Summary: In Colossians 1:15–19, Paul reveals our Lord’s true identity by viewing Him in relation to three things: 1) The Father (Colossians 1:15), 2) The Universe (Colossians 1:16-17), and 3) The Church (Colossians 1:18-19).
If there are two things that have a tremendous bearing on our future experiences, they are assumptions and expectation. We tend to make assumptions about people and expect certain actions accordingly. As the Jews experienced Christ's ride into Jerusalem that first Palm Sunday, they assumed He was coming to remove the political and military yoke of the Romans off them and expected Him to lead a revolt overthrowing Rome. But it was a fundamental misunderstanding of who He was that mistook what He came to do. He had shown Himself to be God in human flesh and came not to overthrow political or military power, but the power of death and sin over people.
As much of the heresy threatening the Colossian church centered on the Person of Christ, the heretics, denying His humanity, viewed Christ as one of many lesser descending spirit beings that emanated from God. They taught a form of philosophic dualism, postulating that spirit was good and matter was evil. Hence, a good emanation like Christ could never take on a body composed of evil matter. The idea that God Himself could become man was absurd to them. Thus, they also denied His deity.
By far the most serious aspect of the Colossian heresy was its rejection of Christ’s deity. Before getting to the other issues, Paul makes an emphatic defense of that crucial doctrine. Not only is it crucial to understand the deity of Christ for salvation and security, Christians would do well to follow Paul's example in their confrontations with cultists. The primary focus of discussions with them should be the deity of Jesus Christ.
In Colossians 1:15–19, Paul reveals our Lord’s true identity by viewing Him in relation to three things: 1) The Father (Colossians 1:15), 2) The Universe (Colossians 1:16-17), and 3) The Church (Colossians 1:18-19).
1) Jesus Christ in Relation to The Father (Colossians 1:15)
Colossians 1:15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. (ESV)
As 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. This usage occurred often in the contexts of an image on a coin or a reflection in a mirror. If this emphasis were primary, Paul would have said Jesus was the symbol of deity. Paul would have meant that Jesus exactly symbolized God. But the meaning is far grander (Melick, R. R. (1991). Philippians, Colossians, Philemon (Vol. 32, pp. 214–215). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.)
Although humanity is made in the image of God (1 Cor. 11:7; cf. Gen. 1:26–27),human beings are 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. It may be observed in passing that there is a close association between the doctrine of humanity's creation in the divine image and the doctrine of our Lord’s incarnation. It is because humans in the creative order bear the image of the Creator that the Son of God could become incarnate as man and in his humanity display the glory of the invisible God (Bruce, F. F. (1984). The Epistles to the Colossians, to Philemon, and to the Ephesians (p. 58). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.).
Please turn to Hebrews 1 (p.1001)
Unlike humanity, 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. This is the more specific meaning of “image” (eikōn) explained in Colossians, which refers to manifestation. When the term was employed, it meant that the symbol was more than a symbol. The symbol brought with it the actual presence of the object. Thus J. B. Phillips translated it, “visible expression,” and by it Paul meant that Jesus brought God into the human sphere of understanding. He manifested God. The terminology is similar to Heb 1:3. 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) (Melick, R. R. (1991). Philippians, Colossians, Philemon (Vol. 32, p. 215). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.).