to walk worthily of the Lord, pleasing him in all respects

Wednesday, March 07, 2012

Lent, day 14: the Song of Christ, part 3--"He is first"

Yesterday, we saw in the repetition of the Greek word pas (πᾶς), ‘every’/’all’, that Colossians 1:15-20 makes it clear that there is no aspect of the universe that escapes the influence of Christ. For the Colossians, this includes the rulers and authorities that held spiritual sway over them. For us, it means that Jesus will not be compartmentalized; he is Lord of All and nothing, within or without us, cosmic or microcosmic, escapes him.

But Col 1:15-20, what I’m calling the Song of Christ, goes further. It declares that in all this vast universe, Jesus stands supreme. He is first. In Greek, ‘first’ is πρῶτος [prōtos], and it occurs in our passage three times.
  • 1:15b - the Son is “the firstborn (πρωτότοκος/prōtotokos) of all creation”
  • 1:18c - the Son is “the firstborn  (πρωτότοκος/prōtotokos) from among the dead”
  • 1:18d - “in order that he himself might become in all things preeminent(πρωτεύων/prōteuōn)”
Prōtotokos denotes first in sequence (for example, in the sense of firstborn brother, as frequently in the Greek Old Testament). It also has a qualitative sense, as in ‘foremost.’ I would argue that both are at work in 1:15. Here Jesus shares with creation that they both are of God. Yet, Jesus is uniquely God’s image (v.15a) and all of creation comes to be through him (v. 16). Colossians is making clear that Jesus and creation are intimately associated, though the Son is distinctly different; he is ‘firstborn.’

Apse, Duomo, Monreale, Italy by RRC
            In 1:18, the son is said to be simply “the beginning”–the start of something wholly new. The next line explains this newness as the resurrection of the dead, and Jesus is the beginning in that he is the first to be so raised. Indeed, his resurrection opens up the flood gates of new life and a host will follow after him. At the beginning of creation and at the end of time, Jesus is first.

            The most curious of the three is v. 18d - which the New Revised Standard Version translates “so that he might come to have first place in everything.” Up until this line, there really was no reason to assume the Son held anything but first place - he is, after all, firstborn of all creation, and instrumental in creating (v. 16), he is before all things and all things hold together in him (v. 17). Yet now we are told that the son retakes first place. (Prōteuō is a verb that means to be first and is here combined with the verb gignomai, “to become.”) Come to think of it, why in v. 20 does it say that he made peace (vv. 15-17 do not suggest anyway that peace was lost) and that he reconciled all things (vv. 15-17 do not suggest that things were alienated from God)? Where did this strife and alienation come from, and why are there dead (v. 18) for that matter?

            It seems to me like something happened between the first part of the song, which clearly states the Son was supreme over all things, and the second part of the song, which says that the Son had to be first from the dead and become (again) first over all things by pacifying and reconciling them. (It’s kind of ironic he accomplish this through his execution on the cross.) I’ll say what I think the missing link is tomorrow.

            Right now, I wish only to point out that the universe (for some reason) did not go as it seems it should have. Created things (rulers and authorities? humans?) asserted their independence from the Son, perhaps even attempted to supplant him. But the son, who cannot be escaped (see yesterday’s post), will also not be denied his rightful place. The Son simply is first.

            To make the confession that Jesus is Lord is to say he is first. But while this confession is something we do, an allegiance we make, it is also important to know that it is an acknowledgement of an undeniable fact, one that is independent of us. We do not make Jesus first. He will be, whether we say so or not. Again, as with what we learned yesterday, this disturbs our sense of self-importance. It also should give us peace; Jesus is not depending on us to make us first. And what is more, there is no force that can stop him from being first.

1 comment:

Anna Shea said...

Thank you, Dr. Cox! I was just discussing this concept of Christ as the firstborn over all creation with a friend from China. She is a new Christian and is trying to answer some Jehovah's Witnesses on the topic of Christ as God. She was having a hard time understanding how to answer their assertion the Jesus is just the firstborn human, but that he is not God. This explication of the passage and the word "firstborn" is really helpful. I emailed it to her. Perfect timing! Thanks for posting this! What a rich truth to be in Christ, the Firstborn and the Creator, He is worth celebrating ceaselessly!

Blog Archive