“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 1:18).
While Colossians 1:18 uses terms like “beginning” and “firstborn” to characterize Jesus’ resurrection, the Scriptures tell us that several other resurrections took place before Jesus ever went to the cross. For instance, the Biblical accounts of those who were raised from the dead are found in both the Old Testament (1 Kings 17:17-24, 2 Kings 13:21) and the New Testament as well (Luke 7:11-16, Luke 8:49-56, Acts 20:7-12).
Perhaps the most famous Biblical example of a human resurrection (other than Jesus Himself) concerns the experience of a man named Lazarus in John 11:1-44. That portion of Scripture tells us that Jesus resurrected a man who had been physically dead for four days, a fact confirmed by a member of the man’s own family.
So what are we to make of the statement “…He is the very beginning, the first to be raised from death” (CEV) here in Colossians 1:18? If others were raised from the dead prior to Jesus’ resurrection (including some who were raised by Jesus Himself), then how could His resurrection be the first?
Well, one scholar addresses this puzzling question in the following manner…
“When Jesus returned from the dead, it was the first real resurrection. Every other raising from the dead was merely a resuscitation or revivification of a dead body. There are some crucial differences between a true resurrection and a mere resuscitation. First of all, a resurrection is to an immortal body, whereas a resuscitation is merely back to a mortal body (cf. 1 Cor. 15:53). That is to say, Lazarus and everyone else who was raised from the dead before Christ eventually died again. Christ’s resurrection was the first to declare anyone ‘alive forevermore’ (Rev. 1:18).
Further, resurrection bodies manifest some supernatural qualities, not inherent in mortal bodies, such as, the ability to appear and disappear from sight immediately (Luke 24:31) or to get inside a closed room (John 20:19). Finally, while a resurrection is more than a resuscitation, it was not less than one. Resuscitated corpses die again, but Jesus’ resurrection body was immortal. He conquered death (Heb. 2:14; 1 Cor. 15:54–55), whereas merely resuscitated bodies will eventually be conquered by death.
However, that Jesus was the first to be raised in an immortal body does not mean it was an immaterial body. It was more than a reanimation of a material corpse, but it was not less than that. It was His same body of ‘flesh and bones’” (Luke 24:39). (1)
(1) Geisler, N. L., & Howe, T. A. (1992). When critics ask : a popular handbook on Bible difficulties (p. 463). Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books.