Was it only at His incarnation that our Lord became
(1) “The Image of the invisible God”; (2) “The Firstborn of every creature”; and (3) “The express Image of His Person”?
I believe that all three expressions were true of Him before then; and this is the opinion of most commentators on the passages, both ancient and modern.
With regard to Colossians 1:15-20, it seems to me that the simplest and most useful division of the attributes of Christ contained in these verses, and of the verses themselves, is into two groups.
(i) Those which were true of Him from the beginning (vv. 15-17).
(2) Those which were true of Him from the Cross (vv. 18-20).
In the first of these groups He is “The Image of the invisible God”; in the second He is “The Head of the Body, the Church.” In the former He has the title, “Firstborn of every creature”; in the latter He has that of “Firstborn from the dead.” In each case a reason is appended for the application to Him of these titles. He is “Firstborn of every creature, for by (or ‘in’) Him were all things created that are in heaven and that are in earth.” He is “Firstborn from the dead . . . for it pleased the Father . . . by Him to reconcile all things unto Himself. . . things in earth or things in heaven.”
Now since the reason assigned for the title, “Firstborn of every creature,” is that all things were created by Him, I cannot see how that title, or the one coupled with it, “Image of the invisible God,” can be referred to His incarnation only. Both declare His dignity as Originator and Sustainer of the first creation, just as those in verse i8 declare His pre-eminence in connection with the new creation.
As to Hebrews 1:3, it is agreed by Mr. Hoste that Christ was always ‘The Brightness of His glory,” and when once this is granted I cannot Conceive how the next clause, “The express Image of His Person,” is to be divorced from its fellow, and referred to something which only became true of Him at His incarnation. Both clauses hang closely united Upon the same participle, “Being,” which precedes them; and if the view mentioned were correct, this participle would be bearing its literal meaning in the one clause, and then would have to be thought of as though it meant “becoming” in the next clause. On the other hand, when we take them together, as is usually done, we get in them an interesting contrast with the two opening expressions of v. x. In time past God spake in the prophets “by divers portions” (a portion now and a portion again), and “in divers manners” (some less clear and some more clear than others). But now God has spoken in His Son, in whom is, not merely a few rays shining out from time to time, but the whole effulgence of His glory; and not merely dim outlines and shadows, but the exact “image” of His substance. And of course it is implied that the revelation thus made is, like Himself, both full and perfect. On this the subject matter of the entire epistle is based. The passage should be read in the R.V., and its connection noted with the word “enlightened” in Hebrews 6:4, and “illuminated” (same Greek) in Hebrews 10:32.
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