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The Firstborn — Titles of Jesus

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He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. 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.

Colossians 1:15–17, ESV

Jesus is addressed with a plethora of excellent titles throughout the Bible, like Savior, God, Yahweh, Messiah, Alpha and Omega, King of Kings, Lord of Lords, and The Word. We recognize, appreciate, and rejoice over all of these, adding them to our worship vocabulary and writing them into our hymns and songs.

Unlike certain other titles that just confuse us, like ‘firstborn.’ How can Jesus be the firstborn when he wasn’t created?

That Jesus is the firstborn is mentioned in a few places in the Bible, most notably in Colossians 1:15, where Paul writes that Jesus is “the firstborn before all things.” To understand this word, we have to look at what it meant to the original author, Paul. When Paul wrote the letter to the church at Colossi, he had a specific idea in mind which he was trying to convey to his audience. That word meant something specific in the culture he and his audience was living it, which it does not mean today.

It is evident in the Old Testament that firstborn doesn’t only refer to someone born first chronologically. It can, but it often refers to something far more excellent. For example, the Lord, Yahweh, says in Psalm 89:27: “And I will make him the firstborn, the highest of the kings of the earth.” This Psalm was originally speaking about David, the second King of Israel, and it is also a messianic psalm, prophesying the coming reign of the Messiah, who will be the highest of all the kings on the earth. Since the Psalm is speaking about both Jesus and David, it must be applicable to both Jesus and David. This is a problem for those who claim that the word firstborn has to be interpreted literally, because David wasn’t the firstborn of his father, Jesse. No. He was the youngest of Jesse’s sons (1 Sam. 16:11). Secondly, this verse speaks of being “made” a firstborn, like a title that can be bestowed upon someone. Which is what it is.

In the first book of the Bible, as Israel (Jacob) was lying on his deathbed, he blessed his two grandsons, the sons of Joseph. Israel placed his left hand on Manasseh (the oldest), and his right on Ephraim (the youngest). This was a violation of social convention because the oldest son should have been at the right hand, so Joseph objected to it:

When Joseph saw that his father laid his right hand on the head of Ephraim, it displeased him, and he took his father’s hand to move it from Ephraim’s head to Manasseh’s head. And Joseph said to his father, “Not this way, my father; since this one is the firstborn, put your right hand on his head.”

Genesis 48:17–18, ESV

The right hand is associated with preeminence. When Israel put his right hand on Ephraim, he implied that the younger would be greater than the older, which he said out loud next:

But his father refused and said, “I know, my son, I know. He also shall become a people, and he also shall be great. Nevertheless, his younger brother shall be greater than he, and his offspring shall become a multitude of nations.”

Genesis 48:19, ESV

Israel gave his greatest blessing to Ephraim, “Thus he put Ephraim before Manasseh” (Gen. 48:20). Later in the Bible in Jeremiah 31:9, where God is speaking about how He will save his people, He says: “With weeping they shall come, and with pleas for mercy I will lead them back, I will make them walk by brooks of water, in a straight path in which they shall not stumble, for I am a father to Israel, and Ephraim is my firstborn.” Despite being the youngest, Ephriam was seen as the firstborn.

The firstborn was also the principal heir of an estate, inheriting twice as much as his brothers (Deut. 21:17). When God told Abraham that he was going to give him the Promised Land, He said: “for all the land that you see I will give to you and to your offspring forever” (Gen. 12:7). Abraham passed this blessing down to his first son, Isaac (Gen. 25:5; 26:3), and Isaac should have passed it down to his first son, Esau, but while Esau was in the womb, God told his mother that: “Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples from within you shall be divided; the one shall be stronger than the other, the older shall serve the younger” (Gen. 25:23). As promised, both of Isaac’s sons became the fathers of nations: Esau the father of the Edomites, and Israel the father of the Israelites, the nation which received the greater inheritance: the Promised Land. Later, when God was going to lead Moses and the Israelites out of Egypt, God said that “Israel is my firstborn son” (Exo. 4:22).

Neither Israel, Ephraim, nor David was the first son, but all three became the firstborn. To both Jew and Greek, this title signified preeminence and heir, a perfect title for Christ, who is preeminent over everything (Col. 1:18) and the appointed heir of all things (Heb. 1:2).

The Creator and Sustainer

Paul continues to exalt Christ’s preeminence and eternity in the next couple of verses of the epistle to the Colossians, writing: “For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities.” And then Paul has to repeat himself: “all things were created through him and for him” (Col. 1:16–17). When we repeat ourselves, we usually do it to emphasize a point. So does Paul. These verses shatter the idea of the Son being created because the Father would have had to create the Son by Himself. The Father has never created anything by Himself since “all things were created through him [Jesus],” and as John wrote: “without him [Jesus] was not any thing made that was made” (John 1:3). Neither has the Son created anything without the Father. They do everything together in perfect love (John 3:35; 5:19–20).

Paul even lists all the various things which have been created through Christ, extensively, exhausting his vocabulary to emphasize Jesus’ superiority over every creature in all the different realms of existence. Whether they are earthly beings or heavenly being, Jesus has created them for His honor and glory. Whether they’re visible or invisible to us finite creatures living in time, Jesus was there in eternity to put His finishing touches on them and give them His stamp of approval. Whether they’re thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities, they have a stamp on them which reads “made through Jesus.” Jesus is eternally God. He has always been there from all eternity, residing in heaven together with the Father in perfect unity, partaking of the same brilliant glory (John 17:5), working together on their perfect masterpiece, everything created “for him.” He is “before all things” (Col. 1:16–17). Every moment of every day, He upholds the universe with his mighty hands, carrying every life on His fingers, from the most massive planet to the most insignificant mosquito, everything is held together in Him (Col. 1:17).

Then one day, the Son came down from heaven to earth, conceived by the Holy Spirit in the womb of the virgin mother Maria, where He took on human flesh so that He could dwell among us. His physical body had a birthday, but his divine nature has existed from all eternity.

The firstborn among many brothers

Do you have a precious verse that you go to when you’re sad? I do. I recite Romans 8:28 to myself: “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” There is no such thing as chance in this world. Nothing is random. Regardless of how horrible a tragedy might seem, it and everything else is working together for the better. It is not good in itself, but it is being used for good. Whose good? Our good, and as the verse continues: “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.” When you were adopted, you weren’t adopted just because God loves you. He does, with a love beyond words. But when Paul mentions adoption, he is frequently speaking about another phenomenal truth that is often lost in contemporary Christianity: the glory of God.

If God has adopted you, you are not your own (1 Cor. 6:19-20). You are the property of Jesus Christ (Heb. 1:2), bought with a price for a purpose, as this verse says: “in order that he [Jesus] might be the firstborn among many brothers.” You were adopted to glorify Him and make Him known. He is the preeminent one who all the adopted brothers and sisters gather around to worship and love and exalt. He is worthy of it all. He is the Lamb that was slain for our wicked transgressions and tasted death because of our wretched sins. He suffered pain unspeakable on the cross to purchase a people that would be “holy and blameless before him” (Eph. 1:4), all to the glory of God, to the praise of His glorious grace (Eph. 1:6; 1:12 1:14).

God has prepared brilliant white garments and beautiful crowns for us (Rev. 3:5; 4:4; James 1:12; 2 Tim. 4:8), which He will give to His beloved children, all because of His heavenly grace and radiant love. But we are not worthy of them, nobody is. Therefore, even the 24 elders will toss their crowns at the feet God and the Lamb, Jesus Christ, giving glory and honor and thanks to Them alone forevermore, singing: 

Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing! … To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!

Revelation 5:12–13, ESV

Jesus Christ is the firstborn of all creation, preeminent over all of His adopted brothers and sisters. He is the heir of all things, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords who reigns on heaven and earth, God over all, perfect for all eternity, worthy of all our worship.

Soli Deo Gloria

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