Coming out of Passion Week and our celebration of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross and His resurrection from the grave, I thought it would be fitting to explore a truth about our Lord that can be a little confusing at first glance, but provides us with a great promise about our future.
In Scripture we read that Christ is the “firstborn from the dead.” The Apostle Paul says this of Jesus in Colossians 1, in a passage where he beautifully illustrates many of Christ’s qualities as Lord and Creator, as well as His divine qualifications for being the one and only saving Messiah for mankind. In verse 18 Paul writes, “He is also head of the body, the church; and He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that He Himself will come to have first place in everything.”
The Apostle John uses the same phrase in the opening of Revelation, where He writes, “John to the seven churches that are in Asia: Grace to you and peace, from Him [the Father] who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven Spirits who are before His throne, and from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth. To Him who loves us and released us from our sins by His blood,” Revelation 1:4-5.
In these two passages, the word rendered firstborn is the Greek prōtotokos, and plainly means the first to be born, just like the first child born to a father and mother. But it also indicates a ranking in the family, as in the first child to receive an inheritance or blessing (think how things worked in the Old Testament). In Colossians 1:15 Paul says Christ is the firstborn of all creation, denoting that Christ ranks first above all created things – He himself not being created (see John 1:3), but ranking above all that has been created. This is upheld a few verses later when Paul says Christ “Himself will come to have first place in everything,” (v18).
But not only does Christ rank as the highest above all except the Father, He also ranks as first among the resurrected. Christ quite literally is the firstborn from the dead. After being crucified and put in a tomb for three full days and three full nights (Matt 12:40), He rose bodily in God’s own power, permanently overcoming and conquering death – the first of anyone in history to do so.
Paul wrote on this topic extensively in his letter to the Corinthians; in chapter 15 he says, “but now Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who are asleep [dead]. For since by a man came death, by a man also came the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive.” 1 Cor 15:20-22
While others have been raised from the dead, especially during Jesus’s ministry, all of them died again. Their resurrection was temporary. But not Christ! He rose in eternal victory (1 Cor 15:55-57), appeared to hundreds, if not thousands of people (1 Cor 15:6), and then gloriously ascended fully alive into heaven to sit at His Father’s right hand (Acts 1:9, Acts 2:33).
What this means for believers is that Christ, in His resurrection, became the first to be glorified physically to eternal life, and each of us will one day experience this same physical resurrection to glory. This is our joyous hope and what we look forward to in life or even after we die. When Christ comes on the clouds to reap His beloved from the world (Rev 14:15), we too will be resurrected in bodily form to a new eternal life, in a place where sin and death have no power, to live with and serve Christ forever and ever.
What a blessing! What a promise! Come, Lord Jesus, come!