Adamic Imagery in Colossians 1:15-20

Colossians 1:15-20 is one of the most exalted views of Jesus Christ in all the Scriptures.  It demands doxological invocation through theological description. 

In just six verses, Paul unfolds a litany of magnificent truths that span the horizon of biblical theology and reach from the horrors of hell (Christ’s experience on the cross) to the glories of heaven (Christ’s headship in the church and His rule over all creation). Consider:  He is the image of God.  He is the firstborn son over all creation.  He is the Creator of all things.  All things!  Nothing exists without his sovereign oversight.  He upholds the universe, thus he sustains each photon of light from the star whose light has not yet reached the earth.  He is the head of the church.  And he is the firstborn from the dead.  Each truth deserves individual attention.  Taken together they crescendo in praise. 

But these truths are not vaccuous propositions devoid of context and biblical definition.  Paul writes these things to contest the false teaching erupting in Colossae.  Paul lifts up the glory of Christ to combat any notion that deficiency in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  He draws on OT concepts and language to declare Christ has come and fulfilled all things–the law (cf. Rom. 10:4); the promises (cf. 2 Cor. 1:20; the offices of the OT (cf. the book of Hebrews).  He is the God, and in him the fullness of God dwells bodily (Col. 1:19; 2:9).

In making his case, Paul conflates Jesus Christ’s eternal deity and creativity with his functional role as the second Adam.  GK Beale provides helpful commentary and analysis of this Adam-Christ relationship.  He writes:

The three descriptions for Christ in Colossians 1:15-17 (“image of God,” “firstborn,” “before all things”) are thus different ways of referring to Christ as an end-time Adam, since they were common ways of referrring to the first Adam or to those who were Adam-like figures and were given the first Adam’s task whether this be Noah, the patriarchs, or the nation of Israel (GK Beale, “Colossians,” in Commentary on the NT Use of the OT, 854).

While the first Adam imaged God and was YHWH’s firstborn son (Luke 3:38), he was not “before all things.”  In this way, Jesus Christ is a greater Adam, one who is both Creator and incarnated as the perfect image of God.  Whereas, every other son of Adam (daughter of Eve), bears in being a marred image of God, Jesus Christ is the perfect image of God, “the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of His nature” (Heb. 1:3).  Thus, we who have been redeemed by the Second Adam, who have been buried with him in baptism, and await the redemption of our bodies and to be clothed with the imperishable, are being conformed into the image of the second Adam, the perfect man.  This is the corporeal hope of the Christian life, we will be glorified in our bodies (cf. Rom. 8:29-30), when Christ comes again.

Beale goes on to speak of Jesus position of authority, for as the perfect man, he has always retained his Divine Nature (cf. Phil. 2:5-11):

This position of authority is also grounded in Paul’s acknowledgement that Christ is the sovereign Creator of he world (1:16) and sovereignly maintains its ongoing existence (1:17b).  Therefore, Christ perfectly embodies the ruling position that Adam and his flawed human successors should have held, and he is at the same time the perfect divine Creator of all thins, who is spearate fro mand sovereign over that which he has created, especially underscored by the clause ‘all things have been created through him and for him’ at the end of 1:16 (854).

As we read our Bible’s may we see the intracanonical connections that help us better understand our Savior; and as we see these Spirit-illumined truths, may our hearts be filled with joy as we consider our great and gracious Immanuel.

Sola Deo Gloria, dss

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