JESUS, FIRSTBORN OF EVERY CREATURE
How often have we, as the Church of Jesus Christ, been guilty of neglecting the Old Testament. But Paul declared that all these things were written of olden times for our instruction. And in another place he spoke of the advantage of the Jew, that ‘unto him were committed the oracles of God.’ We ourselves have had to apologize to the Lord for not taking His teaching seriously enough. And this article shows one example of how important truth can be lost thereby, because the Lord has brought to our notice the meaning of the firstborn and the firstfruit, and we believe that many who read this article will find the outcome mentally explosive – so much so that they may have to think again all the foundations of their faith.
The teaching of the firstborn goes right back to the beginning. Why did Abel bring the FIRSTLINGS of his flock? Hebrews 11 tells us that it was by faith. Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God. Hence we know that Abel obeyed God’s instruction concerning offerings. What about Cain? We are told that he ‘brought of the fruit of the ground as an offering.’ In other words he brought a selection of his own choice. This was not acceptable to the Lord. It should have been the firstfruits. God said to him, ‘If you do well, shall you not be accepted?’ In other words, Cain knew, as well as Abel, the exact requirements of God.
Cain was himself the firstborn son of his father. Although little is written of him, we can learn a few lessons. Gen.4:1 tells us that ‘Adam knew his wife Eve’. In the Hebrew the sense is pluperfect, and should have been translated ‘And Adam had known his wife Eve.’ This tells us that Cain was conceived before the fall. When he was born, Eve said, ‘I have gotten a man – the Lord’ , hence she called him Cain (acquisition). She believed that he was the ‘coming seed’ of whom the Lord spoke in the Garden. Later she bare another son, and called him Abel, which means transitoriness, ephemeral, a word that contrasts strongly with Cain, showing us that Adam and Eve considered Cain to be a very important son, and Abel less so by comparison. Hence there is some proof here of the favouritism shown to Cain which may have spoiled his character as a young adult, and led to his stubborn pride when God spoke to him.
With the murder of Abel, the child of faith was gone, and the firstborn disqualified. And so we read that ‘Adam knew his wife again, and she bare a son and named him Seth.’ Seth means ‘substitute’. Seth was a substitute for Abel but he was also a substitute for Cain as firstborn.
With the unfolding of the Old Testament history, further facts are revealed about the firstborn and the firstfruits. These may be summarized as follows- a firstborn son was to 1. receive his father’s blessing and the supremacy over his other brethren. 2. receive a double portion of his father’s inheritance. 3. stand spiritually as the ‘domestic priest’ to the rest of the family.
These were the stated privileges of the firstborn son. But lest any should consider such privileges an unjust apportioning by God’s law, the following requirements of the firstborn son declare the reason why. q The responsibilities of the firstborn son were to – 1. redeem a lost inheritance within the family. 2. redeem a poor brother who would otherwise be sold into slavery. 3. raise up seed to the brother who had died without male issue. 4. avenge the blood of a brother who had been murdered.
(See Gen.27:28-29, Deut 21:17, Numbers 3, Lev.25:25-28 & 47-48, Deut 19:4-12 Gen.38, Deut 25:5-10, and the whole of the book of Ruth.)
Note the emphasis on the word ‘redeem’. The meaning of this word is ‘to buy back’ something (or someone) who has been sold. It is a common word in the pawnbroker’s shop. It was part of God’s teaching in those early days. He was preparing His people to understand the meaning of the blood sacrifice in that all who are born in sin need to be redeemed from the kingdom of Satan the Master Pawnbroker, to be redeemed, bought back to God. The firstborn son was expected to fulfil this function. If he failed for any reason, then the responsibility fell on the shoulders of other brethren.
Hence the firstborn son possessed distinct privileges. But these were bestowed upon him so that he may the more readily fulfil his duties to his brethren. These truths are so clearly taught in that little gem of literature, the book of Ruth. The nearest kin declined to fulfil his duty, and therefore Boaz acted as ‘kinsman redeemer’ to Ruth.
In passing it must be said that the Old Testament shows cases where the firstborn privilege is considered lightly, or even abused. We have already had occasion to speak of Cain. But what of the story of Esau, who sold his birthright for a meal of lentils? And that of Reuben who lost his birthright because he defiled his father’s bed? (Gen.25:29-34, 27:28-35, 1 Chron.5:1-2) Sometimes the Lord appoints a later son as ‘firstborn’ because of his faith. Such seems to be the case with Shem, the youngest of the three sons of Noah. And by revelation, Jacob crosses his hands in blessing Manasseh and Ephraim, so that the younger received the greater blessing. (Gen.48:13-20)
At the time of the Exodus, a new truth emerged. In Exodus 4:22 we read, “You shall say to Pharaoh, ‘Thus says the Lord, Israel is my son, my firstborn; and I say to you, Let my son go that he may serve me. And if you refuse to let him go, behold I will slay your son, even your firstborn.'” Not only in respect of persons, but also nationally, God used the principle of the firstborn. Israel was the firstborn nation of God. In what respect was the ‘firstborn’ principle enacted? As the firstborn son, Israel received great privileges. None will question that. But what of the other side of the coin? What about Israel’s responsibilities? We are now in a position to understand what God was driving at. Israel as a nation was in relation to other nations as firstborn son to the other brethren. Israel was therefore expected to act as ‘priest’ to other nations, and to pray for them, teach them, ‘redeem’ them from the bondages of iniquity into which they had fallen. Only in this way could the blessing of Abraham come to pass, when God said ‘In your seed all the families of the earth will be blessed.’
But what happened? Israel enjoyed the privileges, but despised the responsibilities. In time God’s firstborn nation referred to others as ‘dogs of the Gentiles’ In no way were they ready to redeem their iniquitous brother-nations. Rather would they have seen them all destroyed. They heard what the Lord said about not mixing with other nations, and keeping themselves apart, as holy unto the Lord, and they were quite willing to keep to this for the most part, but they did not realize that the holiness of separation was to preserve the nation of Israel in an ideal condition to act as kinsman-redeemer to other nations, not just to enjoy their own exclusivity.
When Israel first came out of Egypt, the whole nation was accepted by God as His priest. But at Sinai, after the incident of the golden calf, the Lord chose the faithful tribe of Levi as priest. The other tribes lost the privilege, even as Esau and Reuben lost the birthright privilege before. The truth of this is explained in Numbers 3.
Turning now to the parallel teaching of firstfruits, we find certain truths brought into focus which were not so clearly seen in the symbol of the firstborn. But together, the whole truth may be obtained.
All the firstfruits of the ground were holy to the Lord, and had to be brought as an offering to the Lord. The firstfruit is as the firstborn, set apart as holy, and standing in the place of the rest. If the firstfruit was offered to the Lord, then the remainder of the harvest was acceptable to the Lord. Paul makes this very clear in Romans 11:16 “If the firstfruit is holy, so also the lump.” This truth is of paramount importance. The firstborn son, as long as he fulfilled his role acceptably before the Lord, meant that the rest of his family were ‘accepted’. Even so, if the wave sheaf of barley be accepted by God in the Tabernacle, then the remainder of the barley harvest is automatically accepted.
But with man, there has been a continual history of failure. There was failure in Israel as a nation, so that Levi had to stand as priest in its stead. There was failure throughout the nation at a family level as well. So although the truths of the firstborn and the firstfruit remain, as far as man is concerned he has not fulfilled the law of the Lord. Neither families nor nations have been ‘redeemed’. Both families and nations remain in a state of unacceptability before the Lord. Man has failed throughout time.
But God will not accept failure. That which He sets out to do, He most surely accomplishes. And we shall see the manner in which He brings His work to a conclusion. But first of all we must review the Old Testament teaching on firstfruits, for they are contained in the festivals of the Lord.
There were three major festivals each year in Israel. These were all connected with harvesting.
1. Passover. This was on the 14th Nisan. The day following was the first day of the feast of unleavened bread, and termed a High Sabbath. The day after this was the time of the waving of the firstfruit sheaf. No one was allowed to cut any corn until the waving of this sheaf had taken place. Being the Sunday in the crucifixion year, it coincided with the day of resurrection. And because of this we are led to conclude that the wave offering represented resurrection. Jesus died for our sins, but He was raised for our justification. If He was not raised, then we should still be in our sins. “But now has Christ been raised from the dead, the FIRSTFRUIT of those fallen asleep.” (1 Cor.15:20)
2. Pentecost. Once again, a firstfruit offering was required. But this time it was mixed with leaven. And so God has ordered that TWO FIRSTFRUITS be taken from the annual harvest, before the bulk of the crops becomes acceptable.
3. Tabernacles. This is the feast of the ingathering of the remainder of the harvest. No offering is now made. All is acceptable, by virtue of the two firstfruits already presented to the Lord at Passover and Pentecost.
Here then is the wonderful truth. Here is the manner in which God has accomplished (and is still accomplishing) His work. Our Lord has already risen from the dead. The first of the firstfruits has been accepted by our Father in heaven. But still God awaits the offering up of the Pentecost firstfruits. And who are these? The New Testament is abundantly clear about this –
1. James 1:18 ‘that we should be a kind of firstfruits of His creatures.’
2. Rev.14:4 (the 144,000) ‘these are firstfruits unto God and the Lamb.’
3.Heb.12:23 ‘to the general assembly and church of the firstborn, who are enrolled in heaven, – – to the spirits of just men made perfect.’ 4. Rom.8:29 ‘that He (Jesus) should be firstborn AMONG MANY BRETHREN.’
In Hebrews 11 Paul sets forth the ‘great cloud of witnesses’ from Old Testament days. And at the close of the chapter he says that God has provided some better thing for us as well, so that they (of old time) should not be made perfect without us. In other words, God has provided Himself with a ‘righteous nation’ and a ‘firstborn nation’, made up of all those who have been justified by faith, from the days of Abel to the present time. And as soon as God has achieved His purpose, as soon as He has found His firstfruit company in its entirety, then the resurrection of this group will occur, each man in his own order, until the whole of the Pentecost firstfruit has been waved.
But what does this mean? Are we not forced to a conclusion that some will not be ready to accept? If the plain teaching of the three festivals in the Old Testament is our guide to God’s continuing plan, then the resurrection of Jesus, followed by the resurrection of the ‘firstfruits of His creatures’, must mean that THE REMAINDER OF THE HARVEST IS ACCEPTABLE.
Let us ponder deeply the meaning of this. Who are the rest of the harvest? Are they not the remainder of mankind? Some have tried to tell us that God is only seeking a church of faithful ones, the rest going to some eternal hell. But the Bible has a different message altogether. For the last 2000 years God has been taking out ‘a people for His name’. And in fact He was doing the same throughout all the years from Adam to Christ. What the house of Israel failed to see, and what the Church has failed to see, is that God seeks His firstfruit company, so that the REST OF THE WORLD may be acceptable to Him.
What then is the future of the Church? The Bible is not silent on this. We are taught that the Millennium will be a time of teaching the nations the righteousness of God. It will be the time when the firstborn sons of God, now manifested to the world, will go forth and act out their role. They will have been granted great privileges, such as a double portion of their Father’s blessing, being raised to a ‘better resurrection’ , and ‘made equal to the angels.’ But now they will use those privileges to enable them to work for the redemption of the rest of mankind; together with their Lord and Master, their Head, the First of the Firstfruits, Who will reign supreme over them, and over the rest of the world.
Paul tells us in Colossians 1:15-18, not only that Christ is the ‘firstborn from among the dead’ but also that He is the ‘firstborn of every creature’. Consider this last statement, and what it entails. Jesus is the firstborn of EVERY CREATURE. He therefore takes upon Himself the great task of standing as priest for EVERY HUMAN BEING EVER BORN. When He yields up His kingdom to God, at the end of the days, will He have achieved what He came to do? Will He have sought out, taught, and redeemed all mankind? If He cannot present all of Adam’s kind to His Father as redeemed, then He will have failed in His position as Kinsman-Redeemer to Adam’s race. But we believe that He will not fail, because it is already written of Him that all things are under His feet, even if we do not yet SEE this as an accomplished fact.
Shall we, as the Church of Jesus Christ, now review our own position before Him? Shall we look and appreciate the fact that Israel of old time, and the Church since then, has signally failed to understand what God is doing? Shall we cast away those unworthy ideas that we have all had, that God is ONLY seeking a faithful company of small proportions, thereby to discard the rest of humanity as refuse? If we call ourselves the Lord’s brethren, amongst whom He is the Firstborn, and if we accept that we are ‘a kind of firstfruits of His creatures’, then we are bound to accept the responsibilities of the firstborn to the rest of mankind. We cannot just have the privileges and enjoy them, discarding the responsibilities. If we think in this manner, perhaps there will be a day when the Lord will take from us the very position we have so much coveted.
It is our earnest prayer that all those who read these lines might reconsider their position before the Lord, and prepare themselves for the Kingdom of God, now so near. Brethren, we have a great task ahead in the Millennial years. Let us be ready ‘for the day of His power’, to go forth to the ‘residue of mankind’ and accomplish the great redemption wrought in our Saviour’s blood at Calvary, even to be His ‘ministers of reconciliation.’