Pastor David B. Curtis

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The Deity of Jesus

Colossians 1:15-17

12/07/2003

From his prayerful concern that the Colossians might walk in a manner fitting to their new life in Christ, Paul moves quickly into the main focus of this epistle - the exaltation and preeminence of Christ in His person and work.

The book of Colossians is about Jesus Christ. He is the exalted Christ, the sovereign Christ, the supreme Christ, the One who is the Lord of all. Christianity is not a religion but a relationship with the person of Jesus Christ. Salvation in the plan of God is inseparably linked to a person, the person of Jesus Christ. When you come to experience God's salvation, you are brought into a relationship with a person, the person of Jesus Christ.

Acts 4:12 (NKJV) "Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved."

Jesus Christ is totally unique from every other human being who has ever existed or ever will exist.

Nothing is more vital for experiencing the power of Christ in our daily lives than an accurate understanding of both the person and work of Jesus Christ. Without truly understanding who Jesus really is and what He alone accomplished through the cross, people become sitting ducks for false teachings that seek to come to God other than exclusively through the Lord Jesus Christ.

From the standpoint of Christology, or the doctrine of the person of Christ, there were two schools of Gnosticism that later developed. First, there was docetism, a form that derived its name from the Greek word dokeo, which means: "to seem to be." Those who belonged to this school claimed that the human Jesus was only a phantom, that He had no body. In other words, He only seemed to be as far as His body was concerned, and this meant He only seemed to die on the cross. He was an angelic spirit who appeared in apparitional form or with an apparent body, but in reality He was not truly human or God come in the flesh who literally died for man's sin. This form clearly denied both the person and work of Christ.

The second school can be called Cerinthianism from it founder, Cerinthus, who was a contemporary of John at Ephesus. Cerinthianism held that the man Jesus, son of Joseph and Mary, was preeminent in righteousness and wisdom, that "the Christ" came on Him at His baptism and empowered His ministry, but left Him before His crucifixion; it was only a man who died and rose again. Either view eliminated the Incarnation and nullified Christ's atoning work. They both ultimately denied that it was the God-man, Jesus Christ, who died on the cross for our sins.

Colossians 1:15-18 has been called "The Great Christology", because it sets forth Paul's inspired conviction and understanding of just who Jesus Christ is. S. Lewis Johnson introduces his comments on this portion of Colossians with the following comments, which are very fitting to the focus of these verses:

One evening near the Sea of Galilee Jesus spoke to His disciples after a busy day of ministry and said, 'Let us cross over to the other side.' When the multitude of people was dismissed, the disciples took their weary Leader into a boat and began to make their way across the lake. But there arose a lashing storm which churned the little sea into wet fury, and soon the boat and its occupants were in danger of being swamped. Anxiously and somewhat peevishly they turned to their sleeping Companion and brusquely aroused Him with, 'Master, carest thou not that we perish?' being quite unaware of the fact that there is no sinking with the Savior aboard. Jesus arose and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, "Hush! Be still!" The wind died, and a dead calm ensued. After He had rebuked them for their fear and faithlessness, they, awestruck, murmured to one another, 'What manner of man is this, that even the wind and the sea obey Him?' (cf. Mark 4:35­41).
If the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews had been present, knowing what he knew when he wrote his letter, he would have replied confidently, 'Why, He is the effulgence of God's glory and the stamp of God's very being, and sustains the universe by His word of power' (cf. Heb 1:3). Paul the Apostle might have replied, 'He is the image of the invisible God; He has primacy over all created things' (Col 1:15).
This line from Paul introduces the section of Colossians which has often been called, 'The Great Christology.' We owe the section to the heresy of Gnostic Judaism, which was on the verge of infecting the little church in Colosse. Thus, in one respect at least we may be thankful for heresy, because the church of Jesus Christ would be impoverished substantially if it did not possess this significant testimony to the pre-eminence of its Redeemer.

Col 1:15-20 seems to be clearly divided into two sections, the first of which (Col 1:15-17) deals with the presence of Jesus at the dawn of Creation and His continuing relationship to it. While the second (Col 1:18-20) moves on to the second Creation - the re-creation or restoration of Creation - that His coming to earth achieved.

Col 1:15-17 - Jesus in His deity - the first Creation - Christ, God by nature, King by having created. Col 1:18-20 - Jesus in His humanity - the new Creation - Christ, God incarnate, King by the cross, resurrection and ascension.

In verses 15-18, Paul highlights several unique characteristics that qualify Jesus Christ to be the preeminent one who has supremacy over all things. He is: (1) the image or likeness and manifestation of the invisible God, (2) the Firstborn or Sovereign over the first creation, (3) the Creator of the universe, (4) the Sustainer of creation, (5) the Sovereign or Head of the new creation, the church, (6) the Firstborn from the dead, and thus (7) the Preeminent One of all things.

Salvation, of course, is dependent on both the person and work of Christ, thus, in verses 19-20, Paul highlights the work of Christ as the Reconciler of all things, the one who makes peace. There is no one passage in the New Testament that lists so many characteristics that point to Christ's deity as are found in this short but powerful passage:

Colossians 1:15 (NKJV) He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation.

Jesus Christ is the "image of the invisible God". The word for "image" is the Greek word eikon", like the English "icon". Those "images" on your desktop of your computer are called "icons". Eikon means: "that which resembles an object, which represents it."

Many commentators take this word "image" and interpret it based upon their theology instead of its etymology. For example, one commentator writes, "By the use of this word (image), Paul is stressing that Jesus is the perfect manifestation of God. To see what God is like, we must look at Jesus." Though his theology is correct, his etymology of image is not. This word "image" is from the Greek word eikon, which can mean no more than "likeness"; where we might say that there are certain similarities between two objects that cause us to consider them - in some minor or major way - as being related. This word "image" cannot be pressed to mean: "a perfect representation" as is seen in its use in the New Testament:

1 Corinthians 11:7 (NKJV) For a man indeed ought not to cover his head, since he is the image [eikon] and glory of God; but woman is the glory of man.

It's certainly true that man was created to bear the image and likeness of God (Gen 1:26), but equality with God is not the issue here. If this word eikon means a perfect representation, then Paul would be saying here that man is a perfect representation of God, and we know that that is not the case.

So, this word "eikon", in and of itself, does not mean: "a perfect manifestation". Now let me ask you a question, "Is Jesus Christ a perfect manifestation of God?" Yes, He is! But we learn that, not from this word "image" in Colossians but from other passages in the New Testament. What our text in Colossians is teaching is that Jesus Christ manifests the invisible God to us. As we look at other texts in the New Testament, we see that this is a perfect manifestation. For example:

Hebrews 1:3 (NKJV) 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,

"Who being the brightness of His glory..." - the word "brightness" is the Greek word apaugasma, which is from apo, meaning: "off or away", and augazo, meaning: "to beam forth, shine, effulgence, brightness." It means: "to send forth light." Jesus is the manifestation of God. By way of comparison, we may see Christ as the radiant light coming from the Father as sunlight emanates from the sun.

Remember, our text in Colossians says that Jesus is, "...the image of the invisible God" God is invisible, no one can see God:

John 1:18 (NKJV) No one has seen God at any time. The only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has declared Him.

Jesus expresses God to us. Jesus Christ is always the visible member of the trinity. Whether it be the shekinah glory cloud, or burning bush, or angel of the Lord - it is always the pre-incarnate Christ.

Isaiah 6:1-10 (NKJV) In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lifted up, and the train of His robe filled the temple. 2 Above it stood seraphim; each one had six wings: with two he covered his face, with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. 3 And one cried to another and said: "Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; The whole earth is full of His glory!" 4 And the posts of the door were shaken by the voice of him who cried out, and the house was filled with smoke. 5 So I said: "Woe is me, for I am undone! Because I am a man of unclean lips, And I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; For my eyes have seen the King, The LORD of hosts." 6 Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a live coal which he had taken with the tongs from the altar. 7 And he touched my mouth with it, and said: "Behold, this has touched your lips; Your iniquity is taken away, And your sin purged." 8 Also I heard the voice of the Lord, saying: "Whom shall I send, And who will go for Us?" Then I said, "Here am I! Send me." 9 And He said, "Go, and tell this people: 'Keep on hearing, but do not understand; Keep on seeing, but do not perceive.' 10 "Make the heart of this people dull, And their ears heavy, And shut their eyes; Lest they see with their eyes, And hear with their ears, And understand with their heart, And return and be healed."

Who was it that Isaiah saw? Which member of the trinity was this? Can we know with certainty? Yes, we can, the New Testament tells us:

John 12:36-41 (NKJV) "While you have the light, believe in the light, that you may become sons of light." These things Jesus spoke, and departed, and was hidden from them. 37 But although He had done so many signs before them, they did not believe in Him, 38 that the word of Isaiah the prophet might be fulfilled, which he spoke: "Lord, who has believed our report? And to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed?" 39 Therefore they could not believe, because Isaiah said again: 40 "He has blinded their eyes and hardened their hearts, Lest they should see with their eyes, Lest they should understand with their hearts and turn, So that I should heal them." 41 These things Isaiah said when he saw His glory and spoke of Him.

John tells us that Isaiah saw Jesus Christ. Jesus is the brightness of God's essence manifested to men.

If you want to know the glory, the moral beauty of the father, read the gospel and behold the person of Jesus, because He's the radiance (the streaming out, the effulgence) of the glory of God.

The text in Hebrews also says that Jesus is, "The express image of His person." The words "express image" are the Greek word charakter. It is used only here in the New Testament. It is used in classical Greek to indicate a die or a stamp, or the mark made by a seal. Used here, it means that Jesus Christ is the exact reproduction of God, in human form. The word "person" is the Greek word hupostasis, which is from hupo, meaning: "under", and histemi, meaning: "to stand". Thus its meaning is: "that which stands under." We could translate it "nature" or "essence".

Look at what Paul says about Christ in:

Philippians 2:6 (NKJV) who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God,

The word "being" is the Greek word huparcho, this is not the commonest word for "being" in the Greek, that would be the verb "ame," but it is a verb that stresses the essence of a person's nature, it is to express the continued state of a thing, it is unalterable and unchangeable. Paul said, "Jesus Christ unalterably and unchangeably exists in the form of God." This speaks of his pre-existence.

The word "form" is morphe. It has nothing to do with shape or size.

John 4:24 (NKJV) "God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth."
Luke 24:39 (NKJV) "Behold My hands and My feet, that it is I Myself. Handle Me and see, for a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see I have."

God is not to be thought of in human terms. Multin and Millagan say that "morphe" is a form which truly and fully expresses the being which under lies it. It refers to the essence or essential being. Jesus Christ pre-existed in the essence of God.

Let's compare two Greek words for form. Morphe is the essential character of something. Schema is the outward form it takes. Morphe is the essential form which never alters; schema is the outward form which changes from time to time and from circumstance to circumstance.

The morphe of any human being is humanity, and this never changes; but his schema is continually changing. I was a baby, a child, a boy, a youth, a teenager, an adult, and someday I will be an old man. My morphe is manhood, my schema changes. Roses, daffodils, tulips, and primroses all have one morphe of flowers, but there schema is different.

When Paul uses hupareco (being) and morphe (form) he is saying something very specific; he is saying that Jesus Christ has always existed in the unchangeable essence of the being of God. Jesus Christ is God and always was. This is the heart and soul of the Christian faith-- Jesus Christ is God.

Jesus Christ is eternal God, and, as part of the trinity, He always existed; He is co-equal and co-eternal with God the Father and God the Holy Spirit:

John 1:1-3 (NKJV) 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.

Who is the "Word" that was from the beginning and was with God and was God? Jesus! How do you know? Verse 14 tells us:

John 1:14 (NKJV) 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.

Is there any doubt as to who this Word is? No, it is clearly Jesus Christ, who is the eternal God.

John 8:58 (NKJV) Jesus said to them, "Most assuredly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM."

A literal translation would read, "Before Abraham was brought into being, I exist." The statement, therefore, is not that Christ came into existence before Abraham did, but that He already existed before Abraham was brought into being. In other words, Christ existed before creation, or eternally. In that sense, the Jews plainly understood him, for they wanted to stone him for blasphemy.

Jesus, in claiming to be "I Am", was asserting equality with God, himself, who was revealed as the "I Am That I Am" --the self-existent, eternal God:

Exodus 3:14 (NKJV) And God said to Moses, "I AM WHO I AM." And He said, "Thus you shall say to the children of Israel, 'I AM has sent me to you.'"

"I AM" is a transliteration of the personal name of God in Hebrew. It is sometimes called the "Tetragrammaton" (Greek, meaning: "four letters"); these are the four consonants (YHWH), which make up the divine name found more than 6,000 times in the Old Testament. The written Hebrew language did not include vowels, only the consonants were used; thus readers supplied the vowels as they read (this is true even today in Hebrew newspapers). Reverence for the divine name led to the practice of avoiding its use. In time, it was thought that the divine name was too holy to pronounce at all. Thus the practice arose of using the word Adonai: "Lord." Many translations of the Bible followed this practice. In most English translations, YHWH is recognizable where the word LORD appears in all caps.

By saying that He was the "I AM", Jesus Christ claimed absolute existence. Jesus Christ claimed an existence that was timeless.

That the Jews rightly understood Jesus' claim, "Before Abraham was, I am" (8:58) as a divine claim is evident from their picking up stones to throw at Him:

John 8:59 (NKJV) Then they took up stones to throw at Him; but Jesus hid Himself and went out of the temple, going through the midst of them, and so passed by.

Back to Colossians, Jesus Christ manifests the invisible God. The very nature and character of God have been perfectly revealed in Him; in Him the invisible has become visible. If you want to know what God is like, look at Christ in the gospels.

Paul goes on to say that Jesus Christ is also, "The firstborn over all creation." These words have been a source of great debate, especially with certain cultic groups, because they appear to make Christ a part of creation. They would say that He is only the first created being, but this is totally erroneous because of the context. The next verse says, "For by Him all things were created". The "Firstborn" cannot be part of Creation if He created "all things." One cannot create himself. Jehovah's Witnesses wrongly add the word "other" six times in this passage in their New World Translation. Thus, they suggest that Christ created all other things after He was created! But the word "other" is not in the Greek.

The Greek word translated "firstborn" is prototokos, which has two connotations derived from the fact that protos may mean: "first in time", or "first in rank". In view of the statement of verse eighteen, that He has become pre-eminent in all things, it seems probable that Paul has the thought of sovereignty primarily in view. The use of the word in the Old Testament confirms this, for in Psalm 89, which is strongly Messianic, the Psalmist says of Christ, "Also I will make Him my firstborn (prototokon), higher than the kings of the earth" (Ps 89:27, LXX). Paul, then, effectively counters any claim of the heretics that Christ was only an angelic emanation from God and part of the creation. He is creation's Lord.

Jesus, the first-born, is explained in that everything (where the Greek is an absolute statement meaning: "the totality") came into existence in Him (verse 16). The concept being announced is that nothing was created outside Jesus Christ's supremacy - all things, the totality of creation, were created in subjection to Him. The totality of creation couldn't have been created in Him if He was a created being; only God who pre-exists all things can truly be said to have the totality in Him. Therefore, far from suggesting Christ as having been created, it proclaims His divinity, pre-existence, and sovereignty.

The word "firstborn" has nothing to do with the birth of Christ. Nowhere does the Bible teach that Jesus began at Bethlehem. His physical being began there but not His person. The Bible teaches that He was from everlasting:

Micah 5:2 (NKJV) "But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, Though you are little among the thousands of Judah, Yet out of you shall come forth to Me The One to be Ruler in Israel, Whose goings forth are from of old, From everlasting."

So, Jesus Christ is the manifestation of the invisible God, and He is the Sovereign over creation. Lets continue:

Colossians 1:16 (NKJV) For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. All things were created through Him and for Him.

The third, distinctive of the glory of Christ, is that He created all things; all creation is designed for Him, in Him, and creation is preserved by Him. Christ not only created all things, but all things continue to subsist because of Him.

For by Him all things were created. With the word "for," the apostle begins his explanation and proof why Jesus Christ is the Sovereign over all creation. "For" is hoti, a causal conjunction: "because, since." It points the reader to the reason Christ is in Sovereign over all creation. Jesus is considered as first in time and rank over all Creation, because "by Him all things were created".

The phrase "all things" occurs six times in Col 1:15-20, and literally means: "the all" or "the totality" referring to the Creation. Its significance for the reader is that nothing can be left outside this phrase when applied to a situation, especially when the definite article is used in the Greek to precede it.

The first phrase says that all things were created "by" him. That is, Jesus is the cause of creation. He designed all creation "visible" (that is, earthly kingdoms and empires) and "invisible" (that is, the angelic principalities and powers). The words "thrones," "powers," "rulers" and "authorities" probably refer to angelic beings and human government. In part, this refers to the hierarchy of angels. The Colossians worshiped angels (Col 2:18). All angelic organizations, whether good or evil, are under the control and power of Jesus Christ.

In the phrase, "All things were created 'through' him", He is the instrument of creation. Jesus Christ is the agent whereby the universe was created. He is the creator.

Finally, creation is designed "for him." This is a term of purpose. Creation is designed for the glory of Christ. He is the goal of creation. Christ is glorified in creation.

In summary, Christ is the author, the means and the end of creation. The universe finds its goal and perfection in Christ. Moffat's translation of the Bible sums it up perfectly at this point and is a commentary in itself when it renders it, "All comes from Him, all lives by Him, all ends in Him".

If we understand this, why should we worry about anything? He is able to deal with our problems. Why should the Christian worry about an uncertain, uncontrolled, run away world? Jesus Christ is sovereign over it all. He is glorified in His creation:

Colossians 1:17 (NKJV) And He is before all things, and in Him all things consist.

There are two thoughts in this verse: First, that of His priority, and then second, of His sustenance of those things which have been brought into being.

The Son of God existed before the world was created. He lived before the beginning of time, from all eternity (John 1:1).

"In Him all things consist" - not only do all things come into being by him, but he holds them together. The word "consist" means: "to hold together, stand together" "to be compacted together," "to cohere," "to be constituted with". The Greek tense means that they were held together at one point in the past, and they remain held together. This passage can be applied to the structure of the atom, for example. The nucleus of every atom is held together by what physicists call "weak" and "strong" forces.

Physicists today are familiar with four basic forces in the natural world: gravity and electrical forces, plus a "strong" and a "weak" nuclear force. The first two forces decrease in strength inversely with the square of the distance between two objects; the latter two forces act only at very short ranges.

The nucleus of the atom contains positively charged and neutral particles-to use a simplistic model. Mutual electrostatic repulsion between the like-positive protons would drive the nucleus apart if it were not for the "strong force" which binds the nucleus together.

There is thus an active force imposed on the universe, which actively holds the very atoms of the material world together moment by moment, day by day, century by century.

Similarly, accelerated electrons circling the nucleus should quickly radiate all their energy away and fall into the nucleus unless there exists an invisible energy source to counteract this. Which there is, Jesus Christ.

The thought, "In Him all things consist" is paralleled in Hebrews 1:3 where Jesus is spoken of as, "Upholding all things by the word of His power." The word "upholding" is the Greek word phero, which means: "supporting or maintaining." Phero is used in the LXX where Moses says, "I am not able to bear [phero] all this people alone." Here phero has in it the idea of the responsibility of the government and guidance of Israel.

It is used in our text in the present tense, implying continuous action. What is in view is Divine providence. Everything in the universe is sustained at this moment by Jesus Christ.

Can you imagine what would happen if Jesus Christ relinquished His sustaining power to the laws of the earth and the universe? We would go out of existence. Even if He simply stopped maintaining the law of gravity, we would all die.

Think of what would happen if things changed. The sun has a surface temperature of 12,000 degrees Fahrenheit. If it were any closer to the earth, we'd burn; and if it were any further, we'd freeze. If the moon did not remain a specific distance from the earth, the ocean tide would completely inundate the land twice a day. Things don't just happen in our universe by accident, Jesus Christ sustains the universe. He is the principle of cohesion.

We are all utterly dependant upon Jesus Christ for our existence. As God said to Belshazzar, "The God in whose hand thy breath is, and whose are all the ways"; or Paul to the Athenians, "In Him we live and move and have our being, and He himself giveth to all life, and breath, and all things." Every living thing is sustained in being by the Lord Jesus Christ.

Among secular scientists today there are many who acknowledge that God exists. But He is usually considered as only a First Cause-the One who brought the universe into existence and set it into motion. But most of these same scientists assume God was not involved after the initial act of creation. This is called Deism - the liberal theology that God created the universe and then stood back to let it pursue its own course according to the principles sown into its framework only rarely - if at all - intervening into time and space.

This is contrary to clear statements in the Bible that God is very much involved in every event that takes place in the ongoing history of the entire universe. Causality links everything together, because God "works (Greek: energizes) all things according to the counsel of His will." (Ephesians 1:11.)

When I think of Christ's power to uphold the universe, I realize that it affects my personal life:

Romans 8:28 (NKJV) And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.

To those who love Him, "all things" are working together for good. "All things" - how foolish of us to despair and worry and give up hope in time of trouble and trial. If he can uphold all things, He'll have no trouble upholding you in your time of need. You can relax, because He is controlling every circumstance of your life, and He is doing it all for your good.

Jesus Christ personally sustains the universe, therefore, He can govern any problem we face. He maintains everything he manufactures. If Jesus Christ can manage the whirling constellations, He can take care of us and our little family.
Do you worry about whether your job will be there next year? Do you worry about your health? Are you exercised about some relationship? Nothing can happen to us apart from the will of Jesus Christ. He is in control of everything that happens to us. Jesus Christ is God, He is the Creator and Sustainor of the entire universe.

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