Who [ie. Jesus] is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creature for by Him were all things created that are in heaven , and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones or dominions, or principalities or powers: all things were created by Him and for Him: and He is before all things, and by Him all things consist and He is the head of the body, the church: who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead that in all things He might have the pre-eminence. For it pleased the Father that in Him should all the fullness dwells.
This passage of scripture, as well as Phil.2:1-5-11, is thought to be a hymn of the early church. If this be the case, then we can see that the person and work of Christ was the central theme of the early Christians’ worship.
Paul’s warning to the Colossians about the heresy that was around dealt with the way of salvation, Christian living and the person of Jesus Christ. The first two issues are dealt with in the next two chapters, but here, first of all, the Person of the Lord Jesus Christ is in view.
Once we have a correct view of the person of the Lord Jesus Christ then all else falls into place. Get that perspective wrong and then any teaching and practice that follows are bound to be incorrect and will lead astray.
The first description given of Christ, is that He is the image of the invisible God.
D1.1 The image of the invisible God
We recall that the Gnostic heresy, which stated that matter was evil, spirit good; that the true God was unknowable and that there are many lower (created) beings that had come from God, Jesus being the last of them, implying that Jesus was not God,
Paul’s plain statement destroys this heresy: Christ is the very image of the invisible God. He is not a created being.
God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son, whom he hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the worlds; Who being the brightness of his glory, and the express image of his person, and upholding all things by the word of his power, when he had by himself purged our sins, sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high;
In parallel to Col.1:15 we have the Hebrews writer telling us that Christ is the ‘express image’ Of God’s person. This means that Jesus is God. It is an emphatic declaration of Christ’s deity. Thus, removing all objections to the nature of the Lord Jesus. See also Jn.1:1-2; 14. I Jn.1:1-2.
And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifest in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen of angels, preached unto the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up into glory.
Paul makes two very important points here. First, this manifestation is the mystery of godliness. The word mystery means ‘secret’, the same word used by the so-called mystery religions of the day. The very word Gnosticism means ‘knowledge’, and it was a secret knowledge revealed only to those initiates of this heresy. To others it was secret or a mystery.
Paul is saying that the true mystery of God is God manifest in the flesh. This, the scripture reveals, is not to a select few, but to the whole human race. God has manifested Himself in human flesh. The coming of Christ was prophesied in the Old Testament, it was foreshadowed in types and so on. All of this was hidden in the OT. It was only when Christ was incarnated, crucified and resurrected that we can see and understand that which God hid in the in ages past is now fully realised in His Son.
The second point is that God manifested Himself. He didn’t have an angel to reveal Him, nor did He create any demi-god to represent Him. No, God revealed Himself in human form by way of the incarnation. This totally dismisses the claim that Jesus was the last in the line of intermediary creations between humans and God. Jesus was God in the flesh.
Christ, then, is not an emanation of Deity, as the Gnostics would have us believe, rather He is the very image of God. Christ’s incarnation was God manifest in the flesh.
D1.2 The downward spiral
The question naturally arises: where do people get these heresies from? Rom.1:18-21 gives us the answer. In this section of scripture, we see man’s rejection of God’s revelation and the downward spiral as a consequence.
For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in righteousness; Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath shewed it unto them. For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse: Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools, And changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and four-footed beasts, and creeping things.Wherefore God also gave them up to uncleanness through the lusts of their own hearts, to dishonour their own bodies between themselves: Who changed the truth of God into a lie, and worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator, who is blessed for ever. Amen. For this cause God gave them up unto vile affections: for even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature: And likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another; men with men working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves that recompence of their error which was meet. And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not convenient; Being filled with all unrighteousness, fornication, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, debate, deceit, malignity; whisperers, Backbiters, haters of God, despiteful, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, Without understanding, covenant breakers, without natural affection, implacable, unmerciful: Who knowing the judgment of God, that they which commit such things are worthy of death, not only do the same, but have pleasure in them that do them.
God has revealed Himself in creation, this man rejects, Rom.1:19-21. This in turn results in, vain imaginations (lit. empty reasonings), their foolish hearts becoming darkened and becoming fools Rom.1:22-22. In turn they make gods in the image of creation (nb. Ps.135:15-18 where it says idolaters become like what they worship!) Rom.1:24-25.
By rejecting God’s revelation man has no basis upon which to build any truth, hence the emptying reasoning. So, from his empty heart man makes gods in the likenesses of what he thinks, which would naturally be based on fallen nature. One only needs to consider the well-known Greek pantheon of gods to see that. Man is incapable of coming up with the true image of God. So, he makes gods after his vain imagination.
From there the downward spiral descends into sexual immortality ending in homosexuality. All of which is only self-worship. So, man goes from rejecting the true God, to worshipping the creation, to making idols and then finally to self-worship.
Thus, having rejected God’s revelation in creation man ends up with his own image to worship. usually of self, which is the very line Eve was tempted on originally in Gen.3:5. Thus totally eliminating the knowledge of God from their thoughts.
One may well ponder: if rejecting the revelation of God in creation brings about such tragic and dire consequences, what does rejection of God’s final revelation in Christ result in?
Because of all the above it was necessary that God sent His precious Son into the world, so that we would have God truly revealed unto us. Indeed, this is one of the key themes of John’s gospel account. For example:
And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.
Jesus saith unto him, Have I been so long time with you, and yet hast thou not known me, Philip? he that hath seen me hath seen the Father; and how sayest thou then, Shew us the Father?
D1.3 Recreated in his image
The heresy stated that there was a divine spark in the human soul and the secret knowledge would realise it. This is a poor counterfeit to the truth as seen in scripture.
And God said, let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.
Man was originally created in God’s image. But what does this actually mean? Image and likeness in the original as it refers to humans, appear to mean something similar but not identical to the thing it represents. Paul in Ephesians gives us a vital clue. It cannot refer to bodily form since God is a Spirit (Jn.4:24). It has more to do with what the characteristics of humans are.
For example, humans are spiritual beings God is a Spirit (Jn4:24); humans are moral beings as seen in the quote below.
And that ye put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness.
Humans are rational beings see Mtt.22:37; Eph.4:23; Rom.12:2. Humans are emotional beings. God is love, and we are to love as He does. I Jn.4:16. These are a few characteristics that humans have and many more could be added. But sufficient to make the point.
Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned:
However, because of Adam’s sin all that was spoilt. The image of God in man was marred. God’s image was not lost as is seen by Gen.9:6 & Jms.3:9 but it was ruined. Men and women died spiritually. Humans in their natural condition are now dead in trespasses and sins. Eph.2:1.
The redemption that is in Christ Jesus has, as its purpose, to restore us to the image that God intended for us originally. And God’s ultimate goal is for us to be conformed to Christ’s image.
For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.
For which cause we faint not; but though our outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed day by day.
But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord.
For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren.
Jesus is the true image and exact likeness of God. No human can ever be that. Lucifer tried to be as God but was cast out of heaven. The true destiny of humans is to be conformed to the image of Jesus through the redemption. let us therefore put our trust in Him alone.