Colossians 1:15-20 – The Christ Hymn of Colossians
SummaryColossians quotes a hymn or confession that declares Christ to be "the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation," and "the firstborn from the dead."
AnalysisThis passage reflects an early Christian hymn or confession of faith that has been incorporated into the letter. If the Colossians already knew these words, the Christ hymn reiterates the centrality of their faith in Christ while also continuing to proclaim an identity that is theirs in the crucified and risen Christ.
The immediate context of the hymn is important to note, for a key theme of the letter precedes the hymn: "He [God] has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins" (1:13-14).
The first stanza of the hymn (1:15-18a) proclaims the lordship of Christ, who is "the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation." All realms and powers of the universe are subject to his lordship: "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." Christ is "before all things, and in him all things hold together." Christ's lordship is concretely present in the world and in the gathering of God's people within the Christian community. Christ himself is "the head of the body, the church."
The second stanza of the hymn (1:18b-20) proclaims the lordship of Christ who is "the beginning, the firstborn from the dead." In Christ "the fullness of God was pleased to dwell." In Christ "God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven." The centrality of his death and resurrection proclaims that Christ has made peace in all realms of the universe "through the blood of his cross." The sign of Christ's lordship in the world is centered in the cross and resurrection.
The verses that follow and flow from the hymn (1:21-23) draw the hearer into the life that is present in Christ. Those "who were once estranged and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds" are "now reconciled in his fleshly body through death." This reconciliation is expressed in sacrificial language: "to present you holy and blameless and irreproachable before him." Words of exhortation proclaim the truth of these words: "provided that you continue securely established and steadfast in the faith, without shifting from the hope promised by the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven." All this is under the encompassing lordship of Christ, of which Paul "became a servant of this gospel."