The first time it appears is in the Gospel of Luke to designate Jesus’ birth order within His family (Lk. 2:7). He was the firstborn of Mary, being that she had not had any children prior to His birth. However, in the book of Colossians 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 (Col. 1:15). 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” (v.14). 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, the process of 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. But Christ is THE image of the “invisible” God. Where man bears some of the characteristics of God (he has emotions and will; he too is able to create), Christ has more than those human characteristics. He is not created IN the image of God, as man is. According to Colossians 1 He is THE Creator. In the broader context of the passage, it is noted that Christ takes part in activities solely attributed to God the Father. He is a deliverer (vs. 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.
In Col. 1:3-23, the title prototokos designates Christ as the Mediator of Creation and the Mediator of Mankind also. Paul states that if Christ was able to bring together the components that make up the world we live in, then He is also able to reconcile that creation with each other and God Himself. Paul exhorts the Colossians to acknowledge Christ for Who He is (vs.17-19 etc.) and what He has done on their behalf (vs.13, 20 etc.) and to remain steadfast in faith (vs.23). An understanding of these truths according to Paul, is an understanding of the “hope of the Gospel” (vs. 23), that is that the Creation which is alienated from God since the Fall in the Garden of Eden can now be reunited with its Creator (vv. 13, 20).
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. Is it a matter of following a set of rules and regulations or is it a response to the relationship the believer now shares with Christ? Paul contends it is the latter. The believer now has the potential to truly resemble his Creator (Col. 3:10) by putting off the old self nature and putting on the new. As this process happens, the community of believers is affected as well (Col. 3:12-4:6). 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.
The colors this Fall have been absolutely spectacular. The Creator has dipped His paintbrush into a vibrant pallet and placed every glorious hue on the leaves of the tree. It always strikes me as bittersweet that so much beauty depicts a season of dying. However it also reminds me that the spiritual beauty Paul so eloquently describes in Christ’s title of “First Born of All Creation” involved dying as well (Col. 3:20). But this title involves as response from us. Paul challenged the Colossians to walk in a manner that honored Christ (vv. 9-10) and his words challenge us as well. If we understand WHO Jesus is, and what this implies, then what position have we given Him in our lives?
Ann LeFevre, M. Div.
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