Summary: The chief religions of Paul’s time included Gnosticism, stressing gnosis as essential to salvation, viewing matter as evil, and combining ideas derived from mythology, ancient Greek philosophy, ancient religions, and, eventually, Christianity.
Lesson IIA2: THE FIRST-BORN OVER ALL CREATION (Colossians 1:15b-17)
• Numbers in brackets [a], correspond to “Special Notes” following each verse.
• NIV Bible is used throughout unless noted otherwise.
Colossians 1:15b-17 (NIV)
15b the firstborn over all creation.
16 For in him all things were created: 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.
17 He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.
The chief religions of Paul’s time included Gnosticism, an obscure system of mystical religious and philosophical doctrines, stressing gnosis as essential to salvation, viewing matter as evil, and combining ideas derived from mythology, ancient Greek philosophy, ancient religions, and, eventually, Christianity; and the advocates of this false religion alleged that Christ was only one of the heavenly powers. Such beliefs would be opposed to Paul’s Christian beliefs and teaching; they occasionally caused trouble for the apostle.
According to the Gnostics the work of creation was carried out by an inferior god, ignorant of and hostile to the true God. It is Paul’s teaching that God’s agent in creation is the Son and in this section He has six things to say about the Son in regard to creation. These marks of identification make Him different from and superior to any other person who has ever lived. We cannot say too much about Him and we will never in this life be able to comprehend Him in all of His wonder and in all of His Glory.
15b the firstborn over all creation.
Verse 15 began with the statement, “The Son is the image of the invisible God” (See previous lesson IIA1). God the Father is invisible: “No man hath seen God at any time.” Jesus said, “God is a Spirit, and they that worship Him must worship Him in spirit and in truth.” The sovereign God—omnipotent, omniscient and omnipresent—is invisible, but the universe was not left without a God who could be seen: Jesus wrapped God up in flesh, brought Him down to man, and presented Him to man in a body—the very image of the invisible God. Paul’s desire was to show that Jesus is the Creator—not just of lower life and things upon the earth (the things visible), but that He is also the Creator of higher beings—even in regions invisible to the human eye. No man is too minute, no creature too gigantic, for His creative power.
Paul has six things to say about Jesus Christ in regard to creation.
“The Son is the image of the invisible God” is the first thing he said, but he said it in the beginning of verse 15 (see previous paragraph). How could He be “the image of the invisible God?” You cannot take a photograph or an “image” of that which is “invisible.” How could He be that? John makes this clear in the prologue to his gospel: “In the beginning was the Word.” That is a beginning that has no beginning—Christ has no beginning. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (John 1:1). And then John says, “And the Word was made [born] flesh . . .” This is the way that He became “the image of the invisible God.” How could He be that? Because He is God. If He were not God, He could not have been “the image of the invisible God.”
Verse 15 closes with the statement, “the firstborn over all creation.” That is the second thing He has to say about Jesus Christ in regard to creation. We must be very careful to attach the right meaning to this phrase. As it stands in English it might well mean “the Son was the first person to be created.” There are two things we must know:
1. “Firstborn” is a very common title of honor. Israel, for instance, as a nation is the firstborn son of God (Exodus 4:22). The meaning is that the nation of Israel is the most favored child of God.
2. “Firstborn” is a title of the Messiah. In Psalm 89:27[15.2], as the Jews themselves interpret it, the promise regarding the Messiah is “I will make him my firstborn, higher than the Kings of the earth.” Clearly “firstborn” is not used in a time sense at all but in the sense of special honor. So when Paul says of the Son that He is “the firstborn over all creation,” he means that the highest honor which creation holds belongs to Him. If we wish to keep the time sense and the honor sense combined, we may translate the phrase: “He was begotten[15.1] before all creation.”
Jesus WAS “the firstborn over all creation.” Truly He existed before all creatures, even before the mansions in the Father’s house and before the foundations of the world was laid. Jesus was with the Father in the beginning.