The Firstborn of the Dead

Chances are that you’ve probably met someone who’s been dead before, because in modern society death is temporary before it’s permanent. There’s always that narrow window in which someone can be revived and have their blood start flowing again. For this reason, death is scary, but not as scary as it used to be. Hope still holds out after a heart stops.

Because of this, resurrection may not mean that much to us. We see it all the time. The dead return to us every day. But the resurrection of Jesus is different than a simple return of life to a body. Indeed, it’s even more miraculous than an impossibly late revival of a dead body. The resurrection of Jesus is something altogether unique in human history that hasn’t happened before or since Jesus did it.

We see this truth in many spots in the Bible, including where Revelation identifies Jesus as “the firstborn of the dead.” Now we know that Jesus was not the first person in history to be revived, because this miracle appears in the Bible before, during, and even after Jesus. Elisha revived a young boy in the Old Testament, Jesus revived several people in the New Testament, and Peter and Paul performed this same kind of miracle after Jesus. That being said, Jesus can’t chronologically be the firstborn of the dead, nor is his return to life Biblically unique if what we mean by “resurrection” is simply “coming alive again.”

Rather, what is unique about Jesus’ resurrection is the type of body Jesus put on when he returned to life. Paul talks about this body as being made of both a physical and spiritual substance. Yes, it was earthly like a normal human, but perhaps the people of Jesus’ time would have described it as also being made of ether, an element that they believed spiritual beings to be made of. Jesus’ new body could follow the rules of both the physical and the spiritual realms. He could eat food and be touched, so he wasn’t so spiritual as to be a ghost. But he could also appear and disappear from physical spaces at will and enter into the space of Heaven where human bodies didn’t belong. And then, somewhere between the physical and spiritual, his resurrected body seemed different enough that people sometimes didn’t recognize him. Perhaps he could mask himself in some kind of spiritual way, or perhaps his body had been remade with an altered appearance—it’s a bit hard to tell.

The resurrected Jesus was one part human man and one part heavenly man. His old body had been buried in the ground like a seed before springing up into full blossom. His old fragile body gave way to a new physical/spiritual hybrid of a body that is imperishable, non-corruptible, and immortal. Unlike the human body, it lives forever and can never ever be destroyed again. It will not need to be revived a second time. It has metamorphosed into everything God could destine a human body to be. It is the nature of the human Jesus the world knew, and the angelic, divine, spiritual Jesus that a few disciples caught a glimpse of on the Mount of Transfiguration.

As Christians, we stand not only in amazement, but excitement as well. For the same Holy Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead lives in us, too—and this Spirit is the firstfruits of the coming redemption of our bodies. For when God rises up one day to judge the world, the Holy Spirit will craft for us the same kind of resurrected body that he crafted for Jesus, so that we, too, can live immortally in the new Heaven and new Earth that is to come. For if Jesus is the firstborn of the dead, then we, his family, will be the second.

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