In his Epistle to the Colossians, Paul calls Christ the firstborn of all creation. This does not mean that the Son is the first of God’s creations. That becomes apparent in the context of the rest of the epistle where Paul says that by the Son all things were created through him and for him. So, to be the firstborn is to be preeminent above all things. He’s the firstborn Son, the only-begotten Son of God; He is God himself, creating and ruling over all things.
It’s like how the firstborn sons of old would be given the property of their fathers. By analogy, Christ is the firstborn, because he is given authority over all things by the Father, just as he says in Matthew 28 before sending out the Church to be his witnesses on earth:
All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.
Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age (Matthew 28:18-20).
In his letter to the Colossians, Paul emphasizes this point in 1:17, where he says that the Son (Jesus Christ) “is before all things, and in him all things hold together.”
So, Christ is the one through whom everything was created. He is the Word of God spoken forth by the Father in Genesis 1, the same Word spoken of by St. John in the beginning of His Gospel (see John 1:1ff). And what is most marvelous is that this Word of God, this Son, is also the “head of the body, the church” (Colossians 1:18). He has gathered a people for himself and is our head.
Remember what God told Adam and Eve in Genesis? He said that in marriage, man and woman become one flesh, one body. Throughout the Old Testament, God’s people were referred to as His bride. When they committed idolatry, God charged them with adultery, because they went after other gods and were not faithful to God who was their husband. In the New Testament we see that Christ, as the image of God, is the husband to whom the Church is the bride. Thus, the Church is Christ’s body, and he is the head, the one who leads us and cares for us. We are in his image, because we are his body, united with him and each other in faith.
As such, Christ is also “the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent” (Colossians 1:18). He is the beginning, since he created everything. And yet his creation is fallen, plagued by sin and death, due to the sin of Adam and Eve. So, he came to die and rise for us and the rest of his creation. We see this in Christ’s crucifixion when he heads to the cross willingly to die in the midst of criminals. Those around him mock him, not realizing that they are mocking their creator and their savior. For Christ died and rose; he is the firstborn from the dead, preeminent in all things, the firstfruits of the resurrection. And as his body we too will rise from the dead, because he will not abandon his beloved.
For in Christ all the fulness of God dwells. He is true God and true man, come “to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross” (Colossians 1:19-20).
Reconciliation means bringing together two parties who were once enemies. We were once enemies of God, captured by sin and death, opposed to God’s rule, in the domain of darkness. That’s how we were born, due to the sin of Adam and Eve. Just as God begets God – the Father begets the Son – so too do humans beget humans. And since the sin of Adam and Eve, it means that sinful humans beget sinful humans.
Yet, this is not how we were created. To be human does not mean the same thing as to be sinful; just look at Christ, he is also human, even as he is God, and yet he is not sinful.
We were created to be in God’s image, to be in perfect peace and communion with God and each other, without sin and without death and without evil to get in the way. But, we lost this perfection and fell into the reign of darkness. So, Christ came to reconcile us to himself by bringing us out of darkness and into his light, to re-conform us to the image of God. And he made this peace by the blood of his cross, a peace between us and God and us and each other. He came to restore his creation and us to full communion. He came to make us into his image and therefore in the image of God.
Paul continues this point, by writing:
And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him, if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, became a minister (Colossians 1:21-23).
So, there is a successive movement in Paul’s argument in his epistle to the Colossians. That is, Jesus is the image of the invisible God and the firstborn of all creation, because by him everything was created. Then, because of this, everything is held together in him. He is the center, focus, and tendon of our existence. He is also the head of the Church, those who recognize his centrality to our life together, because he is the firstborn from the dead and through his death and resurrection he has made us into a people for himself. He is the image of God, revealed to us, who has reconciled everything to God through the blood that he poured out on his cross and by whom we are being conformed to the image of God.
So, the whole point of Paul’s epistle is that God Himself has restored His fallen creation to Himself. This has been done through Jesus Christ, His image and the creator and restorer of creation. Thus, Christ has accomplished that which we could not. He is God, come to restore creation, including us, to God and each other. That is why Paul greets everyone in the name of Jesus Christ in his epistles, because Christ is the head of the Church, having reconciled us to God and made us his Church. In all of this, Paul is testifying to the pre-eminence of Jesus Christ as the only one worthy of worship and praise.
So, what we see in Paul’s letter is that Jesus truly is God in the flesh who has died and risen for us in order to restore us to God; he is also the perfect man, bearing the image of God that we marred in the fall. So, we were once alienated from God and each other and were His and our enemies, but God has come to us in Jesus Christ to bring us back to him by making peace between us and conforming us to his image. We see this in Christ’s own nature himself where man and God are brought together.
It’s important to remember that Jesus is the one who created all things and who restores all things and in whom everything is held together. Thus, he is the head of the Church, and the Church is the firstfruits of his restored creation. It is Christ through whom all things were created in the beginning and it is in Christ through whom all things – us and all creation – are being restored.
So, as we continue this New Testament time of the Church, we place our ultimate hopes in Christ’s return, when us and all creation will be fully restored. We are his body, so just as he rose from the dead, we too will we rise to dwell with him forever in his restored creation.
(Image is an icon of Christ Pantocrator from Macedonia, See Wikimedia page for author [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AJesusicon.jpg )