Firstborn of the Dead

In his Letter to the Colossians, Paul stresses the exaltation of Jesus following his resurrection. Some members of the congregation were confused about his authority over the spiritual powers that remained hostile to God and His people; therefore, Paul reminded the Assembly of just how highly God has exalted the one who became the “Firstborn of the Dead.”

The Apostle’s purpose was pastoral – to meet a real need of the Assembly – not metaphysical speculation about the nature of Jesus or his relationship with his Father. The emphasis of the term “Firstborn of the Dead” is on how the resurrection of Jesus relates to and affects his followers.

Lantern under stars - Photo by Chinh Le Duc on Unsplash
[Photo by Chinh Le Duc on Unsplash]

The high status of Jesus is the 
result of his obedience unto death, and this fundamental factor cannot be stressed enough but here, Paul emphasizes especially that he achieved supremacy over all hostile powers on behalf of the Assembly of God.

  • (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 preeminent; 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 what God accomplished in Jesus of Nazareth - in his Death and Resurrection. He is now, AT PRESENT, “before all things” (present tense).

In him, all things “adhere” or “hold together,” and this includes his subjugation of and rule over these hostile spiritual powers. For this reason, his people are no longer under the dominion of the “principalities and powers.” In fact, all such powers were “created” to serve him. Since his Death and Resurrection, they do so willingly, or not.

The Greek term rendered “body” or sōma is applied metaphorically to the Assembly in Colossae (Strong’s - #G4983). In Paul’s view, a physical “body” is something that God created and is, therefore, inherently good regardless of its present mortal or sinful state. The problem was never its physicality but its enslavement by sin and consequent subjugation to decay and death.


The term rendered “firstborn” points to his preeminence as the “Firstborn of many brethren.” He is the Firstborn of the Dead. Jesus of Nazareth is the first man who was resurrected, and who therefore received a glorious immortal body.

This is why he also is labeled the “BEGINNING.” In his Death and Resurrection, he began the general resurrection of the dead and inaugurated the “New Creation.” All the benefits that God bestowed on the Assembly of Colossae were the direct result of his self-sacrificial death and resurrection “from among the dead.”

His past resurrection links him to believers and becomes the model and “First Fruits” of their coming resurrection. His glorified body is of the same nature as the one that his followers will receive when he returns and raises them from the dead.

Likewise, the Book of Revelation calls him the “Firstborn from the Dead,” also about his past resurrection and present position:

  • 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” - (Revelation 1:4-5).

Paul also uses the term “resurrection” metaphorically in Colossians. Water baptism symbolizes the saints being “buried” with Jesus in his death so they should live now in the newness of his resurrected life - (Colossians 2:9-14).

One result of his exaltation is the cancellation of the ordinances from the Law that previously governed food and calendars. Such things are not inherently evil, and they were required by the Torah. But their time came to an end with his Death and Resurrection. Such rituals amount 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 hidden 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.”

Beach Sunrise - Photo by George Kourounis on Unsplash
[Photo by George Kourounis on Unsplash]

When Jesus is again “
manifested,” his people will also “be manifested in glory.” This “manifestation” refers to his return or “arrival” at the end of the present age (‘Parousia’) when his saints will receive “glory” and be raised from the dead.

Paul links this future “glory” to the present glory of Jesus and the coming promised resurrection of the righteous. This connection is especially prominent in the designation “Firstborn of the Dead.” Jesus was the first of many - (1 Peter 5:4, 1 John 2:28, 3:2).

The future bodily resurrection of the saints is foundational to Paul’s understanding of salvation and the everlasting life of believers in the coming age, and that glorious hope is based on the past Death and Resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth.

  • Resurrection Hope - (Central to salvation in the Apostolic tradition is the bodily resurrection of the dead when Jesus arrives to gather his saints)
  • The Foundation - (Paul reminded Timothy of the resurrection of Jesus and his victory over death since false teachers were denying the future resurrection of believers)
  • The Death of Death - (The arrival of Jesus at the end of the age will mean the end of the Last Enemy, namely, Death - 1 Corinthians 15:24-28)



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