Firstborn of the Dead

In Colossians, Paul emphasizes the exalted position of Jesus that is the result of his death and resurrection – Colossians 1:18-19

Graveyard - Photo by Einar Storsul on Unsplash
In 
Colossians, Paul stresses the exalted position of Jesus. Some members of the congregation remained confused about the authority of the Son of God, especially over the spiritual powers that remain hostile to him and to 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 to 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 has he fully reconciled, in his body of flesh, through his death, to present you holy and blameless and unaccusable before him.”
In the Greek text, the pronoun rendered “he” in the first clause is emphatic. It stresses Jesus and what God has 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 is that Jesus did not always hold this preeminent position. His high status is the result of his obedience unto death, as well as his triumph over all the hostile spiritual powers on the Cross. And further, the passage emphasizes what he has achieved on behalf of the church.

The Greek term rendered “body” is used metaphorically by Paul for the church (sōma – Strong’s - #G4983). In his theology, a human and physical “body” is something created by God, and therefore, inherently good, regardless of its present weaknesses.

Firstborn” points to his preeminence as the “firstborn of many brethren,” and he is the firstborn from the dead; that is, 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.

Likewise, the book of Revelation labels him the “firstborn from the dead,” also in reference to his past resurrection:
  • (Revelation 1:4-5) – “John, to 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.”
In Colossians, Paul also uses “resurrection” metaphorically. 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).

One result of his exaltation was the cancellation of the ordinances from the Law concerned 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. Such rituals amounted to “shadows” of the “substance” that cast them, namely, 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 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 in the future. This “glory” will be received collectively at the “advent of Jesus” when the righteous dead are raised - (1 Peter 5:4, 1 John 2:28, 3:2).

Paul associates the future “glory” for believers with the present glory of Jesus, and with the promised bodily resurrection at his return. The connection 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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