Stage 3

The Birthright

"[Jesus] is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation" Colossians 1:15 (see also Luke 2:7).

The Bible uses the word "firstborn" to picture Jesus' position in regard to creation and to us as the redeemed (Hebrews 1:6).

Meaning of the Firstborn

The Old Testament lays the foundation for understanding what it means to be firstborn. It was not always those who were first born who had the firstborn status (1 Chron.5:2; Gen.48:8-20; Psalm 89:19- 27). The birthright of the firstborn included:

In the parable of Luke 15:11-32, the younger brother took his inheritance and left home. The older brother, however, also had a wrong attitude toward himself, his father and his brother. Because of this, he failed in all three areas of being "firstborn": He failed to take his position; he failed to use his inheritance; and he failed to take his responsibility - for he was the one who was supposed to go after the younger son to bring him back.

When the younger son finally returned, the father gave him all the symbols of the firstborn - the best robe, sandals and the ring of the father's authority (Luke 15:22).

Jesus - the Firstborn

Jesus is called "firstborn" in three distinct relationships:

Jesus is the "firstborn over all creation." This does not mean that Jesus was created first, but that He has a special status over creation (Col.1:15-17; Heb.1:2-4). From the moment of creation, Jesus has held special position, inheritance and responsibility. So when mankind fell, Jesus took His responsibility as Firstborn. As "firstborn over all creation," He laid down His life and became "firstborn from among the dead." Through His resurrection He brought many sons into glory and so became "the firstborn among many brothers" (Hebrews 2:10-11).

Church of the Firstborn

"But you have come to...the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven..." Hebrews 12:22-23.

Jesus is the Firstborn by right - in His relationship to us, He will always be "the firstborn among many brothers." But Jesus has included us in His birthright (Romans 8:17; Ephesians 2:6). In Him, we are now called the firstborn ones by grace. We too now have special position, special inheritance and special responsibility. We are surrounded by a lost world. Will we be like the older brother who neglected the status of being firstborn? Or will we be like Jesus who, as the Firstborn, sacrificed all to bring a lost creation back to His Father?

"For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost" Luke 19:10 (see also 15:24).

Attitudes to the Birthright

Esau and Jacob each had a different attitude toward the birthright. This attitude became the motivation of their whole lives.

"See that no one is...godless like Esau, who for a single meal sold his inheritance rights as the oldest son" Heb.12:16 (see also Rom.9:13).

Esau was a man who loved the things of the world. He lived for the pleasures of life now. Jacob, on the other hand, had his eyes on an eternal dwelling place (Heb.11:9-10). His attitude was that he was a foreigner in the world (Heb.11:13-16). He had his eyes on one major goal - God's eternal purpose. But even though God had planned for Jacob to be the firstborn (Genesis 25:23), Isaac had chosen Esau, who had no interest in the purposes of God, to be the one to carry the birthright. But it was Jacob who had the heart of the firstborn. The firstborn's rights involved two parts:

The Birthright

Jacob grasped the opportunity to get the birthright from Esau (Genesis 25:29-33). When Esau sold his birthright to satisfy his physical hunger, the Bible says he was "godless." He was declaring that he placed no value on the purposes of God (Genesis 25:34).

The Blessing

Esau had no intention of giving up his material blessing and double portion inheritance (Gen.27:34-36; Heb.12:17). When he sold the birthright to Jacob, he knew he was selling him the birthright of God's purpose, but he did not realize one vital fact: the blessing is the result of the birthright. As Christians, we too are blessed because of our birthright in Christ.

Taking Up the Birthright

"Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses...let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us" Hebrews 12:1.

Paul uses the picture of a relay race that has been in progress throughout history. The heroes of faith in the past have all faithfully fulfilled their lap of the race, and have passed the baton on. Abraham passed it to Isaac. Isaac was going to pass it to Esau, but he didn't want it. Jacob desired it more than anything else in life and so he took it up. Down through the centuries the baton of God's eternal purpose has been passed on from one generation to another (Acts 13:36). Now it's our turn in the arena of faith. We are completing the race which they began so that together we might reach the goal (Heb.11:39-40).

The Lord desires each of us to have a heart like Jacob - not like Esau. God loves to bless us (Ephesians 1:3), but he does not want us to reject our birthright. He wants us to move beyond the blessing to the purpose.

"... I will bless you...and you will be a blessing" Genesis 12:2.


Copyright 1981,1996 Paul, Bunty and David Collins. All rights reserved. This study may be freely used and reproduced, wholly or in part, by the Christian Church for the non-profit purposes of study and training only, provided copyright and contact information is included.

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