Jesus Christ in Relation to God
And He is the image of the invisible God, the first-born of all creation. (1:15)
As already noted, the heretics viewed Jesus as one among a series of lesser spirits descending in sequential inferiority from God. Paul refutes that with two powerful descriptions of who Jesus really is. First, Paul describes Him as the image of the invisible God. Eikōn (image) means “image” or “likeness.” From it we get our English word icon, referring to a statue. It is used in Matthew 22:20 of Caesar’s portrait on a coin, and in Revelation 13:14 of the statue of Antichrist.
Although man is also the eikōn of God (1 Cor. 11:7; cf. Gen. 1:26–27), man is not a perfect image of God. Humans are made in God’s image in that they have rational personality. Like God, they possess intellect, emotion, and will, by which they are able to think, feel, and choose. We humans are not, however, in God’s image morally, because He is holy, and we are sinful. Nor are we created in His image essentially. We do not possess His incommunicable attributes, such as omniscience, omnipotence, immutability, or omnipresence. We are human, not divine.
The Fall marred the original image of God in man. Before the Fall, Adam and Eve were innocent, free of sin, and incapable of dying. They forfeited those qualities when they sinned. When someone puts faith in Christ, however, that person is promised that the image of God will be restored in him or her. “For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son” (Rom. 8:29; cf. 2 Cor. 3:18; Col. 3:10). God will make believers sinless like Christ when they enter the final phase of their eternal life.
Unlike man, Jesus Christ is the perfect, absolutely accurate image of God. He did not become the image of God at the incarnation, but has been that from all eternity. Hebrews 1:3 describes Jesus as “the radiance of [God’s] glory.” Christ reflects God’s attributes, as the sun’s light reflects the sun. Further, He is said to be “the exact representation of [God’s] nature.” Charaktēr (“exact representation”) refers to an engraving tool, or stamp. Jesus is the exact likeness of God. He is in the very form of God (Phil. 2:6). That is why He could say, “He who has seen Me has seen the Father” (John 14:9). In Christ, the invisible God became visible, “and we beheld His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father” (John 1:14).
By using the term eikōn, Paul emphasizes that Jesus is both the representation and manifestation of God. He is the full, final, and complete revelation of God. He is God in human flesh. That was His claim (John 8:58; 10:30–33), and the unanimous testimony of Scripture (cf. John 1:1; 20:28; Rom. 9:5; Phil. 2:6; Col. 2:9; Titus 2:13; Heb. 1:8; 2 Pet. 1:1). To think anything less of Him is blasphemy and gives evidence of a mind blinded by Satan (2 Cor. 4:4).
Paul further describes Jesus as the first-born of all creation. From the Arians of the early church to the Jehovah’s Witnesses of our own day, those who would deny our Lord’s deity have sought support from this phrase. They argue that it speaks of Christ as a created being, and hence He could not be the eternal God. Such an interpretation completely misunderstands the sense of prōtotokos (first-born) and ignores the context.
Although prōtotokos can mean firstborn chronologically (Luke 2:7), it refers primarily to position, or rank. In both Greek and Jewish culture, the firstborn was the son who had the right of inheritance. He was not necessarily the first one born. Although Esau was born first chronologically, it was Jacob who was the “firstborn” and received the inheritance. Jesus is the One with the right to the inheritance of all creation (cf. Heb. 1:2; Rev. 5:1–7, 13).
Israel was called God’s firstborn in Exodus 4:22 and Jeremiah 31:9. Though not the first people born, they held first place in God’s sight among all the nations. In Psalm 89:27, God says of the Messiah, “I also shall make him My first-born,” then defines what He means—“the highest of the kings of the earth.” In Revelation 1:5, Jesus is called “the first-born of the dead,” even though He was not the first person to be resurrected chronologically. Of all ever raised, He is the preeminent One. Romans 8:29 refers to Him as the firstborn in relation to the church. In all the above cases, firstborn clearly means highest in rank, not first created.
There are many other reasons for rejecting the idea that the use of first-born makes Jesus a created being. Such an interpretation cannot be harmonized with the description of Jesus as monogenēs (“only begotten,” or “unique”) in John 1:18. We might well ask with the early church Father Theodoret how, if Christ was only-begotten, could He be first-begotten? And how, if He were first-begotten, could He be only-begotten? How could He be the first of many in His class, and at the same time the only member of His class? Yet such confusion is inevitable if we assign the meaning “first created” to “firstborn.” Further, when the prōtotokos is one of the class referred to, the class is plural (cf. Col. 1:18; Rom. 8:29). Yet, creation is singular. Finally, if Paul meant to convey that Christ was the first created being, why did he not use the Greek word prōtoktistos, which means “first created?”
Such an interpretation of prōtotokos is also foreign to the context—both the general context of the epistle and the specific context of the passage. If Paul were here teaching that Christ is a created being, he would be agreeing with the central point of the Colossian errorists. They taught that Christ was a created being, the most prominent of the emanations from God. That would run counter to his purpose in writing Colossians, which was to refute the false teachers at Colossae.
Interpreting prōtotokos to mean that Christ is a created being is also out of harmony with the immediate context. Paul has just finished describing Christ as the perfect and complete image of God. In the next verse, he refers to Christ as the creator of everything that exists. How then could Christ Himself be a created being? Further, verse 17 states, “He is before all things.” Christ existed before anything else was created (cf. Micah 5:2). And only God existed before the creation.
Far from being one of a series of emanations descending from God, Jesus is the perfect image of God. He is the preeminent inheritor over all creation (the genitive ktiseōs is better translated “over” than “of”). He both existed before the creation and is exalted in rank above it. Those truths define who Jesus is in relation to God. They also devastate the false teachers’ position. But Paul is not finished—his next point undermines another false teaching of the Colossian errorists.
15 Paul commences his poetic praise of Christ by referring to him as “the image of the invisible God.” In a parallel text, Paul depicts Christ as “the image of God” (2 Co 4:4; cf. 2 Co 3:18). By speaking of Christ in this fashion, Paul is seeking to express his conviction that the beloved Son is the likeness, representation, reflection, and manifestation of God (cf. Php 2:6). Like (almost all) other Jews, Paul thought God to be invisible (cf. Ro 1:20; 1 Ti 1:17) and viewed graven images as idolatrous (see Ro 1:23). After his encounter with the risen Christ en route to Damascus, Paul began to view Jesus as “the dwelling-place of the divine wisdom, the immanent presence of the transcendent God, the visible image of the invisible God” (Wright, “Poetry and Theology,” 118). Moreover, Paul came to believe that it was God’s design for those created in his image and likeness (cf. 1 Co 11:7; 15:49) to be re-created in and increasingly conformed to the image of God revealed in Christ (see esp. Col 3:10; cf. Ro 8:29; 2 Co 3:18). Paul does not indicate here how it is that one may see God in Christ. However, if Paul were asked to expound how Christ reflects the image of God, he would likely speak of Jesus’ earthly mission from beginning (incarnation) to end (ascension and exaltation) and would probably place particular emphasis on Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection (for this pattern, see Php 2:6–11).
Next, Paul describes Christ as “the firstborn over all creation.” The term prōtotokos (“firstborn,” GK 4758) rarely appears in Paul’s writings or elsewhere in the NT (cf. 1:18; Ro 8:29; Heb 1:6; Rev 1:5). Though prōtotokos occurs infrequently in Paul, it is common in the LXX, where it appears some 133 times. The LXX usually employs the word in reference to birth order (cf. Lk 2:7). Among the Israelites, firstborn sons possessed privileges not afforded other progeny. This fact gave rise to a metaphorical use of prōtotokos to express status and primacy. (For an example of this usage, see Ps 89:27: “I will also appoint him my firstborn, the most exalted of the kings of the earth.”) This appears to be the primary meaning of “firstborn” here, even if the chronological connotations of prōtotokos (and resultingly the notion of Christ’s preexistence) are not altogether absent (Lightfoot, 146–47; Caird, 176; cf. Chrysostom [Hom. Col. 3], who understands “firstborn” exclusively in reference to time). What other Jews may have attributed to Wisdom (cf. Pr 8:22–31), Paul claimed for Christ. In relation to creation, Christ is sovereign and supreme. He was before all creation in time and is above all creation in rank (cf. Moule, 65; Wright, 71). This “poem” does not praise Christ as one created (i.e., “firstborn out of creation,” a partitive genitive), as Arius of Alexandria maintained, but it exalts Christ as the one “over all creation” (so NIV, a subordinative genitive), as Theodore of Mopsuestia, among others, has recognized. (For a translation of the pertinent primary texts, see Gorday, 13–14.)
15 Christ, then, is said to be “the image of the invisible God.” Paul has already said that he is “the image of God” in 2 Cor. 4:4, in a context which appears to reflect Paul’s conversion experience. Paul recognized the one who was revealed to him on the Damascus road as Jesus Christ, the Son of God; what if, in that same moment, he recognized him also as the image of God? When Ezekiel, at an earlier date, received his vision of God, he saw enthroned at the heart of the rainbow-like brightness “a likeness as it were of a human form” (Ezek. 1:26). Paul had a similar experience when he recognized “the glory of God in the face of Christ” (2 Cor. 4:6). If so, he is not simply echoing someone else’s form of words here; he is expressing what his own experience confirmed to be the truth.
To say that Christ is the image of God is to say that in him the nature and being of God have been perfectly revealed—that in him the invisible has become visible. “No one has ever seen God,” says the Fourth Evangelist; “the only-begotten one, himself God, who has his being in the Father’s bosom, it is he who has declared him” (John 1:18). Later, the same evangelist reports Christ himself as saying, “He who has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9). In another letter Paul affirms that, since the creation of the world, the everlasting power and divinity of the unseen Creator may be “clearly perceived in the things that have been made” (Rom. 1:20). But now an all-surpassing manifestation of his everlasting power and divinity has been granted: “the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ” has shone into his people’s hearts through the same creative word as in the beginning called light to shine forth out of darkness (2 Cor. 4:4–6). The writer to the Hebrews expresses the same truth when he describes Christ, the Son of God, as the “effulgence of his glory and the very impress of his being” (Heb. 1:3).
No reader of the OT scriptures, on reading the words now before us, could fail to be reminded of the statement in Gen. 1:26–27 that God created man, as male and female, “in his own image.” Defaced as the divine image in humanity may be by reason of sin, yet in the order of creation it remains true that humanity is “the image and glory of God” (1 Cor. 11:7). This image of God in humanity, moreover, is a copy or reflection of the archetypal image—that is to say, of God’s beloved Son.88 And so, as we are told later, when the havoc of sin is removed and the new man appears, the latter is renewed after the image of his Creator (Col. 3:10).
It may be observed in passing that there is a close association between the doctrine of man’s creation in the divine image and the doctrine of our Lord’s incarnation. It is because man in the creative order bears the image of his Creator that the Son of God could become incarnate as man and in his humanity display the glory of the invisible God.
Christ, in addition to being the image of God, is the “firstborn of all creation”—or, as it is rendered above, “firstborn before all creation.” The latter rendering is designed to clarify the force of the genitive phrase, “of all creation.” This cannot be construed as though he himself were the first of all beings to be created. On the contrary, it is emphasized immediately that he is the one by whom the whole creation came into being.90 What is meant is that the Son of God, existing as he did “before all things” (v. 17), exercises the privilege of primogeniture as Lord of creation, the divinely appointed “heir of all things” (Heb. 1:2). He was there when creation’s work began, and it was for him as well as through him that it was completed.
The title “firstborn” echoes the wording of Ps. 89:27, where God says of the Davidic king, “I will make him the firstborn, the highest of the kings of the earth.” But it belongs to Christ not only as the Son of David, but also as the Wisdom of God.93 Whereas, in the wisdom literature of the OT, wisdom is at best the personification of a divine attribute or of the holy law, the NT writers know that, when they speak of Wisdom in personal terms, they are referring to one who is truly alive, one whose ministry as a man resident in the Holy Land was still remembered by many. To all those writers, as to Paul, Christ was the personal (not personified) and incarnate Wisdom of God.
As with all the other direct or indirect OT adumbrations of our Lord (including the messianic concept itself), this one is interpreted by the NT writers in terms of the historic and personal fact of Christ, and not vice versa. Thus, the well-known passage in Prov. 8:22–31, where personified Wisdom speaks of her presence at the creation of the world, is not regarded by the NT writers as a prophecy whose details may be pressed to yield christological conclusions, however much they may draw on its phraseology in depicting Christ as the Wisdom of God. Later Christian writers involved themselves in unnecessary embarrassment by trying to extract a christological exegesis from the passage. What Paul and his contemporaries imply is not so much that the personified Wisdom of the OT books is really Christ, as that Christ—the Christ who lived on earth as man, who died and rose again, “whom God made our wisdom” (1 Cor. 1:30)—is the one who was before all creation, the preexistent, cosmic Christ.
The idea of preexistence is not unknown in Jewish thought. We meet it, for example, in later discussions about the Messiah99 and in the preexistent Son of Man of the Enoch literature. But such preexistent beings were, to the minds of those who discussed them, largely ideal; here preexistence is predicated of a man who had lived and died in Palestine within the preceding half-century.101 This is not the only place in the Pauline letters where the preexistence of Christ is asserted or implied. Nor is Paul the only NT writer to teach such a thing. The same teaching is found in Hebrews (Heb. 1:2; 10:5–9) and in the Fourth Gospel (John 1:1–2; 8:58), while in the Apocalypse Jesus is the Alpha and Omega, the first and the last, David’s root as well as David’s offspring (Rev. 1:17; 2:8; 22:13, 16).
But Paul speaks not only of a preexistent Christ, but of a cosmic Christ: that is to say, he finds in Christ “the key to creation, declaring that it is all there with Christ in view.” Whatever figures in Jewish literature, canonical or otherwise, may have preexistence predicated of them, to none of them are such cosmic activity and significance ascribed as are here ascribed to the preexistent Christ.104 Nor is this the only place where Paul makes this ascription: he has already stated in 1 Cor. 8:6 that Christians have “one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things, and we through him,” while in Rom. 8:19–21 he shows how the redemption secured by Christ works not only to the advantage of its immediate beneficiaries, “the sons of God,” but through them to the whole creation.
The Image and Firstborn (1:15)
15 This christological reflection begins by declaring two titles for Jesus: he is “image of the invisible God,” and he is “firstborn over all creation.” Here Christ’s specific relations to the Father (eikōn) and creation (prōtotokos) are spelled out in terms of his lordship.
One cannot in a postmodern world—where the significance (as special creation) of humanity is ironically deconstructed—emphasize enough that humans are God’s eikōns. In the history of discussing the meaning of eikōn, the focus has shifted from the rational to the self-consciousness, to the relational, and now most accurately to the governing evocation of the term. That kind of historical, contextual,296 and theological work must be accomplished without ignoring the sometimes jarring reality that, for the apostle Paul, Jesus was himself the one and only true eikōn in bodily form, leading to the implication that we can understand Adam only through Jesus, and not Jesus simply as the second instance of the original Adam. This, then, is not so much Adamic Christology, as if Jesus is merely Adam Version 2.0, but instead a christological anthropology, or a christologically reframed Adam, an anthropology both embodied and “storied” in Israel.298 Our verse makes this explicit: “the Son is the image.” To be sure, in Paul humans—all humans—are made in God’s eikōn (1 Cor 11:7; 15:49; Rom 1:23), but it is particularly King Jesus as Israel and Israel’s Messiah who is the true eikōn (1 Cor 15:49; 2 Cor 3:18; 4:4; Rom 8:29; Col 1:15; 3:10). Inasmuch as the eikōn of Gen 1:26–27 was created to subrule on behalf of God (cf. Isa 43:7), and inasmuch as Adam and Eve forfeited that task (Gen 3), and inasmuch as God wanted to rule Israel but Israel wanted a human king (1 Sam 8), God did send his Son as the true eikōn to rule over all creation. To call Jesus the eikōn of the invisible God is to say that Jesus is the one who rules over all as the Davidic king (Ps 89:27). Furthermore, eikōn connotes revelation as the physical presence, or the “exact representation” (Heb 1:3), in concrete, embodied reality of the “invisible” God. Such a description of God is found elsewhere in the New Testament (Rom 1:20; Col 1:15, 16; 1 Tim 1:17; Heb 11:27) and ties into the famous line of John’s Jesus where he says God is “spirit” (John 4:24). The New Testament, however, does not take the line of dualism found in Plato or Philo, but instead that of a revelatory realism made manifest in incarnation. Eikōn, then, establishes not only a christological anthropology but also a christological theology or christological monotheism; that is, both God and the human are known most definitively in this single God-man, Jesus (see John 1:18; 2 Cor 4:4). This God-man King or Lord rules and reveals God. That is, in Jesus—the Cruciform One—we see “no error, no failure,” when it comes to an “exactly similar” revelation of who God is. It is right, then, to see in eikōn the “essence” of God now manifest.
Discussion of the background to eikōn shapes how one reads the hymn and how one must at least consider Prov 8:22 through the lens of Gen 1:1, but this older observation has recently been expanded: a particularly compelling theory is that eikōn evokes a wisdom tradition deriving from Hellenistic Judaism. Wisdom, it was believed, bridged the invisible God and visible creation, beginning at Prov 8:22:
The Lord brought me [Wisdom] forth as the first of his works,
before his deeds of old.
This leads to Wis 7:26, a text with very clear connections to Col 1:15:
For she [wisdom] is a reflection of eternal light,
a spotless mirror of the working of God,
and an image of his goodness.
Or from Philo, Allegorical Interpretation 1.43:
“And God planted a pleasaunce [paradise] in Eden toward the sun-rising, and placed there the man whom He had formed.” By using many words for it Moses has already made it manifest that the sublime and heavenly wisdom is of many names; for he calls it [wisdom] “beginning” and “image” and “vision of God”; and now by the planting of the pleasaunce he brings out the fact that earthly wisdom is a copy of this as of an archetype.
As observed, then, Wisdom and Logos are often indistinguishable as forms by which God reveals. The eikōn who rules reveals the Wisdom of God. As Dunn puts it, “These terms have to be understood as ways of speaking of God’s own outreach to and interaction with his world and his people, ways, in other words, of speaking of God’s immanence while safeguarding his transcendence—in a word, ‘personifications’ of God’s wisdom rather than ‘intermediaries’ or ‘hypostases.’ ” For some Jews, then, the primary form of Wisdom revelation is Torah, while for the Christians it is Jesus and the Spirit. That is to say, this hymn is adopting and adapting the Jewish wisdom tradition, as understood in part in the Torah-revelation tradition, to God’s manifestation in Christ. These terms then come to fulfillment in Christ: rule, revelation, Wisdom, and Torah.305
The Son is the image of the “invisible God,” a claim that transcends Old Testament categories where God is visible, but humans are incapable of survival if God is seen. In spite of the denial of the human gaze upon God in John 1:18, some texts imply having seen God (Gen 16:13; 32:30). Perhaps, then, God is not so much invisible as not completely revealed or “unseen.” This understanding makes the manifestation of God in Christ, the incarnation itself, a singular advance in revelation history, for now God has been fully manifested in embodied form. In addition, we have the makings of a christological anthropology for, if the Son/Christ is the eikōn, humans are made “according to” or “in” that eikōn.
This God-man becomes human, our hymn continues, as the “firstborn over all creation.” Before we examine the sense of “over,” which in flatter translation is no more than “of,” we need to look at the meaning of “firstborn” (prōtotokos). The term is used throughout the Septuagint for the temporally firstborn child from a mother, and the same sense is found in the New Testament (Luke 2:7; Heb 11:28). But the term also indicates the figurative status of preeminence when speaking of Israel as firstborn (e.g., Exod 4:22), the future Davidic king (Ps 89:27), or Wisdom herself (Prov 8:22). In the New Testament, Jesus is the prōtotokos in that he is the one into whom all are conformed (Rom 8:29) and the one to be worshiped (Heb 1:6); the whole church absorbs his identity as the firstborn (12:23), and he is the first one to be resurrected (Rev 1:5). In these references his status, not his birth order, is in view, his superiority more than his temporality. His status is superior because temporally he is before all things, hierarchically he is above all things, and ontologically he sustains all things. This matters for anthropology: if Christ is the Prōtotokos, Adam is not simply the prototype for the Second Adam, but Christ is the prior Eikōn-template used to create Adam and Eve. Christ may be the Second Adam, but Adam, then, is the Second Prōtotokos-Eikōn. One might then say that, in contemplating creation—since all creation is in, through, and unto Christ—we are to encounter a manifestation of nothing less than the Son.
The issue in the history of the church has been the specific kind of genitive at work in “firstborn of all creation.” The Greek has no preposition or word stating the kind of relationship between “firstborn” and “all creation.” One must discern the genitive, or more accurately, discern the relationship of the two terms. Is the Son a created being (partitive genitive) or superior to (objective genitive) the created beings of this world? In that the term prōtotokos evokes ontological superiority and that vv. 16–17 explicitly make the Son the creator of all matter, one must conclude that the genitive is objective or comparative: that is, he is the firstborn in comparison to or (even better) the firstborn over all creation.
We turn now to the second verse (v. 16) of the hymn, in which the first strophe (vv. 15–17) focuses on Christ as supreme in creation, and our second verse here focuses on the reason why Christ is supreme: Christ is the Creator.
The glory of Christ’s person (v. 15)
Jesus Christ is ‘the image of the invisible God’ not only because he is man made in the image of God (Gen. 1:26–27; 1 Cor. 11:7), but also because he has the same nature as God (Heb. 1:3), being co-eternal with him. The Father is invisible to us, yet God manifests himself by his Son (John 14:9). Christ pre-existed with the Father before the world was created as ‘the first-born over all creation’ (v. 15), being the Father’s heir. This phrase does not refer to the creating of Jesus Christ before the rest of creation, as the Arians and the Unitarians teach, but to his eternal divine existence.
1:15 / He is the image of the invisible God. By image, Paul does not mean mere resemblance or similarity, because the Greek word used is eikōn. This communicates the idea that Christ participates in and with the nature of God, not merely copying, but visibly manifesting and perfectly revealing God in human form (in 2 Cor. 4:4 Paul talks about “the glory of Christ, who is the image of God”).
The result of the Incarnation is that the invisible God has become visible in the God-man, Jesus Christ. The Apostle John, in a different context, records statements that Christ made: “I and the Father are one” (10:30), and “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father” (14:9). Such a claim could not be made for any angel or spiritual power. Christ’s sovereignty is attested to by his personal and unique relationship to God.
By bearing the image of God in this way, Christ stands apart from the created order as the firstborn over all creation. The phrase firstborn (prōtotokos) has often been taken in a temporal sense implying that Christ is the first one to be created and thus belongs to the created order. Apparently the false teachers at Colossae had relegated Christ to the status of a created being. This heresy has a long history, for it was championed by the Arians in the fourth century a.d. and continues to be perpetuated by the Jehovah’s Witnesses today.
Paul does not mean that Christ belongs to creation in a temporal way. The issue here is primacy of function, not priority in time. Since Christ participates in the act of creation, he stands over and beyond the created world as the agent by which everything came into existence.
Ver. 15.—Who is Image of God the invisible (ch. 2:9; Phil. 2:6; 2 Cor. 4:4; Heb. 1:1–3; 11:27; John 1:1–3, 18; 5:37, 38; 1 Tim. 1:17; Exod. 33:20; Job 18:8, 9). On “image” (εἰκών), see Lightfoot’s full discussion; and Trench’s ‘Synonyms.’ The word is well defined by Philo (‘On Dreams,’ 1. § 40): “The image—no imitation, but the very archetypal representation itself (αὐτὸ τὸ ὰρχέτυπον εἶδος).” This title the apostle had before conferred on Christ in 2 Cor. 4:4. There it is in the moral and redemptional attributes of the Godhead, manifest in “the illumination of the gospel,” that Jesus Christ (ver. 6), the incarnate Redeemer, appears as “the Image of God:” here the title is put upon him as representing the invisible God in all that pertains to nature and creation. The Colossian error rested on a philosophical dualism. It assumed an absolute separation between the infinite God and the finite, material world, which was viewed as the work of lower and more or less evil powers. To counteract it, therefore, the apostle’s argument must go down to the foundation of things, and seeks for a true conception of the universe on which to ground itself. Accordingly, in this and the following verses, he bases the redeeming work of “the Word made flesh who dwelt among us,” set forth in his previous Epistles, upon that of “the Word who was with God in the beginning, who was God, and through whom all things were made.” He avoids, however, the term Logos, which must have been perfectly familiar to him in this connection—possibly to prevent misunderstanding (see Introduction, §§ 4, 7). First-born of all creation (Rom. 8:29; Heb. 1:2, 6; John 1:18; Ps. 89:27). (On “firstborn,” see again Lightfoot’s invaluable note.) Primogeniture in early ages carried with it the rights of full heirship, involving representation of the father both in his religious and civil capacity, and in his sovereignty within the house (Gen. 25:31; 27:29; 49:3; Deut. 21:17; 1 Chron. 5:1). But natural precedence, as in the case of Esau and Jacob, may yield to Divine election, which gives a unique sacredness and separateness to the position and title of the firstborn. So Israel is Jehovah’s firstborn among the nations (Exod. 4:22, 23; Jer. 31:9). What belonged to the chosen people under this title is, in the language of Ps. 89:27, concentrated on the person of the Messianic King, the elect Son of David; and firstborn became a standing designation of the Messiah. The apostle has already applied it to Christ in his relation to the Church (Rom. 8:29; see below, ver. 18), as being not the eldest simply, but one intrinsically superior to and sovereign over those whom he claims for his brethren (comp. Rom. 14:9). Here the historical birthright and actual sovereignty of the Lord Jesus Christ within the Church are affirmed to rest upon an original primacy over the universe itself. He is not the Church’s only, but “all creation’s Firstborn” (comp. Heb. 3:3, 6, “Son over his own house”—the house of him “who built all things”). The phrase is synonymous with the “Heir of all things” of Heb. 1:2, and the “Only-begotten” of John 1:18. So far were the titles Firstborn and Only-begotten from excluding each other in Jewish thought that Israel is designated “God’s firstborn, only-begotten,” in the apocryphal Psalms of Solomon (18:4; also 2 Esdr. 6:58); and so entirely had the former become a title of sovereignty that God himself is called “Firstborn of the world” (Rabbi Bechai: see Lightfoot). Philo uses the equivalent πρωτόγονος of the Divine Word as the seat of the archetypal ideas after which creation was framed. This phrase has been a famous battle-ground of controversy. It was a chief stronghold of the Arians, who read “of (out of) all creation” as partitive genitive. This interpretation, while grammatically allowable, is exegetically and historically impossible. For vers. 16 and 17 expressly and emphatically distinguish between “him” and “the all things” of creation. The idea of the Son of God being part of creation was foreign to St. Paul’s mind (ch. 2:9; 1 Cor. 8:6; Phil. 2:6–8), and to the thought of his day. Had such a misunderstanding occurred to him as possible, he would, perhaps, have expressed himself differently. Some of the early opponents of Arius gave to πρωτότοκος, against all usage, an active sense—“First-begetter of all creation.” Athanasius, with other Greek Fathers of the fourth century, in the stress of the same controversy, were led to propose what subsequently became the standard Socinian interpretation, understanding “creation” to mean “the new (moral) creation” (so also Schleiermacher)—against the whole scope of the context, and cutting the very nerve of the apostle’s argument. The Jewish theosophy of the day distributed the offices of representing God, and of mediating between him and the creatures, amongst a variable and nebulous crowd of agencies—angels, words, powers—neither human nor strictly Divine. The apostle gathers all these mediatorial and administrative functions into one, and places them in the hands of “the Son of his love.” Looking up to God, he is his Image: looking down on creation, he is its primal Head and Lord. “Creation,” standing collectively without the article in antithesis to “Firstborn,” is used qualitatively, or (as the logicians would say) intensively (see Alford; and comp. ver. 23 and Eph. 2:21, Revised Text). This is better than making κτίσις a quasiproper noun (Winer, Lightfoot), or rendering distributively, “every creature” (Meyer, Ellicott). (On this occasional collective use of πᾶς without article, see Krüger’s ‘Griech. Sprachlehre,’ i. 50. 11. 9.)
15. Who is the image of the invisible God. He mounts up higher in discoursing as to the glory of Christ. He calls him the image of the invisible God, meaning by this, that it is in him alone that God, who is otherwise invisible, is manifested to us, in accordance with what is said in John 1:18,—No man hath ever seen God: the only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, hath himself manifested him to us. I am well aware in what manner the ancients were accustomed to explain this; for having a contest to maintain with Arians, they insist upon the equality of the Son with the Father, and his (ὁμοουσίαν) identity of essence, while in the mean time they make no mention of what is the chief point—in what manner the Father makes himself known to us in Christ. As to Chrysostom’s laying the whole stress of his defence on the term image, by contending that the creature cannot be said to be the image of the Creator, it is excessively weak; nay more, it is set aside by Paul in 1 Cor. 11:7, whose words are—The man is the image and glory of God.
That, therefore, we may not receive anything but what is solid, let us take notice, that the term image is not made use of in reference to essence, but has a reference to us; for Christ is called the image of God on this ground—that he makes God in a manner visible to us. At the same time, we gather also from this his (ὁμοουσία) identity of essence, for Christ would not truly represent God, if he were not the essential Word of God, inasmuch as the question here is not as to those things which by communication are suitable also to creatures, but the question is as to the perfect wisdom, goodness, righteousness, and power of God, for the representing of which no creature were competent. We shall have, therefore, in this term, a powerful weapon in opposition to the Arians, but, notwithstanding, we must begin with that reference that I have mentioned; we must not insist upon the essence alone. The sum is this—that God in himself, that is, in his naked majesty, is invisible, and that not to the eyes of the body merely, but also to the understandings of men, and that he is revealed to us in Christ alone, that we may behold him as in a mirror. For in Christ he shews us his righteousness, goodness, wisdom, power, in short, his entire self. We must, therefore, beware of seeking him elsewhere, for everything that would set itself off as a representation of God, apart from Christ, will be an idol.
The first-born of every creature. The reason of this appellation is immediately added—For in him all things are created, as he is, three verses afterwards, called the first-begotten from the dead, because by him we all rise again. Hence, he is not called the first-born, simply on the ground of his having preceded all creatures in point of time, but because he was begotten by the Father, that they might be created by him, and that he might be, as it were, the substance or foundation of all things. It was then a foolish part that the Arians acted, who argued from this that he was, consequently, a creature. For what is here treated of is, not what he is in himself, but what he accomplishes in others.
15. It remains to fill in the details of the poem, to show how this wealth of theology was actually expressed. He, the Son of God in whom we have redemption, is the image of the invisible God. No-one has ever seen God, wrote John in his Prologue (1:18), but God the only Son has made him known. Humanity was made as the climax of the first creation (Gen. 1:26–27): the true humanity of Jesus is the climax of the history of creation, and at the same time the starting-point of the new creation. From all eternity Jesus had, in his very nature, been the ‘image of God’, reflecting perfectly the character and life of the Father. It was thus appropriate for him to be the ‘image of God’ as man: from all eternity he had held the same relation to the Father that humanity, from its creation, had been intended to bear. Humanity was designed to be the perfect vehicle for God’s self-expression within his world, so that he could himself live appropriately among his people as one of themselves, could rule in love over creation as himself a creature. God made us for himself, as Augustine said with a different, though perhaps related, meaning. The doctrine of incarnation which flows from this cannot, by definition, squeeze either ‘divinity’ or ‘humanity’ out of shape. Indeed, it is only in Jesus Christ that we understand what ‘divinity’ and ‘humanity’ really mean: without him, we lapse into sub-Christian, or even pagan, categories of thought, and then wonder why the doctrine of incarnation causes us so much difficulty. Paul’s way of expressing the doctrine is to say, poetically, that the man Jesus fulfils the purposes which God had marked out both for himself and for humanity.
Upon Jesus Christ, then, has come the role marked out for humanity, and hence for Israel: Christ is the firstborn over all creation. The title ‘firstborn’ is given to Israel in the Old Testament (Exod. 4:22; Jer. 31:9; cf. Psalms of Solomon 18:4; 4 Ezra 6:58), and also, once, to the coming Davidic Messiah (Ps. 89:27). Burney (see above) argued strongly that it referred to the figure of Wisdom in Proverbs 8:22. It therefore conveys the idea of priority in both time and rank, and we should not foreclose on either of these options (niv, in its paraphrase, allows only the idea of rank): to opt for temporal priority does not imply that the pre-existent Son of God is merely the first created being. The continuing temporal sense of the word is clear from verse 18 (cf. Rom. 8:29), and gives a parallel idea to that expressed in the neb translation of John 1:1, ‘When all things began, the Word already was’. It is in virtue of this eternal pre-existence that the Son of God holds supreme rank.
Ver. 15. Christ the Image of the invisible God.—
- Christ is the Image of God. Image signifies that which represents another, and as things are variously represented, so there is a great variety of images. 1. Some are imperfect, and express but some particular, and that defectively. (1) Artificial images, whether drawn, sculptured, or embroidered, represent only the colour, figure, and lineaments, and have nothing of life and nature. (2) Adam, who was called God’s image because the conditions of his nature had some resemblance to the properties of God—intellect, will, and lordship; but he had not God’s essence. 2. Some are perfect. We call a child the image of his father, inasmuch as he has not merely the colour or figure of his parent, but his nature and properties, soul, body, life, &c. So a prince has not only the appearance of his predecessor’s power, but its substance (Gen. 5:3). 3. In which of these two senses is the figure true of Christ? Surely not in the sense that man is the image of God. For intending to exalt Christ and to show that His dignity is so great as to capacitate Him to save us, it would ill suit his design if the apostle attributed no more to Him than what holds good for any man. Read our Lord’s own testimony (John 14:9; 12:45). Now where is the portrait of which it may be said that he who has seen it has seen him whom it represents? This can only be found in one which contains the nature of the original (Heb. 1:3). (1) God’s nature is perfectly represented in Christ. Hence He is called God over and over again. (2) Christ represents the Father in His properties, eternity, immutability, wisdom, &c. (3) In His works (John 5:19; Heb. 1:10; John 1:3, &c.). 4. Now no child perfectly represents his father; there are differences of manner, disposition, feature: but Christ represents the Father in everything. 5. This sacred truth overthrows two heresies—the Sabellian and the Arian. The former confounded the Son with the Father, the latter rent them asunder. Those took from the Son His person, these His nature. Paul demonstrates the Sabellian error here, for no one is the image of himself; and the Arian, for Christ could not be a perfect image unless He had the same nature as the Father.
- God, whose image Jesus is, is invisible. 1. The Divine nature is spiritual, and hence invisible, inasmuch as the eye sees only corporeal objects. For this cause, Moses, in teaching that there is nothing material in the Divine essence that might be represented by pencil or chisel, remonstrates to them that when God manifested Himself they “saw no similitude” (Deut. 4:12, 15). Whence He infers they must make no graven image. 2. But the meaning here is also that God is incomprehensible. Seeing is often put for knowing. The Seraphim cover their faces to embody this truth (Isa. 6:2). Through His grace indeed we may know something of His nature (Heb. 1:1); but however clear it does not amount to a seeing, i.e., an apprehension which conceives the proper form of the subject. 3. Why is this quality mentioned here? To show us that God has manifested Himself to us by His Son. There is a secret opposition between image and invisible. God has a nature so impenetrable that without this His Image men would not have known Him. (1) By Him He made, preserves, and governs the world. To Him we must refer the revelations of God under the Old Testament. (2) But here the reference is to what took place in the fulness of time. In Christ we see all the wonders of the invisible Father—His justice, mercy, power, &c., in all their completeness, whereas creation only shows the edges. (J. Daillé.)
The image of God:—We believe in many things we never saw, on the evidence of other senses than sight. We believe in music, invisible odours, nay, in what we can neither hear, taste, smell, nor touch—our own life, our soul. Thus it were irrational to disbelieve in God because He is invisible. Still we are tempted to forget His existence, and as for the ungodly “God is not in all their thoughts.”
- I would warn you against allowing God to be out of mind because He is out of sight. 1. This is a danger to which our very constitution exposes us. Hence the necessity of striving to walk by faith, not by sight. This is difficult because we are creatures of sense. The dead are out of sight and so often forgotten, the eternal world, the devil, and so God. 2. Why should the invisibility of God be turned into a temptation to sin? It should rather minister to holy care. How solemn the thought that an unseen Being is ever at our side! Were this realized, then bad thoughts would be banished, and unholy deeds crushed, and purity and heavenliness imparted to the life and conduct.
- The visible revelations of the invisible in the Old Testament were most probably manifestations of the Son of God. To Jacob at Peniel, to Joshua at Jericho, to Manoah, to Isaiah (chap. 6), and to others God appeared. How are we to reconcile this with “No man hath seen God at any time”? Only by regarding these appearances as manifestations of Him who is “the image of the invisible God.” This is in perfect harmony with other passages in the history of redemption. We know for certain that the fruits of the incarnation were anticipated, and the fruits of His death enjoyed before He died. Why not, then, the fact of the incarnation? Viewed in this light, these Old Testament stories acquire a deeper and more enduring interest. In the guide of Abraham’s pilgrimage I see the guide of my own. Jacob’s success in wrestling imparts vigour to my prayers.
III. The greatness of the worker corresponds with the greatness of the work. It is not always so. Sometimes God accomplishes mighty ends by feeble instruments in both nature and grace. But redemption is differentiated in greatness, grandeur, and difficulty from all the other works of God. It cost more love, labour, and wisdom than all you starry universe. But great as is the work the Worker is greater—the visible Image of the invisible God.
- God as revealed visibly in jesus meets and satisfies one of our strongest wants. 1. The second commandment runs more counter to our nature than any other. (1) Look at the heathen world. For long ages the world was given up to idolatry with the exception of a single people. To fix the mind on an invisible Being seemed like attempting to anchor a vessel on a flowing tide. And as a climbing plant, for lack of a better stay, will throw its arms round a rotting tree: rather than want something palpable to which their thoughts might cling, men have worshipped the Divine Being through the most hideous forms. (2) Look at the proneness to sensuous worship among the Jews. (3) We find the evidence of this prosperity in the Christian Church. Fancy some old Roman rising from his grave on the banks of the Tiber, what could he suppose but that the “Eternal City” had changed her idols, and by some strange turn of fortune had given to one Jesus the old throne of Jupiter and assigned the crown which Juno wore in his days to another queen of heaven? 2. In what way are we to account for this universal tendency? It is not enough to call it folly; the feelings from which it springs are deeply rooted in our nature. You tell me that God is infinite, incomprehensible; but it is as difficult for me to make such a Being the object of my affections as to grasp a sound or detain a shadow. This heart craves something more congenial to my nature, and seeks in God a palpable object for its affections to cling to. 3. Now see how this want is met in the Gospel by Him who “knoweth our frame.” In His incarnate Son the Infinite is brought within the limits of my understanding, the Invisible is revealed to my sight. In that eye bent upon me I see Divine love in a form I can feel. God addresses me in human tones, and stands before me in the fashion of a man; and when I fall at His feet with Thomas I am an image worshipper but no idolater, for I bend to the “image of the invisible God.”
- In what sense is Christ the Image of the invisible God? 1. It means much more than mere resemblance; it conveys the idea of shadow less than of substance. I have known an infant bear such a resemblance to his father that what his tongue could not tell his face did: and people struck by the likeness exclaimed, “He is the very image of his father.” Such was Adam in his state of innocence. Now it may be said that as our Lord, like the first Adam, was holy, he is therefore called the image of God; yet that does not exhaust the meaning, nor is it on that account that Paul calls Him the second Adam. Nor have they sounded the depths who say He was so called because He was endowed with power to do the works of God. For many others have been in that sense equally images of God. But where are they represented as “God manifest in the flesh”? 2. In Christ’s character and works we have a living, visible, perfect image of the invisible God. (1) In Him we see the power of God, and notably at the grave of Lazarus. To make something out of nothing is a work more visibly stamped with divinity than to make one thing out of another—a living man out of lifeless dust, and then on that mountain side the bread multiplies. (2) In Christ we have the image of a holy God. (3) In Christ we have the image of a God willing end waiting to save. (T. Guthrie, D.D.)
The image of the invisible God:—I draw out from my pocket a little miniature, and look upon it and tears drop from my eyes. What is it? A piece of ivory. What is on it? A face that some artist has painted there. It is a radiant face. My history is connected with it. When I look upon it tides of feeling swell in me. Some one comes to me, and says: “What is that?” I say, “It is my mother.” “Your mother! I should call it a piece of ivory with water-colours on it.” To me it is my mother. When you come to scratch it, and analyze it, and scrutinize the elements of it, to be sure it is only a sign or dumb show, but it brings to me that which is no sign nor dumb show. According to the law of my mind, through it I have brought back, interpreted, refreshed, revived, made patent in me, all the sense of what a loving mother was. So I take my conception of Christ as He is painted in dead letters on dead paper, and to me is interpreted the glory, the sweetness, the patience, the love, the joy-inspiring nature of God; and I do not hesitate to say, “Christ is my God,” just as I would not hesitate to say of that picture, “It is my mother.” “But,” says a man, “you do not mean that you really sucked at the breast of that picture?” No, I did not; but I will not allow any one to drive me into any such minute analysis as that. Now I hold that the Lord Jesus Christ, as represented in the New Testament, brings to my mind all the effluence of brightness and beauty which I am capable of understanding. I can take in no more. He is said to be the express image of God’s glory. He reveals to us a God whose interest in man is inherent, and who through His mercy and goodness made sacrifices for it. God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son to die for it. What is the only begotten Son of God? Who knows? Who can know? That His only begotten Son is precious to Him we may know, judging from the experience of an earthly father; and we cannot doubt that when He gave Christ to come into life, and humble Himself to man’s condition, and take upon Himself an ignominious death, He sacrificed that which was exceedingly dear to Him. And this act is a revelation of the feeling of God toward the human race. (H. W. Beecher.)
Christ the image of God:—There is in Rome an elegant fresco by Guido—“The Anrora.” It covers a lofty ceiling. Looking up at it from the pavement your neck grows stiff, your head dizzy, and the figures indistinct. You soon tire and turn away. The owner of the palace has placed a broad mirror near the floor. You may now sit down before it as at a table, and at your leisure look into the mirror, and enjoy the fresco that is above you. There is no more weariness, nor indistinctness, nor dizziness. Like the Rospiglioso mirror beneath “The Aurora,” Christ reflects the glory of the Divine nature to the eye of man.
Christ is intended to be familiarly known:—The whole value of the gospels to Erasmus lay in the vividness with which they brought home to their readers the personal impression of Christ Himself. “Were we to have seen Him with our own eyes, we should not have so intimate a knowledge as they give us of Christ, speaking, healing, dying, rising again, as it were in our very presence.… If the footprints of Christ are shown us in any place, we kneel down and adore them. Why do we not rather venerate the living and breathing picture of Him in these books?… It may be the safer course,” he goes on, with characteristic irony, “to conceal the state mysteries of kings, but Christ desires His mysteries to be spread abroad as openly as was possible. (Little’s “Historical Lights.”)
The firstborn:—The expression as it stands is somewhat ambiguous. 1. Does it imply that all creatures have been born, but that Jesus was born before them? Impossible. All human creatures have been born, all at least but the first; and even he was “the son of God” (Luke 3:38). We are all “God’s offspring.” But, except in poetry, we can scarcely speak of the birth of the earth, ocean, stars, &c. They have been created, not born; they are the creatures rather than the children of God. 2. Nor can the meaning be firstborn within the circle of all creation; for the higher nature of Jesus is not within that circle: it is far above it; before Abraham, and sun, moon, and stars, He was and is. 3. The apostle’s idea is that Jesus is the hereditary Lord of the whole creation. The representation is based on the prerogative that is still attached in many lands to primogeniture. That prerogative is great. In virtue of it the firstborn of the Queen is Prince of Wales; of the Emperor of Germany, Crown Prince; of the late Emperor Napoleon, Prince Imperial. In ancient times and among the apostle’s people, in the days of their national grandeur, there was a corresponding privilege attached to the royal firstborn. And hence in the course of time the word came to be so employed that the ideas of birth and priority of birth got sometimes to be merged out of sight, while the ideas of special hereditary privilege, prerogative, and honour stood prominently forth. Hence God said to Pharaoh, “Israel is My son, My firstborn,” because they were in distinction from other peoples the recipients of the advantages which were the natural prerequisites of primogeniture. Again in Jer. 31:9 the idea of priority in birth is entirely shaded off, for that priority could not be affirmed of Ephraim—the reference is to peculiarity of prerogative and honour. Take again Heb. 12:22, 23. Here Christians are called the firstborn, and not Christians in heaven, for they are distinguished from the “spirits of just men made perfect,” but Christians on earth. All such Christians, though scattered, and variously denominated, are “the one general assembly and Church of the firstborn.” This shows that the term may be and is used without priority of birth, and in the sense of being God’s very highly-favoured children. All the blessings of primogeniture are theirs because they are Christ’s, the Firstborn. As He is the Crown Prince of the universe, the Prince Imperial and hereditary Lord of the whole creation, they are constituted joint heirs with Him of the “inheritance incorruptible,” &c. Again, this interpretation is supported by Rom. 8:29. “Firstborn among many brethren” is a notable expression. We cannot suppose that God desired to secure the Saviour a relation of chronological priority. Jesus was already before all. The idea is that it was the aim of God to remove from the peerless Son the condition of solitariness in the parental and heavenly home. This aim was accomplished by surrounding Him with a circle of multitudinous brethren, bearing the familiar family likeness, who might be sharers with Him in His inheritance of glory. (J. Morison, D.D.) Christ is one of us:—On the centenary of the birth of Robert Stephenson, there was a very large demonstration at Newcastle. The town was paraded by a vast procession who carried banners in honour of the distinguished engineer. In the procession there was a band of peasants, who carried a little banner of very ordinary appearance, but bearing the words, “He was one of us.” They were inhabitants of the small village in which Robert Stephenson had been born, and had come to do him honour. They had a right to a prominent position in that day’s proceedings, because he to whom so many thousands did honour was one of them. Even so, whatever praise the thrones, dominions, principalities, and powers can ascribe to Christ in that grand celebration when time shall be no more, we from earth can wave our banners with the words written on them, “He was one of us.”
1:15 “He is the image of the invisible God” The same word (eikōn) is used of Jesus in 3:10 and 2 Cor. 4:4. A similar theological expression occurs in John 1:18; 14:9; Phil. 2:6; Heb. 1:3. The Hebrews 1:3 passage has the stronger Greek term (charakter, which means an exact representation, cf. Gen. 1:26–27; 5:1; 9:6; 1 Cor. 11:7; James 3:9). To see Jesus is to see God! The invisible God has become visible! Deity has become a man (cf. John 14:9).
Jesus’ ministry was to restore the image of God in man. In one sense Eden had been restored through Jesus, the second Adam (cf. Rom. 5:12–21; Phil. 2:6). It is even possible that heaven will be a restored Eden: (1) the Bible begins with God, mankind and the animals (cf. Gen. 1–2) and ends with God and mankind in a garden setting (with the animals by implication, cf. Rev. 21–22); (2) the prophecy of Isa. 11:6–9 describes children and animals together in the new age; and (3) new Jerusalem comes down to a recreated earth (cf. 2 Pet. 3:10–13; Rev. 21:2).
© “the firstborn of all creation” This was an OT metaphor for Jesus’ unique and exalted position: (1) The rabbis said it meant preeminence (cf. Exod. 4:22); (2) in the OT it was used for the eldest son as heir and manager of the family; (3) in Ps. 89:27 it was used in a Messianic sense; (4) in Prov. 8:22 it referred to Wisdom as God’s first creation and agent of creation. In context options #1 and #2 combined seem best.
This phrase is not to be understood as Jesus being the first creation (#4). This would have played into the hands of the gnostic teachers, who taught that Jesus was the highest angelic level next to the high god. It must be interpreted in its Jewish OT setting. Jesus was deity’s unique son (cf. John 1:18; 3:16, 18; 1 John 4:9), yet Jesus was always deity (cf. 1:17; John 1:1; 5:18; 10:30; 14:9; 20:28). He became a human in time, at Bethlehem, so that fallen mankind could comprehend and understand Deity (cf. John 1:14, 18).
15. Paul writes, Who is the image of the invisible God. This reminds us of Gen. 1:27 which reports that man was created as God’s image. As such man was given dominion over the rest of creation. It is significant that Psalm 8, in which this dominion is described in some detail, is by the author of the epistle to the Hebrews interpreted Messianically (Heb. 2:5–9). But though this reference to man’s creation as God’s image and consequent dominion may well have been in the background, it does not do full justice to the idea conveyed here in Colossians with respect to the Son. Man, though God’s image, is not God. But, as the image of the invisible God, the Son is, first of all, himself God. “In him all the fulness of the godhead dwells bodily” (Col. 2:9; cf. Rom. 9:5). “In him all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are hidden” (2:3). Secondly, as the image of the invisible God, the Son is God Revealed. In Paul’s writings this identification of the Son with God himself, the Son being God’s image or God made manifest, is not new. Also in a letter to the Corinthians, written earlier by several years, the apostle had called Christ “the image of God” (2 Cor. 4:4). With this should be compared the apostle’s description of his Lord in Philippians (a letter written probably shortly after Colossians), namely, “existing in the form of God” (see N.T.C. on Phil. 2:6). We have here in Col. 1:15 the same teaching as is found in Heb. 1:3, where the Son is called “the effulgence of God’s glory and the very impress of his substance.” In different language the apostle John expresses the same thought: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was face to face with God, and the Word was God.… God himself no one has ever seen. The only begotten God, who lies upon the Father’s breast, it is he who made him known” (John 1:1, 18). Cf. also John 10:30, 38; 14:9; Rev. 3:14. It is in the Son that the invisible God has become visible, so that man sees him who is invisible (cf. 1 Tim. 1:17; 6:16).
Now if the Son is the very image of the invisible God, and if this invisible God is from everlasting to everlasting, it follows that the Son, too, must be eternally God’s image. With respect to his deity he cannot belong to the category of time and space. He cannot be a mere creature, but must be in a class by himself, that is, raised high above every creature. Accordingly, the apostle continues, the firstborn of every creature, that is, the One to whom belongs the right and dignity of the Firstborn in relation to every creature. That the phrase “the firstborn of every creature” cannot mean that the Son himself, too, is a creature, the first in a very long line, is clearly established by verse 16. He is prior to, distinct from, and highly exalted above every creature. As the firstborn he is the heir and ruler of all. Note Psalm 89:27:
“I will also make him my firstborn,
The highest of the kings of the earth.” Cf. Ex. 4:22; Jer. 31:9.
The same thought is expressed in Heb. 1:1, 2, “God … has spoken to us in his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, through whom he also made the worlds.”
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