Seeing the Father in the Son (1:15)
Seeing is believing, or so we are told. But if that's true, how can we ever be expected to believe in God? Several biblical texts make it clear that God is, by nature, invisible. It isn't just that he has not been seen: he CANNOT be seen (cf. John 1:18; Romans 1:20; 1 Timothy 6:16; Hebrews 11:27). Even here in Colossians 1:15 he is described as "the invisible God."
In Romans 1:20, Paul says that God's existence and eternal attributes can be seen in the things that are made. In other words, the visible creation reveals an invisible creator. All well and good, but looking at a tree or a sunset or the majesty of the Grand Canyon isn't the same as looking at God himself.
So what hope is there for knowing and believing in God? The answer is Jesus! Philip certainly felt the urgency to "see" God. "Lord, show us the Father and it is enough for us" (John 14:8). To which Jesus replied: "Whoever has seen me has seen the Father" (John 14:9).
This is very much Paul's point here in Colossians 1:15 where he declares concerning Jesus: "He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation" (cf. 2 Cor. 4:4).
The word translated "image" refers to a likeness or visible representation. How exact or precise the resemblance is between the original and the copy must be determined by the context. To say someone is "like" another person often conveys the idea of moderate similarity, but not necessarily exact representation. On the other hand, you've undoubtedly heard someone described as "the spitting image" of another. If one may be reverent in saying so, God the Son (Jesus) is the spitting image of God the Father!
Of course, Paul's point isn't that Jesus "looks like" the Father, as if to suggest the Father has a physical frame and visage which the Son reflects. The Son "images" the Father in terms of moral character, will, and the attributes of deity. They, together with the Holy Spirit, share a common divine nature, glory, and purpose.
I've spoken with people who almost choke when they hear that God is their "Father." The latter term reminds them only of abuse or abandonment, often evoking a bitter taste in their mouths. How, then, does one rebuild in the hearts of Christian people the image of God as Father? It can only come by pointing to the Son. He is everything the Father is, except for being the Father. Every virtue, every power, all glory, and the fullness of deity reside in the Son as they do in the Father. He is the perfect and exact image of the Father (cf. Hebrews 1:3).
But if being the "image" of the Father seems to confirm the deity of the Lord Jesus Christ, the second phrase in v. 15 appears to destroy it, for there we are told that he is also "the firstborn of all creation" (v. 15).
This phrase seems to say that Jesus was the first created being in a series of other created beings. Does this mean the Jehovah's Witnesses were right all along? No. Part of the problem is related to translation. We have to determine the best way to render this phrase. Is it, "the first born of all creation," or "the first born over all creation"? Either is grammatically possible but there is a world of difference between them. Is Jesus "of" creation in the sense that he belongs to it as its initial or original member? Or is Jesus "over" creation in the sense that he is its source and sovereign Lord and maker? I believe it is the latter, and for several reasons.
First, observe how v. 16 begins: "For by him all things were created . . ." The word "for" indicates that what follows in v. 16 supports or explains what has preceded in v. 15. In other words, Paul is saying, "Here is 'how' or 'the sense in which' Jesus is the firstborn of/over all creation: it is by virtue of his having created all things . . ." If Jesus were merely one of the many and varied parts of creation, belonging to them as if he were himself a creature, Paul would not have said that Jesus created all things.
Second, to say that Jesus is himself a creature is inconsistent with Col. 1:17. There Paul declares that the Son of God is "before" all things, similar to our Lord's claim in John 8:58 that "before Abraham was, I am."
Third, to say that Jesus is a creature would be inconsistent with what Paul clearly said about him elsewhere, primarily in Philippians 2:6-11 (esp. v. 6).
Fourth, to say that Jesus is a creature would be inconsistent with what John clearly said of him in John 1:3 – "All things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made."
Fifth, the word "firstborn" itself does not necessarily mean first in a sequence or first in time. It can also mean first in "rank" or "supreme in dignity." The point is that the Son, by virtue of being the image of God, has a pre-eminence and exercises a sovereignty over everything else that exists. The word is used this way of King David in the Old Testament. In Psalm 89:27, God says of David: "And I will make him the firstborn, the highest of the kings of the earth."
The point, then, is that Jesus Christ is utterly unique, distinguished from all of creation because he is both eternally prior to it and supreme over it in the sense, as v. 16 makes clear, that he is its creator.
Who, then, is this man? He is the Lord Jesus Christ, who "images" the Father, displaying in himself as the second person of the Godhead every perfection and attribute of the first person of the Godhead (see Col. 1:19 and 2:9). He is also creator and sovereign Lord over all. Praise be to the Son!
In awe of Him,