The old creation had a beginning that was inaugurated by Jesus; so too has the new creation. The new world began when Jesus rose from the dead.
Paul says that Jesus is the ‘beginning’. We might read this as if Paul meant that Jesus was merely commencing something, which is true, but would not be the whole meaning. Paul also has in mind what was begun by Jesus – a new world marked by a new kind of life that is connected to the resurrection of Jesus from the dead.
When Jesus rose from the dead, he began the new world. It was done silently as far as observers were concerned. There was no display of exaggerated pomp. Yet although it was performed quietly, it was also done powerfully because it was the occasion when he displayed their combined inability to detain him. These enemies were sin, death and the devil. The manner of the resurrection of Jesus was proof that he had accomplished a great victory over them. The beginning, the onset, of God’s kingdom was an action of great power – the resurrection of Jesus from the dead.
The resurrection of Jesus was the activity of a ruler – Paul refers to him as the firstborn from the dead. He does not mean that Jesus was the first to be raised from the dead. The Bible records the resurrection of several individuals, but their risings were different from that of Jesus. The resurrections of the daughter of Jairus, of the son of the widow of Nain, and of Lazarus were each a return to their previous manner of life. They returned at the same age at which they died and they looked the same as they did before they died. Their resurrections brought no change to their physical appearance, and we don’t know if the daughter of Jairus or the man from Nain ever became followers of Jesus. We hope that they did. But the resurrection of Jesus was on a different level from theirs.
In calling Jesus the firstborn from the dead, Paul is referring to the dignity of Jesus as the Father’s choice of him as the King of God’s kingdom. Now as God and man, Jesus by his resurrection entered into a position in which he enjoyed universal authority, as he claimed for himself in the Great Commission of Matthew 28:18-20. Paul describes this place of exaltation in the words of Philippians 2:6-11 – Jesus has been exalted to the highest position possible. By his resurrection he is declared to be Lord of all.
The title ‘firstborn’ is also a reminder that he was raised from the dead in order to obtain his inheritance, which is the new heavens and new earth which he will share for ever with his people. His resurrection was a powerful reminder that nothing can prevent Jesus from receiving what is rightfully is, the full inheritance.
The resurrection of Jesus was not only a personal one, it was also a representative one. He rose on behalf of his people and ensured that eventually all of them would share in his resurrection when he returns. On that occasion, they will not be raised looking like what they had been before they died (as what happened to Jairus’ daughter, the widow of Nain’s son, and Lazarus). Instead they will be raised to look like the glorified Christ. The family of the firstborn will not only share his inheritance, they will also be conformed to his image.
The resurrection of Jesus brought about the situation in which he has pre-eminence in all things. There is not a part in the universe over which Jesus does not rule. This does not mean that all is subject to him gladly, but it does mean that his authority is beyond being ignored or overthrown. The knowledge of this fact should make us confident in the Lord, content with his providences, careful in how we live, and consoled in our troubles. Jesus is in control.