“And that is who Jesus is: the Firstborn, the firstborn of many brethren, the firstborn of all creation, and the firstborn from among the dead”

God’s covenant is forever. His promise is sure. No matter how unfaithful the people are, he remains faithful. No matter what is going on, even though his wrath has to come upon the people because of their sins and transgressions, nevertheless the covenant is not broken; and there will be that one son of David, who will cry out to God, “My Father, the God, the rock of my victory!” and that is the one who becomes the Firstborn. That is the teaching of the psalm.

In the New Testament, all of this is applied to Jesus, but before we get to the New Testament here, we want to say one more thing about the Old Testament and the use of the term “firstborn.” In the Old Covenant and particularly the law of Moses, the firstborn belong to God. The firstborn was a kind of a special one. And here you have the firstborn of the beasts, the firstborn of the sheep, the firstborn of the goats, and in the Law it says all of these belong to God, and therefore they had to be redeemed according to the Law. Whenever there was a firstborn son born, a sacrifice had to be made to God, to kind of buy back that child. The one that belonged to God had then to be kind of given back to its parents, when the parents make a sacrifice to God, acknowledging with gratitude and thanksgiving and repentance of their sins and so on, that this gift is a gift of God.

The firstborn was this symbolical treasure of the people. That is why, when the people were being held in Egypt, that God, when he delivers the people, he slays the firstborn of the Egyptians. He slays the firstborn of the beasts and of the people, and of the children. And he actually kills the firstborn. The firstborn of all the families, on the night of the Passover, are all slain by God when the people then depart. And then [it is] so God can liberate his firstborn Son.

But in the Christian exegesis, on the interpretation of that text, we can go on to say that all that takes place so that God’s firstborn can come into the world; that that promise to the covenant of David’s son can actually come: and that would be Jesus Christ, Jesus the Messiah, the son of Mary. And we know and confess that that’s God’s own Son, who comes into the world to be the Firstborn. But he comes into the world as the Firstborn, also to be slain, and he gets slain, he gets crucified by the very will of God his Father. He offers himself completely and totally to the Father as the sacrificial firstborn Son, so that through him, all the sinners of the world and all those who have transgressed could ultimately be saved.

Here, I think we would have to say very directly that Jesus Christ, as God’s firstborn Son and the Heir, who dies on the Cross and is crucified and is raised, that he does that to save all the firstborn who were enslaved and slain, including the firstborn in Egypt. We must remember that Christ, being crucified, raised, and glorified, saves all humanity, saves the whole world, saves all the sinners, saves all the Egyptians.

This is the teaching of the Holy Scripture: that Jesus is the firstborn in every single possible way; that he is the Israel, the chosen, the elect, the beloved of God who is the firstborn; that he is the firstborn over all creation, that all things belong to him. All things are his; he is preeminent over all creation, not being himself a creature, but then he becomes, as a created being, he becomes human, and then he suffers all things in order to become the firstborn among all who suffer, among all who die. And then, being raised from the dead, he becomes the firstborn of/among many brethren, who by faith and by grace—his grace and by faith in him and God’s grace in him—have themselves the status of firstborn of God in him, sons of God in him, heirs of God in him, Messianic kings in him. They reign with him, because he is the firstborn.

And then, in doing this, as we have said, he redeems all the firstborn in the whole creation. He redeems the firstborn of all that exists. In other words, he saves everything, and he saves even those firstborn in Egypt that were slain by God at the first Pascha. It’s very interesting that in the first Pascha, it’s the firstborn of Egypt who are killed, and Israel, God’s firstborn, is saved. And in the second Pascha, the final Pascha, the Pascha of Christ, it is God’s firstborn who is slain; it is Christ who is slain, and he is slain in order to save all those who were slain. He was slain in order to give victory over all those who were defeated by evil and sin and death. He is slain to become the firstborn of all creatures and the firstborn of all who are dead, the firstborn in all things, to have preeminence in all things.

And he does all of this for us and for our salva­tion so that we can be what he is by grace and have everything that he is by grace. We can be sons; we can be heirs; we can be firstborn [ourselves]. So the Church is the assembly of the firstborn. But we become firstborn in and through him. He is the Firstborn. We become firstborns, or have the status of firstborns, as children of God, sons of God, christs of God, anointeds of God, filled with the Spirit of God, beloved of God, chosen of God—in and through him, because that is who he is.

And then we will see, we have already seen, how he is the only-begotten Son, and therefore that makes him the Firstborn, too, but we will see also that, as Firstborn, he is chosen and he is elect, and we become chosen and elected in and through him also. He is the Beloved, and we become beloved in and through him also.

So what we understand today is that Jesus Christ, Jesus of Nazareth, is and has become the Firstborn. The Psalm is fulfilled. It says, “I will make him the Firstborn,” that son of David. He will become the firstborn of all creatures and of all those from among the dead. What’s so amazing is that that son of David is the very Son of God himself. And we know that from the Scripture, too, because when Jesus said to the leaders of the Jews—the scribes and the Pharisees—”When the Messianic king comes, when the anointed one comes, this Firstborn, whose Son will he be?”

And they answer, “The son of David, obviously, because David said, ‘I will make him the firstborn.’ ” And then the Lord Jesus himself says, “How, then, does David call him ‘Lord, Kyrios,’ saying ‘The Lord said to my Lord: Sit at my right hand’? If David calls him ‘Lord,’ why do you say he’s David’s son?” And that, of course, is what got Jesus killed and allowed him then to become the firstborn from among the dead as well.

But the point being here is that this firstborn of all creation and the firstborn from among the dead is no one other than the Lord himself. It’s God from God, who becomes man of Mary, in order to be the Firstborn and the preeminent in all things. And that is who Jesus is: the Firstborn, the firstborn of many brethren, the firstborn of all creation, and the firstborn from among the dead. And all of this is so that we could become firstborn sons of God in and through him.

Fr Thomas Hopko

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