15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. 16 For by 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. 17 And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. 19 For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.
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, 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.Colossians 1:15-23
Refresh & Restore — September 8, 2022 (Jesus Over All 19) – Refresh & Restore | A JustKeithHarris.com Podcast
I have started this week’s Bible study over and over in my head.
Have you ever set out to complete a task and realized that you are woefully inadequate for the task? That is how I feel about this section of Colossians. It is magnificent. It is glorious. It is full to the brim of amazing truths about Jesus. The more I study it, I find myself praying along with the tax collector: “Have mercy on me, O God, a sinner” (Luke 18:13).
The more I learn of Jesus – the closer I get to Him, the more I learn about myself. He, of course, does not change, but my perception of Him grows the more time I spend in His Word. The greater my perception of Him becomes, the worse I realize I am. The more grace I experience from Him, the more I realize the dangers of my sin. Understanding the cost of His sacrifice illustrates how woefully in debt I would be had He not redeemed me.
The good news (for me and for you) is that He is not dependent on the skill of anyone to make Him great. He already is. He does not need me to be eloquent or convincing. He is worthy. And I get to simply point you toward Him.
The Greatest Hymn Ever Written
This passage has long been one of my favorites. Every time I read it, it is like drinking ice-cold water when you are parched and hot. It is refreshes me. Looking at and processing how big and great – how preeminent, supreme, and sovereign – He is gives me indescribable relief.
The general consensus of many theologians, writers, and preachers over the centuries is that this passage was a hymn in the early church. Since it is recorded in Scripture and all Scripture is “breathed out by God” (2 Timothy 3:16), this hymn is perfect. This hymn does not sing about the Word or what the Word says. This hymn is part of the Word! That, in and of itself, is enough to make it beautiful, but the way that it testifies to Who Jesus is adds depth and beauty that no human mind could think.
This explains why singing songs of the faith (“psalms” – singing Scripture, “hymns” – singing doctrine or what the Bible teaches, and “spiritual songs” – singing testimonies; cf. Ephesians 5:19, Colossians 3:16) are important: they help us carry our beliefs, our theology, from our hearts and minds to our mouths.
There are many beautiful modern hymns that help us communicate deep truths about Jesus. “Praise to the Lord, the Almighty” (1680) highlights His care and strength:
“Praise to the Lord, who will prosper your work and defend you;
Surely His goodness and mercy shall daily attend you.
Ponder anew what the Almighty can do,
If with His love He befriends you.”
“How Great Thou Art” (1949) illustrates His greatness by reminding what He has done for us:
“And when I think that God His Son not sparing
Sent Him to die, I scarce can take it in
That on the cross, my burden gladly bearing
He bled and died to take away my sin”
And, more recently, “In Christ Alone” (2001) reminds us to hope in Christ alone:
“In Christ alone my hope is found
He is my light, my strength, my song
This Cornerstone, this solid ground
Firm through the fiercest drought and storm
What heights of love, what depths of peace
When fears are stilled, when strivings cease
My Comforter, my All in all
Here in the love of Christ I stand”
But, as beautiful as these songs are, they are not enough. Theology is important – sound theology is very important, but it all pales in comparison to Jesus. And the Colossian hymn – if it helps you to think of it that way – in 1:15-23 is better than the sum of every lyric of every worship song ever written about Jesus because it comes from Jesus Himself, the Word of God. He is more noteworthy than every note ever sung or that will be sung in worship of Him. Let’s dive in and seek to know Him more as we embark on today’s passage.
In the last devotion, I tried to illustrate why Paul begins with this section on Jesus: to lay down the essential Truth of Who He is before he deals with the issues of false teaching that plagued the church at Colossae. There is false teaching today that still attacks Who Jesus is – Who the Bible proclaims Him to be. So, I want to be as careful as I possibly can – more carefully even than usual with my handling of this passage.
I always seek to take each passage (whether in my writing or while preaching/teaching) and treat it with the same care that Ezra did when they read from the Law – the Scriptures – for the first time when they came back home out of exile: “They read from the book, from the Law of God clearly, and they gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading” (Nehemiah 8:8). On that day, all of Israel stood and listened. They were attentive to the Word because they had starved without it in exile. Dear, Sojourner, we are in exile, too, for “our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ” (Philippians 3:20). Let us walk through this hymn together, verse-by-verse, looking at what is clearly seen, giving a sense so that we may understand our reading – that we may see Him.
He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. (v. 15)
There are two descriptions of Jesus in this verse that are very important: “image of the invisible God” and “firstborn of all creation”. They run parallel to each other to help build our understanding of Who He is.
When I see the phrase “image of…God”, my mind is drawn back to the Creation account in Genesis:
“Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.’ So God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.” (Genesis 1:26-27)
I love the language in that passage. If you look at the Greek translation of the Old Testament and the original language of Colossians, the word for “image” is the same. It’s the word eikon (pronounced and similar to our word icon). That word is used in other places in the New Testament when Jesus asks whose “likeness” is on the Roman currency (Matthew 22:20) and later on to describe the “image [or statue] of the beast” in Revelation 13:14.
Basically, this is the word used to describe a picture (2D or 3D) that represents something real. The eikon is a visible representative of the real thing. It might be helpful to think of the icons for apps on our phones or computer screens. Think of how broad and vast the internet is, yet all you need to do to access the web is to click on the icon. It seems to simple to look at Jesus on the terms of an app, but there is Scripture to back this up. Hebrews 1:3 is a beautiful picture of this as the author writes that Jesus is “the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of His nature”; Jesus is the literal embodiment of God’s glory and possesses God’s nature because He is God! Jesus said as much Himself in John 10:30 (“I and the Father are one”) and 14:9 (“Whoever has seen Me has seen the Father”).
Man was created in the image of God, but that image was disfigured by sin in the Fall. That is the reason that in salvation God begins restoring that image. How does He do that? In salvation, when the old flesh is replaced with “the new self” we begin being “renewed in knowledge after the image of [our] Creator” (Colossians 3:10), to “be conformed to the image of His Son” (Romans 8:29). It really is a beautiful picture of God’s grace! He creates man in His image, but man tarnishes that image by continual sin. Rather than ending mankind, God made a Way for us by coming to earth in the Person of Jesus, living a sinless life, dying the death we deserve, and raising Himself from the dead that we can have eternal life in Him (John 1:14, 3:16, 14:6; Romans 6:23; 1 Corinthians 15:3-4; 2 Corinthians 5:21). He, “the image of the invisible God” gives the most beautifully visible representation of God – His love and His justice, His mercy and His wrath – making visible the “King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God” – may He receive “honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.” (1 Timothy 1:17).
The second phrase in this verse describes Jesus as “the firstborn of all creation”.
This phrase has been used to present all kinds of false teaching throughout church history and even today. People try to take this and twist it to say that Jesus is a created being, that He is God’s firstborn. You can look back at the lists of Scripture in last week’s devotion or look throughout the Word for yourself. To say that Jesus is created is align yourself with people like Arius or modern-day Jehovah’s Witnesses or Mormons and not align yourself with the Jesus of the Bible who has always been, even “before the foundation of the world” (Ephesians 1:4).
To understand why Paul refers to Jesus as “the firstborn of all creation”, you have to understand the context. For example, God tells Moses to explain to Pharaoh that Israel is His “firstborn son” (Exodus 4:22). God was not saying that He was the literal father of the nation of Israel. He was referring to the status, the position of a firstborn son. All right and authority over everything a father had – the best of the estate and all status that comes with it – went to the firstborn. This matches with how God spoke of David in Psalm 89:27 when he said that He would “make Him the firstborn, the highest of the kings of earth”.
To say that Jesus is the firstborn of all creation is to say that He is indeed the King of kings and Lord of lords. It shows the authority He had on earth – that He has today.
For by 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. (v. 16)
Look at the way that the verses in this hymn build on each other. Jesus, being the “image of the invisible God” establishes Him as God in flesh; His being the “firstborn of all creation” establishes His authority. Now, we see that He is the source of all that is, all that has ever been created! We have already traced Him being the image of God back to Genesis 1:26-27. But His presence at the dawn of creation can be traced back even farther. In fact, nothing can be traced farther back – He predates time and the existence of everything we can see!
Genesis 1:1-3a – the beginning – shows us the magnificence of God in His Trinity:
“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters. And God said….”
We see the Father and the Spirit clearly. The Son shows up in the speaking – the Word. That’s also where we see His authority. He says “light”, and light shines days before any source of light is invented!
We already looked at Hebrews 1:3 to affirm Jesus as the eikon of God. Now, we see it affirm His bringing all that exists into existence. He, being “the exact imprint” of God’s nature, “upholds the universe by the Word of His power”! That same voice that brought things into being is the very same power that keeps everything together. That creative power keeps the earth spinning at just the right speed, keeps it orbiting the sun at just the right distance and rate, and keeps it tilted at just the right angle to make all of life continue.
John 1:1-3 puts all of this together more beautifully than I could hope to explain:
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him was not any thing made that was made.”
All of creation, everything we can see on earth and all that we hope to see in heaven, everything from the majesty of the mountains and vast oceans to the microscopic atoms that are working below the surface of them all, all of it exists because of Him. There is no throne of man, vast dominating empire, or ruler – earthly or spiritual that can lift a finger against Him because they all originate from “the Word of His power”! Everything that is, was, or will be was created through Him. And everything that is, was, or will be belongs to Him – is “for” Him.
Verse 17 ties verses 15 and 16 together eloquently: And He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.
Just as our Bible study title suggests, Jesus is over all, and He is all. And, just as His words were enough to light up the darkness in the beginning, they are enough to keep all of creation together. They are also better suited to tell us Who He is; in Revelation 22:13, Jesus says, “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.”
I plan on continuing to walk through this passage a few verses at a time. Nothing could serve our time together better than in “looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith” (Hebrews 12:2).
It is my prayer that I grow closer to Him in the writing and you in the reading. If you don’t know Him, I’m thankful to get to introduce you to Him.
I want to close out with some beautiful words about Jesus that, although written in the fourth century by Gregory of Nazianzus, still hold truth today:
He who gives riches becomes poor; for He assumes the poverty of my flesh, that I may assume the riches of His Godhead. He who is full empties Himself; for He empties Himself of His Glory for a short while, that I may have a share in His fullness.
Hallelujah, and amen!
 This breakdown of the terms from Ephesians 5:19 and Colossians 3:16 draw on conversations with pastor friends of mine many years ago and has evolved and grown over the years. I am not entirely sure where this particular breakdown came from, but the group effort and community of faith have been foundational in my understanding of this.
 This is also why we need to be vigilant in singing songs with good theology because they are saturated in God’s Word. I plan on writing on this more at a later date, but in the meantime, you can look at the Songs for Sunday section of the website for examples of looking at the Scriptures represented by songs sung in corporate worship.
 Catherine Winkworth | Joachim Neander, © Words: Public Domain; Music: Public Domain
 Stuart Wesley | Keene Hine, © Copyright 1949 and 1953 Stuart Hine Trust CIO Stuart K. Hine Trust (Administration: USA All rights by Capitol CMG Publishing, except print rights for USA, North, Central and South America administered by Hope Publishing. All other non USA Americas rights by the Stuart Hine Trust. Rest of World – Integritymusic.com.)
 Keith Getty | Stuart Townend, © 2001 Thankyou Music (Admin. by Capitol CMG Publishing)
 Elliot Ritzema, 300 Quotations for Preachers from the Early Church, Pastorum Series (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2013).