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23 August 2019

Firstborn of the Dead – Resurrection Hope in Colossae


Photo by jakrawut ouiseng on Unsplash
(Colossians 1:18-19) – “And he himself is before all things, and in him all things adhere. And he himself is the head of the body, the church, who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things he might have the preeminence.
The pronoun rendered “he himself” (twice) in the preceding text is emphatic in the Greek sentence; the stress is on Jesus and what God has accomplished in his death and resurrection. Jesus is now, because of his resurrection and exaltation, “before all things” (present tense) and, in him, all things “adhere” or “hold together.”
Implicit is that Christ did not always have this preeminent position; his high status is the result of his death and resurrection, and his consequent triumph over all hostile powers. But, even more so, the passage emphasizes what he has achieved on behalf of the church, his “body.”
Body” is used metaphorically for the church; the “body of Christ.” Paul’s use of this metaphor flows naturally because in his theology a “body” is something created by God and, therefore, inherently good, regardless of its present weaknesses.  The concept of embodied existence is something to be embraced, not shunned or rejected as something no longer necessary.
Firstborn” points to Christ’s preeminence as the “firstborn of many brethren” (Romans 8:29), but it also refers to him as the “firstborn” from the dead; that is, the first one to be resurrected. This status links Jesus to the saints; his resurrection is the precedent for their own resurrection and is of the same nature. John also refers to Jesus as the “firstborn from the dead” in reference to Christ’s resurrection (Revelation 1:5. Cp. Hebrews 1:6).
(Colossians 2:9-14) – “For in him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily. And you are complete in him, who is the head of all principality and power: In whom also you are circumcised with the circumcision made-without-hands, in putting off the body of the sins of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ: Buried with him in baptism, in which also you are risen with him through the faith of the operation of God, who has raised him from the dead. And you, being dead in your sins and the uncircumcision of your flesh, hath he quickened together with him, having forgiven you all trespasses; blotting out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to his cross; And having spoiled principalities and powers, he made a shew of them openly, triumphing over them in it.
Paul does use the idea of resurrection metaphorically in this letter, though this usage stems from Christ’s actual and very physical resurrection from the dead. 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 (cp. Romans 6:4-5).
Another result of Christ’s exaltation is the cancellation of the ordinances from the Law having to do with dietary restrictions and calendrical observations. Such things were not evil, and they were required by the Torah; however, their time has come to an end. They amounted to “shadows” of the “substance” that casts them; that is, Jesus.
Therefore, believers should not allow anyone to re-enslave them 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 Christ,” Christians ought to pursue the things above, “where Christ is, seated on the right hand of God.”
When Jesus is once again “manifested,” his people will, likewise, “be manifested in glory.” The “manifestation” of Christ refers to his “coming” in glory at the Parousia (cp. 1 Peter 5:4, 1 John 2:28, 3:2). Note well; this “glory” is received at Christ’s future manifestation, not at the moment when a Christian dies.
The talk of future “glory” for believers that is linked to Christ’s present glory implicitly links bodily resurrection to that day; especially, considering Paul’s designation of Jesus as “the firstborn of the dead.” For believers at Colossae, resurrection was at the heart of their Christian hope, for Jesus had already blazed the way for them.

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