Through the ages, one hotly debated topic in theology is how much of God is in Jesus, and how much of Jesus is in God? Paul talks about this.
As we continue studying Colossians 1:15-20, Paul shifts the focus to the church, using body imagery. Jesus is the head of the church. We are his church. It is not our church. He is our head, which is an image rich in leadership symbolism. Carrying the brain, and sensing through the eyes, the nose, the mouth, the ears, the head has the leadership role. The head directs everything.
Still, as parts of the church, every one of us has a role to play, because there are so many other parts of the body, with a variety of gifts and abilities. All of us should be serving somehow or another. But it is the head that guides and directs.
Paul also says that Jesus is the beginning and firstborn from the dead. That’s odd when you remember that in verse 15, Paul said Jesus is the firstborn of creation. In verse 18 Paul brings to mind Jesus’ death and resurrection. Yes, he died, but he didn’t stay dead. He rose again to new life, and for that we praise the Lord for that. “Firstborn” doesn’t so much refer to chronology here. There were others raised from the dead, and in fact Jesus himself raised some of them from the dead. But Jesus’ resurrection is altogether different from those others. While they experienced astounding miraculous resurrections, those humans would one day die again, and that time it would be a permanent death. Not Jesus. He died and rose to permanent new life. And he offers that new life to us, thus becoming for all who receive him, Jesus is the first, the precedent, the one we will all follow. In other words, there will be more that raise from the dead just like he did. And they will be given a new body, like he was given. That is the amazing joy of victory in Jesus. Consider the love of God, the generosity of God, that we get to taste this new life now. We don’t have to wait for life after death. While we will not receive that new body until life after death, until our own resurrection (see 1 Corinthians 15), we can experience what Jesus called abundant life here and now. But how do we experience that new abundant life now?
It seems to me that Paul’s flow of thought goes there next, helping us understand this new life in Christ. Look at verse 19. “For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him.” All the fullness of God was dwelling in Jesus. Whatever God is, that is in Jesus. Again, this is a clear indication that Paul was saying that Jesus and God are equal in every way.
But also remember that the Holy Spirit was fully filling Jesus. We read that in many places in the stories in the Gospels. One, for example, was right at his baptism. The Spirit rests on him, and then in Luke 4:1 we read that Jesus “full of the Spirit…was led by the Spirit” to the desert where he fasted 40 days and was tempted by the devil. The fullness of God was in Jesus.
This is an important reminder for we who are Jesus’ disciples, considering Jesus’ promise the Holy Spirit wants to fill us. Consider Paul’s prayer in Ephesians 3:14-21:
“14 For this reason I kneel before the Father, 15 from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name. 16 I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, 18 may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, 19 and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. 20 Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.”
The entire prayer is amazing, but take note of the phrases in bold. Not only are all three persons of the Triune God mentioned in equality, but Paul’s desire and prayer is that the Christians experience inward fullness of God. This concept is nearly identical to how he describes Jesus as containing the fullness of God. Of course, Paul is not saying the humans become God. Consider all the statements that Paul makes about Jesus, and we can see how Jesus, though born as a human, was God prior to his human life, and thus he is utterly different from all other humans.
That said, Paul reminds us in his prayer in Ephesians 3, though we will not become God, we can be filled with God. And that filling is vital for Christians to faithfully live out the mission of God. What we need, then, is to be filled with the Holy Spirit. If you want to learn more about that, you can read more here.