St. Paul wrote a letter to the congregation in Colossae to counter false teachers who had tried to ply the people away from Christ to instead worship other things or beings. In this letter (the Epistle to the Colossians), Paul emphasizes the pre-eminence of Christ in all things.
Paul begins by greeting the church in the name of Jesus Christ. He then speaks of the inheritance and deliverance that they have all received through Jesus Christ. Then, Paul explains who Jesus is and what he has done. Paul writes:
He [God the Father] has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins (Colossians 1:13-14).
Thus, God has brought us up out of darkness, out of the reign of the devil, and into the light, into the reign of his Son, Jesus Christ. We have been brought up out of the false kingdom of darkness and into the true kingdom of light, within the reign of God that comes through Jesus Christ.
And just who exactly is this Son Jesus Christ?
Paul continues in verses 15 to 20. First, he describes Christ as the “image of the invisible God.” Paul uses the word “image” throughout his writings, not only in this epistle but in others as well.
The word “image” means “a likeness,” such as a “representation.” So, here Paul is calling Christ the “image” of God; that is, Christ is the one who reveals God the Father to us. In 2 Corinthians 4:4, Paul also states that Christ “is the image of God.” This is said in connection with the “light of the gospel of the glory of Christ.” Thus, Christ is the image of God who reveals the good news of God’s grace and mercy. He is the one by whom we are transferred from darkness into light. He is how we know God as loving and merciful.
Paul also often uses the word “image” to compare us to Christ, or us to Adam. This is because there are only two possibilities for us; we’re either in the “image of Adam” – in darkness – or in the “image of Christ” – in the light.
And also here in Colossians, Paul calls Christ the “image of the invisible God.” We were originally created to be in the image of God also. Adam was created in God’s image, but fell into sin and corrupted this image. That is, Adam no longer resembled or represented God, as he was meant to. We are descended from Adam and thus born into Adam’s fallen image, born into darkness.
But, Christ has come bearing the perfect image of God. That is, Christ is the representation of God in the flesh; he is how we know God. He is also the perfect man, the way Adam was meant to be, but couldn’t attain through his own works. Through Christ’s actions on the cross and empty tomb (and baptism which gives us these benefits) Christ also gives us this image so that we are re-birthed into his image and brought into the light.
Thus, we once bore the image of Adam (the “man of the dust”), but now we bear the image of Christ, who is himself the image of God. More and more we “are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another,” as Paul says in 2 Corinthians (2 Corinthians 3:18).
Thus, God is sanctifying us to make us increasingly conform to the image of Christ. This sanctification will never be complete as long as we live in the mortal flesh, but when Christ returns we will be perfectly conformed to his image. Since Christ is the image of God, we will then also be restored to what God originally created us to be (cf. Genesis 1:26). So, as God conforms us more and more to the image of Christ, we are becoming more and more the way God created us to be. At the resurrection, we will be fully restored to the image in which God originally created us, before Adam’s fall into sin.
(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 )