This post continues the chapters of the book Christ in You – The Hope of Glory.
The Number of the Firstborn
There is a wonderful theme found throughout the entirety of the Bible relating to those who are the firstborn. The firstborn male that opens the womb was always reserved, set apart, as holy unto Yahweh.
The first offspring from every womb belongs to Me…
That Christ Yahshua was the firstborn from the womb of a virgin was not by happenstance. It was the design of the Father in heaven. Yahshua would serve as a pattern for a group of elect, overcoming, firstfruits from among mankind who would be reserved as holy unto Yahweh.
And when the days for their purification according to the law of Moses were completed, they brought [Yahshua] up to Jerusalem to present Him to the Lord (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, “Every first-born male that opens the womb shall be called holy to the Lord”)…
Attaining to the number of the firstborn is a goal every Christian should strive towards. The Old Testament laws and practices centered around the firstborn serve as types and shadows of those who will be the first to attain to the resurrection from the dead, ascending to a glorified condition as the preeminent sons of God. This preeminence of the firstborn was revealed in Yahweh’s choice of the firstborn male from every Israelite family to serve as priest. These firstborn males were “holy unto Yahweh.” In every way the rights and privileges of the firstborn were superior to those born after them.
And he is… the firstborn from the dead; that in all things he might have the preeminence.
I know some will be prone to object that this declaration is specifically in reference to Christ. This is true, but one must consider that Christ is more than Yahshua, the Son of God. Christ is a many membered body.
I Corinthians 12:12-13
For even as the body is one and yet has many members, and all the members of the body, though they are many, are one body, so also is Christ.
To understand the promises of God to the firstborn one must come to embrace a truly Biblical mindset concerning the identity of Christ. Christ is not one person. The word Christ means “anointed.” Yahshua, the Son of God is Christ. So too are those who are members of His body. Yahshua is the Head. As Head He holds a preeminence among His brethren. The Head is set atop the body, even as Yahshua resides in the highest place among those who are numbered among the body of Christ.
It is destined that all God’s sons will attain to the stature of Christ, being conformed to the maturity of Yahshua, who is the Head.
To the building up of the body of Christ; until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fulness of Christ.
This attainment to the stature of Christ does not occur at the same time for all the sons of God.
I Corinthians 15:22-23
For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all shall be made alive. But each in his own order…
What does this mean, “In Christ all shall be made alive”? This is speaking of the resurrection from the dead. Not all will be resurrected at the same time. There is a resurrection for the sons of God that the apostle John describes as “the first resurrection.” This is the resurrection of the firstborn. Those who attain to the first resurrection will be preeminent in all ways over their brethren who will be resurrected at a later time.
Blessed and holy is the one who has a part in the first resurrection…
As we read in the previous Scripture, the firstborn to open the womb was reserved unto God. This is the meaning of the phrase “holy unto Yahweh.” The word holy indicates being set apart for a specific call, role or purpose. The firstborn are set apart specifically for Yahweh. It is evident that there is a correlation between the first resurrection and the types and shadows of the firstborn in the Old Testament, for John writes “Blessed and holy is the one who has a part in the first resurrection.” This perfectly corresponds to the rights of the firstborn. Their blessings exceeded that of their brethren, and they were set aside as holy unto Yahweh.
Yahweh’s plan of taking the firstborn male for Himself was altered in form, but not in principle, when the Israelites transgressed in the wilderness by fashioning for themselves a golden calf and degrading themselves in its presence. From this point forward we find that Yahweh used a substitute for the firstborn male. He chose men who had not participated in the idolatry of the golden calf to fill the role of the firstborn. Because the tribe of Levi did not enter into idolatry with the rest of the people at this event, every male from Levi became holy unto Yahweh, and God exchanged a male of Levi for the firstborn male of all the other tribes.
Then Yahweh said to Moses, “Number every first-born male of the sons of Israel from a month old and upward, and make a list of their names. And you shall take the Levites for Me, I am Yahweh, instead of all the first-born among the sons of Israel…”
The precise number of the sons of Levi after taking a census was found to be 22,000.
All the numbered men of the Levites, whom Moses and Aaron numbered at the command of Yahweh by their families, every male from a month old and upward, were 22,000.
This number is not an estimate, or rounded figure. This is an exact count, and it reveals something of the nature of those who are accounted as holy unto Yahweh. The number 22 denotes the removal of sinful flesh. It is the number of those who are circumcised in heart. Those who are holy unto Yahweh must of necessity be sundered from sinful attachments to this world and all of its manifold idolatry.
The honor of being numbered among the firstborn is no slight honor. Yahweh was Himself the inheritance of those so chosen. The Levites were granted access to the presence of Yahweh that was unique among their brethren.
“And to the sons of Levi, behold, I have given all the tithe in Israel for an inheritance, in return for their service which they perform, the service of the tent of meeting. And the sons of Israel shall not come near the tent of meeting again, lest they bear sin and die. Only the Levites shall perform the service of the tent of meeting…”
Understand then that this is a parable of things to come. In the plan of Yahweh He has determined that there should be a firstfruit group of saints to enter into the glory of resurrected life in Christ. The portion of those who attain to the first resurrection will far exceed the glory of those who follow. Those who attain to the first resurrection will excel all others in privilege, power, authority, honor, riches, and glory.
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.
In this verse we can discern a relationship between the right of the firstborn and the significance of the first resurrection. Levi became a substitute company for all of the firstborn males of Israel. They were “priests of God.” Those who attain to the first resurrection are accorded a similar honor, albeit on a tremendously magnified scale (compare a pinpoint of light to the brilliance of the Sun shining forth in its glory). It is my desire to show you the surpassing excellence of attaining to the number of the firstborn that I might provoke some to jealousy, inciting them to pursue the attainment of this elite company. 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]
Note the fervent pursuit of the high calling of God in Christ Yahshua! Paul understood that there is a premier resurrection from the dead. There is a place of attainment in the resurrection where one is granted a closer abiding in the presence of the Father. There is a special reward for those who are numbered among the firstborn, and Paul earnestly contended for the prize. He 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 would 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 a way, 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 and 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.
In the Old Testament, the firstborn was considered the strength and honor of the Father.
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.” Those who attain to the first resurrection will surpass all others in the resurrection from the dead, both in dignity and in power. Most saints have no understanding that there will be distinctions in the resurrection, but the Scriptures plainly teach that there will be VAST distinctions among mankind in the resurrection from the dead.
I Corinthians 15:39-42
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.
There will be those in the resurrection of the dead who are preeminent, surpassing all others. These will have a glory as of the Sun shining in its strength. There will be others who have the glory of the moon and the glory of the stars. Consider that there are as many stars in the daytime sky as there are in the nighttime sky. The stars cannot be seen during the daytime due to the far surpassing glory of the Sun. The Sun in its radiance is so magnificent that it renders invisible to the eye of man all the other heavenly bodies.
There will be saints in the resurrection whose portion is as the Sun, while many others will be as the moon and the stars. The apostle Paul declared that there is an imperishable wreath for which we are contending. It requires great focus, aim, sacrifice and discipline to receive the reward of the firstborn. Yet how many Christians today are running without any aim or discipline? Most do not perceive that there is a prize to be won, and a high calling above all other callings to strive toward.
Those who attain to the number of the firstborn will excel all others as the Sun excels the stars, as a man excels a fish. Perhaps you have not been taught the truth of the resurrection from the dead. Perhaps you have been lulled to sleep by the vain and errant prattle of ministers and Bible teachers who proclaim that it is simply enough to confess Christ that you might go to heaven when you die. Perhaps you have been content to live as the majority of Christians, enjoying the pursuits and pleasures of the world while declaring your love for Christ. Do not be deceived. There were eleven tribes out of twelve who were disqualified for the privilege of being numbered among the firstborn. Only those who separated themselves from idolatry were chosen to be holy unto Yahweh, to receive God as their inheritance.
At that time Yahweh set apart the tribe of Levi to carry the ark of the covenant of Yahweh, to stand before Yahweh to serve Him and to bless in His name until this day. Therefore, Levi does not have a portion or inheritance with his brothers; Yahweh is his inheritance, just as Yahweh your God spoke to him.)
Everything in this Scripture is a parable of the firstborn from the dead. Levi would carry the ark of the covenant. This is a type of those who would carry the full and glorious likeness of Christ. Levi would stand in the presence of Yahweh, while access to His presence would be restricted to all those who embraced the idolatry of the world.
Because they ministered to them before their idols and became a stumbling block of iniquity to the house of Israel, therefore I have sworn against them,” declares Yahweh God, “that they shall bear the punishment for their iniquity. And they shall not come near to Me to serve as a priest to Me, nor come near to any of My holy things, to the things that are most holy; but they shall bear their shame and their abominations which they have committed.”
In the day of judgment there will be many of God’s children who will understand that although they were called to serve as priests before God, because they did not separate themselves in a pure devotion to God, but were doubleminded, pursuing the same idols of mammon and worldly success and pleasure as the world, they will not be granted access to the presence of Yahweh. This is a terrible tragedy, and it is reason enough to strive to attain to the number of the firstborn. What astounding things must be contained in the type and shadow of the Law where Yahweh told the tribe of Levi that He would be their inheritance! In all the ages to come it will be clearly revealed that there is nothing of greater value, glory, majesty and surpassing excellence, than to have Yahweh as a possession.
The majority of Israel were disqualified from being selected to be God’s priests, His firstborn. Eleven tribes were not allowed to serve the Tabernacle, or to carry the ark of the covenant. Only one tribe attained to this honor. This same pattern is revealed in the life of Jacob’s twelve sons. Reuben was the firstborn of his father. The preeminence should have been his, but he disqualified himself, and the right of the firstborn was given to one who excelled his brothers in purity and devotion to God, even Joseph.
“Reuben, you are my first-born; 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 sexual relations with Bilhah, the concubine of his father. This became known to Jacob, and Reuben forfeited the honor and dignity of the firstborn. In place of dignity he received shame. In place of power he was made weak. Another who was more worthy took his place.
Consider the message of this event. Many Christians today are truly the children of their heavenly Father. They could walk in all the preeminence of those who are the firstborn from the dead. Yet many forfeit this right because of uncontrolled passions. In order to satisfy some passion or desire of the flesh, they give themselves over to actions that are disgraceful and should not be named among the saints of God. Little do these ones know how much they are forfeiting. They will discover that their sin has been akin to that of Esau, who for a bowl of stew sold his birthright to his brother Jacob. In the eyes of God, such a trade is among the most grievous transgressions named among men.
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 single 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.
Reuben cast away the preeminence that would have been his for a single sexual encounter with Bilhah. Esau sold his birthright to satisfy the momentary hunger of his belly. Multitudes of Christians are making similar diabolical transactions in this hour. When they stand before God they will see what they have forfeited. Like Esau they will cry out bitterly with tears for God to allow them to receive the blessing reserved for the firstborn from the dead. But God will not hear. God will not repent. Their choice will stand. Truly there will be weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth among the children of God on that day.
What is required in order to attain to the number of the firstborn? We know that one will not be able to live as the majority of their brothers and attain this honor. There were twelve sons of Jacob, but only one was chosen. This son was the eleventh born. He was among the youngest, and he had a different spirit than his brothers. This son of Jacob was spiritually minded, and he had an unusual attachment to his father. Joseph loved his father, and his father loved him. After spending years in Egypt, Joseph’s thoughts were constantly turned toward his father whom he loved.
Then [Joseph] asked them about their welfare, and said, “Is your old father well, of whom you spoke? Is he still alive?”
Now you must tell my father of all my splendor in Egypt, and all that you have seen; and you must hurry and bring my father down here.”
And Joseph prepared his chariot and went up to Goshen to meet his father Israel; as soon as he appeared before him, he fell on his neck and wept on his neck a long time.
As you are sojourning in this land of Egypt (the world) are our thoughts continuously turning toward your Father in heaven? Do you yearn to be in His presence, partaking of His fellowship? Is this desire revealed in the time you spend in prayer and the study of His word? Or are you captivated by all the pleasures and pursuits of this world, with its allure to the sensual nature of man? Do you stand apart from your brothers in your devotion to your father? Do you turn away from sin as Joseph turned away from Potipher’s wife who sought to seduce him, or are you as Reuben who failed to curb his fleshly lust and had sexual relations with his father’s concubine? The choices we make now in this life will determine whether we will attain to the preeminence of the firstborn from the dead.
The firstborn always received a double portion from their father when the inheritance was given to the sons.
But he shall acknowledge the first-born… by giving him a double portion of all that he has, for he is the beginning of his strength; to him belongs the right of the first-born.
As we have seen, being granted the right of the firstborn is a spiritual parable. This right is not granted according to natural order, but according to worthiness, and love for the Father. Thus Jacob received the double portion instead of Esau, and Joseph received the double portion instead of Reuben.
(A note of interest. My name is Joseph and from my childhood one of my favorite foods has been a Reuben Sandwich. It is the right of those who are chosen as substitutes for the firstborn, to consume that which would have gone to another.)
Then Israel said to Joseph, “Behold, I am about to die…, and I give you one portion more than your brothers, which I took from the hand of the Amorite with my sword and my bow.”
Joseph is a fruitful bough, a fruitful bough by a spring…, from the God of your father who helps you, and by the Almighty who blesses you with blessings of heaven above, blessings of the deep that lies beneath, blessings of the breasts and of the womb. The blessings of your father have surpassed the blessings of my ancestors up to the utmost bound of the everlasting hills; May they be on the head of Joseph, and on the crown of the head of the one distinguished among his brothers.
In the resurrection from the dead there will be those who are distinguished among their brothers. Their blessings will surpass the blessings of all others. The blessings of their Father in heaven will be on the head of those who attain to the number of the firstborn.
Those who would be numbered among the firstborn should study the life of Joseph. His brothers discerned that he was loved of his father above them. This is a spiritual parable. Yahweh will show a greater favor to those destined to be firstfruits unto Him, than He does to others. Jacob made for Joseph a special garment, and the firstborn will be clothed with the favor of God. Yet this favor will cause jealousy among the brothers of the firstfruits company. This is seen not only in Joseph’s life, but in the life of Yahshua.
Yahshua came as One destined to receive the inheritance of the firstborn. The Jews had Him killed due to their jealousy.
Pilate said to them, “Whom do you want me to release for you? Barabbas, or Yahshua who is called Christ?” For he knew that because of envy they had delivered Him up.
It was impossible to deny that the favor of the Father rested upon Yahshua. He manifested a wisdom that could not be refuted. He walked in a power that was clearly divine. Despite the fact that the blessings of the Father rested upon Yahshua, the Jews did not refrain themselves from persecuting this favored Son. In the same way, Joseph’s brothers could see that Joseph was adorned in the special garment of his father, but they had no regard for their Father’s judgment in this matter. They persecuted Joseph, spoke of killing him, and eventually sold him as a slave into the land of Egypt.
Those who would be firstfruits unto God must anticipate that such rejection by their brethren will be their portion. One cannot be too attached to a desire for fellowship among brethren if they would attain to the high call of their Father in heaven. A time will come when such sons of God will recognize that their devotion and love for the Father will lead them to be rejected by their brethren, and they must be willing to bear the cost. They must be willing to walk alone, separated from the companionship of other earthly relations.
He came unto his own, and his own received him not.
“If anyone comes to Me, and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be My disciple.”
The walk of the firstborn is a lonely walk. It is a life set aside for the pleasure of Yahweh, our heavenly Father. When one walks with God, they will find themselves with little earthly company. The church today has lots of fellowship. There are myriads of brethren who meet together regularly, feasting together, playing together, dwelling together, while the Joseph’s are alone.
One might think that Joseph finally knew fellowship when his brothers came to Egypt to buy grain and were reunited with him, but this is not so. We read the following about Joseph’s circumstances.
And the servants set out the food for Joseph by himself, and for his brothers by themselves, and for those Egyptians who ate with him by themselves, according to the Egyptian custom not to eat food with the Hebrews; for that is an abomination to the Egyptians.
Three groups of people are revealed here in type. The Egyptians are a picture of the world. Joseph’s brothers are a type of the church. Joseph is a type of the overcomer in Christ.
We find that those who will walk as overcomers will dine alone. The world despises the overcomer. The church cannot eat from the same table, and therefore the overcomer must dine alone. The overcomer can take food from his table, speaking of the revelations of God, and send them to his brothers, but he will find that it continues to be his lot to abide by himself. As much as his heart may yearn to be seated among his brothers, there is always something that keeps the separation in place. This phenomenon is of God. It serves to keep those who are numbered among the firstborn set apart unto their Father, and protects them from being ensnared in the mixture and impurity of their brethren.
Many truths are discerned through a study of the life of Joselh. In Joseph we see the preeminence to be granted to the firstborn.
So Pharaoh said to Joseph, “Since God has informed you of all this, there is no one so discerning and wise as you are. You shall be over my house, and according to your command all my people shall do homage; only in the throne I will be greater than you.” And Pharaoh said to Joseph, “See I have set you over all the land of Egypt.”
Pharaoh is in this instance a symbol of God who rules over the kingdoms of men. Egypt signifies the world, and Joseph the firstborn from the dead. (That Joseph is a type of the firstborn from the dead is seen in the event where his brothers took his coat and dipped it in blood and told his father Jacob that a wild animal had killed him. Thus Joseph is pictured as being dead, and later is revealed to be alive, a symbol of the firstborn from the dead.)
We see then in this parable that the firstborn will be granted ruling authority over all the earth. They will be granted divine wisdom and discernment in order to judge and rule the people. Only the Father will be greater, and nothing will be done in all the earth apart from the command of the firstborn from the dead.
At a time not far off, the Father will bring this Joseph Company out of their prison houses. (Note that Joseph was in Pharaoh’s prison reserved for those who were ministers in government.) Joseph stands in this instance as those who must be trained under a strict discipline, where all personal freedom and liberty is removed, until they come to do nothing except at the command of God. For a period such restriction will seem to chafe greatly and appear as a great injustice.
Then Joseph said to him…, “Only keep me in mind when it goes well with you, and please do me a kindness by mentioning me to Pharaoh, and get me out of this house. For I was in fact kidnapped from the land of the Hebrews, and even here I have done nothing that they should have put me into the dungeon.”
There is a period of perplexity for all who are so trained by God. As they observe the freedom of their brethren, they cannot understand why they are being subjected to experiences much harsher, lonelier and restrictive. The firstborn candidates are living as slaves while their brothers are walking in great liberty, doing as they please. Then an even further narrowing of their lives manifests, pictured in Joseph being cast into prison. All this serves to teach the sons of God to not do anything of their own initiative. They are to live for the will and pleasure of God. They are not free to do anything arising from their soul’s desires. They are not free to pursue any worldly possession, any personal goal. They are to come into strict confinement to the will of the Father. They are to move only at His command. They are to be so perfect in this that they speak only what the Father commands them to speak.
“For I did not speak on My own initiative, but the Father Himself who sent Me has given Me commandment, what to say, and what to speak.”
We see that Joseph has come to this same state of complete surrender of his being to the will of God when he is brought to stand before Pharaoh. Joseph has learned to not speak anything arising from self. He makes no petition to Pharaoh to deliver him from his bondage. He does not take advantage of the situation to seek anything for self. He is surrendered to the will and pleasure of God for that moment.
And Pharaoh said to Joseph, “I have had a dream, but no one can interpret it; and I have heard it said about you, that when you hear a dream you can interpret it.” Joseph then answered Pharaoh, saying, “It is not in me; God will give Pharaoh a favorable answer.”
With these words, Joseph revealed that he had come to a place of complete surrender to the will of God. His lips would be given to God that God might speak through him, and this God did.
Joseph’s life was much harsher than his brothers. Joseph knew more sorrow, more loneliness, more trials, more injustice than his brethren. Yet the glory and honor that commenced at the hour of his promotion far excelled that of his brothers. When Joseph’s brothers came to Egypt they dwelt as despised shepherds.
And it shall come about when Pharaoh calls you and says, ‘What is your occupation?’ that you shall say,’ Your servants have been keepers of livestock from our youth even until now, both we and our fathers,’ that you may live in the land of Goshen; for every shepherd is loathsome to the Egyptians.
Joseph’s brothers partook of their good things in their youth, and were therefore without honor in their maturity. Joseph, in contrast, new evil things in his youth, and he was given surpassing glory while his brothers were loathed.
But Abraham said, “Child, remember that during your life you received your good things, and likewise Lazarus bad things; but now he is being comforted here, and you are in agony.”
People of God, this life is fleeting. Will you pursue a life of ease and comfort and pleasure now, forfeiting immeasurable glory and honor and blessing in the ages to come? Or will you contend earnestly for the crown to be given to those who cross the finish line first?
Blessed is a man who perseveres under trial; for once he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life, which the Lord has promised to those who love Him.
II Timothy 4:7-8
I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith; in the future there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day; and not only to me, but also to all who have loved His appearing.
Run in such a way that you might attain the crown, for there is a reward for all those who attain to the number of the firstborn.
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