In this section of the letter we are looking at the Lord Jesus as He is revealed as two 'firstborns', and also as the One who brings in two reconciliations.
Two Firstborns (vv 15-18)
"The firstborn of every creature" (vv 15-17)
We are now brought face to face with who Christ is. The verse does not speak of what He was, but what He is: it states that what He became in time He still is, that is, He is the image of God. In eternity, according to Philippians 2.5, He was in the form of God but, when He stepped into humanity and was found in fashion as a man, as such He became the image of God. He is the exact representation of the invisible God. "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). The fulness of God was perfectly displayed in Christ as He moved amongst men.
If the Lord Jesus is found in humanity, then He must take the first place among us. Referring to Him as the firstborn does not mean that He is the first one born but, rather, this is a title that is conferred upon one who takes the place of supremacy in any particular order. In Exodus 4.22, Israel, who had gone down into Egypt a family of some 70 souls, came out a nation and, as a nation, God called them His firstborn. They were certainly not the first nation to exist but, when they became a nation, God gave them the place of superiority among the other nations as His firstborn. King David was spoken of in a similar way when God said "I will make him my firstborn, higher than the kings of the earth" (Ps 89.27). When the Lord Jesus came into the world in incarnation, He took the firstborn place; the place of supremacy. He is also seen as the firstborn in resurrection, in Colossians 1.18, and then in exaltation, in Romans 8.29. He will be manifested as the firstborn from the dead as He returns to earth to reign, when He will be "the prince of the kings of the earth" (Rev 1.5).
The Lord Jesus not only has the first place in creation, but He also brought it all into being. There are three prepositions that mark the creation as it came from His hand. First, we are told that the creation had its origins "in him" (Col 1.16, RV¹), that is, the whole of the ordered universe was designed by the Lord Jesus. The whole system that we gaze upon originated in the mind of the Lord. Nothing is omitted, for it includes "things … that are in heaven, and that are in earth"; both seen and unseen. The Lord not only created the universe, but also the ordered governments in connection with it: these are also built into the creation. Government is divine in its origin, be it in heaven or on the earth. When Adam was created, God placed the authority of the earth into his hands (Gen 1.26). Though failure has marked the control of the world by men, the coming millennial Kingdom will see the Lord take control, and bring all into subjection to the will of God. The verse closes by insisting that all things were created by the Lord. He brought it into being and, ultimately, it was all for Him.
This verse emphasises the position that the Lord has as the firstborn of creation. When all was brought into existence, the Lord Jesus was before all things. This does not relate to time, but to rank; if worlds have been brought into being, the Lord must take the supreme place in the universe. As my wife took the first place in the family, she came before all others; so the Lord comes before everything else, and has the preeminent place. Not only that, but everything else is dependent upon Him, for "by him all things consist." He stops everything falling into chaos; all is immediately dependent upon Him.
"The firstborn from the dead" (v 18)
The Lord Jesus is here revealed as the head of the body, the Church. He is the Originator of the creation of the worlds, and He is also the beginning of the new creation, the Church. The first creation began with a heaven and earth, and ended with a man. The new creation began with a man, and will end with a new heaven and earth. Christ's place in the Church is His on the ground of resurrection, where He takes the firstborn place. It was only after His resurrection and ascension that the Church came into being, and He takes His place as the firstborn "that in all things he might have the preeminence." In both spheres that were dependent upon Him for being brought into existence, the Lord Jesus, in accordance with His Father's pleasure, has all fulness dwelling in Him both permanently and completely. He stands supreme above all God's handiwork
Two Reconciliations (vv 20-22)
The Lord is now seen as the Reconciler of that which He has created. In this verse, it is the reconciliation of things that are seen. These are the things that He created in verse 16, for the reconciliation goes no further than this. There are "things under the earth" (Phil 2.10), but they are not to be reconciled, as "under the earth" seems to refer to the sphere of Satanic activity. Their reconciliation is a future thing, and is linked with the coming Kingdom. Only when the Saviour returns to earth to establish His throne will this reconciliation take place.
Here we have the present reconciliation of the redeemed. The apostle is not speaking of things, but of persons, as he says "And you …". Our sad history is seen as to what we were in the past, when we were distant and hostile; both in thought and in practise. The enmity that marked us was when we were enemies, and when wicked works were lived out, as we allowed the flesh to dominate us because of our helplessness to do anything to improve our nature and the flesh within. How precious are the words that follow, and how they should cause us to rise in thanksgiving to God for the Person of Christ, for the emphasis is on the words "yet now …". If the reconciliation of things will be seen in a future day, we are now brought to appreciate that the reconciliation of the saints has already occurred.
It is evident that not only the time factor is different, but also the means of the two reconciliations differ. In verse 20, the peace that the world will come into is procured "through the blood of his cross." The blood shed at Calvary is the means of God bringing the world to Himself. When speaking of the believer's reconciliation, though, it is recorded that it is not so much through "the blood of his cross" but, rather, it is "in the body of his flesh through death." When we consider the shedding of blood, it always seems to have a wide significance. Hebrews chapter 9 explains this well, for there we see the various things that are accomplished through the shedding of the blood of Christ. It obtains "eternal redemption" (v 12); it purges the conscience (v 14); and it is the means whereby the new covenant was brought in (v 18). When we come to verse 23, "the patterns of things in the heavens" were also purified through the blood of Christ; those things that signify the present ministry of the saints as we move before God in priestly service. All this is through the blood. However, when we look at the offering of the body of the Lord Jesus, Hebrews chapter 10 teaches that this is the source of our blessing, for it is the means whereby God sanctifies, and then perfects, those who are sanctified (vv 12, 14).
(To be continued …)
¹ Revised Version