The Apostle Paul sings of the supremacy of Christ in Colossians 1:15–20.
He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities — all things were created through him and for him. And 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, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.”
This is probably an ancient Christian poem or hymn of the exaltation and supremacy of Christ of which there are a number in the New Testament, such as Philippians 2:6–11. The middle part of the Colossians poem provides the theme; “he is before all things and in him all things hold together.” Notice how many times the phrase ta panta, “all things” is repeated. Nothing is omitted. Christ is Lord over the whole creation and over the church. He is the image of the invisible God and all God’s fullness dwells in him. In everything he is preeminent; the verb is proteuo, to have first place.
What does it mean to say Christ is the firstborn? It might be thought to mean Jesus is a creation of the Father, that he had a beginning. But that is incorrect, for a number of reasons. Firstly, creation itself is attributed to Christ As we see in the very next verse; he is the firstborn of all creation because by him all things were created — through him and for him. He is before all things and in him all things hold together. The word for firstborn, prototokos, is used throughout the Old Testament to refer to the eldest son who held the family birthright, as well as to Jesus being the firstborn son of Mary. In its most literal sense it refers to birth order, but it also carried the meaning of the special status accorded the firstborn son. The firstborn received a double portion of his father’s goods, and a special blessing (Deut 21:17; Gen 25:29–34; 27:35–37). Nearly all firstborn sons in the Old Testament were disappointments, and often their younger brothers took on the responsibilities and received the spiritual inheritance that were their due. The only “firstborn” who truly deserved the rights of the firstborn was Jesus. The term firstborn can be used to refer to status, for example David is appointed firstborn in Psa 89:27 even though he was neither the eldest of Jesse’s sons nor the first king of Israel. This is why God can claim Israel (Exod 4:22) the Levites (Num 8:18) and Ephraim (Jer 31:9) are all his firstborn sons, without contradiction. To call Jesus the firstborn is a comment on his status and his supremacy, not his origin, and cannot be used to definitively support a unitarian position. This Colossians hymn emphasises Christ’s supremacy over and separateness from, creation and his participation in God’s rule. God is distinguished from “all things” and rules over “all things” because he created them (Isa 44:24; Rom 11:36) and the same is attributed to Christ (Matt 11:27; John 1:3; 3:35; 13:3; Eph 1:10, 22; 4:10; Col 1:16–20; Heb 1:2–14).
There are many other passages in scripture where Jesus’s superiority is noted. He is superior to all people and even to angels (Heb 1:5, 13; 2:5–8) in fact the angels are to worship him. This worship was not reserved for his exaltation following his resurrection, but when the Son first came into the world. Jesus’ superiority was evident during his earthly ministry, prior to his resurrection and exaltation. He was spoken of as greater than John the Baptist, Jonah, David, Solomon, the disciples, Adam, Moses, Melchizedek and the Levitical priesthood. Jesus could speak with supreme authority of heavenly things, because he spoke from direct experience (John 1:14–18; 6:51, 57–58; 8:26–28; 14:9–10).
He who comes from above is above all. He who is of the earth belongs to the earth and speaks in an earthly way. He who comes from heaven is above all. He bears witness to what he has seen and heard, yet no one receives his testimony.” (John 3:31–32).
The Son, being God, nevertheless humbled himself in his incarnation, not grasping at his place on the throne, but taking on the form of a servant, being born as a man (Phil 2:6–11). Nevertheless, he had tremendous authority whilst on earth. He referred to the angels and the kingdom of God as his (Matt 13:41; Luke 12:8–9; 15:10). He had the prerogative to forgive sins, which belongs to God alone (Mark 2:5–12) and the prerogative to judge the world (Matt 25:31–46). He directed people to believe in himself in order to be saved (John 14:1) knowing that YHWH alone is Saviour (Isa 45:19). He was Lord over the divinely instituted Sabbath (Matt 12:8) and claimed a unique relationship with the Father (John 10:30). He spoke with the authority of the divine Word (Matt 5:21–22, 27-28) and claimed that his words, unlike heaven and earth, would not pass away (Matt 24:35; Isa 40:8). He claimed to be the Way, the Truth and the Life, the only way to God and the only one who could reveal God (John 14:6; Matt 11:27). He exhorted the disciples to believe in him as they believe in God (John 14:1). He not only claimed the power of life and death but claimed to be the resurrection and the life (John 11:25; 20:31; Acts 3:15). The man Christ Jesus, born of the virgin Mary, the Word made flesh, God with us, had authority on earth which had never before been ascribed to anyone but God. And yet after his resurrection Jesus could claim even more; he could claim all authority in heaven and on earth:
And Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit’” (Matt 28:18–19).
This claim to all-encompassing authority is rightly linked with his declaration that the Son shares the name of Father and Holy Spirit. He ranks together with them as Lord and God over all, and in this ultimate authority he gives his great commission. He humbled himself (Phil 2:6–11), and was to be exalted once again, to return “where he was before” (John 6:62) and take his place at his Father’s right hand, sharing his very throne (Heb 1; Rev 21:3–6). As the Philippians hymn fittingly scribes to him “the highest place,” it also quotes the direct ascription of the name above every name, the name of God, which is also Jesus’ name, that at this name every knee will bow (Isa 45:21–23) and every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord. This is to the glory of God the Father, whose glory he shares (John 12:41; 13:31–32; 17:5; Heb 1:3; Rev 5:13 c.f. Isa 42:8).
There is no inconsistency in the Father glorifying the Son and the Son glorifying the Father, because to glorify the one is to bring glory to the other. Whilst on earth, Jesus set aside his own glory in that he did not directly seek it (John 8:54–58). Instead, he drew the eyes of all to the glory of the Father. That’s why Paul referred to his example of humbling in Philippians 2:5. Jesus spoke of the cross as his glorification (John 13:31–32). He showed all humanity what it was like to live humbly before God and to glorify him in word and deed, even to death of the cross (John 17:4–8). Therefore it was fitting that when he had accomplished all things he would return to the glory he had with the Father before the world began. Nevertheless, even as Jesus walked among us as a fully human person, his glory was not completely hidden; “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth,” because “grace and truth came” through Jesus, and these characteristics of God manifest his glory (John 1:14, 17; Ex 33:18–19). “For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” (2Cor 4:6 ).
Therefore, all must honour the Son, even as they honour the Father (John 5:23). What an awesome imperative! This is why Jesus was and is worthy of worship, in his incarnate life on earth and now and forever. In the work of creation, and in the renewal and redemption of that creation, Christ is central. All things were created by him and for him (Col 1:16) and he is the agent and heir of God’s work (1 Cor 8:6; Heb 1:2). Christ is the conduit for every spiritual blessing; God chose us in him and predestined us to adoption through him. Through him we have grace and redemption; in him we were chosen. The mystery of God’s will, which he purposed in Christ, is to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ (Eph 1:3–12).
If Christ is not God, if he does not share in the Father’s unique divinity, separate from creation, we would have a tremendous contradiction. Christ addressed as Lord and God, Christ having the very name above all names (there’s can’t be a higher one, can there?), Christ sharing the throne of God and all his prerogatives, including being worshiped, glorified and honoured as God… how can this be possible for a mere human being? This is not to deny the true humanity of Christ as something he took on in the incarnation, but to rightfully attribute to Christ what is his and has been since before the world began. How can the complete supremacy of Christ possibly sit with a God who proclaims he alone is God, he alone is Creator, he alone is to be worshipped, and who will not share his glory with another unless that other is also of the Godhead? Yes, God is one, Scripture mightily and unequivocally testifies to this; there is no other Being in the universe or outside of it who can be called “God.” This divinity, this “God-ness” is what Father, Son and Holy Spirit share, and along with it a shared glory and a shared honour.
To deny this, to claim, against the scriptural evidence, that Christ was not just truly human but merely human (and there is a difference) is to dishonour the Son and the Father. Consider the consequences of the denial of the supremacy of Christ; it makes God a liar. Yet as soon as someone attempts to strip Jesus of his divinity, his preexistence, his involvement in creation, his sharing the attributes of God, they attempt to strip him of the glory, honour and supremacy that his rightfully and intrinsically his, and negate God’s testimony. Tell me, anyone who thinks it appropriate to take anything away from Christ; how can you possibly imagine this would glorify God?