Overview of Verses 15-23
Paul’s goal in this passage is to give the Colossian church an accurate picture of who Jesus is and what he accomplished on the cross and to encourage them to remain faithful to Jesus in spite of the pressures they are facing.
In verses 15-20, Paul writes the Colossian church a poem about Jesus. In verses 20-23, Paul reminds them of the impact Jesus’ sacrifice has had on their lives. Paul challenges them to keep faith and to not lose hope in the gospel.
The first stanza of Paul’s Poem (v15-17) depicts the Son as the creator and ruler of all things. The second stanza (v18-20) explains that Jesus is bringing about a new creation through his death and resurrection.
Let us learn three things from this passage:
1. Jesus is the exalted King and demands our allegiance and loyal service.
2. Through his death on the cross, Jesus has broken down every barrier that separated us from God.
3. Jesus is the most valuable and important being in the universe. We don’t need to look anywhere else for contentment. When we have Jesus, we have all we need.
Break it Down: Verse-by-Verse (NIV)
v15a: “The Son is the image of the invisible God,”
In Jesus, we have a perfect picture of the person and character of God. He is the Word of God in human flesh (John 1:14). If we as Christians want to know what our God is like, we must get to know Jesus. This is what the author of Hebrews meant when he said, “the Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being” (Hebrews 1:3A NIV). Jesus put it plainly: “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9 NIV).
v15b: “the firstborn over all creation.”
The word firstborn (also in v18) does not imply that Jesus is a created being. In the ancient world, the firstborn son inherited his father’s estate. The word is used here to show Jesus’ preeminence and supremacy over all things.
v16: “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.”
Don’t overlook that three-letter word, for. A synonym for this word is because. Paul is telling the Colossians that Jesus is supreme over all of creation because it was all created through him and for him, the visible things of earth and the unseen things of the spiritual realm. “Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made” (John 1:3 NIV).
v17: “He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.”
Jesus existed before anything else (Genesis 1:1; John 1:1-2) and is the sustainer of all things (Hebrews 1:3).
v18a: “And he is the head of the body, the church;”
Several times in Paul’s letters, he refers to the church using the metaphor of a body. Jesus is the head, and we are all different parts of the body. Like parts of a body, we have different roles, but are interconnected and dependent on each other, and are all under the authority of Christ, who is our head and our King.
v18b: “he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy.”
Jesus is the ruler of all things. Everything belongs to him. He is even preeminent among the dead, for he died and rose again, demonstrating his authority over death.
v19: “For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him,”
Remember, for means because. Jesus has supremacy over all things because he possesses the fullness of God. All of God’s “God-ness” came and dwelt in the human body of Jesus of Nazareth. Later in the letter, Paul will reiterate “…in Christ the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form” (Colossians 2:19 NIV),
v20: “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.”
Since the fall (Genesis 3), humans and spiritual forces have been in rebellion against God. As a result, all of creation was infected with the consequences of human sin; subjected to futility and in bondage to decay (Romans 8:20-21). However, when Jesus died on the cross, he took upon himself all of the consequences of our sin, so that all things can be made new and brought back into their rightful place, under the peaceful reign of King Jesus.
v21-22: “Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation—”
Paul follows his powerful poem by using an example of Christ’s reconciliation that the Colossians can relate to: their own redemption story. The Colossian Christians, like the rest of humanity before coming to Christ, were enslaved to sin and were therefore separated from God and subject to his wrath (Ephesians 2:1-3). They were God’s enemies. But Jesus’ death on the cross was a sufficient sacrifice for all of their sins, and God now looks at them and sees them as holy and without blame, free from the guilt of their sins.
v23: “if you continue in your faith, established and firm, and do not move from the hope held out in the gospel. This is the gospel that you heard and that has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven, and of which I, Paul, have become a servant.”
As we’re going to see in the fourth movement of the letter (2:6-23), the Colossians are under intense pressure to abandon Jesus and follow false teachings and ways of life that contradict the gospel. Notice how simple Paul’s instructions are: continue in your faith, and let your hope be unmoved, remaining as it is. This truly is an easy yoke and a light burden (Matthew 11:28-30).
~The good news is bearing fruit all over the world, in our day just as much as in Paul’s. May our God and Father strengthen us through his Spirit in our innermost being so that we may remain established and firm, unmoved by the winds and waves that come our way. May we hold tightly onto the Son, for we were made by him and for him.
This post is the fifth in our series on Colossians.
Previous Post: A Prayer for Power: Colossians 1:9-14 (https://theologyforreallife.home.blog/2019/08/20/a-prayer-for-power/)
Next Post: The Hope of Glory: Colossians 1:24-29 (https://theologyforreallife.home.blog/2019/09/05/the-hope-of-glory-colossians-124-29/)
The Bible Project – Overview: Colossians (https://youtu.be/pXTXlDxQsvc)
The Naked Bible Podcast – Colossians (https://nakedbiblepodcast.com)
John Chrysostom – Homilies on Colossians (http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/2303.htm)
B. Scott Stephens – Colossians 1:15-20: A Christological Poem (https://www.academia.edu/1958416/Colossians_1_15-20_A_Christological_Poem_The_Cosmological_and_Soteriological_Preeminence_of_the_Christ)
N.T. Wright – Colossians and Philemon: Tyndale New Testament Commentary
N.T. Wright – Christian Hope in a Confusing World – Colossians 1:9-23 (https://youtu.be/ci-P0CLCiGM)
Matthew Henry Commentary on the Whole Bible – Colossians (https://www.biblestudytools.com/commentaries/matthew-henry-complete/colossians/)