Who Is Jesus Christ?
After participating in this lesson, each student will be able to:
1. Tell how the creation is dependent on the creator.
2. Explain why Paul emphasized the doctrine of Christ in his battle against heresy in the church.
3. Write a prayer that expresses worship for Jesus in his role as creator.
How to Say It
shalom (Hebrew). shah-LOME.
Daily Bible Readings
Monday, Nov. 27—An Angel Promises (Luke 1:5–20)
Tuesday, Nov. 28—Elizabeth Is with Child (Luke 1:21–25)
Wednesday, Nov. 29—Zechariah Praises God (Luke 1:67–80)
Thursday, Nov. 30—John Prepares the Way (Matthew 3:1–6)
Friday, Dec. 1—A Son Is Promised (Isaiah 9:2–7)
Saturday, Dec. 2—Into the Kingdom of His Son (Colossians 1:9–14)
Sunday, Dec. 3—Who Jesus Is (Colossians 1:15–23)
He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him.
—Colossians 1:15, 16
Why Teach this Lesson?
It is often said that knowledge is power. This is true, and some knowledge is very powerful. There’s great power and fruitfulness in having knowledge of Jesus.
In this lesson, we will look closely at the person and character of Jesus Christ. In this process of coming to know more about the Lord, we grow in our understanding of who he is and what he has done for us. Growing in our knowledge of him helps us better to see all that he is to us and what he has come into our lives to do. Having a growing knowledge of Jesus Christ draws us closer to him in deeper fellowship.
As we study this lesson, we will not merely be learning information about an important person. We will gain knowledge of the Son of God, knowledge that will bless and empower us daily.
Jesus. Although secular society continually attempts to exclude him, he still seems to be everywhere. We see him as a plastic dashboard statue in a passing car. We watch him portrayed in Hollywood productions. We observe him in many variations as the manger baby for Christmas. In spite of all of this attention, we sometimes neglect to ask the most crucial question: “Who is Jesus Christ?” The lessons for this quarter will explore this vital question.
A. The Path to Heresy
Perhaps you have heard the word heresy at some time in your life. Merriam-Webster says that heresy is “an opinion, doctrine, or practice contrary to the truth.” Heresy is dangerous false teaching that negates or denies the central truths of the Christian faith (see 2 Peter 2:1).
Many heresies that have arisen in the history of the church are centered on Jesus Christ himself. The first major heresy about Jesus came from a collection of false teachings we call gnosticism. While there were several false doctrines within gnosticism, the most dangerous was the belief that Jesus was not really human—he just seemed or appeared to be human. Gnostics had no problem with the divinity of Jesus; they denied his humanity. But, as Hebrews 2:14 teaches, if Jesus had not been a man, he could not die. Thus, acceptance of gnostic beliefs would deny the basic doctrine that Jesus died on the cross to pay the price for our sins, the doctrine of the atonement.
A second major heresy that was centered specifically on Jesus was a fourth-century teaching we call Arianism. Arians taught that while Jesus was indeed a powerful, supernatural being, he had not always existed. He was a created being. This was recognized as a heresy because it ultimately denied the divinity of Christ. If he were a creature, then he could not be the creator—he could not really be God. If this were true, then Jesus’ claims about himself were delusions or lies, and he should be rejected as a false teacher.
Both of these heresies can be found in the church today. There are those who do not like to think of Jesus as a man, thus falling into a modern gnosticism. For example, this viewpoint has trouble thinking about the baby Jesus of Christmastime without also thinking that he never cried or while assuming that he was spouting words of wisdom while in the cradle.
There are others today who see Jesus as the ultimate man but not as God, thus agreeing with the Arians. These modern Arians admire Jesus as an advocate for the downtrodden, a wise teacher, or even as a revolutionary leader. This line of thought stops short of seeing Jesus as God in flesh.
Biblical Christians are called to affirm that Jesus was fully human and fully divine. To do anything less sets one on the path of heresy and departure from the Christian faith.
B. Lesson Background
Paul’s letter to the Colossian church was sent primarily to combat a growing threat of heresy within that group of believers. Paul never says exactly what the heresy is, but we can see that he refers to it as a type of “philosophy” (Colossians 2:8); it seems to have been an early form of gnosticism, perhaps combined with a type of Judaizing. Judaizing was the belief that Christians were obligated to keep every aspect of the Old Testament law, including circumcision. Paul wrote to correct the problem and call the church to a return to the simple faith in Christ (Col 2:6, 7).
Today’s lesson text comes on the heels of Paul’s opening prayer for the needs of the Colossian church. Paul has asked God that the Colossian believers would be spiritually wise (Col 1:9), live upright lives (1:10), show endurance in the face of persecution (1:11), and be thankful for their glorious salvation through Jesus Christ (1:12–14). Having ended his prayer on this high note, he then proceeds to discuss the true nature of Christ and what this means to his readers.
I. Divine Christ for Creation (Colossians 1:15–20)
The six verses in this subsection (Col 1:15–20) have been labeled the “Christ Hymn” or the “Hymn to Christ.”
A. Jesus: Image of God (v. 15)
15. He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation.
This extraordinary verse is one of the most profound doctrinal statements of the entire New Testament. Yet it is susceptible to misunderstanding in at least two ways.
First, when Paul says Jesus is the image of … God, he does not mean that Jesus is some type of “copy” of God. We know from our experience with copy machines that the copying process always causes degradation, and each copy is less perfect than the original. Such experiences do not apply here. Paul means that Jesus is “imaging” or revealing the unseen God, the creator who does not normally allow human eyes to see him (compare John 1:18). Jesus is the visible expression of God. See also John 14:9.
Second, when Paul describes Jesus as the firstborn over all creation, he is not saying that Jesus himself is a created being. Rather, this is his way of saying that Jesus is the ruler over all creation. In the ancient world the firstborn son has authority over the father’s household that is essentially equal to that of the father himself. The only one who can overrule the firstborn son is the father. Since there is complete unity of purpose between Jesus and his Father, the authority of the Son over creation is equal to that of the Father. The word translated firstborn here is also in Hebrews 1:6. There it is even clearer that Jesus enters the world of humans from the outside as an uncreated being.
Thus Paul begins the Christ Hymn with a robust statement of the divinity of Christ. He does this by affirming two mighty characteristics of Jesus: his role in revealing the true God and his authority over creation.
Visual for Lesson 1
Use this map to help your students gain a geographical perspective of this quarter’s lessons.
The Invisible God
Most religions in the ancient world worship gods represented by idols. Yet the God of the Bible refuses to be represented by an idol of any kind; he commanded that his people not make an idol of any kind (see Exodus 20:4). When the Romans first occupied Palestine, some officers entered the Holy of Holies in the temple and were dismayed that there was no image there. They concluded that these Jews did not worship any God at all and thus were atheists.
Today many people doubt God’s existence because they cannot see him. Yet in other areas of life we readily accept what we cannot see. We cannot see carbon monoxide, but we know that this gas can be lethal. We cannot see love, but we feel its presence and power. We cannot see radio waves, but that does not stop us from tuning in our favorite stations. Even though all these things are invisible, we still order our lives around them because we know they are real.
God too is real. And Jesus is the image of God. That means that what we see in Jesus is a picture of what God is like. The apostle John tells us that no one has even seen God, except as God’s Son has revealed him (John 1:18). What a privilege to see Jesus in the pages of Scripture! —J. B. N.
B. Jesus: Creator and Sustainer (vv. 16, 17)
16. For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him.
Paul expands upon Jesus’ role as creator by giving an inclusive statement with important implications. First, by him all things were created. Paul makes sure that his readers do not exclude anything from this broad statement. There are no exceptions. Paul wants the Colossians to know that this includes both the physical realm (on earth) and the spiritual realm (in heaven).
Paul also insists that all things were created for him. This, of course, further excludes Jesus from the realm of created beings and things. While the full purpose of creation is not laid out here, we know from elsewhere in Scripture that creation was undertaken by God for his glory. Paul includes Jesus in this goal; there is no separation of purpose.
17. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.
Paul’s mighty statements about Christ continue at an intense pace. In this verse he asserts the preexistence of Christ. The affirmation that Jesus is before all things tells us that the divinity of Christ is not limited by time or space. This statement is similar to Jesus’ own claim that “before Abraham was born, I am!” (John 8:58).
Paul goes on to declare that Jesus is not only the creator but is also the sustainer of all things. The word translated hold together has the sense of “continue to exist.” The Bible never sees God-the-creator as some kind of divine clockmaker who makes the clock, winds it up, and then abandons it. Christ continues to be involved in the ongoing affairs of the created order. Without this involvement the world would quickly cease to exist.
C. Jesus: Preeminent One (v. 18)
18. And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy.
Having established that Christ is the creator and ruler of the world, Paul now narrows the focus of the Christ Hymn to Jesus’ role in the church. As elsewhere, the church is seen as the body of Christ (see Romans 12:5, 1 Corinthians 12:27), a beautiful metaphor. Compare Ephesians 1:22, 23; 4:15; 5:23.
In regard to Christ’s relationship to the church, Paul lifts up three important concepts. First, Christ is the beginning or originator of the church. He founded the church (Matthew 16:18) and purchased it with his own blood (Acts 20:28).
Second, Jesus’ resurrection is the crucial doctrine of the church. Without the resurrection of Jesus, the faith of Christian believers is futile and useless (1 Corinthians 15:14), and the church is based on fraud. The doctrine of the resurrection emphasizes the flesh-and-blood side of Jesus. As a man Jesus died, but God raised him from among the dead. As the firstborn of the resurrection, he will lead all believers to victory over death.
Third, Paul states that all of these things work to establish Christ’s supremacy. This word means first place or highest rank. There is no authority in the church that exceeds the authority of Christ in any matter. It is his church, not ours. We must remind ourselves that we exist as the church for his service and for his glory.
D. Jesus: Dwelling of Deity (v. 19)
19. For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him,
This verse lifts up the doctrine of the incarnation. Although we may not be able to understand this teaching completely, it is a foundational doctrine for the Christian faith. This is the belief that the deity of God was present in the person of a man, Jesus of Nazareth.
Paul adds more detail to this statement in Colossians 2:9: “For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form.” In Christ we find all the fullness of God. Jesus did not merely have a “spark of the divine,” or “a more intense relationship with God.” Christ was and is God. As the apostle John wrote, “the Word [Christ] was God” (John 1:1), and this Word “became flesh and made his dwelling among us” (John 1:14).
E. Jesus: Peace Offering (v. 20)
20.… and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.
From the doctrine of the incarnation, Paul continues the Christ Hymn with the equally foundational doctrine of the atonement. Briefly stated Paul teaches that Jesus’ death on the cross was an act that paid the price for human sins; it thereby returned all creation back to God.
There are many aspects to the doctrine of the atonement, and Paul draws on three of them here. First, the cross of Christ served as a type of peace offering to God. The biblical concept of peace can mean more than lack of hostilities. In the Old Testament peace (Hebrew shalom) could be used in the sense of “satisfaction of a debt.” For example, a landowner who failed to cover a pit, thus allowing his neighbor’s ox to fall to its death, was obligated to give the neighbor a new ox. To do so was to make peace with the neighbor (see Exodus 21:34, where the idea of payment is represented by the Hebrew shalom). Elsewhere, Paul teaches that Christ is our peace, having breached the wall of separation between Jews and Gentiles and between God and humanity (Ephesians 2:11–22).
Second, Paul uses the concept of Jesus’ death as a blood offering for sins. The Bible teaches that without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins (Hebrews 9:22). This is the essence of Paul’s “message of the cross” (1 Corinthians 1:18), that the blood of Jesus serves as an ultimate, once-for-all sin offering (see Hebrews 10:10).
Third, this verse speaks of the atonement in terms of reconciliation. Two parties who were once on good terms but who have been alienated from one another need to be reconciled. They are reconciled when the cause for alienation is removed. We were alienated from God because of sin but reconciled when Jesus’ death covered our sin (see Romans 5:10). What is even more remarkable is that Jesus’ death does more than reconcile humankind with God; it also reconciles all of creation—all things, whether they be things on earth or things in heaven—with its creator.
II. Human Savior for Humanity (Colossians 1:21–23)
Verse 20 marks the end of the Christ Hymn. Paul now turns to its direct implications for his readers.
A. Jesus: Justifier and Sanctifier (vv. 21, 22)
21, 22. Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation—
Paul reminds his readers of our side of the problem: we are the ones who caused the alienation by our sin (evil behavior). Our movement away from God brings to mind the story of the wife who was riding with her husband in their big old car with the old-fashioned bench seats. She asked, “Honey, why don’t we sit next to each other like we did on our honeymoon?” Her husband, who was driving, answered, “Dear, I haven’t moved.” Alienation from God is not due to any failing or moving away on his part. The moving away has been entirely our work.
When we are reconciled to God through the blood of Jesus, he is able to present us completely restored before the throne of God. We are holy (cleansed of sin), without blemish, and free from accusation.
Alienated … Reconciled
Our family likes to watch old movies. One fond memory is the 1968 comedy With Six You Get Egg Roll, starring Doris Day and Brian Keith. Day is a widow with three boys; Keith is a widower with one daughter. Day and Keith meet and the chemistry begins to flow. At one point Keith breaks a date with her in order to go to a birthday party. But when Day sees him at a restaurant with a much younger woman, she is furious—not knowing that the young woman is his daughter and her birthday party is at the restaurant.
After that is cleared up, Day and Keith get married. When Keith discovers that his daughter has to spend much of her day doing housework while Day’s son plays basketball, the fireworks begin anew! He moves out of the house, and their relationship is on the rocks again. Eventually the misunderstandings are straightened out, and they live happily ever after.
Alienated, and then reconciled. Unfortunately, our alienation from God was more than a simple misunderstanding. We sinned, and this created a great gulf between us and God. But God pursued us. It took the sacrifice of his Son to unite us once again with God. It was that great sacrifice that makes it possible for us to live happily—and eternally—ever after. — J. B. N.
B. Jesus: Core of the Gospel (v. 23)
23.… if you continue in your faith, established and firm, not moved from the hope held out in the gospel. This is the gospel that you heard and that has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven, and of which I, Paul, have become a servant.
Here Paul speaks of the faith as the body of doctrine that is to be believed by Christians (see Jude 3). If we depart from the central doctrines of Jesus Christ as contained in the Christ Hymn, then we abandon the faith (see 1 Timothy 4:1). The danger that is in view here is not that we will quit believing altogether, but that our beliefs will become false as we drift into heresy.
While Paul’s books (letters) may have different emphases, they are consistent concerning these central doctrines, as is all of the New Testament. This is why we are able to use verses from one part of Scripture to help us understand a verse in another book. This is known as the “analogy of faith,” since Scripture never fights with itself. Scripture speaks with one voice in teaching us about the implications of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. These teachings are both secure and timeless, serving with equal value every generation of Christian believers.
A. The Ageless Jesus
“Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, and today, and for ever” (Hebrews 13:8). Some things about the church must change as culture and society changes. For example, no churches in the first century A.D. had Web sites or parking lots. However, the church has no need for new, updated doctrines about Jesus. Those doctrines as taught in the New Testament were adequate for Paul’s churches and they remain sufficient for ours.
Church history tells sad stories of teachers who wanted to redefine what the church taught about Jesus. Gnosticism and Arianism were only two of several threats that the church battled to retain “the faith”: the true doctrines concerning Christ. Until Jesus returns there will be false Christs (Mark 13:22). These may be flesh-and-blood impostors. They may be teachers presenting warped views of the nature of Christ and his work of salvation. Church leaders should always be on guard against the infiltration of such false teachings into the congregation (see Titus 1:9).
B. The Christ of Christmas
Paul never tells the Christmas story of baby Jesus, either in his letters or in his recorded preaching in the book of Acts. (The closest he comes is in Galatians 4:4: “But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law.”) Yet Paul would agree that the basic story of a baby born in Bethlehem is essential to our understanding of who Jesus is.
Jesus did not appear on the scene as a full-grown man, like gods of Greek mythology. The story of Jesus is an account both of human frailty and of divine, awe-inspiring power. He was born on the road and cradled in a feed trough. Yet he was worshiped by wise kings, and his birth was heralded by an angel choir. Even at his birth he was truly God and truly human.