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Who Is This Man Called Jesus? (Colossians 1:15-23)

I am a Christian pastor who wishes to bring glory to God in all that I do, and to help people through my writing to know Him better.


Introduction: Jesus: More than a Man

From an old book entitled Arnold's Commentary: International Sunday School Lessons there is an account given about Missionaries in Japan that took place years ago. And it is quite interesting. It states:

When the first missionaries went to Japan, a young Japanese man who wanted to learn English was given the Gospel of John to translate into his native tongue. In a short time he became very restless and agitated. At last he burst out with the question, "Who is this Man about whom I have been reading, this Jesus? You call him a man, but He must be God."

Indeed this young man saw in the Gospel of John what is very clearly stated. Jesus is more than just a mere man. He is God in the flesh. And His death, burial and resurrection brought salvation to the world.

In the writings of the Apostle Paul as well, we see the deity of Christ very clearly. And in the book of Colossians where the Apostle is confronting the beginnings of a heresy called gnosticism, he makes it quite plain who Jesus is.

As we stated in an introductory message on Colossians, the gnostics believed that God and the spiritual world are good, while matter is evil. So something like the incarnation or God coming in the flesh is out of the question. They also taught that Jesus was just one a a series of emanations descending from God. Which, according to them, made Him something less than God. This also lead them to the denial of His true humanity.

Today, as they did back 2000 years ago, there are people who deny the biblical claims concerning Jesus Christ. In order to be a true follower of Christ, and to combat the modern heresies of our day, it is crucial that we have a correct knowledge of who He and the writers of the New Testament, including the Apostle Paul, claimed Him to be.

And the Pauline view of our Lord can be seen quite clearly in Colossians 1:15-23. Further, it is in these few verses that Paul informs us of the major theme of this epistle. He demonstrates the supremacy and all-sufficiency of Jesus Christ.

Let us take a closer look at this wonderful passage of Scripture and see what he has to say to us about our Lord.

We will begin by seeing Jesus' preeminence in creation. Then in redemption. And finally His preeminence as seen in the lives of individual believers.

Jesus' Preeminence in Creation (15-18a)

In verses 15-18a we see Jesus' preeminence over all of creation. Paul says things in this section that would have been blasphemous for a Jewish man to utter if they were not true.

He begins by calling our Lord the 'image of the invisible God'. This is the Greek word eikó. We get our English word icon from this and it means: "copy or likeness." In other words, Jesus Christ is the perfect image or exact likeness of God and is in the very form of God. Not only that but He has been this for all eternity.

Paul is showing us that Jesus is both the representation and the manifestation of God. Paul means to use this terminology to describe Him as fully God in every way.

However, he isn't finished with the description. Paul goes on to call Jesus the firstborn over every creature, or of all creation. Although the Greek word for firstborn can refer to one who was born first chronologically it more often is used to speak of preeminence in position. In Jewish culture, the firstborn was the ranking son who received the right of inheritance from his father. And this was true whether he was chronologically born first or not.

Clearly, in this context, The Apostle is saying that Jesus is in the position of the highest rank over all.

In other passages Jesus is called the only-begotten Son. He cannot be the first begotten and only-begotten. When the firstborn is one of a class of things, then the class would be in the plural form. But creation, the class here, is in the singular form.

Also, if Paul were teaching that Christ was a created being he would be agreeing with the very heresy that he was trying to refute. Further, it is impossible for Jesus to be created and the creator of everything that there is.

So the Apostle is saying that Jesus is firstborn in the sense that He has preeminence or supremacy and has the right of inheritance over all of creation. Our Lord existed before all created things. Therefore He is exalted in rank above them all.

To clarify his meaning, Paul goes on to tell us what he is saying here. He states:

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"For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things have been created through Him and for Him. He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together." (16-17).

Jesus is the creator of the seen and the unseen universe. The terms 'thrones and dominions" or "rulers and authorities" are the various categories of angels whom Christ both created and rules over. The false teachers at Colossae taught the worship of angels and lead people to the false idea that Jesus was one of them. They believed that Jesus was a spirit created by God and therefore inferior to Him. Paul is making it clear here that all of the angels, whether they be the holy angels or the fallen ones, are merely creations of God the Son, Jesus Christ.

They were made, both by Him and for His glory. Paul says that He is not only before all things but "in Him all things hold together." He maintains all the balance necessary for life's existence. And if He didn't it would cease to exist.

Not only that but Jesus is also the Head of the Body, the Church. The Church is that Group of believers in Jesus Christ, both Jew and Gentile, who, by grace through faith, have accepted Him as their Savior from sin, death and Hell in this age of Grace.

He is making them a part of the new humanity, or new creation, that He is putting together who will spend eternity with Him in the New Heavens and Earth. It is a place where righteousness dwells and death and sin are banished. In that eternity there will be no more mourning or crying or pain. Man, for the first time since the Garden of Eden, will truly be living in paradise

Paul uses the metaphor of the human body to describe this wonderful group that we can all be a part of if we choose Christ. And Jesus is the head. Just as the brain controls the physical body, so Jesus controls every part of the Spiritual Body, the Church.

This leads us to the second aspect of Jesus' preeminence. He is preeminent over redemption.

II. Jesus' Preeminence in Redemption (18b-20)

The word redemption refers to God's deliverance of mankind from the evil of sin and His restoration of them to Himself by an act of divine power and merciful love. This act happened when Jesus, being completely sinless and righteous, died in our place and took our sins upon Himself on the cross of Calvary.

Paul tells us that Christ is the beginning. By this He means the the Lord was the source of the Church. And thus He has the supremacy over it. He did this by dying for it and rising from the dead.

The phrase "Firstborn from the dead' in verse 18 tells us that Jesus was the first person chronologically to be raised from the dead, never to be subject to dying again. And by this, He gave us the power to one day do the same.

It was the Father's pleasure to have all of His fullness dwell in Christ. This idea is probably Paul refuting the heretics who taught that divine powers and attributes were divided amongst various emanations or created beings. Paul countered that falsehood by saying that all divine power dwelt in Christ alone.

Not only does God take pleasure in having His divine fullness dwell in Christ but also to reconcile through Him all things through His blood shed on the cross. That includes things both in heaven and earth

The word reconcile here, in Greek, means "to change or exchange." In the New Testament this indicates that there is a change in the sinner's relationship to God. Man was totally alienated from the Lord. He was an enemy and subject to God's wrath. He was going to be separated from the Lord forever in Hell. Through faith in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, God restores to us a right relationship with Himself.

Interestingly, this word for reconcile is an intensified form. It is used for the total and complete reconciliation of believers and ultimately of all things in the created universe. Some people wrongly believe that this text teaches that, as a result, all people will ultimately believe and be reconciled. However, Paul, and certainly the rest of Scripture doesn't teach this. What it does mean is that all will ultimately submit to Jesus Christ as Lord whether they want to or not.

The Christian, however is now at peace. We are no longer at war with an angry God. We are now in a relationship with a loving Father. Jesus' shed blood lead to this wonderful peace and this magnificent relationship with the God of the universe.

It is here at this point that Paul switches gears and turns to the individuals at Colossae and shows how Christ's preeminence or supremacy affects their lives.

III. Jesus' Preeminence as Seen In Individual Lives (21-23)

In verses 21-23 Paul tells the Colossians:

."And although you were formerly alienated and hostile in mind, engaged in evil deeds, yet He has now reconciled you in His fleshly body through death, in order to present you before Him holy and blameless and beyond reproach— if indeed you continue in the faith firmly established and steadfast, and not moved away from the hope of the gospel that you have heard, which was proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, was made a minister."

Before their conversion, the Colossians, and all believers, were alienated and hostile. The word alienated means estranged or cut-off. We were, like the rest of humanity, without hope and without God in the world (Ephesians 2:12).

The word hostile here can mean hateful. Sadly, unbelievers hate the God of the universe and resent His holy standards. They do this because their own deeds are evil. And we also learn from Psalm 5:5 that God Himself hates "all that do iniquity."

Thankfully Christ made possible reconciliation between God and man through His own substitutionary death on the cross. He paid a debt He did not owe because I owed a debt I could not pay. He paid for the penalty of sin in full.

His goal was to present each of us holy, blameless and beyond reproach. The way for this to happen is for the believer to continue in the faith and not straying away from the Gospel of which Paul is the earthly minister..

Ultimately, the true believer has been reconciled and will persevere in this state because we not only are declared righteous but are new creatures in Christ Jesus (II Corinthians 5:17).

To quote John MacArthur from his Study Bible:

"Paul tells the Colossians that they are made new creatures with a new disposition that loves God, hates sin, desires obedience and is energized by the indwelling Holy Spirit. Rather than defect from the gospel they heard, true believers will remain sold on Christ who is the only foundation and will remain faithful by the enabling grace of God."

So our preeminent Lord not only saves each of us who believe but makes it possible for that work of salvation which was begun in us to be carried to completion until the day we go to be with Him in eternity or until He returns to take us all home in the Rapture of the Church (Philippians 1:6).

It is His death burial and resurrection that has made it all possible and it is His gift of the Holy Spirit living in each of us that gives us the power to live out the work that He started in each of our lives.


As we have looked through this wonderful passage of Scripture, we get the picture of someone who cannot be ignored. He is at the very center of history and has made claims that affect not only our entire lives but what will happen to us at the end of this existence on this earth. As we come to the conclusion of this section of Colossians I am reminded of the words of the late President of the United States, Ronald Reagan. He tells us

"Meaning no disrespect to the religious convictions of others, I still can't help wondering how we can explain away what to me is the greatest miracle of all and which is recorded in history. No one denies there was such a man, that he lived and that he was put to death by crucifixion. the miracle I spoke of? Well consider this and let your imagination translate the story into our own time -- possibly to your own home town.

A young man whose father is a carpenter grows up working in his father's shop. One day he puts down his tools and walks out of his father's shop. He starts preaching on street corners and in the nearby countryside, walking from place to place, preaching all the while, even though he is not an ordained minister. He does this for three years. Then he is arrested, tried and convicted. There is no court of appeal, so he is executed at age 33 along with two common thieves. Those in charge of his execution roll dice to see who gets his clothing -- the only possessions he has. His family cannot afford a burial place for him so he is interred in a borrowed tomb. End of story?

No, this uneducated, property-less young man who...left no written word has, for 2000 years, had a greater effect on the world than all the rulers, kings, emperors; all the conquerors, generals and admirals, all the scholars, scientists and philosophers who have ever lived -- all of them put together. How do we explain that?...unless he really was who he said he was."

I would say a hearty Amen to President Reagan's words. And if Jesus is indeed who he said He was and the one whom Paul wrote of in Colossians 1- the preeminent God of the universe who is over all creation, who has provided redemption for everyone who believes and the one who has taken sinners, alienated from God and made them trophies of His grace- then we not only should not ignore Him but we will not be allowed to do so

The bottom line is that we must bow before Jesus today as Lord and Savior or we will one day face Him as our judge and be condemned for our sins. There is no middle ground to take. I have chosen Him as my Savior and am asking Him to lead me as my Lord. My prayer, for all who hear this message, is that they make the same decision with their own lives. For it is a choice that you will never regret. Choose Jesus today! For He is worthy of that decision!

© 2021 Jeff Shirley

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