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Dual Titles, Attributes and Offices of Christ (1)

J Griffiths, Treorchy

Master and Lord (Jn 13.13)

Our Lord delivered a lesson to His disciples when He stated, "I have given you an example" (v.15 - a demonstration lesson). This lesson in humility is demonstrated (vv.4-11) and declared (vv.12-17). First He gives the example, then the exhortation.

In approaching the issue the Lord questions His followers: "Know ye what I have done to you?" (v.12). Have you grasped the significance? Our Lord is not instituting another ordinance, that of feet washing, in addition to baptism and the Supper. He is instructing His pupils that the One who bears the lofty titles, "Master" and "Lord", is the same One who performs the lowly task of feet-washing. What a remarkable lesson in humility!

In order to ensure that they apprehend the lesson, the Lord reinforces His example with the words, "Do as I have done to you" (v.15). No task should be too menial for the disciples in their relationship one with another. In applying the truth, so forcibly demonstrated, the Lord drives home His point: "If ye know these things, happy are ye if ye do them" (v.17). It is not simply a matter of knowing these things but of practising them.

"Master" - teacher (didaskalos)

This is the root of the word "doctrine". Out of a range of words translated "Master", John chooses a Greek equivalent of the Aramaic, "Rabbi". This word is used eight times by Christ of Himself and thirty-one times by others of Christ. He could have used epistates but only Luke uses this word. He might have employed kathegetes but only Matthew uses this word. The title emphasises recognition of dignity, the deference of the pupil to his teacher and his teaching.

"Lord" - one who has power; ownership (kurios).

This is variously translated, "lord", "sir", "master" and "owner". It is "Lord" that occurs most frequently (719 references). It is used 150 times of God. The title emphasises recognition of authority. The fuller depth of meaning, going beyond respect, is only really exhibited after the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. J B Phillips comments that the word was used in a secular sense of military, legal, moral, sovereign and divine authority. Post-resurrection believers grew to appreciate that "Lord" signified not simple dignity and authority but also deity. "If thou shalt confess with thy mouth Jesus as Lord, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved" (Rom 10.9, RV).

The disciples received the Lord’s approval in v.13: "Ye call me Master and Lord: and ye say well; for so I am". May we seek divine approbation from and give due respect to our blessed Lord when we use His names and titles.

Image and Firstborn (Col 1.15)

The Colossian assembly was under attack from gnosticism, a philosophy that claimed superior knowledge above all others and went beyond divine revelation in the Scriptures. Christ, they taught, was merely an emanation from God to mankind, ranked with a succession of angels. The nearer to man they became, the less holy they were regarded to be. They presumed that God was "spirit" hence most holy, but man was material, therefore sinful!

Paul is addressing this problem and showing Christ in His true worth. He begins with the relationship of Christ and God before moving on to Christ and creation, the Church and the cross. The first title, "Who is the image of the invisible God", links the Son with God; the second, "the firstborn of every creature", links Christ with creation.

"Who is the image of the invisible God"

God is invisible inasmuch as He is a spirit-being not having a body. Our five senses give us the tools to explore our world. We are not equipped to investigate a spirit-being - only the effects which that being produces. For example, we are not equipped to see electricity but we have all seen its effects - the boiling kettle, the illuminating lamp, and other applications. We cannot see God’s eternal power and Godhead except as we view creation (Rom 1.20).

It is Christ, in bodily form as a man, who has made God intelligible to us mortals. Christ has brought God into focus: "No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son which is in the bosom of the Father; he hath declared him" (Jn 1.18). Christ is the image of the invisible God.

Eikon is the word consistently used throughout the New Testament for image. The only exception is Hebrews 1.3 where the Greek word charakter is used. J B Lightfoot claims that eikon has a double-edged meaning. It reflects both representation and manifestation.

The whole phrase, therefore, could be accurately amplified thus: "Who (the Son) being (eternally) the image (representation and manifestation) of the invisible (unseen) God". This suggests that Christ is the accurate representation of God and has ever been the member of the Godhead responsible for manifesting God through the Christophanies of the Old Testament, and through the incarnation in the New.

"The firstborn of every creature" ("the first-born of all creation", RSV)

The title "only begotten" or "unique" Son reveals a relationship with the Father, at once eternal, essential and in which He stands alone – the transcendent Christ. However, the title "firstborn" tells us of the imminence of Christ with His creation. Here, He comes near to us. It should be noted that the word is "firstborn" and not "born first". The word is rarely used literally - e.g. "And she (Mary) brought forth her firstborn son" (Lk 2.7).

"Firstborn" is to be viewed figuratively; it speaks of status, indicating, rather than first in time, first in rank, pre-eminence and honour. Reuben was Jacob’s first child but Joseph had the distinction of the coat of many colours. In Jacob’s affection he was the firstborn. Similarly, Jacob was above Esau despite being the younger. It is so used of David, Jesse’s eighth son. He is seen to be the firstborn in relation to Christ’s millennial reign in the Psalms.

As the firstborn of all creation, Christ’s rank or status is above all created things for the very reason set out in the verses which follow the use of the expression in Colossians (1.16-19). He, far from being the first creature to be created, is the great Creator-God and proprietor of all that He has brought into being. Why do the cults take texts out of their context and make a pretext of them? They do the same with "the beginning of the creation of God" in the letter to Laodicea (Rev 3.14).

Finally, the word for creature or creation in our passage is kitsis which means "proprietorship through manufacture". This again makes nonsense of the arguments of those who would belittle our Lord and make Him a created being.

The two phrases underline the embodiment of deity in the person of Christ; first, as God’s visible representative and further as pre-eminent over creation because He is Himself the great Creator.

To be continued.


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