Jesus’ identity and the source of wisdom
It is sometimes claimed that the simple Jesus whom we find in the pages of the Bible is a million miles from the exalted figure worshipped by the later church. Yet the book of Colossians provides powerful evidence that from its earliest days, the church had an extremely high view of Jesus’ identity.
Written in the very first generation after Jesus, and within the lifetime of the other Apostles, the author (Paul) presents Jesus in the loftiest terms: as the very image and fullness of God; the one who rules over the visible and invisible created order; the one in whom that order finds its point of unity and coherence, and the one who holds ‘all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge’.
Jesus—the humble Galilean carpenter—is the same person who has achieved a cosmic reconciliation between the world and God through the bloody victory of his cross.
Why did the Colossians need to be reminded of Jesus’ divine status and cosmic rule? Because, like us, they were confronted by many attractive and persuasive alternatives to Christian belief. It was—and is—very possible to look to Jesus as an example of humility and kindness, while looking everywhere else for wisdom and spiritual meaning.
We can do this if we relegate Jesus to merely human status. But Colossians reminds us that Christian faith operates within a far richer understanding of Jesus’ identity, and therefore promises far more than the most sophisticated philosophical systems.
The book of Colossians presents Christ as the embodiment of divine wisdom. It teaches that faith in the exalted Christ brings us into the very presence of God, and brings forgiveness of sins, new life, and a new identity.
The faith commended in this letter is also a practical faith, giving us concrete guidance as we face the challenges of living well in our family, work and church settings. And it offers a source of power that is second to none in the fight against self-centredness.
All of this depends, though, on an understanding of Christ that is consistent with the earliest Christian testimony – that his identity is human, but also divine; humble, but also of cosmic significance.