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Christ the Firstborn
“And thou shalt say unto Pharaoh, Thus saith the LORD, Israel is my son, even my firstborn.” (Exodus 4:22)
Here is the authority and power by which a true prophet of God speaks. — “Thus saith the Lord.” This is the first time we find that expression in Holy Scripture. From this point on, throughout the Old Testament, inspired prophets frequently prefaced their declarations with these words. — “Thus saith the Lord.” But this is the first mention of the phrase. With those words, Moses was commanded to declare to Pharaoh that he stood before him as God’s ambassador with God’s message. God’s preachers are men who come with boldness, because they come with the authority of God to proclaim the Word of God.
Here is the name by which God’s people are identified. — “Israel.” The name was first given to the patriarch Jacob. It was given to him because, when the Lord wrestled with him and prevailed over him by his mighty grace, he prevailed with the Lord (Genesis 32:28). Israel means “Prince with God.” It conveys the idea of one who has power with God. Those who are conquered by Christ, over whom grace so prevails that they confess their sin (1 John 1:9), as when Jacob was compelled to confess, “My name is Jacob,” have power, authority with God, and prevail. We are more than conquerors with Christ, in Christ, and by Christ.
Next, the Lord God declares, “Israel is my son.” With those words, the God of Glory identifies his special relationship with the descendants of Jacob. Specifically, he is here talking about Jacob’s physical descendants. He chose Israel from among the nations of the earth and bestowed special privileges and blessings upon them (Deuteronomy 7:6-8; 14:2). But its broader, fuller reference is not to Jacob’s physical descendants, but to believing sinners, his spiritual descendants, “the Israel of God” (Galatians 6:16; Romans 9:4-8).
And there is a definite reference here to our Lord Jesus Christ. When the Lord God said, “Israel is my Son,” he was not just talking about his covenant people; he was talking about the Lord Jesus Christ. We know that is the case because the Hoy Spirit tells us so in Hosea 11:1 (compare Matthew 2:15). Hosea 11:1 and Matthew 2:15 tell us that when God said, “Israel is my son,” he was not talking about the nation of Israel, or even his elect alone. He was talking about the Lord Jesus Christ, our Savior, that baby boy brought up from Egypt by Joseph. He was telling us that the man Christ Jesus is God the Son.
This is the message God gave to Moses to declare to Pharaoh. Indeed, this is the message God gives to every man who is his ambassador among men, the message God’s servants must proclaim to all men everywhere throughout the ages. — “Israel is my Son, even my Firstborn.” Israel typified Christ, who is here said to be God’s Firstborn, that One man who is “above all people that are upon the face of the earth” (Deuteronomy 7:6). The Word of God has much to say about Christ the Firstborn, as he was typified in Israel and throughout the Old Testament.
In all things the triune God has purposed and determined that his Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, have preeminence as the God-man Mediator, the Savior of his people. Therefore, he is declared to be “the firstborn.” The Holy Spirit tells us that God’s purpose in saving his elect is that his Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, “might be the firstborn among many brethren” (Romans 8:28-29). We read in Colossians chapter one that our Savior “is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn from the dead…the head of the body, the church: the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things he might have the preeminence.” And in Hebrews 12:23 the church of God is called “the church of the firstborn.” The Lord our God is determined that his Son, our Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, be exalted and have all preeminence as his Firstborn. He says, “Also I will make him my firstborn, higher than the kings of the earth” (Psalm 89:27).
Old Testament Types
Throughout the Old Testament, the preeminence of our Lord Jesus Christ as our Savior is typified as the first, the firstborn, the firstfruits, and the firstlings of the flock, and of the herd. Indeed, everything recorded in the Old Testament foreshadows him who is the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, and the Sum and the Substance of all things in the salvation of his people (Luke 24:25-27, 44). There is nothing in the Book of God that does not speak of our all-glorious Christ, nothing that does not, in one way or another, set forth his supremacy, excellence, and glory as God our Savior. Nowhere is this fact more evident than in those passages dealing with the firstborn.
The firstborn symbolized a father’s might and strength, “the excellency of dignity and the excellency of power” (Genesis 49:3). In that awesome night, when the Lord God slew the firstborn of both man and beast among the Egyptians (Exodus 12:29), he claimed the firstborn of both man and beast in Israel as his own, requiring that they be sanctified unto him (Exodus 13:2).
It was God himself, and God alone who put a difference between the firstborn in Egypt and the firstborn in Israel on that night. We are expressly taught by the Spirit of God that everything on that passover night was typical of Christ, who as “our Passover was sacrificed for us” (1 Corinthians 5:7). The sprinkling of the blood of the lamb of the first year, without blemish, and without spot, on the houses of the Israelites, was the one thing that put a difference between the first-born of Israel and the first-born of Egypt. The blood of the lamb alone saved Israel’s firstborn from destruction. This we are plainly told in Exodus 11:7.
As it was on that great night of judgment and mercy, so the year of Christ’s redeemed is both the day of vengeance and the day of salvation (Isaiah 63:3-5). When the Son of God died as our Substitute upon the cursed tree, he bore all the vengeance of God’s holy wrath for us to the full satisfaction of divine justice, and obtained eternal redemption and salvation for us (Hebrews 9:12). At the same time, he declares, “The day of vengeance is in my heart.” Yet, there is a day, appointed and fixed by him, when our God will execute judgment upon his enemies, as well as mercy upon his people (Acts 17:31; 2 Corinthians 5:10; Revelation 20:11-15).
The birthright belonged to the firstborn among the children of Israel, and gave him preeminence in the family. To him belonged the right of priesthood (Numbers 3:12-13, 40-45; 8:15-18). The firstborn was given a double portion among his brethren (Deuteronomy 21:17). And to the firstborn it was promised, “Thou art he whom thy brethren shall praise: thy hand shall be in the neck of thine enemies; thy father’s children shall bow down before thee” (Genesis 49:8). All these Old Testament declarations were intended to show forth the majesty of Christ as “the firstborn among many brethren.” All the offerings required of God for every male that opened the womb pointed to our Lord Jesus (Exodus 13:2; 34:19-20; Leviticus 12:6; Luke 2:21-24).
Opens the Womb
Robert Hawker suggested that the Scriptures, when speaking of “the firstborn that openeth the womb,” must have been prophetic of the virgin birth of our Savior. “For strictly and properly speaking, none but the Lord Jesus ever did open the womb…In every other instance, from the creation of the world, as anatomists well know, it is accomplished at the time of conception.”
Our blessed Savior, “the firstborn,” was conceived in Mary’s virgin womb by the overshadowing power of God the Holy Spirit. He opened Mary’s virgin womb when he came forth from it to accomplish our redemption. Thus, throughout the Levitical dispensation, the firstborn of man and beast directed the eye of faith to him whom the triune God appointed to have everlasting preeminence as “the firstborn.” In all things it is, was, and forever shall be the will of the eternal God that Christ have preeminence as the God-man, our Mediator and Redeemer.
Yet, the law of God required redemption of the first-born among the children of Israel (Numbers 18:15-16). The firstborn was brought to the priest, along with “five shekels, after the shekel of the sanctuary.” The priest received the child in the name of the Lord as his own. Then, the priest returned the child to the care of its parents; but it belonged to the Lord. All the firstborn had to be redeemed. And we who are called “the church of the firstborn” had to be redeemed to our God by the blood of Christ, either redeemed or killed.
However, the firstborn of the Levites was not redeemed (Numbers 1:47-48; 3:12-13). Why was this exemption made? Why did God require that the firstborn of the Levites not be redeemed? Because the Levites represented our Redeemer, the Lord Jesus Christ; and he, who is our Redeemer, did not need to be redeemed.
Though our Savior came, as a man, from the tribe of Judah, the Levites, being chosen as the priestly tribe, portrayed the whole election of grace as a people holy and accepted in the Beloved, “a kingdom of priests” and “a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people,” redeemed and called in Christ (Exodus 19:6; 1 Peter 2:9). And the whole Levitical priesthood typified Christ our Priest and Mediator, whom God took in the stead of his firstborn ones. He who is the Redeemer did not need to be redeemed.
Fulfilled in Christ
The law of God distinguished a man’s firstborn in all these ways. While these distinctions were to be observed ceremonially throughout the Mosaic dispensation, they are all gloriously accomplished in Christ, the Firstborn. Let me show you:
1. The firstborn was considered “the beginning of his [father’s] strength” (Deuteronomy 21:17; Genesis 49:3; Psalm 78:51).
The firstborn was particularly near and dear to his father. So the Lord Jesus Christ, as the God-man Mediator, because of his accomplishments as the Firstborn, is precious in God’s sight and beloved of the Father (John 10:17; Proverbs 8:22, 30; Matthew 3:17; Hebrews 1:9).
2. The firstborn was consecrated to the service of God (Exodus 13:1-2, 12). It was because he was consecrated to God that the firstborn had to be redeemed (Exodus 13:13; 34:20).
Israel was “redeemed from the house of bondage, from the hand of Pharaoh,” because they were, typically, Jehovah’s firstborn (Deuteronomy 7:8; Exodus 15:13), and were consecrated to the service of God (Exodus 19:1-6; Romans 9:4). The priestly duties of the firstborn were transferred to the Levites (who ceremonially and typically became the tribe of the firstborn) in Numbers 3. And all the Levitical priesthood typified our Savior’s priesthood (Hebrews 8-10), whose priesthood is the priesthood of God’s Firstborn.
3. The firstborn received a double portion of his father’s estate (Deuteronomy 21:17; 2 Kings 2:9).
All nations and people receive a goodly portion from our Father, in that he bestows physical blessings upon them (Matthew 5:45). But God’s Israel has been doubly blessed, not only with physical blessings, but also with “all spiritual blessings” in Christ (Ephesians 1:3). We have received of the Lord’s hand double for all our sins (Isaiah 40:2). And our Lord Jesus Christ, the Firstborn, is gloriously blessed. The Father has given all things to the Son, “whom he has appointed heir of all things” (Hebrews 1:2). Truly, we who are numbered among “the church of the firstborn” are given the double portion of the firstborn in Christ. We are heirs of God and joint-heirs with Christ (Romans 8:17-18).
4. The firstborn could never be deprived of his birthright (Deuteronomy 21:15-17).
Christ the Firstborn will never be deprived of his birthright (Psalm 2:8; 1 Corinthians 15:24-28; Revelation 11:15). And God’s Israel, the firstborn nation of his elect (Romans 11:1-5), the church of the firstborn, who are grafted into and made one with Christ (Romans 11:13-26), will never be deprived of its birthright (Exodus 19:5-16 & 1 Peter 2:9-10).
5. The firstborn succeeded his father as head of the family (2 Chronicles 21:3).
Although the Lord our God, by reason of his eternality, will never be succeeded, he nevertheless has appointed Christ his Son, his Firstborn, to be head of the nations, “a special treasure above all the people that are upon the face of the earth” (Deuteronomy 7:6). He has appointed Christ to be Head over his family the church (Ephesians 3:14-22; 5:23), and the Head over “every man” (1 Corinthians 11:3), the Head over “all principality and power” (Colossians 2:10), the Head over “all creation” (Colossians 1:15), even the Head over “all things” forever and ever, to the praise of his glory (Ephesians 1:22).
“Christ,” the Firstborn, “is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone that believeth” (Romans 10:4). Oh, may God graft you into Christ, his Firstborn, giving you faith in him, that you may be counted his firstborn with Israel his Son, his Firstborn! As God destroyed Egypt and many nations since for not honoring His Firstborn, so he will destroy all who refuse to honor his Son, his Firstborn, the Lord Jesus Christ. Honor him by trusting him, even as the Father has trusted him with all things from eternity; and God will honor you with everlasting life before him. If you refuse to trust him, God will destroy you with everlasting destruction in hell.