Who Is Jesus? The Image of God

15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. 16 For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. 17 And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. 19 For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. (Colossians 1:15-20)

There are few passages in the Bible that tell so succinctly of the glory and majesty and preeminence of Jesus Christ as does Colossians 1:15-20. Many passages tell us of the Lord’s majesty, no doubt, but few give us so much in so few verses as we have here. That alone is a reason to be excited about going through these verses together over the next several weeks!

This passage and many others like it are so important for us, because in them we see who Jesus really is. Everyone seems to have ideas about who He was. And that is how most refer to Him, in the past tense, who He “was.” But with all the ideas out there, we need to know the truth not just of who He was, but of who He is.

There are places that we and others can go to try to figure out who He is. We can go to the culture to learn about Jesus. If we do, there is a huge amount of material. Some is good, but most is purely speculation, putting Him into a box of one’s imagination. There are pop songs written about Jesus, thousands of books about Jesus, billboards that claim to represent Jesus as to what He said or would say on a topic. Liberal politicians claim to know His mind, conservative politicians claim an equal ability to know His mind, and yet their characterizations are totally at odds. “What Would Jesus Do” became a popular phrase, people seem to care what Jesus would do. Even when Jesus was walking on this earth in the first century people were asking, “Who is this man, Jesus?”

People of all ages want to know, “Who is Jesus?” The answer to that question seems to travel on a spectrum from, “Really a nobody, Jesus is a nobody, a fake,” to, “He is God incarnate.” From a blasphemous, evil person to a confession of deity, that is what the extremes of the spectrum reveal. And being a spectrum, there is everything in between.

Even within Christianity there is confusion. Some claim He is not so much like God the Father, but is instead a gentler, softer man who has traded harsh commands for love and mercy. Within some churches Jesus is portrayed as a victim of hard circumstances, a meek man who got caught up, against His will, in a political battle between Rome and Jewish leaders. That He was a victim, just out trying to do some good things for a few people and was misunderstood and became an unlikely target between two warring parties. While others say Jesus was not a victim, but was a wiling participant as He went to the cross to appease His Father and to rescue His people from their sin. Which is it? That is a very important question.

It is interesting, though, that no matter where a person falls regarding what they believe about Jesus, most people seem to want Him on their side. I find that interesting. Most want to persuade people that no matter what their stance is on any issue, that Jesus would agree with them. So if someone wants to argue a point that is not really biblical, there seems to be a desire to want to pull Jesus or God into that argument and to give reasoned comments as to how they are acting in accordance with what Jesus would do or how He thinks. In that sense, there still remains a certain respect for Jesus, even if we or others don’t, honestly, really have a clue as to who He really is.

Why such confusion? Why such contradictory statements and beliefs about Jesus? Who is Jesus?

Paul gives us a powerful picture of who Jesus is in Colossians 1:15-20, and from it we can see who He really is. It is not descriptive of everything about Him, no single passage is, but it does clearly teach us much about His majesty and His place in this universe. And so we go to the source of truth, the Bible, God’s Word, to get to the heart of who Jesus is, rather than relying on the culture, or extra-biblical writings, or the imagination of others.

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. (Colossians 1:15)

The first way that Paul describes Jesus is by saying He is the image of the invisible God. Image means just what it sounds like, image or you could say likeness. It is where we get the English word “icon.” When we think of the “image of God” as it is used here to describe Jesus, we may remember that at creation the image of God was used to describe those others than Jesus, it was used to describe humans.

26 Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”
27 So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them. (Genesis 1:26-27)

Those are some remarkable truths! We are people created in the image of God. We were in some way created in the image of God as humans. This is what separates us from the rest of creation, from animals. It is meant to be that we reflect God in some important ways. When people try to argue that we are no different than the animals around us, that we have just evolved faster than they have, then we can go to the beginning of creation and read that, yes, we are different, we are very different, and that difference is primarily found in these two verses in Genesis. We were created in God’s image.

In what ways do we reflect the image of God? We are in God’s image in that we have rational personality. We have intellect, we can think, we have emotions, we can feel. So our ability to think and reason and feel and make rational choices, these in some measure are a reflection of God.

I was thinking of this as I was looking at some calves in a barbed wire fence last week. I was thinking, “You know, I don’t think they are as smart as we are. I don’t think these calves have the intellect and reasoning abilities that we have. If they did, then I may be the one behind that fence, and they would be the ones that put me there.” That is a scary thought. We were created to rule over them and given an ability to rule over them, not for them to rule over us.

Adam and Eve even more so were a reflection of God before the Fall. They were free of sin, holy in that sense. But since the Fall, since sin entered into humanity, we have been marred terribly regarding holiness and morality. Marred terribly, but not fully; we still image God in some ways. In fact, it is through our redemption and our Savior that we are being restored to a higher state of an image of God. With salvation comes an ever growing in how we reflect the very one who saved us.

Several passages speak of how we are being changed to better reflect our Savior…

For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. (Romans 8:29)

And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit. (2 Corinthians 3:18)

and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. (Colossians 3:10)

We were as humans created in the image of God. The Fall happened, which has significantly marred that, but as redeemed children of God, God is remaking us into His image, the image of Christ, in a deeper way. God is in the business of making things new, making us new in His likeness.

This is a place of great hope for each of us who belong to Christ! Yes we sin, yes our family members and friends sin, but God does not quit on us, He continues to work in us to make us more like His Son. Never forget that.

But our passage is not talking about just any person, redeemed or unredeemed. It is talking about Jesus Christ as being the image of the invisible God. How is that different than we as humans being created in God’s image? Two primary things. First, Jesus is perfect and without sin. Secondly, He is not a created being as we are. These two things separate descriptions of us and of Him and the image of God.

Jesus was and is perfect and without sin, holy. This makes Him not somewhat of a likeness of the Father, but a perfect representation of the Father. Jesus did not ever “become” an image of the Father, God but has always been in His image.

He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high (Hebrews 1:3)

Jesus is an exact imprint of the Father. Jesus is the very form of the Father, not in physical representation, but in character and nature.

who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped (Philippians 2:6)

Jesus made a bold statement when He said in John 14:9-11…

9 Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? 10 Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own authority, but the Father who dwells in me does his works. 11 Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me, or else believe on account of the works themselves. (John 14:9-11)

The writers of the New Testament, as given inspiration by God, teach us that Jesus is the image of God in His perfections, He is an exact imprint of the nature of the Father, and He is in the form of God and equal to Him.

We cannot see the Father, He is Spirit, Paul describes the Father as invisible. We see God’s hand at work around us and can learn about Him in that way. We have His Word before us, His revelation to us that describes Him and tells of His acts and His character. But in addition to those things that help us understand God the Father, we also have Jesus Christ who is the manifestation of the Father, God in human flesh.

Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.” (John 8:58)

It was clear to the Jews from that statement that Jesus was claiming to be God, and we see that by their response in the next verse…

So they picked up stones to throw at him, but Jesus hid himself and went out of the temple. (John 8:59)

30 I and the Father are one.” 31 The Jews picked up stones again to stone him. 32 Jesus answered them, “I have shown you many good works from the Father; for which of them are you going to stone me?” 33 The Jews answered him, “It is not for a good work that we are going to stone you but for blasphemy, because you, being a man, make yourself God.” (John 10:30-33)

And of course, as Bilal read for us earlier, from John 1…

1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:1, 14)

Jesus is God. He is not God the Father, He is God the Son. Being in the image of the Father, the “radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature.” We can be sure, as Jesus said, if we have seen Jesus in the pages of Scripture, then we have seen the Father. What Jesus did in His walk on earth was fully the Father’s will and consistent with what the Father would do.

The point is, we cannot separate the Father and the Son in their character, their values, their beliefs, their goals, their judgments, how they consider humanity, or any other way. They are one in that sense. 

We can separate them in their roles. The Father is the Father, and the Son is the Son. The Father sent the Son to redeem us, to die for us on a cross. The Father did not die on the cross, the Son did. Jesus submitted to the Father while walking on the earth. Their roles are distinct and different, but their nature is the same.

Christ did not sit back and witness the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah and think, “Come on now, isn’t that a little harsh?” No, they were in agreement. Christ does not question the Father or judge His motives, because His motives are the same and they act in unison.

This is so important because there have been so many people who have tried to argue that there is a gulf between the God of the Old Testament and Christ Jesus of the New Testament. This is not true. We may not understand the flow of history and we may be confused over some of the Father’s acts, but they are not foreign to Christ nor against His will or wishes.

If someone hates the God of the Old Testament but likes Christ, then they are not understanding who the real Jesus is! There is a flow of consistency in their nature because they are one in the most radical sense. They are one!

Here is a problem about how we may view Jesus, or how the world may view Jesus. Think of an image or a representation of someone you know. Say we have a picture of me up here, life sized. And what if someone began to Photoshop that image. Maybe my facial wrinkles were removed, and my receding hairline. A few pounds taken from some areas, and added to my biceps, and distributed well to the rest of my muscle groups. Maybe a few inches added to my stature. That’s what Photoshop is good for. It would be a new me, right? No, not really, it wouldn’t be me at all! It would become a likeness of a person that does not exist.

I’m afraid that for many, and maybe for you, the Jesus in our minds may be one who does not really exist. Let’s be careful here. Be careful that our minds conform to the real person of who Jesus is, and not that we try to conform Jesus to what our minds may prefer.

As we continue in these verses in Colossians, we will have great opportunity to check ourselves regarding our view of Jesus Christ. Some of us may have to repent of our wrong thinking and adopt what is true about Him. We will see not just who He is, but much of what He has done. We will also get view of some of His thoughts and His desires.

Who is the real Jesus? Well, for one…

He is the image of the invisible God (Colossians 1:15a)