Question: Why do some New Testament passages say Jesus was the first to rise from the dead when the Bible contains several accounts of others who were raised from the dead?
The apostle Paul explains in Acts how Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection fulfilled Old Testament prophecies:
Acts 26:23 “…that the Messiah would suffer and, as the first to rise from the dead, would bring the message of light to his own people and to the Gentiles.”
Paul was not ignorant of such miracles as Elijah and his protégé Elisha raising a child from death back to life (1 Kings 17:22; 2 Kings 4:32-35). And he would have known how Jesus raised people from death to life, such as the raising of Lazarus, who had been entombed for three days (Jn. 11:38-45).
Why then does the New Testament refer to Jesus as “the firstborn from the dead” (Rev. 1:5)?
The answer lies in the uniqueness of Jesus’ resurrection.
Those raised from the dead in the Bible eventually died again. In that respect the Bible revealed ages ago what medical science would later confirm—reviving a person who has died is indeed possible. Beyond that, these miracles also foreshadowed Jesus’ resurrection, which would open the door for humanity to pass from death to eternal life, from mortality to immortality.
This seeming impossibility is made possible by one significant fact: death was not part of God’s original design in creation, but exists as the direct result of Adam and Eve intentionally breaking away from God’s design. That rebellious act fractured a universe once free of death and decay and launched the entire created order into an inescapable whirlpool of destruction. Imagine the entire universe existing in a state of perfect peace, like water in a bathtub—and someone opens the drain! At that moment, all the known “laws” of the physical universe would seem to be dramatically altered as the universe heads inexorably down the drain.
The Bible calls Adam and Eve’s destructive act “sin.”
Rom. 5:12 Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned…
To rectify this, God entered His creation as a human (Jesus), to ‘plug the hole’ with the sacrifice His own life and ‘refill the tub’ back to a place of order and peace. Because Jesus was sinless, death had no lasting power over Him:
Rom. 6:9-10 For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, he cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over him. The death he died, he died to sin once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God.
Jesus’ entrance into the world was like the plug in God’s hand, plunging down through the swirling water of sin, destruction and death to stop up the drain. Believers in Jesus latch onto Him to escape being flushed into the septic tank the Bible calls hell. By latching onto Jesus we also latch onto the eternal life He has come to restore:
1Cor. 15:21 For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man.