The Supremacy of Christ (1:15-29)
Paul prayed that we would have full knowledge of Christ, which was attacked by the false teachers. Bruce notes that, “The doctrine of Christ was the principal truth threatened by the false teaching at Colossae, and this is the doctrine Paul presents to his readers before dealing specifically with the false teaching.” The error being taught centered upon the person and work of Christ. The best defense is offense. Thus, Paul immediately reiterates who Christ was, in His Person and His work. It is one of the most important passages of Christology in all Scripture. Johnson calls it “the Great Christology.” There are no negative refutations in this section, only positive assertions of Christ’s person and work.
A. The Preeminent Person of Christ (1:15-20)
Scholars refer to this section as the Christ Hymn. It is referred as such because of its rhythmic meter and arrangement.
1. In relation to God the Father (1:15a).
“He is the image of the invisible God.” (1:15a). Literally, the phrase reads, “Who is (the) image of God the invisible.” The focus of the passage is on Christ as the image. The Greek word is eikon and is the “regular word for that which is a precise copy, reproduction, or replica.” Paul asserts that Christ is nothing less than the exact replica and unique image of God, the invisible one. Barclay says it is the ancient word for “photograph”. Paul knows this by experience, as He saw the image of God in the face of Christ on the road to
(cf. 2 Cor. 4:6). This is the reason Jesus declares: “He who has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9). Hebrews 1:3
declares “the exact representation of His
nature….” In Hebrews, the Greek word is charakter meaning
an impress made by an engraving tool. Later in this letter, Paul declares “all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily
form.” (Col. 2:9). John 1:8 says
Jesus “declared” the Father. Christ
declared the essence of deity openly so all could see God, for He was God in
the flesh. He is preeminent because He is God (John 1:1, 14). Damascus
2. In relation to Creation (1:15b-17).
He is “the first-born of all creation” (1:15b). This phrase has caused much confusion. It appears that it is saying that Christ was the first being created (as Jehovah’s Witness teach). If Paul meant that then he would have used the word protokistos (first-creation). Rather, the Greek word used for the word firstborn is prototokos, meaning first in time or rank. It has the connotation of priority and sovereignty. The concept of supremacy or priority of rank tends to dominate and is in view here. In the Old Testament, Psalm 89 is Messianic, showing Christ as the firstborn, again in the context of priority of rank. The context clearly does not support the idea of first in time. It is inconsistent with the context for He existed before all things, for He is the creator of creation, not a part of creation (1:16-17).
“For…” (1:16a), introduces reason or explanation, thus now Paul gives why Christ is preeminent in creation. Christ’s preeminence in creation is seen by the use of three key prepositions:
a. He is the originator of creation.
This is seen in the first prepositional phrase, “by him all things were created…” (1:16a). The Greek is en autoi, literally “in him.” While “by him” is a possible translation, it should be taken not as instrumental (by); but as locative. We have a sequence of prepositional phrases… “in him,” “through or by him,” “for him.” Thus, “in Him all things were created.” The prepositional phrases identify the creative interest of Christ. He is the sphere of creation. Bruce writes: “…it was “in him” that all things were created. If it be asked why the preposition “in” is used here instead of the more usual “through,” the answer seems to be that Christ is the beginning “in” which, according to Gen. 1:1, “God created the heaven and the earth.” This is not mere surmise: he is expressly called “the beginning” in v. 18. The phrase “in him” seems to mark Christ out as the “sphere” within which the work of creation takes place; one might compare Eph. 1:4, where the people of God are said to have been chosen “in him” before time began. God’s creation, like his election, takes place “in Christ” and not apart from him.”
b. He is the instrument of creation.
Creation was “by Him” (1:16), or literally “through” Him. The Greek word is dia, a preposition of instrument or means. Christ is not only the architect of creation, but also the builder of creation. John 1:3 declares, “All things came into being by Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being.” He is the active agent of creation (cf. Heb. 1:2, 11:3, Eph. 3:9).
It is interesting that two things are repeated twice in this verse. This is done for emphasis: First, the word creation is found two times. The Greek word means to make, to form something out of nothing (John 1:3). It is used only of God in the New Testament, and speaks of His work as Creator. In the first instance of the word we find it in the aorist tense, meaning that creation is a fact. It was an event that took place in a point of time. “The aorist characterizes creation as a past and perfect work.” The second time it is used, the word is found in the perfect tense, which is the tense of completed action with continuing results. The tense “states that they remain as having been created, they never get beyond that state.” Thus, Christ created in a point of time (Gen 1:1—in the beginning), and that creation still remains. However that does not mean that what was created and remains was not corrupted by sin. It did not necessary remain in its original state (Gen. 3:1-20; Rom. 8:18-25).
Second, “all things” are repeated twice also. It denotes totality and sometimes has the sense of “universe.” It describes the all encompassing extent of the Son’s creation. This is emphasized and lengthened in the words, “both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities…” (cp. Eph 1:21). This clearly refers both to the physical world, as well as, the spiritual. These phrases reach into every sphere or locality, every kind, and every level of creation. He no doubt uses the terms that the false teachers were using. Barclay tells us that the Gnostics believed in a
…long series of intermediaries between man and God. Thrones, lordships, powers and authorities were different grades of angels having their places in different spheres of the seven heavens. Paul dismisses them all with complete indifference. He is in effect saying to the Gnostics, “You give a great place in your thinking to angels. You rate Jesus Christ merely as one of them. So far from that, he created them.” Paul lays it down that the agent of God in creation is no inferior, ignorant and hostile secondary god, but the Son himself.
It is clear that Paul is attacking and countering the view that makes Christ as a part of creation. He clearly argues that Christ is the Creator, separate from the creation. He is not a part of creation, but the Creator of all creation.
c. He is the object of Creation.
Creation is “for Him,” literally “unto Him.” Christ is the goal, object, and reason of creation (cf. 1 Cor. 15:25; Phil. 2:10-11; Rev. 19:16). He created all things for his own possession and glory. Its original purpose was to glorify God. Therefore, the three prepositions—in, by, for—speak of His sovereignty, His superiority, and His separation from that which were created.
Now Paul declares Christ is the antecedent of creation—“He is before all things” (1:17). The word “He” is exclusive, it is He, and He alone that is before all things. The word “before” in the Greek has two meanings: It has the sense of order, rank, or eminence, but it more naturally has the meaning of before in a point of time. Thus, it indicates in advance of or prior to time. It deals with His priority in time, more exactly before time. It therefore “sums up the essence of His designation as ‘Firstborn before all creation’ and excludes any possibility of interpreting that designation to mean that He Himself is part of the created order.” It clearly points to the preexistence of Christ. To take it in sense of preeminence would be simply a repeat of verse 15. John 8:58 reveals Christ clearly declaring “Before Abraham was, I am.” He was with the Father “before the world was” (John 7:5). He preexisted before the creation of the world (John 1:1-2, John 8:58). This is also an assertion of sovereignty. He preexisted before all things and therefore ranks over all things in sovereignty. It asserts His deity. He is the eternal God. “If create all things as Originator of them and to be the object of them as Proprietor, it is a mark of Deity, the Lord Jesus Christ is, in the absolute sense, God” declares Chafer.
d. Christ is also the preserver of creation—“and in Him all things consist” (1:17).
He is the power behind the universe. Lightfoot calls Christ, “the principle of cohesion” that keeps creation “a cosmos, instead of a chaos.” The Greek word for consist is sunistemi, a compound word meaning to stand with or together, thus hold together. The word is in the perfect tense that indicates action that is complete, with ongoing results. Thus, what He created, He continues to preserve, by holding it together. He does so by the word of His power (Heb. 1:3). This speaks of His omnipotence. Verse 17 clearly declares as Originator and Operator of the universe. He was the source and is the sustainer of the universe.
 F.F. Bruce, “Colossian Problems” BIB SAC, April 1984, 99.
 S. Lewis Johnson, Jr., “Studies in the Epistle to the Colossians—Part 3: Christ Pre-eminent,” BIB SAC, January 1962, 13.
 Bruce, F.F., NICNT: THE EPISTLES TO THE COLOSSIANS TO PHILEMON AND TO THE EPHESIANS, 55-56.
 Barclay, ALL-SUFFICENT CHRIST, 59.
 Ibid, 59.
 O’Brien, COLOSSIANS, 44.
 Gromacki, STAND PERFECT, 63,
 Lightfoot, COLOSSIANS, 148-149; O’Brien, COLOSSIANS, 45; Dunn, COLOSSIANS, 91.
 Bruce, COLOSSIANS, 61-62.
 Campbell, COLOSSIANS, 44.
 Eadie, COLOSSIANS, 52.
 Lenski, COLOSSIANS, 57.
 Vaughan, COLOSSIANS, 182.
 William Barclay, DBS: COLOSSIANS, electronic media.
 Eadie, 58.
 F.F. Bruce, “Colossians Problems—Part 2: The ‘Christ Hymn’ of Colossians 1:15-20,” BIB SAC., April 1984, 105.
 Lewis Sperry Chafer, SYSTEMATIC THEOLOGY (Dallas Seminary Press, Dallas, 1971), 1:343.
 Lightfoot, COLOSSIANS, 156.