As we continue to lay the foundations for understanding God’s plan of the ages, the topic of sonship needs to be examined. Yahweh created man because He desired to have sons. One of the most common titles used to refer to God in the Bible is Father. In approximately 270 instances the Bible uses the word Father when speaking of Yahweh’s relationship to man. In hundreds of additional occurrences men and women are called the sons, daughters, children, seed, and offspring of God.
The desire of God to have sons in His image, and after His likeness, was not to be immediately fulfilled upon the creation of Adam. Sin entered the creation and marred the image of man. The Earth would not see a son in the image of God until the appearing of Christ. Of Him, the Father testified:
“This is My beloved Son, with whom I am well-pleased…”
Christ is the Firstborn Son of God. He is the express image of His Father.
God, who at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, has in these last days spoken to us by His Son, whom He has appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the ages; who being the brightness of His glory and the express image of His person, and upholding all things by the word of His power, when He had by Himself purged our sins, sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become so much better than the angels, as He has by inheritance obtained a more excellent name than they. For to which of the angels did He ever say “You are My Son. Today I have begotten You”? And again: “I will be to Him a Father, and He shall be to Me a Son”? But when He again brings the firstborn into the world, He says: “Let all the angels of God worship Him.”
Christ came into the world to fulfill the desire of Yahweh that He might have sons. Mankind needed a Savior. Man could not attain to sonship in his fallen state. Humanity needed to be set free from its slavery to sin. The righteousness and divine nature which man lacked needed to be imparted to him. The process of restoring fallen man to God was begun in earnest at the appearing of Christ. Christ made a way for many more brethren to stand before Yahweh as sons.
For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren…
For it was fitting for Him, for whom are all things and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons to glory, to make the captain of their salvation perfect through sufferings. For both He who sanctifies and those who are being sanctified are all of one, for which reason He is not ashamed to call them brethren, saying: “I will declare Your name to My brethren; In the midst of the assembly I will sing praise to You.” And again: “I will put My trust in Him.” And again: “Here am I and the children whom God has given Me.” Inasmuch then as the children have partaken of flesh and blood, He Himself likewise shared in the same, that through death He might destroy him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, and release those who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage.
This is the goal of Yahweh’s plan of the ages. He will conform man to the image of Christ, and thereby bring many sons to glory. Yet, even as this work of redeeming fallen mankind and bringing forth sons in the image of God began with a single man, so too will we see the spread and fulfillment of this work accomplished in successive and ever larger waves. In the end Christ must fill all things, but in the outworking of this process He must first be formed in a firstfruits group of men and women.
In the exercise of His will He brought us forth by the word of truth, so that we would be a kind of firstfruits among His creatures.
The plan of God is to acquire for Himself a body of firstfruits and then to reconcileall of creation to Himself.
I Corinthians 15:22-23
For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive. But each in his own order: The anointed firstfruits, after that those who are Christ’s at His coming, then the remainder, when He delivers up the kingdom to God the Father.
These firstfruits will be preeminent among their brethren. By being the first to taste of death and suffering through becoming partakers of the cross of Christ, they will obtain a place of honor. They will be known as the firstborn from the dead, the firstborn sons of Christ.
These are the ones who follow the Lamb wherever He goes. These have been purchased from among men as firstfruits to God and to the Lamb. Notice the qualification given here. “These are the ones who follow the Lamb wherever He goes.”
These are those who have accepted Christ’s invitation to “Come, take up your cross, and follow Me.” A lamb is a sacrificial animal. A lamb will go meekly and quietly to be slaughtered, not resisting the hand that guides it. So too will this be the attitude and character of those who will be the firstborn of Christ. They will humbly yield their lives to Christ, and present themselves as a living sacrifice. They will surrender to pass through many fiery trials and experiences that serve to reduce the Adamic man that a spiritual creation after the image of Christ might arise. Even as Yahshua embraced the cross, and was perfected through sufferings, these ones too will do the same and serve as a pattern and testimony for their brethren to follow.
These truths are observed in the types and shadows of the Old Testament. The firstborn male that opens the womb was reserved, set apart, as holy unto Yahweh.
The first offspring from every womb belongs to Me…
This preeminence of the firstborn was not merely some archaic custom belonging to a patriarchal society. Yahweh does all things with great purpose and design. The emphasis on the firstborn is a pervasive theme throughout the Old Testament.
Then Yahweh spoke to Moses, saying, “Sanctify to Me every firstborn, the first offspring of every womb among the sons of Israel, both of man and beast; it belongs to Me.”
“Now when Yahweh brings you to the land of the Canaanite, as He swore to you and to your fathers, and gives it to you, you shall devote to Yahweh the first offspring of every womb, and the first offspring of every beast that you own; the males belong to Yahweh. But every first offspring of a donkey you shall redeem with a lamb, but if you do not redeem it, then you shall break its neck; and every firstborn of man among your sons you shall redeem.”
Every detail in the Law of God is significant. It was only firstborn males that were devoted unto Yahweh. We saw the significance of this in the preceding chapter. Man must rule over the feminine soul, taking upon Himself the masculine spiritual character of Christ. Only spiritual men will be counted as the firstborn of God.
Yahweh singles out donkeys as an exception to the law of the firstborn. This is due to what donkeys represent. The donkey is renowned for its stubbornness, whereas the lamb is known to be meek and yielding. It is a true statement that no man will ever qualify as a firstborn son of Yahweh unless he adopts the meek and submissive attitude of a lamb. Those who are stubborn must have their necks broken. Stephen,the first martyr of Christ, reproached the Israelite leaders for their stubborn resistance of God’s work in their lives.
“You men who are stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears are always resisting the Holy Spirit; you are doing just as your fathers did.”
Both history and the Scriptures reveal that God had to deal with the Jews very harshly due to their stubbornness. A generation would not pass from the time Stephen spoke these words until Jerusalem would be destroyed and tens of thousands of Jews slaughtered. Yet, even among the Jews there was a remnant who humbled themselves, embraced the shame and suffering of Christ’s cross, and qualified themselves to be firstborn sons.
The firstborn are considered holy unto God. They become His unique possession. They are accorded honor and glory above all others.
Now when the days of [Mary’s] purification according to the law of Moses were completed, they brought [Yahshua] to Jerusalem to present Him to the Lord (as it is written in the law of the Lord, “Every male who opens the womb shall be called holy to the Lord”)…
And He is the head of the body, the church, who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in all things He may have the preeminence.
Although the above Scriptures are specifically speaking of Yahshua, there will be many who are the firstborn of Christ who will receive similar distinction and honor.The spiritual substance of the shadow of the firstborn is fulfilled in those who attain to the first resurrection. Both deal with birth order; first the natural, then the spiritual. Regarding those who attain to the first resurrection, we read that they too are considered especially holy unto God, and are blessed by Him.
Blessed and holy is the one who has a part in the first resurrection; over these the second death has no power, but they will be priests of God and of Christ and will reign with Him for a thousand years.
Only those saints who attain to the first resurrection will be so honored. The apostle Paul spoke of his own earnest yearning to attain to this group.
To get to know him, and the power of his resurrection and fellowship of his sufferings, becoming conformed unto his death, – If by any means I may advance to the earlier resurrection, which is from among the dead: Not that I have, already, received, or have, already, reached perfection, but I am pressing on – if I may even lay hold of that for which I have also been laid hold of by Christ Jesus: – Brethren! I, as to myself, reckon that I have, not yet, laid hold; one thing, however, – the things behind, forgetting, and, unto the things before, eagerly reaching out, With the goal in view, I press on for the prize of the upward calling of God in Christ Jesus.
(Rotherham Emphasized Bible)
Paul understood that there is a premier resurrection from the dead. There is a prize to be contended for. The prize is to be numbered among the firstborn of Christ. Paul buffeted his body and kept it under subjection that he might not be disqualified. He ran the race as one who was not without aim, for he knew what awaited those who crossed the finish line first. Paul applied all diligence, all discipline, all focus and determined effort, in the pursuit of attaining to the number of the firstborn from the dead. If you and I have any inkling of what awaits the firstborn we will also be gripped by the pursuit of this high calling.
I Corinthians 9:24-27
Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win. And everyone who competes in the games exercises self-control in all things. They then do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. Therefore I run in such away, as not without aim; I box in such a way, as not beating the air; but I buffet my body and make it my slave, lest possibly, after I have preached to others, I myself should be disqualified.
Paul clearly had something in mind here other than the common view held today by a majority of Christians concerning what awaited him in the afterlife, in the resurrection from the dead. Paul discerned that there was a prize for which to strive.
Paul was raised as a Pharisee. He knew the Law and the prophets. Paul discerned the types and shadows of the Old Testament. He discerned that something of a profound nature was foreshadowed in the laws of the firstborn and the laws regarding firstfruits. He wanted to be numbered among that elite company.
The Old Testament reveals the special significance of the firstborn male.
Reuben, you are my first-born; My might and the beginning of my strength, preeminent in dignity and preeminent in power.
Reuben was the firstborn son of Jacob. In what is spoken of him we can discern the role God has chosen for the firstborn. What does it mean to be “preeminent in dignity and preeminent in power”? The word preeminent is defined as “surpassing all others.”
Yahweh was showing forth through a natural type a profound truth of the kingdom of God. There will be firstborn sons of God, and there will be latter born sons. The firstborn will be preeminent among all others. Attaining to the number of the firstborn is a goal every Christian should strive towards.
The Bible reveals that receiving the honor and distinction of the firstborn was something that could be lost due to walking unworthily. The honor could be given to a latter born son who distinguished himself. Although Reuben was the firstborn son of Jacob according to natural birth order, the rights and privileges of the firstborn were lost to him and given to Joseph.
Reuben, you are my firstborn; My might and the beginning of my strength, preeminent in dignity and preeminent in power. Uncontrolled as water, you shall not have preeminence, because you went up to your father’s bed; Then you defiled it – he went up to my couch.
Reuben had illicit sexual relations with his father’s concubine Bilhah.
It came about while Israel was dwelling in that land, that Reuben went and lay with Bilhah his father’s concubine, and Israel heard of it.
Note: Yahweh changed Jacob’s name to Israel.
Jacob declared that Reuben was “uncontrolled as water.” This testimony reveals that he had no self-control. Water flows through the path of least resistance. It cannot restrain itself. It will always sink lower and lower, unless an outside force restrains it. This is the condition of sinful man. Man will debase himself unless restrained. Reuben could find nothing within himself to restrain his fleshly impulses. Even when he knew that his actions would bring great shame and dishonor to his father, this knowledge did not prove adequate to cause him to rule over his sinful desires.
Certainly there is in this a great parable for Christians today. There are many who are born again of the Spirit of Christ who continue to live carnal (fleshly and sensual) lives. Even though their lack of self-restraint and personal denial are dishonoring to the Father, they do not find within themselves the will to rule over their souls. They are unrestrained. They follow whatever course their soul and sinful flesh presents to them. In so doing, these ones are disqualified as firstborn sons. These ones will not attain to the first resurrection.
In Joseph, the eleventh born son of Jacob, we see another spirit. Joseph loved his father more than his brothers. When Jacob sent his sons out to tend the flocks, we find that Joseph remained at home with his father. There was a special bond and fellowship between them.
Israel said to Joseph, “Are not your brothers pasturing the flock in Shechem? Come, and I will send you to them.” And he said to him, “I will go.”
Joseph was eager to do the will of his father. In like manner, those who will receive the right of the firstborn are eager to do the will of Yahweh. Joseph’s brothers were envious of him and treated him shamefully. They sold him as a slave into Egypt. In Egypt Joseph faced temptation akin to that of his elder brother Reuben, yet Joseph’s response was very different.
It came about after these events that his master’s wife looked with desire at Joseph, and she said, “Lie with me.” But he refused and said to his master’s wife, “Behold, with me here, my master does not concern himself with anything in the house, and he has put all that he owns in my charge. There is no one greater in this house than I, and he has withheld nothing from me except you, because you are his wife. How then could I do this great evil and sin against God?” As she spoke to Joseph day after day, he did not listen to her to lie beside her or be with her.
Consider the situation in which Joseph found himself. God had given Joseph dreams when he was seventeen years old of being promoted above his brothers. Yet, Joseph found his experiences taking him lower, rather than higher. Joseph’s brothers continued living as the free sons of a wealthy father, while Joseph was a slave in a foreign land. Joseph must have been tempted to believe that Yahweh had abandoned him. He might have given into self-pity, reasoning that there was little reason to resist the advances of this Egyptian woman. After all, he must have been very lonely in this foreign land, and here was one manifesting a desire to be with him, even if it was in an illicit manner.
Joseph did not give in to such unworthy thoughts. He remained faithful in his commitment to honor God, and to not defile his master’s wife. Had he done so, he too would have been disqualified for the right of the firstborn. By manifesting self-control Joseph distinguished himself among his brethren. Self-control is at the very heart of that which is needed to qualify as an overcomer in Christ and attain to the first resurrection. The last of the fruit of the Spirit named, which encapsulates all the rest, is self-control.
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. Now those who belong to Christ Yahshua have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit.
To attain to the first resurrection, a Christian must overcome the sinful passions and desires of the flesh. It is only those who overcome who will be counted worthy of that resurrection. Joseph was elevated to the throne of Egypt. In a similar manner, those who distinguish themselves among their brethren will be granted to sit with Christ on His throne.
He who overcomes, I will grant to him to sit down with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.
That which Reuben lost due to his lack of self-control, proved to be Joseph’s gain. The Scriptures similarly warn believers today to not walk carelessly, and thereby let someone else take the crown that could be theirs.
“I am coming quickly; hold fast what you have, so that no one will take your crown.”
Joseph stands as a type of those who will obtain glory and honor above their brothers. He is a shadow of those saints who will receive a double portion and the birthright belonging to the firstborn.
Then Israel said to Joseph, “Behold, I am about to die, but God will be with you, and bring you back to the land of your fathers. I give you one portion more than your brothers, which I took from the hand of the Amorite with my sword and my bow.”
I Chronicles 5:1-2
Now the sons of Reuben the firstborn of Israel (for he was the firstborn, but because he defiled his father’s bed, his birthright was given to the sons of Joseph the son of Israel; so that he is not enrolled in the genealogy according to the birthright. Though Judah prevailed over his brothers, and from him came the leader, yet the birthright belonged to Joseph)…
The struggle for the birthright is seen throughout the Old Testament, for it points to this most profound issue in the kingdom of God. There is an inheritance in Christ to be contended for, and only a remnant will qualify themselves for it. Jacob earnestly desired both the birthright and the blessing. His twin brother Esau was the firstborn, but he showed little regard for his inheritance. Esau forsook his birthright to satisfy the appetite of his flesh. For a bowl of pottage, Esau gave his birthright to another. Esau stands as a sign, and a warning, to Christians lest they too should forfeit their spiritual inheritance by putting the temporal fulfillment of their natural appetites above the will and pleasure of God.
See to it that no one comes short of the grace of God…, that there be no immoral or godless person like Esau, who sold his own birthright for a meal. For you know that even afterwards, when he desired to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no place for repentance, though he sought for it with tears.
The apostle would not give such a warning to the saints unless there were those in the body of Christ who stood to commit a similar transgression. When the saints stand in judgment and see that inheritance that is reserved for the overcomers in Christ, it will be too late. There will be found no place for repentance though it is sought with many tears. The honor of being the firstborn of Christ will have passed beyond their grasp.
There are resurrections other than the first. All men will in their own order be resurrected to life in Christ. Nevertheless, there will be much that distinguishes the firstborn sons of God, and the latter born sons. The apostle Paul discusses the differences that will exist in the resurrection of the dead in the following passagefrom his letter to the church in Corinth.
I Corinthians 15:35-42
But someone will say, “How are the dead raised? And with what kind of body do they come?” You fool! That which you sow does not come to life unless it dies; and that which you sow, you do not sow the body which is to be, but a bare grain, perhaps of wheat or of something else. But God gives it a body just as He wished, and to each of the seeds a body of its own. All flesh is not the same flesh, but there is one flesh of men, and another flesh of beasts, and another flesh of birds, and another of fish. There are also heavenly bodies and earthly bodies, but the glory of the heavenly is one, and the glory of the earthly is another. There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars; for star differs from star in glory. So also is the resurrection of the dead.
We see in this passage that Paul’s subject is the resurrection of the dead. He is particularly pointing out that there will be differences of glory among those who are resurrected. Those who attain to the first resurrection will be preeminent among their brethren. They will be like the Sun shining in its strength. It is the Father’s desire that His children contend for the prize of attaining to the first resurrection from the dead. In this will He be greatly glorified, that of a free will His sons laid down their lives to attain to that conformity to His own image and likeness that He has desired for them.
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