God at Work, Jesus at Work (Colossians 1:15–20)
The first half of Paul’s letter to the Colossians can be summarized in nine words:
Jesus made it all.
Then Jesus paid it all.
Jesus Made it All
The Colossian letter assumes that the reader is familiar with the opening lines of the first book of the Bible, “In the beginning when God
created the heavens and the earth” (Gen. 1:1). The second chapter of Genesis then states that “on the seventh day God finished the work that
he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all the work that he had done” (Gen. 2:2). The creation of all that exists was work, even for God. Paul tells us that Christ was present at the creation and that God’s work in creation is Christ’s work:
He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers—all things have been created through him and for him. He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together. (Col. 1:15–17)
In other words, Paul attributes all of creation to Jesus, a theme also developed in the Gospel of John (1:1–4).
Jesus Paid it All
Paul then goes on to make clear to his readers that Jesus was not only the agent who created all that exists, but he is also the agent of our salvation:
For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross. (Col. 1:19–20)
Paul puts Christ’s work in creation side by side with his work in redemption, with themes of creation dominating the first part of the passage (Col. 1:15–17) and themes of redemption dominating the second half (Col. 1:18–20). The parallelism is especially striking between 1:16, “in him all things in heaven and on earth were created,” and 1:20, “to reconcile to himself all things.” The pattern is easy to see: God created all things through Christ, and he is reconciling those same things to himself through Christ. James Dunn writes,
What is being claimed is quite simply and profoundly that the divine purpose in the act of reconciliation and peacemaking was to restore the harmony of the original creation . . . resolving the disharmonies of nature and the inhumanities of humankind, that the character of God’s creation and God’s concern for the universe in its fullest expression could be so caught and encapsulated for them in the cross of Christ.
In sum, Jesus made it all and then Jesus paid it all so that we can have a relationship with the living God.
James D. G. Dunn, The Epistles to the Colossians and to Philemon: A Commentary on the Greek Text, The New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1996), 104.