If one were to summarize Paul’s teaching about Christ in Col. 1:15-23, perhaps the most central idea is that of primacy. Christ has primacy in all things (v. 18). Moreover, this primacy has very many different facets.
On the one hand, for example, Christ has primacy over the entire creation insofar as He is its creator. As Paul says, Christ is “before all things” (v. 17). How can Christ be before all things if He was born at a certain point in time to Mary, His mother? This primacy belongs to Christ in virtue of His divine nature. Insofar as He is God the Son, consubstantial (one in being) with the Father, He is before all things. And as the Evangelist John says, He is before all things in the sense that all things are created by Him. Christ personally preexisted His birth in human nature. As John says, the Word that was with God and was God — this Word “became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14). The person of Christ did not begin to exist at His birth, but only His human nature. This is therefore one sense of Christ’s primacy over creation — the primacy of creator.
There is another sense in which Christ has primacy over creation, and this is as the goal of creation. Paul says that all things were created both through Christ and for Christ (Col. 1:16). But it is important not to miss the greater significance of this teaching, which is actually quite radical. When Paul refers to Christ, He refers to the God-Man, to the human being who is also God. If Paul were referring only to Christ in His divine nature, then the interpretation of this phrase — “all things were created for Him” — might be clear. It might simply mean, for example, that all things are God and that He does what He wishes with them. But Paul does not say this. He says that all things were created for Christ, for the God-Man. What could this mean?
It means, as the Scottish theologian David Fergusson has said, that “the world was made so that Christ might be born.” The providential purpose of the cosmos lies precisely in the advent of Christ in the world, in the Incarnation. It means that when Christ comes into the world, He comes to “what is His own,” to “His own things,” as John 1:11 says (eis ta idia). He is born so as to inherit the entire cosmos, which was created specifically for Him. At Christmas, we are not celebrating the arrival of Christ as a visitor in our world. Quite to the contrary, at Christmastime we learn that we are in fact the guests in this world, which belongs to Christ who is our host. The world does not exist for us, nor is Christ sent into the world primarily for us, but rather the world and we in it exist for Christ, and we are sent into the world for Him.
God’s providential purpose from the beginning was that Christ would be born. This is what means to say that “all things were created … for Him” (Col. 1:16). If we are to speak about predestination, then, we have to speak in the first place of the predestination of Christ. Christ is the predestined one par excellence. “He was foreknown before the foundation of the earth,” as Peter says (1 Pet. 1:20). And Paul says in Eph. 1:10 that God’s purpose in everything was to unite in Christ all things whether on heaven or on earth. God’s purpose was always to bring everything into relation with Christ, who is at the center of things.
If we must speak of a predestination of us as mere human beings, we have to speak, as Paul does, of a predestination and an election “in Christ” (Eph. 1:4). Christ is the predestined one. We are predestined only insofar as Christ, who is predestined, has something to do with us. We are predestined and chosen in virtue of the fact that Christ, who was predestined by God, is for us and does something for us — namely, He lives a righteous human life for us and dies for our sins on the cross in order to make atonement for the trespass of the entire world, and then He is resurrected for our justification and exalted at the right hand of the Father, where He intercedes for us even now. Our predestination is derivative and dependent on the fact that Christ, who is the true predestined one, does something for us.
In the upcoming Christmas holiday, then, we would do well to meditate upon and learn this truth: all things were created for Christ (Col. 1:16). Here, at the birth of Jesus in the world, the cosmos and all of God’s creation reaches its culminating point. The purpose of the cosmos is finally achieved when Christ is born, because the cosmos was created precisely for Him. And this means that we, too, are not in the center of things; we, too, were created not for ourselves but for Christ.