Why is Jesus the firstborn from the dead when Lazarus was resurrected before Him?

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Firstborn in the Scriptures

Firstborn is “prōtotokos” in Greek. In Matthew 1:25 and Luke 2:7, the “prōtotokos” word is used of Christ as the firstborn of Mary. In Hebrews 11:28, the word is used of the firstborn of Egypt, who perished in the plagues. In Hebrews 12:23, the Greek word describes the members of the “church of the firstborn.” In the remaining references (Romans 8:29; Colossians 1:15, 18; Hebrews 1:6; Revelation 1:5), the word firstborn prōtotokos is applied to Christ. And the early Church Fathers also used it to refer to Christ – the eternal Son of God.

Not the first to be raised from the dead

The apostle John writes, “And from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler over the kings of the earth. To Him who loved us and washed us from our sins in His own blood” (Revelation 1:5).

Obviously, Jesus, the son of man, was not the first person to be raised from the dead. In the Old Testament, we know that Moses got resurrected from the dead (Jude 9) and Elijah resurrected a young boy as well (1 kings 17:21:22). And in the New Testament, Jesus Himself resurrected three individuals from the dead. He resurrected Lazarus the brother of Mary and Martha (John 11:1-44), the Son of the Widow of Nain (Luke 7:11–17), and the daughter of Jairus, a ruler of the synagogue (Luke 8:49–56).

Though Jesus was not the first to be resurrected from the dead, he was considered as first in the sense that all others resurrected before and after Him gained their liberty from the clutches of death only through His victory over the grave. His ability to lay down His life and to take it again (John 10:18) differentiates Him from all other men ever to be resurrected from the grave and sets Him as the originator of all life. “For to this end Christ died and rose and lived again, that He might be Lord of both the dead and the living” (Romans 14:9 also 1 Corinthians 15:12–23; John 1:4, 7–9).

Christ gained victory over sin and took back what Adam had lost by the fall. Therefore, Christ is the rightful Ruler of humanity (Colossians 2:15; 1:20; Revelation 11:15). And at the last day, all people will see Him as the King of Kings (Revelation 5:13). In the meantime, Christ overrules the affairs of earth for the finishing of His eternal purposes (Daniel 4:17). Thus, the plan of salvation, as seen in His life, death, and resurrection is marching towards that final day of victory.

What does “firstborn” mean?

There has been much debate as to the meaning of prōtotokos. The word “first” has different meanings. For example, the president’s wife is called “the first lady.” But that does not mean she is the first lady to ever exist, but rather she is “first” in rank or position. Therefore, the word “first” in Revelation 1:5 means preeminence in rank and honor.

King David stresses the same truth. The title firstborn reflects the thought of Psalms 89, “Also I will make him My firstborn, the highest of the kings of the earth” (verse 27). As David calls God Father, so God considered David His firstborn son. David was the first from whom a line of royal descendants was to extend to the Messiah.

In a similar manner, Moses calls God’s people, “Israel is My son, My firstborn” (Exodus 4:22 also Jeremiah 31:9). In stating that Israel is God’s firstborn son, Moses was using language familiar to the Egyptian king. For the Pharaoh considered himself the son of the sun-god Amen-Ra. Israel as a nation was chosen by God to be His ambassador to the world because of Abraham faithfulness (Genesis 17:3-6; 18:18).

The firstborn over all creation

Paul describes Jesus Christ as first in rank: “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation” (Colossians 1:15). This figure shows the honor and office held by the firstborn in a royal family. Christ’s position is distinguished, authoritative, and absolute. He has been entrusted by God the Father with all power and authority in heaven and earth.

And the apostle explains Christ’s preeminence, “For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. All things were created through Him and for Him” (Colossians 1:16). Christ is the goal toward which all creation strives for its salvation and very existence. He is “the beginning and the end, the first and the last” (Revelation 22:13).

Also, Christ is considered the Eldest Brother in the family of the redeemed. “For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren” (Romans 8:29). This verse shows that the ultimate purpose of the plan of salvation is the restoration of unity in the family of God’s kingdom. “Now when all things are made subject to Him, then the Son Himself will also be subject to Him who put all things under Him, that God may be all in all” (1 Corinthians 15:28).

Firstborn means Head of the church

Paul represents the church as the body of Christ. It should be one united entity, with Christ as its head. “And He is the head of the body, the church, who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in all things He may have the preeminence” (Colossians 1:18). Jesus is here set before the church as having not only primacy and priority but also precedence in strength and honor. Since He is before all things, He is Supreme. Paul’s statement cancels the arguments of the false teachers at Colossae. 

As the head orders the planning, ruling, deciding power to the body, and all the functions of the body are fully and continuously dependent upon the actions of the head, so Christ acts for the body spiritual. All the members of the church are different individuals, with different jobs and responsibilities. For these duties, they receive gifts from the Holy Spirit according to their needs. As the head provides all the factors for living, and all the bodily functions are completely and continuously dependent upon the head, so Christ helps the body in every way (1 Corinthians 12:12–27; Ephesians 1:22).

Firstborn means the Beginning and the End

John the Revelator writes, “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End,” says the Lord, “who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty. I am He who lives, and was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore. Amen. And I have the keys of Hades and of Death” (Revelation 1:8, 18). In this passage, the expression “Alpha and Omega” is clearly identified with Jesus Christ, who also declares Himself to be “the first and the last.”  The Father and the Son share these eternal qualities.

Through sin, man disconnected himself from the source of life, and therefore became subject to death. But the hope of eternal life was restored through Jesus Christ. “Therefore, as through one man’s offense judgment came to all men, resulting in condemnation, even so through one Man’s righteous act the free gift came to all men, resulting in justification of life” (Romans 5:18; 6:23).

The perfect life of Jesus, the obedience even unto death (Philippians 2:8), made justification possible for all who accept Him by faith (Romans 4:8). Despite the death Christ suffered for the fallen race, He continues to be the timeless One the firstborn of all creation.

In His service,
BibleAsk Team

 

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