The “all” barrage continues on into the next verse, which reads “He Himself is before all things and all things are held together in Him” (Colossians 1:17), which flows right into “He is the head of the body, the church, as well as the beginning, the firstborn among the dead, so that He Himself may become first in all things” (1:18). So here Paul writes about “all things” and “all things,” with the “all-inclusiveness” of humanity being carried in its basket of meaning and implication, moving directly into mention of the body of believers, that being the church, which is composed of all nations, apart from the covenant markers that delineated national Israel.
This becomes inextricably linked with the assembly of Israel when “firstborn,” as part of “firstborn among the dead,” is attached to it. This is an interesting phrase with an interesting addendum. While “firstborn” is a position of honor, and while “the dead” can certainly be honored, talk of “the dead” in connection with Jesus generates thoughts of the cross. If the cross is indeed brought to mind, this creates an interesting juxtaposition of honor and shame, as honor is identified with life, and shame is identified with death. Jesus then, receives His honor at the place of shameful death as part of the cosmic reversal in which the last become first and the first become last, and in which that which is the source and place of greatest shame (the cross) is converted into the place of highest honor.
In His willful trek to the cross, Jesus, by going to the lowest place, ascends to the highest place, becoming “first in all things.” As “firstborn” implies the first of many, while also carrying its congregational cognitive in connection with the whole of Israel, the attachment of “among the dead” provides a double-meaning of tremendous importance to those that follow Jesus, with its demand that those who do indeed follow Him also be willing to go to the places of shame, carrying the message of the kingdom of the Creator God and being the place where heaven and earth overlap---representing and bringing that kingdom’s reign to those places where death attempts to assert its complete, total, despairing, humanity and creation defacing reign in defiance of Jesus.
The nineteenth verse states “For God was pleased to have all fullness dwell in the Son” (1:19). This reinforces that which has been asserted in verses fifteen and sixteen, while also continuing the heavy theme of “all” that appears to be so crucial to Colossians in particular, as well as to Paul and the church in general. It is appended by “and through Him to reconcile all things to Himself by making peace through the blood of His cross---through Him, whether things on earth or things in heaven” (1:20).
“All” features from first to last, is here linked to reconciliation and “peace,” is contexted by the “cross” (which ties neatly back to the “dead” of verse eighteen), and drawing conclusions from the formulaic setting forth of some of the earliest doctrines of Jesus, flows nicely into the twenty-first and twenty-second verse, where Paul insists that “you were at one time strangers and enemies in your minds as expressed through your evil deeds, but now He has reconciled you by His physical body through death to present you holy, without blemish, and blameless before Him” (1:21-22).