I’m now going through S. Lewis Johnson’s Colossians series, and enjoying it even more than I expected to. This is a great study on this epistle, complete with many quote-worthy comments and observations, so applicable to our day as it addresses the nature and being of Christ in answer to the heresies already developing in the 1st century.
From Colossians 1:15-20, Paul’s great Christology, the following observations:
The Lord of the First Creation
This section may have been part of an early hymn, perhaps written by Paul or someone else, or even composed by multiple people in the early church. If it is a hymn, the hymn of the beloved Son begins in verse 15 with a statement concerning the essential basis of his Lordship, “Who is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every”, or of the whole, “creation.”
The description here is of the Lord Jesus as the unique perfect likeness and manifestation of God, the great and final theophany. The Greek word for “image” suggests that He possesses the Divine Attributes. Concerning the word eikon and its usage:
There is a related word to it formed of the same root entirely, absolutely, I should say, which was used of a photograph, and further, there is a word very closely related to it, one is eikon, and the other is eikonian, a diminutive of it, a little eikon which was used when individuals signed a contract in legal terms guaranteeing certain things to others. For example, in an IOU, it was customary for when the contract was drawn up for an eikonian to be drawn up as well. And what that meant was certain sentences which would describe the individuals who entered into the contract were set in the contract in order that there might be evidence of precisely who entered into the contract, so that there would be no misunderstanding. That was called an eikon, that is, a description of the individuals involved.
This text presents Christ’s essential basis of His Lordship. Then, the last part of verse 15 presents the Economic Basis of His Lordship: He is the firstborn of the whole creation. As Dr. Johnson well notes, this does not mean He is a creature – the Arian heresy.
He’s not a creature. He’s the creator of the creatures.” And Athanasius convinced the early church, properly so, that the Lord Jesus may be called firstborn of the whole creation, but not in the sense that there was a time when he entered into existence, so far as his person was concerned. In fact, the Lord Jesus is the eternal Son, and He is the creator of the creatures. In Him the whole created universe came into its existence. So the term firstborn then takes on the meaning that it had in other passages in the Bible: of sovereignty over.
So we have three prepositional phrases. “All things were created in him.” “All things were created by him.” “All things were created for him.”
Lord of the New Creation
Paul moves from the cosmological (the physical creation), to the soteriological, our personal salvation. Christ is the head of the body, and thus He controls the church, He owns the church, and has authority over the church.
Of course, that has great practical significance so far as our personal life is concerned too. We are related to the Head who is in heaven. And if we are to live a life that is acceptable to the Lord God, we must be submissive to the Head, the Lord Jesus in a personal sense. And as a body of believers who are under shepherds, elders, it’s most important for them and for us to be under Him and to look to Him for control and guidance and authority in the things that we do.
Preeminent In All Things
Verse 18, “that in Him should all fullness dwell.”
I don’t think that the apostle, when he says, “All fullness,” here is referring simply to our Lord’s deity. That doesn’t make sense in the context, that is, that He should have the preeminence because He’s firstborn from the dead because He’s God. It should relate to His saving work by which He became firstborn from the dead. So I suggest to you …. what I mean by “all fullness” … all saving fullness, all saving power, in grace, because He’s the covenantal head of the people of God. So he says, “For it pleased the Father that in Him should all, ‘saving’ fullness dwell.”
This point is especially important to the Colossians, in answering the heresy of gnostic Judaism, which included the idea of a God so holy that He doesn’t directly create. Gnosticism has a series of eons, angelic type beings, that come forth from God the father, each a little less holy, and Christ is one of these beings, not a divine being but a created, secondary being, a mediator that is secondary and not god himself. Paul emphasizes this point, that it “pleased the Father” to have all saving power reside in Christ – Jesus Christ the covenantal head and having all saving power. So there is not a hierarchy of mediators between God and men as the heretics were saying. But by the fact that He is raised from the dead, there is evidence that He is the one and only saving mediator between God and men.
I’ve recently listened to S. Lewis Johnson’s “Divine Purpose in History and Prophecy” series, including a three-part section that exposits Daniel 9:24-27, considering the details of the 70 weeks of Daniel’s prophecy.
Dr. Johnson gets interesting in the details, as always in his exposition of Old Testament texts. While noting that the doctrine of the Trinity is not directly taught, is not spelled out, in the Old Testament, in various expository lessons he notes specific texts that give some indication of “plurality in the Godhead,” as for instance the Genesis 1 creation text (the Hebrew plural word Elohim) and Isaiah 48. Here S. Lewis Johnson presents another such indirect possible reference to the Trinity, concerning Daniel’s prayer in Daniel 9 — a text I had never thought of as containing such; but other commentators, even John Calvin, have noticed this.
Here he (Daniel) says, “Now, therefore, our God, hear the prayer of your servant, and his supplications, and cause your face to shine on your sanctuary for the Lord’s sake.” Now, I’m not the first one, of course, who has ever noticed this. As a matter of fact, Calvin himself noticed it. “This verse contains the name of the Lord twice” he pointed out. And many other expositors with him thought that this was an allusion to the second person of the Trinity, but the details are not spelled in, and so we have to leave it at that, as an anticipation of what would come to full understanding with the New Testament times. Now, read on, verse 18.
“O my God, incline your ear and hear, open your eyes and see our desolations, and the city (Notice how large the city looms in Daniel’s thought) which is called by your name, for we do not present our supplication before you because of our righteous deeds but because of your great mercies. O Lord, hear; O Lord, forgive; O Lord, listen and act.”
Now, what would you think if I were to read this: “O Lord Father, hear; O Lord Son, forgive; O Lord Spirit, listen and act.” Three times the term “Lord” is on the lips of Daniel. Again, I’m not the first person who has noticed this in connection with the doctrine of the Trinity. … many exegetes and some dogmaticians have suggested that there is an allusion to the mystery of the Holy Trinity even in this verse as well.