The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. (NIV)
In several places in the bible, both O.T. and N.T., the text speaks of the Messiah, or Jesus, as being born. These usages of procreative language, when referring to the Godhead, are metaphorical constructs to express somewhat analogous concepts of which humans know some things about but not intended to totally transfer to all parts of human experience, for obvious reasons. Previously, I have also posted on the biblical term “only begotten.” https://wordpress.com/post/beliefspeak2.net/9688.
The Firstborn of All Creation
In the subtitle, I changed the NIV’s “over” to “of,” since the interpretive decision depends upon the understood flow and context of what Paul was trying to say. “Over” is not in the text; rather, “all” is used, which needs a helper word to fill in the thought. “Of” is more ambiguous for the Apostle’s purposes until he reveals his full thoughts in vs. 18.
The term “firstborn” conveys several possible ideas which need to be reigned in when relating to God. Much human communication is at least somewhat figurative, as it hints at something else. It is speaking in code. By using metaphorical language, the writer can communicate certain special aspects about a subject to inform those who are seeking understanding.
Since the Son is the image of the invisible God, He has always existed. To imply otherwise is to say that God has changed. God the Father has always been a father. God the Son has always been a son to the Father. Also, God is eternally social since that is how He created living things. God was never a lonely entity needing company. His purpose in redemption was love; that He might share His love and holiness with His creation. Even the first chapters of Genesis express a divine community of persons in that we read of God, the Spirit of God, and the Lord, who is walking in the garden. The relations have never changed or can change; there is no succession in the Godhead.
God is the invisible God but He is expressed in Jesus. Heb. 1.3 gives this same idea: The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being. The glory and the radiance are distinct but one reveals the other. God the Father cannot be seen. This fact is clear from 1Tim.6.14-16: …until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ, which God will bring about in his own time—God, the blessed and only Ruler, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone is immortal and who lives in unapproachable light, whom no one has seen or can see. When Philip wanted Jesus to show him the Father, Jesus said: “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. (Jn. 14.9 NIV)
The next thing our text tells us is that this Son is a firstborn. Commentators are correct to point out that the term denotes status, privilege, and rank, instead of a first among subsequent equals. Jesus has a “double portion,” which, I think, refer to His dual nature of being fully God and man. All this is true of Jesus, but here, He is also the “firstborn of all creation.” This is another metaphorical clause whose interpretation is suspended until Paul fills in all the necessary details.
In verses 16 through vs. 18a, Paul lists comprehensively how Jesus has supremacy. This listing is parenthetical until the reiteration of the “firstborn” title along with its clarification. This list is as full as conceptually possible; it leaves nothing out. Creation was also for the Son’s purposes and through Him. Jesus is eternal and first in rank.
Also, in Him all things hold together, which, I think, refers to sustaining creation. This very concept of upholding or sustaining creation is found in John 5.17-18 and it includes a reference to Jesus, implying that He is the same kind of being as God: “My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I too am working.” For this reason they tried all the more to kill him; not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God.
The Firstborn from Out of the Dead
Paul’s usage of “arche” (beginning) refers to Christ’s eternality. He seems to employ all his toolbox in this section to bolster the idea for his readers that Christ is divine. Also, when Jesus wanted to show His eternal nature, in Rev. 22.13, He used three inclusive clauses to explicate this: I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning (arche) and the End (NIV).
Again, I think it is best to modify the NIV from “among” to “out of.” On one hand, with mention of church, an interpreter could seek to connect those who Jesus redeemed, since they will subsequently be resurrected at Christ’s return. However, Paul doesn’t seem to point toward this direction; instead, he finishes his thought emphasizing Christ’s preeminence. Paul uses “ek” to show “from out of.” Thus, Paul says that Jesus conquered death as another aspect of His supremacy.
Paul is here giving the definition of “the firstborn of all creation.” By reiterating “firstborn” he is further refining what he means: Jesus was the first human to rise to immortality. Jesus raised from the dead several people during His earthly ministry, but they all had to die again just as the O.T. instances of temporal resurrection. While Jesus was not able to sin, He still earned immortality in His humanity under the Mosaic Covenant as a human and stands as the final Adam in our place.
The Spiritual Body
Jesus tells us that He is preparing a place for us to be with Him after our earthly life (Jn. 14.2-3). This, presumably, refers to the resurrected body of 1 Cor. 15:
So will it be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body (42-44).
These N.T. realities Paul obviously recognized when reading O.T. sections such as the song of Is. 26:
But your dead will live, Lord; their bodies will rise—let those who dwell in the dust wake up and shout for joy—your dew is like the dew of the morning; the earth will give birth to her dead. Go, my people, enter your rooms and shut the doors behind you; hide yourselves for a little while until his wrath has passed by. See, the Lord is coming out of his dwelling to punish the people of the earth for their sins. The earth will disclose the blood shed on it; the earth will conceal its slain no longer (19-21).
Therefore, Jesus is the Firstborn from out of the dead; the goal of creation.