Studies in Colossians and Thessalonians
2. Colossians 1:15-28 - Christ the Creator and Redeemer
Christ is supreme (verses 15-23)
In a poetic passage, Paul then describes how great Christ is: “The Son is the image of the invisible God…” He shows us what God is like — not in physical characteristics, but in spiritual attributes such as love and righteousness. He is also “…the firstborn over all creation.” This does not refer to a birth or any other beginning in time. Rather, “firstborn” refers to a pre-eminent status.
Christ has this superiority because he is the Creator: “For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him.” Christians do not need to appease government officials or spirit beings; we are already approved by Christ, the highest of all powers.
Paul summarizes: “He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” He sustains all that he has created.
After recounting Christ’s role with creation, Paul describes his role in redemption, the new creation: “He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead [the first to be raised from the realm of the dead], so that in everything he might have the supremacy.”
Paul again mentions that Jesus is a complete representation of the Father, and a complete Savior: “For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him [Jesus is fully divine],and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.”
Earlier, Paul used the metaphor of redemption. Here, he describes salvation as reconciliation, making peace between enemies. God achieved this peace by sending Jesus, who was not only fully divine, but also fully human — someone who could represent all creation in his atoning death on the cross. The Creator became part of creation in order to rescue us from our own sinfulness. In him we died, and in him we are raised to new life — life with God.
“Once you were alienated from God, Paul says, and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior.” Yes, our sins had separated us from God. “But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death.”
Why? “To present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation.” The debt has been paid, the sin has been erased; there can be no accusation for those who trust in Christ Jesus (Rom. 8:1, 33-34). When we appear before God, we are holy in Christ — fully qualified for his kingdom.
There is one requirement: “…if you continue in your faith, established and firm, and do not move from the hope held out in the gospel.” You are on the right boat, headed to the right destination. Don’t jump ship — this is the right ship. The ticket has been paid for, so you don’t need to work for it. Jesus has done all that needs to be done — he is the only one who could, and the only one who did.
“This is the gospel that you heard,” Paul assures the Colossians, “and that has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven, and of which I, Paul, have become a servant.” You have heard the real gospel, and you already know enough, Paul says — you do not need any secret, obscure information or any extra rituals. You are already in the kingdom of Christ. It’s good news!
Paul’s work for the church (verses 24-29)
After Paul mentions that he is a servant of the gospel, he reflects on the fact that his ministry is rewarded not with wealth, but with persecution. (Col. 4:2 indicates that he is writing from prison.) But he sees a positive role for his troubles: “Now I rejoice in what I am suffering for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church.”
There was nothing lacking in Christ’s afflictions — what he did was fully sufficient for our salvation. What is lacking, from Paul’s perspective, is that Paul has not experienced nearly as many afflictions as his Lord did. So in his sufferings he is filling up this deficiency, and he is glad to do it, because he is suffering for serving Christ, for helping the church grow.
He serves Christ by working for his body, the church: “I have become its servant by the commission God gave me to present to you the word of God in its fullness.” Here Paul again mentions that the Colossians have the complete gospel. He describes the message as “the mystery that has been kept hidden for ages and generations, but is now disclosed to the Lord’s people.” It’s not a mystery anymore — it is revealed.
“God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.” Paul, the apostle to the Gentiles, is doing his best to help everyone hear the message: Christ is in you, and he is our assurance of glory. In him we have forgiveness, redemption, and reconciliation with God. By being joined to him, we are transferred into his kingdom, and there is laid up for us in heaven a great reward.
“He [Christ] is the one we proclaim, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone fully mature in Christ.” There is no secret part of the message, or additional levels of initiation, as many Greek religions had. No, Paul is proclaiming the full gospel, enough to bring everyone to complete glory. Christ is all they need to know.
“To this end I strenuously contend with all the energy Christ so powerfully works in me” (v. 29). Just as he gave God thanks for the faith and love of the Colossians, here he gives Christ credit for all the work that he is doing. Just as creation was done by, through, and for Christ, the new creation is being done by him, through him, and for him, too.
Things to think about
- Is Christ supreme in my life and thought? (v. 18)
- When I was alienated from God, did I feel alienated? (v. 21)
- What supplements do people try to put on the gospel today?
- Have I suffered in letting people in on the secret of Jesus? (v. 24)
Author: Michael Morrison, PhD