Second Reading: Colossians 1:15-20

Wherever God Acts, God Is

Popular Translation

15 Jesus is the true image of the God we can not see. And, he is the firstborn among God’s creatures. Why is this so? 16 First, with Jesus, God created everything in heaven and on earth, everything we can see and can’t see–even spirits like angels and demons! 17 Jesus was present before anything was created. And he holds everything together right now. 18 Jesus is also head of his Body. He rules the Church because he was the first to rise from the dead. So, Jesus is first! He has all power and has the highest position over everything God has made.

19 Second, all of God is in Jesus! 20 Through Jesus, God is making all things his friends. Everything in heaven and on earth is now at peace with God because Jesus died on the cross.

Literal Translation

15 ...(HE) WHO is the icon of God the unseen, firstborn of all creation, 16 because in HIM, everything in the heavens and on the earth was created, the seen and the unseen--whether thrones or dominions or ruling (ones) or authorities--in HIM and through HIM everything was created, 17 and (WHO) HIMSELF is before everything and everything has taken its stand in HIM, 18 and (WHO) HIMSELF is the head of the body, the Church, WHO is (its) ruler, firstborn of the dead, so that (HE) HIMSELF might become the (ONE) being first (in principle and in power) in all things, 19 because in HIM, all fullness (of God) was pleased to reside, 20 and through HIM to (throughly) reconcile everything in HIMSELF, having made peace through the blood of HIS cross, [through HIM] whether the (things) on earth or the (things) in the heavens.

1:15 This verse is a continuation of a sentence that began in 1:11c and runs through 1:20. The sentence itself has no main clause. It is a string of clauses that depend on God for the subject in 1:12a and Jesus Christ in 1:13b. Notice the shift from God to his Son in the following translation:

11c With joy, 12 giving thanks to the Father, the (One) having made us (good) enough (to take) part in the lot of the saints in the light, 13 who rescued us from the authority of the dark (one) and transferred us into the Kingdom of his beloved SON, 14 in WHOM we have the redemption, the forgiveness of sins, 15 WHO is the icon of God the unseen, firstborn of all creation...

According to many biblical scholars, these verses were taken from an early Christian hymn and were modified by the author (Paul or one of his disciples) to match his theological outlook. Many date the letter to the Colossians between 65-70 AD. If this time frame was correct, the development of thought about Christ is amazing. The community sang a hymn during worship that gave God-like power and presence to Jesus of Nazareth. For them, the risen Lord stood in a cosmic dimension. He was the image of God for two reasons. First, he was the instrument of God’s creation as well as his salvation. Second, the presence of God actively dwelt in him and completed his will.

To understand this unwieldy passage, think of 1:15 as the thesis of the passage: Christ is the image of God. The two reasons the hymn offered were signified by the phrase “because in HIM” found in 1:16 (Christ as the instrument of creation) and 1:19 (presence of God in Christ). First, let us consider Christ as the instrument of creation. 1:16-1:18 described the order of creation: spiritual powers, spiritual and physical entities, and God’s people. Ancient people assumed this hierarchy of being. For them, the present reality began with the Creator, moved through various benevolent and malevolent spiritual beings (i.e., angels and demons), were found present in the physical universe and the affairs of humanity, and finally touched the animals, plants, and the shadowy realm of the underworld. Each level of the hierarchy controlled that of the ones below it. Christ, according to the hymn, stood just below God in this hierarchy. So, he had over the rest of creation.

The hymn took special care to assert the priority of Christ over spiritual powers (the highest in the order of being after the Creator) in the following “A-B-A” structure:

A = “in HIM, everything in the heavens and on the earth was created, the seen and the unseen”

B = “whether thrones or dominions or ruling (ones) or authorities”

A = “-in HIM and through HIM everything was created”

Notice creation in Christ was mention before and after the list of spiritual powers. This structure highlighted his primacy and authority over them. In other words, because Christ was the instrument of creation, he preceded and ruled over all other spiritual beings. In fact, these being were created through Christ! Those who were intimate with Christ would, by extension, have priority over these spiritual beings, as well.

After this priority and authority, the hymn asserted that the present order was held together by Christ. In other words, he was the active principle that kept the universe existing. This assumed that the created order has no ability to exist on its own; God constantly creates and wills the present state of affairs to exist. Christ was the instrument not only of the first moment of creation (he was the instrument of “First Cause”), he is the agent that continues the existence of the cosmos from the past, through the present, into the future. In other words, creation is an ongoing activity of the divine. Christ is God’s agent in this endeavor.

Finally, Christ is the agent for salvation. Through his resurrection, he revealed the true destiny of God’s creation. He is also the means by which the cosmos will be transformed into its intended finality. The people who believed in Christ as the risen Lord and trusted in him as the means for their final destiny were collectively called the Church. They were the Ones who would be incorporated into his Body.

Now, let us consider Christ as the active presence of God in creation in 1:19-20. As the hymn asserted that Christ was the active agent that held the universe together, it answered the question of direction and reason. How did Christ hold this cosmos together? And, why did he hold it together? One word answered both questions: reconciliation. He reconciled creation to God, including those who fractured creation through their rejection of God. The sign and the means of that reconciliation was the cross. The self-giving of Christ overcame the ultimate fracture in creation (death) and began the end game of creation: return to God. Those who believed in Christ (i.e., those who could sing the hymn) partook in his death-resurrection and the reconciliation that event brought. They were being reconciled to everything on earth and in the heavens.

“Wherever God acts, God is.” This old adage sums up the logic of this dense passage. Christ is the image of God because the Father used him to create, maintain, and save the world. He is also the divine image because he reveals the presence of God as he reconciles everything to the Father.

“Wherever God acts, God is.” We know God who created us is present when we turn to him and realize that he forgives us. We also know God is present when, as followers of his Son, we tell others about his forgiveness.

How have you been reconciled to God? How have you helped others in their reconciliation with the Lord?