“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.”
In the book of Colossians, Paul is addressing a group of believers who he has not visited, but has been told about, and he carries a great burden for them; from his imprisonment in Rome, he pens his letter. At the time of the writing of Colossians, pagan philosophies were popping-up in the church and there were false teachers promoting the doctrine that Jesus was merely an angelic being. To combat these heresies, Paul uses the first part of his letter to emphasize the deity of Christ through ascribing names and titles to the Son of God which depict His complete Lordship and preeminence over all! Let’s take a closer look at the names in verse 18.
“And He is the head of the body, the church:”
Do you have an older sibling? Or perhaps you were the senior member of the gang you grew up with (whether it was with brothers and sisters, or cousins and friends). Growing up, my oldest sister, Evangeline, was the fearless leader of our six-member crew, and we followed her without question. She was always cooking up creative and brilliant ideas that we were in awe of; be it revealing the plot of the annual Crazy Cousins production, or converting our attic into an 1800’s cabin where we made many a memory (duct-taping one of us to a tree with a “For Sale” sign maybe wasn’t one of her brighter ideas). I can’t remember a time when she had an idea and we didn’t follow. The majority of her ideas were a success, and our parents were the supportive and amused recipients of a plethora of creative anniversary dinners, getaways, and holiday entertainment.
Again, while most of Evangeline’s ideas were sanctioned and the source of much joy and merriment, there were a few that involved minor injuries and small-scale emotional trauma. Whether the venture took flight or flopped, we all shared in the accolades (or loving reproof), but as the chief, Evy took the responsibility of success or failure: she was our head. Of course all analogies break down, but that illustration came to mind in an effort to depict the responsibility of what it means to be “the head.” And while all of the “heads” on this earth are imperfect, fallible humans, Christ is the Perfect Head. A body without a head is dead. The Greek word for “body” is “soma” and its use in this verse is described as, “The Church, in respect of Christ Who is the head of this body and supplies its spiritual life and motion.”* Christ supplies the Body’s spiritual life and motion; there is no record of any being apart from God who has the power to create physical life and sustain it, let alone spiritual life.
In Christ, our Head, we have been given both physical and spiritual life (Acts 17:28; John 1:12-13; Col. 1:18). There’s another beautiful verse in Ephesians 5:23 related to this title of the Head which states, “For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and He is the savior of the body.” Ekklesia is the Greek word for “church” both in Col. 1:18 and Eph. 5:23, and it denotes, “all who were called by and to Christ in the fellowship of His salvation, the Church worldwide of all times.” That’s us. Christ is the head of the body, the church.
“Who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead;”
It’s hard for me to picture what it’s like to not have a beginning. You and I, everything we know on this earth had a beginning! And everything that had a beginning had a creator. If something does not have a beginning, then it does not have a creator; and hence, it has always been. ‘Arche’ is the word for ‘beginning’ in this verse. Related to Christ, “[He] is called the beginning because He is the efficient cause of the creation; the head because He is before all things and all things were created by Him and for Him.”* The “efficient cause of the creation” … no other being can be the efficient cause of the creation … because all other beings had a beginning, a point when they were created. The only One Who could be rightfully called The Beginning, is the One Who did not have one. Christ is the Beginning (John 1).
This phrase, “the firstborn from the dead,” holds a very critical truth. When I first read this verse, the question came to mind, “What about the other accounts in Scripture about God raising people from the dead, both in the Old Testament and the New? They all happened before Christ rose from the dead …” When we look at the Greek word for “firstborn” in this verse, the answer to my question could not be clearer: “Christ [is called] prototokos ek ton nekron, the firstborn or the first begotten from the dead in regard to His being the first Who rose from the dead, no more to die; being the first to arise to an immortal and incorruptible life. All those who were raised from the dead later died again, having had only a sample of the resurrection that is yet to come. The Lord Jesus, however, rose and did not become subject to death again. “I am He that liveth, and was dead; and, behold, I am alive forevermore, Amen; and have the keys of hell and of death.” Rev. 1:18 “O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?” He is The Firstborn from the Dead.
This is one verse, in one chapter, of one book describing His sovereignty and deity … and the Bible has 66 books of this!! All of these names, all of these titles, all of these descriptions of His attributes, they are pointing to one thing: “[T]hat in all things He might have the preeminence.” In talking with a very good friend regarding the meaning of “preeminence,” they pointed out that in describing Christ’s preeminence, the definition is not merely “the first of several or many,” with the idea that there are others competing and Christ is the best (which He is!). There is simply no competition. He is completely other. Holy. Set apart. Nothing and no one else can even come close to being in the running with Him! Nothing of earth or heaven can be compared to Him. He is preeminent. Christ is First.
*Spiros Zhodiates Hebrew Greek Key-Study Bible