The Image of the Invisible God, The First-born of all Creation
There are many descriptions of Jesus in the Scripture. He is many things to us
at the same time; Judge, Redeemer, King, Savior, Example, Lord and High Priest,
to name a few.
He is also referred to as the "Image of the invisible God" and the "First-born of all Creation" (Colossians 1:15). Though we, with our finite minds, may be incapable of fully understanding or appreciating these two terms, much harm can come from misunderstanding them. For example, some teach that the term "first-born of all creation" shows that the Son of God was the first creature God created, and is not eternal Himself. This error involves a refusal to acknowledge God, the Son, as God and seeks to place Him at a lesser level than Deity.
Of course, the Bible in many places refers to the Son as "God" (Matthew 1:23; John 1:1-3; 5:18; 20:28; Hebrews 1:8,9; etc.). So, what do these two phrases mean as they apply to Jesus?
The Image of The Invisible God
"...in whose case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving, that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God." (2 Corinthians 4:4).
Jesus Christ is the "image of God" . But what does this mean? The word "image" (eikon) means "likeness; form or appearance". The use of this phrase helps us to understand a part of Jesus' mission; that is, to reveal to us what God is like.
Our Colossian text says that Jesus is the "image of the invisible God". We have not seen God, nor can we with mortal eyes (Romans 1:20; 1 Timothy 1:17). So, in the person of His Son, God took upon Himself flesh so we could "behold" Him. This was the point of the angels' words to Joseph concerning the upcoming birth of Jesus; "...and they shall call His name Immanuel', which translated means 'God with us" (Matthew 1:23).
The gospel of John explains that "The Word was with God and was God" and that "the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth" and "No one has seen God at any time; the only begotten God, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him." (John 1:1-3;14;18).
On the night before His death, Jesus responded to Philip's request to "show us the Father" by saying, "Have I been so long with you, and yet you still have not come to know Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father; how do you say, 'Show us the Father'? Do you not believe that I am in the Father, and the Father is in Me?" (John 14:8-10).
From these verses we learn that Jesus is God come in the flesh to show us the Father. Earlier, Jesus had proclaimed "I and the Father are one" (John 10:30). The word "one" means more than just in agreement. It means "of one essence or nature." Only "God" can be of the same nature as "God". Man has not seen God in His heavenly form and glory, but we have seen His image in Jesus, not in the physical body of Jesus but rather in His actions and teachings. When the early disciples worshipped Jesus, they were not sinning because they were worshiping God (Matthew 28:9).
The Firstborn of All Creation
"He is the head of the church, and He is the beginning, the first-born from the dead; so that He Himself might come to have first place in everything." (Colossians 1:18).
The word "first-born" does not necessarily refer to chronology at all. Those who insist that the phrase "first-born of all creation" means that Jesus was chronologically the first being God created need to reconsider how this word is used. For example, does the phrase "first-born from the dead" mean that Jesus was the first one to be raised from the dead? Obviously not, because Jesus Himself had raised Lazarus; the widow's son; Jairus' daughter and others before He Himself was raised.
The passage above tells us the true meaning of "first-born". It is a term used to convey pre-eminence. Being "the first-born of all creation" means that Jesus is above all creation, not that He was created first, just as His being "first-born from the dead" does not mean He was raised first chronologically.
We can find other examples which show us this same principle as well. God said concerning David, "I also shall make him my first-born, the highest of the kings of the earth." (Psalm 89:27). In what sense was David made God's "first-born"? Not in the sense that He was born before his brothers. The Scriptures are quite plain that David had older brothers. Nor was this just an indication of God's intention to make sure all the other kings of the earth were born after David. But, as the Psalm itself states, it was an announcement of God's intention to exalt David higher than all the kings of the earth.
So, when our text says that Jesus is "the first-born of all creation" it means that He is above all creation; that He is God's beloved. Reading the context bears this out as well. The context shows conclusively that the Son was not created, but rather was Himself the Creator of all things: "For by Him were all things created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities - all things were created by Him and for Him. And He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together." (Colossians 1:16-18).
And then comes an added clincher; "For it was the Father's good pleasure for all the fullness to dwell in Him" (Colossians 1:19). All the fullness of Deity dwelt in Jesus. Jesus was nothing less than God in the flesh. There was nothing lacking in the Deity of Christ. Nothing at all.
By Jon W. Quinn
From Expository Files 3.10; October 1996