Col 1:18 He is also head of the body, the church; and He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that He Himself will come to have first place in everything.

We need to establish 2 things. So an answer needs to show;

  1. What does 'dead' mean?
  2. What does 'firstborn' signify?

7 Answers 7


Jesus Christ was resurrected on Nisan 16, 33 C.E., the day when the Jewish high priest offered up the firstfruits of the barley harvest. This fits in accurately with Jesus’ being the “firstfruits” in the resurrection of the human dead. (1 Cor. 15:20) This put Jesus Christ in the first “rank.” Just as in the Jewish barley harvest there were afterfruits to be reaped, so too there must be afterfruits in the resurrection of the dead. But since Jesus Christ ranks first, Paul called him “the firstborn from the dead, that he might become the one who is first in all things.”​—Col. 1:18.

What does "dead" mean?

Reading the creation account in the Bible book of Genesis, we learn that the first man, Adam, was told by God: “From every tree of the garden you may eat to satisfaction. But as for the tree of the knowledge of good and bad, you must not eat from it, for in the day you eat from it you will certainly die.” (Genesis 2:16, 17) That statement clearly and simply shows that if Adam had obeyed God’s command, he would not have died but would have continued living in the garden of Eden.

Sadly, rather than choosing to obey and live forever, Adam chose to ignore God’s command, and he ate the forbidden fruit when his wife, Eve, gave it to him. (Genesis 3:1-6) The consequences of that act of disobedience are still with us today. The apostle Paul explained it this way: “Through one man sin entered into the world and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because they had all sinned.” (Romans 5:12) That “one man” was, of course, Adam.


In Col 1:18 we have the very significant word πρωτότοκος (prototokos) which occurs 8 times in the NT; all except for one (Heb 11:28) refer to Jesus as follows:

  • Luke 2:7 - Jesus is Mary's firstborn (literally)
  • Rom 8:29 - Jesus: "... his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers." This is not literal but "firstborn describes the privileges/status of one who is the most pre-eminent or most important. [Jesus was not the first person to be born.]
  • Col 1:15 - Jesus is the firstborn over all creation; meaning the most important over all creation
  • Col 1:18 - Jesus is the firstborn of the dead = the most important person who was ever resurrected
  • Heb 1:6 - Jesus is God's firstborn
  • Heb 12:23 - Christians belong to the congregation of the firstborn (ie, Christ)
  • Rev 1:5 - Jesus is the firstborn of the dead (same as Col 1:18).

Thus, the meaning of πρωτότοκος (prototokos) as per BDAG (#2) is, "pertaining to having special status associated with a firstborn" - this is the figurative meaning of the literal firstborn.

Ellicott usefully observes about Col 1:18 -

The firstborn from the dead.—The same title is given to Him in Revelation 1:5. In his sermon at Antioch in Pisidia (Acts 13:33), St. Paul quotes the passage, “Thou art my Son; this day have I begotten thee,” as fulfilled in that “He raised up Jesus again.” (Comp. Hebrews 5:5.) In Romans 1:3, he speaks of Christ as “declared” (or, defined) “to be the Son of God with power by the resurrection from the dead.” The Resurrection is (so to speak) His second birth, the beginning of that exaltation, which is contrasted with His first birth on earth in great humility, and of His entrance on the glory of His mediatorial kingdom. (See Ephesians 1:20-23, where the starting-point of all His exaltation is again placed in the Resurrection.)

Jesus’ Death

The fact that Jesus died should not be glossed over to quickly – the greatest evidence of Jesus’ humanity was His death and the records spend a great deal of time providing evidence for Jesus’ death. Here is a sample.

There are several records that Jesus' death would happen.

  • Matt 16:21 - and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.
  • Matt 17:23 - They will kill him, and on the third day he will be raised to life.
  • Matt 20:19 - and will hand him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified. On the third day he will be raised to life!
  • Mark 9:31 - They will kill him, but on the third day he will come back to life.
  • Mark 10:34 - who will mock him and spit on him, flog him and kill him. Three days later he will rise.
  • Luke 18:33 - they will flog him and kill him. On the third day he will rise again.
  • Luke 9:22 - The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.

The eye-witness accounts of Jesus' death:

  • Matt 27:50 - "... Jesus … yielded up the/his spirit", or, he "breathed his last". That is, he stopped breathing and died. The guarding centurion also observed the death, v51.
  • Mark 15:37 - " … Jesus … expired". That is, He stopped breathing and died. The guarding centurion also observed the death, v38.
  • Mark 15:44 - When Joseph of Arimathea asked Pilate for the body of Jesus, Pilate was surprised he was already dead, so he asked a centurion to check that Jesus was dead. The centurion confirmed it so Pilate released the body to Joseph. A Roman centurion is a trained killer and an expert in telling if someone is dead.
  • Luke 23:46 - " … expired". That is, He stopped breathing and died. The guarding centurion also observed the death, v47.
  • John 19:30 - "He [Jesus] said, 'It is finished!' And he bowed his head and gave up his spirit." That is, He stopped breathing and died.
  • John 19:33 - the soldiers did not break Jesus' legs because he was already dead. (Roman soldiers were trained killers and knew how to tell if someone was alive or dead!)
  • John 19:34 - just to be absolutely sure, one Roman soldier took a spear and pierced his side - this would have been a trust of the spear up under the rub cage into the heart. If Jesus were not dead before he would certainly have been dead afterward. As a result, a mixture of blood and water emerged suggesting that he really was dead indeed!
  • John 19:35 - the apostle John says he witnessed these things personally and testifies that these facts are correct.

Some have suggested that there were no disciples and very few people who actually saw the death of Jesus but that is not true. All Roman crucifixions were done to achieve two objectives - to completely humiliate the victim and to provide some cheap ghoulish entertainment for the masses - thus all crucifixions were attended by crowds (Luke 23:48).

It is also said that all the disciples deserted him in the garden of Gethsemane (Matt 26:56) but Peter (and some others) followed at a distance to observe the trials ((Matt 26:58). Specifically, we know that the following named people observed the death of Jesus:

  • Simon of Cyrene, another disciple, who carried the cross Matt 27:32, Luke 23:26.
  • Joseph of Arimathea who asked Pilate for the body Luke 23:50-53.
  • Nicodemus who visited Jesus by night John 19:39
  • Cleopas and his friend Luke 24:13-21 who were travelling to Emmaus on Sunday.
  • Many women and others associated with Jesus (Luke 23:49) such as Mary the mother of Jesus, Mary's sister Martha, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Joses, Salome, Mary the wife of Cleopas, Matt 27:55, 56, Mark 15:40, John 19:25. This also included (at least) John as recorded in John 19:26, 27.
  • It is also recorded that many of these same people accompanied the dead body to the tomb to see where it was laid so that could embalm the body on Sunday morning. Matt 27:61, 28:1, Mark 15:47, 16:1, Luke 23:55, 24:10, John 20:1.
  • One of the soldiers, specifically a centurion observed Jesus' death and was so moved that he gave praise to the Jewish God of heaven Matt 27:54, Luke 23:47. Another pierced him with a spear to ensure His death and a soldier also witnessed the fact to Pilate Mark 15:44, 45.
  • Many of the Jewish leaders, including the chief priests, observed the crucifixion and death to ensure that Jesus died and that their troublesome citizen was finally disposed of. Matt 27:41-43, Mark 15:31

There are numerous other passages that discuss the death of Jesus.

  • Luke 24:46 - This is what is written: The Messiah will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day
  • 1 Cor 15:3, 4 - … that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day
  • Acts 10:40 - God raised him from the dead on the third day and caused him to be seen.
  • Acts 13:30 - But God raised him up from the dead the third day

There is much evidence that Jesus actually died, not only from his friends the disciples but from Roman soldiers as well; that is, both sympathetic and antagonistic witnesses. This is very compelling and voluminous evidence.

There is also some important indirect evidence that Jesus was known by everyone in Jerusalem, including the chief priests and Roman authorities, to have died.

  • The chief priests were worried that the disciples would come to try and steal the dead body so they posted a Roman guard to protect it, and on the Sabbath as well!! Matt 27:62-66.
  • The Roman soldiers guarding the tomb witnessed the resurrection but the chief priests were so embarrassed by this they bribed the soldiers to say (in spite of dire consequences for soldiers sleeping on duty) that the (dead) body of Jesus was stolen while they slept!! Matt 28:11-15. This possibly even involved some bribes for Pilate (v14).
  • Despite the report of some, many of the disciples could not believe that Jesus was raised for the dead and were very frightened; Luke 24:36-43, John 20:11, 19, 20, 24-29.

The fact that Jesus said to be the "firstborn" from the dead means two things:

  1. He was the most important in the sense that Jesus death and resurrection to eternal life enabled the same for others, see 1 Cor 15:8-22.
  2. Jesus actually died as documented above.
  • If Rm 8:29 (cf 8:21, 23; 1:3) (and Heb 1:6; Col 1:18; Rv 1:5) refers to Christ's resurrection of glorification, "divinization," transfiguration (as contrasted with a mere return to physical life), then does that make Rm 8:29 literal Spiritually? Firstborn among many brothers (1 Pet 1:3; Jn 20:22; 1:12-13; etc)?
    – Walter S
    Commented Jul 3, 2020 at 8:53
  • @WalterSmetana - you make an interesting point. But asking if something is literally spiritually, is a contradiction in terms. The language of the NT is consistently using literal (physical) words pressed to mean things metaphorically. "Firstborn" means literally the first one born in a family of humans and then attaches a series rights and privileges. Jesus is described in this way, metaphorically.
    – Dottard
    Commented Jul 3, 2020 at 10:00
  • I speculate you wouldn't say the names "Father" and "Son" are metaphors. I need to study the word "literal." I read on here of the recent Greek word studies/tussle over monogenes--whether it means "only" or "only begotten"--and that the majority now feels it's only "only." Mr Johnstone mentions tradition's pull. And that applies to appreciation of the translation "only begotten." Which, if it's not the case, apparently eliminates the need for an "eternally begotten" discussion. Not that e.b. wouldn't still be real and true. If so, all physical birth itself is metaphorical of the eternal.
    – Walter S
    Commented Jul 4, 2020 at 19:18

There are two words used of Jesus Christ which are sometimes confused, or, at the very least, merged, because they are not fully realised as to their meaning. One is Monogenes and the other is Prototokos.

Also, these words are ferociously disputed which is not surprising as they both shed considerable light on who Jesus Christ is and what is the nature of his coming.

Tokos is used twice in scripture and both times it means usury. There is no doubt about this from the context and from the word itself. The two occasions are Matthew 25:27 and Luke 19:23, both a matter of giving money to a 'bank' as we call it (moneychangers in the original) in order to earn 'interest' as we call it (usury as it used to be known).

Yes, the word Prototokos can - in certain contexts - mean 'firstborn'. But the word 'born' is not present in the word. And that is significant. The root of tokos being tikto then, of course, the concept of 'bringing forth' is present but not exclusively in regard to childbirth. The concept is broader and that is why tokos is used (by no less then the Holy Spirit) to describe a financial situation.

If one really believes that scripture is holy, that scripture is inspired and that scripture, ultimately, is expressed by God Almighty himself (in the Person of the Holy Spirit operating through chosen vessels) then every word, every syllable and even every letter is significant : and treasured.

As the Psalmist lists every section of Psalm 119 under a different letter of the Hebrew alphabet, so the reverent reader of scripture will notice, and give weight, to every letter of every word.

Prototokos means, literally, First Payment, or First Return or 'Firstfruit' (see the comments below).

It is the first indication that an investment will be successful. It is the first fruit of an investment that will, eventually, result in the multiplication of what was invested.

To lose sight of this (and the Holy Spirit has deliberately given us two witnesses so that we will not lose sight of it) is to lose something of the value of the word.

Yes, again, I agree, in certain contexts 'firstborn' is suitable . . . . but - one should still bear in mind the actual, literal meaning of the word which invests the word with a concept that we should not forget.

Monogenes, the first begotten - a matter of sonship - is associated with Redemption, for sonship in scripture is, often, closely associated with Redemption.

Prototokos, on the other hand, is more associated with Restoration (some translate it 'reconciliation') - the restoration, in Christ, of the order of creation. (Know ye not that we shall judge angels ?). The raising, above the head of the serpent, of humanity - in Christ.

So it is not surprising to see, when many confuse (or at least slightly merge) Redemption and Restoration, to see them also confuse (or at least slightly merge) Monogenes and Prototokos.

Jesus Christ is the Prototokos seen first in Matthew 1:25. But of course that text is disputed (well, of course it is).

But the Received Text has :

... and she brought forth the Son of her, the Prototokos [Matthew 1:25, Stephens 1550]

Here, in the TR, we see the Son of her (that is to say The Son - of her) and he is also the Prototokos. But to say 'her firstborn son' just mangles the concepts and loses all the value with which the text is loaded.

But I am going against centuries of tradition here. I am well aware of that. Nevertheless, I seek the true value of what is written . . . .

So I proceed . . .

Jesus Christ is the first token of the value invested by God in creation. All that effort, all that patience with Israel, all the longsuffering in the wilderness ... and thereafter. All the burden of Israel and the burden of Judah. All the tedious damage of king after king after king. All the weariness of Assyrian captivity and Babylonian captivity.

On and on and on.

But finally, after it all, there is fruit.

Out of it all comes the First Indication that the purpose of Creation (from before the foundation of the world) will be a sound investment, a fruitful project.

Cometh Jesus, in the arms of Mary : The Son of her, the Protokos [TR].

And here, in Colossians, he is seen again, risen from the dead in a New Creation, raised by the glory of the Father, through a New Testament.

Thence, he is ascended, received into heaven and received into the very throne of the Majesty in the Heavens, exalted over all.

This is a rearrangement. This is a Restoration. Through Redemption, but another thing than Redemption. 'Sit thou until I make thine enemies thy footstool' is said to the Son, the Prototokos, risen from the dead.

I have not fully covered the subject, nor given enough proofs in this brief space to carry the argument fully. It needs a whole book to do it.

But I give here, just a little of what is needed to indicate that more is here than is commonly realised.

  • 2
    My good friend, - can you provide an lexicon reference for your claim that τόκος means "token"? Every lexicon I consulted suggests that τόκος comes from tiktó meaning to give birth or bear; and that "interest" or "usury" is its figurative use. Thus, prototkos means literally "first born" (BDAG, Newman, Friberg, Thayer, etc). But you may have some better reference?
    – Dottard
    Commented Jul 2, 2020 at 7:30
  • @Dottard I have pointed to the Holy Spirit's use of tokos in two places as being significant. My use of 'token' is not a translation anymore than 'first investment' is a translation. Yes, there is figurative use but the question is, which is the primary use and which the figurative and opinions differ. The concept - in both childbirth and moneyed investment - is of a first 'fruit'. 'Firstfruit' is probably (I only say probably) a good translation of Prototokos and covers both meanings of childbirth and investment.
    – Nigel J
    Commented Jul 2, 2020 at 7:34
  • 1
    Can't imagine why anyone would downvote this answer. Although I am not a Greek scholar (still struggling with English) I would mention in passing that the Greek word for "first created" is never applied in the New Testament to Christ Jesus.
    – Lesley
    Commented Jul 2, 2020 at 16:57
  • 1
    @Lesley Thank you, Lesley, but there is an argument against what I have said (as Dottard mentions) and I am going against tradition : which always takes time. But I stick to it, for, as you point out, there is a very wrong meaning foisted upon this word which needs to be combated. And there is a concept to be seen which is being neglected.
    – Nigel J
    Commented Jul 2, 2020 at 17:00
  • 1
    @WalterSmetana All in all, I think it best to translate as 'firstfruits' and to bear in mind both concepts - that of the invested potential in a firstborn, and that of the successful return of the first fruit of invested wealth. For the word carries both meanings and the fact of 'tokos being used by the Holy Spirit twice in scripture, both times in the 'investment' meaning, I think guides the mind to hold that concept as well as the 'firstborn' concept.
    – Nigel J
    Commented Jul 3, 2020 at 9:05

What does it mean for Christ to be 'firstborn from the dead'?

Col 1:18 He is also head of the body, the church; and He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that He Himself will come to have first place in everything.

Jesus is called "the firstborn from the dead" (Coi. 1:18)This is so because He was the first to be resurrected as a spirit being to everlasting life in the heavens, Moreover Jesus is shown to be the firstborn of all creation, the first actually to be created and the first to be resurrected to endless and immortal life. (Rom. 6:9)

Revelation 3:14 (KJV)

14 And unto the angel of the church of the Laodiceans write; These things saith the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of the creation of God;

Colossians 1:15 (KJV)

15 Who is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creature:

1 Peter 3:18 (NASB)

18 "For Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God, having been put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the [a]spirit;

The Firstborn from the dead, others to follow.

Paul speaks of the congregation of the firstborn in heaven, being those accepted by God on the basis of their faith in Jesus' sacrifice and which are resurrected in heaven, never to die again. (Compare Luke 12:32)

Hebrews 12:23 (ESV)

23 And to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect,

What does 'dead' mean?

The scriptures tell us that the dead are conscious of nothing, they do not know anything and are described as going to dust," My strength is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue cleaveth to my jaws; and thou hast brought me into the dust of death." (Psalms 22:15 KJV)

Ecclesiastes 9:5,10 (KJV)

5 For the living know that they shall die: but the dead know not anything, neither have they any more a reward; for the memory of them is forgotten.10 Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might; for there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in the grave, whither thou goest.

1 Timothy 3:16 (NASB)

16 By common confession, great is the mystery of godliness: He who was revealed in the flesh, Was [a]vindicated in the Spirit, Seen by angels, Proclaimed among the nations, Believed on in the world, Taken up in glory.

Genesis 3:19 (KJV)

19 In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.

Isaiah 26:19 (ESV)

19 Your dead shall live; their bodies shall rise.You who dwell in the dust, awake and sing for joy! For your dew is a dew of light, and the earth will give birth to the dead.

  • thx. I think you are reading into the Rev meaning. You are assuming a meaning for 'beginning' and for 'creation'. I hope you're not one of those that might read, 'In the beginning was Jesus' instead of the 'word' from J1. It seems you're focussed on a physical death which is not what this is about. I'm usually eager to read your contributions but this misses the mark in my view.
    – Steve
    Commented Jul 6, 2020 at 10:49
  • 48152 : The Greek word ar·kheʹ cannot refer to “the beginning” of God the Creator, for he is eternal, having no beginning. (Ps 90:2) It must, therefore, refer to the time when God began creating. God’s first creation was termed the Word, a heavenly designation of the one who became Jesus. (Joh 1:14-17) So Jesus is the only one who can rightly be called “the firstborn of all creation.” (Col 1:15) Commented Jul 6, 2020 at 18:51
  • oh, where (biblically) did God create the word? do you think the word is a 'person', which 'logos' does not represent?
    – Steve
    Commented Jul 6, 2020 at 21:04
  • Pr. 8:22 (NET Bible)" The Lord [Jehovah] created me [Jesus] as the beginning of his works, before his deeds of long ago. Words in [ ] mine. "Logos" is just the Greek word translated into English "The Word" that was manifest in the flesh John 1:14-17. Compare 1 Tim. 3:16, Phil. 2:5-8, 1 Cor. 15:47 Read [ Chp. Pr. 8] Wisdom personified speaks (1-36)‘I am the earliest of God’s works’ (22) ‘As a master worker at God’s side’ (30)‘I was fond of the sons of men’ (31) In J1 the "Word" is with "God," hence he could not be God, the Almighty. Commented Jul 7, 2020 at 7:18
  • Jesus was born AD1 give or take a few. That's when the 'word' was made flesh according to John. Anyway... I know Jesus isn't God, isn't part of a trinity, perhaps we can agree on that much.
    – Steve
    Commented Jul 7, 2020 at 9:06

I am going to partly summarise some very useful answers and strive to bring out that which all seem to have headed towards but never fully arrived at. (no criticism intended)

The accomplishment and final glorious act of Jesus' mission is central to everything since Gen 1:1 (or whatever came before that)

Jesus is the newborn King and holy child as noted in the Gospels, but IF he had failed in his mission - he would have stayed dead and so would all of us.

However, God's (inspired biblical) focus is firmly on what Jesus did by remaining sinless unto death and succeeding where the 1st Adam failed - expectedly. It is Jesus' NEW LIFE - the REbirth that God wants us to set our eyes, hearts and thoughts on - indeed, our very lives!

What does dead mean?

There are two kinds of death.

  • The absence of physical life, also known biblically as 'sleep' though fully unconscious and not knowing anything. We can say they still exist, we put headstones over graves to mark where people are.
  • a spiritual death that has been the default state for all men since Adam. Even if we are still alive all are dead spiritually unless they are found in Christ - then they are able to live again even if physically dead in the 1st resurrection, so they are counted as alive before God. (All others are raised to a new physical life in a later 2nd resurrection.)

God may raise the physical dead (asleep) to new life - either physical or spiritual. We have been born into a corrupted world and sinfulness is our state - earning ALL the eternal death penalty. Clearly, there is a plan in place to mitigate this unfortunate situation.

All are dead to sin, except Christ who beat evil.

Jesus is not just raised from the dead - as Lazarus was, He is raised from a physical death into a new spirit life with spiritual consequences for all! He defeated death, it's power, and it's sting of sin - by remaining sinless, he has qualified to have eternal life through rebirth into the spirit realm. Because of God's grace, all men are freed from death in HIM and ONLY in him, they too may share this same eternal spirit life!

1 Pet 3: 18 ...For Christ also died for sins once for all...so that He might bring us to God, having been put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit

Romans 6:9 knowing that Christ, having been raised from the dead, is never to die again; death no longer is master over Him.

Hebrews 2:14 Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death--that is, the devil.

What is the power the devil wields? He was called a 'murderer from the beginning' John 8:44, and through his tempting to sin which all have fallen for (except Jesus), he holds a power of death over all. Jesus has broken this power and all will eventually come to realise what this means in this life or the next. This is why death had a power over Jesus too (Rom 6:9 quoted earlier) he was able to sin from being tempted as we all are (Heb 4:15), but relied on his God to stand firm. Heb 5:7 describes this daunting process.

When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come to pass: “Death has been swallowed up in victory". 1Cor 15:54

This speaks of the final part of humanity joining Jesus in eternal life. The final act of death is to take away those headed for the second death mentioned in Rev 20:14. These have chosen to not accept God's offer of salvation and death is their gracious reward befitting such a choice after they have had an opportunity to know better during the times of judgement.

The second death has no head stones - they cease to exist and cannot be raised again - they no longer 'sleep', they are no more.

Jesus, made like us in every respect (Heb 2:17), is the first to go from mortality to immortality, from being perishable to being "clothed with the imperishable". He is the first to transit from physical to spiritual - for without spiritual life - all are effectively 'dead'!

God ...made us alive with Christ even we being dead in trespasses—by grace you are saved — and He raised us up together and seated us together in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus Eph 2:4-

(Clearly, we are not literally yet seated with Christ, but we are deemed to be as we have accepted him as our Saviour) The cause of death - sin, is defeated in Jesus' one sacrifice for all, for ever. Only fully realised at our rebirth - at resurrection or transformation, at Jesus' return. Rom 8:3 '...in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh'.

Only in Jesus are we 'made in the image of God'. As he was also (2 Cor 4:4)

1 Cor 15:49 Just as we have borne the image of the earthy, we will also bear the image of the heavenly. (See Note#1 at end)

1 Cor 15:51 the dead (in Christ) will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed.

The 'dead' are not just those in the grave. All men are dead to sin and would remain so unless we accept Jesus' death for us.

Eph 2:1 And you were dead in your trespasses and sins...

Because Jesus 'died for all' 2 Cor 5:15, all are made fully alive (at different times) in the spirit -- just as it was for him, so it will be for us. We, who were irrecoverably spiritually dead, are able to join in with him, the first-fruit of the first-fruits - all believers are the 'many other' brethren raised to eternal life Rom 8:29.

This includes, and will eventually impact, all who ever lived since humanity began - as all are dead physically and also spiritually because of sin. The 2nd resurrection will offer these dead a chance to join the saints in eternity with God. Apart from him, there is no other life. The dead are dead without any form of consciousness or existence. The bible is clear what death means.

What does 'firstborn' signify?

His rebirth is a precursor to ours - dead to the flesh, made alive (reborn) in spirit - at his resurrection. He is the 'firstborn - of many brethren' who also are dead to the flesh and in Him made alive in the spirit - which death can never approach - as it cannot Jesus anymore. 1Pet 3:18

Rom 6:9 knowing that Christ, having been raised up out from the dead, dies no more. Death no longer rules over him.

Jesus IS the firstborn from the dead. He is the first and only thus far to have been granted passage from physical existence to spiritual life.

He is the 'firstborn of many brethren' (Rom 8:29) - the first of many who will follow him to join the Father. This ties in with his 'rebirth' or being born again of the spirit, as all believers will be when resurrected. (John 3:6 That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit)

Jesus, as 'firstborn from the dead', 'foreknown' and 'slain' from the foundation of the world - born and died in the flesh - raised in the spirit. In HIM all creation will be redeemed - all according to the plan, the design, the word of God - made flesh. He lived and died as the Lamb of God and was raised eternal so that all men might truly live - in him, forever!

As Nigel has shown below there is much more to this 'firstborn' or first-fruits symbolism. There was a special festival observed in all Israel. Originating in OT times it was a type of he who was to come. I include very brief excerpts from a site I'll link to later.

The primary instruction regarding the wavesheaf is found in Leviticus 23:9-14: And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, "Speak to the children of Israel, and say to them: ‘When you come into the land which I give to you, and reap its harvest, then you shall bring a sheaf of the first-fruits of your harvest to the priest. He shall wave the sheaf before the Lord, to be accepted on your behalf; on the day after the Sabbath (Sunday morning)the priest shall wave it. And you shall offer on that day, when you wave the sheaf, a male lamb of the first year, without blemish, as a burnt offering to the Lord. In its setting in the Old Testament, the wavesheaf offering represents a thankful acknowledgment to God as the Giver of the harvest, while dedicating or consecrating it to Him. Its waving set the stage for the rest of the harvest to proceed. In fact, the work of harvesting could not begin until the wavesheaf offering occurred.

Everything God does is important - even if we don't or didn't understand what His command pointed to - this is one strategic example that has turned a basic physical routine into a key spiritual marker of the first-fruit (Jesus) of all first-fruits - the 1st resurrection!


(Note; I do not subscribe to all the particular beliefs mentioned on this page, but the items quoted are quite useful and valid)

Note#1 Rom 8:29 'He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren'

'Made in the image of God' was a process begun with Adam #1, which was interrupted by sin. It is restored through Jesus - Adam #2 - as it was intended from before the beginning. We are only in the image of God, in Jesus. Explained here.

Jesus IS the image of God - if we are conformed to be in Jesus' image, we will be in God's image in the way that God has planned through His son.

How are the two references to 'firstborn' in Colossians connected?

  • 2 Corinthians 4:4 - Christ is the image of God, not believers. Romans 8:29 - believers are predestined to be conformed to the image of the Son, not the image of God. First man was made in the image of God. In the new creation, eternal life is for those conformed to the image of the Son. Commented Aug 25, 2020 at 7:21
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    Nothing's changed - made in the image of God was a process begun with Adam #1, which was interrupted by sin. It is restored through Jesus - Adam #2 - as it was always intended to be from before the beginning. We are only in the image of God, in Jesus.
    – Steve
    Commented Aug 25, 2020 at 7:33
  • That's not what the Scripture in Roman's says, unless you are saying Jesus is God. Commented Aug 25, 2020 at 7:36
  • 1
    Jesus IS the image of God - if we are conformed to be in Jesus' image, we will be in God's image as I just explained. We are not in God's image by any work of ourselves, just as Jesus could do nothing of himself, so the (re)creating is exactly the same by the same spirit of God - producing the same outcome for all to be born again - Jesus the firstfruit of it all. Thx, I might add that to clarify
    – Steve
    Commented Aug 25, 2020 at 7:46
  • While I basically agree w/ your concept of firstborn, your concept of death and spiritual life seem confused. For example if death is the absence of physical life and Jesus died but was only made spiritual alive would he not still be dead? Also your definition of death doesn't explain spiritual death but physically alive while still having animating spirits. I think death defined as separation ( e.g. of a person from the body or from the Lord or from sin) better fits it's wide biblical usage. See bible.ca/d-death=separation.htm as a helpful if imperfect resource on the topic.
    – Austin
    Commented Dec 28, 2021 at 19:51

What Does Dead Mean?

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) [NKJV]
καὶ αὐτός ἐστιν ἡ κεφαλὴ τοῦ σώματος τῆς ἐκκλησίας· ὅς ἐστιν ἀρχή, πρωτότοκος ἐκ τῶν νεκρῶν, ἵνα γένηται ἐν πᾶσιν αὐτὸς πρωτεύων

While there are several possible meanings of "dead," νεκρός, in this case there is personal testimony about the meaning:

“And to the angel of the church in Smyrna write, ‘These things says the First and the Last, who was dead, and came to life (Revelation 2:8)
Καὶ τῷ ἀγγέλῳ τῆς ἐν Σμύρνῃ ἐκκλησίας γράψον· Τάδε λέγει ὁ πρῶτος καὶ ὁ ἔσχατος, ὃς ἐγένετο νεκρὸς καὶ ἔζησεν

"Dead" describes His state after His Crucifixion. In other words, His physical life came to the same type of end of life, that is, death, as do all people.

What Does First Born Mean?
Like "dead," there are different meanings possible for "firstborn," πρωτότοκος. However, since it is πρωτότοκος ἐκ τῶν νεκρῶν, the meaning must be consistent with "firstborn out of the Crucifixion [dead]."

26 Likewise the Spirit also helps in our weaknesses. For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. 27 Now He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He makes intercession for the saints according to the will of God. 28 And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose. 29 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. 30 Moreover whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified. (Romans 8)

He is the firstborn of many brethren. That is, those who became children of God after His Resurrection:

37 On the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried out, saying, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink. 38 He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.” 39 But this He spoke concerning the Spirit, whom those believing in Him would receive; for the Holy Spirit was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified. (John 7)

His physical death and subsequent Resurrection gave all who believe in His Name the right to become children of God:

12 But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name: 13 who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. (John 1)

In addition to the disciples and those future believers, there were some "Old Testament" believers:

and coming out of the graves after His resurrection, they went into the holy city and appeared to many. (Matthew 27:53)

  • consider again 'dead'. He is the firstborn from THE dead - it's not about him as much as it is about WHO he represents. It's not a physical death he 'died for many'.
    – Steve
    Commented Aug 25, 2020 at 21:04
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    @user48152 You're packing a lot of baggage onto a very straightforward phrase. Not saying He didn't die for many, but that has nothing to do with the meaning of the firstborn of the dead. As to WHO He is, obviously the firstborn of the dead and the head of the Church, and the Good Shepherd, and the Great High Priest, and the Paraclete, and the Apostle, and the Author and Perfecter of our faith...where do you stop? As I say, you're unnecessarily complicating something which is straightforward. Commented Aug 25, 2020 at 23:37
  • I'm sorry you're not seeing the full implications of the firstborn - from 'all' the dead - they are the 'who'. J is the first of many. I'm not packing it in - I'm attempting to unpack what is there! Clearly doing a terrible job with you - if you read my posted answer more carefully it may help - I will also to see if it can be improved. you wrote, "He is the firstborn of many brethren. That is, those who became children of God after His Resurrection": His 'rebirth' covers all since Adam - probably including Adam!
    – Steve
    Commented Aug 26, 2020 at 0:18
  • @user48152 I think doctrine maybe influencing your analysis. On one hand you embellish the text (1:15-17 - "all other") in order to lessen the significance of Christ as it relates to creation. Then you approach the next text (1:18) and try to add to its significance. Obviously both creation and firstborn of the dead are necessary, but without the first, the latter doesn't come to fruition. I prefer to first let the text speak without embellishment before trying to add something the writer did not include. Perhaps you see more in the firstborn of the dead because you see less in creation? Commented Aug 26, 2020 at 18:28

“’I will be to Him a Father, and He shall be to Me a Son.’ And when He again brings the firstborn into the world, He says, 'Let all the angels of God worship him.'”

Here, the writer quotes from two separate texts. The first is from a portion of 2 Samuel 7:14 which reads,

The second quote is from the LXX translation of Deuteronomy 32:43 which we will get to in just a moment.

“I will be his Father, and he shall be My son. If he commits iniquity, I will chasten him with the rod of men and with the blows of the sons of men.”

Firstborn – πρωτότοκον – implies that others are to follow. The significance of “firstborn” has its roots in the Old Testament. Being the firstborn son carried prestige, honor, privilege, blessing, authority, preeminence, and double portion inheritance. Being the firstborn was also a matter of consecration to God, Exodus 13:3,11-16.

“First-born” defines the first of anything that is born of the flock, the heard, or of men. Jesus became the first, the προς τον τυπον – the one for the pattern. He is the prototype of a new society of those who by faith, become sons of God, Romans 8:29. These sons of God are those of whom John says in John 1:12-13, “are born not of flesh, nor of the will of man, but of the will of God.” Jesus became the forerunner, the older brother, the firstborn among the sons of God through his resurrection, “You are my Son; Today I have begotten you.” When we pass through the symbolism of his death, burial, and resurrection, the Lord declared of us, “You are my Son.”

In the New Testament, Jesus is called “firstborn” eight times and always with the same implications.

He was the first-born of Mary, Luke 2:7, Matthew 1:25. We know Mary had other children whose names are recorded in Matthew 13:55-56, but Jesus was her firstborn. He was the first in the order of others that followed.

He is called the firstborn among many brethren, Romans 8:29. He is the prototype – the first, into whose image all Christians are to conform.

He is called the firstborn in Hebrews 12:23 to whom the church belongs.

He is called the firstborn of every creature, Colossians 1:15-17. He is not firstborn because he was created first. He is first-born because:

  • All things were created by him. He is the active cause of all things that exist and the one to whom all things belong.

  • He is before all things – this confirms divine preeminence.

  • He holds all things together. This illustrates divine power.

He is called firstborn from among the dead, Colossians.

This does not mean that he was the first one ever resurrected from the dead. It does not even mean that he is the first one resurrected from the dead never to die again. What it means is that he holds preeminent status because:

  • He is the head of the body.

  • He is the ἀρχή – the beginning, as in the active cause, the one through whose power all things had their beginning.

  • AND, because He is the first one of a new society of people who are called sons of God.

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