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God’s Word for You

Colossians 1:15 The image of God

by Pastor Timothy Smith on Thursday, January 4, 2018

15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation.

There is a scene in the original Star Wars (1977) where the hero Luke is at home, watching a sunset. Since it’s a science fiction movie, the sunset has two suns, but the special effect was done in the simplest of ways: a camera filmed a single sunset, and then the film of one part was overlaid onto the film of another part. The result: two suns setting. In technical Greek terms, we would say that the one (take your pick) is the icon (εἰκὼν) of the other. You see, to us, an “icon” is an image of another thing, but to the Greeks, an icon had the same form as another thing: like two cubes of sugar, two grains of salt, or two suns which are in fact identical in every way. We are taught that “The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God” (Hebrews 1:3).

The concept of the Greek icon can be difficult for us to explain, because there always seems to be some difference which makes us think that no two things can be the same. But an icon is the same in essence, not the same in identity. Jesus Christ has the same divine essence and attributes as God the Father. They are not identical as persons: One is the Father, the other is the Son. One has taken on human flesh, the other has not. But just as the Father is God, so also the Son us God. Yet there are not two gods (or three), but only one. “Hear, O Israel, the LORD our God, the LORD is one” (Deuteronomy 6:4). Also: “God is one” (Galatians 3:20).

This is what makes this verse and the verses that follow (Colossians 1:15-29) one of the six great Christological passages of the Bible (four of them were written by Paul in prison). In order of appearance, the six are:

    John 1:1-18, The Word became flesh and dwelt among us
    Ephesians 1:21-23, All things are placed under Christ’s feet
    Philippians 2:5-11, Christ made himself nothing and then was
      exalted to the highest place
    Colossians 1:15-29, Christ, fully God, has reconciled us
    Colossians 2:9-15, Christ is all the fullness of God in bodily form,
      and triumphed over the devil in hell.
    Hebrews 1:1-4, Christ is superior to all things

Remember that Jesus is not simply the image of God when we think of him in his state of humiliation, suffering and dying for our sins. He is also the image of God apart from his state of humiliation: He is the image of God now, sitting at God’s right hand, waiting to come to judge the living and the dead. He is the image of God in eternity before the creation of the world, knowing that you would come to faith in him and trust him with your very soul. He was the image of God in the manger, having taken on human flesh and undergone the trauma of childbirth as all babies do, worshiped and adored by mother, foster-father, shepherds, angels and wise men.

And he is the image of God, firstborn over all creation. We will see in the next verse that this phrase, “firstborn of all creation” (πρωτότοκος πάσης κτίσεως) cannot mean firstborn among the rest of the created things, but the firstborn of God who is over all creation and chose to become a part of it as a man. But we will leave that argument for verse 16. For now, Paul’s challenge to the false teachers trying to turn the Colossians away from Christ is this: You seem to want to preach something higher than Christ, something greater, something fuller and closer to God. How could anything be higher, greater, fuller, or closer to God than God? Christ is not merely great, he is not merely supreme among men, he is the icon of God. He is God. Like a double exposure of the same sunset, there is no difference between the essence of one and the essence of the other. Christ is everything—and as the Everything, he laid down his Everything to atone for my sins. My sins are countless; a whopping heap of filth that I could never account for or pay for—but Christ’s Everything trumps my guilt, and has rescued me for eternal life.

In Christ,
Pastor Timothy Smith

Pastor Tim SmithAbout Pastor Timothy Smith
Pastor Smith serves St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in New Ulm, Minnesota. His wife, Kathryn, attended the Chapel from 1987-1990 while studying Secondary Education (Theater and Math) at UW-Madison. Kathryn’s father, John Meyer, was also the first man to serve as a Vicar at Chapel.

To receive God’s Word for You via e-mail, please contact Pastor Smith.

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