Christology Pt. 1: Cosmic Christ in Paul
By Dr. James Crockett, Minister to College & Young Adults at Hillcrest Baptist Church
When most pastors and theologians study biblical Christology, they tend to focus on two areas: 1) Christ’s position within the Godhead and 2) Christ’s relationship to and work on behalf of humanity. However, I would suggest that there is a vital aspect of New Testament Christology that we often overlook: cosmic Christology. When I mention this term, I often get puzzled looks as if I am speaking a different language. Perhaps these puzzled looks suggest that we as the church have not given enough attention to the cosmic aspects of Christ’s person and work, but the NT writers clearly portray Christ as a figure of cosmic significance. Paul makes several explicit references to cosmic Christology in his letters (for example, Rom 8:18-23, 38-39; 1 Cor 15:20-28; Phil 2:6-11; Eph 1:20-23; Col 1:15-20). In this brief article, I would like to explore some ways in which Paul articulates his own cosmic Christology.
We may start by defining cosmic Christology. The best recourse for defining “cosmic Christology” is to use Paul’s own terminology. The “cosmos” encompasses every aspect of creation in both the physical and spiritual realms. Paul proclaims that everything “in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible” falls under Christ’s creative agency (Col 1:16), and God has exalted Christ over everything “in heaven and on earth and under the earth” (Phil 2:10). Considering this Pauline terminology, we may broadly define cosmic Christology as the study of Christ’s position, identity, and work in relation to the whole cosmic order, which encompasses every created thing in both the physical and spiritual realms. A deeper look at Paul’s own Christology reveals Christ to be God’s royal agent through whom He creates, reconciles, renews, and rules the cosmos. We will examine these aspects of Christ’s cosmic agency below.
Christ as Cosmic Creator
Paul promotes Christ as God’s agent through whom He created the whole cosmos. In his reworked version of the Shema (1 Cor 8:6), Paul presents Christ as an active participant in the creation act as God’s creative agent. Paul declares that the existence of all things, including our own existence, is through (the Greek preposition διά, which typically indicates agency) Christ. In the Colossian hymn, Christ is the one “in,” “through,” and “for” whom are all things (Col 1:16). Paul specifies that all things encompass things “in heaven and on earth, the visible and the invisible,” meaning that Christ’s creative agency extends to both the physical and spiritual realms. That the cosmos was created “in” Christ suggests that He is the sphere in which all things were created. Paul extrapolates this concept by presenting Christ as both the agent (“through him”) and the goal (“for him”) of the cosmos. The implication is that the whole created cosmos operates within the sphere of Christ’s supreme rule because he is the agent and goal of creation. As God’s agent in the original creation of the cosmos, Christ is also the one who maintains cosmic harmony (Col 1:17)
Christ’s creative agency applies not only to the original creation but also to new creation. Paul’s implication is that both our original existence and our new existence as a result of salvation is through Christ’s creative agency. Paul describes the salvation that God has brought about through Christ in creation terms. Believers are a “new creation” (Gal 6:15) and are “created in Christ Jesus for good works” (Eph 2:10). In bringing us into one body, Christ has built believers together into one temple (Eph 2:19-22). Paul describes the joining together of Jews and Gentiles in the church as Christ’s act to “create in himself one new man” (Eph 2:15; cf. Col 3:9-10). But Christ’s new creation work extends beyond the salvation of humanity. This leads us to another key point of Paul’s cosmic Christology.
Christ and Cosmic Renewal
Christ’s salvific work includes not only the salvation of humanity but also the renewal of creation in the cosmos. Christ is God’s agent through whom He seeks to reconcile everything “whether on earth or in heaven” back to Himself (Col 1:20). Paul articulates this idea clearly in Romans 8:19-23. Creation has become an unwilling victim of a cosmic conflict. Adam’s sin led to the subjection of creation to the corrupt rule of sin and death (Rom 8:20). As we groan and await our redemption to become fully realized, so creation groans and awaits its renewal, a renewal that is tied to the full completion of our own salvation (Rom 8:21-23). Paul assures believers that Christ’s death, resurrection, and ascension guarantees their full redemption (Rom 8:31-39), which in effect guarantees the liberation of the creation from the cruel rule of sin and death.
Cosmic renewal is only possible when Christ conquers and subjugates the evil cosmic powers that have brought corruption to the cosmos. Christ’s work and kingdom counteracts the devastating effects of the kingdom of darkness (Rom 5:12-21; 1 Cor 15:20-28; Col 1:12-14). In 1 Corinthians 15:20-28, Paul gives a picture of the coming kingdom of God. Paul states that the end goal of Christ’s reign is to turn His rule over to God the Father (1 Cor 15:24a). However, this turning over can only happen when Christ defeats “every rule and every authority and power” (1 Cor 15:24b). Based on the cosmic context of Paul’s discourse, this language probably refers to the supernatural powers who oppose the purposes of God and have corrupted and enslaved the whole creation. Paul further explains that God brings about the end of these destructive powers by subordinating them under the rule of Christ (1 Cor 15:25-28). It is only by the subjugation of the cosmos under Christ’s rule that God will once again be “all in all” (1 Cor 15:28), which is the true goal of cosmic renewal. This brings us to our final point.
Christ as Cosmic King
The redemption and renewal of the cosmos is only possible because Christ has claimed his rightful place as king over the cosmos. His present position as cosmic king guarantees cosmic renewal. Paul utilizes royal language throughout the Colossian hymn to portray Christ as the cosmic king. Paul attributes a kingdom to the “beloved Son” (Col 1:13), who is none other than Christ. Christ is “the image of the invisible God” (Col 1:15) a title which was given to humanity in Genesis 1:26-27 to designate them as God’s royal representative over creation. Christ is “the firstborn of all creation” (Col 1:15), a term which was often applied to the ideal Davidic king of the OT (for example, see Ps 89:27). As a king is charged with maintaining order over his kingdom, so Christ maintains order over the cosmos (Col 1:17). Christ’s resurrection occurs so that he might be the preeminent one in the whole cosmos and begin the new creation order (Col 1:18). Colossians 2:15 declares that Christ’s work on the cross means that the evil cosmic powers have been disarmed and have been put on full display as those who have been fully conquered by Christ. The language of Colossians 2:15 draws upon the image of a Roman emperor general celebrating victory over his enemies. The emperor or the victorious Roman general, often dressed in royal garb, would parade his defeated enemies through the streets and would receive honor and glory for his victory. In using this imagery, Paul portrays Christ as God’s king through whom He subdues the whole cosmos. Further, Christ’s present position at God’s right hand in the heavenlies (Col 3:1; Eph 1:20) indicates that Christ already exercises absolute authority over every cosmic power. His present position as the cosmic king guarantees the eventual full manifestation of his kingdom and acknowledgment of his kingship by every being within the cosmos (Phil 2:9-11) As the rightful cosmic king, he claims authority over and empowers the church (Col 1:18; Eph 1:22-23).
Christ’s kingship over the cosmos benefits the church in two ways. In the present, Christ claims authority over and empowers the church (Col 1:18; Eph 1:22-23). Believers have been transferred from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of Christ (Col 1:12-14). As those under Christ’s kingship, believers enjoy the full benefits of Christ’s cosmic victory, which include redemption (Col 1:14), reconciliation (Col 1:21-23; Eph 2:13-17), a position in the heavenlies (Eph 2:6), corporate unity (Col 3:9-11; Eph 2:19-22), and empowerment for ministry (Eph 4:8-13). In the future, the guarantee of the full revelation of Christ’s cosmic kingdom secures our place and destiny with Christ (Col 3:3-4).
This article is meant to simply introduce the concept and important aspects of cosmic Christology. We could give a lot more detail about the points mentioned above, but I would like to end by giving a few suggestions as to why understanding cosmic Christology is important for us. 1) Cosmic Christology assists us in understanding and telling God’s story. We must preach a Gospel to our people that anticipates renewal of the whole creation. We must avoid preaching “religious escapism” where people seek to simply flee the earth and go to heaven. Rather, we must give them the hope that God will one day renew His whole creation so that we might fully enjoy His good creation once again. At that point, God will bring heaven and earth together under the rule of Christ. 2) Christ’s present position as cosmic king gives us confidence in our Christian walk. When Paul states that we wrestle against spiritually dark powers (Eph 6:12), he is referring to the same powers that have been subjected to the rule of Christ (Eph 1:21-22). Therefore, we can have confidence in the daily spiritual battles we face because our enemy is subject to the authority of our head, Christ. 3) Christ’s cosmic kingship gives us hope for the future. We live with the hope that our destiny is fully bound to Jesus the King of the cosmos, and we will be vindicated when His kingship is fully revealed.
 One could argue that the word “beginning” (ἀρχή) carries regal connotations. The title ἀρχή is often used as a royal appellation in the Septuagint (Gen 49:10; Num 23:21; Deut 33:5).
 For more on this royal imagery, see Joshua Jipp, Christ is King: Paul’s Royal Ideology (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2015), 126-27.
*The views expressed are those solely of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the Pastor’s Common