This week’s Rapid Theology episode of The Backroads Baptist was inspired by Monday’s memory verses and questions that arise when one reads “the firstborn of all creation” concerning Jesus.
Our scripture memory passage earlier this week came from Colossians 1, and focuses on the Second Person of the Trinity: The Son of God, Jesus Christ. There’s a very interesting and wonderful descriptor of Jesus included twice. Listen:
He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn [there’s number one; the firstborn] of all creation. 16 For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. 17 And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn [second time that word’s shown up; the firstborn] from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent.
So, this word “firstborn”–does it mean Jesus is a created being? Does it mean he had a beginning? If not (and I think you all know Jesus is not created, but eternal; if not …), what does it mean? First of all, rest assured that Jesus is not caused. God the Son is most assuredly God. We affirm paragraph 2 of chapter 8 of the 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith in Modern English:
QUOTE “The Son of God, the second person of the Holy Trinity, is truly and eternally God. He is the brightness of the Father’s glory, the same in substance and equal with him. He made the world and sustains and governs everything he has made. When the fullness of time came, he took upon himself human nature, with all the essential properties and common weaknesses of it but without sin. He was conceived by the Holy Spirit in the womb of the Virgin Mary … Two whole, perfect, and distinct natures were inseparably joined together in one person, without converting one into the other or mixing them together to produce a different or blended nature. This person is truly God and truly man, yet one Christ, the only mediator between God and humanity.” ENDQUOTE If you have any doubt, look to the first verse of the Gospel of John: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”
As we look at a word like “firstborn” that without any qualification refers to a created being with a beginning, it’s important to look at the whole of scripture and indeed to let scripture interpret scripture. “Firstborn” appears elsewhere. There’s:
4 John to the seven churches that are in Asia:
Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven spirits who are before his throne, 5 and from Jesus Christ the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of kings on earth.
Now, here’s what firstborn means–conceptually we see three distinct reasons the Holy Spirit inspired the word “firstborn,” but bear in mind they are functionally inseparable in Christ’s role in our redemption. The first is Christ’s position. He is the firstborn in that he is the heir, the Prince of Peace, the King of kings.
He shall cry to me, ‘You are my Father,
my God, and the Rock of my salvation.’
27 And I will make him the firstborn,
the highest of the kings of the earth.
28 My steadfast love I will keep for him forever,
and my covenant will stand firm for him.
The second is this: Jesus is the firstborn in his incarnation, in that he QUOTE “became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, …”
Finally, Jesus Christ is the firstborn in his occupation–his finished salvific work:
For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.
Time does not permit me to read other pertinent passages such as 1 Corinthians 15:20-22 and Hebrews 2:9-12. Read those and you will see more clarity in how Jesus is the firstborn in his position, incarnation, and occupation. But I do want to specifically answer one burning question you might, like I did, have about the “from the dead” part of “the firstborn from the dead” What about those resurrected before Jesus, like the widow’s son in Luke 7, Jairus’s daughter, or Lazarus? Weren’t they raised from the dead before Jesus? Listen to Paul in Acts 26:
22 To this day I have had the help that comes from God, and so I stand here testifying both to small and great, saying nothing but what the prophets and Moses said would come to pass: 23 that the Christ must suffer and that, by being the first to rise from the dead, he would proclaim light both to our people and to the Gentiles.”
How can Jesus be the “first to rise from the dead” when those I mentioned–the widow’s son, Jairus’s daughter, Lazarus–when they were resurrected prior to Christ’s resurrection? The answer lies in understanding what it truly means to “rise from the dead” in the context of the redemption of God’s people. Back to the widow’s son, Jairus’s daughter, and Lazarus: what happened to them eventually? They died. Jesus, however, triumphed over death. He rose from the grave victorious, nevermore to die. The first to defeat death, and the victor on our behalf.
“For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. 6 We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. 7 For one who has died has been set free from sin. 8 Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him.”
1 Corinthians 15:20-22
20 But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. 21 For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. 22 For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.
But we see him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.
10 For it was fitting that he, for whom and by whom all things exist, in bringing many sons to glory, should make the founder of their salvation perfect through suffering. 11 For he who sanctifies and those who are sanctified all have one source. That is why he is not ashamed to call them brothers,12 saying,
“I will tell of your name to my brothers;
in the midst of the congregation I will sing your praise.”