You are correct that Christ is indeed referred to as the “firstborn from the dead.” Our free booklet, “Are You Already Born Again?“, explains on pages 7 and 8:
“Christ… became born again when He was resurrected to Spirit. It was at that time that He became the firstborn among many brethren. Romans 8:29 tells us that we are to be ‘conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren.’ We also read in Colossians 1:15, 18: ‘He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation… And He is… the beginning, the firstborn from the dead.’
“Christ was the first human who became born again as a Spirit being. The Greek word for ‘firstborn,’ ‘prototokos,’ designates the person who is born first. It can refer to the firstborn Son of the spiritual Family of God, and it can also refer to the firstborn son in a physical family. We read, for example, in Hebrews 11:28 that Moses kept the Passover and the sprinkling of blood by faith, ‘lest he who destroyed the firstborn should touch them.’ Christ was also, quite literally, Mary’s firstborn Son (Compare Matthew 1:25; Luke 2:7. The Greek word, ‘prototokos,’ used here does not mean ‘only’ or ‘only begotten’ son. That concept is conveyed by the Greek word ‘monogenes’…). Since Christ was Mary’s firstborn Son, it goes without saying that Christ as a human being had younger brothers. In fact, He also had sisters (compare Matthew 13:53-58).
“The same Greek word, ‘prototokos,’ is also used in Revelation 1:5. The New King James Bible translates the entire passage quite accurately in this way: ‘…and from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler over the kings of the earth.’ (The Authorized Version’s rendition, ‘first begotten of the dead,’ is clearly wrong. The context here is the resurrection from the dead. The Ryrie Study Bible comments that ‘Christ was the first [man] to receive a resurrection [glorified] body which is immortal.’).”
On the other hand, the Bible includes numerous examples, prior to Christ’s death and resurrection, of dead people coming to life again. 2 Kings 13:21 relates the record of a dead person who “revived and stood on his feet,” when the bones of Elisha touched him. Also, John 11:38-44 records the story of the resurrection of the dead Lazarus. We also read, in Luke 8:49-56, that Christ brought a dead girl back to life. In all these cases, however, we must realize that these were resurrections to temporary physical lives — not to eternal, immortal life. In the case of the young girl, we read that Christ commanded the parents “that she be given something to eat” (verse 55) — indicating that this was a resurrection to physical life, as immortal beings have no need to eat physical food.
When we carefully analyze the nature of the resurrection of the saints, described in Matthew 27:52, based on the testimony of the entirety of God’s Holy Word, we must conclude that these were likewise resurrections to physical life, not to eternal life. Please note the following excerpts from our free booklet, “Are You Already Born Again?“, page 25:
“The Christians who died in the faith, and whose spirits returned to God at the time of their death (Ecclesiastes 12:7), are registered in heaven (Luke 10:20). They have not been resurrected from the dead, so they are not yet firstborn — but they are first begotten — the firstfruits (compare James 1:18). They were called out of this world ‘first’ (Ephesians 1:11-14) and they received the Holy Spirit, and it will be they who are going to be in the FIRST resurrection (Revelation 20:5; 1 Corinthians 15:23-24). Christ is the first of the firstfruits (Acts 26:23; 1 Corinthians 15:20). He is, up until now, the ONLY firstborn, the only one who has been born again from the dead. Those called by God WILL BECOME firstborn as well. They will be in the first resurrection, born again first, when comparing them with the rest of the vast majority of mankind who will be called to salvation later (always excluding Jesus Christ, of course, who was the very FIRST of all the subsequent firstborn). (For more information regarding those who will be called later, please read our free booklet, ‘God’s Commanded Holy Days.’).”
Paul tells us in 1 Thessalonians 4:15-16 that “we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord will by no means precede those who are asleep. For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first.” Paul explains in 1 Corinthians 15:52 that they will rise “incorruptible.” Hebrews 11:39-40 tells us that none of those who have fallen asleep have received the “promise” of eternal life, “that they should not be made perfect apart from us.”
Christ, then, is the firstborn from the dead in that He is the first human being who became born again as a SPIRIT BEING. He was the FIRST who was resurrected to eternal life. Others — those in Christ — will be resurrected as SPIRIT BEINGS — to eternal life — at the time of His Second Coming. In addition, Christ is called the Judge of the living and of the dead. After His death and resurrection, it was guaranteed that dead persons would be brought back to physical life in the future to BE JUDGED. The Bible refers to this time period, which will begin after the Millennium, as the Great White Throne Judgment (Revelation 20:11-12). The vast majority of mankind, never having heard about or accepted the Sacrifice of Christ in their lives, will be brought back to physical life to be “judged according to their works, by the things which were written in the books” (verse 12). This “judgment” is quite different, however, than what most people think. For more information, please read our free booklet, “God’s Commanded Holy Days.”
All resurrections to physical life prior to the Second Resurrection which is called the “Great White Throne Judgment” period, did not occur for the purpose of the “judgment,” described in Revelation 20. Rather, because of God’s great mercy, people received their physical lives back for a short while, but then they later died and are in the grave, waiting for the resurrection to eternal life, or to be judged in the “Great White Throne Judgment” period.
The resurrected saints in Matthew 27:52-53 are no exception. They came out of the graves “after His resurrection” (verse 53), and they appeared to many in the holy city, apparently to confirm the fact that God DOES resurrect the dead. Nothing more is reported about those saints — but we know that they did die, in due time, to await the resurrection to eternal life. Otherwise, they WOULD HAVE preceded the rest of the saints who will be made perfect and receive eternal life at the time of Christ’s return.
The Nelson Study Bible points out: “Because the Lord Jesus is the firstborn from the dead… and the firstfruits of those who are asleep…, these people could not have received their resurrection bodies. They probably were raised, as Lazarus was, to ordinary physical life. The fact that the people who were raised appeared to many in the holy city implies that they had been contemporaries of the people who saw them.”
Christ is indeed the firstborn from the dead, and the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. To learn more about how you can become part of the FIRST resurrection — the “better” resurrection to eternal life (Hebrews 11:35) — please read our free booklets, “Gospel of the Kingdom of God,” “And Lawlessness Will Abound…,” and “Baptism – A Requirement for Salvation?“