The Importance of Being the Firstborn
info This commentary was written by a volunteer for our Bible translation project. It’s not an official view of our project; we are not a religious denomination and we do not establish doctrine. These commentaries reflect a variety of views and some disagree with each other.
- The Rights of the Firstborn
- Jesus Was the Firstborn
- In What Ways Was Jesus the Firstborn?
- Who Are the Firstborn Today?
- Must The 'Firstborn' Literally Be the First to be Born?
The Rights of the Firstborn
Throughout the Bible we read of the importance of being the firstborn son. For in IsraEl, the firstborn son was given twice as much of the inheritance as the rest of the sons. This isn’t true of firstborn daughters, because it was assumed that they would marry and become sharers in the inheritance of their husbands; that way, inheritances wouldn’t be combined. However, where no sons were born into a family, the daughters could receive an inheritance of land, as long as they didn’t marry outside of their tribe.
Another unique feature of being the firstborn son in IsraEl, is that such ones belonged to God. Notice what we are told about this at Exodus 13:1, 2: ‘All the first-fathered and firstborn that open any womb among the children of IsraEl, whether man or animal, are to be set aside as holy to Me, for they are Mine.’
So, not only the firstborn humans, but also the firstborn of their cattle belonged to God.
But what did this mean?
Well, in the case of the cattle, they were to be offered as sacrifices to Him.
However, they had to buy back their firstborn sons by offering an animal sacrifice instead. For we are told at Exodus 13:13:
‘And you must buy back (ransom) every firstborn son.’
AbraHam had provided the ‘type’ of what was really needed when he offered to sacrifice his firstborn son IsaAc. However, the thought of killing an innocent person was repulsive to God, so this is the reason why firstborn animals were sacrificed in place of humans… their sacrifice pictured the need for God to sacrifice His firstborn son to buy back humankind from slavery to sin and death.
Later on, God made a change in His law regarding firstborn sons when He appointed the descendants of Levi as the firstborn in place of those of the rest of the sons of IsraEl.
For at Numbers 3:11, 12, we read:
‘Then Jehovah spoke to Moses and said:
Look, I have chosen the Levites from among the children of IsraEl [to take the place] of [the rest of] the [firstborn] males that are among the children of IsraEl.
[The Levites] are their ransom, and they are Mine.’
So whereas the special privilege of belonging to God was once offered to all the firstborn of IsraEl; thereafter, those who weren’t necessarily literal firstborn became His firstborn.
And all of this has importance prophetic significance.
Jesus Was the Firstborn
If a person believes that Jesus is the same person as God (the Father), or if they believe that Jesus was just a human who first came into existence when he was born on earth, that person is missing out on the true meaning and significance of being the firstborn. For it’s a fact that all the laws and promises of the firstborn of men, animals, and crops showed how God was going to send this one – His most-loved and firstborn son – to save us.
The Bible is clear on this; for notice what we are told in the following scriptures:
- John 1:1-3: ‘In the beginning there was the Word. The Word was with The God and the Word was a powerful one. This one was with The God in the beginning, and through him it all came to be. Life was in him, and the life was the light of mankind.’
- John 1:18: ‘This only generated god (the one in the favored position of the Father) has explained Him.’
- Colossians 1:15-17: ‘He’s the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation (gr. protokos pases ktiseos – first/taken all creation). Through him everything in heaven and on the earth was created, both the things that are visible and those that are invisible. Everything has been created through him and for him, regardless of whether they are thrones, or rulerships, or governments, or powers. He was before everything and everything came into existence through him.’
- Revelation 3:14: ‘And write this to the messenger of the congregation in LaoDikea: ‘This is what the Amen says, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of creation by The God (gr. he arche tes ktiseos tou Theou, or, of beginning of/the creation of/the God).’
In What Ways Was Jesus the Firstborn?
Despite all the clear indications of the true meanings of the scriptures listed above, some choose to argue the interpretation of a few words, such as the proper translation of the Greek words prototokos (found at Colossians 1:15) and monogenea or monogenes (as found at John 1:18). They say that these words are not speaking of Jesus being God’s first created in heaven, but of his being the firstborn human son on earth (through Mary). And for a fact, these words could be interpreted that way, were it not for all the other scriptures that clarify their meaning.
Take for example, the rendering of Colossians 1:15; for there it reads:
‘He’s … the firstborn of all creation.’
And yes, the word that is translated as firstborn is taken from the Greek word protokos, which literally means first taken, as in birth. In fact, wherever the word firstborn appears in its Greek form throughout the Bible, it is translated from some form of prototokos.
However, notice that Jesus was spoken of as ‘the firstborn of all creation,’ not as ‘the foremost of all creation’ (as some claim it means). And since the Bible constantly speaks of things in the terms that humans can recognize; speaking of Jesus as having been ‘born’ or ‘taken’ is clearly in line with his being the first creation of God (not by a human or spiritual mother, but as the first creation by God).
Yet, Jesus was also the first human to be conceived by God.
Genes (or egenesen), for example, is the word that is used throughout Matthew 1:2-16 when speaking of the genealogy of Mary, to describe who fathered or sired each of the earthly ancestors of Jesus through her.
So Jesus was fathered by God…
1. As His first-created son in heaven
2. As His first-born son on earth
3. As the firstborn of God’s Breath (Spirit)
4. As the firstborn from the grave.
For as Paul wrote (at Colossians 1:17, 18):
‘He was before everything and everything came into existence through him. He’s the head of the body of the congregation and he’s the earliest and the first one to be born from the dead, so that he would be first in everything.’
(For more information, see the linked document, 'Who Was Jesus?’)
Who Are the Firstborn Today?
Yet both the later prophecies and the ‘types’ of ancient IsraEl indicate that Jesus isn’t the only one who is referred to as the ‘firstborn of God.’ That there would be others, is prefigured by the fact that all the Priestly tribe of Levi would belong to God as His firstborn in place of the firstborn of the rest of IsraEl. The fact that God said all the firstborn of IsraEl belonged to Him, proves that there would be a future class of firstborn that would be taken from among those who would agree to be part of the ‘New Sacred Agreement’ with God, which Sacred Agreement was founded on the shed blood of Jesus. (For more information, see the linked document, 'The New Covenant.’)
Recognize also, that within the tribe of Levi (God's firstborn) there were two major divisions. First there were the descendants of Aaron and Moses (the ‘Priests’) whose job was to serve inside the Temple and to enter the Most-Holy Place. So this group of symbolic ‘firstborn’ seems to picture those who are taken to that which was symbolized by the Most-Holy Place in the sacred Tent and Temple… into heaven itself.
Paul spoke of such a heavenly gathering of ‘called ones’ at Hebrews 12:22-24, where he wrote:
‘What you've approached is Mount Zion… the City of the Living God. It's Heavenly JeruSalem, where millions of [God's] messengers are attending a convention of the gathering of the firstborn whose names have been written in the heavens by God, who is the judge of them all. [You've approached] the unseen force of those who are righteous and who have been made perfect, and [you've approached] Jesus, the mediator of a New Sacred Agreement, whose sacrificial blood speaks out better than Abel's.’
So from the above, we can conclude that at least some of the firstborn will be called to heaven to live and rule with Jesus.
But what about the rest?
Well, recognize that ALL in the tribe of Levi (not just the descendants of Moses and Aaron) were considered the firstborn. And though all in that tribe were priests, those who were referred to as ‘the Levites’ didn’t generally live within the Holy City of Jerusalem, as did the Anointed Priests of the lines of Aaron and Moses, who served inside God's Temple or Tent. Rather, the Levites were given their own cities or suburbs throughout the land of IsraEl, where they served as teachers and judges. So they appear to picture Holy Ones (or firstborn) who will serve among the people that will be resurrected on the earth. These may be the same ones that were spoken of at Revelation 5:9,10, which says this about Jesus:
‘You bought people for God with your blood
From every tribe, language, country, and race.
Then you made them rulers and priests to our God,
And they’ll rule as kings on (gr. epi) the earth.’
(For more information, see the linked document, 'God’s Promise of an Inheritance').
Must The 'Firstborn' Literally Be the First to be Born?
At this point, we really aren’t sure whether all the faithful on the earth (symbolic IsraEl) will eventually serve as kings and priests or not; this will likely become clearer in the future.
However, we are sure that those who are called the ‘firstborn’ will serve in that capacity.
Does this mean that such ones must literally be the firstborn of family lines?
No, for the Bible shows that a person doesn’t actually have to be the firstborn of men to be the firstborn of God.
Take for example, Jacob; his brother Esau was literally the firstborn, but Jacob was able to buy that birthright from his brother for the price of a bowl of stew.
So in this case, the right of firstborn was purchased from another, because one appreciated it and the other didn’t.
And that’s how (by showing appreciation) one can become the firstborn of God.
Also, because of their faithfulness, many others in Bible history who were not literally the firstborn of their families were given the rights of the firstborn by God, including some who were actually born close to last in their families. An example of this was faithful Joseph, whose family line was given the inheritance of the firstborn… a double portion of tribes (Ephraim and Manasseh) in IsraEl. And later, David (who was the last-born son of Jesse) was appointed king of IsraEl by God, as was his son Solomon, who was far down the list of David’s sons.
That David was actually elected by God to be His firstborn is proven by the words of God as found at Psalm 89:27, where we read:
‘Then I’ll appoint him My firstborn
And put him above the kings of the earth.’