9. — Image and Firstborn One

The Firstborn is a title of exalted pre-eminence which the Holy Spirit gives to the Son in order to enhance the majesty of His Person in our eyes, and thereby to awaken and sustain our adoration and worship of Him Who deigned to humble Himself to manhood and death for the Father's glory and the creature's redemption.

The highest orders of created beings worship the Son at the divine behest. "When He brings in the Firstborn into the inhabited earth, He says, And let all God's angels worship Him" (Heb. 1:6, W.K.). If God in His jealousy for the honour of the Son commands the angels to own and respect the personal rights of the Firstborn, we may be sure that the redeemed must and will gladly yield to Him their unbounded adoration, not only as the Firstborn of all creation, but as the Firstborn from among the dead (Col. 1:15, 18).

Who will question the Firstborn rights of the Son? Among men the rights of the firstborn are acquired by priority of birth, but the Son possesses those rights on other and superior grounds. Unlike the sons of men, His rights are independent of date of birth. In Himself, He is "without beginning," though at an appointed moment of time He became manifest among men, the Mediator between God and men. It is His eternal worth and dignity as the Uncreated Son of the Father's love which ensures to Him in humiliation and glorification alike the pre-eminent rank of Firstborn — a rank infinitely superior to the loftiest of created beings, in which rank all created beings must in due time acknowledge Him.

What sacred and soul-elevating truth is this concerning Him, the Creator of all, Who, nevertheless, would "like wretched man be made in everything but sin!" May we guard our souls, lest being "vainly puffed up" in our "fleshly minds," we should omit to bow our hearts in adoring homage before these eternal glories of our Redeemer. Can we do other than worship the Son, Who is the Firstborn of all creation, the Firstborn from among the dead, the Firstborn among many brethren?

Let us now see how the glories and rights of the Image of the invisible God and the Firstborn One have their origin in and rest upon His Eternal Sonship.

The Teaching in Colossians

It is noteworthy that in scripture, the glories of Christ Jesus are frequently revealed in close connection with the privileges of grace conferred upon those who believe in Him. Accordingly, in Colossians these glories are disclosed along with references to our inheritance, our deliverance, our translation, our redemption. Here this Blessed One is set before us as the Son of the Father's love, the Image of the invisible God, the Firstborn of all creation (Col. 1:12-17) — to mention no more at the moment.

Indeed, the glories of the Son form a marvellous galaxy in this chapter. Look where we will — in the past, in the present, in the future — the Son in His sublime and unapproachable dignity is before us. If, looking back, we ask, Who created all things? It is the Son (ver. 16). If, looking upwards, we ask, Who is the Head of the body, the church? It is the Son (ver. 18). If, looking onward, we ask, Who is the Reconciler of all things? It is the Son (ver. 20). So that, from the foundation of the world we see an unbroken continuance of the almighty and all-gracious activities of the Son of the Father's love, in Whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.*

{*Appendix C

(placed here for convenience)

"The Son is here presented to us as Creator, not to the exclusion of the Father's power, nor of the operation of the Spirit. They are One, but it is the Son Who is here set before us. In John 1 it is the Word Who creates all things. Here, and in Hebrews 1, it is under the name of Son that He, Who is also the Word, is revealed to us. He is the Word of God, the expression of His thought and of His power. It is by Him that God works and reveals Himself.

"He is also the Son of God; and, in particular, the Son of the Father. He reveals God, and he who has seen Him has seen the Father. Inasmuch as born in this world by the operation of God through the Holy Ghost, He is the Son of God (Ps. 2:7; Luke 1:35). But this is in time, when creation is already the scene of the manifestation of the ways and counsels of God.

"But the Son is also the name of the proper relationship of His glorious Person to the Father before the world was. It is in this character that He created all things. The Son is to be glorified even as the Father. …

"In the Epistle to the Colossians that which is set before us is the proper glory of His Person as the Son before the world was. He is the Creator as the Son. It is important to observe this. But the Persons are not separated in their manifestation. If the Son wrought miracles on earth, He cast out devils by the Spirit; and the Father Who dwells in Him (Christ) did the works.

"Also it must be remembered that that which is said, is said, when He was manifested in the flesh, of His complete Person, Man upon earth. Not that we do not in our minds separate between the divinity and the humanity; but even in separating them we think of the one Person with regard to Whom we do so. We say Christ is God, Christ is man; but it is Christ Who is the two.

"I do not say this theologically, but to draw the reader's attention to the remarkable expression, 'All the fullness was pleased to dwell in Him.' All the fullness of the Godhead was found in Christ."

{J.N.D.'s Synopsis, (Colossians i).}

It is no small benefit to our souls thus to be conducted by the Holy Spirit through the dim corridors of past ages to the utmost boundary of time itself — to that point when created things were about to be brought into being. There and then, existing in His omnipotence "before all things," we see the One by Whom were created all things, the Son of the Father's love. Before creation's work begins, love is present and active for the Father is loving the Son, before Love's hands formed all existing things. This is the faith of God's elect, and in this "thought beyond all thought" we humbly adore the Son, Who is "before all" things, and in Whom all things "subsist together" (ver. 17).

The Lord's Glory gives us Power to Walk Worthily

These unfoldings of the personal glories of the Son flow out of the apostle's prayer for the Colossian saints that in hostile circumstances they might walk worthily of the Lord to all well-pleasing (ver. 10). Much suffering was inevitable for those who would be faithful to His name, and they needed a support greater than anything nature could provide. His desire for them, therefore, was that they might be "strengthened with all power according to the might of His glory to all endurance and long-suffering with joy" (ver. 11). As we learn the glory of Him Who suffered preeminently, our loins will be girded to suffer with Him. Beholding the glory of the Son of the Father's love, we are impelled to exclaim like Peter, "Lord, I am ready to go with Thee both into prison, and to death."

Accordingly, the apostle proceeds to instruct them concerning (1) the positive blessings the Father had already bestowed upon them, and (2) the personal dignities of the Son, by Whom those blessings are secured. In the midst of their Christian hardships, they were exhorted to maintain a spirit of thanksgiving to the Father by contemplating these things of the Spirit's revealing.

What had the Father already done for them? They were even then made fit to share the portion of the saints in light, the dwelling-place of God (ver. 12). Even then, the measure of the holiness imparted to them qualified them to occupy a place in the Father's house. Let them and us give thanks to the Father for this act of grace.

Consistently with this present meetness for the home of light, they were delivered from the authority of darkness. Further, as they had been set free from the power of darkness, so they had also been transferred to another dominion altogether. He has already translated us into the kingdom of the Son of His love (ver. 13). For all this divine activity let us indeed give thanks to the Father, being strengthened "to all patience and long-suffering with joyfulness" as we behold the glory of the Son.

The Kingdom of the Son of His Love

This kingdom into which we have been translated is not that foretold by the prophets, in which divine power suppresses evil and rewards good, because the saints at Colosse were suffering through the presence and power of evil, and were called to exhibit patience, long-suffering and joy. John, the prisoner of the Lord, in Patmos was also in that same kingdom (Rev. 1:9). This is the kingdom wherein the Father places His children that they may learn how to exhibit the patience and meekness of Christ. It is the kingdom whose atmosphere is love, not yet glory and governmental power.

Here, the Father's love is revealed to us in and by the Son; and here, too, in this kingdom the Father reveals the personal glories of the Son, which flesh and blood can never know nor reveal (Matt. 16:17). To all who have been translated into this happy kingdom of light, the Son of the Father's love is the food of their faith, the stay of their hope, and the satisfying portion of their love.

Moreover, this privileged position which the Father has given us is due to the Son; we are reminded that it is in Him "we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins" (ver. 14). What the Father has given to us is the result of the Son's atoning work for us. Let us therefore give thanks to both the Father and the Son.

The Image of the Invisible God

Further, the apostle writes that the Son of the Father's love "is the Image of the invisible God." As John says, "No one has seen God at any time; the only-begotten Son, Who is in the bosom of the Father, He has declared Him" (John 1:18).

An "image" denotes a visible representation of the invisible or absent.* The Son, in the eternal light of His Person in the Godhead, is the Image of the invisible God. He did not acquire this competency of representation by creation, as Adam did, who "out of the dust of the ground" was created in the image and glory of God (Gen. 1:27; 1 Cor. 11:7). Man, though made a little lower than the angels, was the appointed representative of his Maker in the world. But the Son is the Creator, and being God, He, as the Image of God, sets Him forth with an infinite fullness inseparable from His personal glory as the Son, which was His before He became flesh.

{*The root-idea of representation in the word "image" is well illustrated in the incident of our Lord and the Roman penny or denarius (Matt. 22:20). Pointing to the effigy of the emperor upon the coin, He asked the Pharisees, "Whose is this image?" The effigy or bust was the official representation of the Imperial authority in Rome, governing in Palestine. The presence of this piece of money in the hands of the Jews, as current coin, unanswerably proved their subjection to the world-ruler in the distant metropolis, who was represented upon its face.}

Divinity and Deity

Something was to be known of God in the world before Christ came into it. The existence of an unseen God, the Maker of all, may be inferred by man from the phenomena of created things (Rom. 1:19-20). The works of creation give a powerful and indisputable witness to His eternal power and divinity (theiotees), though not to His Godhead or Deity (theotees). But all the fullness of the Godhead (theotees) dwelt in Christ (Col. 2:9). The Son is the Image of the invisible God, is love and light. The Son is the effulgence of God's glory and the very impress of His substance or being (Heb. 1:3). He is "God, blessed for ever" (Rom. 9:5).*

{*All that God is in substance and supremacy, scripture attributes equally to the Son as to the Father and to the Spirit. Much help is afforded by a valuable comment on Rom. 9:5, by W. Kelly in his Notes on Romans, pp. 165-171.}

As the Son knew and enjoyed in fullest measure the love of the Father before the foundation of the world (John 17:24) , He displays the Father's love in the kingdom of His saints; moreover, being the Image of the invisible God, He displays God's love to a world of sinners (2 Cor. 4:4). Being Son, He is the Image or Representative, not merely by reason of His official appointment as Mediator, but by reason of His own Personal and eternal nature as the Son.

Sonship and Image

This title of "Image" is in scripture applied to the Son exclusively and is never applied to the Father, nor to the Spirit. The Son is that One in Deity Who represents and manifests God to His creatures. Coming into the world, He revealed the only true God to human sight and human knowledge, as none else could do (cp. John 17:3). And in accordance with the prophecy spoken by the Lord through the prophet Isaiah, the virgin's Son was called Immanuel, that is, "God with us" (Matt. 1:22-23). In the Holy Babe, Whose name was called Jesus, God was manifest in flesh; He is the Image of the invisible God.

It should be remarked that in the language of the Holy Spirit the Son is not said to become or to be made the Image, as He is said to become of David's seed (Rom. 1:3) , or High Priest (Heb. 6:20) , nor as the Word was made or became flesh (John 1:14). The present tense is used in Col. 1:15, as in John 1:18, which reveals His bosom-relationship to the Father; He is the invisible Image of the invisible God. This mode of statement is the more striking, seeing that it was when manifest in flesh that He was seen of men and angels as the Image of the unseen God.

Surely there is "dust of gold" lying in this grammatical distinction, and the personal glory of the Son is revealed in this choice of words by the Spirit. God's Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, became of David's seed according to flesh when born in time (Rom. 1:3), stepping into this relationship at His incarnation, as Matt. 1 shows. But, because of His divine relationship in the Godhead, the Son was potentially the Image of the invisible God from all eternity; and the use of the present tense — "is" — supports this interpretation, and magnifies His glory to that extent.

Do not "the eyes of our hearts" (Eph. 1:18) discern an infinite difference between Adam who was created in the image of God and the uncreated Son of the Father's love being the Image of the invisible God And does not this difference lie in the Person Who was pleased to represent and to manifest God in the creation groaning under the effects of sin? In "flesh" was the manner of this representation, but the Eternal Son was always and is ever personally competent to declare God, though it was when incarnate that the manifestation was made to man, and is now recorded in the scriptures.

So that the Son was the Image of the invisible God de jure in eternity, and de facto in time. And even now, the ascended Christ, "Who is the Image of God," shines upon men in the gospel of His glory (2 Cor. 4:4).
"Thou vast the Image in man's lowly guise
Of the Invisible to mortal eyes;
Son of His bosom, come from heaven above,
We see in Thee incarnate, 'God is Love.'
Thy lips the Father's name to us reveal;
What burning power in all Thy words we feel,
As with enraptured hearts we hear Thee tell
The heavenly glories which Thou know'st so well!"