Many aspects of the resurrection of Jesus Christ are emphasized in the New Testament, but two are outstanding. First, the resurrection is the basic fact of the Christian faith, and second, it is the dynamic of the Christian life. This the apostle John had before him, for in the first chapters of Revelation he emphasizes the reality of the resurrection.
Christ the First-born
The book of Revelation first mentions the resurrection of Christ in chapter one, verse five. It speaks there of Christ the "first-born of the dead" (R.S.V).
The Greek norrotoxoc used here is very correctly translated "first-born." However, we know that Christ was not the first in point of time to be resurrected. From the Biblical records, Moses was the first resurrected in point of time.
Therefore, if the "first-born," or "first" is not in point of time it must have another significance. That significance is in its importance or its quality. The resurrection of Jesus Christ holds this "first position" in status because all those raised from the dead before and after the resurrection of Christ gain their freedom from the bonds of death on the virtue of Christ's resurrection. In this sense Christ's resurrection is called "the first" because all hope of any resurrection of the dead is dependent on the hope of Christ's resurrection. Without the cross there could be no resurrection, and without the resurrection the cross would be a bleak monument of death and despair.
Further, Christ's resurrection is set apart as first because of His ability to lay down His life and to take it up again (John 10: 18). This sets Him apart from any other man who has been raised or who will be raised. No other man has the power of life in himself. All are dependent upon Christ for life. He is the source of all life. When this title "first-born" is connected with the following title in Revelation 1:5, it seems to reflect the thought of Psalm 89:27, "Also I will make him my first-born, higher than the kings of the earth."
Jesus Christ is the "first-born" of the dead because He is the resurrection, He is life (John 11:25). Jesus did not say: "I show you the resurrection and the life." He did not even say: "I give you the resurrection and the life." He said clearly: "I am the resurrection, and the life."
Jesus Christ being the "first-born of the dead" is not just someone who proved to us that there is a resurrection and that there is something called eternal life; He is the living presence in whose company and in whose presence and in union with whom earthly life becomes eternal life, and existence becomes superlative living. When Jesus said, "I am the resurrection, and the life," He laid claim to the first position of the resurrected ones, a claim which covers life and death, time and eternity, this world and the world to come. It is the claim that with Him the future years for us will hold surge after surge of power and not the creeping death that is characteristic of life today. It is a guarantee that death is not the end, for through Jesus Christ men enter into the life of God which nothing or no one can destroy.
Christ's resurrection was "first" because He arose from the dead as the "firstfruits of them that slept" (1 Cor. 15:20, 23). It was to the glory of God that Christ should be the first fruits, the antitype of the wave sheaf. The first fruits represent the great spiritual harvest to be gathered into the kingdom of God. Christ's resurrection is the type and pledge of the resurrection of all the righteous dead. "For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him" (1 Thess. 4:14).
Reality of Christ's Resurrection
The reality of Christ's resurrection makes it "first" in importance because of the power Christ now has over death. "I died, and behold I am alive for evermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades" (Rev. 1:18, R.S.V.). To Him have been given the keys of death and of hell. Principalities and powers were made subject to Him, even while in His humiliation here on earth. The resun-ection of Jesus Christ has given to the believer freedom, freedom from the fear of eternal death and separation from God. Because Christ has the keys of death and power over the prince of death, He has given us security by the promise, "I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish, and no one shall snatch them out of my hand" (John 10:28, R.S.V.). Christ has the power to do this because He is Life. However, this eternal life does not mean release from all the troubles and sorrows of this life, but it does mean victorious living and security in the real sense of the word in any situation which death or life can bring.
We, in living, have security in Christ, for we know that neither life nor death can separate us from Him, and when the swift jaws of death take from us those we love our sorrow is buffered by that message of infinite hope that Christ has the power over death and Satan cannot hold the dead in his grasp when the Lord bids them live.
Christ Died and Came to Life
For the third time in the first two chapters, John records the reality of Christ's resurrection. Jesus tells him to write "'The words of the first and the last, who died and came to life' " (Rev. 2:8, R.S.V.). This perhaps would have a special significance to the early church. In the face of persecution the positive element of Christ having life after death would be a great sustaining factor. The resurrection of Christ was something that the members of the early church believed in with all their hearts; they knew that their salvation depended on connection with the life that Christ now has.
We must also remember that our salvation depends upon the fact that Christ's tomb is empty. The resurrection of Christ is not an old legend—John, along with the other apostles, testifies of this. The resurrection of Christ is the rock on which the Christian church is built. Even if all the rest of the great miracles of Christ were true, even if the whole life of Christ was exactly as the Gospels tell us; nevertheless, if Christ's life had ended in the grave, there would have been no church, no Christianity, no doctrine of the resurrection.
All believers everywhere must stake their hope in this one thing, and do as Paul did when he faced with honesty the grim alternative: "If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified of God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. . . . If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished" (1 Cor. 15: 14-18, R.S.V.).
But Christ Himself witnesses that He was one "who died and came to life" (Rev. 2:8, R.S.V.). It is because He did come to life that His authority is first, His resurrection is first, to them that believe.
The importance of the resurrection of Christ to the believer—the very kernel of the gospel—can be summarized in one sentence. Because Christ "died and came to life," by His death and resurrection He can make us partakers of His power and His glory.