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Monday, October 12, 2009

Firstborn

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. (Colossians 1:15)

Families traditionally have honored the first child born to a family, especially the first boy. Is that wrong, right, or just natural? Is it biblical?

The Old Testament indicates it was a common custom:

Laban (Jacob's uncle) said, "It is not so done in our country, to give the younger before the firstborn. (Genesis 29:26)
Reuben (Jacob's son), you are my firstborn, my might, and the firstfruits of my strength, preeminent in dignity and preeminent in power. (Genesis 49:3)
Consecrate to me all the firstborn. Whatever is the first to open the womb among the people of Israel, both of man and of beast, is mine." (Exodus 13:2)
If a man has two wives, the one loved and the other unloved, and both the loved and the unloved have borne him children, and if the firstborn son belongs to the unloved, then on the day when he assigns his possessions as an inheritance to his sons, he may not treat the son of the loved as the firstborn in preference to the son of the unloved, who is the firstborn, but he shall acknowledge the firstborn, the son of the unloved, by giving him a double portion of all that he has, for he is the firstfruits of his strength. The right of the firstborn is his. (Deuteronomy 21:15-17)

“Firstborn” could simply declare the first child born. This simple, literal definition could make Jesus seem to be less divine, more human, or more ordinary than He really is. Let's look closer at this word.

The Greek word that Paul used is prototokos, meaning first-born. Two other words contributed to this word:

  • protos, meaning foremost, as in time, place, order or importance
  • tikto, meaning to produce, as from seed or as a mother, a plant, or the earth

Literally, Paul is saying that Jesus is “firstborn” because He is foremost of all those produced from seed, all of creation.

Paul gives several reasons to support the “firstborn importance” of Jesus:

For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities---all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. (Colossians 1:16-18)

Jesus is of firstborn importance because,

  • He created all things
  • He is before all things
  • He holds all things together
  • He is the head of the body, the church, the world-wide group of those who belong to Him
  • He is the beginning
  • He is the resurrection
  • He is preeminent in everything!

The angelic announcement made to Mary described her child as great:

And the angel said to her, "Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end." (Luke 1:30-33)
Then Joseph being raised from sleep did as the angel of the Lord had bidden him, and took unto him his wife: And knew her not till she had brought forth her firstborn son: and he called his name JESUS. (Matthew 1:24-25, KJV)

The words translated by “Bear a son” includes the tikto, a form of the same Greek word used in firstborn.

Jesus is firstborn of all creation:

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. (Colossians 1:15)

This reference describes Jesus as the greatest, the foremost in importance above all created things. If firstborn here meant “born from creation”, it would imply that Jesus Himself was created. But the Bible teaches otherwise:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. (John 1:1-3)
Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. (Hebrews 1:1-3)

Jesus was outside of creation...He existed before all else existed, and He Himself created all things.

Jesus is the firstborn from the dead:

And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. (Colossians 1:18)

Here, Jesus is shown to be a member of a distinct group of people: those who have died. Of this group, Jesus is preeminent...He is the foremost in importance of all those who have died. The words “from the dead”, mean “out of the dead”. The resurrection of Jesus makes Him preeminent, of foremost importance, out of all the millions who have died.

Jesus is the firstborn among many brothers:

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. Romans 8:28-29

“Brothers” in the Greek literally means “of the same womb”.

But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. John 1:12

We are born of God, brothers of Jesus, and He is foremost in importance above all...He is the Firstborn.