colossians - an exhortation for unity in love
JESUS CHRIST – THE FIRSTBORN OF EVERY CREATURE
It is one of the unfortunate features of our age, that certain passages of Scripture are examined most frequently against a background of controversy. It is inevitable that the Christadelphian will find him/herself in conversation with those of other persuasions, who believe the standard church fables, such as the immortality of the Soul, the existence of the personal Devil, the Trinity, and the Pre-existence of Christ. And in order to give a semblance of support for their notions, these people (many of them sincere in their own convictions, we have no doubt), take hold of certain “stock” passages which, to them, give evidence for what they say, presenting them to us to “prove” their point. Take for instance, the Thief on the Cross, used to “prove” the immortality of the Soul, the Temptations of Christ, to “prove” the existence of a personal Devil, etc. And likewise, we form our own “stock” answers to rebuff the claims, to demonstrate that in so using those Scriptures, our acquaintances are in fact, wresting them to their own destruction (2Pet 3:16). Now this is all well and good when speaking to such, for we can form standard arguments to refute their theories, that we might enlighten them to the Truth. But the problem arises, when we become so accustomed to our own “stock” answers, that we begin to always look upon those passages in that light. For instance, instead of arguing about the punctuation of the Lord’s response to the Repentant Thief, how often do we stand back to behold this man’s words – which comprises one of the most condensed statements of Faith in all of Scripture? How often do we reflect upon the Scripture uses of the term “devil”, to understand why the Spirit chose to speak in this way – and what we are being taught by it?
Another case in point is the latter part of the 1st Chapter to the Colossians, one of the most frequently cited passages for Trinitarians, speaking of the Lord Jesus: “who is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creature: for by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him: and he is before all things, and by him all things consist” (Col 1:15-17). Here, it is contended, is proof to show that the Lord Jesus is God, that he is the Creator of all things; and that therefore, he existed before the Creation of the world. But in response, we need not just to be able to regurgitate standard replies, to rebuff this theory, but to also to appreciate the real beauty of what these verses are actually designed to teach us.
THE STATUS OF “FIRSTBORN”
To begin with, it is easy to prove that these verses are not speaking literally. Jesus is the “firstborn of every creature”. Taken literally, being the “firstborn” – who gave birth to him? By citing this passage, and presenting a literal interpretation, the Trinitarian must concede that the pre-existent Jesus was born first, before all creatures, which suggests he must have had a pre-existent mother! Again, is he literally the firstborn of “every creature”? Of the beasts of the field, the fishes in the sea, and the fowl of the air – is he their firstborn? To affirm such would be nonsense – how absurd it would be to place the Lord Jesus as being both the firstborn of the animal creation – and their Creator! But away with such absurdities, What do the Scriptures teach?
It is true that the Word shows how the Lord Jesus, being both Son of God, and Son of Mankind, was literally born through Mary, but that is not the birth being alluded to here. This birth, is something which elevated the Lord to the status of Firstborn, which his natural birth did not – he is the “only begotten Son” (Jno 3:16) of God, not the first begotten. But there was another “birth” which our Lord experienced – an emergence from the “womb of the morning” (Ps 110:3), or the grave – life from the dead. The Spirit of Christ in David thus wrote: “my substance was not hid from thee, when I was made in secret, and curiously wrought in the lowest parts of the earth. Thine eyes did see my substance, yet being unperfect; and in thy book all my members were written, which in continuance were fashioned, when as yet there was none of them” (Ps 139:15,16). And again, in speaking of the promises made to the fathers, the Apostle Paul taught “God hath fulfilled the same unto us their children, in that he hath raised up Jesus again; as it is also written in the second psalm Thou art my Son, this day have I begotten thee” (Acts 13:33). So it was, that on the day of resurrection the Lord Almighty is said to have “begotten” His Son – that is, raised him up out of the bowels of the earth, to be “the Firstborn from the dead” (Col 1:18).
The Lord Jesus then, was not naturally born as a “firstborn”, but was made such by virtue of his being the first to emerge from the grave to be given Immortality. It is a position of His Father’s appointing, rather than a biological statement of fact. Thus it was prophesied: “He shall cry unto me, Thou art my father, my God, and the rock of my salvation. Also I will make him my firstborn, higher than the kings of the earth” (Ps 89:27).
The Lord Jesus, the Apostle informs us, is “the firstborn of every creature”. The fact of him being the firstborn is suggestive that other sons are to follow – and the fact of him being the firstborn of every creature, suggests that the Exalted Lord is the head of a New Creation. Not a new planet earth, with new oceans, and new marine, animal and bird life, but a new creation of Christ’s brethren, being “born of the Spirit” (Jno 3:5,6), to be “the children of God, being the children of the resurrection” (Luke 20:36). In the days of the Apostles, the Gospel “was preached unto every creature which is under heaven” (Col 1:23), that is, to those who had ears to hear, under the existing constitution of things. And those “creatures”, who hearkened to the word thus preached, were thereby introduced into a new state of affairs, the opportunity to separate themselves from the mortal, sinful sons of Adam, to become members of a new, ultimately, Immortal Family, with Christ at the Head.
Adam was the “firstborn” of the Human Race, through whose offence, all mankind inherit a dying, sinful, condemned nature. But the Lord Jesus overcame that nature, destroying Sin in death, that he might become a new Adam, “the Last Adam” through resurrection to glory: “so it is written, The first man Adam was made a living soul; the last Adam was made a quickening Spirit … The first man is of the earth, earthy: the second man is the Lord from Heaven” (1Cor 15:45,47). This being so, those who join themselves to the family of the “last Adam”, through a typical burial (Rom 6:4) and rebirth (Jno 3:3,5) in Baptism become New Creatures (Gal 6:15), as it is written, “if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold all things are become new” (2Cor 5:17). They become “ renewed in knowledge” (Col 3:10), having been begotten “by the word” that they “should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures” (Jas 1:18).
In Psalm 89, we read that in being made Yahweh’s first Immortal Son, the Lord Jesus was elevated to be “higher than the kings of the earth”, an aspect of the Lord’s present status which is examined elsewhere in this issue. This same point is made by the Apostle to the Ephesians, speaking of how Yahweh “raised him from the dead, and set him at his own right hand in the heavenly places, far above all principality, and power, and might, and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this world, but also in that which is to come” (Eph 1:21). There are then, principalities, powers, and a dominion in the Age to Come, over which the Lord Jesus will be placed – and this is what is being referred to in Colossians, “by him were all things created … Whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him: and for him” (Col 1:16).
Those who take this passage as literally referring to a pre-existent Christ creating the dominions, principalities and powers of the present Creation really do present themselves with immense difficulties. Did the Lord Jesus “Create” the dominion and principality of Rome, which crucified him? True it is, that “the most High ruleth in the kingdom of men, and giveth it to whomsoever he will” (Dan 4:17), but nowhere in Scripture do we read of a pre-existent Christ, let alone one who created the power which executed him. No, the Creation of which the Apostle speaks, is the New Creation of which the Lord Jesus himself is the Firstborn. He is to be the future King over that Creation, and it will be he who appoints thrones, authorities and powers, for his brethren to reign with him. And such is the certainty of these events taking place, that “God who quickeneth the dead, and calleth those things which be not as though they were” (Rom 4:17), spoke these words through Paul in the present tense. So it was that John saw the immortal saints in his Apocalyptic visions rendering praise to their Lord “Thou are worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honour and power: for thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created” (Rev 4:11).