The Supremacy of Christ

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Colossians 1:15-18

INTRODUCTION: We are working our way through the book of Colossians together, and our message series is called “Living the Christ-Centered Life.” Up to this point in the letter the focus has mostly been on God the Father, but with this passage Paul turns his focus to Jesus the Son. This is one of the most important passages about Christ in the whole New Testament. In fact it is one of the high points in all the Bible talking about Christ (along with John 1:1-5, Philippians 2:6-11, Hebrews 1:1-4; Rev 5:11-14). Colossians 1:15-23 describe the person and work of Christ in the highest, most exalted terms imaginable. When we say the person of Christ we are talking about who Christ is, and when we say the work of Christ we are talking what Christ has done. We are going to look at the person of Christ this week in verses 15-18 and then next week we will look at the work of Christ in verses 19-23. (Read Colossians 1:15-18 and pray.)

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It’s been said that the best way to spot a counterfeit is to know the original. Whether it’s counterfeit money or a counterfeit painting, the best way to recognize what is false is to know what is true. It’s the same way with any false teaching about Jesus Christ. When it comes to Christianity most false teaching distorts either the person or the work of Christ. And so the best antidote to false teaching is to know the truth about who Christ is and what he has done. And that’s what today’s passage and next week’s passage do. They provide us with a solid doctrinal grounding in the person and work of Jesus Christ.

This morning we are going to look at verses 15-18 which focus on the person of Christ – who Jesus is. This is so important because without a proper view of Christ you will never learn to live life with Christ at the center. As Christian pastor and author John Stott puts it: “Nothing is more important for Christian discipleship than a fresh, clear, true vision of the authentic Jesus.”

In our verses this morning Paul answers three questions about the person of Christ: who is Jesus in relation to God, who is Jesus in relation to creation, and who is Jesus in relation to the church? And here are the answers: 1) in relation to God – Jesus is the image of the invisible God (15a); 2) in relation to creation – Jesus is the firstborn over all creation (15b-17); and 3) in relation to the church – Jesus is the head of the body, the church (18). We are going to look at what each of these three descriptions mean, but right up front let me tell you that together these verses teach us the supremacy of Christ. Christ is supreme over all things, which is why Christ is central to all things, which is why we are called to live the Christ-centered life. Let us look at each of these three descriptions of Christ.

I. Jesus is the image of the invisible God (15a)
   – Genesis 1:26-27; John 14:8-9; 1 Timothy 6:16; Hebrews 1:3

First of all Jesus is the image of the invisible God. That’s what Colossians 1:15 says: “He is the image of the invisible God.” (Colossians 1:15) The Bible tells us that God is spirit which means that he is invisible. 1 Timothy 6:16 says that God “lives in unapproachable light, whom no one has seen or can see.” (1 Timothy 6:16) Have you ever seen God? No, you haven’t. If you did, you wouldn’t be here! You would be dead. But Jesus is the image of the invisible God. And when Jesus came, the invisible God became visible.

The word translated “image” in this verse is a word that means a copy, an exact representation. In New Testament times it was used of images on a coin. We still use images on our coins today. Do you want to know what Abraham Lincoln looked like? Look at a penny. Do you want to know what God looks like? Look at Jesus. As Hebrews 1:3 says: “The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being.” (Hebrews 1:3)

In John 14 when Jesus was talking with his disciples about God, Philip asked him: “Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.” Jesus answered: “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?” (John 14:8-9) Jesus is the image of the invisible God. If you’ve seen Jesus, you’ve seen the Father.

Remember the Ten Commandments? The second commandment forbids us from making any images of God. We are not to make any idols or representations of God. Why? Because Jesus is the image of God. We are created in God’s image (Genesis 1:26-27) but Jesus actually is God’s image.

We read in John 1:18: “No one has ever seen God, but God the One and Only, who is at the Father’s side, has made him known.” (John 1:18) What is John saying here? That the God who is invisible became visible through Jesus Christ. So that’s who Jesus is in relation to God. He is the image of the invisible God.

II. Jesus is the firstborn over all creation (15b-17)
   – Psalm 89:27; Revelation 3:14 (“firstborn” = ruler/heir)

Next we want to see who Jesus is in relation to creation. And here we learn that Jesus is the firstborn over all creation. Look at verses 15-17: “He is … the firstborn over all creation. For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” (Colossians 1:15-17) These are amazing words, staggering in their description of Christ in his relationship to creation.

Remember the false teachers at Colosse had a wrong view of creation. They taught that all matter was evil, whether the material world or the human body. But the Bible teaches that God’s creation is good, and that Jesus is the firstborn over all God’s creation.

This phrase “firstborn over all creation” is an important phrase to understand correctly. Unfortunately it has been wrongly used over the years to teach that Jesus was the first created being. For example, there was an early heresy in the church called Arianism. Arianism was the false teaching that taught that Jesus was created rather than eternal. The Jehovah’s Witnesses today teach the same thing. Remember what we said earlier – most false teachings have to do with a distortion of either the person or work of Jesus Christ. The false teachings of Arianism and the Jehovah’s Witnesses are both a distortion of the person of Jesus. They give a false understanding of who Jesus is.

Now in the Bible the word “firstborn” does not necessarily mean the one who was born first. Rather it means the one who has the right of inheritance. In fact the firstborn was used as a title for the Messiah who would rule over and inherit God’s kingdom. For example God says this about the Messiah in Psalm 89:27: “I will appoint him my firstborn, the most exalted of the kings of the earth.” (Psalm 89:27) And so the phrase the “firstborn over creation” does not mean that Christ was the first created being. Rather it means Christ’s superiority over all creation, that he is the ruler and heir over all creation. Revelation 3:14 brings out this proper sense of the word firstborn when it call Jesus “the ruler of God’s creation.” (Revelation 3:14) As the firstborn over all creation Jesus is both ruler and heir.

[John MacArthur notes that when firstborn is followed by a plural as in Colossians 1:18 or Romans 8:29, the firstborn is part of the class that follows. When it is followed by a singular, it means rank or superiority over that class. There is a different word that Paul could have used for “first-created” (protoktistos), but he didn’t use that word. He used “firstborn” (prototokos) instead.]

When we compare Scripture to Scripture it becomes clear that Jesus was not a created being. For example we read in John 1: “Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.” (John 1:1-3) If all things were made through Jesus and without him nothing was made that has been made, then he cannot be part of the “all things” that were made. He cannot be a created being himself.

So who is Jesus in relation to creation? He is the firstborn or ruler over all creation. In the next verses Paul tells us four things that are true of Jesus as the firstborn over creation: 1) Jesus created all things, 2) Jesus inherits all things, 3) Jesus existed before all things, 4) Jesus sustains all things.

   A. Jesus created all things (16a)
      – Genesis 1:1; John 1:3; Hebrews 1:2

First of all, Jesus created all things. Look at verse 16: “For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him.” (Colossians 1:16) Once again Jesus created all things; therefore he is uncreated. If he created all things, then he cannot be a part of creation himself. (see John 1:3; Hebrews 1:2)

And when Paul says Jesus created all things, he really means “all things.” First of all he created all things in heaven and on earth. This is a reflection of Genesis 1 where we read: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” (Genesis 1:1) Genesis tells us that God created the heavens and the earth. Colossians tells us that Jesus created all things in heaven and on earth. The conclusion is unmistakable: Jesus is God, and all things were created by him.

Just as God did not save the world apart from Christ, so he did not create the world apart from Christ. God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are all involved in the great acts creation and redemption. If you wanted to state it as precisely as possible, you should probably put it this way: God the Father created the world through Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit, and God the Father saves us through Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit.

But back to Colossians now Paul continues in his description of the “all things” that Jesus created. The things in heaven and on earth that Jesus created are further described as “visible and invisible.” There is both a physical and a spiritual world that God created. We only see the physical world, but the spiritual world is just as real. Where did the physical world come from? It came through Jesus. Where did the spiritual world come from? It also came through Jesus.

Paul describe this invisible, spiritual world even further when he says: “whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities.” These terms refer to the various beings that inhabit the spiritual world. Early writers tried to rank these spiritual beings and figure out which ones were more powerful than others. For example they put the “thrones” in what they called the seventh or highest level of heaven. However, the Bible never really ranks these beings for us. Paul gives us a similar list in Ephesians 1:21 but in a different order, so we cannot figure out rank from this list. That’s not the point anyways. The point is that Jesus created all these beings, and therefore Jesus is supreme. He is the firstborn. He is the ruler. Remember, worship of angels was part of the false teaching at Colosse. Paul corrects this by teaching that Jesus created all things in heaven and earth, visible and invisible; therefore, we should worship Christ alone.

   B. Jesus inherits all things (16b)
      – Romans 11:36; Hebrews 1:2

Jesus not only created all things; he also inherits all things. That’s what we see at the end of verse 16: “all things were created by him and for him.” (Colossians 1:16) Remember that’s part of what the firstborn means. The firstborn was the one who had the rights of inheritance. Hebrews 1:2 speaks about Jesus’ rights of inheritance when it describes him as God’s “Son, whom he appointed heir of all things.” (Hebrews 1:2) Romans 11:36 says something similar about God: “For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be the glory forever! Amen.” (Romans 11:36)

And so Jesus is not only there at the beginning of all things as creator; he is also there at the end of all things as the heir of creation. It’s interesting, the rabbis taught that the world was created for Messiah, but they didn’t know that the Messiah also created the world. Colossians teaches us that all things were created by Jesus, and all things were created for him. Jesus is the heir of creation. He not only created all things; he also inherits all things.

   C. Jesus existed before all things (17a)
      – John 1:1-2, 8:58

And then the third thing Colossians tells us about Jesus as the firstborn over all creation is that Jesus existed before all things. Colossians 1:17 says: “He is before all things…” (Colossians 1:17) We read the same thing in John 1: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning.” (John 1:1-2) In the beginning before anything had yet been created, Jesus was with God and he was God.
In John 8:58 Jesus told the Jews: “I tell you the truth, before Abraham was born, I am!” (John 8:58) This is a remarkable statement because that phrase “I am” was the divine name for God. And when the Jews heard him say this, they picked up stones to stone him, because in claiming this name for himself, Jesus was claiming to be none other than the eternal God who always is and has always been and always will be. Colossians 1:17 says: “Jesus is.” In John 8:58 Jesus says, “I am.”

We mentioned Arianism earlier, the church heresy which taught that Jesus was a created being. A man named Arius was the founder of this false teaching, and he summed up his whole teaching with this statement about Christ: “there was once when he was not.” And yet Colossians teaches us that Jesus is before all things and therefore there was never a time when he was not.

The Nicene Creed puts it this away: that Jesus is “the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of his Father before all worlds.” God the Father is eternally the Father, and Jesus Christ is eternally the Son. There was never a time when God the Father was not the Father, because there was never a time when Jesus was not the Son. There was a time when I was not a father. I didn’t become a father until my first child came into existence. But God the Father has always been the Father because Jesus has always been his Son. Jesus never came into existence. Just like God the Father has always existed, so Jesus has always existed. He is eternal. Or as Colossians says: “He is before all things.”

   D. Jesus sustains all things (17b)
      – Hebrews 1:3

What do we mean when we say Jesus is the firstborn over all creation? 1) Jesus created all things. 2) Jesus inherits all things. 3) Jesus existed before all things. And then finally 4) Jesus sustains all things. Back to Colossians 1:17: “He is before all things and in him all things hold together.” (Colossians 1:17) And so Jesus is not only the creator of the universe, he is also the sustainer of the universe. Or as Hebrews 1:3 puts it: “The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word.” (Hebrews 1:3)

Jesus sustains all things. God did not wind things up at creation and then walk away, but he is intimately involved in all of creation. And here in Colossians God’s providential care of the universe is revealed as the sustaining power of Jesus, the firstborn over all creation. The galaxies spin at his command. Every star, every planet, every atom, every molecule at every moment is completely and totally dependent on Jesus Christ. If Christ should cease to sustain, the creation would cease to exist. Every breath you take in this world is dependent on the sustaining power of Jesus Christ.

Christ is supreme over creation in the past, in the present and in the future. He is supreme over creation in the past because he is the creator of all things. He is supreme over creation in the present because he is the sustainer of all things. And he is supreme over creation in the future because he is the heir of all things.

What do we mean when we say Jesus is the firstborn over all creation? Jesus created all things; Jesus inherits all things; Jesus existed before all things; Jesus sustains all things. You would be hard pressed to find a stronger statement of Christ’s supremacy and his divinity.

III. Jesus is the head of the body, the church (18)

Once again we are looking at the person of Christ this morning, and so far we have seen who Jesus is in relation to God and in relation to creation. Now we come to our third point: who is Jesus in relation to the church? And here we find that he is the head of the body, which is the church. Look at verse 18: “And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy.” (Colossians 1:18) The “he” at the beginning of verse 18 is emphatic. No human being on earth is the head of the church. That distinction belongs to Jesus. Jesus alone is the head of the church.

The church is the body of Christ, and Jesus is the head of the body. That means that there is a living relationship between Christ and the church even as there is a living relationship between the head of any body. As the body of Christ we are united with Christ who is our head. Paul goes on to define what he means when he says Christ is the head of the church, and he tells us two things in particular: Jesus is the beginning, and he is the firstborn from among the dead

   A. He is the beginning of the church
      – Matthew 16:16-18

First of all, he is the beginning of the church. The word “head” refers to both source and authority. As the beginning of the church Jesus is both the founder and ruler of the church.

Jesus affirmed this to Peter in the gospel of Matthew. We read in Matthew 16: Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” 17 Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven. 18 And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.” (Matthew 16:16-18) Jesus founded the church on the solid rock of Peter’s confession of him as the Christ, the Son of the living God. As the head of the body, Jesus is the beginning of the church.

   B. He is the firstborn from among the dead
      – 1 Corinthians 15:20-23

And then as the head of the body Jesus is also the firstborn from among the dead. Back to Colossians 1:18: “He is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy.” (Colossians 1:18) Now the first thing we should grasp from this verse is the still amazing fact after all these years that Jesus is alive. He rose from the dead. We serve a risen Savior who is alive forever! Christ’s resurrection is the basis of our life and faith. There is no church or faith without Christ’s resurrection. That is the gospel. That is the good news we proclaim. Jesus is alive!

However, the good news gets even better than that! Jesus not only rose from the dead; he is the “firstborn” from among the dead. And that means that we will be raised from the dead, too! Verse 15 told us that Christ is the firstborn over all creation. Now verse 18 tells us that he is the firstborn from among the dead. Once again, this does not necessarily mean that he is the first to be raised from the dead. Rather, just as in verse 15, it means supremacy – that Christ’s resurrection is the basis for all other resurrections. Because Jesus rose from the dead, we will be raised also.

We find this same teaching expressed in a slightly different way in 1 Corinthians 15 where Christ is described as the firstfruits rather than the firstborn. “But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. 21 For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. 22 For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. 23 But each in his own turn: Christ, the firstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him.” (1 Corinthians 15:20-23) At harvest time the firstfruits were an indication of what was yet to come. As the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep, the resurrected Jesus was an indication that we too would be raised from the dead.

The firstborn from among the dead carries a similar meaning to the firstfruits. Because Jesus is the head of the body, and because Jesus rose from the dead, we who are part of the body of Christ will be raised from the dead, too. How can the head be raised and not the body as well?

And then Colossians 1:18 ends with a summary of this whole section: “… so that in everything he might have the supremacy.” (Colossians 1:18) Christ’s resurrection from the dead completes the picture. He is the firstborn over all creation, and he is the firstborn from among the dead. He is supreme over the old creation, and he is supreme over the new creation. Christ is supreme over all things.

This is the only place in the whole New Testament that we find this word “supreme.” It is a word that means “to be first” or “to hold first place.” I like the way the New American Standard Bible translates it: “so that He Himself will come to have first place in everything.” (Colossians 1:18, NASB)

Jesus is supreme over all things, and he should always have first place – first place in the universe, first place in the church, first place in your heart. The false teachers at Colosse tried to move Jesus out of first place. But Christ is supreme. Christ is central. And he deserves first place in everything.

CONCLUSION: Why should you live the Christ-centered life? Because Christ is supreme. Christ is at the center of all things. He is at the center of who God is; he is at the center of the universe; he is at the center of the church. He is central to all things because he is supreme over all things.

Christ is supreme because God is supreme, and Christ is the image of the invisible God. Christ is supreme over all creation because he created all things, he inherits all things, he existed before all things, and he sustains all things. Christ is supreme over the church because he is the founder of the church and he is the firstborn from among the dead.

What place does Jesus Christ have in your life? If Christ is supreme over all things, then he should be supreme in your life as well. “Christ first” should be your motto in all things. Christ is central. Christ is supreme. Will you give Christ first place in your life?

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