The Lord, my King
safe and secure!
We all like to feel safe and secure. When I was a young lad, I had this dream that has stayed with me for the last 45 years. I dreamt about a large house with a flight of external stairs. For some reason I was scared, I couldn’t work out why. Then I felt compelled to climb the flight of stairs—step by scary step. I reached the top and walked into the house. And from another room, in my dream a witch appeared with a long, curved nose wearing an evil black dress—and I screamed, so loud and so hard!
I woke sweating in the arms of my mum. I felt safe and secure. I felt safe because she was a lovingly mum and there was nothing she couldn’t do. I felt secure as she wrapped her arms around me—I was free from the terrors of my imagination. In my home, she was the supreme lady, she was sufficient to meet all my boyish needs.
Those words ‘supreme’ and ‘sufficient’ lead us back to Paul’s letter to the Colossian Church. The saints in Colossae were safe and secure in their Lord. They were a mature church and Epaphras had reported this much to Paul in Ephesus (Col 1:3). But there was a threat to this stability. So after his opening prayer, the apostle gets down to business. That’s no less than a compact and probing explanation of the wonders of Christ’s person and his actions for a rebellious humanity.
Col 1:15–20 is a christological high point in the New Testament. It’s sometimes referred to as a ‘hymn’ which expounds the supremacy of Christ in creation and redemption. There’s lots of discussion in the literature as to whether or not Paul got the hymn from elsewhere and inserted it into his letter, or whether Paul was indeed the author. But such debated ought not delay us, for in either case Paul takes responsibility for its content as he expounds the priority of Christ to the Colossian Church.
There are different ways we can visualise our passage. Scholars such as Douglas Moo and F.F. Bruce divide the hymn into three sections based on the repetition of key words and phrases. Whilst these divisions are useful, I am attracted to the twofold division proposed by Dick Lucas. The first division is verses 15–18 which concern themselves with the ‘supremacy of Christ’. The second division is verses 19 and 20, ‘the sufficiency of Christ’ (which we shall look at next time).
Paul’s hymn brings to our attention the ‘supremacy’ and ‘sufficiency’ of Christ. And in this way Christ is portrayed as the exclusive instrument through whom God created the universe, and through whom he is in the process of pacifying the universe .
It is clear that the false teaching in Colossae was questioning Christ’s exclusive role in providing spiritual growth and maturity. The false teachers were arguing from cosmology to spirituality: since the universe is filled with spiritual powers, ultimate spiritual fullness can only be found by taking them all into consideration. This is not unlike our experiences in life. The way forward is to keep everyone happy. If you won’t a promotion at work: keep your colleagues and the boss happy. A big part of success in sport is pleasing all the sports administrators.
Likewise, if you want salvation, please every spiritual power you can find—and then some more. Not unlike the Athenian monument to the ‘unknown God’ in Acts 17. It’s smart to have an altar to the god you don’t know—just in case. The false teachers were urging the Colossians to pacify every spiritual force because herein lies the key to salvation. In today’s language, Christ plus the new age gods. Christ plus mysticism. The latter tapping into the spiritual realm where Christ is supposedly unable to go. Even Christ plus baptism, that somehow the physical, sacramental act crushes spiritual forces in a way that Christ on our behalf cannot.
The theme of Paul’s letter to the Colossians is the sufficiency of Christ, and he can’t be sufficient if he is not supreme. This supremacy of Christ means that we are safe, for the universe is not about to change hands and receive a new owner. We live safely under the rule of Christ and this will never change. And the sufficiency of Christ means that we are secure—he meets all our needs again and again and again because all power is given to him.
If you can picture the early day explorers cutting a way through extremely dense jungle—it’s hard work and its not unlike ploughing our way through the very dense text in verses 15 to 18. So get your knife out, dowse yourself with mosquito repellent, get your mind into gear and come with me into this remarkable hymn.
Christ is supreme in creation
Verses 15 to 17, ‘He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together’.
These verses declare that Christ is supreme in creation. The whole created order, in time and space, owes its existence to Christ. He is its true origin. He sustains the universe. Nothing happens which is outside his control. Without Christ, creation has no ultimate meaning. We cannot understand creation outside the person of Christ.
the image of the invisible God (1:15a)
The one who created ‘all things’ is described in verse 15 as ‘the image of the invisible God’. The Greek word εἰκὼν sounds like our word ‘icon’, which is a word which sends computer buffs into raptures of excitement. There’s nothing more thrilling than clicking on a windows icon. And if you haven’t done it, make sure that you get the experience some time! The icon is that little picture on the computer screen which represents the unseen program that stands behind it—like the word processor which I used to write this talk.
Jesus is the image who reveals the glory of the otherwise unseen God. On our own we cannot know God; we need Jesus to make God known. Christ is the ‘the image of the invisible God’. In the words of the Nicene Creed, he is ‘God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten not made, of one being with the Father’. In Christ, the being and nature of God are perfectly represented. Christ is the visible icon, the tangible revelation of God. No-one had ever seen God until the Word became flesh and dwelt among us (John 1:14).
A major question for both Jews and Greeks in the time of Paul was this: where can God be seen? It’s a question that occupies minds today, ‘where can God be seen’? Paul says that we need look no further that Christ. John says that the ‘Word’ was ‘with God’ and ‘was God’ (John 1:1) and has ‘made him known’ (John 1:18). The writer to the Hebrews says that ‘the Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being’ (Heb 1:3).
Where can God be seen? In another letter, Paul declares that the ‘everlasting power and divinity’ of the unseen Creator is ‘clearly perceived in the things that have been made’ (Rom 1:20). The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands (Psalm 19:1). But this general revelation of God has been surpassed. We have a special revelation of the unseen God in Christ. In 2 Cor 4:6, Paul puts it this way, ‘For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ’.
God made light shine into darkness, and the world came into being. This world bears the stamp of its Creator and it testifies to his presence and power. Then God shone his gospel light into our hearts, and Christ, in the image of God, reveals the glory of God to us. Christ is supreme, he is stamped with the image of God, he reveals the invisible God.
firstborn over all creation (1:15b; Ex 4:22, Psalm 89:27)
The one in the image of God is ‘the firstborn over all creation’. This doesn’t mean that Christ was the first of all created beings, like Arius thought in the fourth century and like modern day Jehovah’s Witnesses. In the Bible the ‘firstborn’ is often understood in its metaphorical sense. The firstborn son has special rights, the firstborn son has pre-eminence—a special place, superiority and power. And so Moses must say to Pharaoh, ‘This is what the Lord says, “Israel is my firstborn son’ (Exod 4:22). And God says of David in Psalm 89:27, ‘I will appoint him to be my firstborn, the most exalted of the kings of the earth’.
Christ, as the firstborn over all creation, is the most exalted one in all of the creation. He is his Father’s heir, creation is for him. Christ is supreme over every creature. As the firstborn, Christ is unique. Christ is to be distinguished from the rest of creation because he is prior to and supreme over that creation since he is its Lord.
the evidence of his supremacy (1:16–17)
So there is no-one else like Christ. The created order exists for him. He is the heir and lord of all—he has the supreme role in creation. All of creation is subject to him. Look at verse 16, ‘For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him’.
Everything was created in Christ, through him, and for him. Everything in heaven and on earth, whether unseen or seen—everything owes its allegiance to Christ. This includes thrones, powers, rulers and authorities—they were all created by him and for him.
Who are these thrones, powers, rulers and authorities? Some commentators say this is a reference to authorities on earth and those authorities who exercise power in the unseen, spiritual world. This ties in nicely with the ‘visible and invisible’ referred to in verse 16. However, the way Paul speaks elsewhere about ‘thrones, powers, rulers and authorities’ suggests that he refers to spiritual beings whose influence may extend into this world.
Certainly Christ reigns supreme over earthly powers and authorities, but we must not forget that there is an unseen world that exercises influence in this world, and in this unseen world Christ also reigns supreme.
And so Christ’s supremacy exists over the whole angelic realm. Even the most powerful angel, even the most influential spiritual being is subject to Christ’s rule because he reigns supreme. Verse 17, ‘He is before all things, and in him all things hold together’. Notice the word ‘all: twice in this verse, once in verse 15, twice in verse 16. ‘All creation’, ‘all things’. We are left in no doubt as to the breadth and depth of Christ’s rule in the universe.
Christ is supreme in the church
the head of the church (1:18a)
In verse 18, Christ is acclaimed as the supreme head of the church. ‘And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy’. The church is the new creation. The church is the new humanity. This verse celebrates the supremacy of Christ in the new creation.
Here in Colossians, and also in Ephesians, Paul conceives the body of Christ as the church universal. This expands other New Testament usage where the ‘church’—the ekklesia—is the local assembly of Christians. The ‘body’ metaphor sketches the church as a worldwide entity which embraces all those who acknowledge Christ as Lord. So Christ as the ‘head’ of the church is a ‘corporate person’ who ‘contains’ all those who belong to him. And indeed, the head controls the body and provides for its life and sustenance. This leads one commentator to say that Christ is ‘the locus of the church’s unity and coherence, the source of the church’s sustenance and direction’ (Moo, 128).
The one the problems of describing Christ’s supremacy in the new creation is that words seem so inadequate. How do mere words capture the glory of Christ’s rule? Our best words seem so flat and underachieving. And so our tendency is to use words, words and more words to somehow capture the glory of the rule of Christ. From the simple language of verse 18 flows a flood of praise for the Lord Jesus in the new creation.
Paul chooses his words in response to the false teaching. In Colossae, people were arguing that ultimate spiritual experience had to be found in places outside the rule of Christ. And so Paul holds up Christ as the one who is the true and only source of life for the body. Just as Christ is pre-eminent in the universe, so he is pre-eminent in the new creation.
firstborn from the dead (1:18b)
‘Let me tell you how’? the apostle says. ‘Well, he is the beginning and the firstborn from the dead’. When Christ is called ‘the beginning, the first-born from the dead’, the reference is to his resurrection. But Paul means to say much more than Christ is simply ‘the first to rise from the dead’. The risen Christ is the head of the body which is the church. His resurrection marked his victory over all the forces which held men and women in bondage. Christ rose and was installed as Lord of all at God’s right hand.
But Christ’s rule over this world is yet to be fully seen. The writer to the Hebrews says, ‘Yet at the present time we do not see everything subject to him’ (Heb 2:8). We struggle and the world is blinded to the gods of this age. Yes, Christ rules his church, but God’s intention is ultimately to bring all creation under the rule of Christ. This idea is expressed at the end of verse 18: God is purposing that ‘in everything Christ might have the supremacy’. We’re not there yet, we still struggle in this world. The end of verse 18 is a purpose clause: God is purposing that all of creation will one day sit under the headship of Christ.
In the meantime, Christ’s rule is seen over his church and we have Christ as the ‘firstborn from among the dead’. The resurrection of the Son assures us of the end-time resurrection. In Romans 10:9 the apostle says, ‘if you confess with your mouth “Jesus is Lord”, and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved’. The church is the company of those who declare the name of Jesus and who share in the Spirit-filled life—and will soon share in the resurrection life. In the resurrection, our salvation will be complete as we rise to be with him forever.
Christ: supreme in creation, supreme in the new creation. Christ in the image of God is the one worthy of supremacy. As Paul said to the Philippian Church, ‘Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father’ (Phil 2:9–11).
we are safe Christ
his supremacy means we are safe
Friends, our Christian lives are safe because Christ reigns supreme. They are safe because our Lord created all things, whether visible and invisible, they were made by him and for him. In him all things hold together. Even the activities of spiritual beings are subject to his rule. And although we do not yet see all of creation subject to him, his purpose is that his rule will be clearly seen and exercised across the expanse of creation.
So the most basic confession that ‘Jesus is Lord’ has far reaching implications. Since Christ is in ‘the image of God’ his supremacy is no allusion—he is Lord of the universe. The Lord of Springwood—the lord of Winmalee—the lord of Woodford—no part of the world escapes him. And he is most definitely lord of spiritual beings and authorities that claim to offer salvation apart from him.
In the new creation—the church—Christ rules even now. He is the head—he is supreme—the church looks to no-one else except him. He was the first one to rise from dead and he rules at the right-hand of the Father. Soon we will rise to be with him in the new creation where Satan, sin and death are defeated and the whole created basks in the radiance of his glory.
Christ’s supremacy means we are safe. No-one can displace his rule. Here is here to stay and no-one can snatch us from him.
‘In the face of disappointed world betrayal, a world in which all fixed points have proven illusory, a world in which we are anchorless and adrift. Christ is the foundation, the origin, the way, the truth, the life. In the face of a culture of death, a world of killing fields, a world of the walking dead, Christ is at the head of the resurrection parade, transforming our tears of betrayal into tears of joy. Giving us dancing shoes for the resurrection party.
And this glittering (sparkling) joker who has danced in the dragon’s jaws of death, now dances with a dance that is full of nothing less than the fullness of God. This is the dance of the new creation, this is the dance of life out of death. And in this dance all that was broken, all that was estranged, all that was alienated, all that was dislocated and disconnected—what was once hurt, what was once friction is reconciled, comes home, is healed and is made whole, because Grace makes beauty out of ugly things’ (Walsh, Colossians Remixed, 88)
Your understanding of the Lord Jesus lies at the core of your Christian life. A belief that Jesus is light and fairy results in a shallow, superficial and vulnerable Christian walk. On the other hand, a healthy Christian life is built upon a sound understanding of the Christ who reigns supreme, the Christ who is sufficient to meet all our needs.
The antidote to false teaching—the stimulus for a life worthy of the Lord—is a deep seated knowledge of the person of Jesus and his standing within the universe. Paul has already said to us that we bear fruit as we grow in the knowledge of God. At the heart of the universe is the Christ who reigns supreme. All creation belongs to him and is for him; he is head of the new creation, his church. And so he is your Lord and my Lord. And all the praise, the honour and the glory belongs to him.