Who is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creature:
There are here three grand conceptions of Christ's relations.
I. TO GOD. Paul uses language which was familiar on the lips of his antagonists. Alexandrian Judaism had much to say about the "Word," and spoke of it as the Image of God. Probably this teaching reached Colossae. An image is a likeness as of a king's head on a coin or a face in a mirror. Here it is that which makes the invisible visible.
1. God in Himself is inconceivable and unapproachable. "No man hath seen," etc. He is beyond the sense and above understanding. There is in every human spirit a dim consciousness of His presence, but that is not knowledge. Creatural limitations and man's sin prevents it.
2. Christ is the perfect manifestation of God. Through Him we know all that we can know of God. "He that hath seen Me," etc. The great fathomless, shoreless ocean of the Divine nature is like a "closed sea." Christ is the broad river which brings its waters to men. Our souls cry for the living God; and never will that orphaned cry be answered but in the possession of Christ, in whom we possess the Father also.
II. TO CREATION. "Firstborn."
1. At first sight this seems to include Him in the great family of creatures as the eldest, but it is shown not to be the intention in the next verse, which alleges that Christ was before, and is the agent of, all creation. The true meaning is that He is firstborn in comparison with, or reference to, all creation.
2. The title implies priority in existence and supremacy. It applies to the Eternal Word and not to His incarnation.
3. The necessary clauses state more fully this relation and so confirm and explain the title.
(1) The whole universe is set in one class, and He alone over against it. Four times in one sentence we have "all things" repeated, and traced to Him as Creator and Lord.
(a) "In the heavens and earth" is quoted from Genesis, and is intended, as then, to be an exhaustive enumeration of the creation according to plan.
(b) "Things visible and invisible" includes the whole under another principle of division — there are visible things in heaven, and may be invisible on earth, but wherever they are He made them. (() "Whether thrones," etc., an enumeration alluding to dreamy speculations about an angelic hierarchy filling the space between God and men.
(2) The language employed brings into strong relief the manifold variety of relations which the Son sustains to the universe. The Greek means "all things considered as a unity."(a) "In Him," regards Him as the creative centre or reservoir in which all creative force resided, and was in a definite act put forth. The error of the Gnostics was to put the act of creation and the thing created as far away as possible from God, and is here met.
(b) But the possible dangers of that profound truth are averted by the preposition "through" Him. That presupposes the clear demarcation between creature and creator, and extricates the person of the firstborn from all risk of being confounded with the creation, while it makes Him the medium of the Divine energy, and so shows His relation to the Divine nature. He is the image of the invisible God, and accordingly through Him have all things been created. "The express image of His person by whom He made the worlds."(c) "For Him." All things sprung from His will, and return thither again. These relations are more than once declared of the Father. What theory of Christ's person explains the fact?
3. His existence before the creation is repeated. "He" is emphatic, "He Himself"; "is" emphasises not only preexistence, but absolute existence. "He was" would not have said so much as "He is before all things." "Before Abraham was I am."
4. In Him all things hold together. He is the element in and by which is that continued creation which is the preservation of the universe. He links all creatures and forces into a co-operant whole, reconciling their antagonisms, and melting all their notes into music which God may hear, however discordant it may be to us.
III. TO THE CHURCH. A parallel is plainly intended between Christ's relation to the material creation and to the spiritual. As is the pre-incarnate word to the universe, so is the incarnate Christ to the Church.
1. Christ the Head and the Church His body. Popular physiology regards the head as the seat of life. So our Lord is the source of that spiritual life which flows from Him into His members, and is sight in the eye, strength in the arm, swiftness in the foot, colour in the cheek, richly various in its manifestations, but one in its nature and all His. That thought leads to Him as the centre of unity by whom the many members become one body. The head, too, is the symbol of authority.
2. Christ is the beginning of the Church. In nature He was before all, and the source of all. So "the beginning" does not mean the first member of a series, but the power which causes the series to begin. The root is the beginning of flowers, although we may say the first flower is.
3. He is head and beginning by means of His resurrection.
(1) He is firstborn from the dead, and His communication of spiritual life to His Church requires the historical fact of His resurrection, for a dead Christ could not be the source of life.
(2) He is the beginning through His resurrection, too, in regard to raising us from the dead. He is the firstfruits, and bears promise of a mighty harvest. Because He lives we shall live also.
4. So Paul concludes that in all things He is first, and all things are that He may be first. Whether in nature or grace the pre-eminence is supreme.
(A. Maclaren, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: Who is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creature: