Meditations in Colossians: 32. Jesus the Sustainer
Col 1:17 He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.
Here we go again with two phrases that we probably so often skip past without little thought but which are, like the rest of these incredible snippets in the letter, like nuggets of gold that need mining. First of all, “He is before all things.” I suggests there are two meanings or applications of this part of the verse. First, because he was begotten before the Godhead created anything else, he is indeed before all things. Second, I would suggest that because of who he is, he is before anyone and anything else in all of existence in respect of importance.
I know we have been there before but it needs emphasising because we are so slow to really take in these things, but let’s consider more fully this aspect of Jesus having existed before anything else. Let’s recap again John’s verses: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning.” (Jn 1:1,2) The Living Bible puts it so straightforwardly: “Before anything else existed there was Christ, with God.” Then there is, “I tell you the truth,” Jesus answered, “before Abraham was born, I am!” (Jn 8:58). “I AM” of course was God’s divine name shared with Moses in Exodus 3. Then remember how Jesus prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane: “And now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began.” (Jn 17:5) Wow, that’s pretty clear!
To pick up the second possible meaning of that part of the verse if, as we have been seeing, Jesus IS God and Jesus was there bringing into existence all of creation and, as we’ll go on to see shortly, he holds all things together, then indeed there is no competitor to rival him for importance. No other being – human or otherwise – has had these things said about them. As a separate study work your way through Hebrews chapter 1 where the writer lists off a stream of reasons why Jesus is pre-eminent.
But then Paul goes on to this second tricky phrase: “in him all things hold together.” This is quite amazing, Let’s look again at how a couple of the paraphrase versions put it: “He was there before any of it came into existence and holds it all together right up to this moment.” (Message) and “He was before all else began and it is his power that holds everything together.” (Living) The consensus is that somehow or other, Jesus the Son of God is the one who keeps everything going; not the pull of gravity, not the initial big bang momentum, but Christ. We measure ‘life’ in a human beings by brain waves or heart beats and we assume they have just been started off by the mother while the infant is in the womb, and they simply slow down and stop at death. We observe life in a plant or a tree as sunlight and water act on the cells of the tree or plant and they multiply and we speak of the plant as ‘living’ but actually these verses say that somehow life continues and the world continues only because of Jesus.
The writer to the Hebrew wrote, “The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word.” (Heb 1:3) In the same way that life and matter were created by God’s word – “And God said, ‘Let there be…. And it was so.” (see Gen 1) so it seems, keeps things going by His word. While he speaks it keeps going.
It is a mystery we will not understand until we get to heaven. But is makes Jesus even more significant. We so often focus on his all important work on the Cross (and rightly so) but we must never forget the New Testament’s testimony that Jesus is with God and Jesus is God. Also that God created the world and Jesus created the world. Now we see that the very existence of the world depends on Jesus the Son of God. We might ask, can we ever elevate Jesus enough? There is yet more to come.