Last week we looked at Jesus being the ‘image of the invisible God’ and before we leave this passage in Colossians, I want to look at verses 15-20 in all their glorious majesty but with specific reference to Jesus being the ‘firstborn over all creation’. Here’s the full 5 verses in all their magnificence..
He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. 16 For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. 17 And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. 19 For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.
You see there was a bit of Gnosticism creeping into the church at Colossae about whether Jesus really was God with a big G or god with a small g. Paul sets the record straight in no uncertain terms with his whole letter, but what does ‘firstborn over creation’ actually mean.
The word ‘firstborn’ is translated from the Greek word ‘prototokos’ and as with many words translated from one language to another it is very difficult to sum up in just one word. If you look at it, you will see the similarities with another word, ‘prototype’ and that is roughly what Jesus is. Prototype being the first one, he came first.
Some have tried to deny the divinity of Jesus (i.e. that Jesus is God) from this phrase by arguing that Jesus was created first of everything that was created, and if He is a created “thing”, He cannot be God. This argument completely ignores the context in which this phrase was written. Firstly it comes immediately after the phrase we looked at last week about Jesus being the exact representation of God. He wasn’t a copy or a lesser thing but God himself in human representation.
Secondly the word Prototokos doesn’t necessarily refer to just the one born first, it is a title of the one considered to have that special status conferred upon them. In the culture of the Ancient Near East, the first-born was not necessarily the oldest child. First-born referred not to birth order but to rank. The first-born possessed the inheritance and leadership.
We see in a number of places in the bible where the title ‘Firstborn’ is given to someone other than the first one to be physically born such as Jacob over Esau and David over his brothers as shown in Psalm 89:27. Jesus has pre-eminence and first place rights over everything that exists.
The description “firstborn over all creation” speaks also of Christ’s pre-existence. He is not a creature but the eternal Creator as shown in John 1:10.
He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him
God created the world through Christ and redeemed the world through Christ (Hebrews 1:2-4) and he now has control over the created order.
Notice too that Jesus is referred to as also being the “firstborn from the dead”. Jesus was not the first person ever raised from the dead; a number of people throughout the Bible were raised from the dead before Him; Elijah raised the widow of Zarephath’s son in 1 Kings 17:22 and Jesus raised Lazarus in John 11. But Jesus holds first place among all who have or will be raised from the dead because of what His resurrection accomplished and provides.
This is glorious news, because he is Firstborn and ruler over created things he will keep and protect those of us who are trusting in his resurrection and one day we will celebrate with Him a new created order in the new heavens and the new earth.