The person and work of Christ. 1:15-20
The passage before us is part of a larger section dealing with the person and work of Christ, 1:3-23. In hymn-like prose Paul establishes the credentials of Jesus: his preeminence over the created order, his authority over the church, and his prime function of reconciling all creation to himself. By means of these substantial truths Paul confirms the security of our standing in the presence of the living God.
v15. The nature and being of God are perfectly revealed in Christ. He is the image of God, v15a; he is preeminent over all creation, Lord over it, heir of it all; he is a cosmic Christ, v15b.
v16. God has created all dimensions; he created the total expanse of heaven and earth. He also created all beings; he created mankind along with the angelic powers of good and evil. In this verse we learn of Christ's involvement in the creation. The scripture tells us that "all things were created by him." Some commentators suggest that "in him" is a better translation, ie., Christ is the sphere within which the creation takes place, such that God does not create independently of Christ. The creation is also "through him", ie., Christ is the agent through whom the creation comes into being. And finally, the creation is "for him", ie., Christ is the goal toward which it is shaped. Christ is the ruler of creation and the ultimate goal toward which the whole of creation moves.
v17. Paul restates the idea of Christ's permanence, his precedence over all things, and then adds a new thought. Christ has cosmic significance in that he maintains all things, sustaining and unifying the creation.
v18a. Christ "is the head of his body, the church." Christ is the "head" of the church in the sense of supplying its life and exercising control and direction. The "body" is Christ's body, in the sense of his people (believers) being in an intimate association with him, under his control and serving him. This then is "the church": a local gathering of believers with Christ, who in that gathering image the heavenly gathering already assembled in the presence of the ascended Christ.
v18b. In the final verses of the passage we learn of Christ's role in redemption. Christ is himself the beginning and the first member of the new creation, "his body."
v19-20. Christ is the agent of reconciliation. "For God is pleased to have all his fullness to dwell in him", ie. God is happy for his divine essence to reside in Christ. The "fullness" here is "the totality of divine essence and power resident in Christ. He is the one, all-sufficient intermediary between God and the world of humanity, and all the attributes of God are disclosed in him," F.F. Bruce. As well as having created "all things" and presently sustaining them, and as well as ruling the church, "his body", Christ is also the agent of reconciliation.
The work of reconciliation is cosmic in application, cf. Eph.1:10. It is not just the reconciliation of a broken humanity, a making peace between God and mankind, but also a reconciliation of "things in heaven." The great theologian Origen suggested that these "things" may be fallen angels. Certainly, it does seem that Christ's work of reconciliation, as well as reconciling a humanity subjected to futility, also extends to the reconciliation of hostile spiritual powers in heavenly places.
Set your eyes on Jesus
The power of this present shadow-land rests with its immediacy. Our moment is filled with sensual experiences which subsume the delicacy of spiritual mysteries. The strength of our feelings, our confidence in self, the pressure of our pier group and the directing force of circumstance, all shape our lives, all channel us. The power of the moment is often the master.
The events of our time fill us with insecurity. Yet, we must not look at the shadows as if they are substantial. We should focus on the substance, focus on Christ. When we look at Christ, what do we see?
First, we see the Lord who is both the agent of creation and the sustainer of the heavens and the earth. Everything about us seems to be mindless, beyond our control. The mindless rush of life's events channel us, confine us. Yet, when we view life this way we am not seeing it the way it really is. Jesus actually made it and sustains it. Even the powers of darkness, ranting and raging, have no being in themselves, no substance in themselves.
Second, we see the Lord of the church. To the naked eye, the church is but a little flock, powerless and infantile, ignored by the headlong rush of secular society. Yet, when we view it this way we am not seeing it the way it is. This little gathering of God's people is the very substance of the person of Christ. He has, in a sense, infused this people. Jesus is Lord, so in everything, even in the church, he has supremacy.
Third, we see the Lord who is the reconciler of humanity. In our person we sense a distance from God; we feel unworthy. Yet, when we view our life this way, we am not seeing it the way it is. Christ has reconciled us to God. We are now at peace with God.
When we look full in the face of Jesus, the strength of the shadows about us fade in the glory of his radiance.
1. In what sense is Jesus the "firstborn over all creation"?
2. What does this passage tell us about the church?
3. Discuss the notion that Jesus is reconciling all things to himself, including "things in heaven."
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