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.
Jesus Christ in Relation to the Universe
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 by Him and for Him. And He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together. (1:16–17)
Paul gives three reasons for Jesus’ primacy over creation. First, He is the Creator. The false teachers at Colossae viewed Jesus as the first and most important of the emanations from God, but they were convinced it had to be a lesser being much further down the chain who eventually created the material universe. But Paul rejects that blasphemy, insisting that by Him all things were created. That truth is affirmed by the apostle John (John 1:3) and the writer of Hebrews (Heb. 1:2). Because the Colossian errorists viewed matter as evil, they argued that neither the good God nor a good emanation could have created it. But Paul maintains that Jesus made all things, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible. He refutes the false philosophic dualism of the Colossian heresy. Jesus is God, and He created the material universe.
By studying the creation, one can gain a glimpse of the power, knowledge, and wisdom of the Creator. The sheer size of the universe is staggering. The sun, for example, has a diameter of 864,000 miles (one hundred times that of earth’s) and could hold 1.3 million planets the size of earth inside it. The star Betelgeuse, however, has a diameter of 100 million miles, which is larger than the earth’s orbit around the sun. It takes sunlight, traveling at 186,000 miles per second, about 8.5 minutes to reach earth. Yet that same light would take more than four years to reach the nearest star, Alpha Centauri, some 24 trillion miles from earth. The galaxy to which our sun belongs, the Milky Way, contains hundreds of billions of stars. And astronomers estimate there are millions, or even billions of galaxies. What they can see leads them to estimate the number of stars in the universe at 1025. That is roughly the number of all the grains of sand on all the world’s beaches.
The universe also bears witness to the tremendous wisdom and knowledge of its Creator. Scientists now speak of the Anthropic Principle, “which states that the universe appears to be carefully designed for the well-being of mankind” (Donald B. DeYoung, “Design in Nature: The Anthropic Principle,” Impact, no. 149 [November 1985]: p. ii). A change in the rate of Earth’s rotation around the sun or on its axis would be catastrophic. The Earth would become either too hot or too cold to support life. If the moon were much nearer to the Earth, huge tides would inundate the continents. A change in the composition of the gases that make up our atmosphere would also be fatal to life. A slight change in the mass of the proton would result in the dissolution of hydrogen atoms. That would result in the destruction of the universe, because hydrogen is its dominant element.
The creation gives mute testimony to the intelligence of its Creator. Max Planck, winner of the Nobel Prize and one of the founders of modern physics, wrote, “According to everything taught by the exact sciences about the immense realm of nature, a certain order prevails—one independent of the human mind … this order can be formulated in terms of purposeful activity. There is evidence of an intelligent order of the universe to which both man and nature are subservient” (cited in DeYoung, “Design in Nature,” p. iii). It is no wonder that the psalmist wrote, “The heavens are telling of the glory of God; and their expanse is declaring the work of His hands. Day to day pours forth speech, and night to night reveals knowledge. There is no speech, nor are there words; their voice is not heard. Their line has gone out through all the earth, and their utterances to the end of the world” (Ps. 19:1–4).
The testimony of nature to its Creator is so clear that it is only through willful unbelief that men can reject it. Paul writes in Romans 1:20, “Since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse.” Like those who deny Christ’s deity, those who reject Him as Creator give evidence of a mind darkened by sin and blinded by Satan.
Jesus also has primacy over the creation because He is before all things. When the universe began, He already existed (John 1:1–2; 1 John 1:1). He told the Jews in John 8:58, “Before Abraham was born, I am” (not “I was”). He is saying that He is Yahweh, the eternally existing God. The prophet Micah said of Him, “His goings forth are from long ago, from the days of eternity” (Mic. 5:2). Revelation 22:13 describes Him as “the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.” As was previously mentioned, anyone existing before time began at the creation is eternal. And only God is eternal.
A third reason for Jesus’ primacy over creation is that in Him all things hold together. Not only did Jesus create the universe, He also sustains it. He maintains the delicate balance necessary to life’s existence. He quite literally holds all things together. He is the power behind every consistency in the universe. He is gravity and centrifugal and centripetal force. He is the One who keeps all the entities in space in their motion. He is the energy of the universe. In his book The Atom Speaks, D. Lee Chesnut describes the puzzle of why the nucleus of the atom holds together:
Consider the dilemma of the nuclear physicist when he finally looks in utter amazement at the pattern he had now drawn of the oxygen nucleus.… For here are eight positively charged protons closely associated together within the confines of this tiny nucleus. With them are eight neutrons—a total of sixteen particles—eight positively charged, eight with no charge.
Earlier physicists had discovered that like charges of electricity and like magnetic poles repel each other, and unlike charges or magnetic poles attract each other. And the entire history of electrical phenomena and electrical equipment had been built up on these principles known as Coulomb’s law of electrostatic force and the law of magnetism. What was wrong? What holds the nucleus together? Why doesn’t it fly apart? And therefore, why do not all atoms fly apart? ([San Diego: Creation-Science Research Center, 1973], pp. 31–33)
Chesnut goes on to describe the experiments performed in the 1920s and 1930s that proved Coulomb’s law applied to atomic nuclei. Powerful “atom smashers” were used to fire protons into the nuclei of atoms. Those experiments also gave scientists an understanding of the incredibly powerful force that held protons together within the nucleus. Scientists have dubbed that force the “strong nuclear force,” but have no explanation for why it exists. The physicist George Gamow, one of the founders of the Big Bang theory of the origin of the universe, wrote,
The fact that we live in a world in which practically every object is a potential nuclear explosive, without being blown to bits, is due to the extreme difficulties that attend the starting of a nuclear reaction. (cited in Chesnut, The Atom Speaks, p. 38)
Karl K. Darrow, a physicist at the Bell (AT & T) Laboratories, agrees:
You grasp what this implies. It implies that all the massive nuclei have no right to be alive at all. Indeed, they should never have been created, and, if created, they should have blown up instantly. Yet here they all are.… Some inflexible inhibition is holding them relentlessly together. The nature of the inhibition is also a secret … one thus far reserved by Nature for herself. (cited in Chesnut, The Atom Speaks, p.38)
One day in the future God will dissolve the strong nuclear force. Peter describes that day as the one when “the heavens will pass away with a roar and the elements will be destroyed with intense heat, and the earth and its works will be burned up” (2 Pet. 3:10). With the strong nuclear force no longer operative, Coulomb’s law will take effect, and the nuclei of atoms will fly apart. The universe will literally explode. Until that time, we can be thankful that Christ “upholds all things by the word of His power” (Heb. 1:3). Jesus Christ must be God. He made the universe, existed outside and before it, and preserves it.
Jesus Christ in Relation to the Unseen World
whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities (1:16b)
Thrones, dominions, rulers, and authorities refer to the various ranks of angels. Far from being an angel, as the Colossian errorists taught, Christ created the angels. The writer of Hebrews also makes a clear distinction between Christ and the angels: “Of the angels He says, ‘Who makes His angels winds, and His ministers a flame of fire.’ But of the Son He says, ‘Thy throne, O God, is forever and ever, and the righteous scepter is the scepter of His kingdom’ ” (Heb. 1:7–8). Jesus has been exalted “far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age, but also in the one to come” (Eph. 1:21). As a result, “At the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those who are in heaven, and on earth, and under the earth” (Phil. 2:10). With that truth the apostle Peter agrees: “[Christ] is at the right hand of God, having gone into heaven, after angels and authorities and powers had been subjected to Him” (1 Pet. 3:22).
Scripture is clear that Jesus is not an angel, but the Creator of the angels. He is above the angels, who in fact worship Him and are under His authority. Jesus’ relation to the unseen world, like His relation to the visible universe, proves He is God.
16 This verse commences by claiming that all things were created en autō (lit. “in him [Christ]”; I take the preposition en, “in,” as a locative [or dative of sphere] as opposed to an instrumental [or dative of agency]; so NRSV and the majority of commentators [cf. Fowl, 109]; cf. otherwise NIV and NASB). As with redemption (v. 14), God’s creative activity occurred in conjunction with and connection to Christ. Indeed, as the end of v. 16 asserts, literally, “all things were created through him and [un]to [or for] him.” This verse maintains that Christ is not only the location of creation but also its agency and aim (cf. 1 Co 8:6). What is said of Christ here in reference to creation is similar to what one reads in John 1:3: “Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made” (cf. Heb 2:10). Once again, what many of Paul’s (Hellenistic) Jewish contemporaries might have attributed to Wisdom, Paul connected to Christ.
The scope of God’s creative work in, through, and to Christ is limitless. All things in all places owe their existence to him (cf. Chysostom, Hom. Col 3). It matters not what or where they are; all powers—even invisible thrones, dominions, rulers, and authorities—are subservient to and impotent before Christ (cf. 2:10; see also Ro 8:38–39). (Scholars dispute whether earthly and heavenly powers or merely the latter are in view here; cf. Dunn, 93; Lincoln, 598.) In this outpouring of praise, Paul is both cryptic and proleptic. Later in the letter, one learns that some of these created principalities and powers prove to be malevolent forces that must be disarmed and defeated on the cross (2:15). Moreover, Paul’s confidence that the dominion of darkness has already been overcome by Christ’s bloody cross enables him to speak of Christ’s ultimate rule and reign as all but a fait accompli (1:13, 20; 2:14; cf. Ro 16:20; 1 Co 15:57).
17 The assertion that Christ is the “firstborn over all creation” (1:15b) is reinforced in the statement “he is before all things.” Once again, while temporal overtones may well be intended here, as in 1:15b, the claim that Christ is before all things serves to emphasize Christ’s supremacy and not solely or even primarily his temporal priority (so Caird, 179). That being said, even though 1:17a affirms and underscores the present lordship of Christ (note the present tense verb estin, “is”), it does not deny and could well imply that the One who is before all things was (and forevermore will be) before all things. In fact, Lightfoot, 155, has suggested that the “he is” here corresponds precisely to the “I am” of John 8:58.
This “hymn” not only celebrates Christ as the agent of and Lord over creation; it also proclaims his guardianship over all things. Bruce, 65, notes, “What has been brought into being through him is maintained in being by him.” Paul does not portray Christ as a distant deity away on an extended holiday; rather, he presents and praises an ever-present Power who has held and continues to hold the created order together. (Note the perfect tense of the verb synistēmi, “hold together,” GK 5319.) The cosmos (and all who inhabit it) owes its existence, coherence, and continuance to Christ (cf. Ac 17:28; Ro 11:36). Additionally, as the second strophe of this “poem” will pronounce, the One who holds all things together is the very One who placed all things together through his reconciling work on the cross (v. 20).
The glory of Christ’s power (v. 16)
christ is the agent in creation. ‘For by him all things were created.’ This shows that all things owe their origin to Jesus Christ. He is the divine agent in Creation and made all that we see and all that we do not see. He created matter and spirit. This is a restatement of his deity and a declaration of his glorious power. The Trinity was active in the work of Creation (Gen. 1:1) and the words ‘by him’ show that God the Father works by the Son. Everything came into being out of nothing by his power (Heb. 11:3; John 1:3). ‘All things … created that are in heaven and … earth’ includes the whole of the spiritual creation, angels and archangels; and the whole of physical creation, visible and invisible. Here are some of the things we don’t see: ‘thrones or dominions or principalities or powers’. These words describe the world of angels both holy and evil (Col. 2:10, 15; Eph. 1:21, 3:10; 6:12; 1 Cor. 15:24).
christ is the purpose of creation. ‘All things were created through him and for him’. Creation exists for the Son of God. In Romans 8, we are given a description of things which in the future will reveal Christ’s glory to all fallen creation at his Second Coming (Rom. 8:19–23). At the end of time every knee will bow to him as Lord (Phil. 2:10) and there will be a wedding feast when Jesus will possess all things (Rev. 19:1–16).
The glory of Christ’s pre-existence (v. 17)
This verse speaks of Jesus Christ’s dignity: ‘He is before all things and in him all things consist’. Jesus was not part of Creation but he was before it. The Nicene Creed (A.D. 325) says ‘there never was a time when he was not’. The doctrine of the pre-existence of Christ from eternity is taught in several places (John 1:1; 8:58; 17:5; 2 Cor. 8:9). He is the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end, the first and the last (Rev. 22:13). He did not pre-exist in human form but became man at the Incarnation (Phil. 2:6–8). Everything is held together and sustained by him (Heb. 1:1–3). Through him the cosmos is prevented from falling into chaos and the principle of coherence (unity) is found in him.
1:16 / After establishing Christ’s superiority in the created order, Paul moves on to the invisible world of heavenly and earthly beings. The “all creation” (1:15) is expanded by the phrase that by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth. The Greek uses two prepositions that aid in the understanding of the action intended: God created the whole universe by (dia) and for (eis) him. In other words, Christ is both the agent and the goal of creation. He must not be relegated to the same inferior position as other spiritual powers. All of creation finds its goal in Christ alone. The use of the perfect tense of “created” (ektisthē) shows that what has taken place in God’s creative activity continues to be effective into the present.
One gets the impression that Paul is taking great pains to avoid any misunderstanding on this matter. He already has emphasized that all things (used twice in this verse) were created by Christ. Now he amplifies this by the terms heaven and earth and visible and invisible. This includes all spiritual forces, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities.
These terms represent a view and classification of spiritual powers that were current in the first century. People believed that the world was inhabited by all sorts of alien powers that were a threat to human beings (Rom. 8:38; 1 Cor. 15:24; Eph. 1:21; 6:12; 1 Pet. 3:22). The fact that the reference to these powers is a probable interpolation by Paul into the hymn suggests that these powers were given undue prominence by the false teachers. Paul’s point is that these powers are subject to Christ’s superiority since they were created by and for him. He is Lord over all these powers (2:10, 15).
1:17 / The phrase he is before all things reaffirms some of the things that Paul has already said about Christ. But the new thought is that, in him all things hold together. The Greek word synestēken here connotes preservation or coherence. Thus the Lord who creates the universe also sustains it.
 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Col 1:16–17). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.
 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1992). Colossians (pp. 47–50). Chicago: Moody Press.
 Still, T. D. (2006). Colossians. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Ephesians–Philemon (Revised Edition) (Vol. 12, pp. 290–291). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
 McNaughton, I. S. (2006). Opening up Colossians and Philemon (pp. 28–29). Leominster: Day One Publications.
 Patzia, A. G. (2011). Ephesians, Colossians, Philemon (pp. 30–31). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.