The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation.
I. HIS RELATION TO THE INVISIBLE FATHER. "Who is the Image of the invisible God." Christ is likewise called "the Brightness of the Father's glory, the express Image of his person" (Hebrews 1:3).
1. The meaning of this image.
(1) Christ is not a mere likeness of the Father, like the head of a sovereign stamped on a coin, or as a son hears the features of his father.
(2) But he is an essential manifestation and embodiment of the Father. Thus the invisible God becomes visible to man, according to our Lord's own words, "No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, he hath revealed him" (John 1:18). "He that hath seen me hath seen the Father" (John 14:9).
(3) It implies his perfect equality with the Father in respect to substance, nature, and eternity. The Son is the Father's Image except in respect that he is not the Father.
2. Lessons to be drawn from this representation of Christ's glory.
(1) If we would know the Father, we must get into Christ by faith (2 Corinthians 4:4).
(2) As it is Christ's glory to be God's Image, be it our honour to be Christ's image, in knowledge (Colossians 3:10), in holiness, in righteousness (Ephesians 4:21). We are "predestinated to be conformed to the image of his Son" (Romans 8:29).
(3) How great a sin it is to turn the glory of the incorruptible God into the image of corruptible creatures" (Romans 1:23)!
II. CHRIST'S RELATION TO THE UNIVERSE. He is "the Firstborn of all creation." As his being God's Image implies his eternal unity with God, so his being the only begotten Son of God implies the distinctness of his Person. The apostle thus guards the truth on one side against Arianism, on the other side against Sabellianism. There are two ideas involved in this statement.
1. Christ has a priority to all creation. Arians refer to the passage as implying that he is only one, though the very first, of created beings. But
(1) he is said here to be begotten, not created.
(2) He is declared in the context to be "before all things," and therefore he is no part of them.
(3) "All things" are declared to be "made by him," but he is himself necessarily excepted from the number of the things he created.
(4) The Scriptures elsewhere declare his eternal preexistence and Godhead.
2. Christ is sovereign Lord of creation by right of primogeniture. The word "Firstborn" is used of the Messiah almost as his technical designation (Psalm 2:7), as we see by Hebrews 1:6, "When he bringeth the First-begotten into the world." As such he is "Heir of all things" (Hebrews 1:2: Romans 4:14). There is thus implied a mediatorial function in the world as well as in the Church.
3. Christ is the actual Creator of all things. "For in him were all things created, in the heavens and upon the earth, things visible and invisible, whether thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers." These words justify the title of "Firstborn of all creation." They were all created "in him," not merely "by him" - as if the germ of all creative power and wisdom lay in his infinite mind, as the sphere of their operation. The words impliedly exclude the Gnostic idea that Christ was an inferior agent of the infinite God. He was the creative centre of the universe. Mark:
(1) The extent of creation - "things in the heavens and things upon the earth." This includes all creation as described by locality.
(2) The variety of the creation - "whether things visible or invisible." This division would include the sun, moon, stars, the earth with all its visible glories, in one class; the angels and the souls of men in the other class.
(3) The orders of creation, "whether thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers." As Gnosticism placed Christ among the higher intelligences, the apostle places him far above all angelic intelligences of every order. It is not possible to say whether these names represent various grades of a celestial hierarchy, but it is probable that they do; "thrones and dominions" belonging to the first order, "principalities and powers" standing next, as including spirits both good and evil. Christ made the angels.
4. Christ is himself the End or final Cause of creation. "All things have been created through him and for him." All things were created by him as well as for him - for the manifestation of his glory. "He that was the first Cause must be the last End." The final destination of the universe is referred to the Son, just as it is elsewhere ascribed to the Father (Romans 11:36). The Son is the Centre of the world's final unity.
5. Christ is the Sustainer of the universe. "And by him all things consist." The continued existence, as well as the creation, of all things, depends upon him. "My Father worketh hitherto, and I work" (John 5:17). He "upholds all things by the word of his power" (Hebrews 1:3). The sustaining unity of the creation is in him
(1) because he maintains its order, appointing all things to their respective ends;
(2) because he sustains the operation of all things, correlating means with ends;
(3) because he secures the cooperation of all things, so that all things work together for his glory;
(4) because he maintains the perpetuity of all things. Thus Christ maintains the cohesion of the universe.
III. LESSONS TO BE DRAWN FROM CHRIST'S RELATION TO HIS FATHER AND TO THE UNIVERSE.
1. We delight in the doctrine of Christ's divinity, which is the doctrine of Christendom.
2. If he made angels and men, they may well worship him.
3. His relation to creation encourages us to hope that he will overrule all the power of nature for the growth of his Church. Even wicked men will have no power to destroy his Church. The creation proves his power, and his love proves his good will.
4. The knowledge of his glory ought to deter from all creature worship.
5. We should ever pray that he would direct the work of our hands continually. (Psalm 90:7.)
6. We ought not to fret at Divine providence. (Psalm 37:2, 3.) The creative and administrative work of Christ, in the natural order of things, is the comfort of all believers. - T. C.
Christ the Image of the invisible God.
I. I WOULD WARN YOU AGAINST ALLOWING GOD TO BE OUT OF MIND BECAUSE HE IS OUT OF SIGHT.
1. This is a danger to which our very constitution exposes us. Hence the necessity of striving to walk by faith, not by sight. This is difficult because we are creatures of sense. The dead are out of sight and so often forgotten, the eternal world, the devil, and so God.
2. Why should the invisibility of God be turned into a temptation to sin? It should rather minister to holy care. How solemn the thought that an unseen Being is ever at our side! Were this realized, then bad thoughts would be banished, and unholy deeds crushed, and purity and heavenliness imparted to the life and conduct.
II. THE VISIBLE REVELATIONS OF THE INVISIBLE IN THE OLD TESTAMENT WERE MOST PROBABLY MANIFESTATIONS OF THE SON OF GOD. To Jacob at Peniel, to Joshua at Jericho, to Manoah, to Isaiah (chap. Isaiah 6.), and to others God appeared. How are we to reoncile this with "No man hath seen God at any time"? Only by regarding these appearances as manifestations of Him who is "the image of the invisible God." This is in perfect harmony with other passages in the history of redemption. We know for certain that the fruits of the incarnation were anticipated, and the fruits of His death enjoyed before He died. Why not, then, the fact of the incarnation? Viewed in this light, these Old Testament stories acquire a deeper and more enduring interest. In the guide of Abraham's pilgrimage I see the guide of my own. Jacob's success in wrestling imparts vigour to my prayers.
III. THE GREATNESS OF THE WORKER CORRESPONDS WITH THE GREATNESS OF THE WORK. It is not always so. Sometimes God accomplishes mighty ends by feeble instruments in both nature and grace. But redemption is differentiated in greatness, grandeur, and difficulty from all the other works of God. It cost more love, labour, and wisdom than all yon starry universe. But great as is the work the Worker is greater — the visible Image of the invisible God.
IV. GOD AS REVEALED VISIBLY IN JESUS MEETS AND SATISFIES ONE OF OUR STRONGEST WANTS,
1. The second commandment runs more counter to our nature than any other.(1) Look at the heathen world. For long ages the world was given up to idolatry with the exception of a single people. To fix the mind on an invisible Being seemed like attempting to anchor a vessel on a flowing tide. And as a climbing plant, for lack of a better stay, will throw its arms round a rotting tree; rather than want something palpable to which their thoughts might cling, men have worshipped the Divine Being through the most hideous forms.(2) Look at the proneness to sensuous worship among the Jews.(3) We find the evidence of this prosperity in the Christian Church. Fancy some old Roman rising from his grave on the banks of the Tiber, what could he suppose but that the "Eternal City" had changed her idols, and by some strange turn of fortune had given to one Jesus the old throne of Jupiter and assigned the crown which Juno wore in his days to another queen of heaven?
2. In what way are we to account for this universal tendency? It is not enough to call it folly; the feelings from which it springs are deeply rooted in our nature. You tell me that God is infinite, incomprehensible; but it is as difficult for me to make such a Being the object of my affections as to grasp a Sound or detain a shadow. This heart craves something more congenial to my nature, and seeks in God a palpable object for its affections to cling to.
3. Now see how this want is met in the Gospel by Him who "knoweth our frame." In His incarnate Son the Infinite is brought within the limits of my understanding, the Invisible is revealed to my sight. In that eye bent upon me I see Divine love in a form I can feel. God addresses me in human tones, and stands before me in the fashion of a man; and when I fall at His feet with Thomas I am an image worshipper but no idolater, for I bend to the "image of the invisible God."
V. IN WHAT SENSE IS CHRIST THE IMAGE OF THE INVISIBLE GOD?
1. It means much more than mere resemblance; it conveys the idea of shadow less than of substance. I have known an infant bear such a resemblance to his father that what his tongue could not tell his face did, and people struck by the likeness exclaimed, "He is the very image of his father." Such was Adam in his state of innocence. Now it may be said that as our Lord, like the first Adam, was holy, he is therefore called the image of God; yet that does not exhaust the meaning, nor is it on that account that Paul calls Him the second Adam. Nor have they sounded the depths who say He was so called because He was endowed with power to do the works of God. For many others have been in that sense equally images of God. But where are they represented as "God manifest in the flesh"?
2. In Christ's character and works we have a living, visible, perfect image of the invisible God.(1) In Him we see the power of God, and notably at the grave of Lazarus. To make something out of nothing is a work more visibly stamped with divinity than to make one thing out of another — a living man out of lifeless dust, and then on that mountain side the bread multiplies.(2) In Christ we have the image of a holy God.(3) In Christ we have the image of a God willing and waiting to save.
(T. Guthrie, D. D.)
(H. W. Beecher.)Little's "Historical Lights.)
1. Does it imply that all creatures have been born, but that Jesus was born before them? Impossible. All human creatures have been born, all at least but the first; and even he was "the son of God" (Luke 3:38). We are all "God's offspring." But, except in poetry, we can scarcely speak of the birth of the earth, ocean, stars, etc. They have been created, not born; they are the creatures rather than the children of God.
2. Nor can the meaning be firstborn within the circle of all creation; for the higher nature of Jesus is not within that circle: it is far above it; before Abraham, and sun, moon, and stars, He was and is.
3. The apostle's idea is that Jesus is the hereditary Lord of the whole creation. The representation is based on the prerogative that is still attached in many lands to primogeniture. That prerogative is great. In virtue of it the first-born of the Queen is Prince of Wales; of the Emperor of Germany, Crown Prince; of the late Emperor Napoleon, Prince Imperial. In ancient times and among the apostle's people, in the days of their national grandeur, there was a corresponding privilege attached to the royal firstborn. And hence in the course of time the word came to be so employed that the ideas of birth and priority of birth got sometimes to be merged out of sight, while the ideas of special hereditary privilege, prerogative, and honour stood prominently forth. Hence God said to Pharaoh, "Israel is My son, My firstborn," because they were in distinction from other peoples the recipients of the advantages which were the natural prerequisites of primogeniture. Again in Jeremiah 31:9 the idea of priority in birth is entirely shaded off, for that priority could not be affirmed of Ephraim — the reference is to peculiarity of prerogative and honour. Take again Hebrews 12:22, 23. Here Christians are called the firstborn, and not Christians in heaven, for they are distinguished from the "spirits of just men made perfect," but Christians on earth. All such Christians, though scattered, and variously denominated, are "the one general assembly and Church of the firstborn." This shows that the term may be and is used without priority of birth, and in the sense of being God's very highly-favoured children. All the blessings of primogeniture are theirs because they are Christ's, the Firstborn. As He is the Crown Prince of the universe, the Prince Imperial and hereditary Lord of the whole creation, they are constituted joint heirs with Him of the "inheritance incorruptible," etc. Again, this interpretation is supported by Romans 8:29. "Firstborn among many brethren" is a notable expression. We cannot suppose that God desired to secure the Saviour a relation of chronological priority. Jesus was already before all. The idea is that it was the aim of God to remove from the peerless Son the condition of solitariness in the parental and heavenly home. This aim was accomplished by surrounding Him with a circle of multitudinous brethren, bearing the familiar family likeness, who might be sharers with Him in His inheritance of glory.
(J. Morison, D. D.)
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