Firstborn of the Dead

SYNOPSIS - Paul emphasizes the exalted position of Jesus that resulted from his death and resurrection – Colossians 1:18-19

Graveyard - Photo by Einar Storsul on Unsplash
In his letter to the Colossians, Paul stresses the exalted position of Jesus that resulted from his obedient death and his resurrection from the dead. Some members of the congregation remained confused about the authority of the Son of God, even over the spiritual powers that are hostile to him and his people. Therefore, Paul reminded them of just how highly God had exalted the one who became the “firstborn of the dead.” - [Photo by Einar Storsul on Unsplash].
  • (Colossians 1:18-22) – “And he is the head of the body, the assembly, Who is the beginning, Firstborn from among the dead, in order that he might become in all things himself pre-eminent; — Because in him was all the fullness well pleased to dwell. And through him fully to reconcile all things unto him, making peace through the blood of his cross, — [through him] — whether the things upon the earth or the things in the heavens; And you who at one time were estranged and enemies in your mind in your wicked works, yet now hath he fully reconciled, In his body of flesh, through means of his death, to present you holy and blameless and unaccusable before him” – (The Emphasized Bible).
The pronoun from the preceding passage rendered “he” (twice) is emphatic in the Greek text ( “he himself”) - The stress is on Jesus and what God accomplished in his Death and Resurrection. He is now - at present - “before all things” (present tense). Moreover, in him, all things “adhere” or “hold together.”

Implicit in this declaration is that Jesus did not always have this preeminent position - His high status is the result of his obedience unto death, as well as his triumph over all hostile powers on the Cross. And the passage emphasizes what he has achieved on behalf of the church, including the small congregation located in Colossae.

The Greek term rendered “body” is used metaphorically by Paul for the church (sōma). In the theology of Paul, a human and physical “body” is something created by God and, therefore, inherently good regardless of its present weaknesses.

Firstborn” points to the preeminence of Jesus as the “firstborn of many brethren.” The clause also stresses that he is the firstborn from the dead – The Son of God is the first man to be resurrected and receive a glorious immortal body.

This theological concept links Jesus to the saints. His resurrection is the model and “first-fruits” of their resurrection, and his glorified body is of the same nature as the one that believers will receive when he returns at the end of the age.

Grain Harbest - Photo by Frank Albrecht on Unsplash
Harbest - Photo by Frank Albrecht on Unsplash

Similarly, the book of Revelation labels Jesus the “firstborn from the dead,” also in reference to his past resurrection:
  • (Revelation 1:4-5) – “John, unto the Seven Assemblies which are in Asia, Grace to you and peace, from—Him who Is, and who Was, and who is Coming, and from — The Seven Spirits which 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.”
Paul also uses the term “resurrection” metaphorically in this letter. On some level, water baptism symbolizes the saints being “buried” with Jesus in his death so that, now, they should live in the newness of his resurrected life.
  • (Colossians 2:9-14) – “Because in him dwelleth all the fullness of the Godhead bodily, And you are in him filled full, Who is the head of all principality and authority, In whom, you have also been circumcised with a circumcision not done by hand in the despoiling of the body of flesh, in the circumcision of the Christ, Having been buried together with him in your baptism whereby you also have been raised together through your faith in the energizing of God, Who raised him from among the dead. And as for you who were dead by your offences and by the uncircumcision of your flesh, he has brought you to life together with him, having in grace forgiven us all our offenses, Having blotted out the handwriting against us by the decrees, which was hostile to us, and has taken away the same out of the midst, nailing it up to the cross.”
One result of his exaltation was the cancellation of the ordinances from the Law that had to do with dietary restrictions and calendrical observations. Such things were not inherently evil - They were required by the Torah; however, their time came to an end with his Death and Resurrection – These rituals amounted to “shadows” of the “substance” that cast them – Jesus - (Romans 6:4-5).

Because of his victory, believers must not allow anyone to enslave them again to the very “rudiments” to which they have died already in Christ - (“For you died, and your life is hid with Christ in God”). Since they have been raised together with him, they must pursue the things above - “Where Christ is, seated on the right hand of God.”

When Jesus is again “manifested,” his people will also “be manifested in glory.” This “manifestation” refers to his coming in glory at the end of the age. This “glory” will be received collectively at the “advent of Jesus” - (1 Peter 5:4, 1 John 2:28, 3:2).

Paul associates the future “glory” for believers with the present glory of Jesus and the promised bodily resurrection that will occur at his return. This link is especially prominent in the designation – The “firstborn of the dead.”

As in many of his letters, the future resurrection of the righteous is foundational to the Apostle Paul’s understanding of salvation and the Christian hope.




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