Paul says that Jesus is the firstborn over all creation. What does Paul mean? It is a bit of a strange statement. Firstborn over all creation? Turn to Colossians 1:15-20, which we have been studying in a five-part series this week, starting here.
If the statement “firstborn over creation” isn’t already strange enough, based on what Paul says next, it could be even more confusing. Here’s what he says in verse 16, “For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him.”
So is Jesus creator or created? Doesn’t it look like Paul says both in these verses? In verse 15 it seems he says Jesus is created. And in verse 16 it seems he says Jesus is creator. What gives, Paul?
Let’s look closer at verse 15. Paul is saying Jesus’ position is over all creation, not that Jesus is created. When Paul calls Jesus “firstborn,” Paul doesn’t have an actual birth in mind, though he knows that Jesus was literally born as a human. Here, though, Paul is referring to Jesus’ status as first, as over all.
We see this quite clearly in verse 16. I suspect that most Christians rarely think about Jesus as the creator. We normally think of God the Father as creator. But Paul tells us in verse 16 that Jesus is the creator of everything.
By placing Jesus squarely in the creative role, Paul has staked his claim that Jesus, God the Son, is equal to God the Father. Jesus is not only the image of the invisible God, Jesus has the power of God. Jesus is God. Somehow or another Jesus’ activity in the creation of the universe is identical to God’s creative activity. They cannot be separated.
Notice what they create. In addition to the sweeping statement that Jesus creates all things, Paul more specifically writes in verse 16 that Jesus creates both the physical world and the spiritual world. The material and the immaterial. Paul says Jesus creates both the things in heaven, which is the spiritual world, and the things on earth, which is the physical world. Or put another way, Jesus creates the visible, which is the physical world, and the invisible, which is the spiritual world.
Paul is not just saying, “Jesus creates all.” He is also saying that Jesus is supreme above all things in both realms. Just to make sure that there is no question, Paul lists four things that Jesus creates: thrones, powers, rulers and authorities. Sounds like a bunch of government leaders, right? As with the previous phrases, it is possible that Paul is referring to both spiritual and physical leaders. One commentator I read put it this way: “It seems ‘thrones’ and ‘powers’ are heavenly, invisible potentates, while ‘rulers’ and ‘authorities’ are more likely their earthly, visible servants.” (McKnight) Paul wants his readers to see that Jesus is the Creator Son above them all. Jesus’ supremacy in creation is cosmic.
See how Paul continues to lay this out in verses 17-18: “He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 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.”
Is there any doubt what Paul is trying to communicate here? No matter what Greek and Roman gods people had heard about, Jesus is above them all. And he holds all things together. You get the idea when reading that phrase in verse 17, that if Jesus wasn’t involved in supernaturally maintaining the laws of physics and chemistry, the universe would just fall apart!
We would do well to learn from Paul’s approach here: dwell on Jesus as supreme. Communicate Jesus as supreme.