“Jesus is Lord!” cried the early Christians. Here is something of what they meant.
Thus the apostle Paul introduces to the Colossians (and to us) the person of Jesus Christ. In a paragraph of great majesty and power, worthy of comparison with the most profound passages in the New Testament, this section of Colossians 1 makes a series of remarkable claims about the person of Jesus Christ.
In just six verses (vv. 15-20), all the following things are said of Christ: that he is the image of God, the living embodiment or incarnation of all the fullness of the deity; that he is Lord and ruler of the whole universe; that he is the Creator, the one through whom God made everything that exists; that he is eternal, having existed himself from before the creation of time; that he is the one whose power holds everything together; that he is the firstborn from the dead, the prototype of resurrection life; that he is the head over the church; and finally, that he is the agent of reconciliation, the one through whom God accomplishes salvation, through whom God reconnects alienated and confused people with himself. What makes these statements even more remarkable is the fact that just a few years before, Jesus had hung on a Roman cross where he died a degraded and humiliating death reserved only for slaves and the worst sort of criminal. Jesus appeared to have been completely discredited. How could anyone whose life ended this way even be thought of as a good man, let alone as the Lord of glory and the Savior of the world?
Obviously, something happened to change peoples’ perceptions of Jesus. That “something” was his resurrection from the dead. Though Jesus’ contemporaries declared him a blasphemer and false teacher, Someone else reversed their verdict, as the apostle Paul explains in a letter to another group of believers which he wrote at about the same time he was writing to the Christians in Colossae. Because Jesus was obedient to the will of God even to the point of dying on the cross, “therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow in heaven and on earth and under the earth and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord” (Phil. 2:9-11).
THE FIRSTBORN OVER ALL CREATION
The ringing confession “Jesus is Lord!” has been the central Christian affirmation from the very beginning. Paul is expressing this same truth in a slightly different way when he tells the Colossians that Christ is “the firstborn over all creation” (Col. 1:15). In calling him the firstborn of the creation, Paul is not implying that Christ is part of the creation himself. He cannot mean, for example, that Christ is the first being created by God, for Paul goes on to say immediately that far from being a created thing, Christ is the one who does the creating. A sovereign Creator can create anything he wants, but he can hardly create himself. Not only is Christ the Creator, Paul also affirms that he has existed from all eternity: “He is before all things” (Col. 1:17). So in calling Jesus the firstborn, Paul is obviously not contradicting himself by implying that the second person of the Trinity was brought into being as part of the creation. No. Paul is not saying anything here about Christ’s origin. He is telling us about Christ’s unique position.
Christ is the firstborn over the creation. In the Bible world, as in many cultures, the firstborn son was the heir of his father. As the one who stood to inherit all the family property, everything by right belonged to him. That is the position which Christ holds with respect to the whole creation. He is the son and heir of God the Father. Everything is rightfully his, the universe and everything in it. Jesus is “head of every ruler and authority,” Paul adds a bit later (Col. 2:10). Though he humbled himself, and was rejected and despised and insulted throughout his earthly life (and especially at the end of it on the cross), Jesus has now been raised and exalted and restored to his rightful place. Christ reigns supreme above all things and over every power. He is the firstborn over the whole creation.
Now this fact was especially important for the Colossians to realize because they were much given to speculation about spiritual powers and principalities. The Colossians believed that a whole series of heavenly beings existed between heaven and earth, blocking the way for humans to reach God. They thought that getting to heaven was rather like climbing to the top of a very tall building in which each floor was occupied by a being more powerful and intimidating than the one on the floor below. The further one went, the more difficult it was, and the greater the influence and secret knowledge it took to continue advancing. Moreover, the Colossians were influenced by false teachers who said that Christ was only one among many heavenly beings and that while it was good to know about him, one also had to know how to appease all the other spiritual powers as well.
But no, exclaims the apostle. Christ is supreme! He is the firstborn over the whole creation! Jesus is Lord of all! As Paul writes in a similar passage, God “raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places far above all rule and authority and power and dominion and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come” (Eph. 1:20-21). Christ is not only above all other beings, he is far above them, so far that the most powerful of them isn’t even close to him. His name is above every name that is named, not only in this age or in this world, but for all eternity and in every possible world there is. Christ is the one who is absolutely supreme.
CREATED BY HIM AND FOR HIM
Because this is so, we must be very careful to acknowledge only Jesus as Lord. We worship him alone. We trust in him alone, not in any spirit or demon or power or force or energy or any other person, including ourselves. Next, Paul tells us why Christ is so honored. The New Testament actually offers two reasons for Christ’s exaltation. On the one hand it says (for example in Philippians 2), that God has raised Christ and given him the highest name above every name because he is the Redeemer. Jesus is given the title “Lord” because his obedient suffering and death have brought about the salvation of God’s people.
In Colossians 1, we find a second reason. Here we’re told that Christ is supreme over all things because he is the Creator of all things.
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. (v. 16)
John says the very same thing in the opening verses of his gospel.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God … all things came into being through him and without him not one thing came into being.
What this means is that Christ is the agent of creation, the one through whom God exercises his power in bringing the world into being. Everything that God has done, everything that God continues to do, he chooses to do through Christ, and because of this, everything in existence has come into being by Christ’s power. There are no exceptions. Both visible and invisible creatures, both the physical and the spiritual world, including even the cosmic powers and principalities – all have been brought into being through Christ. So it’s obvious that no one and no thing can possibly rival him. We don’t have to fear any other powers or principalities. Whatever spirits may exist, they all must submit to the Lord Christ; even the demons must acknowledge his authority.
What is more, Colossians 1:16 says not only that all things were created through Christ but that all things were created for Christ. People sometimes speculate about the meaning and purpose of life. Why does the universe exist? Is there a reason? Why did God create the heavens and the earth and all the things that fill them – stars and constellations, moons and planets, mountains and oceans, fish of the sea and birds of the air, plants and animals and the whole diverse family of humankind? What’s it all for? Was it for God’s amusement? Was it because God was bored or lonely? Was it for our sake? But here is the answer, plainly stated: everything was created for him, for Christ! It’s all for the sake of his glory. God’s purpose in the whole of creation, from the beginning of time to the end, is to honor and exalt Jesus Christ. Now if that’s God’s purpose for the creation, what do you suppose his purpose is for you as one of his creatures?
IN HIM ALL THINGS HOLD TOGETHER
One final point about Christ, the One who is supreme. “He is before all things and in him all things hold together” (Col. 1:17). Christ, the eternal Creator, is also the eternal Sustainer of the universe. He holds everything together. He maintains the incredibly delicate balance throughout the universe which alone makes life possible. From the movements of the galaxies to the motion of the electrons inside an atom, all things are sustained by him. If Christ were to cease his watchful care for an instant, if he were to withdraw his almighty power, then not only would our lives be snuffed out but the whole universe would collapse into nothingness. But he doesn’t. As the old song says, “He’s got the whole world in his hands.” He keeps it going. He holds it together. Jesus is Lord.
Does that make any difference to you? Bill Gates, the computer software genius, is reputed to be the richest man in the world. His personal worth is now estimated at nearly $24 billion. Recently a journalist interviewed him about his personal beliefs. “Might there be some greater meaning to the universe?” he asked. “It’s possible – you can never know – that the universe exists only for me,” Gates replied. “If so,” he added jokingly, “it’s sure going well for me, I must admit.”
Maybe he was joking, but a lot of people live as if they really do think the universe exists just for their sake. It doesn’t. It exists for the sake of Jesus Christ. It’s all for him. The purpose of the universe is to bring him glory, and that means you too exist for the sake of Jesus Christ. Jesus is your Lord, whether you know it or not, whether you acknowledge it or not.
When the risen Christ stopped Paul on the road to Damascus, he said to him, “Why are you persecuting me? It hurts you to kick against the goads” (Acts 26:14). If an ox, being driven, kicks out against the sharp prod, it only hurts itself, not its master. When God pricks at you through your conscience or through some adverse circumstance in your life and you lash out against him, you’re not hurting him, you’re only hurting yourself.
Jesus Christ is Lord. You can recognize him and bow before him and offer your life to his glory or you can go on kicking against him until you perish. Which would you prefer?