How are the two references to 'firstborn' connected?
He (Jesus) is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation, because in him were created all things in the heavens and upon the earth, the visible and the invisible, whether thrones or lordships or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and unto Him. Colossians 1:15-18
17And He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church, who is the beginning, firstborn out from the dead, so that he might be holding pre-eminence in all things...
Firstly, let's establish what the 'firstborn over all creation' refers to, and equally importantly, what it does not, and cannot, mean.
From the text we see two significant pointers that must not be glossed over.
- firstborn over all creation
- all things in the heavens and upon the earth
It is mostly presented as 'over creation'. It's not saying he is the firstborn of a Genesis creation. And then we get the very specific, "IN heavens and ON earth". This is repeated later to reinforce the context of these words.
by him to reconcile all things to Himself, having made peace by the blood of his cross through him, whether the things ON the earth or the things IN the heavens. v20
We know from a careful reading of John 1 and 1John that Jesus is not the logos 'in the beginning', so any attempt to make Jesus either the Creator or the first created is without merit. We can see from Paul's extensive writings,
For those God foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, so that he would be the firstborn among many brothers. Rom 8:29
Who are the 'many brothers'? Or 'brethren' as also translated... this refers to those who are his - the new church, those redeemed in him before God. This is of course the context of Colossians - the church, the new age of the holy spirit within God's people en masse. Jesus is the pioneer of those alive from the dead. Certainly we mustn't confuse what 'dead' means, but we'll get to that shortly.
Further to when Jesus is firstborn.
God. . . in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things. . . he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high. . . 5For to which of the angels did He ever say, “YOU ARE MY SON, TODAY I HAVE FATHERED YOU”? And again, “I WILL BE A FATHER TO HIM AND HE WILL BE A SON TO ME”? 6And when He again brings the firstborn into the world, He says, “AND LET ALL THE ANGELS OF GOD WORSHIP HIM. (NASB CAPS)
The context again, is key. These last days are when the firstborn is announced.
(in case anyone is wondering, "through whom He also made the world (or universe) v2 is a very odd English rendering of "αἰῶνας· aiōnas" and should be 'ages'. Certainly, this new age of the spirit and the church is all about Jesus and he being the 'chief cornerstone' and 'forerunner' Heb 6:20
Jesus, the forerunner for us, has entered, having become a high priest to the age.
Having ruled out what 'firstborn' does not refer to, we can now note the relationship between the two references. The 'firstborn over creation' is the exact same context as 'firstborn from the dead'. Both terms refer to the same event - Jesus' resurrection into ascended, exalted, spirit, immortal life.
We know that he was not immortal before death, but was after. 1Pet 3:18, Rom 6:9. We also know that God's plan of salvation is about a spirit life. This temporary physical life is but a step toward the true life God has planned where there is no sin forevermore.
storing up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life. 1Tim 6:19, 12
Jesus achieved everything his Father asked of him as he encountered evil every step toward the cross and his triumphant, 'it is finished', cry! He is not the first to live again, as there were several people who were raised from death, to eventually die again. Jesus is the first to be granted immortality from the physical, fleshly realm. (another answer suggests Moses and Elijah were raised to spirit life, but this is completely baseless as Jesus affirms it was a vision only, Matt 17)
Paul starts out with, 'He is the image of the invisible God'. This mankind was also destined to finally realise - but only in Christ Jesus. Which is why he writes, 'all things have been created through him and unto Him'. All things have their intended fulness realised in him and only in him. Jesus being the firstborn into new life and firstborn from the death and mortality of physical life, he is the true image bearer that we may appropriate because of his success on the cross and by God's grace, we believers are found in him and declared righteous.
All men are dead to sin and have no prospect of rising past that death penalty on their own. God has provided a perfect offering and sacrifice according to His law that graciously covers all men. In Jesus we may live again, as he does, and gain immortality as he did - he is certainly firstborn from the dead - not because of his sin, but ours. We follow this forerunner as his brethren and brothers into true life. There are numerous references to the 'dead' being all men - even when they are alive they are still 'dead' due to their sin - both personal and inherited.
Rom 6:10 For that which he died, he died to sin once for all; but that which he lives, he lives to God. 11So also you, consider yourselves to be dead indeed to sin, but living to God in Christ Jesus
For sin will not rule over you, for you are not under law, but under grace. v14
- The two mentions of firstborn refer to the same reality of Jesus' new immortal life of spirit.
- All who live are really dead - just as dead as the actual dead. But in Christ, we live in promise at this time and await our change to fully conform to his image of God.
- the matter of being firstborn is related to this age of church and spirit only and has no relevance to any previous age. The references to cornerstone and forerunner are further evidence of this contemporary application.