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  • Writer's pictureTim Hemingway

Jesus Supreme Over All


“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. For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.” Colossians 1:17-20

Last time we were considering the first three ‘all things’ statements about Jesus in this passage and, God willing, this morning, we’ll complete them.

Except, I have to confess that I somewhat misled you last time. I drew six instances of ‘all things’ from this passage, but a second look this week has shown me that there’s actually seven, not six.

The Greek root word, in its various forms, appears not six, but seven times in these six short verses.

We said last time, that kind of repetition is not for nothing. It’s Paul’s way of telling us, ‘there’s an emphasis here, don’t miss it’.

The emphasis is this, Jesus is greater than all things; even greater than angels which these Colossians were being enticed to worship (2:18). Paul is concerned, because that kind of drifting away from Jesus; that kind of invalid worship, has disqualifying implications. He doesn’t want them to be disqualified, so he’s transitioned from his opening remarks into this paragraph of superlatives about Jesus, to show them the surpassing superiority of Jesus over everything – both on earth and in heaven!

He could have said, ‘Jesus is greater than angels’. Full stop. But that point is made more persuasively to our minds, and crucially to our hearts, by showing Jesus’ superiority over ‘all things’, no less than seven times.

To remind ourselves, lets list out the six I highlighted last time, and I’ll insert the seventh where it appears in the text, so you can see it clearly.

First, verse 15, Jesus is ‘the firstborn over all creation’.

Second, verse 16, ‘In him all things were created’.

Third, verse 16, ‘All things have been created through him and for him’.

Those are the three we looked at last time.

Here are the rest:

Fourth, verse 17, ‘He is before all things’.

Fifth, verse 17, ‘In him all things hold together’.

Sixth, verse 18, ‘He is the firstborn from the dead, so that in everything (all things) he might have the supremacy’.

Seventh, verse 19, ‘God was pleased…through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross’.

So, I want to try to look, this morning, at these four other things that Jesus is supreme over. But the aim isn’t to simply complete the exercise. The aim is to allow the repetition to serve our lives the way it was meant to serve the Colossians lives.

Rightly considered; prayerfully contemplated; humbly received, this passage should serve to so elevate our view of Jesus over all things, that it serves to put competing powers back in their rightful places.

And, whilst angels might be obvious competing powers, the reality is that anything that has taken hold of our hearts to the extent that it dominates our affections or demotes Jesus in our appreciation, has become a powerful competitor with Jesus in our souls and is a disqualifying threat to our salvation.

These four ‘all things’ statements need to serve to powerfully restore Jesus to the throne of our hearts and cause all other things to find their rightful places.

Angels have a rightful place. Angels are not evil. But neither are they Jesus. They shouldn’t be worshipped. Neither should any created thing be worshipped. That’s the point. Jesus is not created, he is the creator – worship him!

Before and Upholding

So, let’s go to verse 17 and deal with the first two statements in one sitting. Let’s see that Jesus is before all things, and that he holds all things together.

For the Colossians, Paul’s declaration, that he’s already made, that Jesus created all things needs pressing home. Remember, they are venerating heavenly beings. The temptation for them is to think that angels are pre-existent beings – that they pre-date all things, including Jesus.

After all, Jesus was born right?

He had a beginning, right?

Paul is saying emphatically, that even though Jesus came into the world in a human body and was born of a woman, like all men, yet do not lose track of this truth for one moment, Jesus is the only pre-existent being. Jesus, and Jesus alone, was before everything.

John says, ‘In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God’. Nothing preceded Jesus. The angels are of an entirely different category to Jesus – they are created; they were not in the beginning, but Jesus was.

The psalmist, uses similar language, and we know they were words about Jesus because the writer to the Hebrews tells us they were. Psalm 102:25-27: ‘In the beginning you laid the foundations of the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands. They will perish, but youremain; they will all wear out like a garment. Like clothing you will change them and they will be discarded. But you remain the same and your years will never end’.

That’s Jesus.

The foundations of earth: he laid them.

The heavens above: he made them.

All of them, wearing out like an old moth-eaten coat. But Jesus, he remains exactly the same from generation to generation, and for ever.

John and the Psalmist agree with Paul, Jesus is before all things. And he’ll outlast all things.

But right now, before everything gets changed, Paul is also telling us that Jesus maintains all things – in him all things hold together.

The idea that God wound up the universe like an old-fashioned clock and has left it to its own devices - to wind steadily down - is not Paul’s explanation of what’s going on in the world we observe. We tend to think in terms of natural laws. The law of gravity, the law of entropy, the law of cause and effect.

Why is it, for example, that when the Hunga Tonga volcano erupts with power 500 times greater than the Hiroshima bomb, causing atmospheric shockwaves to circumvent the globe, and yet only 5 people lose their lives, why is it that there isn’t a world-wide outpouring of thanksgiving?

It is because we believe that the number of people that died is owing to nothing more than a naturalistic consequence of the law of cause and effect.

That is not what Paul thinks. Paul thinks it was the manifold grace of God, demonstrated in his hands-on, all-wise, providential intervention that made it that way.

Here’s how the Psalmist puts it again: ‘Let them give thanks to the Lord for his unfailing love and his wondrous deeds for mankind’ (Psalm 107:31) and Psalm 147:8-9, ‘He covers the sky with clouds; he supplies the earth with rain; and [he] makes grass grow on the hills. He provides food for the cattle and for the young ravens when they call’.

So, Jesus didn’t merely get this whole thing going and then leave it to wind down. He sustains it. The writer to the Hebrews says, he ‘sustains all things by his powerful word!’ Same phrase, same thought.

All the laws of nature would disintegrate into chaos in a moment, were it not for Christ’s second by second, providential undertaking in all of creation to hold it together. That is not the work of an angel, that is the work of God over all and in all.

Supreme even over death

So, that’s verse 17, now verse 18. If Paul’s just dealt with Jesus’ birth by saying he was pre-existent, now he’s going to deal with his death by saying, he’s the first born from the dead.

In other words, if the fact that Jesus died is leaving lingering doubt in your minds that he might not be supreme over all things, let me tell you, he is supreme over death as well.

Not even the most pervasive of all natural laws – namely death – is powerful enough to exert itself over Jesus.

Ephesians 1:22 says that God placed ‘all things’ (our favourite phrase!) under Jesus’ feet and at the same time appointed him head over everything for the church. And here, in Colossians, we’re told that Jesus is the head of the body that is the church.

Head over everything for the sake of the church in Ephesians, and head over the church here in Colossians.

What is that telling us?

The church is the highest expression of all God’s creation. The church is the bride of Christ; she is the pinnacle of God’s purposes in creation. We might go as far as to say: all creation exists for the purposes of creating a called-out people of God called the church.

So, what did it take to make the church? Well according to Ephesians 2 we are by nature dead in transgressions and sins. And Christ, though sinless, made himself subject to death and joined us in death.

Ephesians 2 goes further, he joined us in death, in order that we might join him in life.

Verse 6 says, ‘God raised us up with Christ and seated us in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus’.

We are the church and Christ is our head.

How did we become the church?

Christ raised us from spiritual death to spiritual life. He did it by raising us with himself from the dead. The fulness of that resurrection is coming in the future, when our bodies will also be raised from the dead, but we are already, right now, participators in new life – real spiritual life!

Verse 18 says that he is the ‘firstborn’ from the dead. Clearly Jesus was not the first to be raised from the dead. He himself raised Lazarus from the dead before he himself died. Elijah raised the widow’s son from the dead, long before Jesus was on the scene.

So, what is Paul saying?

He’s saying that Jesus was the first to be raised with a glorified body. The first to be raised to life with a body that cannot die. The widow’s son died a second time; as did Lazarus. But Jesus will never die again. And we who are raised with him, will receive a glorified body one day, that will never die either.

Jesus received the power and authority over all things for the sake of the church – especially over death to raise up for himself an everlasting people who will be for the praise of his glory.

‘So, Colossae don’t start worshipping angels! You wouldn’t be what you are without Jesus (not angels!) – he alone is the firstborn from dead, in order that he might be supreme over all things, even over the last enemy, death.

And if that strikes you as fanciful, then don’t you forget, I already told you’, Paul is saying, ‘God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him. Could God reign supreme over death? If he couldn’t then you haven’t got a God at all, you Colossians, you’ve got a man! Jesus was the fulness of God, in the flesh, standing forth as his very image. So yes, his reign extends over death, even over death!’

The Great Reconciler

But whilst Paul is on the subject of Jesus’ death, he takes the opportunity to tell us a seventh thing that Jesus is over all things.

And, he is ‘this’ over all things through the power of his death on the cross. He is, according to Paul, the ‘reconciler’ of all things.

Through him – and specifically through his death - God has reconciled to himself all things by making peace between God and them.

Now, we know that the word ‘reconcile’ is a salvation word. One of the ways that God talks about saving us is in terms of him reconciling us to himself. He talks about us having been far away from him and now having be reconciled or brought back to him.

Chapter 1, verse 22, for example, talks in these specific terms: ‘Once you were alienated [distanced] from God, and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behaviour. But now he [that is Jesus] has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation’.

That’s a statement about salvation and it’s couched in terms of reconciliation.

And that was us, we were like the Colossians. We were distanced from God by our sins and our open rebellion. But we are the ‘first fruits’ 2 Thessalonians 2:13 says, of all that is going to be reconciled to God.

We have been brought near to God by the blood of Jesus. Our experience of that reality ebbs and flows, true. But that is who we are. We are the reconciled of Jesus. His blood shed on the cross has served to wash away all our sins and present us holy, upright, clean, in God’s sight and therefore free from accusation, and therefore at peace with him.

We are no longer counted his enemies, rather we are made his sons and daughters!

So, we could be forgiven for thinking that here in verse 20 Paul is talking about salvation also. That, through Jesus, God has saved all things, by reconciling them to himself and making peace with them by the blood of Jesus.

However, we’ve heard enough from the psalmist this morning to know that that doesn’t quite fit. The psalmist already told us that this creation is going to be removed; the heavens are going to be rolled up like a scroll.

What the psalmist describes in rather poetic language, Peter describes is very forthright and simple language: ‘But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything done in it will be laid bare’. That doesn’t sound like peaceful, reconciling language. It sounds like devastating language.

And Peter doesn’t stop there, he expands on this in 2 Peter 3:7 that Pastor Paul spoke on recently.

Peter says, ‘By the same word the present heavens and earth are reserved for fire, being kept for the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly’.

Peter’s now saying that, not only the created order, but people as well, are going to be subject to destruction. Pastor Paul commented in his sermon,

‘The Lord will judge. He will judge untruth. But also, he will rescue. He will rescue ‘the unrighteous’…so the question is, when God brings ‘the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly’, who are these ‘righteous’ people that will be kept safe?’

Now if we allow the word ‘reconcile’ in Colossians 1:20 to mean ‘save’ all things, then the answer to pastor Paul’s question is ‘everyone’.

And, I think, he would say to us, ‘then you have to get rid of Peter from the bible. Peter won’t allow it to mean that’. And he’d be right!

Clearly Jesus is coming back with awesome power to judge withdestruction both the fallen creation and the unrepentant sinner. So, the idea that Jesus is peaceably reconciling to himself everything and everyone by his death on the cross with a view to saving them from destruction, means that he either failed, or Paul didn’t mean that.

Clearly Jesus hasn’t failed. Paul has been going to great lengths to tell us that Jesus is not a mere man that he should fail in anything he designs to do.

So, what does Paul mean?

Paul is using the word ‘reconcile’ here in a wider sense of the word. He’s using it the way Thayer’s Greek Lexicon puts it:

‘to bring back to a former state of harmony’.

Paul means, a day is coming when there will be a new heavens and new earth and all things that now are fallen; and a shadow of what they were when they were made, then, will be reconciled to God for ever, with all renegade elements; and broken elements; and shadowy elements finally removed once for all.

When this has taken place there will be nothing left that is alienated from God. God will have brought all things into harmony with himself. And anything that he did not intend to be a part of that new created order he will have destroyed for ever – people, angels, created order.

Paul is saying that all of this future-reconciled reality is going to happen because of one thing – Christ’s blood shed on the cross.

So, the message loud and clear to the Colossians is this, ‘do notentertain the idea that Jesus, because he existed on earth – was born, and died – that he was a created being’.

And, ‘Colossians, do not entertain the idea that because angels are unseen - in the heavenly realm - that they are uncreated and worthy of worship.

Those notions are upside down and the wrong way around. And if you pursue them, you will disqualify yourselves, because they are the antithesis of the gospel!

No! Worship Jesus!’

Jesus has made you reconciled to God, don’t participate in the fruitless deeds of darkness by worshipping the created instead of the creator.

Angels or angel cake – it’s the same problem.


According to verse 23, everything we are in verse 22 is conditional. That little word ‘if’ at the start of verse 23 tells us that openly.

Paul is saying, you are reconciled to God if you continue in your faith, established and firm, and do not move from the hope held out in the gospel.

The Colossians were playing with fire. They were starting to drift from the hope held out in the gospel – namely that Jesus alone can reconcile you to God because he is God.

If you say we can treat Jesus like he’s not God – not worthy of worship; and treat angels like they are Gods - worthy of worship, then you have no gospel left. Then you are not reconciled at all. In that case, you have drifted from the faith and you are not firm and founded in Jesus.

The lesson is, whatever it is that captivates your attention, ask two questions about it: one about content and the other about worship.

Ask if the content undermines the gospel.

Certainly, worshipping angels fell into that category in Colossae.

And second, ask if it has such a grip on your heart that you revere it more than Jesus.

That seemed to be happening at Colossae too.

If the answer to the first is ‘no, the content doesn’t undermine the gospel’, but the answer to the second is ‘yes, it has captured my heart’ then you’re in trouble.

And if the answer to the first is ‘yes, it demotes Jesus and undermines the gospel’, but the answer to the second is ‘no, it hasn’t captured my heart’ then you’re also in trouble.

The answer must be ‘no’ to both. ‘No, it doesn’t undermine the gospel, and no it hasn’t gripped my heart’. If the answer is no to both then, in all likelihood, it’s something good, that God has created to be enjoyed. But be on your guard is Paul’s message to us.

I think Colossians 1:15-23 gives us a good framework to test everything by, mainly because it’s so outspoken about all things, and because it reveals unequivocally, Jesus is supreme over all things.


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