Christ at the Center: The Fulcrum of Biblical Covenantalism (Pt.1b)

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

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8 comments

  1. Paul:
    This is an excellent series for all of us and specifically for seminary students who need to be “set straight” before being released to invoke the the grandeurs of God Word to ears eager to know the truth. My hope is that this series could be made available as a chapter in a book on theology or as a separate book if you have sufficient time. kindest regards,

  2. Hi Paul,

    Was wondering what you meant here: “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.” Are you only speaking of God’s reflective glory, that is, the glory He derives from all He creates? Or His intrinsic glory, that which is true to Him even apart from His creation?

    Because if you are speaking of the former, which it seems you are when you write, “If He did, He would become contingent upon the responses of His creatures” then you are incorrect. God can seek His own glory apart from His creation since God is 3 Persons in glorious inter-relationship.

    If you are speaking of the latter (intrinsic glory) you are still incorrect, for it is indeed necessary for the Son to seek the Father’s glory inasmuch as His Father is glorious. For the Son (or the Spirit) not to seek the Father’s glory would be for the Son (or Spirit) to treat the Father as if He weren’t glorious and hence for their relationship to neglect who they really are (i.e., be sinful). Notice the imperative in John 17:1: “Father, the hour has come; glorify Your Son, that the Son may glorify You.”

    Rather than include the glory of God in the category of His “name,” which is to make His glory nominative and thus simply an(other) attribute, it is necessary to understand glory as intrinsic to God alone: “I am the LORD, that is My name; I will not give My glory to another.” From here we (His creatures) can also understand God’s reflected glory, which is all we shall ever know, even in the new creation.

    1. Thanks for the comment (I don’t know what to call you),

      I think you have misunderstood my point here. I said:

      “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.”

      Please notice that my concern here is with God’s purposes in history and our responses to it. I am only dealing with those who (too commonly today) write as if we add to God’s glory or that God has got to do certain things in order to derive glory from them. Once we say things like this we make God contingent on things external to Himself. Remember, God’s reflected glory is His handiwork in creation. His signature if you like. It cannot be added to or reduced by the creature. It CAN be recognized in worship, but such “glorifying” the Lord is not my concern in the paragraph.

      I hope this helps.

      God bless you and yours,

      Paul

      1. So if I read it right, you are saying, “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 from His creation.”

        Got it – thanks Paul.

        Yes, in light of the magnitude of reconciliation of all things in Christ, merely saying the end of all things is God’s glory from His creatures, as if to imply He gains something more He didn’t previously possess, is simply silly. I’m guessing this is a swipe at careless Covenantalists and Dispensationalists.

        Simple Elder

      2. That’s right. Although “swipe” is a little strong. Me, “swipe”? 😉

        Truly, I just don’t like sloppiness, however pious it may sound.

  3. “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. [I see a lot of this] 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.”

    You’ve touched a hot wire with this Paul. So much of preaching, teaching and singing is focused on our bringing glory to God as if that ought to be the primary goal of us as creatures, and as if we were intrinsically capable of it (all glory that I can give to God is derived from Him in any case), and underlying all of this is the supposition that somehow God stands in need of it – we would never say that but how often that idea under-girds our praise. But I think all this is a bit upside down. We exist because of God’s glory (and in its absence we would not), which is effulgent and without the slightest deficit, and by his sustenance we are part of His glory, for “by him and for him” are all things.

    The many efforts and exhortations to add to his glory seems to run contrary to the point that Paul is making in your Colossians passage: Christ stands glorious, sufficient and brilliant. Maybe the supreme thing I can do is enjoy and bask in that – get a Son tan. I think that’s what you mean by, “It [God’s glory] CAN be recognized in worship,”

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