Who is Jesus Christ? Some consider Him a prophet, some a teacher who had some good things to say about peace and love, others say He was a madman. As Christians, we know Him as the Son of God who died to save us from our sins, rose again, and continues to be actively involved in our lives. But what does it really mean that He’s God’s Son, and why does that particular title matter to us?
God, having in the past spoken to the fathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, has at the end of these days spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, through whom also he made the worlds. (Heb. 1:1-2, all scriptures from WEB translation unless otherwise noted)
In Old Testament times, being a firstborn son was a big deal. You were the bekor (H1060), eldest son and therefore the bekorah (H1062, birthright) was yours. You received a double portion when the father divided his inheritance (Deut. 21:15-17). There was a special blessing involved (Gen. 27). It was so important that any disruption to this birthright was cause for Biblical writers to take special note (Gen. 25:31-34; 48:9-19; 1 Chr. 5:1-2).
According to a message I recently watched on YouTube titled “Hebrews: Yeshua’s Amazing Qualifications,” the rights of the firstborn traditionally included a few other things as well. The eldest son acted as the family’s spiritual leader, acquired spiritual favor and honor, and inherited the blessings of Abraham. Heirship involved authority over the father’s possessions. Before there was a Levitical priesthood (which Yahweh accepted in place of the firstborns, as noted in Num. 3:12-13, 41; 8:16-18), the firstborn would even act as priest for the family.
Many parallels between Jesus and the Hebrew firstborns are easy to spot. He is the family’s spiritual leader, acting as “head of all things to the church” under the Father’s authority (Eph. 1:15-23). He is also High Priest of an order that supersedes the Levitical order as the Levites superseded what came before (Heb. 7:11-28). And that’s not where the parallels end.
Inheritor of all Things
I’ve been fascinated by the role of Jesus as heir since my “Inheriting Covenants” study from May 2016. God’s covenants in the Old Testament were made with a specific person or group and their descendants. Jesus came in the lines of Abraham, Israel, and David and inherited all the promises of those covenants. He was the only one who could fully inherit, because He was the only human fully capable of staying faithful to the terms of the covenant. He inherited all these human covenants and He also inherited all the authority that goes along with being the firstborn and only begotten son of God.
“Yet I have set my King on my holy hill of Zion.” I will tell of the decree: Yahweh said to me, “You are my son. Today I have become your father. Ask of me, and I will give the nations for your inheritance, the uttermost parts of the earth for your possession.” (Ps. 2:6-8, quoted in Acts 13:32-33 and Heb. 5:5)
As the “one and only” or “only born” son of God, Jesus has the right to inherit everything (John 1:14, 18; 3:16; 1 Jn. 4:9). Inheritance is only divided if there’s more than one child. Instead of keeping it all to Himself, though, He and His Father enacted a plan to grow the family. If we belong to Jesus, then we become inheritors with Him as His adopted brothers and sisters (Rom. 8:14-17; Gal. 3:26-29). That idea’s worth pausing on a moment. We’re actually invited to become co-inheritors with Jesus Christ Himself. How incredible is that?
First of Many
One of the most incredible truths of God’s plan is that He wants us to become His children. Through a process the scriptures describe as adoption, God takes people who were once outside His family and makes them fully, literally His children.
The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God: and if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together. (Rom. 8:16-17, KJV)
Jesus is the firstborn and heir of all things, and He and His Father chose to bring more children into the family and to share the blessings that Jesus inherits. Just one of those many blessings is the resurrection, which is assured to us by the fact that Jesus is “the firstborn from the dead” (Col. 1:18; Rev. 1:5). Another of the blessings we receive comes about directly as a result of Jesus’ actions filling another role a firstborn in the plan of God.
Redemption by Substitution
The idea of redemption by substitution is also something that’s connected to the idea of firstborn. In the Old Testament, Yahweh claimed all the firstborn, “both of man and animal,” as His. The sanctified animals were offered to Him in sacrifice or (in the case of unclean animals) redeemed by a lamb or killed. For firstborn sons, the rule was to always redeem them with the sacrifice of a clean animal (Ex. 13:2, 12-13; 34:19-20; Num. 18:15-17). Later, God claimed the Levites to serve Him in place of the firstborn of Israel, as I mentioned earlier in this post.
This process of sanctification and redemption echoes throughout scripture. Abraham was told to sacrifice his son Isaac, and Yahweh provided a ram as a substitute (Gen. 22:1-13). Yahweh claimed Israel as His firstborn (Ex 4:22; Jer. 31:9) and set up an Old Covenant system of sacrifices whereby animals died in place of their sins. That was only a temporary solution, though. It required the sacrifice of God’s “one and only son” (the same phrase used in Heb. 11:17 to describe Abraham’s son Isaac) as the substitutionary, redemptive sacrifice.
For God so loved the world, that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have eternal life. (John 3:16)
As High Priest, firstborn, and substitutionary sacrifice, Jesus entered into the holy place with His own blood “having obtained eternal redemption” for us (Heb. 9:11-16). He acts both as the firstborn sanctified to God, and as the substitutionary lamb that redeems those who God has claimed as firstborn from among men (John 1:29; Heb. 12:22-24). There’s so much going on here, and incredibly Jesus and His Father are doing it all so that they can make use — weak and imperfect as we are — part of their family.
For us, Christ’s titles as Son and Heir tell us key information about who He is and also about how He and His Father relate to us. They don’t want Him to be an only child, but the first of many. He’s so committed to this goal that He was willing to die in our place and to share His own inheritance with us. What a marvelous blessing to be called God’s children and welcomed in Their family as Jesus’ brothers and sisters!
Featured image credit: Lamppost Collective via Lightstock