Arians, Ebionites, Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, theological liberals, and othe pseudo-Christian cults have long used Colossians 1:15 to deny the divinity of Jesus Christ, claiming that the notion was contrived long after the apostolic period through the syncretization of Christianity with Greco-Roman polytheism. What gives these hard-hearted people (who are in much need of prayer that God would open their hearts so that they would receive in it the true gospel) the opportunity is the text “Who is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creature.” Such people use that text to deny Jesus Christ’s pre-existence and divinity, claiming that it proves that Jesus Christ was the first thing that God created i.e. the chief angel. They deal with such passages as the Johannine prologue by stating that it only means that Jesus Christ existed before the creation of the world, the natural universe, or that God created Jesus Christ and then Jesus Christ created everything else. Another angle is the assertion that takes more seriously the gospel of John (and other places that identify Jesus Christ as the Word of God) is that Jesus Christ’s creation occurred the first time that God spoke or thought, or at the very least the first time that God spoke or thought with respect to creative activity. Truthfully, the doctrine of “the eternal generation of the Son”, while considered orthodox, comes very dangerously close to semi-Arianism when taken to its logical conclusion, so those who espouse this doctrine erect logically artificial and arbitrary barriers in order to keep from being counted as heretics. The only difference is that semi-Arianism (Jesus Christ was created the first time God spoke) views Jesus Christ with respect to ontological, philosophical or logical time (while realizing that actual time is a part of creation and thus does not exist in eternity) where “the eternal generation of the Son” denies, ignores or refuses to deal with ontology. You may ask “why should a Christian deal with abstract concepts like ontology anyway?” Well, that is a question that must be answered by the people who adhere to and preach “the eternal generation of the Son” doctrine, which really has no reason for existing beyond philosophy, as it has virtually no practical implications on orthodoxy or orthopraxy (right thinking and right living). If you are going to adhere to and preach a doctrine – especially one that is in and of itself not a core doctrine of the faith but still has real implications for other core doctrines of the faith (as “the eternal generation of God the Son” does for Trinity) – you had better be prepared to deal with what the doctrine implies and leads to. In any event, both semi-Arianism (Jesus Christ originated when God first thought or spoke) and “the eternal generation of the Son” (Jesus Christ exists as God speaks and does so without being a function of time in any way) pose problems for the nature of existence itself, which is that something can only exist if it exists as a unity. This is borne out in Genesis 2:7 and Ecclesiastes 3:21, which make clear that a man cannot and does not exist unless there is a unity of body and spirit. By the same token, God does not exist without a unity of the Father, the Word and the Spirit. If the Word or the Spirit or the Father require creation or generation, that negates the Unity without which God does not exists, and thus violates Deuteronomy 6:4, “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God is one LORD.” Also, as scripture also declares God to be unchanging, God does not create or generate new parts to Himself, so what would be created or generated would necessarily be either a creature (Arianism/Jehovah’s Witnesses) or another god (what “eternal generation of the Son” would possibly lead to if its ontological implications were acknowledged and dealt with rather than simply shoved into “eternity” and ignored).
So, regarding “eternal generation of the Son”, the position should be that the Son is not generated but like the Father and the Spirit simply is and has always been, and this is what the meaning of the Name of God I AM THAT I AM (Exodus 3:14) refers to. Further, it is something that is not only true with respect to time (keep in mind the Arian/Jehovah’s Witness argument, which deals with the problems posed by Jesus Christ’s being a creature by simply saying that it is true by being before Genesis 1:1 and John 1:1-18) or timelessness (“eternal generation of the Son”) but ontologically as well. (Truthfully, since the ancient near eastern mindset that produced the Bible did not include ontology, which is a western construct, then God referring to Himself as I AM THAT I AM of Exodus 3:14 is true spiritually. Where the western mindset has reduced spiritual truth to being merely allegorical, moral, ethical or abstract, the Biblical mindset recognizes spiritual truth as being as explicit, valid and relevant as is 2+2=4 or the law of gravity, or moreover that 2+2 is only always equal to 4 or the law of gravity is only always consistent because of the spiritual truth that is behind it, defines it, and sustains it, and that spiritual truth is none other than Jesus Christ. And yes, the fact that it was most definitely Jesus Christ who appeared to Moses as the flame that did not burn the bush and used the Name I AM THAT I AM with reference to Himself is not only relevant, but would necessarily preclude Arianism/Jehovah’s Witnesses or “eternal generation of the Son”, for had those been so Jesus Christ would have had to say “I am the first that was created” or “I am he who is generated.”)
So if the witness of scripture is to be internally consistent, how can Colossians 1:15 be true? How can Jesus Christ be the firstborn of every creature? The common way is to use the actual definition of firstborn, which is “first in rank” and use it in reference to Jesus Christ’s authority, dominion and rule as creation’s King. It refers to Jesus Christ as Ruler of the universe par excellence. According to this definition, the original firstborn of creation then was Adam. Thus, this is certainly not because Adam was the first thing created (because Adam was created on the 6th day, and thus temporally was actually the LAST thing created!) but because God gave Adam dominion over the earth. Adam forfeited this dominion and firstborn status, and this dominion transferred to Satan. However, Satan was only a usurper. He held the dominion but never the firstborn status, and even his dominion was illegitimately and temporarily possessed just as the pagan Athaliah was illegitimately ruler of Judah for a time (for 6 years, with 6 being the number of a man, how’s that for numerology!) before being replaced by a legitimate rightful monarch that was a son of David. Consider the typology. Athaliah: type. Satan: antitype. Joash: type. Jesus Christ: anti-type. Jesus Christ was the second Adam who not only took on the dominion legitimately but also the firstborn status that Satan could never have even by theft.
Now God gave Adam dominion, the status of firstborn, so that Adam could serve God and in this way God would be glorified through Adam’s service. Adam, of course, was disobedient and utterly failed to fulfill the purpose of his creation – mankind’s creation – which was to serve and glorify God. However, Jesus Christ did so. By way of the incarnation, Jesus Christ became fully man. Born under the law to God’s elect people Israel, Jesus Christ fulfilled the law with His perfect life, living in perfect obedience to God the Father, and fulfilling the purpose of mankind’s creation and also mankind’s destiny, which was and is to glorify God through perfect service forever. So, Adam was the firstborn of creation that failed and died. Jesus Christ is the firstborn of creation that succeeded, was resurrected from the dead and is alive forevermore, and therefore is the Head of all redeemed mankind who will fulfill the purposes mankind’s creation – to serve and glorify God – through Jesus Christ by being Jesus Christ’s own Body. This perfect eternal service is impossible for us to achieve on our own – as Adam proved – but is attainable only by being in Jesus Christ, and our being joined to the firstborn of creation. Where Adam failed to be the progenitor or head of a nation, a people, a race of perfect eternal servants (or even to be this perfect eternal servant himself) Jesus Christ succeeded and is the Head of the church, the bride, the body of Christ.
Now Jesus Christ only succeeded in fulfilling Adam’s original purpose and therefore becoming the true firstborn of creation because unlike Adam, He is fully God. However, Jesus Christ was only fit to fulfill Adam’s purpose, to become the second Adam, by being fully human just as was Adam. Christians can be rightfully accused of refusing to deal with the true nature and implications of Jesus Christ’s humanity because of our desire not to sin and become heretics. Of course, Jesus Christ is the eternal and self-existing God, part of the Triune Godhead. However, this same Jesus Christ was incarnated into A CREATED HUMAN BODY! Jesus Christ’s human body was born of a created woman’s created seed just as was you and I. The ovum in Mary was not eternal, but was created along with Mary, and as such Jesus Christ had a created human body just as do you or I. This body was not simply some animatronic shell, cover or mask for the true divine Person pulling the levers under the covers, which incidentally is a form of the docetism heresy. That implies that Jesus Christ was a fake human who only seemed real. But we know from Romans, Hebrews, Genesis 3:15, and elsewhere that Jesus Christ was a fully thoroughly 100% real human who experienced physical and mental growth, hunger, pain, thirst, agony, isolation, frustration, rejection, temptation and even natural death just like the rest of the human race. That is why He is able to be our priest, His identification with us. However, many of us take the scriptures that refer to Jesus Christ’s identification with us to be more of an association, an affiliation, something less than real. This thinking falls short of the truth of Biblical revelation, and is based on the modern western meaning of “identify with”, which implies merely allegiance or advocacy. For instance, it is possible for a wealthy person to “identify with” the poor through feelings of compassion, works of charity, even political and social advocacy. But unless that person literally gives all his money away and renounces any connections or privileges that he has (i.e. a title or family heritage that he may use to recover at least some of his wealth and status) he will never actually be poor. Jesus Christ did not identify with humanity in that sense, a false and ultimately superficial sense.
Instead, Jesus Christ identified with humanity in the true sense by becoming one of us! Now humans cannot in any way become God in any sense. But in the greatest miracle that ever was or will be, Jesus Christ DID become a human in every sense! And make no mistake, do not be deceived: humans are part of creation. So even though Jesus Christ is God who pre-exists creation, accomplished creation, and in every way transcends creation, when Jesus Christ was incarnated into human flesh, HE BECAME A PART OF CREATION! Now do not be offended or deceived. First off, being God and also not being born of Adam’s seed but rather being the Word of God born of a virgin by the Holy Ghost, Jesus Christ had no part in the sin and corruption that creation fell into, and it no part in Him. After all, please recall that creation was originally sinless, a fact proven by God calling it “good”, and God has never at any time called anything sinful or evil “good” except that which God justified by graciously imputing His own righteousness to it (as is the case of sinners). Second, this is not to be confused with such liberal heretical abominations as “process theology” or “death of God theology” which at times holds that God completely surrendered His divine nature. Instead, Jesus Christ became part of creation through His incarnation (becoming fully human) while never at any time ceasing to transcend creation because of His divinity (self-existing and eternal). You can call it the “hypostatic union” if you absolutely must (I do not and have even been accused of adhering to the Nestorianism heresy because of it), but that does not alter the facts. The result is that through His becoming part of creation, Jesus Christ is given the role of both priest/intercessor/savior for creation (the part of which is elect and will be redeemed) and the judge of creation (the part which is not and will not and whose fate is destruction).
This should cause us to read Colossians 1:15 in a new way. We either read “image of the invisible God, firstborn of creation” devotionally, or we view those as two facts that while true are separate. Instead, Colossians 1:15 is a unity. It describes the incarnation! Man is made in the image of God. Jesus Christ became a man. Jesus Christ became not just any man, but the second Adam. As the first Adam was – until the fall – the firstborn of creation, Jesus Christ by virtue of His incarnation, life, ministry, atoning and substitutionary death on the cross and resurrection not only became the second Adam, but did so in a way that far transcends and exceeded the first Adam! So, not only did Jesus Christ fulfill the original intent of humanity (and by extension of creation, for man is part of creation and creation was accomplished to please and glorify God) but Jesus Christ fulfilled the original intent of mankind and creation in a way BETTER and MORE PLEASING to God the Father than we ever could have ourselves, even if we were to somehow live perfect lives! Again, even if somehow we were to live perfect sinless lives, we would never fulfill the purpose of humanity better or give more honor and glory to God the Father than did Jesus Christ! And not only did Jesus Christ fulfill the purpose of humanity to the glory of God the Father as God the Father’s Suffering Servant, but He did it FOR US as OUR SERVANTS! It is often said that Jesus Christ died for us on the cross, but He also LIVED FOR US BEFORE GOING TO THE CROSS! As a result, Christians receive the benefits of Jesus Christ’s life, death and resurrection!
Now how many of you out there are parents? Or take care of elderly or handicapped people? In your role as a parent or caretaker, you do for those under your trust and care what they cannot do for themselves: you earn a living, you provide housing, food and clothes, you pay taxes, and in many cases you literally do the work of dressing, bathing, feeding and monitoring them or you pay for the services of someone else who does. A great part of your life is doing for others what others cannot do for themselves and allowing others to benefit from it. Well, that is the same thing that Jesus Christ did for you, except in a grander and more majestic way on an infinitely greater scale! Your purpose in being created was to glorify God, and not only did Jesus Christ do something for you that you could not do yourself, but He did it better than you could ever do even if you could!
And consider that for a second. This child that you are taking care of as a parent will one day grow up and take care of himself. Your son or daughter might do a better job! As a matter of fact, if you are a good loving parent, you hope that they will for themselves and for their own children! By the same token, what if this person who has suffered a stroke or is paralyzed gets healed by God. They go from being taken care of by you to taking care of themselves, and again a decent moral person would hope that they would receive better care from their own hand than they did from yours. And this is an example of how and why what Jesus Christ did for you is so amazing, so special. Because no matter how much you grow up, no matter how much your body (or mind) gets healed, better or stronger, you will NEVER be able to live a perfect life. You can exist for an eternity and still NEVER be able to do what Jesus Christ did for you by living a perfect life on your behalf, and you CERTAINLY would never be able to use your own perfect existence to justify someone else by imputing your righteousness to them.
But Jesus Christ did all that and more by becoming the image of the invisible God, a man in the image of God who yet is simultaneously is God. And He did not rest or be content with simply being a man in the image of God who also is God, but He also succeeded in living a life that glorified God the Father at all times and in every way. And it is because of this that God glorified His Name above every Name, that God bestowed the status of “firstborn of creation” upon Him! Jesus Christ is God who became part of creation and now sits at creation’s head as its Ruler, King, and Firstborn, and did all of this without violating that which is revealed in scripture which is part of God’s nature, which is that God is unchangeable! That is right, Jesus Christ accomplished creation, became part of creation, and became priest for redeemed creation and judge for that which is not redeemed without His Divine nature being altered or changed in any way. (Incidentally, this is something that liberal theologies – i.e. process theology and open theism – deny.) Now again, I am not a “hypostatic union” guy, but I do acknowledge that the hypostatic union doctrine does articulate and explain this.
So the core of Colossians 1:15 is that Jesus Christ has full membership in both Deity and creation by way of the incarnation. Jesus Christ did this in obedience to God the Father, but He also did it for you! However, in order to partake of the benefits of Jesus Christ becoming a man so that He could die on the cross for your sins in your place, you must believe that these things are true, and as a result turn away from your sins and submit to Jesus Christ as Your Lord and Savior. If there are any people who do not believe in Jesus Christ as described here, I encourage you to do so right now. If there are any Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormons, oneness pentecostals, Muslims, Jews, Roman Catholics or anyone else who denies the Deity or true nature of Jesus Christ or His life and work as clearly revealed through scripture, I encourage you to turn away from those and submit yourself to the truth. I do not say “accept the truth” because that implies that you are in some way an entity who has a role in creating, deciding, or being an arbiter of truth. Rest assured, only God is the creator, decider, determiner, arbiter and revealer of truth, so these things are going to be true whether you accept them or not. So, your duty then is to respond by believing them through faith and following through with obedience. That is the way, the only way that you can submit to Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior and be saved.
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