If we are to arrive at the correct conception of the above Word of God, we will have to read it, not only in the light of the text in which it occurs but also in the light of the whole passage. Scripture is always its own interpreter. We must let it speak also in this connection. The whole passage in this connection is contained in the verses 13 to 20, “Who hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated us into the kingdom of His dear Son: Who is, the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creature: For by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him: And he is before all things, and by him all things consist. And he is the head of the body, the church: who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things he might have the preeminence. For it pleased the Father that in him should all fullness dwell; And, having made peace through the blood of his cross, by him to reconcile all things unto himself; by him, I say, whether they be things in earth, or things in heaven.”
It will be evident, in the first place, that the apostle is speaking here about the Christ, the Son of God, Whom he calls, in the 13th verse, “his dear Son” or as it is literally, “the Son of his love”. It is this. Son of God therefore who is “the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creature”. In the second place, it is evident that he is speaking about the Son of God from a particular point of view, viz., as the one through Whom the Father realizes His purpose and accomplishes all His good pleasure.
It will be necessary in our discussion that we bear in mind this particular viewpoint of the Son of God if we are to understand what is meant by the term “Firstborn of every creature”. To approach the term in any other way can only lead to great confusion because of the many questions that will arise and the result of our study will be at best a product of some philosophy concerning Him, which will avail us nothing at all as far as understanding the Word of God in this connection is concerned. And the latter must certainly be our purpose. We are, not interested in merely discovering some truths but in ascertaining that particular truth which Scripture holds before us as the Word of God in this connection.
To establish this particular point of view of the Father’s good pleasure as realized in Christ; we would call attention to the following:
There can be no doubt but what vs. 20 gives us the purpose of this whole work of God, when it declares, in the light of vs. 19, “For it pleased the Father. . . . by Him to reconcile all things unto himself”. Not only does this appear from the whole context in this connection, but this is confirmed when we find this same truth presented in Ephesians 1, where it is in so many words declared to be the eternal good pleasure and purpose of God, Having made plain that it was according as He had chosen us in Christ before the foundation of the world and predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of His will, that God redeems and blesses His people, the apostle shows us the purpose of it all when he declares to us in the verses. 19 and 20, “Having made known unto us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure which he hath purposed in himself: That in the dispensation of the fullness of times he might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven and which are on earth”. When this purpose of God shall be fully realized, we shall dwell with all the elect, redeemed saints and holy angels in a new heaven and earth in which all things shall be united under the one Lord and Head, Jesus Christ, the Son of the Father’s love, to the everlasting praise and glory of God the Father.
Now, it is in the light of this eternal purpose and good pleasure of God the Father that the term, firstborn of every creature, must be explained. Bearing this in mind we can arrive at some definite conclusions in respect to this term.
We have already stated above that this firstborn is the Christ, the Son of God. That it is truly the eternal Son of God is evident from the fact that not only were all things made by Him and for Him but that He is also before all things, vs. 17. The apostle John speaks of Him in this sense as the Logos, the Word of God. He says, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not anything made that was made”. John 1:1-3. At the same time however, it will also be clear that it is not the Son of God as such that is meant here. It is not merely the Logos as John speaks of Him in the verses quoted above, but the Logos as He speaks of Him in verse 14 of that same chapter when he says, “And the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us. . . .” That this firstborn could not very well signify the Son of God as the second Person of the Trinity, is evident from the term itself. For He is called the firstborn of every creature. In the first place, as the second Person in the one divine essence, He is not born but begotten. He is as such the only begotten and not the firstborn. In the second place, He is not merely called the firstborn but the firstborn of every creature. As the Son of God in the divine nature He cannot be classed with the creature for He is God, co-eternal with the Father and the Holy Ghost. It is therefore the Son of God as He came into the flesh, the Mediator, Jesus Christ, who is the firstborn of every creature. As the Christ He belongs with the creature. He was a real man, like unto us in all things, sin excepted. Through the incarnation the only begotten Son of God became the Firstborn son of Mary. “And she brought forth her firstborn son”, Luke 2:7. And this firstborn son of Mary is also the firstborn of every creature. That it is the Son of God as the Mediator is established also in the passage in which these words appear. He is the one through whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins; He is the Head of the Church, through the blood of His cross God has made peace and in Him He reconciles all things to Himself.
In respect to the question, how and in what sense this Mediator is the firstborn of all creatures!, we may observe in the first place that this is not to be understood in a temporal or historic sense. This fact is so self-evident that it requires no elucidation. The term must undoubtedly be understood in the light of the purpose of God with a view to the Christ as He has determined it in His eternal counsel before the world was. In this whole passage, as well as in the parallel passage in Ephesians 1, the apostle is revealing to us the mystery of God’s will and purpose with a view to all things as concentrating in Christ and as culminated, perfected and united in Him. That purpose of God with a view to uniting all things in Christ is logically first in the counsel of God. From all eternity God has that one great purpose in mind. And with a view to realizing that purpose He has ordained all things as a means. We are well aware of the fact that this view is contrary to the popular view which makes of the Christ a second or afterthought of God, an emergency measure on the part of God. According to this popular view, it was not the original purpose of God to send His Son in the likeness of sinful flesh. God had an entirely different purpose. However sin came into the world and frustrated this original purpose of God and therefore the Lord by means of the Christ makes the best of the situation and attempts through Him to salvage some of His original intention. Contrary to this view, we maintain that it was the original and only purpose of God’s eternal good pleasure to unite all things in Christ, according to the teaching of Scripture not only in this passage but also throughout. To establish this fact, we may observe in the second place that Christ, in this same connection, is called the firstborn from the dead. Christ is the first purpose of God in the new creation. In that new creation, which God has purposed in His eternal good pleasure, Christ is also the beginning. Only in and through Him as the firstborn of the dead can and shall that new creation be realized. All things follow upon Him and follow with a view to Him. And in Him they shall all be united in order that in Him all the fullness may dwell, to the praise and glory of God the Father.
Finally, therefore, we may say that He is the firstborn of all creatures because He is the firstborn from the dead. As such He must be the firstborn of all creation in the counsel of God. Because He stands as the first purpose of God with a view to the new creation in which all things will be united in Him, He must of necessity also stand as the first purpose of God with a view to creation and all that is involved as a means to the realization of that eternal purpose of God. Therefore, when that purpose of God shall be finally realized, we shall see all things reconciled unto God in Christ, the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creature.