In his excellent book entitled, Spirit Wars: Pagan Revival in Christian America, Dr. Peter Jones, Professor of New Testament at Westminster Seminary in Escondido, CA, writes:
In just one generation, Judeo-Christian America has become an incubator of revived paganism. Behind the dazzling diversity of pro-choice culture – abortion rights, the homosexual agenda, radical feminism, the new spirituality, goddess worship and witchcraft – lies a coherent pagan spirituality bent on absolute control, intolerant of any truth but its own. … At the heart of our culture wars are Spirit Wars. (Jones, Peter, Spirit Wars, Wine Press Publishing, 1997)
And indeed, that’s true!
In fact, throughout this book, just as he did in his earlier best-selling work entitled, The Gnostic Empire Strikes Back, Peter Jones addresses the very same kind of spiritual warfare in which the believers in the church at Colosse were also engaged nearly 2000 years ago as they sought to combat an ancient brand of the modern day heresy also known as Gnosticism.
Gnosticism, based upon the Greek word “gnosis”, meaning “knowledge”, is an ancient heresy that essentially posits the position that all matter is evil, that salvation is attainted through knowledge, and that such knowledge comes to man through a wide - variety of angelic, mediating beings (consider, e.g., the so-called New Age “channelers” of our day). Consequently in Paul’s day and down through the ages, Gnostics have not denied the existence of Jesus Christ, but they do indeed dethrone and depreciate Him by denying either His full and complete humanity, or by denying His full and complete deity. They relegate Christ to simply serving as any one of a great number of supposed “angelic intermediaries” who bridge the gulf between an infinite God and finite man. Think about that.
In the October 4, 2003, issue of World magazine, Gene Veith wrote an article entitled, “Gods and Country. The article reads in part:
Public schools, ball games, civic organizations, and government meetings used to begin with the Pledge of Allegiance and a prayer, very often the Lord’s Prayer. Political speeches from all parties used to be loaded with biblical references. Today, Christianity is not only being purged from the public square, but a new civil religion seems to be emerging to take its place. … The reasons given are not so much those of secularism, that religion has no place in the public square, but of religious diversity… As government officials and the public insist on recognizing the validity and equal representation of all religions, what this may amount to is a new civil religion. This one, in effect, will be polytheistic, recognizing and paying homage to many gods.
The same “spirit wars” in which we find ourselves today are really nothing new! They are essentially the same kind of spirit wars that were affecting and afflicting our brothers and sisters in the Church at Colosse so many years ago! That is why we rejoice to discover what the Apostle Paul has to say concerning a personal, practical, and proper understanding of the Lordship of Christ – One of The Riches of the Reformed Faith!
In Colossians 1:15, Paul moves from writing about the grace of our redemption to the glory of our Redeemer by declaring, “He (that is, Jesus Christ: One Person with two distinct and separate natures, fully God and fully man; the Son of God and Son of Man) is the image (Greek: eikon – English “icon”) of the invisible God.”
The term “eikon” literally means “image, figure, or likeness”. Says the great Reformer, John Calvin:
Christ makes God in a manner visible to us…and we must be careful not to look for Him anywhere else, for everything that would set itself off as a representation of God, apart from Christ, will be an idol.” (Calvin, John, Commentaries, Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1981, pp.149–150).
Eikon” or “image”, is a term that conveys a sense of likeness. Hebrews 1:3 declares, “The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of His being…”. It also conveys a sense of manifestation: that which makes manifest, visible or known, namely, with the nature and being of God being perfectly revealed in Him. We read in John 1:18, “No one has ever seen God, but God the only Son, who is at the Father’s side, has made Him known.” In II Corinthians 4:4–6 Paul writes:
The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For we do not preach ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ made His light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.
By the grace and mercy of God, have you seen Him? Have you seen “the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ”? Or, has the god of this age also blinded your mind “so that (v.4) you cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image (eikon) of God”? This is an extremely critical question, a question which has not only personal but profoundly eternal implications! For as the passionate prophet John the Baptist himself preached in John 3:36, “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on him.”
In Colossians 1:15 Paul writes, “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn (Greek: prototokos) over all creation.” When many, (the Jehovah’s Witnesses among them) read that “Christ is the firstborn over all creation”, they misinterpret this to mean that “Christ is not the Creator, but rather, was the “first created being.” In fact, a number of commentators point out that the KJV translation of this text actually lends itself to this misinterpretation by reading, “the firstborn of every creature”.
This potential confusion is readily cleared-up when we come to understand that this term “prototokos” (or, firstborn) literally refers not simply to “priority in time” but also to “supremacy in rank.” A good analogy that helps us come to a proper understanding of this term is what is found in Old Testament times concerning the “birthright” of the “firstborn”. The Birthright bestowed upon the firstborn son caused that son to become his father’s chief heir and representative. In fact, the physical and spiritual management of the entire household was committed to the “firstborn.”
What we find here in this passage concerning this particular term is that, yes, Christ “preceded all of creation in time” – but notice — NOT as a “created being”! Verse 16 clearly tells us, “For by Him all things were created …” – but in the sense of being fully and eternally God! We read in John 1:1–2; 14:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning … The Word became flesh and lived for a while among us. We have seen His glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.
As the “firstborn over all creation”, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ has also been granted by His heavenly Father “supremacy in rank.” For example in Phil. 2:6–11 the Apostle Paul declares:
Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made Himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to death – even death on a cross! Therefore, God exalted Him to the highest place and gave Him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus, every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
Now back in Colossians 1:15–16 we read:
He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by Him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by Him and for Him.
Notice something very interesting: as I mentioned previously, the great Gnostic heresy which seemingly afflicted the church at Colosse did preach and teach the existence of various levels of “angel intermediaries” between God and man – perhaps using such terminology as “thrones, powers, rulers and authorities.” In fact, Paul seemingly makes reference to this in Colossians 2:8–10; 13–15; 18–19.
However, in Colossians 1:17 we read, “He is before all things...” Here we see a distinct reference to Christ’s “priority in time” as the “firstborn over all creation”, as well as a clear denunciation of the heresy of the followers of Arius who in the early centuries A.D. maintained concerning Christ that “There was a time when He was not.” The Bible says, “Not so!”
Colossians 1:17 goes on to say “...
and in Him all things hold together.” Now think about that! In Greek philosophy men like Plato and Aristotle used to refer to what they called “the principle of coherence” – that which would make order out of a disorderly world. As someone has so well said, “In the Son the believer finds the true Principle of Coherence, because it is His power alone which holds all of creation together.” Glory be to God!
When I was in 7th or 8th Grade, I had a teacher named Mr. Heinz at the Eastern Christian Junior High School in Prospect Park, New Jersey. One day Mr. Heinz used this portion of Scripture as a devotional in English class. As I recall, he made the point that even scientists do not know what holds an “atom” together. According to its physical make-up, atoms, by nature, should split apart! And when you split an atom, of course, you end up with an atomic, nuclear explosion!
Mr. Heinz was making the point that because it is Jesus Christ who “holds all things together”, when He returns on the clouds of glory to judge the living and the dead, all Christ needs to do is to withdraw or restrain His “unifying power” for one split-second of an instant, and the result? This “roaring conflagration” of which the Apostle Peter speaks of in II Peter 3:10, where he writes:
But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare.
Paul declares in Colossians 1:17–18, “He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together. And He (Greek: emphatic; Christ and Christ alone; He and none other) …
is the head of the body, the church (Greek: ekklesia – those who have been called out of this world by God for God); He is the beginning (Greek: arche – beginning or origin, fountain or source)
and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything He might have the supremacy (or, preeminence – KJV; or, as we read in the NAS – “that He Himself might come to have first place in everything.”).
To profess this glorious truth has very profound practical implications for the way in which we live our lives every day. Allow me to illustrate: Many years ago my wife, Margaret, and I served on staff in northern New Jersey with Youth For Christ/Campus Life. While serving with this largely Arminian ministry, we were taught that when we would venture onto public high school campuses and attempt to share the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ with mostly non-Christian teenagers, we were engaging in “guerilla warfare.” That is, we were taught that we were in the enemy’s territory, going behind enemy lines, trying to “snatch Satan’s captives” and make them disciples of Jesus Christ. I don’t mind saying that such indoctrination could sort of get your blood flowing and was highly effective in mobilizing us for ministry! You really wanted to do the job!
Ah, but wait! As noble as was the cause, there was something terribly wrong with the picture of ministry basically being characterized as “guerilla warfare” behind enemy lines. Even though Satan is an incredibly fierce foe, even though our Lord Jesus Himself refers to Satan as “the prince of this world” (John 12:31), and even though the Apostle Paul himself says in Ephesians 6:12 that:
…our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.
This is not Satan’s world! By way of contrast, as God’s people love to sing, “This is My Father’s World”! The renowned Dutch theologian and statesman, Abraham Kuyper, once said:
In the total expanse of the human life there is not a single square inch of which Christ, who alone is sovereign, does not declare, ‘That is mine!’ (Boice, James Montgomery, and Ryken, Philip Graham, The Doctrines of Grace, Crossway Books, 2002, p.56).
Are we and our children to live essentially as Arminians who believe that we are living in “enemy territory”? Do we need to withdraw in fear and safety from the world, until some future day when our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ returns to set up His millennial kingdom on earth centered in the physical land of Palestine and THEN lives and reigns as King? No! We must profess and practice the biblical truth that right here, right now, already today Jesus rules! Today Jesus reigns!
As a result, already today we will live our lives as children and servants of the King who already now declare that “in everything He has the supremacy”! Pastor Doug Wilson writes in the October 2002 issue of Tabletalk, published by Ligonier Ministries and Dr. R. C. Sproul:
The legacy of Abraham Kuyper can be summed up in the truth that if Christ is not the Lord of all, then Christ is not Lord at all…The claims of Christ are to be pressed in every area. We do not come to any realm of human endeavor, with our hats in our hands, asking to be allowed to apply notions that are reminiscent of the memory of Christ. The key concept is lordship. Christ is Lord – Lord of heaven and earth, and everything between. (pp. 60–61)
What that means is that Jesus Christ is Lord of our work and of our worship! Jesus Christ is Lord of our time and of our talents! Jesus Christ is Lord of our money and of our marriages, our recreation and of our relationships! And what that means is that in each and every area of life … from housekeeping to harvests, from politics to paychecks, from terrorist attacks to the conflict in Iraq, the Bible says that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father!
In Colossians 1:19–20 God’s Word declares, “For God was pleased to have all His fullness dwell in Him...” The Greek: “katoikeo: is translated “in all its fullness to remain forever and ever.” This is extremely significant!
The Gnostic heresy that was besetting the church at Colosse posited the position that the “fullness of the godhead” was distributed and dispensed among these angelic intermediaries only partially and temporarily! That is, whatever of the divine essence the three Persons of the Trinity supposedly shared, it wasn’t very much and it didn’t last very long!
By way of contrast, however, Paul uses a term that represents the difference between living out of your suitcase while on vacation and un-packing your bags when you get home …. You’re there to stay!
Colossians 1:19–20 goes on to say:
… 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.
Notice this word “reconcile.” Reconciliation implies previous enmity, does it not? To reconcile refers to the fact of former enemies becoming friends! Recall that that “enmity” between man and God started in the Garden of Eden with the fall into sin of our first parents, Adam and Eve, subsequently resulting in their being banished from the garden. Genesis 3:24 teaches us that God set “cherubim and a flaming sword flashing back and forth to guard the way to the tree of life.”
Ever since that fateful day, by nature (as the doctrine of Original Sin declares), every man, woman and child who has ever lived has been conceived and born in sin, has been estranged from God, justly deserving of eternal damnation, and in desperate, dire need of coming again into a right relationship with the God who created us, through faith in His Son who died for us!
And so, that is why in Romans 8:21 we read, “that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.” So too, in II Corinthians 5:18–19 Paul declares:
All this is from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to Himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. And He has committed to us the message of reconciliation.
If you are reading this as an unbeliever, I conclude with the very same gospel call and biblical exhortation that the apostle Paul sets forth in II Corinthians 5:20–21, namely,
Be reconciled to God. God made Him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.
And to do so before the fulfillment of the prophecy concerning Christ that is set forth in the words of Revelation 19:15–16 where we read,
Out of His mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations. ‘He will rule them with an iron scepter.’ He treads the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God Almighty. On His robe and on His thigh He has this name written: King of Kings and Lord of Lords.
Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ Reveals! He Rules! He Reconciles! And that is why we rejoice in a personal, practical, and proper understanding of THE LORDSHIP OF CHRIST as one of The Riches of the Reformed Faith.
Rev. Richard J. Kuiken is the senior pastor of the Reformed Bible Church in Pompton Plains, New Jersey.