Colossians 1:17-18

Art by Stefan Robinson. See

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 and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy.

These two sentences continue the Christ hymn begun in Colossians 1:15, one of the most transcendent expressions of Christology in the Bible.

He is before all things: Jesus Christ is before (Greek: pro), all things (Greek: panta, meaning all the Created universe). Another name for this theological truth of Jesus being before all things is “preexistence,” meaning that Jesus existed before anything was made in all of Creation. No “thing” existed before the presence of God in Jesus Christ. All things, all material stuff of Creation, and all invisible stuff of Creation, everything came after Jesus Christ. Jesus preexisted the Universe.

in him all things hold together: We often think that gravity is what holds us all together. Gravity is a powerful force, with greater force the bigger the planet. On planet earth, we are held to the surface of the Earth by the force of gravity pulling us back to Earth. We can jump up in the air, but gravity pulls us back down to Earth. But what holds together our cells, our molecules, and even the various components within each of the atoms that make up our physical bodies? What holds our lives together? Not us! This great hymn declares by faith that all things “hold together” (Greek: syn+esteken), literally “stand together” or “stick together” in Christ. The coherence of all things, the force that causes everything to hold together is the powerful, loving presence of Jesus Christ. I love to think that God’s love is what holds the universe together. Without the ever-present love of God through Jesus Christ, we would fall apart, devolve into a catastrophic and chaotic mess.

He is the head of the body, the church: Jesus Christ is understood here, as in many places in the New Testament (1 Corinthians 12, Ephesians 4 as two examples), as head of a spiritual Body, also known as the Church (Greek: ekklesias, or “called out ones”). The picture of a human body is a fitting image of the people of God who are known as the “Church.” The Church is not a building, but people, gathered and scattered across the planet, throughout the centuries; a vast, immeasurable, complex body of people who all are connected to a single Head, who is Jesus Christ. In Christ alone are we united, as a body is united by the head. Just as the head oversees the operation of every part of the body, so Jesus oversees the whole of His Body. The Church doesn’t belong to any individual or human group, but only to Jesus Christ who is Head of the Church.

he is the beginning In the beginning was the Word. These are the opening words of the Gospel of John 1:1. The same Greek word, arche, that John uses to begin his Gospel, Paul uses in this opening chapter of his letter to the Colossian church. Arche not only means “beginning” but also refers to what is authoritative or supreme, as the source of everything that comes after, or the initial force for what comes after the beginning.

and the firstborn from among the dead: This is the second time this Christ hymn uses the technical term “firstborn” (Greek: prototokos), meaning supreme, preeminent one, incomparability. Here, Jesus is declared as the supreme authority among all who have died. Jesus overcame death, as the Son of God who came into human flesh who was crucified, dead and buried, as we declare in the Apostle’s Creed, and the third day, he rose from the dead; this One is the firstborn from among the dead, the One from whom every other resurrection emerges and has its true source. Only because Jesus Christ is risen will we be risen from the dead. Because Jesus is victorious over the grave, we need not fear death, but when we are in Christ Jesus, we are victorious over the grave, and will rise on the last day by the power of the firstborn from among the dead.

so that in everything he might have the supremacy: All these phrases, these mysterious and majestic titles and truths affirm that Jesus is supreme over all other forces that have ever existed, including visible and invisible forces, all thrones, powers, rulers and authorities; they all bow to Jesus Christ who is supreme over them all. In everything, in all events of our lives, in every moment of our days, in every cell in our bodies, in every soul who has ever lived, Jesus has the supremacy (Greek: proteuon), the preeminence, the chief and first place.