That He might be the firstborn of many brothers…
The concept Paul is sharing here brings all of the mercy and grace of God into everyday life.
Christ is our Savior and our Lord. He completes in us by His Spirit and His Word what He has begun in us by the same means. He is our High Priest, who has interceded for us before the Father through His own sacrifice, and continues to intercede for us before the Father as our Advocate. He is Lord of all and rules over all. When we disobey we find Him to be the One to whom we look for forgiveness, restoration, and to help us continue in the journey He has marked out for us. He is the unique Son of God. But Paul also used the idea of Christ being the Firstborn, emphasizing His spiritual headship and leadership among the family of grace.
The Bible had a system of inheritance that we are not familiar with today. The firstborn male of the family had a double share of the inheritance, but along with that was also a spiritual and social obligation. In the days of the patriarchs, before the Mosaic Law was given the firstborn would serve as the priest of the family. The families would stay in clans, with brothers and cousins remaining in close proximity for mutual protection. The firstborn would lead the family in their devotion to God, supervise and perform the evening sacrifices, call the others to prayer and apply the proper ethics to their lives. Under the Mosaic Law the tribe of Levi came to be Israel’s priests in this sense (see Numbers 8:18), but the image was re-used by Paul to describe Christ.
He is the Firstborn, and here it means He is our high priest and spiritual leader. Our brotherhood with Christ is not equality with Him – no more than under the old Hebrew system the other siblings were equal to the firstborn – and He protects us and watches over us. As the firstborn of the families of Israel mediated the blessings of God promised to His people, so we have in Christ our Mediator and Savior.
The image is creatively used in Romans 8 by Paul, for it follows that wonderful promise of Scripture, “that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to His purpose” (Rom. 8:28). These words put Christ as the Firstborn into the midst of human circumstances. His intercession for us and redemption in us are not just words and concepts that are meaningful only in moments of some high church or deeply spiritual experience. They are promises and realities for everyday life.
By calling Christ the Firstborn, Paul painted an image of a human family, with all its faults and conflicts, but with the elder brother still serving as the spiritual leader. Our Firstborn, or Christ, has no weaknesses. He is the perfect older brother, the perfect Firstborn. As the firstborn among the families was present with them, so Christ as our Firstborn is always with us. Nothing can happen to us outside His knowledge or His concerns for our lives and our spiritual health. He is the Firstborn of every circumstance, the Redeemer and Advocate for every failure, and the Strengthener for every challenge.
Though we are not equal to Him, He still calls us His brothers and His friends (John 15:15). There is kindness to His Lordship, gentleness to His rebuke, graciousness to His teaching, encouragement in His voice. He is the One to whom we can run in times of trouble and failure and difficulty. And we can say as Paul wrote, that all things, even those most frustrating of events, work together for good, because we have a God who redemptively works in every circumstance.
Lord, as our Firstborn, as our High Priest and Lord, we come to You for cleansing, for strengthening, for leading. Guide us and guard us, Savior. Amen.