What Does it Mean for Jesus to be the Firstborn?

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

On occasion I will visit a local convenience store before work to get a drink. One day as I parked I noticed two elderly gentleman standing by where you purchase newspapers. They had a big stand next to them that provided information. It quickly occurred to me that they were Jehovah’s Witnesses.

At first, I didn’t flinch. The longer I sat in my car after going in, the more I was convicted to get out and talk with them. So I did.

From the moment I stood in front of them, they could tell I was about to ask pointed questions (all with grace, of course). Like speaking with Mormons, we went round and round on topics such as grace, salvation, and what it means to be saved. But one topic stood out: the biblical Jesus.

One of the first things I mentioned to them is the biblical meaning of John 1:1, which reads, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” In the New World Translation—the scripture of the Jehovah’s Witnesses religion—there’s a glaring difference: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was a god” (bold mine).

There you have it. That’s a different Jesus—a different god. It’s not the God of the Bible, but one suited for their own religion and minds.

But then the conversation turns to Colossians 1:15, which reads:

“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.”

Colossians‬ ‭1‬:‭15‬

To JW’s, they take this to literally mean Jesus was born first of all creation. And in some sense, I can understand why.

Alistair Wilson writes at Crossway:

While it is true that the phrase is somewhat enigmatic, the most fundamental principle of biblical interpretation demands that it be understood in the context of the whole of Scripture. Following this principle leaves the Arian interpretation untenable.

In other words, He was created by God; which is another big reason why they don’t affirm the divinity of Jesus. However, they are simply wrong in their interpretation of this verse.

The word in Greek for ‘firstborn’ is prototokos, which signifies priority. In that cultural context, to be firstborn didn’t necessarily mean you were born first, but had more to do with rank, not age. “The firstborn possessed the inheritance and leadership” (GotQuestions.org). To understand this more, we must refer to Psalm 89:27, which reads, “I will make him the firstborn, the highest of the kings of the earth” (ESV). This verse is clear that, speaking of David, God is not referring to him as a physical firstborn of his family, but that he will be exalted as king.

In the same way, Jesus is not the physical firstborn of all creation, but rather, God has placed Him to have authority and preeminence over the entire universe. When interpreted biblically, this is another verse pointing to the Godness of Jesus.

That interpretation makes even more sense given what the rest of the passage states about Jesus. In Jesus all things were created (v. 16); Jesus is before all things and in him all things hold together (v. 17). Then later in verse 19, “For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him,” a clear indication that Jesus was God.

JW’s argument falls apart when we understand the text. To be sure, it doesn’t really convince them, as they are steeped in their own tradition and are hell-bent on proclaiming a different Jesus, a different god, and a different “gospel.” We should certainly pray for them, as they are still in their sins.

And that is why it’s pertinent to understand this passage, so we may discuss this with JW’s and hopefully, prayerfully, show them the biblical meaning. We must do so, for a Jesus that was created cannot save anyone. A Jesus who is not God in the flesh is unable to redeem.

From this, we can know for certain Jesus was, and is, divine. He is not the physical firstborn of all creation but is preeminent over all creation. The Jesus that calls us friends is the same Jesus who upholds all things and reigns over the entire universe. The Jesus who saved us is the same Jesus who created all things. The Jesus who ascended to the right hand of the Father and now intercedes for us is the same Jesus that was not created, but has always been present with the Father and the Spirit from all eternity.

That is the biblical Jesus; that is the Jesus to follow, to worship, to adore.

If you enjoyed this blog post, you might be interested in my new book, Taking No for an Answer: How to Respond When God Says No to Our Prayers.

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