“The Firstborn” — Colossians 1:18
In all things, the triune God has 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” (Rom. 8:28-29). We read, in Colossians chapter one, 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.”
Throughout the Old Testament the preeminence of our Lord Jesus Christ as our Savior is typified as the first, firstborn, 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” (Gen. 49:3). In that awesome night, when the Lord God slew the firstborn of both man and beast among the Egyptians (Ex. 12:29), he claimed the firstborn of both man and beast in Israel as his own, requiring that they be sanctified unto him (Ex. 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 Cor. 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 them 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 (Isa. 63:3-5). When the Son of God died as our Substitute upon the cursed tree, he both 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 (Heb. 9:12). At the same time, he declares, “The day of vengeance is in my heart.” Yes, there is a day, appointed and fixed by him, when our God will execute judgment in the firstlings of his enemies, as well as of mercy in the firstlings of his people.
The birthright of the firstborn among the children of Israel gave him preeminence in the family. To him belonged the right of priesthood (Num. 3:12-13; 40-45; 8:15-18). The firstborn was given a double portion among his brethren (Deut. 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” (Gen. 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 (Ex. 13:2; 34:19-20; Lev. 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 in all things as the God-man, our Mediator and Redeemer.
Yet, the law of God required the redemption of the first-born among the children of Israel (Num. 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.
However, the firstborn of the Levites were not redeemed (Num. 1:47-48; 3:12-13). Why was this exemption made? Why did God require that the firstborn of the Levites not 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 (Ex. 19:6; 1 Pet. 2:9).