ over First Creation

15a He is the image of the invisible God

We know that Adam was created in the image of God, but here Paul says that Jesus is the image of God. Whereas Adam was made in or after the image, Jesus Christ just is the image of God.

Whereas Adam was made in or after the image, Jesus Christ just is the image of God.

15b the firstborn of all creation.

People have stumbled all over this verse that seems to say that Jesus, the Son of God, is a created being. After all, isn’t that what “firstborn of all creation” implies? This passage has been used by heretics to deny the full divinity of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. But this passage doesn’t at all make Jesus out to be something less than God for two reasons:

First, the language of “image” is sonship language (Beale, Colossians and Philemon, 81). That Jesus is the image of the invisible God is just to say that Jesus is the son of God. Still, some people take this to mean that the Father is God, and Jesus is only the son of God, not really God himself. As we keep reading, we see that Paul is making it abundantly clear that Jesus is fully divine, no less so than the Father. In fact, God the Father is not God the Father without God the Son being God the Son. If you diminish the divinity of Jesus or demote him to something less than fully God, you also diminish and demote the Father.

If you diminish the divinity of Jesus or demote him to something less than fully God, you also diminish and demote the Father.

Second, the language of “firstborn,” which appears twice in this passage (vv. 15 & 18), does not mean that Jesus was the first creation of God. Rather, “firstborn” is significant in both Hebrew and Greco-Roman culture, to both Jews and Gentiles alike. In the Hebrew mind, “firstborn” refers to rank or exaltation as in Psalm 89:27, where God calls David his “firstborn.” We know that David was the youngest of his brothers, not the oldest. The point is that God appointed David to be King, sovereign over the people of God. This is the point of naming Jesus as the firstborn of all creation: Jesus is sovereign over all creation.

In the Greco-Roman world, the firstborn is the one who is the legal heir of the father’s inheritance (Pao, Colossians and Philemon, 95). It is very possible that Paul intends both of these senses: Jesus is the exalted King and he is the heir of the world; that is, the universe is a gift, an expression of love, from the Father to the Son. 

Jesus is the exalted King and he is the heir of the world.

The Nicene Creed contains the words: “begotten of the Father before all worlds, God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father; and by whom all things were made” because the heretic Arius used this verse in the early fourth century to teach that Jesus is a created being. An example of modern-day Arians is Jehovah Witnesses.

If there is any doubt as to whether Paul thinks the Son of God is a created being, he casts out all doubt in verse 16: “For by (en) him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him.” This verse explains why Paul calls Jesus the “image” and “firstborn” of the Father. It is because Jesus is himself the Creator, by him all things were created. Since Jesus is the Creator, he is sovereign over all things—all things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, and all spiritual powers. “Rulers and authorities” seems to refer to evil powers because in Colossians 2:15, Paul writes that Jesus has “disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame by triumphing over them.”

In order for Jesus to be the Creator, he must be prior to all creation. This is exactly what Paul says in Colossians verse 17: “And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. There is only one way for Jesus to be before all things and that is for him to be eternal and sovereign, properties possessed only by God. Since Jesus is before all things, in him all things hold together.

Here is one of the most comforting phrases in all of Scripture: in him all things hold together. Every part of God’s good creation is held together by the power of Christ. Again, I quote Abraham Kuyper who said, “There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry: ‘Mine!’” (Kuyper, Sphere Sovereignty, 488).

Every part of God’s good creation is held together by the power of Christ.

Paul wrote in Romans 11:36: “For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.” This is why God will not trash the earth. God has made the world for himself. There is no way God will allow Satan or humanity to destroy it. “Christ’s sovereign rulership will superintend all of creation to its final goal” (Beale, Colossians and Philemon, 96).

What holds you together? What is the glue of your life? Good health? Financial stability? A comfortable life? A nice home? A loving spouse? Grandkids who love you? No. Those are all good gifts from God, but none of those are the source of health and happiness. Jesus Christ alone holds you together as he does the entirety of the universe.

Are you unhappy? What are you doing in your life right now to seek happiness? Do you think a different job, a different house, different friends, or even a different spouse will make you happy? Wrong. None of those things have the power of holding your life together.

In him all things hold together. Don’t be deceived into thinking that anything or anyone else holds your life together. If you think that your happiness depends on anything else, you’re mistaken. Your happiness, your life, your being held together depends completely and solely on the sovereignty and salvation of Jesus Christ in your life. In verses 15-17, we have seen Christ’s supremacy over creation. Now, in verses 18-20 we see Christ’s supremacy over new creation. Just as the preincarnate Son of God is supreme over first creation, so is the incarnate Son of God supreme over new creation (Beale, Colossians and Philemon, 99).

The Supremacy of Christ over New Creation

18a And he is the head of the body, the church.

The first theme under this section of new creation is the Church. Since Christ is over all of Creation, it is natural that he would also be over the Church. Why is the Church the first thought that comes to mind when thinking about new creation? It is because “Paul is affirming that the church holds a crucial position in the redemptive plan of God….The church becomes the context through which God’s redemptive act can be fulfilled” (Pao, Colossians and Philemon, 100).

The Church is proof of God’s rule in all the earth.

Christ rules over all of creation; and his rule is especially made apparent through the church. The Church is proof of God’s rule in all the earth. How so? Although Paul speaks at length about the Church as the Body of Christ in Romans 12 and 1 Corinthians 12, Colossians 1:18 and Ephesians 1:22 and 4:15 are the only examples of Paul calling Jesus the “head” of the Church. Here is what this means:

  1. Head symbolizes authority.
  2. Head symbolizes unity.

Both of these ideas go hand-in-hand. Paul makes it clear in Ephesians that headship means authority (cf. Eph. 1:22-23). How so? It’s not difficult to understand how our physical head controls our body. Obviously, our brain and most of our senses are located in our head. Our brain tells our body where to go and what to do. Our head tells us how the rest of our body is doing. Our head points us in the direction it wants our body to go. Something is tragically wrong when our body disagrees with our head. All of this means that both direction and unity comes from Jesus Christ who is head of all creation. His headship is demonstrated through the Church. This is why the Church is essential to God’s plan of salvation.

The Church is essential to God’s plan of salvation.

Notice also that Paul refers to the Church rather than to churches. It is clear that the apostles understand that there is only one Body of Christ, one Church, and that all true churches—those who follow Christ—are part of one universal Church.

18b He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent.

In the first section of this passage, Paul emphasized Jesus as the original Creator. Now he is describing Jesus as the new Creator. Just as creation, in a sense, began with Christ who is uncreated himself, so does new creation begin with Christ who is unfallen himself.

In verse 15, Jesus is the firstborn of creation—the sovereign Creator—and now in verse 18 Jesus is the firstborn of the dead—the resurrected Savior.

Original creation was made for him according to verse 16. New Creation is also for him in the sense that he will have preeminence or first place or supremacy in everything. Jesus isn’t merely Lord of those who believe; he is also Lord over those who don’t believe. The only difference is that some will eternally experience his Lordship as heaven while others experience his Lordship as hell. This is why finding our happiness in Christ now rather than in other things is so important: if we’re always looking for happiness and wholeness somewhere else beside Christ we are in danger of going into eternity still searching miserably and never finding it.

In this day of celebrity pastors and celebrity churches, pastors and church leaders need to be reminded that the Church exists to exalt Jesus Christ.

In this day of celebrity pastors and celebrity churches, pastors and church leaders need to be reminded that the Church exists to exalt Jesus Christ.

19 For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell,

Paul most clearly states what he means when he says that Jesus is the image of God and the firstborn of all creation: namely, that Jesus is a fully divine person. In fact, this verse is stating the reason that Christ has preeminence in everything—because he is, in fact, divine and over all things. Later in Colossians 2:9, Paul puts it this way: “For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily.”

God created all things through Christ, and God is working to reconcile all things through Christ.

As Greg Beale interestingly points out, the idea of “fullness,” coupled with “dwelling,” points back to God’s presence filling the Temple. The incarnate Son of God is the fulfillment of God’s presence among humankind. Because Christ is the fulfillment of God’s presence, God is working in Christ to reconcile all things to himself as Paul says in verse 20: “and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.” In the first section (vv. 15-17), God created all things through Christ, and now in this section (vv. 18-20), Paul concludes that God is working to reconcile all things through Christ.

Finally, Paul concludes this passage by asserting the supremacy of Christ in reconciling fallen creation. Notice that Paul switches from “He is…” statements back to “He has…” statements.

The Supremacy of Christ in Reconciling Fallen Creation

21 And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds,
22 he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him,

There is a clear contrast between these two verses that is similar to what Paul wrote in Ephesians 2:1-6. Here he writes that we were once alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds but are now holy and blameless and above reproach before him. But there is a condition:

23 if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, became a minister.

The condition to our final reconciliation with God is that we continue in the faith. In order to continue, we must be stable and steadfast in the Gospel.

To be stable means to be grounded, and to be steadfast or sure means to remain so. These are architectural terms. The Gospel is our foundation, and in order to be finally saved, we must be built solidly on the Gospel.

Paul very subtly refers to the power of the Gospel in his closing statement “of which I, Paul, became a minister.” He is referring to his Damascus road experience, that moment when Jesus Christ stopped him in his tracks and turned him around. Whereas Paul had previously been a minister of thrones, dominions, rulers, and authorities, now he has come under the reconciling Lordship of Jesus Christ, out of the domain of darkness and into the kingdom of the Son.

Conclusion

In summary, these truths about Christ and creation are clear:

  1. God through Christ created all things.
  2. God through Christ reconciles all things in creation.
  3. God through Christ makes new the faithful.

Furthermore, there are three truths about our salvation found here. In Ephesians 5:27, Paul writes that Christ will present the Church to himself as a pure bride. Paul repeats the same idea in verse 22. There are three important details to observe here:

  1. Salvation is social—that is, Christ redeems the Church corporately and all who are in her.
  2. Salvation is sanctifying—that is, those whom Christ justifies he also sanctifies, transforms, makes new.
  3. Salvation is secure—that is, it is secured by a continued faith.

And, finally, the goal of this passage is to ground us deeply in the person of Jesus Christ.

  1. Jesus is fully divine; the Son of God; the Second Person of the Trinity.
  2. Jesus is fully Lord of all creation; nothing in all of creation will remain outside the justice and righteousness of God in the end.
  3. Jesus is fully present in the world through the Spirit’s formation of the Church. Jesus intends the Church to be his instrument of reconciliation in the world.

We find fullness in Jesus Christ precisely because He is the fullness of God.

David Fry
Senior Pastor at the Frankfort Bible Holiness Church. PhD in Systematic Theology (Trinity Evangelical Divinity School). MDiv in New Testament Theology (Wesley Biblical Seminary).