This hymn to Christ begins by telling us about Jesus’ relation to God – Jesus is the image of the invisible God. Just as the first man and woman were made in the image of God, they were made in the image of Jesus, who is the physical representation of the Creator.
The next section deals with Jesus’ relation to creation – he is the first born of Creation. We have to unpack that a little bit. A group of early Christians believed that Jesus did not exist from the beginning, but that he was the first of God’s created beings. They had a slogan, “There was when he was not.” This was a very serious misunderstanding that the early church met to discuss and denounced this view (these “believers” were called Arians, after Arius. This view is still present in the beliefs of the Jehovah’s Witnesses). The term “firstborn” does not necessarily mean that Jesus was the first created being, but has the sense that he had temporal priority to creation, that is, he existed before creation. It also has the sense that he is supreme over creation. We see this in Ps. 89.27, where David is called the firstborn as he is appointed the most exalted king of the earth (but not the first born creature). The orthodox understanding of Jesus being prior to creation and supreme over creation is bolstered by the next section of the hymn in that Jesus is actually the agent of creation.
The hymn states that “in him all things were created.” In fact all things have been created through him and for him. This denotes that all things were created in the sphere of him. Just as when we become believers, we move from the realm of being “in Adam” to being “in Christ.” It appears in this verse that at the beginning, all things were created “in Him.” This implies that something has gone wrong (as Paul will later talk of reconciliation).
Jesus is the head of the body, the church. This implies, of course that he is the leader, the controlling influence over the church, once again stressing his supremacy. The terminology can also suggest that Jesus is the “source” of the church.
In completing the “firstborn” analogy, Jesus is not only the “firstborn over all creation” but he is the “firstborn from the dead.” Jesus is the first human to truly experience the sting of dead and to be raised. His resurrection was different than other instances of being brought back to life in the Bible (Lazarus, Jairus’ daughter, for examples) in that his resurrection shows us in what manner all of those who have been reconciled through Christ’s death will share. Paul has previously stated that we will bear the image of the heavenly man (1 Cor. 15.49) as we share in the resurrection of Christ. It was because of his conquering death that he has supremacy.
Christ’s supremacy is due to the fact that God was pleased to allow all of his fullness (every essence that composes God) dwells in Christ (present tense). The fullness of God in Christ allows us to be reconciled to God. God reconciles us to himself by allowing the physical representative of his image (Jesus), who possesses all of the nature of God himself, to shed his blood on the cross.
This aspect of shedding blood on the cross is called “making peace”. This sounds like sacrificial language. God makes peace with us through the death of Christ on the cross.
Just as Creation was made in Christ, something has gone wrong and creation needs reconciliation between itself and its creator. And this is not just the need of humans, but of everything (see Rom. 8.19-23). F. F. Bruce puts it this way: “The fullness of the divine energy is manifested in Christ in the work of reconciliation as well as in that of creation…this reconciling activity is applied particularly to redeemed humanity, but here its universal references comes first into view.”
Thus, the reconciler is the visible image of God, exists prior to creation, is over creation, creation was made in him, through him and for him, he is the example of our resurrection and he contains all of what God is. Jesus’ death has made peace with God somehow through the shedding of his blood.