In the New Testament it first appears in Luke to designate Jesus’ birth order within His family. He was the firstborn of Mary, being that she had not had any children prior to His birth (Lk. 2:7). However, in the Colossians passage it is quite evident that prototokos is not referring to Christ’s physical birth because no mention is made of Mary or any other of His genealogical facts. Rather, in the Colossians passage the meaning of first born is closely linked with the words which directly follow it “of creation” as well as the descriptive phrase which precedes it, “the image of the invisible God”. The connection of these two phrases indicates to me that there is something in the person of Christ that not only equates Him with God the Father, but also in the activity of God Himself, that is, Creation. This thought is continued further in verse 16 with the words “by Him all things were created” and “all things have been created by Him and for Him”.
The idea of being the “image of God” begins in Genesis when man is created in the image of God (Gen. 1:25). But Christ is the image of the “invisible” God (Col. 1:15). Where man bears some of the characteristics of God (he has emotions and will; he too is able to create), Christ is more than that. He is not created, as man is, He is the Creator. In the broader context of the passage, Christ also takes part in activities solely preserved for God. He is a deliverer (Col. 1:13). He forgives (vs.14). He is the head of the church (vs.18). He reconciles (vs.20-22). Prototokos, with its attachment “of creation” then becomes a mini confession of Christ’s position in the God head, equating Him with God in the activity of Creation and identifying Him as the Divine (Col. 1:19; 2:9). In verses 3 through 24, the title prototokos designates Christ as the Mediator of Creation and the Mediator of Mankind also. The believer is then challenged through the words of Paul to acknowledge Christ for Who He is (vs.17-19 etc.) and what He has done on our behalf (vs.13, 20 etc.) and to remain steadfast in faith (vs.23). For if we truly understand these truths according to Paul, we understand the “hope of the Gospel” (v.23).
Within the framework of the book of Colossians, Col. 1:15 stands as a key verse in establishing the absolute supremacy and all-sufficiency of Christ. The book also deals with the issue of what Christian living looks like. Paul encourages the Colossians to consider that following Christ is not a matter-of –fact adherence to a set of rules and regulations but a result of the relationship the believer now shares with Christ. Every believer has the potential to truly resemble his/her Creator (Col. 3:10) by putting off the old self nature and putting on the new (Col. 3:12-17) and as this process happens, the community of believers is affected as well (Col. 3:18-4:6).
Prototokos then is a word rich in meaning and implication. But it can easily be skimmed over as a pretty saying about Jesus. In the context of Colossians the person who does so misses the point, that Christ as first born of all Creation should reign supreme in the believer’s life for He is God, all-powerful, all-knowing and all-sufficient. However, there are many things that fight for and sometimes even gain supremacy in our lives. Things such as jobs, children, family issues, plans for the future, health, entertainment and the list goes on, can push their way past Christ and take precedence over Him. Paul offers the Colossians (who struggled with the same issues) several important ways to stay strong in the faith. The first is to set our minds on the things above (Col. 3:1); second: put to death what belongs to the earthly nature (Col. 3:5); third, let the peace of Christ rule in one’s heart (Col. 3:15); fourth: do all things in the name of Jesus (3:17); and lastly devote oneself to prayer (4:2). How well are you doing with Paul’s checklist? I encourage you to take whatever is demanding first place in your life right now and set it aside for one or more of Paul’s admonitions. When you do, you will be amazed at how quickly everything else falls into place. Put the First-Born of All Creation where He belongs in your life- First.
Ann LeFevre, M. Div.
Week of 9/4/2016