Sunday School Lesson for November 2, 2003
Jesus and Creation (1:15-17)
In this incredible section of Scripture, what some New Testament scholars believe is an ancient Christian hymn devoted to the exaltation of Jesus as the divine Son of God, Paul set forth the absolute supremacy and Lordship of the Second Person of the Trinity. Previously (vv. 13-14) the apostle had announced that, through this One, God the Father had rescued believers from the “domain of darkness” and fully redeemed and forgiven them according to His great mercy. Here in these verses the nature and identity of this Savior and Lord are more fully revealed. Paul employed two major claims regarding Jesus:
In these verses Paul more fully explained Christ’s role in the creation and governance of the cosmos.
Jesus and the Church (1:18)
Paul’s description of Jesus
continued in this verse with a statement concerning His relationship to the
church. According to the apostle, “He is also the head of the body the
church.” This indicates that not only is Jesus the Lord and Redeemer of the
church, but that there exists an essential unity between Christ and His people
As Head of the church He is in an organic relationship, for the Church shares His very life just as the limbs share a common life with the head. He is, further, the directing and controlling power to which the limbs must submit. Indeed that which gives them their unity as a body, and enables them to function purposefully, is the control of the head .
In addition to being head of the body, Paul declared that Jesus is “the beginning, the first-born from the dead.” Having been raised from the dead never to die again, Christ enjoys the supreme position as Lord over life and death itself. With this announcement, Paul made it clear that “Jesus entered the world of sinners, endured their punishment, and rose victorious with the power of the Spirit. Thus, in Christ, there is a new order of existence. It is a resurrection existence” [Melick, 222-223].
The purpose of the resurrection—“so that He might come to have first place in everything”—was to make it explicitly clear that Jesus was and is exactly whom He claimed to be. As Paul wrote in Romans 1:4, the resurrection was the mechanism by which Jesus was declared “with power” to be the eternal “Son of God” and King of the universe.
Jesus and Reconciliation (1:19-22)
In this section, Paul continued to declare the identity of Jesus and, in particular, His work of redemption and reconciliation. Before speaking of His ministry to those alienated from God by sin, the apostle once more trumpeted Christ’s deity as the Son of God. Here Paul spoke of Jesus as the One in whom “all the fullness” of divinity resides. That this was due to the “Father’s good pleasure” means that in eternity past, the Triune God determined that “the human Jesus would be God, sharing all the properties, characteristics, and prerogatives of God himself” [Melick, 224]. Thus, the One who, according to Philippians 2:8 was “found in appearance as a man,” was not one “merely endued in a special way with the Holy Spirit, but is rather the dwelling place of the very essence of God” [Carson, 46].
Furthermore, the One who took on
human flesh is the One who came to “reconcile all things to Himself” by
means of His very “blood” which was spilled on “His cross” (v.
20). This dramatic language highlights the fact that human sin has resulted in
cosmic effects, not only alienating men from their creator, but also bringing
the created order under the divine curse (cf. Rom. 8:20-22). Yet, the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross
decisively put an end to the power and destructive effects of human rebellion. By means of His violent death and bodily resurrection, Jesus “made
peace” between God and men (v. 20). As
the heart of the apostolic message of the cross, that Christ by the offering of Himself through death accepted the curse which was due to us. Thus His death was the basis for a return of sinful men to a position of fellowship with God .
In verses 21-22 Paul emphasized that the reconciliation accomplished by Christ resulted in a radical change in those who believed in Him. Those who were once estranged and “alienated” (v. 21) from God were “transferred into the kingdom of His beloved Son” (v. 13). Those once “hostile in mind” and “engaged in evil deeds” have been made right with God and given new spiritual life. Additionally, the ones who were once the very enemies of God and His righteousness will one day stand before His throne adorned in Christ’s righteousness, having been declared “holy and blameless and beyond reproach” (v. 22). This, then, is the ultimate aim of their reconciliation—the exaltation and revelation of God’s mercy and grace in Christ Jesus.
One: Who is Jesus? From passages such as this one, can there be any doubt about the true identity of Jesus? Consider how such claims regarding Jesus radically distinguish Christianity from other world religions. In light of this powerful passage, is it sufficient to admit that Jesus was a gifted teacher, holy prophet, moral example, or Spirit-empowered leader?
Two: The way to peace: Observe the irony present in verse 20—peace came through the spilling of blood on the cross. The way God provided for such peace and reconciliation between Himself and sinful men is vastly different than the way we seek to create peace among adversaries. How is peace typically achieved among men? Hint: It usually involves the compromise of one’s position—a negotiation or agreement to meet in the middle. However, in achieving peace and reconciliation between God and men no such compromise was made. Consider how the cross of Christ displays both the reality and tragedy of our sinfulness and the glory of God’s absolute holiness.
Three: Who owns the church? If Christ is really the Head and King of the church, why do we so often act like we own it?
Four: The ultimate makeover: Look carefully at the dramatic contrast present in verses 21-22. Pay special attention to the words “formerly” (v. 21) and “now” (v. 22). What were you like before you believed in Christ? What are you now, and where are you headed? Food for Thought: A noted nineteenth century atheistic philosopher once said something to the effect that, “I will believe in the Redeemer when Christians act redeemed.” Is there any validity to such an objection?