The Preeminence of Christ
Text: Colossians 1:15-20
Title: The Preeminence of Christ
Theme of the book of Colossians: Jesus Christ: The preeminent and all-sufficient Savior
Theme of Text: Christ is preeminent!
Proposition: Christ must have preeminence in your life!
The first 14 verses of Colossians are Paul’s introduction to the epistle. His introduction not only greets the readers, but it gives them doctrinal and practical teaching. The introduction also prepares the readers for the teachings against the false teachers. In verses 13-14, Paul mentions that believers are transferred into Christ’s kingdom, and that Christ redeems and forgives. This brief explanation about Christ’s work leads Paul into one of the most important Christological passages of the New Testament.
We know that the whole Bible talks about Christ. Even though Christ’s name may not be mentioned in every book of the Old Testament, we know that those books were geared toward the Messiah. In Luke 24:27, Christ says, “Beginning with Moses and with all the prophets, he explained to them the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures.” Christ explained how the whole Bible was teaching about himself. This passage in Colossians is possibly the most important Christological passage since it explains Christ so well! This is a crucial passage for us to understand.
Some have said that these verses, Col. 1:15-20, are the most significant teachings about Jesus Christ in the whole Bible. This passage is defiantly the most important passage to defend the deity of Christ. Some other very important passages dealing with the doctrine of Christ are the following: Philippians 2:5-11, Colossians 2:9-15, Ephesians 1:20-23, and Hebrews 1:1-14. These passages are important for every Christian to study. This passage in Colossians is critical to our understanding the deity of our Savior Jesus Christ.
One of the main purposes of this section was to refute the Colossian heresy. The false teachers were telling the believers that Christ was not God. The false teachers were denying the deity of Christ. They were promoting the Angels above Christ. Paul writes to the church to tell them that Christ is above all things. He is preeminent over all creation, over the entire universe, and over all the church. To deny Christ’s deity is to deny Christ. As Christians, we owe all our honor, glory, and praise to Jesus Christ for his triumph of sin, death, and hell! Make Christ preeminent in your life!
In this message, we will study Colossians 1:15-20. We will look at Christ’s relationship to the Father, Christ’s preeminence over all Creation, and Christ’s preeminence over the church.
I. Christ’s relationship to the Father v 15a, 19
Christ is the exact image of God. The word here for image comes from the Greek word εἰκὼν. The English word “icon” is derived from this Greek word. It means an exact “copy” or “likeness.” Jesus Christ is in the perfect image and likeness of God. He has been in this perfect form of God for all eternity. Just as a stamp produces the exact impression of the original, so Christ is the same as God- Christ is God.
Christ is a representation of God; he is not the image of God by accident. He is the exact image and representation of the Most High God. He is not just similar, but he is the exact same. Christ did not become the same, but he always has been and will be the same as God.
Christ is our manifestation of the invisible God. We cannot see God, but Christ is the physical manifestation of the almighty God. We cannot behold the invisible God; neither can any man comprehend the infinite, invisible God. To know God, we must depend on the manifestation of God- Christ.
This word image is the same word and idea that is in Genesis 1:26-27 speaking of man being made in the image of God. The major difference between man and Christ is that Christ IS the image of God. Man was made in the image of God. Man was created, so we are finite beings. Christ is God, and did not have to be created in the form of God since he already existed as God. Christ is the infinite God!
Colossians 1:19 and 2:9 say that in Christ, all the fullness of God dwells. Christ is fully God. In these verses, we see that Christ is God. We cannot deny that Christ is deity. Look at these other passages:
-Colossians 2:9 For in Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily;
-Hebrews 1:2-3 has in these last days spoken to us by His Son, whom He has appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the worlds; 3 who being the brightness of His glory and the express image of His person, and upholding all things by the word of His power, when He had by Himself purged our sins, sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high,
-John 1:14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.
(He that hath seen the Son hath seen the Father; that is, he hath seen the same Being. He that hath known the Son hath known the Father, Jn. 14:7-9. For the Son is in the Father, and the Father in the Son; the personal distinction is no other than will consist with essential union.)
II. Christ’s preeminence over all creation v. 15b-17
These verses describe Christ as the preeminent one over all creation. We know that Christ is the creator and Lord over all creation. We cannot deny or even dispute that Christ created the earth. He is God over everything!
-John 1:1-3 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made.
-Philippians 2:8-11 And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross. 9 Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, 10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, 11 and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
a. Christ’s relationship to creation v. 15b
Verse 15 says that Christ is the firstborn over all creation. The Greek word here is πρωτότοκος. This word has caused much confusion over the years. Some false religions (Jehovah’s Witnesses) stake much of there belief on a misunderstanding of this verse. Some think that this means that Christ was actually the first thing that God created. They think that Christ is just another part of creation. This is a sad misunderstanding. The following verses state that Christ is the creator of ALL things, so therefore he was not part of creation nor was he created.
To understand this verse properly, one must look at the way this word and idea was used in the Greek and Jewish culture. The “firstborn” many times does refer to the one who was born chronologically first. It can also mean the one that has the preeminent position or rank. This is what it means in this passage. The idea is that Christ has priority over everything!
Illustration: Think back on the story of Jacob and Esau. Jacob received the birthright even though Esau was the older son. God clearly elevated Jacob over Esau and gave him the position of priority. Romans 9:10-14 says that God gave priority to the younger son, Jacob. This language of the firstborn often does not mean the chronological firstborn, but the one that has preeminence.
In each of the following verses, the term “firstborn” refers to priority or preeminence Revelation 1:5; Romans 8:29; Psalm 89:27; Exodus 4:22 and Jeremiah 31:9. From this verse, we know that Christ is preeminent and he has priority or superiority to all creation. This proves that Christ existed before creation and he has priority over it. This is a direct attack on the false teachers infiltrating the church of Colossae. He has preeminence over creation since he is the creator of all things!
b. Christ created all things v. 16
In verse 16, we read that Christ created all things. He did not just exist at the creation of the universe, but he was the creator of the universe. Ephesians 3:9 says that God created all things through Jesus Christ. John 1:1-3, 10 state that the Word (Christ) was before all things and he created all things. Hebrews 1:2-3 reaffirm this truth.
The sun has a surface temperature of 12,000 degrees Fahrenheit (6648 Celsius). If it were any closer to us we would burn up; if it were any farther away we would freeze. Our globe is tilted on an exact angle of 23 degrees, providing us with four seasons. If it were not so tilted, vapors from the oceans would move north and south and develop into monstrous continents of ice. If the moon did not retain its exact distance from the earth the ocean tides would inundate the land completely, twice a day. After the first flooding, of course, the others would not matter as far as we would be concerned. If the ocean floors were merely a few feet deeper than they are, the carbon dioxide and oxygen balance of the earth’s atmosphere would be completely upset, and no animal or plant life could exist. If the atmosphere did not remain at its present density, but thinned out even a little, many of the meteors which now harmlessly burn up when they hit the atmosphere would constantly bombard us. We would have to live underground or in meteor-proof buildings.
A hurricane lifts sixty million, or more, tons (54 million metric tons) of water and generates more power every ten seconds than all the electrical power used in the United States in a year.
The hurricane that struck Bangladesh in 1970 produced a tidal wave which killed at least 500,000 people. In 1900 at Galveston, Texas, a hurricane created storm tides that swept 6000 people to their deaths. Another 1000 people were drowned in 1954, when a large ferryboat was sunk by a hurricane in Hakodate Bay, in Japan’s north island.
Application: Why believe in evolution? You must trust what the Bible said about the beginning of our earth and universe. Christ created it! There is no other answer to the beginning of this amazing universe.
What Christ Created: This verse states that all things were created by Christ, through Christ, and for Christ. It also emphasizes what Christ created. Paul says that he created all things. He then reemphasizes that by saying everything that is “in heaven and on earth.” He created the heavens and the earth. Christ told us that he goes to prepare a place for us- Heaven and has already created the earth for us.
Paul also emphasizes that Christ is the creator of the visible and invisible. Christ created everything that is seen and unseen. This is probably talking about the physical realm of the universe and the spiritual realm of the universe. This is the world that we do not see; it is where spiritual battles are waged. The books of Colossians and Ephesians are filled with references to the spiritual powers and forces. Eph 6:12 tells us that our struggle or spiritual battle is not against flesh and blood, but against the spiritual forces of evil in “heavenly places.” This verse is probably talking about that spiritual realm that spiritual warfare takes place.
Paul emphasizes that Christ is the creator of all things; it does not mater if it is thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers- Christ created them. There is a debate as to what these things are. Some have said that this means the various kingdoms and rulers throughout the ages of the world. This is a possibility; it is true that Christ is sovereign and in control of whatever happens on earth even concerning the kingdoms and rules of the world. ---These four things are more likely talking about the thrones, kingdoms, rulers, and authorities in the unseen world, probably referring to the different categories of angels that Christ created and rules over. Since Paul was refuting a false teaching that exalted angels, he was emphasizing that Christ had rule over the angels. He created and now rules over all angels! Hebrews 1 talks about Christ’s superiority over the angels. This verse is probably talking about his superiority over all spiritual being.
Ephesians 3:9 and to make all see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the ages has been hidden in God who created all things through Jesus Christ;
c. Christ is the purpose of creation v 16b
Christ is also the purpose or goal of creation. Paul writes that “all things were created through Him and for Him.” The idea behind these verbs here indicates that all things have been created for one goal: for Christ. Chris will eventually bring all creation under his feet. Everyone will acknowledge Christ as Lord of lords and King of kings as Revelation 19:16! This is the goal. Everyone will confess Christ as Lord. Have you done that already? have you made Christ the Lord of your life? You must do that; if you don’t today, you will in the future. 1 Corinthians 15:25 Says that Christ will put all his enemies under his feet. Everyone will bow and tongue will confess Jesus Christ as Lord! Phil 2:10-11.
d. Christ is before all creation v. 17a
Christ was before all creation. Simply put, Christ existed before he created the universe. He is eternal since he existed before all creation. His eternality makes him greater than any created being, whether, angels or man. This verse means that he existed before all things and he is preeminent before all things.
Paul is masterfully beating down the false teachers in Colossae. He is making statement after statement of Christ’s deity, power, and preeminence over all creation! Since angels are part of that creation, Christ is preeminent over them- Christ created the angels! This is a blow to the heart of the false teaching in Colossae.
e. Christ is the sustainer of all creation
Christ is currently holding the universe together. Christ sustains the universe by holding the power and balance together that are necessary for life to exist. Christ is currently holding the universe together in all things! Hebrews 1:3 states that Christ is maintaining or upholding all things by his word. Just by the word of Christ, the universe is held in place.
1 Corinthians 8:6 yet for us there is one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we for Him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, through whom are all things, and through whom we live.
III. Christ’s preeminence over the Church
Just as Christ is preeminent over all natural creation, he is also preeminent or the head over the new creation, the church. Paul has just beautifully explained that Christ is Lord over all creation; he will now explain that Christ is lord over all the Church.
a. As its Head (1:18a)
Paul uses the human body as a metaphor for the church. He did this in his other epistles. (Rom. 12:5; I Cor. 12:12, 27) Just as the head controls the body and gives it direction, so Christ does as the head of the church. Christ gives the church its purpose; to serve him. Paul wants the people at Colossae to know that the false teachers were not the head of the church, nor were the angels. Christ is not an angel who serves the church (Heb. 1:14). He is the head of His church. Paul is emphasizing that Christ is the head of the church!
1 Corinthians 12:12 For as the body is one and has many members, but all the members of that one body, being many, are one body, so also is Christ.
1 Corinthians 12:27 Now you are the body of Christ, and members individually.
b. As its Lord (1:18b,-19)
Paul says that Christ is the beginning and the firstborn from the dead. Paul emphasizes that Christ is the beginning of the church’s life. He is both the source of the church and creator of the church. The church has its origin in Christ’s sacrificial death on the cross. After his resurrection, Christ became the firstborn from the dead. This does not mean that he was the first person to be resurrected. We know that Christ himself resurrected Lazarus. This is saying that Christ is first to be resurrected to NEVER die again. All the other people that had been resurrected before him died again. He is also the first and only to be resurrected by his own power. Christ did not die but he remains living today! He is alive right now as we speak! He is the first one to be raised from the dead for eternity! Because of this, Christ has preeminence in the church. Christ is the Lord of the Church since he started the church, and he sustains the church now, and he gives the church hope for the future.
Revelation 19:16 And He has on His robe and on His thigh a name written: KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS.
In verse 19, Paul writes that in Christ, all the fullness dwells. As I mentioned before, this means that Christ is fully God! He has all the divine attributes and powers of God. These were not qualities of the angels. The pleroma or fullness, dwell totally in Christ. His deity is not split up between the angels and other beings as the false teacher promoted, but Christ was and is fully God. Lightfoot says:
“On the one hand, in relation to Deity, He is the visible image of the invisible God. He is not only the chief manifestation of the Divine nature: He exhausts the godhead manifested. In Him resides the totality of the Divine powers and attributes. For this totality Gnostic teachers had a technical term, the pleroma or plenitude.… In contrast to their doc-trine, [Paul] asserts and repeats the assertion, that the pleroma abides absolutely and wholly in Christ as the Word of God. The entire light is concentrated in Him.” (St. Paul’s Epistles to the Colossians and to Philemon [1879; reprint, Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1959], p 102)
Christ is fully God and Lord of the church! He should have Lordship and preeminence over the church.
c. As its Reconciler (1:20)
Christ is the agent of reconciliation. Reconcile means “to change” or “exchange.” It means in the New Testament to change a sinners relationship with God. Man is reconciled to God when God restores a right relationship to him through Christ. (Rom 5:10; 2 Cor 5:19; Eph 2:16) All things will be reconciled to Christ. Not just humanity, but all of creation will be reconciled to Christ. Everything that has been changed because of sin will be reconciled to Christ.
Christ’s death has made it possible for all things and all people to be reconciled to him. Unfortunately, many people will not willingly submit to Christ. “All things will finally unite to bow down in the name of Jesus and to acknowledge him as Lord (Phil 2:10,11), it is not to be assumed that this will be done gladly by all.” _O’Brien. These people will ultimately submit to Christ, but because of their stubborn hearts, they will spend eternity in hell. This is not just a short time, but for eternity. You must realize that there is no other way to rid yourself of sin and go to heaven. Christ is the only way to heaven- it does not matter what anyone else says or what any other religion teaches, Christ is the only way for salvation!
Peace on this earth will never be achieved. There will always be fighting and wars, but Christ will eventually reconcile everything to himself and he will make peace. This peace is only through the precious blood of Jesus Christ that was shed at Calvary.
Let Christ have first place in your life! He must have the preeminence over all things, especially your life!
John MacArthur, Colossians (Chicago: Moody Press, 1996, c1992), 48.