From One God & One Lord, Graeser, Lynn, Schoenheit, pp. 267-274.
In this section, we want to take another look at Colossians 1: 15-18, in light of what we have seen in previous chapters about Christ's post-resurrection supremacy over the angels. Understanding the broader context of his post-resurrection glory helps us to interpret these verses accurately, and in accordance with other verses on the same subject, that is, Christ's present supremacy in heaven. These Colossian verses are frequently quoted to support the intrinsic deity of Christ as God and his supposed creation of the heavens and earth in Genesis 1. A closer look at this passage argues powerfully for interpreting them as descriptive of Christ's post-resurrection supremacy in heaven. This supremacy was the result of restructured authority between Christ and the angels after his ascension. It also shows that the domain of Christ's reign at present is both in heaven and over the Church, and that with respect to the Christian Church, he is even called its "creator.”
Before we consider this very important section of Scripture regarding the relationship between God and Jesus Christ, it is necessary to briefly discuss the relationship among the epistles of Ephesians, Philippians and Colossians, which parallels that of Romans, Corinthians and Galatians. Ephesians sets forth doctrine, Philippians corrects the practical failure of people to adhere to that doctrine and Colossians addresses the doctrinal deviations away from the revelation of Ephesians that led to the practical errors. Just as in Galatians you can read many of the same truths stated in Romans, so in Colossians can you read many of the truths recorded in Ephesians. In fact, many of the Greek constructions are exactly the same. Colossians reiterates the basic truth of Ephesians about the Headship of Jesus Christ in his relation to his Body. If one keeps these truths in mind, especially recalling what he read in Ephesians 2: 15, he will be able to “correctly handle” (2 Tim. 2: 15) the following section of Scripture, one that has been for many Christians most difficult.
Colossians 1: 15-18 (NASB)
(15) And He is the image of the invisible God, the first-born of all creation [via his
(16) For by [en, "in"] Him all things [in context, primarily a new order or hierarchy in
heaven] were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether [angelic] thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all [these new] things have been created by [dia] Him and for Him [he is the ranking functional authority in heaven—God having delegated it to him],
(17) He is before all things [in priority], and in Him all things hold together,
(18) He is also the head of the body, 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.
The language in this passage of Colossians must be carefully compared to the similar language in Ephesians 1, which sets the doctrinal stage for the Colossian correction of their wrong teaching and thinking regarding Christ. Both passages describe his post-resurrection glorification and empowerment, and contain similar language with respect to his supremacy of his authority over "rulers”, "authorities, “etc.
Ephesians l: 19b-23 (NASB)
(19) These are in accordance with the working of the strength of his might
(20) which he brought about in Christ when He raised Him from the dead and seated
Him at His right hand in the heavenly places,
(21) far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and every name that is
named, not only in this age, but also in the one to come.
(22) And He put all things in subjection under His feet, and gave Him as head over all things to the church,
(23) which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all.
When such a precise doctrinal correlation exists, we do not need to stretch the Colossians passage beyond its intention, particularly in regard to verse 16, which is often cited as proof that Jesus Christ created the heavens and the earth. Clearly the context of these verses is his post-resurrection glorification and not an eternal state as a pre-existent Son, part of a Triune "godhead.” Some special note should be given to verse 16, though, because it amplifies the truth of 1 Corinthians 8: 6, which we already looked at in depth in Chapter 3. The reader may recall that the Greek preposition dia occurs in that verse twice with a similar meaning. Let us look at it again:
The Church Epistles show Christ's relation to the Church, his Body, of which he is the Head. As the Church Epistles are the apex of revelation from God to mankind, the Book of Ephesians is the apex of the revelation of the Church Epistles. In the last half of Ephesians 2, God sets forth how, through Christ, both Jews and Gentiles have entree into the Body of Christ, and how, in Christ, they have been made “one new man.”1 Corinthians 8: 6 (NRSV)
Yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through [dia] whom are all things and through [dia] whom we exist.
Ephesians 2: 10-15The way Christ is “creating” one new man is by filling each member of his Body with all that God has given him. This “creation” is twofold. First, the Lord Jesus “creates” the gift of Holy Spirit in a person at the moment of his new birth. Second, as the believer obeys God's Word, he becomes a “new creation”, being transformed from the inside out by the inherent power of this divine nature within him. Several passages in the Church Epistles speak of this new creation:
(10) For we are God's workmanship created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
(11) Therefore, remember that formerly you who are Gentiles by birth and called
"uncircumcised" by those who call themselves "the circumcision" (that done in the
body by the hands of men)—
(12) remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and
without God in the world.
(13) But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near
through the blood of Christ.
(14) For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the
barrier, the dividing wall of hostility,
(15) by abolishing in his flesh the law with its commandments and regulations. His
purpose was to create [ktizo] in himself one new man out of the two, thus making
2 Corinthians 5: 17, 18a
(17) Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!
(18a) all this is from God...
Ephesians 4: 23, 24 (NRSV)
(23) To be renewed in the spirit of your minds;
(24) and to clothe yourselves with the new self, created according to the likeness God in true righteousness and holiness.
Colossians 3: 10, 11 (NRSV)
(10) And have clothed yourselves with the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge according to the image of its creator [Christ]
(11) In that renewal there is no longer Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and free, but Christ is all, and is in all!
At the very least, we can conclude from these verses that Christ is “co-creator” with God of this new creation, which is manifest within each believer and in the collective Body of Christ.
We know that Col 1.15-16 cannot be saying that Christ is the creator of the original heavens and earth because verse 15 says he is "the firstborn of every creature [or “all creation”]. If he is “the firstborn of all creation”, then he is a created being. The things that are spoken of in the above passage as being “created” are not rocks, trees, birds, animals, etc., because those things were created by God. These things—“thrones, powers, rulers and authorities”—are the powers and positions that were needed by Christ to reign over heaven and his Church, and were created by him for that purpose.
In Ephesians 2: 15, the NIV uses the word “create”, and accurately so, according to the Greek word from which it comes (ktizo). What we see in this verse is that Jesus Christ has created something and, in fact, is still in the process of creating it. What is this “creation” of Jesus Christ? Certainly, in context, it is not the “creation” of Genesis 1: 1. The Bible says that what Jesus did was to “create in himself one new man.” That "new man" is the Church, the Body of Christ (Eph. 1: 22, 23) that was figuratively “born” on Pentecost, the called out of both Jew and Gentile (Eph. 2: 15), “God's household” (Eph. 2: 19), the “holy temple” (Eph. 2: 21), the “dwelling place of God” (Eph. 2: 22). This is the “Secret” upon which Paul elaborates in Ephesians 3.
Colossians 1: 13, 14 (NASB)In the above verses, we see once again that it is through Christ that God has made
(13) For He [God] delivered us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son,
(14) in whom [or "by" or "through" whom] we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.
redemption available to us.
Colossians 1: 15 (NASB)If God is invisible, and if Jesus is the image of God, then obviously Jesus is not God Himself.
And He is the image of the invisible God, the first-born of all creation.
That Jesus is the" image of the invisible God" is the same truth communicated in Philippians 2: 6, when it says that he was “in the form of God.” This is not difficult to understand, but many people have been confused by the last half of verse 15: "the firstborn of all creation.” Most Christians have been taught that this refers to the "creation" of Genesis 1: 1, but verse 16 specifically defines what sphere of creation it is talking about: "thrones or powers or rulers or authorities.” This fits with the context of Colossians, as it relates to Ephesians.
The "creation" of Colossians 1: 15 is the same "creation" of Ephesians 2: 15—the Church! As we continue reading Colossians 1, we will see more about this creation.
Colossians 1: 16, 17 (NASB)The figure of speech, epanadiplosis ["encircling"] helps us to identify the proper context of "all things”, that it refers to the "things" needed to administer in heaven and the Church. Note in the above verse that the phrase "all things" occurs before and after the things that were "created, " and thus defines them. The "all things" here are the "things" for the Church, not the "things" of the original creation. The word "all" is used in its limited sense, not in a universal sense. The phrase appears a number of other places in the Church Epistles. Let us consider this phrase as it is used three times in the following verses:
(16) For by [the text reads "in"] Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things have been created by Him and for Him.
(17) And He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.
Ephesians 1: 22, 23 (NASB)The "all things" of Colossians 1: 16 and 17 are the same "all things" of Ephesians 1: 22 and 23. As the exalted Lord and Head of the Church, Jesus Christ has now been given all authority over all spiritual powers. The "all things" of Colossians 1: 16 refers to "thrones, dominions, rulers or authorities" in the spiritual, or angelic realm as well as in the physical, namely the Church. The latter is corroborated in Ephesians 1: 22 where it says that Jesus is Head over everything for the Church.
(22) And He put all things in subjection under His feet, and gave Him as head over all
things for the church,
(23) which is His body, the fulness of Him who fills all [things] in all [things].
In verse 17, we see that Jesus Christ is "before" all things. This word "before" (pro), can be used in regard to place, time or superiority. Here in this context, it is clearly referring to his superior rank and position. Jesus Christ is now the pre-eminent one. It is he who is the one in whom God's ultimate purposes for mankind are held together. This leads us to conclude that the whole point of the section is to show that Christ is "before, " i. e., "superior to" all things, just as the verse says. If someone were to insist that time is involved, we would point out that in the very next verse Christ is the "firstborn" from the dead, and thus "before" his Church, in time as well as in position.
Colossians 1: 18 (NASB)Here the NASB well translates the Greek word arche as "the beginning. " Jesus Christ is the beginning of the Church, over which he has supremacy. He has the prototypical body that all members of his spiritual Body will be given one day, and he was the first "member" of the church to be established—that is, the Head).
He is also head of the body, the church; and he is the beginning [arche], the first-born from the dead; so that he himself might come to have first place in everything.
Let us now consider the word "firstborn”, which we saw in verse 15 also. So far we have seen that Jesus is the "firstborn" of all creation and the "firstborn" from among the dead. Let us look at another verse containing this word.
Romans 8: 29 (NASB)Here we see that Jesus Christ is the "first born among many brethren”. Since the other uses of "firstborn" refer to Christ's resurrection, do you think there is any possibility that part of the "all creation" of Colossians 1: 15 is those "many brothers" who will be raised "from among the dead?" Bingo! Remember John 5: 26, where we read that God gave Jesus life in himself? Jesus Christ is the Promised Seed, and as the resurrected Lord at the right hand of God, he gives life to whomever believes in him as Lord. On the Day of Pentecost, he first poured out that life and began the Church of his Body. On that day, he first poured out holy spirit, which is the "deposit guaranteeing" the everlasting life he will one day give to all who believe on him. It was on Pentecost that Jesus Christ began the Church (Acts 2: lff.).
For whom He foreknew He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the first-born among many brethren.
The phrases, "the firstborn of all creation" and "the firstborn from the dead", encircle the domain of Christ's resurrection authority and dominion. The "creation" being referred to here is the new creation of which Jesus Christ is the prototype. He is not only the first person to have been raised from the dead, he is the first one to have been born from death into everlasting life with a body perfectly suited to live eternally in heaven or on earth. This places Jesus Christ in a unique and advanced position, supreme above all of God's creations. Indeed, in his resurrected body he has been given the privilege of sharing in all that God is, including his creativity.
Colossians 1: 19, 20 (NASB)
(19) For it was the Father's good pleasure for all the fullness [of God) to dwell in Him,
(20) and through Him to reconcile all things to Himself, having made peace through theblood of His cross; through Him, I say, whether things on earth or things in heaven.
 Some mistranslate this phrase "firstborn over all creation", because this supports their presupposition that Christ is the creator of the heavens and earth. Were they to admit the standard use of the genitive here, they would be forced to conclude that the verse is saying that Christ is the firstborn of a different creation, and not the creator himself. They also translate en as "by" in verse 16, with the intention of attributing creation to Jesus Christ beyond what is warranted textually. Consider the translation of this verse in the Amplified Version:
For it was in Him that all things were created, in heaven and on earth, things seen and things unseen, whether thrones, dominions, rulers or authorities; all things were created and exist through Him (by His service, intervention) and in and for Him.
 Whether Christ is creating something in this verse or not depends upon how the Greek word en is translated. When it occurs with the dative case, it can carry the meaning of "by, " as in active causation (as in the NIV). But otherwise it would be translated "in", which changes the meaning of the verse considerably. In that case, Jesus is not creating anything, but is the domain in which the creation occurs. In other words, he is the one through (dia) whom and in (en) whom God laid out His plans and purposes for the Church Age. In our exegesis of this verse, we are granting the translation of en as indicating active agency in light of the parallel Ephesian usage of "create" in the context of the Church (2: 14). We disagree, however, that the passage can be handled accurately and honestly by attributing the creation of the heavens and earth to Jesus Christ, in part because to do so completely obliterates the intended parallelism with Ephesians.
 "All things" appears also in 1 Corinthians 8: 6, another key verse that establishes Christ's identity as God's agent:
Yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom all things came and for whom we live; and there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things came and through whom we live.