How are we to understand the title Firstborn as applied to our Lord?
Alan H. Linton, Bristol, England
THE WORD 'BIRTH' conveys the thought of a beginning, the bringing into being of a personality not having had previous existence, whilst the word 'firstborn' indicates the order of birth - the first-to-be-born. From a general reading of Scripture we know that this definition cannot be applied to the Lord Jesus Christ because He had no beginning; He always was (e.g., John 1. 1-3). What then is the significance of this title when used of our Lord?
By reference to a number of Old Testament Scriptures we learn that occasionally individuals within a family were given the position of the firstborn although they were not the first-to-be-born (see 1 Chron. 26. 10 and notes in previous issue). Conversely, under certain circumstances, the first born lost his birthright (e.g., Reuben -1 Chron. 5. 1 and 2; and Lsau - Gen. 25. 28-34). We also note that Israel, as a nation, was called God's firstborn, Exod. 4. 22. From this we infer that the title does not invariably indicate the order of birth but rather priority of rank and dignity. It is in this sense that Christ is the Firstborn. The title is used of our Lord in a threefold way:
1. He is 'the firstborn of all creation', Col. 1. 15. This expresses His priority to, and pre-eminence over, all created things. It signifies His position in the past as Son before the above creation. (Note: the phrase in Rev. 3. 14, 'the beginning of the creation of God' has often been cited as proof that Jesus was the first being to be created. Here the word beginning means origin, i.e., Christ Jesus is the origin of created things, the One who gave beginning to creation).
2. He is 'the firstborn from among the dead', Col. I. 18; Rev. I. 5. This title indicates His pre-eminence in resurrection - the first to be raised never to return into death. As such He is the Head of the body, the Church.
3. He is 'the firstborn among many brethren,' Rom. 8. 29. This indicates His position of honour as the glorified Redeemer of His people. He is the Captain who leads many sons unto glory.
No wonder we read, 'it pleased the Father that in him should all fulness dwell . . . that in all things he might have the pre-eminence', Col. 1. 18 and 19, and God declares 'I will make him my firstborn, higher than the kings of the earth', Ps. 89. 27.
Let us also honour God's Firstborn.