Col. 1:15-20; 2:9
Part of the problem with working out our Christology (beliefs concerning Jesus) is that the Bible isn't a systematic theology textbook. If you’ve ever picked up one of those (a physically daunting task), you’ll likely see chapters with titles of different subjects: "God," "Jesus," "The Holy Spirit," "sin," "salvation," etc. Each chapter lays out for you what the Bible teaches about a certain subject. Most of the Bible itself isn’t like that. With the lone exception of the book of Romans, none of it lays out for us what we’re supposed to believe and do according to a subject in a tightly organized fashion. The Gospels in particular are really hard to outline: The narratives and Jesus’ teachings are all over the place as far as organization.
So when we look into a subject like Jesus Christ and what the Bible says about him, some skipping around is necessary. Having said that, today’s passage is one of the best about telling us about the nature of Christ, both before and after his excursion on earth. What does it tell us about him?
First, we need to carefully look at the term “firstborn” in order to avoid confusion. Arians (people who deny the deity of Christ) love to latch onto a word like this in order to bolster their case. “See? It says he’s the firstborn! That means he’s a created being!” This fits right into the Arian heresy (of which the Jehovah’s Witness cult is the foremost modern proponent) that says that Jesus is the first created being. No, that’s not what the word means. He’s the firstborn over creation, meaning that he’s the "Preeminent One," which quite frankly is a better translation (in my opinion). “Firstborn” in that culture referred to preeminence, not necessarily a literal birth order. If a king had an illegitimate son who happened to be physically born first, that son was not called “firstborn.” Now, it’s true that normally the physical firstborn and the one called “firstborn” (with all the privileges that entailed) were the same person. But based on what the rest of the Bible tells us about him, that isn’t the case here.
So what else does it tell us about him? He’s the image of the invisible God, referring to God the Father. When Jesus told us “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father," that’s what he was referring to. He made the invisible God visible to us.
Everything was created by him. And when we say “everything,” we mean everything: “things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him.” All the kingdoms of the earth? Created by him. All the kingdoms in the spiritual realm? Created by him.
What else? He's “before” all things, referring to the fact that he was from eternity past. There's never been a time in which Jesus was not. And in him all things “hold together.” I remember seeing this cartoon one time in which a student asked his atheist professor a question: “If protons are all positive and like charges repel each other, why do molecules stay together? Why doesn’t everything fly apart?” The professor answered “Atomic forces.” The student replied “And what exactly are those? How is that different from just saying ‘I just don’t know, so I’ll pull a name out from somewhere?’” When the professor finally admitted he didn’t know, the student said “Well, I do. The Bible says here that Christ ‘holds all things together.’ Do you have a better explanation?”
He’s also the head of the Church. The Church is a body, and he’s the head. That means he determines where the body goes and what it does. Also he’s the “firstborn from among the dead,” again proving that “firstborn” is not talking about a literal birth. There were other people who were raised from the dead before, in some sense. But each of these people died again. They got a reprieve from death. Jesus conquered death once and for all, and death no longer has any hold on him. And although he’s the first, he’s not the last of this new “breed” of human being: He’s the pattern for the new humanity, and each of his followers will one day have a new body just like his.
We’ll talk more about his work in a few days, but let’s finish up with 2:9. In Christ the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form. Everything that God is within himself, Jesus is. Again, God is eternal (from eternity past), omnipotent, omnipresent, and omniscient, and as God, Jesus is all of those things.
Once again, the primary point of this is not to make sure we have right doctrine concerning him. That’s really important, but it’s the means to ends: worship and trust and obedience. You can believe all these things about him—at least in your head—and miss out on the purpose for all this. As the old song says, to know him is to love him.
Lord Jesus, I feel like I’m stepping into very deep water here, deeper than I can swim in by myself. Take me by the hand, please, and keep me on sturdy ground. May my beliefs about you translate smoothly into worship, trust, and obedience.