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” (Colossians 1:15-20).
Balancing the Song of Christ’s Humility from Philippians 2:5-11 is the Song of Christ’s Preeminence from Colossians 1:15-23. Philippians 2:5-11 primarily addresses the doctrine of Christ’s humanity. Colossians 1:15-20 primarily addresses the doctrine of Christ’s Deity. Not only is Jesus Christ completely human, He is also completely God. Both doctrines are biblical and must be held together.
What does the Apostle Paul have to say about Jesus Christ, the eternal God/man? To begin with, Paul wrote that Jesus is “the image of the invisible God, the first born over all creation.”
What did the apostle mean when he wrote “He is the image of the invisible God?” Within the context, the personal pronoun “He” refers to Jesus Christ. This is established in Colossians 1:1-14. What follows the pronoun is the present active state of being verb “is.” This means that Jesus presently and actively exists as someone.
What Jesus exists as is the image of the invisible God. The word image (εἰκών; eikon) refers to likeness or representation. God (θεός; theos) refers solely to the One, True God of the Bible. Though the Scriptures go on to say that God is invisible, Jesus revealed this God during His life on this earth.
Dr. John MacArthur writes, “The Greek word for “image” is eikōn, from which the English word “icon” derives. It means “copy” or “likeness.” Jesus Christ is the perfect image—the exact likeness—of God and is in the very form of God (Phil. 2:6; cf. John 1:14; 14:9), and has been so from all eternity. By describing Jesus in this manner, Paul emphasizes that he is both the representation and manifestation of God. Thus, he is fully God in every way (cf. Col. 2:9; John 8:58; 10:30–33; Heb. 1:8).”
Additionally, Paul also stated that Jesus is “the firstborn over all creation.” Please do not be confused. Paul is not stating that Jesus was a created being. Rather, the word firstborn (πρωτότοκος; prototokos) means to exist before. Paul is saying that Jesus Christ existed before creation. Jesus is the creator who created creation. This parallels John 1:1-14.
Dr. MacArthur further explains that, “The Greek word for “firstborn” can refer to one who was born first chronologically, but most often refers to preeminence in position, or rank (see Heb. 1:6; cf. Rom. 8:29). In both Greek and Jewish culture, the firstborn was the ranking son who had received the right of inheritance from his father, whether he was born first or not. It is used of Israel who, not being the first nation, was however the preeminent nation (cf. Ex. 4:22; Jer. 31:9). Firstborn in this context clearly means highest in rank, not first created (cf. Ps. 89:27; Rev. 1:5) for several reasons: 1) Christ cannot be both “first begotten” and “only begotten” (cf. John 1:14, 18; 3:16, 18; 1 John 4:9); 2) when the “firstborn” is one of a class, the class is in the plural form (cf. Col. 1:18; Rom. 8:29), but “creation,” the class here, is in a singular form; 3) if Paul was teaching that Christ was a created being, he was agreeing with the heresy he was writing to refute; and 4) it is impossible for Christ to be both created, and the Creator of everything (Col. 1:16). Thus Jesus is the firstborn in the sense that he has the preeminence (v. 18) and possesses the right of inheritance over “all creation” (cf. Heb. 1:2; Rev. 5:1–7, 13). He existed before the creation and is exalted in rank above it.”
Hebrews 1:1-3 says, “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, 2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. 3 He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high.”
Take time today to praise Jesus Christ for being the exact image of the invisible God and the preeminent One over all creation.
Soli deo Gloria!