Continued from last time on Colossians 1:15b
There is a great deal which might be said about the term “firstborn.” Primarily of course it concerns right of inheritance and prominence among brethren. As the examples of Isaac and Jacob and Judah and Solomon show, the first to be born is not the main idea in “firstborn” (prototokos). The primary idea involves status, not physical birth. Notice how this is true in Psalm 89:27, ” I also shall make him My first-born, The highest of the kings of the earth.” The verb translated “make” in the verse carries with it the idea of placing or constituting, but not generating. The Psalm also portrays the promise to the firstborn as earning the very highest status among the “kings of the earth,” further underlining this understanding of the word.
So it is here. Certainly, some primordial creation of the Son as per the Arian heresy is not at all in the Apostle’s mind. There is a Time in Paul’s thoughts: though not the time of the original creation, but rather that of the second creation heralded by the Resurrection which he is thinking about. Just compare “the firstborn from [among] the dead” in v18, where this is made more clear.
Verse 15 also states that Christ is “over all creation.” He is over the creation because:
The World depends on Christ for its being created and its continued existence.
- all creation was made through Him – (v. 16). Jesus is the ever-living Word through Whom the Father spoke the world into being (Jn. 1:3; Heb. 1:2).
- all creation was made for Him – (v. 16). Jesus is the One for Whom the Father made the world. This staggering fact calls us all to prayerful meditation. “For Him.” This world. You and I. Creation is a Gift from the Father to the Son. And while we may despise God’s gifts, the Son does not. The created realm is valuable to Jesus first of all because it is His from God the Father! And it is for that reason He redeems it. Yes, and for that reason He will beautify it (cf. Rom. 8:20). This world will not be discarded like an old car when He comes, like some teach. It will be regenerated by the One who saved it. Jesus will be enthroned within it (Matt. 19:28). That is the only fit place for Him to be in it (cf. Lk. 1:33; Zech. 14:6; Rev. 19:16). As James Fergusson (The Epistles of Paul) put it so quaintly, “The setting forth of his glory is a rent due by all creatures.” And there will come a day when it will be payed before Him in person in His creation.
- all creation is held together by Him – (v. 17) Christ’s Lordship over the elements of bread and water and life and death is a logical outcome of what Paul speaks of in this verse. Everything that is – that possesses being – whether it be visible or invisible (v.16), exists providentially under His hand. The writer of Hebrews expresses a similar thought:
And He is the radiance of His [God’s] glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power. – Heb 1:3a
Among the many similarities of thought between the two passages is that of the whole disposing of the history of the Cosmos devolves upon Christ. John Owen, in his magisterial Exposition of the Epistle to the Hebrews, 3.105, writes,
And from these last words we learn: –
I. Our Lord Jesus Christ, as the Son of God, hath the weight of the whole creation upon his hand, and disposeth of it by his power and wisdom.
II. Such is the nature and condition of the universe, that it could not subsist a moment, nor could any thing in it act regularly unto its appointed end, without the continual supportment, guidance, influence, and disposal of the Son of God.
It is this “by Him, for Him, subsisting because of Him” teaching which situates the Son unquestionably at the center of the unfolding revelation of God to men. It may be explored in several promising ways. To name but three; we can confidently study the earliest chapters of the Bible “Christologically,” knowing that He will be found there. This is not the same as saying that Christ is in every verse, or that He is hidden behind every possibility of a “type.” He can be “seen” without having to be placed here and there by over-eager theologians. Exactly how Christ is there in the Old Testament must be determined by the Old Testament. All that this New Testament teaching does is to alert us to His necessary presence as God.
Second, the Divine interest and investment in history as revealed in Scripture must be seen as purposive, and therefore the redemption of the world accords with that larger purpose. As Owen reminds us (Ibid, 99), what passages like these do is to remind us that we must be reconciled to God through Jesus Christ. There can be no other way!
But just here we can become somewhat trite. We can slap our huge “Glory” poster over everything and step back and think we have said something profound, when, as a matter of fact, we have simply relabeled God’s purpose without defining it. This can be seen in the many unsatisfactory treatments of God’s glory where it is made the decisive goal of everything that happens, as if He depended on the outcome of history. But God is maximally glorious and needs nothing. His aseity means that He is independent. He displays His glory, but He doesn’t need to seek it. If He did, He would become contingent upon the responses of His creatures. Therefore I think it preferable to include the glory of God within the broader category of His Name. But more of this another time.
In the third place, we should not be surprised that this a “communicative” world (Psa. 19:1-4). It was formed by and for the Word! I shall have cause to return to this vital aspect of reality continually as I proceed. I shall only say now that due to the Fall, our tendency, even as believers, is to reinterpret what God has communicated to us whenever it crosses our pious expectations.
The World is led into its future regeneration by Christ
As the providential upholder of the world that was given to Him, Jesus is ushering it to the desired end. One may be forgiven for not seeing this from our perspective, but that is what He tells us. And when we believe it, we start to see life differently. Hope enters in.
The hope of “all creation” is entwined around the Person and work of its Creator and Redeemer – more especially in connection with the resurrected Redeemer and His Second Coming. The basis of this hope is wrapped up in the sacrificial work at the Cross which was accomplished at His First Coming. However, as we shall see, the sacrifice and the hope – the First and Second Comings – are pulled together in conjunction with the New Covenant in Christ. And the “trigger” for the New Covenant is the Resurrection and its astonishing declaration – “JUSTIFIED!”
Continued next time…