Who is the Beginning
In his letter to the church in Colossae, Paul stresses the exaltation of Jesus following his resurrection. It seems some members of the assembly were confused about his authority over the spiritual powers that remained hostile to God and His people; therefore, Paul reminds the church of just how highly God has exalted the one who became the “Firstborn of the Dead.” Implicit in his statements is the assumption that Jesus did not always possess his present position of preeminence.
The present high status of Jesus is the result of his obedience unto death, as well as his triumph over the hostile spiritual powers achieved by him on the Cross.
But the Apostle especially emphasizes that the Son of God achieved supremacy over all the hostile powers on behalf of the church.
- (Colossians 1:18-22) – “And HE is the head of the body, the assembly, who is the beginning, firstborn from among the dead, in order that he might become in all things himself preeminent; because in him was all the fullness well pleased to dwell. And through him fully to reconcile all things to him, making peace through the blood of his cross, through him, whether the things upon the earth or the things in the heavens.And you who at one time were estranged and enemies in your mind in your wicked works, yet now has he fully reconciled, in his body of flesh, through his death, to present you holy and blameless and unaccusable before him.”
In the Greek text, the pronoun rendered “HE” in the first clause is emphatic and stresses what God accomplished in Jesus of Nazareth - in his death and resurrection. He is now – AT PRESENT - “before all things” (present tense).
Moreover, in him, all things now “adhere” or “hold together,” and this includes his subjugation of and rule over all hostile spiritual powers. For this reason, his people are no longer under the dominion of the “principalities and powers.” In fact, all such powers were “created” originally to serve him, and since his death and resurrection, do so once again.
The Greek term rendered “body” or sōma is applied metaphorically to the church (Strong’s - #G4983). In Paul’s view, a physical human “body” is something that God created, and therefore, it is inherently good regardless of its present mortal state. The problem was never its physicality or that man is an embodied creature, but instead, the body’s enslavement by sin.
The term rendered “FIRSTBORN” points to the Nazarene’s preeminence as the “Firstborn of many brethren.” He is the Firstborn of the Dead. That is, the Son of God is the first man who has been resurrected and received a glorious immortal body.
And that is why he also is labeled the “BEGINNING.” In his death and resurrection, he began the general resurrection of the dead and inaugurated the “New Creation.” All the benefits that God has bestowed on the church are the direct result of his self-sacrificial death and subsequent resurrection “from the dead.”
His past resurrection links him to believers, and it is the model and the “First Fruit” of the future resurrection of the saints. Moreover, his glorified body is of the same nature as the one that his disciples will receive when he returns and raises his saints from the dead.
Likewise, the Book of Revelation labels him the “Firstborn from the Dead,” also in reference to his past resurrection and present position - “John, to the seven assemblies which are in Asia, Grace to you and peace, from Him who Is, and Who Was, and who is Coming, and from the Seven Spirits which are before his throne, and from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the FIRSTBORN OF THE DEAD, and the ruler of the kings of the earth” - (Revelation 1:4-5).
In Colossians, Paul also uses the term “resurrection” metaphorically. On some level, water baptism symbolizes the saints being “buried” with Jesus in his death so that they should live now in the newness of his resurrected life - (Colossians 2:9-14).
One result of his exaltation is the cancellation of the ordinances from the Law that govern food and the calendar. Such things are not inherently evil, and they were required by the Torah. But their time has come to an end with the death and resurrection of the Messiah. Such rituals amount to “shadows” of the “substance” that cast them, namely, Jesus - (Romans 6:4-5).
Because of his victory, believers must not allow anyone to enslave them again to the very “rudiments” to which they have died in Christ (“For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God”). Since they have been raised together with him, they must pursue the things above - “Where Christ is, seated on the right hand of God.”
And when Jesus is again “manifested,” his people will also “be manifested in glory.” This “manifestation” refers to his return or “arrival” (‘parousia’). His followers will receive “glory” when they are raised from the dead.
Paul links this future “glory” to the present glory of Jesus and the coming bodily resurrection of the righteous. The connection is especially prominent in the designation “Firstborn of the Dead” - (1 Peter 5:4, 1 John 2:28, 3:2).
As in many of his letters, the bodily resurrection of the saints is foundational to Paul’s understanding of salvation and the life of the followers of Jesus in the age to come. And that fundamental hope is based on the past bodily resurrection of the Messiah.