17. The firstborn from the dead. This symbolically means, and which is Divine good itself.
No one as yet knows what it is to be firstborn from the dead. Moreover, the ancients debated what it symbolized. They knew that the firstborn symbolized the first or primary constituent from which sprung everything having to do with the church. Many also believed that it was truth in doctrine and faith, but a few thought it was truth in act and deed, which constitutes goodness of life. We will see that the latter is the first and primary constituent of the church, and therefore that, properly speaking, it is what is meant by the firstborn.
First, however, we must say something about the opinion of those who believed that truth in doctrine and faith is the first and primary constituent of the church, thus the firstborn. They believed this because truth is learned first, and because the church is a church in consequence of its truth, though not before the truth is lived. Prior to that it exists only in the thought and memory of the intellect, and not in any action of the will; and truth that is not truth in act or deed has no life in it. It is merely like a tree abounding in branches and leaves without any fruit, or like knowledge without any useful application. Or it is like a foundation upon which a house is being built for people to live in. These things are first in time, but they are not first in end, and those which are first in end are primary. For first in end is the living in the house, while the first in time is the foundation. The first in end, too, is useful application, while the first in time is knowledge. Likewise, when a tree is planted, the first in end is its fruit, while first in time are its branches and leaves.
Matthew 25:28-29; Revelation 1:5)
 The same is the case with the intellect, which is formed first in a person, but to the end that the person may put into practice what he sees with the intellect. Otherwise the intellect is like a preacher who teaches rightly but lives an evil life.
Every truth, furthermore, is sown in the inner self and takes root in the outer one. Consequently, unless the truth that is sown takes root in the outer self, which it does by being put into practice, it becomes like a tree placed not in the ground but on top of it, which in the radiating heat of the sun immediately wilts.
This root is something a person takes with him after death if he has put truths into practice, but not the person who has known and acknowledged them in faith only.
Now, because many of the ancients made what is first in time first in end or primary, therefore they said that something firstborn symbolized truth in the church in doctrine and faith, unaware that it is the firstborn apparently, but not actually.
 Those, however, who made truth in doctrine and faith primary, were all condemned, because not a bit of practice or deed, or of life, was found in that truth. Cain, who was the firstborn of Adam and Eve, was condemned for that reason. That he symbolizes truth in doctrine and faith may be seen in Angelic Wisdom Regarding Divine Providence 242.
For the same reason too, Reuben, who was the firstborn of Jacob, was condemned by his father (Genesis 49:3-4), and the birthright was taken from him (1 Chronicles 5:1). In the spiritual sense Reuben means truth in doctrine and faith, as we will see hereafter.
The firstborn of Egypt were all struck down, having been condemned, and in the spiritual sense they mean nothing else than truth in doctrine and faith apart from goodness of life - truth which in itself is lifeless.
The goats mentioned in Daniel and Matthew 1
mean no others than people who possess a faith apart from life, as discussed in The Doctrine of the New Jerusalem Regarding Faith, nos. 61-68.
Around the time of the Last Judgment, people who possessed a faith apart from life were rejected and condemned, as may be seen in A Continuation Concerning the Last Judgment 16ff.
 It can be seen from these few considerations that the firstborn of the church is not truth in doctrine and faith, but truth in practice or deed, which constitutes goodness of life. For the church does not exist in a person until truth becomes a matter of life, and when truth becomes a matter of life, it is then goodness. That is because the thought of the intellect and memory do not flow into the will and through the will into practice. Rather the will flows into the thought and memory of the intellect and acts. Moreover, whatever issues from the will through the intellect does so from affection, which is a matter of love, through thought, which is a matter of the intellect. And it is all called good and enters into the life. Therefore the Lord says that he who does the truth does it in God (John 3:21).
 Since John represented goodness of life, and Peter the truth of faith (see no. 5 above), therefore John is said to have reclined at the Lord's breast and followed Jesus, and not Peter (John 21:18-23). The Lord also said of John that John would remain till He came (John 21:22-23), thus to the present day, which is the day of the Lord's coming. Consequently the Lord is now teaching goodness of life for people who will be constituents of His New Church, which is the New Jerusalem.
In sum, the firstborn is that which truth first produces from good, thus what the intellect produces from the will, because truth has to do with the intellect, and good with the will. This first element is primary, because it is like a seed from which everything else springs.
 As for the Lord, He is the "firstborn from the dead" because in respect to His humanity He is truth itself united to Divine good, from whom all people live, who in themselves are dead.
The like is meant in Psalms,
I will make him my firstborn, higher than the kings of the earth. (Psalms 89:27)
This is said of the Lord's humanity.
So it is that Israel is called the firstborn (Exodus 4:22-23). "Israel" means truth in practice, "Jacob" truth in doctrine; and because no church is formed in consequence of the latter alone, therefore Jacob was named Israel. (In the highest sense, however, Israel means the Lord.)
 Because of this representation of the firstborn, all the firstborn of people and animals were consecrated to Jehovah (Exodus 13:2, 12; 22:28-29).
Because of this representation of the firstborn, in the Israelite church the Levites were taken in place of all the firstborn, and it is said that they therefore belonged to Jehovah (Numbers 3:12-13, 40-46; 18:15-18). For Levi symbolizes truth in practice, which constitutes goodness of life, and therefore his descendants were given the priesthood, on which subject more later.
For the same reason, too, the firstborn was given a double portion of the inheritance, and he is called the beginning of strength (Deuteronomy 21:15-17).
 The firstborn symbolizes the primary constituent of the church because natural births in the Word symbolize spiritual births, and what first produces them in a person is then meant by his firstborn. For the church does not exist in him until the doctrinal truth conceived in the inner self is given birth in the outer self.
Matthew 25:28-29; Revelation 1:5)