When Jesus was raised from the dead, it served as a forerunner of the resurrection of the dead to take place on the last day when Jesus returns. All those who have been united with Christ will be raised just as he was raised.
Or don’t you know that all we who were immersed into Christ Jesus were immersed into his death? We were buried therefore with him through immersion to death, that just like Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we also might walk in newness of life. For if we have become united with him in the likeness of his death, we will also be part of his resurrection (Romans 6:3-5)
Believers in Jesus have been united with him in his death, burial, and resurrection. Just as Jesus was raised from the dead, so too will we “be part of his resurrection.” Believers will be raised in the future the same way Jesus was raised in the past.
For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. (1 Thessalonians 4:14 ESV)
Jesus is the “firstborn from the dead” (Col. 1:18). But Jesus wasn’t the first person to raise from the dead. The predictive Scriptures (a.k.a. the Old Testament) records individuals who came back to life after having died:
- The widow’s son, whom Elijah visited, was restored to life (1 Kings 17:8-24)
- Similarly, the son of the Shunammite woman, whom Elisha visited, was restored to life (2 Kings 4:18-37)
- A dead man touched the dead bones of Elisha and revived to life (2 Kings 13:20-21)
During Jesus’ earthly ministry, he raised:
- a widow’s son (Luke 7:11-17)
- Jairus’ daughter (Luke 8:49-56)
- Lazarus (John 11:1-44)
Also, Matthew recorded that after the death of Jesus many saints raised from the dead (27:50-54).
All these accounts preceded Jesus’ resurrection. How could Jesus be “firstborn from the dead” when there were other people who raised from the dead before Jesus did?
Good question. The difference is what Jesus was raised to. Each of those listed above, they died again; none of them are still alive today. They were raised within the realm of the original creation and still suffered death (again). Jesus was raised as the firstborn of the new creation. Jesus was raised as the second Adam (1 Cor. 15:45-48), whereas the others were raised according to the realm of the first Adam. Jesus was raised to an entirely different state of humanness, whereas the others were raised to the same state of humanness that they had before.
Jesus being raised as the second (and last) Adam is what Paul meant by Jesus being “firstborn of all creation” (Col. 1:15). The original creation that we experience now is merely temporary, but the creation that will last forever is the new creation that has Jesus as its forerunner. I’ve already quoted from this section of Scripture twice, but let’s look at the full four-verse passage:
He (Jesus) is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. 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. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. (Colossians 1:15-18 ESV)
The primary point is that Jesus is preeminent in all things. ALL things. All of creation exists for him and was created by him. He is the “beginning”, which means “origin” or “the first in a series.”
First of what series? Origin of what or whom?
THE FUTURE RESURRECTION OF THE BELIEVER
Paul, right there in the same sentence, expresses the union between Jesus and his body, those who have been brought into fellowship with God through Christ. Jesus is the origin of those who are newly created in him. Jesus is the first in a series that includes the new humanity. And as firstborn from the dead, all who are in union with Jesus are also raised from the dead because Jesus was raised from the dead.
The future resurrection of believers is as sure as was the resurrection of Jesus:
Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. (1 Corinthians 15:12-13 ESV)
Paul is so certain of the future resurrection of believers that, without it, even the resurrection of Jesus couldn’t have happened. They are inseparable. You can’t have one without the other. In the words of Richard Gaffin in Resurrection and Redemption:
This shows just how firm and close in (Paul’s) mind is the bond between the two resurrections; he views them not so much as separate occurrences [but] as two episodes of the same event. (p.40)
Not even two different events, but “two episodes of the same event.” Our resurrection and Jesus’ resurrection are so closely tied that they are viewed as a singular event, even though they take place 2000+ years apart.
This is Paul’s meaning regarding “firstfruits.” In fact, “firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep” (1 Cor. 15:20) corresponds closely with “firstborn from the dead” (Col. 1:18). The firstfruits is the first of the whole.
The predictive Scriptures repeatedly refer to the firstfruits of offerings as a representation of the whole (see Lev. 23:10; Num. 15:20-21; Deut. 18:4; 26:2, 10). Gaffin again:
The point to these (firstfruit) sacrifices is that they are … representative of the total harvest, the entire flock, and so forth. They are a token expression of recognition and thanksgiving that the whole has been given by God. Thus “firstfruits” … bring(s) into view the initial portion of the harvest, but only as part of the whole … “Firstfruits” expresses the notion of organic connection and unity, the inseparability of the initial quantity from the whole. (p.34)
This notion of organic connection and unity in the firstfruits is what made those sacrificial offerings a foreshadowing of the resurrection of Jesus and the resurrection of saints who have “fallen asleep.” We have been brought into such organic connection and unity with Christ, as a head and body, that the “initial quantity” (Jesus) is inseparable from the “whole” (believers).
For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. (1 Corinthians 15:22-23 ESV)
Jesus’ resurrection is the firstfruits of the new creation, the initial portion of the total harvest.
Just as Jesus stated “destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up” (John 2:19), so too will the fullness of this temple be raised (the total harvest). We are collectively the temple of the Lord (Eph. 2:21); and we and Jesus are not two distinct temples, but members of the same temple with Jesus as the cornerstone (Eph. 2:20). So, when the temple of Jesus’ body was raised, it was equally sure that the entire temple will be raised.
But that’s not all. It’s not just the future, bodily resurrection of believers that is a result of the believer’s union with Jesus; so also is the past, spiritual resurrection of believers when they were initially made alive in Christ.
THE PAST RESURRECTION OF THE BELIEVER
When a person comes to know the Lord, they are raised as a member of the new creation (2 Cor. 5:17). They are made alive in Christ, raised from spiritual deadness to spiritual life.
So, does our connection with the resurrection of Christ have to do with our future bodily resurrection, or our past spiritual awakening? Answer: YES!
Recall the initial passage quoted above. Just as Jesus was raised from the dead to newness of life, so too will we (Rom. 6:4). Our walking in newness of life is something we do here and now; and it is directly tied to our union with Jesus, and as a result of Jesus’ resurrection so too are we spiritually resurrected in this life.
Ephesians 2:1-10 describes well the conversion of the believer. To summarize: “even when we were dead in our trespasses … God made us alive together with Christ … and raised us up with him.”
We were raised with Christ, in reference to our conversion, our being made alive with Christ. In fact, the Greek word for raised in Ephesians 2:6 regarding the conversion of a believer is derived from the same root as the word for “raised” in 1:20 in reference to the resurrection of Jesus. Notice the similarity between the two verses:
(God) raised (Jesus) from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, (Ephesians 1:20 ESV)
(God) raised us up with (Jesus) and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, (Ephesians 2:6 ESV)
The only difference between the Greek words translated “raised” is that the raised in 2:6 has a prefix (syn) that indicates togetherness or “with”. Think of other English words that utilize the prefix “syn”: synchronize, synthesize, syncretize. Each has to do with coming alongside, or bringing things together. Synagogue refers to bringing people together in a gathering.
What happened to Jesus (see Eph 1:20 above) is what happens to believers (see Eph. 2:6 above). We are brought into union with Christ and experience being made alive spiritually; we are synergistically raised with him. Just as Jesus was raised to walk in newness of life, so were we! We were “raised with (Jesus) through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead” and “God made us alive together with him” (Col. 2:12-13).
We’re made alive by the same Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead (Rom. 8:11). Walking in newness of life is resurrection-life. It is through means of resurrection that Jesus gives life (1 Cor. 15:45). John views eternal life as something we experience now (1 John 3:14-15). This life comes by resurrection:
for if, being enemies, we have been reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved in his life. (Romans 5:10 YLT)
RESURRECTION IS OUR LIVING REALITY
The resurrection is at the core of Christian faith and Christian living. We have been united with Christ in his death, burial, and resurrection (Rom. 6:5). I’ve emphasized the portions that pertain to resurrection in the following:
Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. (Romans 6:8-11 ESV)
The resurrection provides the impetus for Christian living. Because we were raised to new life in Christ, our lifestyle should reflect that reality, walking in newness of life.
If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. (Colossians 3:1-2 ESV)
Because of our union with Christ, his resurrection impacts us on so many levels. It impacts us both in the present and in the future; both spiritually and bodily. It is an ever-encompassing reality for the believer!
We will be raised on the last day when he returns (John 6:39-40). And we are raised with him presently by being made alive by the Spirit, something that has been happening to redeemed humans ever since Pentecost.
(And is it any coincidence that Pentecost was the Jewish celebration of firstfruits?)