Lord of Creation
Passage: Colossians 1:15-17
Read Colossians 1:15–20
You don’t have to look around our culture very long to see that people have many different ideas about Jesus. Even the most secular thinkers typically acknowledge that there was a man named Jesus because we have too much evidence to say otherwise. But to them, Jesus was no more than a great teacher. He wasn’t God, and he didn’t perform any miracles.
There are also a lot of different views about Jesus among those who claim to affirm the Bible, but many are more interested in what they want him to be than in what the Bible actually says. Therefore, you will see depictions of Jesus where he looks like a grizzly Hulk Hogan on the one hand or an effeminate buddy who is little more than as my pillow on the other hand. Still others have adapted him to the modern agenda so that Jesus’ preeminent teaching is, “Judge not, that you be not judged” (Matt 7:1), and he is entirely on board with the sexual revolution.
Even those who lived with Jesus and heard him teach had different views of who he was (Matt 16:13–16). Jesus understood that there is no more important question we must answer than the question of who Jesus is. And Peter’s affirmation serves as a major turning point in the book.
And this question continues to be the most important question every person must answer. Who is Jesus, and how will I respond to his character and work? As a result, the passage before us today is vitally important because of what it tells us about Jesus. Doug Moo opens his commentary on Colossians 1:15–20 by saying, “This passage, the most famous in the letter, is one of the Christological high points of the NT and provides a critical basis for the teaching of the letter.”
In other words, you must deal with the nature of Jesus before moving on to rest of Colossians or the rest of the Christian life for that matter. This passage is vital. And Paul makes it stand out by using a unique style. Most scholars agree that vv. 15–20 have the rhythmic features of a hymn. Paul constructed it this way so that it would be burned into the church’s memory. There are two major stanzas—vv. 15–16, which teach Jesus’ preeminence over creation and vv. 18b–20, which teach Jesus’ preeminence over the new creation, or redemption. And vv. 17–18a act as a transition. Today, we will cover vv. 15–17, where God tells us that Jesus is the Lord of creation.
My outline consists of five truths we learn about Jesus from these verses. First…
Jesus is the perfect revelation of God (v. 15a).
This statement tells us something about God and something about Christ.
God is invisible.
The basic idea is that God does not material like we are; instead, he is spirit. Of course, there are times when God has made himself visible, but these manifestations never do justice to his infinite glory. As a result, John 1:18 states, “No one has seen God at any time.”
This is why the 2nd of the 10 Commandments forbade Israel from making a physical image of God. There’s no way that a piece of wood or metal could ever do justice to God’s infinite glory.
But v. 15 tells us as well that…
Christ made God visible in the incarnation.
He is the “image of the invisible God.” Through his life on earth Jesus did what no inanimate image of God could ever do. God made himself visible through the God-man.
Again, John 1:18 states, No one has seen God at any time.” But the verse goes on to say, “The only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has declared Him.” Hebrews 1:3 states that Jesus is “the brightness of His glory and the express image of His person.”
And so the Scriptures consistently teach that Jesus is the perfect revelation of God’s character and personality. If you want to know God’s love, look at how Christ loved. If you want to know God’s wisdom, look at how Jesus taught and at how perceptive he was of men’s hearts. If you want to know God’s justice, look at Jesus’ response to sin and ultimately at his death on the cross. Jesus is the glory of God revealed in human form.
And the fact that Jesus is the perfect image of God is incredibly significant for us. When we read about the image of God, we ought to think back to God’s original intention for man in Genesis 1:26 where God stated his intention for man. He said, “Let us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness.” I want to be clear that Jesus bears the image of God in a way that God never intended for us to bear it. We don’t possess any of God’s attributes of power.
But God did make us to reflect his moral attributes. But then Adam sinned, and God’s image was marred so that we now “fall short of the glory of God” (Rom 3:23). But because Christ is “the image of the invisible God” in human form, we have hope that this image will be restored in us through the process of spiritual growth (Col 3:10). We are taking on the image of Christ who is the image of God.
And so returning to our text, there is great hope for us in the fact that our Savior is the image of the invisible God, and he is restoring that image in us. Therefore, we must cling to Christ as our hope for change. And if we want to grow in the knowledge of God, as we talked about last week, we must begin by looking at Jesus—God’s perfect revelation. Look at how he lived and how he died. And then strive by his grace to become like him.
Jesus is the perfect revelation of God. The second truth is…
Jesus ranks above creation (v. 15b, v. 17a).
Verse 15b has been at the center of some pretty significant theological debate that at times may literally knock on your door, so we need to understand exactly what it is saying. The controversy extends all the way back to the 4th century and to a “Christian” teacher named Arius who understood “firstborn” to mean that Jesus was God’s first creation. Therefore, he believed that Jesus is not truly God and that he is not eternal. His famous line was, “There was once when he was not.” Arius was condemned as a heretic at the Council of Nicea in 325 A.D.
But his teaching lives on today through the Jehovah’s Witnesses who claim Arius as a forerunner of their theology. They also understand Colossians 1:15 as saying that Jesus was God’s first creation. So how should you answer them when they bring up this verse? Is Jesus just an exalted member of creation or does he stand above creation?
I’d like to offer 3 reasons why we know from this text that Jesus is not a created being.
Firstborn communicates rank, not temporal order.
When we think of firstborn, we typically think quite literally. The firstborn is the first one to be born, but oftentimes in the Bible it means supreme in rank or favor, and it isn’t necessarily tied to temporal order (Ex 4:22). God calls Israel his “firstborn,” but we now that they were not the first nation God made. Israel wasn’t even a nation yet. Rather, Israel was his favored nation.
Psalm 89:27 is maybe even more explicit. This psalm is reflecting on the Davidic Covenant, and notice that God calls David “My firstborn.” Was David his father’s firstborn child? Was he Israel’s first king? No, the second line tells us what God means by firstborn. He is the “highest of the kings of the earth.” He stands above every other king.
And that’s how we ought to understand firstborn in our text. God is not saying that Jesus is his first creation; he is saying that Jesus is supreme over creation. All of creation points to him.
And maybe the simplest answer you can give to a JW is to look at v. 16.
Jesus created all things (v. 16).
Notice that the whole emphasis of v. 16 is to say that Jesus made everything in creation including spiritual powers, which is what JWs say Jesus is. Therefore, if Jesus is a created being, then this verse is not true. He cannot be the creator all things and also be part of creation.
A third reason we know Jesus ranks above creation is that…
Jesus existed before all things (v. 17a).
In light of v. 16, what is the most natural way to understand “all things”? It means all creation. And God says that Jesus existed before creation. The preposition translated “before” almost exclusively indicates temporal order when it is used in the NT. Therefore, God says that Jesus existed before all of creation. This is an explicit statement of Jesus’ eternality. Jesus is not a created being; he stands above creation.
But even as we affirm this truth, we must also make sure that we give him to the glory he rightly deserves. Yes, Jesus is also our brother, but first and foremost he is the exalted Lord over creation. And we must worship him accordingly.
And it’s only when we give him this honor that we can really appreciate what it means that he is our brother and that he has identified with his creation in such an intimate way. Praise Jesus that he is the “firstborn over all creation.”
The third truth about Jesus is…
Jesus created all things (v. 16).
Paul emphasizes two ideas in v. 16. First…
Jesus is the creator.
You can see that there are three prepositional phrases in v. 16 that describe Jesus’ relationship to creation. The opening phrase is probably better translated “in Him all things were created.” The idea is that Jesus is the sphere or realm in which all creative work takes place. In other words, God accomplished all of his creative activity through Jesus.
This becomes even more explicit in the second prepositional phrase. All of creation came into existence “through Him.” Therefore, when you read the account of creation in Genesis 1, you could basically substitute Jesus wherever it says God because Jesus is the one who spoke the world into existence. Therefore, Jesus is much more than a pillow to cry on. He is Almighty God.
The other major idea in v. 16 is that…
Jesus created everything.
Based on how Paul piles up terms, he obviously wants to emphasize this fact. First, he emphasizes that Jesus created both the material universe and the entire angelic realm. He is speaking of the angels, both good and evil, when he mentions things “in heaven” and the “invisible.”
And since the Colossians were being influenced by a heresy that elevated the role of angels, he drives home the fact that they are inferior creations of Jesus with four additional terms that all refer to various kinds of angels.
It is true that many angels are very powerful, and they do exercise great authority in this age. But in comparison to Christ, they are very small. Christ is infinite God; whereas angels are finite created beings.
This brings us to an important implication Paul wants us to see. All spiritual forces are submitted to Christ. The Colossians needed to understand that there is no angel out there that could do something for them that Christ doesn’t already offer. Any effort at gaining revelation, or power, or grace from angels rather than from Christ is utter foolishness.
And you might say, “duh.” And it is true that people in our modern age don’t tend to be nearly as concerned about spiritual powers as ancient people or even people in 3rd world contexts. But even in Western society, we can be very superstitious. Even very secular people often believe in something like karma. They don’t want to offend some unseen spiritual force. Or we say, “My day is going well…knock on wood.” Usually it’s an innocent line, but many times people are concerned about offending some unseen force out there. Still others have little charms in their house to drive away demonic powers.
I’ve even heard people who identify as Christians talk about a dead relative as “my little angel who is watching over me” as if that person can give them something that Christ doesn’t provide. And sadly some are very curious about demonic powers or live in fear of them.
Folks, it is true that angels and demons are very real and very powerful. Ephesians 6 teaches that we need to be aware of our warfare against them and respect their power. But they are nothing in comparison to Christ. Seek Christ for every spiritual need and rest in him knowing that he is far greater. Demonic forces should never intimidate a Christian.
A second implication of v. 16 is that we must stand on the biblical record of creation. Folks, the Bible clearly teaches that God made the universe in six days. And all sorts of biblical doctrines depend on this fact. Therefore, if you dismiss Genesis 1–2 as fantasy or you reinterpret them to fit modern sensibilities, you have seriously eroded the foundation of biblical authority, Bible interpretation, and potentially the gospel itself.
This needs to be said because the secular world barks loudly that the biblical record can’t be anything more than a fable, and sometimes they intimidate us. But we need to remember that God knows better than any man, and mankind is not neutral when he researches the origins of the world. Lost people don’t want there to be a Sovereign Creator because then they are accountable to him. There bias absolutely affects how they view the evidence and how they report it to us.
As well, there is a lot of good work that is being done by those committed to the biblical record. The case for evolution is not nearly as strong as some would like us to believe. Stand on the Bible and don’t be intimidated.
Jesus is the creator of all things. This is his world. And how we ought to praise him today for his incredible power that spoke the world into existence.
The fourth truth about Jesus is closely related. Not only did Jesus create everything…
Jesus sustains all things (v. 17b).
What does this mean?
The basic idea behind, “consist” is “hold together.” Therefore, God tells us that creation doesn’t continue on its own. Jesus didn’t create the universe, wind the clock, so to speak, and then walk away. Rather, he is the one who maintains the laws of gravity and thermodynamics. He keeps electrons spinning around their nuclei, and he keeps the planets revolving around the sun. Our universe is absolutely dependent on Jesus. He is the Lord of creation. Therefore…
How should we respond?
We should be amazed, and we should worship.
In a similar vein, Hebrews 1:3 says that Jesus “upholds all things by the word of His power.” To illustrate how incredible this is, I’m going to hold up this pen in my hand. When I let go, I want you to command it to stand. Your word is weak! 200 of us can’t even make a pen stand up with our word. But Jesus upholds the universe with his word. He is infinite God, and we should be amazed, and we should worship him as the Lord of creation.
We should draw confidence from the power of our Savior.
If Jesus sustains the universe, then I should be confident that he can sustain me. I will never face a circumstance bigger than Jesus. His grace is more than sufficient for every trial. What a blessing it is to know that our lives are in the hands of one who spoke the universe into existence and continues to sustain it with his word.
We should be comforted by Christ’s involvement in the details of his creation.
If Christ is sustaining the universe at the atomic level, do you think he notices the details of your life? He most certainly does. God is intimately involved with you. He knows exactly where your heart is and what you need for spiritual growth. He knows every care and every burden.
And isn’t it incredible that he while he is in a sense a pillow on which we can lean in the face of hardship, he is also the Lord of creation who has infinite strength and wisdom to meet every need. We serve a great Savior.
The 5th truth about Jesus is that…
Creation exists for Jesus’ glory (v. 16).
Verse 16 ends with a very short but incredibly significant prepositional phrase. All of creation exists, “for Him.” Why is the universe so vast? We don’t get any benefit from a galaxy so far away that we can’t even see it. So why did God make it? Or why did God make our world so beautiful? Why do we have sunsets and delicious food? We don’t need these things.
Or why is the story of mankind so littered with sin, death, pain, and suffering? Our lives would certainly be better if Adam had never sinned. Why did God determine to save sinners through the death of Christ, and why do we continue to suffer and feel rejection? On and on we could go with question after question about why things are the way they are. And with most of our questions, there are several layers to the answer.
But this little prepositional phrase sums up the ultimate answer to all of our questions. Creation does not exist for me. I don’t even exist for me. Creation and all of the drama human history exists “for Him,” for his glory.
Therefore, I want to challenge you to…
See Christ’s glory in what he has made and done.
Psalm 19:1 states, “The heavens declare the glory of God.” And so when you look out at beautiful sunset, a gigantic mountaintop, or the miracle of a baby being born, don’t ever just see that aspect of creation for it’s own beauty. And especially don’t fool yourself by thinking its ultimately for you. Worship Christ for how he has revealed his glory in the things he has made.
Submit your life to its original purpose.
We all need to hear this as clearly as we possibly can. You do not ultimately exist for your happiness. Fundamentally, you are Jesus’ creation, and he made you “for Him,” not you.
And there is maybe no truth in all the universe that rubs my sin nature harder than that. We all love ourselves, and we all want to do what is going to make ME happy and serve MY interests. We all humanists at heart who want to believe that the world revolves around me.
Of course we see that out there among liberals and unbelievers who claim for example, that sexual liberty is an essential right because we all have a right to do what makes us happy.
But we also need to see it in ourselves. I excuse sin all of the time because I tell myself that I exist for me. And I’ve heard plenty of Christians excuse all sorts of disobedience because it’s just too hard or God asks too much. They hold onto bitterness because they just don’t want to let go. When they wake up on Sunday morning and think about going to church, they ask what would benefit me, not what does God demand? When they see someone hurting, they consider if they feel up to meeting the need, not what is the right thing to do.
Again, there is no more foundational truth in all of life than the fact that I am God’s creation, and I exist for God’s glory. Don’t make it more complex than it actually is. Your sin is not the fault of your spouse or your boss. It’s not the fault of your health or stress level. Your sin is the result of you worshipping yourself rather than God. Stop making excuses about why you can’t obey God, confess our selfishness as the wicked idolatry that it is, and by the grace of God commit to live every moment of your lives for the glory of God by doing what he told you to do. Live “for Him.”
And for some here today, this must begin by repenting of your sin and believing on Christ for salvation. Maybe you have heard the gospel many times, but you just aren’t interested or ready. This may sound harsh, but you need to hear it. Jesus is your creator, not your vending machine. You will bow to him someday whether in this life or when it’s too late. And so bow before him today. See Christ not just as the mighty creator but as the one who died in your place and cry out to him for mercy. He promises that he will not turn you away.
Every head bowed: Give a moment to do business with God. Christian, confess to God where he is not getting the glory he deserves from you. If you are not saved and God is at work in your heart, I’d like to pray for you.