Paul is writing the Colossians, a new church in Asia Minor, to encourage them in their new faith in Jesus. He writes to assure them that for all their needs, Jesus is enough.
Summary of the Text:
Following his initial doxology (1:3-8), Paul continues to explain what else he has been praying for (1:9). He has specifically been praying that the Colossians would a) know God’s will (1:9) b) walk worthy of the Lord (1:10) c) increase in knowledge of God (1:10) d) be strong enough to be patient and joyful (1:11) and e) be a really thankful people (1:12). This thankfulness is rooted in the fact that they have received the ability to receive the inheritance of saints (1:12), been delivered from the power of darkness (1:13), transferred into the Kingdom of the Beloved Son (1:13), and have been redeemed and forgiven (1:14). At this point, Paul breaks out into high poetry, perhaps quoting a well known hymn about Jesus (or writing one on the spot), acclaiming Him as the image of God, the firstborn, the creator, the sustainer, the fullness of God, and the reconciler of all things (1:15-20). This poem is carefully constructed in basically two stanzas. The first stanza describes the preexistence and preeminence of the Son in all things since the beginning (1:15-17). The second stanza describes the preeminence and power of the Son through the Church since the re-beginning of all things at the resurrection (1:18-20). There are a number of key terms and titles that Paul gives to Jesus, but the adjectives go a long way to making Paul’s point: all things, all things, all things, all fullness, and all things.
The Firstborn & Beginning
The word “firstborn” is a loaded word going deep into Israelite history. Israel was God’s firstborn (Ex. 4:22), and this was not merely a relational fact but rather a statement of purpose for the future. Israel was to become God’s chosen means of communicating and enacting God’s presence and mission in the world. Firstborn sons received a double portion of inheritance from their fathers because they were the beginning of their strength (e.g. Dt. 21:7, Gen. 25). When God delivered Israel from Egypt, He sanctified them to Himself as His firstborn (Ex. 13:1ff), and the Levites became the specific representatives of this holy calling, keeping the tabernacle and receiving the inheritance of tithes and offerings (Num. 3:12-13ff, 8:17-18, 18:21-26). In other words, Israel was given the authority and means by which they were to present and proclaim the truth of God: the words of God and the sacrifices of God. That was their job. It was what they were for. When applied to Jesus, Paul is insisting not only that Jesus represents what Israel was always meant to be, but that He is the original representative of the truth of God, the perfect Icon/Image of the invisible God (1:15). That’s what He’s for. This authority and power to order and rule the world rests not least upon the fact that He made it all (1:16-17). Paul insists that this authority that Jesus has by right, He has begun to establish in fact through His resurrection from the dead (1:18, cf. Heb. 2:8). But given what we have seen, the fact that Jesus is the “firstborn” from the dead indicates that Jesus is the “head” of this new creation, the new beginning. Paul is piling up words and piling up images: Jesus is the head, rosh (in Hebrew), which is related to the word for beginning (resheet), and just to make it clear, the arxe – the beginning, the pinnacle, the source (e.g. Jn. 1:1). Jesus is the New Adam, and we are Adams and Eves in Him. The world (all of existence) that Jesus made and has ruled on behalf of the Father by right, He is in the process of reconciling to the Father through the blood of His cross – proving His power for all to see (1:20). The cross is our Tree of Life, our source of God’s glorious power. Continue Reading…