The Son of God – also known as Jesus Christ – is God, always has been God and forever will be God.
This week I am continuing to look at one of my favorite passages of Scripture, Colossians 1:15-20. But instead of just looking at it all quickly, I am continuing to unpack it slowly and deliberately. This week we’ll consider the issue of Christ being firstborn. We’ll look at the meaning of firstborn, the misunderstandings of what it means for the Son of God, and the implications for us today.
He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whetherthrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things have been created through Him and for Him. He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together. He is alsohead of the body, the church; and He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that He Himself will come to have first place in everything. For it was the Father’s good pleasure for all the fullness to dwell in Him, and through Him to reconcile all things to Himself, having made peace through the blood of His cross; through Him, I say, whether things on earth or things in heaven. – Colossians 1:15-20 NASB
One of the most difficult concepts in Scripture is the this idea of Jesus Christ being the firstborn of all creation. The term firstborn has created some really poor perceptions of Jesus divine nature and ed some to create whole religions based on a mistaken impression. Lets take a look at what this firstborn thing is all about and how it affects our view of Christ.
First things first
The word at the center of our discussion is the Greek word prototokos. According to the standard lexicon for New Testament Greek, this word can mean 1) pertaining to birth order, that is, the one born first or 2) pertaining to having special status associated with a first born. This word can also mean both of these things. Here it appears to be concerned with Jesus’ rank in creation rather than His physical birth. I’ll explain my reasoning throughout this article.
There was a group around in the third century AD that thought Jesus was just a man like you and me. They often pointed to His earthly birth as proof of this. They also minimized – or ignored altogether – His divinity. these foks were known as the Arians because they followed the teaching of a person named Arius. Arius was around in approximately 250 AD. In a nutshell Arius taught that there was a time where God the Father existed but the God the Son had yet to exist. He rejected the trinity (three distinct persons within the Godhead). This error is continued to this day through the Jehovah’s Witnesses.
Understanding the Firstborn
Part of the problem understanding how Jesus could have been eternal (no beginning) while being referred to as firstborn is a misunderstanding of tribal customs. Remember that Israel, even in Pau’s time, was a tribal cuture. Their attitudes and customs vary widely from our customs as a modern, western, non-tribal culture.
In a tribe the idea of being firstborn has less to do with birth order and more to do with the rank if the person born. Generally speaking the firstborn is the person who is chief in rank in a family. Lets take my family as an example. My oldest child is a girl. She is wonderful and I can’t imagine my life without her. However, generally speaking, she is not considered the firstborn in my family is we were living in a tribal culture. That title would pass to my first born son who is actually the second person born in my family. My son would receive the inheritance and would be considered the head of my family after I died.
What does it mean here?
I think Paul was emphasizing Jesus’ rank over creation rather than anything else. One reason I think is is what we discussed last week – Jesus is God. God does not have a beginning and is not birthed so how could Jesus have been born or created prior to the entire creation. Another reason is the discussion that follows the assertion here. Jesus Take a look at what is said of Jesus:v. 16 He is referred to as the Creator of all things
v. 17 He is before all things and is responsible for holding everything together
v. 18 He is referred to as the firstborn from among the dead. Was Jesus the first one raised from the dead? Nope. Remember Lazarus? Jesus raised him from the dead while Jesus was waking on the earth. If the term firstborn simply referred to the order in which something happened and not the rank of the person involved, we would have a major problem here. But there is no problem because Jesus is most definitely the highest rank of all resurrected persons (and that will be every person ever to have lived).
v. 20 Says that all the fullness of God dwelled in Jesus. This means, once again, that Jesus possessed as part of His nature, the very nature of God. God didn’t have a beginning so the Son did not have a beginning either.
The Son of God – also known as Jesus Christ – is God, aways has been God and forever will be God. There is no way to invalidate tis truth regardless of how smart or charismatic a person may be.
So what does all this talk about tribes, birth rank, etc. have to do with my life as a Christian? Well actually it has quite an impact. As I mentioned last week, since Jesus is God we can rightly say that God died for those He created. Since it was God who died, that sacrifice was compete and whole, lacking in nothing. That sacrifice – and all the ramifications of it – are guaranteed by none other than God Himself. The salvation that you and I enjoy is never going away. You cannot throw it away or lose it because it was bought by God and distributed by God. That us something we can take great comfort in when we struggle in this life.
So when you mess up and sin – we all do it from time to time – remember that your salvation is not lost because of your actions because it was not bought with your actions. It was bought as an action of God. An action that has no returns, take backs, or regrets.