There are those who claim all the divinity-stuff about Jesus – you know, the miracles, the resurrection, the “God in the flesh” stuff – was made up after the fact. They want us to believe Jesus was just a good teacher whose stories got blown out of proportion and became the stuff of legend and mythology. But I think it’s pretty clear from very early on Jesus’ disciples believed him to be the Messiah, the Son of God. They understood (post-resurrection) who Jesus really was and is. This is the message about Jesus they ended up carrying to the ends of the earth.
Philippians 2:6-11 might just be one of the oldest literary elements in the New Testament. In that part of the letter, Paul is most likely quoting a Christian hymn that had already been circulating widely by the time of the letter – mid-to-late AD 50s. There is a corresponding section in the letter to the Colossians (written close to the same time) which really drives home the point. The early church had a very “High Christology.” That means they believed Jesus to be fully divine and fully human, God in the flesh. It’s a mystery which Paul spends time unpacking here, and I want to share some amazing insights with you.
The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers 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. And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.Colossians 1:15-20 | NIV
1. Jesus Is What God Looks Like
No one has ever seen God. Moses asked for a peek, and God caused his goodness to pass in front of Moses, revealing his “back” but not his “face.” (To quote White Vision: I require elaboration.) No one can see God and live, we’re told. Even Jesus’ own disciples asked him, “Just show us the Father.” I think there’s a longing in each of us to see God, to have a glimpse of his glory, to have some definitive proof of his existence. Jesus says, “You want proof? I’m it. If you’ve seen me, you’ve seen the Father.” The Hebrew Scriptures have a lot to say about God, sometimes even offering conflicting views and understandings of God which have sparked much debate over the years. Jesus settles the debate. Jesus shows us, once and for all, what God is like. Hebrews tells us, “The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being.”
But Jesus isn’t here with us anymore, you might say. First John 4:12 says, “No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.” Jesus lives on inside his body, the church. As Victor Hugo wrote in Les Miserables, “To love another person is to see the face of God.”
2. Jesus Is the Firstborn of Everything
This one circles back on a debate within the first few centuries of the church – was Christ a created being? I believe the answer is No. As the Nicene Creed emphasizes, Christ is “the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, one in Being with the Father.” Christ was pre-existent with the Father, as John 1 affirms. Christ is “in very nature” God. Christ has the preeminent position over all creation because he is God’s Son. Otherwise, Christ would just be another part of the created order, not one with the Creator.
3. Jesus Made It All
Genesis 1 opens with the Song of Creation. According to the great tradition, God spoke the universe into existence by the power of his Word. Psalm 33 retells the story beautifully: “By the word of the Lord the heavens were made, their starry host by the breath of his mouth… For he spoke, and it came to be; he commanded, and it stood firm.” Again, John 1 tells us The Word of Genesis 1, “through whom all things were made,” became flesh and tabernacled among us. Without Christ, the Word of God, there is no creation, there is no love, there is no light.
4. Jesus Holds It All Together
Jesus Christ is not only the one through whom all things were created, but he is the sustaining power of the universe. The created order is held together by the power of his love and might. In other words, Jesus is King not only over our lives and the church, he is King over all Creation, including the laws of physics and spacetime. “All authority in heaven and on earth” has been given to him. He has received “authority, glory, and sovereign power… His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.” Jesus calls the shots. Christ is running the show.
5. Jesus Is the Brains of the Church
Christ is the head of the body, which is the global church. We are his hands and feet. We are the mouth through which he speaks. If Christ is the head of his church, then no other man or woman is. Ultimately, we are each serving Christ, and we are each answerable to Christ. It is Christ who has sovereignty over the kingdom. Everything we do as a church should be done to please and honor Christ in humble submission to his will.
6. Jesus Is the Resurrection Trendsetter
This one is really cool. Not only is he firstborn over all creation, he is firstborn from among the dead. In other words, he is the first to be resurrected never to die again. His resurrection guarantees our own. His is but a glimpse of the promised resurrection we all get to share in. Paul says in Romans 8, “…if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of his Spirit who lives in you.” Because he lives, we also will live. And even better – we get to experience that eternal life here and now!
7. Jesus Is God’s Plan-A
Jesus, the Word made flesh, was never God’s backup plan. God has no Plan B. Jesus was the plan all along. God didn’t take on human form reluctantly. God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in Christ Jesus. Why? Because that was the only way he could reconcile the whole world to himself. God had to become like us so that we could become like him. It was the ultimate rescue plan from the very beginning (Genesis 3:15). To “reconcile” means to reunite, restore, to bring back into a right relationship. God, through Christ, is reconciling all of Creation to himself – not just human souls, but the entire universe! (See also Romans 8:19-21.)
But here’s where it gets even crazier. God accomplished this plan to restore and renew all things not just by taking on human form in Jesus. God brought us his peace (or shalom, wholeness) through dying. “While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” It’s only through his obedient death on the cross that he could reveal the full scale of evil and corruption in the world which only leads to death. But through his resurrection, he overcame the power of death once and for all, dealing the death-blow to the serpent and freeing us from the decaying power of sin. “By his wounds we are healed.” Christ himself “is our peace.” He was the one who “knew no sin” but “became sin for us so that we might become the righteousness of God.”
Whether or not you believe Jesus is the Son of God, the claims about Jesus in this passage are absolutely mind-blowing. It’s obvious we can’t get away with simply viewing Jesus as a “good teacher” who gained a religious following. Jesus either is who he said he is (“I and the Father are One”), or he’s not. Either he is who the disciples and earliest believers told us he is, or he’s not. We all have to make a choice.
“What about you? Who do you say that I am?” – Jesus