Colossians 1:15-16 15He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation, 16for by him all things were created, 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.
Verse 15 continues the hymn about Christ begun in verse 13. This is marked by the relative pronoun “who” (hos). The language is lofty and rhythmic. These are some of the grandest words about Christ recorded in the New Testament. By lifting up Christ like this, Paul offers the Colossians the clear truth and answer for any problems or false teachings they are experiencing. Christ is the one who makes the redemption of verse 14 possible.
First, Paul notes that Christ is the image of the invisible God. To look at Christ is to see the essential characteristics of God. God is invisible because God is spirit and his glory cannot be captured by created objects. We can only see the effects of God’s glory and creative power. God’s presence is too overwhelming for fallen humanity. By becoming human, God provides a way for humanity to see, touch, and hear who he is. Image (eikōn) is a representation or portrait of something else. Hebrews 1:3 states that the Son reflects the Father and is “the radiance of his glory and the exact representation of his nature.”
Second, Christ is the firstborn of all creation. There are several ways to interpret this idea. The heretical way promoted by certain groups is that the Son came into existence at one point as the firstborn (prōtotokos). The Son was the first thing God created. There is nothing in Scripture or logic that supports this interpretation. The orthodox interpretation of this idea is refers to firstborn in rank, status, and importance. There is no human being higher than Christ. He is supreme over all creation.
The next phrase makes the orthodox interpretation clearly the one Paul means. Third, all things were created by Christ. This is a powerful thought that echoes John 1:1-4, which mentions how God spoke creation into existence by the Word. When God said, “let there be . . .” in Genesis 1, that speaking was the Son. The one who is overall creation as the sovereign king is the one who created all things. He himself was not created but always has been. When God communicates love, grace, compassion, or judgment and wrath to humanity, it is through the Son.
Paul makes this even clearer with a poetic list of the various aspects of creation. The first four in the list are organized into pairs. Heavens and earth covers what can be see here on earth and what is visible in the sky. This is the physical world God created on the six days of creation in Genesis 1. Visible and invisible covers the spiritual and physical realm. Even the spiritual world of angelic beings came into existence through the Word of the Son. The next four entities have to do with the power structures of creation. This could be interpreted in an earthly perspective as human institutions, or include also the spiritual world. Thrones, dominions, rulers, and authorities are the types of power structures that cause fear and trouble for people, especially believers living in a hostile context.
The last phrase of verse 16 summarizes the thought of these two verses and is inclusive of all things. The meaning of the prepositional phrase through him is clear from the context. The more challenging phrase is for him. The Greek preposition eis followed by the accusative case can identify a goal or purpose. With this interpretation, Christ as the divine Word created all things for the purpose that creation might find its ultimate purpose in relationship to him. Chapter 1 of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians makes a similar point. We have been created to be in Christ. We find our ultimate and highest reason to live in being in a loving, consecrated, and obedient relationship with Jesus Christ. This is the highest and most noble purpose in being a Christian.
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