We began looking last week at Colossians 1:15-20, which has been called "The Great Christology", because it sets forth Paul's inspired understanding of just who Jesus Christ is. In verses 15-17 we see Jesus in His deity - He is the image of the invisible God. We are told that "all things were created by him"- that is, Jesus is the cause of creation. He is also the instrument of creation; "All things were created through him". And He is the goal of creation; "All things were created ...for Him." This is a term of purpose. Creation is designed for the glory of Christ. Jesus Christ is God, He is the Creator of the universe.
The scope of verse 15-17 is all creation. The whole universe is in view. And the point is that Christ is preeminent over all creation, because he made it and he holds it all together.
But then in verses 18-21 the focus shifts, and the scope is no longer the whole universe but the new creation, namely the church. Notice how verse 18 turns from creation to the church:
Colossians 1:18 (NKJV) And He is the head of the body, the church, who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in all things He may have the preeminence.
In verse 18 Paul affirms Christ's superiority and supremacy over a new creation, the church. Here the apostle moves from the cosmological to the soteriological, because the Colossians must also recognize that the Creator of the cosmos is also supreme head of the church.
"And He is the head of the body, the church"
The idea of the Church being Jesus' body is seen in many New Testament passages. A few verses down in Colossians we read:
Colossians 1:24 (NKJV) I now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up in my flesh what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ, for the sake of His body, which is the church,
Notice what Paul says in Romans about the body of Christ:
Romans 12:4 (NKJV) For as we have many members in one body, but all the members do not have the same function,
Paul is talking about our physical body. We have one physical body, but there are many different parts. And even though it is one body, all the different parts do not have the same function. The application of the picture is found in the next verse:
Romans 12:5 (NKJV) so we, being many, are one body in Christ, and individually members of one another.
There is one body of Christ, and we are the various parts in that body. The emphasis in Romans - and we will see it in 1 Corinthians as well - is on the unity and diversity of the body. So Paul uses the physical body to picture a spiritual body:
1 Corinthians 12:12 (NKJV) For as the body is one and has many members, but all the members of that one body, being many, are one body, so also is Christ.
This physical body is a picture of the spiritual body. Look at verse:
1 Corinthians 12:27 (NKJV) Now you are the body of Christ, and members individually.
There is the point. We are part of Christ's body, and each of us is a member of that body, contributing something through the abilities the Holy Spirit has given us.
We also are told here how we come to be members of the spiritual body of Christ:
1 Corinthians 12:13 (NKJV) For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body; whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free; and have all been made to drink into one Spirit.
How did we get into the Church, the body of Christ? We were not born into it as infants; the Body of Christ does not consist of everybody in the world, only certain individuals are in it. We are placed in the body by the baptism with the Holy Spirit.
The baptism of the Spirit began at Pentecost:
Acts 11:15-16 (NKJV) "And as I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell upon them, as upon us at the beginning. 16 "Then I remembered the word of the Lord, how He said, 'John indeed baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit."
Peter identifies the date of the baptizing with the Holy Spirit at its inception as Pentecost. This is the first time the baptism with the Holy Spirit takes place. In Acts 11 the same thing happened to them as had happened to the 120 in the upper room. The original band of disciples were baptized on the day of Pentecost.
The baptism of the Holy Spirit occurred historically at Pentecost. Since we weren't there at Pentecost, when are you and I baptized by the Holy Spirit?
Acts 11:15-17 (NKJV) "And as I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell upon them, as upon us at the beginning. 16 "Then I remembered the word of the Lord, how He said, 'John indeed baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit.' 17 "If therefore God gave them the same gift as He gave us when we believed on the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could withstand God?"
Peter is preaching the gospel to Cornelius. As he preaches, Cornelius believes, and the Holy Spirit descends upon him as he had upon the 120 at the beginning. The decent of the Holy Spirit upon the 120 at the beginning was the fulfillment of the baptism of the Spirit. I conclude, then, that what is happening to Cornelius here is also the baptism by the Holy Spirit. So I think it is safe to say that a believer is baptized by the Holy Spirit at the moment of his conversion; when he trusts in Christ. That is why there is no command in Scripture to be baptized by the Holy Spirit. There is no exhortation to receive the Holy Spirit- all believers already have Him.
So. the baptism by the Holy Spirit is the work of Jesus Christ in putting believers into the church through the agency of the Holy Spirit. It happens at salvation.
Back to Colossians: Our text tells us that Jesus Christ is the head of the body. The obvious meaning of "head", which is the Greek word kephale, especially in this context and in Paul's use of this term as a description of Christ, is that of authority, supremacy, director, control. This use is established in the Septuagint translation of the Old Testament where kephale is used to render ro'sh, which carried the double meaning of "head" and "ruler:
Judges 10:18 (NKJV) And the people, the leaders of Gilead, said to one another, "Who is the man who will begin the fight against the people of Ammon? He shall be head [ro'sh] over all the inhabitants of Gilead."
Judges 11:8 (NKJV) And the elders of Gilead said to Jephthah, "That is why we have turned again to you now, that you may go with us and fight against the people of Ammon, and be our head [ro'sh] over all the inhabitants of Gilead."
This is further supported by Paul's use of head in:
Ephesians 1:22-23 (NKJV) And He put all things under His feet, and gave Him to be head [kephale] over all things to the church, 23 which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all.
If this is the sense of the word here in Col 1:18, Jesus is being proclaimed as the Head who issues commands to the body, who controls the overall movement of the Church. The head gives direction to the body. It rules the body by telling the various parts what to do. In a sense, it gives life to the body. We could not function without the head.
Unity of the body takes place when the parts respond to the head. When there is a breakdown in communication from the head to one part of the body, a malfunction occur sin that part of the body. Perhaps a person has been in an accident, and the connections between the arm and the head have been broken. No longer does this arm respond when the head tells it to. There is a malfunction in that part of the body. So Jesus Christ is the head of the body. Again, that is the position of supremacy, authority, and preeminence for the spiritual body.
"And He is the head of the body, the church"- the personal pronoun "he" is autos, and, as in verse 17, it represents the intensive use and should be understood to mean: "he himself, he and no other." The intensive use of autos sets the individual off from everything else as a means of emphasis and to set forth a contrast. Christ is superior, and this superiority is declared in contrast to the above principalities and powers (Col. 2:10), and to angels (Col. 2:18).
So far as the organic relationship is concerned, Christ and His people are viewed together as a living entity: Christ the Head, supplying life and exercising control and direction; His people are His body, individually His limbs and organs, under His control, obeying His direction, performing His work. The directions are given by the head of the body. Jesus Christ, and those directions are contained in our Bibles.
The church here is the universal church. This is the church into which Christ places everyone who has come to trust Christ as their Savior (I Cor. 12:13). This church began on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 1:5; 2:102; 11:15-16). When a person places their trust in the death of Christ to forgive their sins, Jesus puts them into the body of Christ (I Cor.12:13). The Holy Spirit of God unites them to Christ eternally.
It's true the church is comprised of all believers, but the emphasis of Scripture is that the church is a local function. The word ekklesia, in secular Greek as well as in the Greek translation of the Old Testament, always refers to a group that assembles and meets together, never just to an entity. So the manifestation of the spiritual body of Christ is the local church. The fact that I belong to the universal church does not release me from my responsibilities to the local church. I cannot minister to the whole church, but I can strengthen and build the church by ministering to God's people in a local assembly.
"Who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead"
"Who" is the Greek hos, a relative pronoun that refers back to the "he" (autos) of the beginning of the verse, but it has a causal sense and points to the reason Christ is the supreme head. The word "beginning" is arche, which means: "beginning, origin," but it may be interpreted in any one of three ways: as referring to (1) supremacy in rank, (2) precedence in time, or (3) creative initiative.
Kittels writes. "In time it denotes the point of a new beginning in a temporal sequence". And, applied to the new covenant which Paul has turned their attention to, it would mean that everything which is now in existence in a restored relationship with the Father can trace its origins back to the first Man, Jesus, and what He did.
The word "Firstborn" is again prototokos (verse. 15), but here the emphasis by context is on Christ's supremacy in time. He is the first one to break the hold of death by virtue of the resurrection. As such, He is the beginning of a new creation of God. He was the first person to be resurrected from the dead with a glorified body. Yes, there were other people who were resurrected from the dead. One example is Lazarus, who Jesus called back to life after four days in the tomb. But Lazarus was resurrected to physical life, and he had to die again. Jesus Christ is the first person to be resurrected from the dead with a glorified body. So He is the firstborn from the dead.
1 Corinthians 15:20 (NKJV) But now Christ is risen from the dead, and has become the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.
First fruits were brought in from the harvest, which portrayed that there was a coming harvest. The first fruits are presented to God, and Christ is the first fruits. His resurrection guaranteed that there would be subsequent resurrections:
1 Corinthians 15:23 (NKJV) But each one in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, afterward those who are Christ's at His coming.
When was the resurrection to occur? At Christ's coming. This happened in A.D. 70. So what was a future event to the first century readers is a past event to us. For more on resurrection, see my article on "The Resurrection from the Dead."
Now Christ is not only preeminent because He was the first to be resurrected, He is preeminent because He is the one who brings about all resurrection. Look at John 5:28. Jesus is speaking. He just talked about the fact that the Son of Man is going to be the judge of all mankind:
John 5:28 (NKJV) "Do not marvel at this; for the hour is coming in which all who are in the graves will hear His voice
Whose voice? We see at the end of verse 27 that it's the voice of the Son of Man, Jesus Christ. So everyone in the tombs will hear His voice:
John 5:29 (NKJV) "and come forth; those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation.
So you see, He is preeminent in resurrection, because He precedes it, He is the first to experience it, and He is the cause of it.
"That in all things He may have the preeminence."
"He" is again the intensive autos, and should be understood to mean: "He himself, He and no other." The idea is "He alone has become preeminent." Grammatically, "that in all things" can be understood as expressing the result of the preceding, specifically, the resurrection. The Greek text has hina with the subjunctive mood of the verb ginomai, "become, be." which normally expresses purpose, but sometimes it may express result.
The Greek word from which we get "preeminent" is the Greek word proteuo. Kittel defines it simply as: "to be first (in rank)". This pre-eminence is to be as wide in scope as it is possible to be. He is to be supreme in all respects and at every point.
This word is used twice in the Bible, here and:
3 John 1:9 (NKJV) I wrote to the church, but Diotrephes, who loves to have the preeminence among them, does not receive us.
Diotrephes loved to be first. He wanted to be "number one" in the local church. It seems to me that we all struggle with a Diotrephes complex to some extent. But the Scripture is clear that it is Christ, and Christ alone, who is preeminent.
Do you give him first place in your life? Does he come before our business, husband, wife, or children? The Bible holds him as preeminent. Whether we hold him as such in our lives depends on how much we occupy him in our hearts. The Christian who does not hold him in first place is a miserable person. We are miserable when we hold ourselves as first. There is no way to break that misery until we place Jesus Christ as preeminent in our life.
In relation to the universe, Christ is the "I Am" the one who always is,. but in relation to the church, He became the supreme head by His glorious resurrection.
According to the teaching of the false teachers confronting the Colossians, Jesus did not have first place; He was only one of many emanations from God, but not the supreme Son of God and the preeminent one. Many people today reject Christ as the only way, and assert He is only one of many ways to God, or just a part of the way to God. But the Bible emphatically states that Jesus Christ is the only way, and the one and only name by which anyone can be saved. This is because of Who He is and What He accomplished by virtue of His death and resurrection.
Colossians 1:19 (NKJV) For it pleased the Father that in Him all the fullness should dwell,
"For" is the subordinating causal conjunction hoti, which introduces the reason why the Son is supreme in the new creation. His supremacy is found not only in Who He is in His person, as declared in vss. 15-18, but in God's purpose to provide salvation totally through the reconciling work of the Son.
The subject of the verb "pleased" is not actually expressed in the Greek text and is somewhat uncertain. Some take it to be "God" or "the Father," others take it to be"Christ," and some understand the subject to be "fullness." The NIV and the NET Bible understand the subject of the passage to be God. God was pleased that in Christ all His fullness should dwell.
"Fullness" is pleroma, and means: "the sum total, fullness, plenitude." "Dwell" is the aorist tense of katoikeo, which means:"to dwell, reside, settle down." When considered in the light of the simple oikeo :"dwell," or paroikeoi :"dwell along side or near," katoike, indicates a permanent abode.
Verse 19 seems to be referring to the incarnation. But some think that because of the context of verse 20, where the subject is the work of reconciliation, it might be better to understand "fullness" to refer to the fullness of God's plan of reconciliation. In other words, Paul is declaring that the fullness of God's saving grace and provision of salvation resides totally in the work of Christ through the blood of the cross. God was pleased that all saving grace and power take up their permanent abode in Him. Then the following verses, which outline His reconciling work (vv. 20-23), expand and expound the fullness in its operation
This is particularly significant since the false teachers were teaching that Christ's death or work of the cross was not sufficient for salvation or for sanctification, and that one must also add some form of human religious or ascetic works into the equation for salvation and even sanctification (cf. 2:16-23 and 3:1-4).
Paul has just been speaking about Jesus' preeminence - that is, His position of supremacy with regard to both time and rank - and now give the reason for this preeminence as being that the fulness of God was pleased to take up residence in Him.
Whether you view "fulness" as referring to "the fulness of God's plan of reconciliation or of the incarnation", the end is the same. Christ became incarnate so that He might fulfill God's plan of reconciliation. As Bengel states, "This indwelling of the Godhead in Christ is the foundation of the reconciliation by Him". So, it seems to me that verse 19 is speaking of the incarnation of Christ. In our time remaining today, let's look at the doctrine of the INCARNATION:
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.
The "Word became flesh" has been expressed by the theological term "Incarnation," which comes from two Latin words "in" plus "cargo", meaning: "infleshment, the act of assuming flesh." God chose to become united to true humanity. The incarnation came about through the miracle of the virgin birth:
Isaiah 7:14 (NKJV) "Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel.
Matthew 1:18-23 (NKJV) Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows: After His mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Spirit. 19 Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not wanting to make her a public example, was minded to put her away secretly. 20 But while he thought 10 about these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, "Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take to you Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. 21 "And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name JESUS, for He will save His people from their sins." 22 So all this was done that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying: 23 "Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel," which is translated, "God with us."
At the incarnation, God the Son, the Second person of the one triune God, was forever joined to true humanity. This joining together has been designated as the hypostatic union. Hypostatic is from the Greek word hupostasis, which means: "substance or essence." In theological language, it means: "person". So the doctrine of the hypostatic union is the doctrine of the personal union of the two natures, the divine and the human, of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Jesus Christ is 100% God and 100% man. This is where we get the theological term "theanthropic", which comes from theos, which means: "God", and anthropos which means: "man." Jesus Christ is the God-Man. He is One person with two natures.
Early in church history, theological controversies resulted, so the church got together at councils, and at these councils they hammered out the doctrines of the Church. Out of these councils, they formulated creeds.
In A.D. 325, the Church held the Council of Nicea. The purpose of the council of Nicea was because the deity of the Lord Jesus Christ was being attacked. There were people saying. "Jesus was not really God, He wasn't God's Son." So, this council came together at Nicea, and the result of the council at Nicea was "Hommousious" -- of one essence. Meaning that Jesus Christ was of the same essence as the Father. They declared the deity of Jesus Christ.
About 125 years later, at the council of Chalcedon in A.D. 450, the heresy that was creeping up was that there were not really two natures of the Lord Jesus Christ. They were saying that there were two persons or that there was a mingling of the two natures. So the council of Calcedon was fighting two heresies. They were fighting the heresy of Eutychu (U-ta-keys), who denied the distinction of the natures. He kind of blended the natures. If you blend the natures, you destroy both of them. If the God nature mingled over into the human nature, it wouldn't be human nature. And if the human nature mingled into the Deity nature, it would no longer be deity. Jesus Christ had two natures, human and divine. The council at Chalcedon also fought the heresy of Nestorius, who denied the one personality.
At the Council of Chalcedon, in A.D. 451, a statement was drawn which was to become the accepted definition in the Orthodox Catholic Church:
Therefore, following the holy Fathers, we all with one accord teach men to acknowledge one and the same Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, at once complete in Godhead and complete in manhood, truly God and truly man, consisting also of a reasonable soul and body; of one substance with the Father as regards his Godhead, and at the same time of one substance with us as regards his manhood; like us in all respects, apart from sin; as regards his Godhead, begotten of the Father before the ages. but yet as regards his manhood begotten, for us men and for our salvation, of Mary the Virgin, the God-bearer; one and the same Christ, Son, Lord, Only-begotten, recognized in two natures, without confusion, without change (these are directed at Eutychus) without division, without separation; (these are directed at Nestorus) the distinction of natures being in no way annulled by the union, but rather the characteristics of each nature being preserved and coming together to form one person and subsistence, not as parted or separated into two persons, but one and the same Son and Only-begotten God the Word. Lord Jesus Christ; even as the prophets from earliest times spoke of him, and our Lord Jesus Christ himself taught us, and the creed of the Fathers has handed down to us.
These men didn't understand the hypostatic union completely, nor did they claim to, but they knew certain things were true. Jesus Christ is One person with Two natures. Nicea debated the deity; Chalcedon, the two natures-- hypostatic union.
Let's look at some Biblical evidence of the hypostatic union. The Second person of the trinity took on a human nature forever. This union is proved by the personal propositions, that is, the passages in which with reference to the incarnate Christ, it is said that God is man and man is God.
Matthew 16:13-14 (NKJV) When Jesus came into the region of Caesarea Philippi, He asked His disciples, saying, "Who do men say that I, the Son of Man. am?" 14 So they said, "Some say John the Baptist, some Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets."
What did people think of Jesus? This passage gives us some insight into what people thought of Him. You might be surprised at how the people of Christ's time viewed Him. Some thought he was John the Baptist-- Hell fire and damnation preacher, who called people vipers! Some thought he was Elijah--you wouldn't want to be around him if your life wasn't right. He confronted King Ahab, "You are the one troubling Israel." No more rain! In 2 Kings 1, Elijah calls down fire and kills 102 men. Some were saying Jesus was Elijah. Some said he was Jeremiah -- He was the gentle weeping prophet. Jesus embodied all the prophets.
Matthew 16:15-17 (NKJV) He said to them, "But who do you say that I am?" 16 Simon Peter answered and said, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God." 17 Jesus answered and said to him, "Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven.
Jesus asks, "Who do they say that I, the Son of man, am?" Peter answered, "Your are the Christ, the Son of the living God." So here we see the humanity and deity of Christ.
Luke 1:31-32 (NKJV) "And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son, and shall call His name JESUS. 32 "He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Highest: and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David.
The name "Jesus" gives stress to the historical human person. "Son of the highest" speaks of his deity. "The Son of Mary" is the Son of the Highest. So, we see two natures uniting in one person.
Jeremiah 23:5-6 (NKJV) "Behold, the days are coming," says the LORD, "That I will raise to David a Branch of righteousness; A King shall reign and prosper, And execute judgment and righteousness in the earth. 6 In His days Judah will be saved, And Israel will dwell safely; Now this is His name by which He will be called: THE LORD OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS.
In verse 5, we see that he is a descendant of David, which speaks of his humanity. Then in verse 6, He is called, "The Lord our Righteousness," which speaks of His divinity.
Jesus Christ is One person with Two natures, we cannot illustrate this in the human realm. Jesus Christ is different from God in that he is mankind, and different from mankind in that he is God. Jesus Christ is the unique person of the universe. He is the God-Man.
Why was it a necessity for Jesus Christ to have two natures in one person? Bancroft writes, "The union of two natures in one person is necessary to constitute Jesus Christ a proper mediator between man and God. His twofold nature gives Him fellowship with both parties, since it involves an equal dignity with God and at the same time perfect sympathy with man":
Hebrews 2:17-18 (NKJV) Therefore, in all things He had to be made like His brethren, that He might be a merciful and faithful High Priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. 18 For in that He Himself has suffered, being tempted, He is able to aid those who are tempted.
Hebrews 4:15-16 (NKJV) For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin. 16 Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.
"Who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses...." - this points to a knowledge that has in it a feeling for the other person by reason of a common experience with that person. The word "sympathy" literally means: "to suffer with." The Greek word suggests an intensity that is lost in the English word "sympathy." Westcott describes it as: "the feeling of one who enters into the suffering and makes it his own." Jesus' sympathy is due to being "tempted as we are, yet without sin." Our Lord's appreciation of our infirmities is an experiential one, based upon the fact that He was tempted like we are. The fact that He never sinned means He boar the full impact of the temptation. One of our deepest longings is to relate to someone who knows us fully (warts and all), but who still accepts us fully and is completely and actively committed to our good. As man, He knows experientially what you're going through, and as God, He can get you through it.
Are you having trouble understanding the doctrine of the Hypostatic union? You're not alone. Daniel Webster, the 19th century statesman, once dined in Boston with several eminent literary figures. Soon the conversation turned to Christianity. Webster, a convinced Christian, confessed his belief in Christ and His atoning work. A Unitarian minister at the table responded, "Mr. Webster, can you comprehend how Jesus Christ could be both God and Man?"
"No, sir, I cannot understand it," replied Webster, "and I would be ashamed to acknowledge Christ as my Savior if I could comprehend it. He could be no greater than myself, and such is my conviction of accountability to God, my sense of sinfulness before Him, and my knowledge of my own incapacity to recover myself, that I feel I need a superhuman Savior."
The Christian should not be troubled by the presence of mystery in his faith. Wherever God and man meet, there is mystery. We should accept the doctrine of the unique God-man in the same way that we accept the Trinity-- by faith in God's Word, the Bible.
The most basic form of Bible doctrine is Christology. If you are going to mature as a Christian, you need to know Christ. You can't love Christ if you don't know Him.
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