Colossians 1:15-20 – The Supremacy of Christ

The church at Colossae was not founded by Paul. It is likely sometime during Paul’s time in Ephesus (Acts 19) a man named Epaphras brought the Gospel to the small town of Colossae (for details, see Who was Epaphras?). Perhaps Epaphras reached out to Paul for advice on dealing with a growing problem in his small church and Paul responded with a short letter addressing what is often called (rather dramatically) the Colossian Heresy. Whatever the heresy was, it is quite different than other issues Paul dealt with in earlier letters.

The churches in Galatia struggled with Gentiles who wanted to keep the Law. The churches in Corinth struggled with Gentiles who did not sufficient “depaganize” and allow Christ to transform their moral behavior. In Colossae, it appears the problem was a Jewish mystic, possibly exorcist who advocated “secret knowledge” which only the spiritual, insiders could obtain. This teaching was possibly esoteric, secret knowledge about the true nature of Jesus Christ. It is also possible some in the church wanted to use Jesus’ name as a powerful tool for dealing with other spiritual beings. For more on the Colossian Heresy, see What Was the Problem in Colossae?

The false teaching Paul addresses in Colossians is a very pragmatic Christianity which attempts to hide knowledge of the real facts until the believer is sufficiently prepared to receive it.  While I am not sure the Colossian heresy was a mystery cult in the technical sense of the word, there seem to have been an initiation for the believer before they were shown the true state of things.

For Paul, Christianity is not at all an exclusive religion which hides doctrine from the outsiders.  In fact, everyone is welcome and the whole gospel is preached from the very beginning.  There are some deeper, more difficult doctrines, but there is nothing which is a secret.  This is one of the real differences between Christianity and many of the other “mystery cults”popular in the first century (and today!)  It really is easy to understand the basics of Christian claims and beliefs, whether you like them or not.

Paul therefore goes to the root of the problem and lays out in the introduction to the letter exactly who Jesus is.  All the “secrets” are laid out before the reader and there is no question who Jesus is by the end of 1:20.

  • Christ as the image of the invisible God.  By saying that Christ is in the image of God, he affirms that he is an accurate picture of what God is, and in fact, he is God. F. F. Bruce once said “To call Christ the image of God is to say that in Him the being and nature of God have been perfectly manifested—that in Him the invisible has become visible.”
  • Christ as the firstborn of creation.  This title for has been a very troublesome exegetical point since it appears that Jesus is a created thing, the first thing that God created.  But if this phrase is read against the background of the Hebrew Bible, the word “first born” is actually an expression of position – the son chosen to the the heir as opposed to the naturally born first son.  A bit later Paul calls Jesus the“firstborn from among the dead,” an obvious non-literal use of the word “firstborn.”

The point Paul is getting at is that Christ has made things, so it is pointless to give honor and worship to those things.  All honor and worship is due Christ, not anything created.  The command is therefore to worship Christ as God, something that would be idolatrous if Christ is a created thing himself. The centrality of Jesus is therefore the starting point for theology in Colossians, but also for ethical and moral teaching and proper worship.

Bibliography: F. F. Bruce, “Colossian Problems: Part 2: The “Christ Hymn” of Colossians 1:15–20″ BibSac 141 (1984): 99-111

28 thoughts on “Colossians 1:15-20 – The Supremacy of Christ

  1. It is easy to switch our worship to the things that are created than our actual Creator. Things that are created are tangible and physical so it’s easy to get caught up in them. The Colossians, however, were more caught up in reaching a level of Spirituality where they were revealed more about Jesus Christ and thus able to harness His powers so to speak. Yet, that points at so many wrong theological points, namely that we can have a power of God by knowing these secret things. Paul uses this text to the Colossians to reveal to them that there really isn’t anything hidden about Jesus Christ. He has been made known in the scripture and there isn’t any aspect of Him to be discovered so as to gain more power. Yes, as we draw closer to Jesus Christ we are able to battle more of our Spiritual battles, however, our relationship with God or knowledge of Him does not mean that we are able to have unique powers, like He had. On the contrary, as we draw closer to Him we should be dying to ourselves and gaining more of Him in our lives. It is His power working through us when we are able to do something we did not think we could. It’s important to realize that it is not anything that we can do, only the work of Jesus Christ that creates this in our lives. It is essential that we understand Jesus Christ is God and that He has been set-apart as someone to be fiercely praised. He is the single being that deserves our worship and praise!

  2. Because our minds are so limited in grasping the awesomeness of who God is, it is sometimes easier for us to begin to worship things that are created, rather than the Creator. The reality that we are to worship Christ as God, as stated in the post, is hard for me to grasp sometimes because I feel like my brain just can’t process it all sometimes! But what I love about Christianity and all that has been revealed to us through Scripture is that we are able to understand the basics, and much more. There is so much given to us through Scripture so we are able to even obtain a little glimpse at the reality of who God truly is. Maye there is something intriguing in other cults (then and now) about constantly having to dig to find the deeper meaning or some hidden truths. The problem with this is that one can become so wrapped up in trying to find the mystery piece they are missing, that they totally miss the one who deserves all of our time- Jesus. The centrality of Jesus in the theology of Colossians is a reminder that the same should be true in our theology today. It hasn’t changed.

  3. As Kim said, the draw of this kind of religion is that it supposedly gives its member godlike knowledge and/or power. Mankind has been possessed by this kind of desire since Satan gave Adam and Eve the idea in the Garden of Eden (Gen 3:5). From that moment on, human pride has been tickled by the concept of being like God. Everything from cults to superhero movies play off of this desire. The funny thing is that the one belief system which allows human beings the ability to imitate the divine – Christianity – instructs its followers to do so by being humble and loving to others (Phil. 2:5; Eph. 5:2). We are more like God when we serve the helpless and forgive our enemies than when we show off our power and knowledge.

  4. As what others have said, it is easier for us to get caught up in worshiping other things, like money and sports than worshiping God himself. As it says in 1 John 2:15-16, “Do not love the world or the things in the world, “If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions is not from the Father but is from the world.” Along with what Kim says, Colossians was more focused on reaching a level of spirituality to get closer to God, than worshiping God himself. It is impossible for us to fully understand God on earth, and there is no point to do things that will give us more spiritual knowledge to fully understand God. Instead God tells us to be more like him with helping the needy and the poor, or to help the elderly than do something to get a higher level to be closer to God.

  5. I agree with Emily in that as humans, we seem to grasp onto tangible object or things that have been created, rather than giving due respect and worship to the Creator. It is clear that to help the Colossians form this realization, Paul demonstrated how Christ is not a created being but rather is directly linked to God. Christ is in the image of God and is God. Paul wanted the Colossians to realize that worshipping Christ and still worshipping their pagan deities were not the same thing; Christ is the image of God and “in him all things were created” (Col. 1:15-16). Why worship these pagan deities that have origins when one could worship the living God who was Creator? Paul had the difficult task of separating the pagan ideas that were culturally ingrained into these believers’ mindsets and showing them freedom and the opportunity to really know who Jesus was.

  6. One of the problems with worshiping the things that God created is that it takes away the glory and power and amazing-ness that God is. Well, it may not take those things away, but it stops us from seeing God in that way because we are focused on the things He created. It is okay to be blown away by God’s creation, because after all, that is one of the ways He reveals Himself to us, but when we start praising creation for how wonderful it is, there is a major problem. When you praise God for creating His wonderful creation, you begin to see Him as just more than Creator. You realize that He is ever-present and actually cares for you. Pohill says, “Paul’s message of the all-sufficient Christ is liberating… The realization that Christ is both Creator and Redeemer at the same time is also an important lesson… The God who made us is the same God who loves us and gave himself to save us” (Polhill 342). Maybe Paul wanted to tell people how amazing God is so that they would realize that there is absolutely no need to worship creation.

  7. Even now to day we struggle with this “mystery” of what we dont know, Yet for us believers its not a mystery of the unknown but the known that is in Christ Jesus. To wrap our heads around a God who is so much bigger, stronger, and wiser beyond what we could ever know or see is a humbling thought. These mystery cults that Paul talks about sprang up telling things such as only enlightened people or special revelation that gives them something over other people. Yet it is clear the bible spells out the same truth to all believers not just the clergy, pastors, or other name for leadership of a church. Revelation is from God. ” The God who made us is the same God who loves us and gave himself to save us” (Polhill 342). There is no higher ups in church only elected officials and truth comes from the bible not from advanced learning.

  8. Just as Kim has said, it is easy to worship the things that God has created, as opposed to worshipping Him. It’s something that has been a struggle for all Christians in every generation and seems to be something that will be a problem until Christ returns. We will always struggle with holding on to the things that were created by God. I agree with Paul, as I’m sure everyone else does or should, that it is pointless to worship things that were created by God. The things that God has created are things that will not last and therefore they are pointless to hold on to. It’s too easy to not give God the glory for things if we cling too closely to them. We should not worship anyone or anything but God. Everything came from God so if you are compelled to worship that thing, you should be compelled and motivated to worship the maker of the thing that you want to worship.

  9. I thought when scripture speaks “Christ being the firstborn overall creation”(v.15) it was addressing the preeminence of Christ, and that he was before all else that was created, and therefore he was preexisting to created things. Though God was real and cosmic, he wanted to legitimatize himself in someway,the way being Christ. Christ was the penetration of God’s fullness into history. “For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in Him”. God was pleased to select Christ as the personal designation of God to dwell.
    Christ choose to die for use when we were in enmity towards God (Rom. 5:10). through his blood we are redeemed. And by his death we have be reconciled, have hope in the present. The gospel is simple, no secret in’s and outs. I am dumbfounded as to why it doesn’t make sense to others. In despite of cultural conflict

  10. I have to agree with Dave that believing in mystery cults was not just a first century fad, but it is also very prevalent today. It is difficult for even believers to comprehend God’s creation…in fact its impossible to fully comprehend. People become uncomfortable with not being able to fully understand something, especially when it is not physical. So as a result, people are more apt to search for something tangible to submit to, because they know that it is real. It is silly that people give up that fast in their faith; I think honestly it is a result of laziness to give up trying to comprehend our divine creator.

  11. It is not very difficult to develop feelings of esotericism, especially if you’re an “established” Christian. As a student who is acquiring his bible “minor’ from a bible college, it becomes quite deceptive to think that I have earned the right to more fundamental, profound theology. This, however, does not mean that this is the essence for everyone else. Though we have been privileged to have come to know Christ at a much earlier stage of our lives than others, there are others who have yet come to the realization of the reality found in Christ Jesus. Polhill quotes about this particular passage in page 342, “Paul’s message of the all-sufficient Christ is liberating. We only need to continue in our relationship to him, and he will sustain us.” We don’t need to preach the fancy elements of Christianity in order to fully illustrate the concept of Christ. Instead, the message of Christ as the image of God and firstborn is enough to captivate the essence of God’s message of Salvation to his people.
    Therefore, as Dr. Long stated above, though we have been bequeathed with the instrument of theology, etc., the ultimate goal is to preach Christ and not the things that we hold as esoteric. The basics are found in the gospel, not the essence of the meaning of “1000 years” in the book of Revelation (though those things will eventually benefit the process of our growth as a Christian and they will help in getting to know God in a greater realm, but let time take its course).

  12. It is hard for us, in this world, to understand and comprehend the greatness of God, so therefore we put our worship and concentration on things here on earth. It is so much easier for us to worship the things here on earth, because they are physical, and we are able to feel and see them now. Although they are temporal and will all come to an end, it is much easier to worship something that we see and feel rather than what we have to strive for, can’t see, and sometimes feel. We find things here on earth easier to pursue. Our relationship with God is something that we have to strive for, and something that is not seen, and it is not something that we get satisfaction from all of the time. Our relationship with Christ is something that we may feel discouraged with and is something that we cannot totally grasp, and that is why it becomes so easy for us to worship something here on earth rather than what is eternal, and not physical.

  13. It is interesting to wonder how often we as Christians do not worship Christ, but worship things man has put in place in this world. When we go to Church does the building point our hearts to Christ or does it bring our minds to a place that sees the structure. This thought evokes a sense of worry in that i may have at one point worshiped a song and not our savior however if i’m concerned about this have I already seen that the true value is in Christ. I feel like one can go in circles for quite a while in a chicken or the egg type thought process of where there worship really lies and maybe even feel like they need “secret knowledge to truly worship, which may be where the Colossian people found there struggle.

  14. Christ as fully God and above all is a very important theme for Christianity. Man has struggled between following God and falling in love with created things since the fall. People still fall for created things today. In America it’s not as widespread to worship an actual idol carved from wood or stone, but many worship money, celebrities, and material possessions which are idols in their own right when we place them above God. It is too easy to get caught up with the things we can see, hear, and touch and begin to exalt them, but this must not happen. Christ needs to remain above all in our lives so that true worship can follow.

  15. Throughout history, this has been a big problem that practically every nation and culture has faced. In the past, people often worshiped nature or animals. Today, most often we find ourselves worshiping objects, such as money or clothes, or even people who we wish to be like. However, throughout scripture, God reminds us that He is the only one worthy of our praise, because he created everything (Revelation 4:11), because no one can ever fathom his greatness (Psalm 145:3), and because he is the only thing that can truly protect us (2 Samuel 22:4). There are so many other reasons why we should praise God alone, but Paul points out that Christ, who is God, created everything around us. If this is the case, why would we worship the world, when we can instead worship the One who created it? It is so important for us to remember this and not let the things of the world distract us. It is easy to lose focus on God and start worrying about the things of the world. And often times, the things that distract us seem like the are worthy of our attention – things like struggling to pay the bills and not having enough time to get work done. But we shouldn’t let these things take priority over God, because the truth is, God is our provider (Philippians 4:19), and he will always take care of our needs, even if we are overwhelmed. We must never lose sight of the One who created us.

  16. A part of Paul’s ministry that often gets overlooked is his time working with the Colossae church. One problem that was of great importance was to make sure that the members of the church had a sound theological foundation. According to Dr. Phillip Long, he asserts that one of the sources of false teachings was associated with the philosophy, and the exclusive religions of the time (Long, 2019). In other words, Paul is in a situation where he has to redirect the attention of the church to understand what the true meaning of Christianity was. The matter was critical to his time in Colossae because his main goal was to ensure the community was mature in their faith. However, he makes a bold statement in Colossians 1:18, “And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy” (NIV). When it comes down to it, Paul is making a statement that represents the church as a whole. At the same time, however, this verse is indicating that Paul was attempting to relate to the culture of the time, while also illustrating where all supremacy should lie. At the end of the day, Paul wanted to ensure the church would not conform to the culture of the time.

  17. One of the reasons Paul wrote Colossians was to counter some false teaching that was circulating in the church (Long, 148). This false teaching questioned the divinity of Christ (Long, 148). Paul goes right to the heart of the problem in Colossians 1:15-20 which is a powerful passage on the divinity and authority of Jesus. Paul does this by highlighting three aspects of Christ. First, He is the “image of the invisible God” (Col 1:15). This is a clear assertion of his divinity. Second, Christ is the “firstborn over all creation” (Col 1:15). The use of ‘firstborn’ here does not mean that Christ was created but was an indication of inheritance and honor (Long, 151). Christ participated in the creation of the world and is still ruling it (Long, 153). Third, He is the head of the church (Col 1:18). Christ as the head and the church as the body is a common description in the New Testament. Paul’s use of it in Colossians indicates that Christ is the leader that the church cannot function without.

  18. The supremacy of Christ is essential to an accurate understanding of the gospel. In Colossians Paul lays it all out on the table for believers so that they will see that Christianity is not like a mystical cult which only reveals pieces little by little (Long). In Colossians 1:15-20 Paul essentially introduced Christ. He is the image of God, meaning the exact representation of him and equal to him. In Jewish wisdom literature wisdom was portrayed in this same way (ESVSB p.2294). Christ is the ultimate wisdom. Additionally, Jesus is described as the firstborn of all creation, not implying that he was created by God and thus not equal to him but that he holds all the rights of a firstborn son. In this case, Christ has the sovereignty of God (ESVSB p.2294). Because Christ died and rose again, he became conquering king, and provided reconciliation for all things (TTP p.225). Paul focused so strongly on proclaiming the supremacy of Christ in the face of the problem of false philosophy because he wanted the Colossians to claim Christ as the one who is all and is in all and let him be the guide for every part of their lives (TTP p.226).

  19. Here, in Col 1:15-20, Paul confirms that Christ is an uncreated being, and all things flow through him. Jesus Christ is the son of God the father, and is the first born of all creation (v. 15). Now, when it says that Christ is the firstborn of all creation, it does not mean that Christ is a created being, but that Christ is God’s son. Christ is a part of the trinity, is God, and therefore an uncreated being. God was, is, and always will be. From the beginning of time to the end of time, yet at the same time, outside of time. Through God, the son, all things were created (v. 16). Everything and anything that was created, came from God. Whether it were angels in heaven, the frogs in the creeks, the creeks themselves, the mountains, rivers, valleys, and hilltops, all came from God. Christ is before all things, and all things hold together in him (v. 17). God is the reason that we are alive on this earth, the reason we exist, and the reason we have breath in our lungs. Without God, we not only have the breath of life inside of us, but we no longer have purpose, existence, or meaning. God truly is the focal point in our lives and holds us together, for without him, we would fall apart. Christ is the head of the body, the church, and thus has supremacy over all (v. 18). Jesus Christ on earth built up the church, and I do not mean church as the building, but as the body of believers. Jesus rose disciples that traveled with him, learned from him, and saw all of the wonders and miracles he preformed. Jesus taught them to obey his commandments and to walk in his ways, not the ways of the world. Lastly, as Jesus left the world, he commissioned his disciples to make more disciples over all of the nations, i.e. the whole world. God was pleased to dwell fully within Christ (v. 19). When Jesus was born of the virgin Mary on earth, he was fully God, fully human. That is how Christ was able to live a sinless life on earth because he was fully God. Christ was also able to experience pain, suffering, temptation, and human attributes because he was also fully human. Lastly, Christ made peace on this earth by the shedding of his blood on the cross (v. 20). Christ reconciled our relationship with God by dying on the cross, paying the ultimate price of our sins, so that we may have a right relationship with God.

  20. It is a very easy thing to start worshiping things other than our actual Creator. The things that have been created are physical which makes it easier to worship or get caught up on. The problem with the Colossians is that they were obsessed with revealing something about Jesus that has not yet been. This was allowing them to worship another level of spirituality which cannot be reached. The letter that Paul writes to them is telling them that there is nothing that is hidden about Jesus which is what they were trying to achieve. Jesus has been made clear through scripture and there is nothing to gain from trying to reveal something about Him. We can grow closer to Jesus on our spiritual journey which can allow us to battle through a spiritual fight but there is nothing to reveal of Him for our gain. Colossians was about gaining a new spiritual level rather than trying to get closer to God which is why Paul was having the issue. God wants us to be more like Him which we can learn through scripture but there is not a new level to reach of revealing something about Him.

  21. The church in Colossae was most likely founded by a man named Epaphras—sometime during Paul’s time in Ephesus. Epaphras brought the Gospel to this small town of Colossae, and he was most likely reaching out to Paul for advice on dealing with a growing problem in the small church. The issue that Paul was helping with is referred to as the Colossian Heresy, it was known to be different from what Paul had dealt with in earlier letters. Previously, Paul dealt with Gentiles who did not want to keep the Law, Gentiles who did not depart from their Pagan ways fully which did not allow Christ to transform their behaviors fully. For Colossae, it was a totally different story for Paul. A Jewish person was claiming to have mystic and exorcist powers along with special knowledge that he claimed to know about the true nature of Jesus Christ. When in reality, Paul has a much different view of what Christianity is. It is not an exclusive religion that hides doctrines from the outsiders. Christianity is supposed to be welcoming to new believers! We are supposed to be spreading the Gospel—not keeping this great knowledge about the Lord a secret. The thing that I love about Paul is when he is addressing this issue to the church, he does not just tell them they need to change their ways and start sharing knowledge, but he lays everything out in his letter and tells everyone who Jesus is! It is incredible.

  22. It is quite interesting that there were some churches, even to this day, that teach about Jesus as an exclusive religion that hides the doctrine from the outsiders. It is much like a clique group that makes it difficult to join because they think others not as highly as they are ‘not ready’ for the real facts. I like how Paul breaks that by laying out who Jesus is; Christ as the image of God and Christ as the firstborn of creation. Jesus being the exact representation of God is found in John 1:18, Hebrews 1:3, and Romans 1:20. This does not mean to separate Christ and God into two separate categories, but to show they are part and parcel of the same thing (Long, 2). As for Jesus being the firstborn over creation, God was active in creation. God created everything that gives Him the entitlement and to exercise complete sovereign control over everything, which gives Jesus the same privilege as they are one (Long, 2).

    All in all, the heavenly Christ and the church’s Christ is a crucified, rectifying, amicable Lord (Longenecker and Still, 228).

  23. In a very polytheistic world, Jesus may have been seen as just another god among the masses, little more than Mars or Diana. However, Paul’s desire for the believers in Colossae is that they see Christ as the only God with the other gods being literally worthless and meaningless to them. In Colossians 1:16 we see that “For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities.” Unlike the Greco-Roman gods where one god creates another god or another lesser demi-god. Paul is putting Christ on a pedestal where he ought to be when explaining to the believers that Christ ought to be the one and only person that is a deity in their minds.
    The idea that all “thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities” quick disposes of the idea that the Caesar is a deity in any fashion and, in fact, shows him to be no greater than any other created thing. For the Gentile believer, this was an impactful piece of theology because the imperial cult was not on any level close to Christ. However, Paul goes a step further. Not only does he explain that Christ is the one who created all things, but he adds “And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together (Col. 1:17).” In all of this, Paul is encouraging the church to have a correct view of Christ and who he is and should be in our minds and in our lives.

  24. It is understandable why people seek to start/join mystery cults, as there is a certain draw toward having “secret knowledge” that us humans find almost irresistible. Possessing some special revelation gives us power over other people and makes us feel more important than we really are. It is no wonder why Paul was consistently fighting this sort of cult activity in the early church. Though we like to believe that having secret knowledge makes us more important, Paul is clear in his rebuke of the Colossian church that their errant philosophy is coming from disconnected and unspiritual minds which are puffing themselves up (Longenecker 224). Paul makes it clear that the mystical secrets being sold by the heretical teachers are not to be purchased nor believed.

    An interesting part of Paul’s rebuke is his mention of angel worship within the church at Colossae. Though we can probably never know exactly what the Colossians believed and practiced, the mention of angel worship and the extensive Christology developed in this letter give credence to the idea that the Colossians were devoting themselves in worship to angelic beings in addition to or instead of worshipping Christ. Revelation 22:8-9 teaches that angels are servants of Christ just as we are, and are not worthy of the worship that God is worthy of, and the worship of God alone is explicit throughout the old and new testaments. It is clear why Paul would would be concerned about angel worship, as it would be idolatry, which God hates.

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