03 January 2010

The Firstborn is the Preeminent One

I have been working my way (incredibly slowly) through the Book of Revelation, attempting to come to an understanding of biblical eschatology. However, as I have been making my way through the text, I have come upon some real gems of theology that I hope and pray are both an encouragement and challenge to you. The one I would like to deal with today is located at the beginning of John’s letter to the seven churches of Asia, paying special attention to the bolded part of the verse:

“John to the seven churches that are in Asia: Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven spirits that are before his throne, and from Jesus Christ the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of kings on earth.”

--Revelation 1:4-5a-ESV

In this greeting of John’s to the seven churches, we have a very clear demarcation of the Trinitarian nature of our God. First, we have the Father, the One “who is and who was and who is to come” (v.4b), which is also a clear reference to the Son who is going to come with the Father’s glory to judge all of humanity and restore perfection in the new (or remade) heavens and earth, the Father operating through His Son (see Matthew 26:62-64; Revelation 1:7-8, 17-18; 19:11-16; 21:1-8). Next we see the Holy Spirit, referred to as “the seven spirits that are before his throne” (see Revelation 4:5; 5:6). And finally, we come to the Son, “the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature” (Hebrews 1:3a). But the phrase I wish to focus in on here is the phrase, “the firstborn of the dead” (v.5a). Now, upon cursory look (and with an understanding of the Resurrection of our Lord and its implication for the resurrection of all the saints bodily) we can see the reference to our Lord’s conquering death by rising from the grave and thereby being the firstborn to rise and procure bodily resurrection for all of His people. However, this also brings to mind a certain passage in the book of Colossians that is cross-referenced in the ESV Study Bible and known to all who are familiar to Paul’s letter to those in Colossae. In it, he writes:

“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.

--Colossians 1:15-20-ESV

As you can see, I’ve bolded the reference to Christ Jesus being the firstborn from the dead like in our main passage in Revelation 1. However, my desire is to focus on this first reference, “the firstborn of all creation” (v.15b). Beloved, this is one verse cults like the LDS Church (a.k.a. Mormons) and the Russellites (a.k.a. “Jehovah’s” Witnesses) point to in order to deny the very thing it so clearly screams: the deity of our Lord and Savior, the Alpha and Omega, the First and Last, the Judge of nations, the King of kings and Lord of lords, Jesus Christ. They would assert that since Jesus is referred to as the “firstborn” that he cannot be God, for God cannot be born and thereby created. In one sense their assertion is true; God cannot be created. But their application is fatally flawed, for this verse does not teach the “creation” of Christ but rather what is asserted later on in the passage: the preeminence of Christ.

According to Genesis 1:27, we as human beings are all created imago Dei: in the very image of God Himself. That is to say, we hold some of God’s very attributes: rationality, emotion, will, intellect, reason, etc. However, if any of us ever were to assert that we were the image of the invisible God, containing the attributes of Christ alone written in Colossians 1:15-20, we would be guilty of the vilest blasphemy. This is because only Christ is given the preeminence as being the image of God invisible, the visible manifestation of that whom we cannot see. “Firstborn” here does not mean, as the late-great heretic Arius asserted and the Mormons and Russellites have rebelliously followed, that Jesus was created. Rather, it is a title of preeminence, and as the ESV Study Bible points out, Paul was writing with the rights and privileges of a firstborn son in mind, “especially the son of a monarch who would inherit ruling sovereignty” (note on Colossians 1:15). This theme is seen as far back as Psalm 89:27, where the Lord says of David, “And I will make him the firstborn, the highest of the kings of the earth.” When applied to David, the firstborn meant the king of all earthly kings. When applied to the Son of God in the context of this passage, it can only mean His lordship over all creation, being its sovereign Ruler and God. And following this theme, the Son “inheriting” the rule of the Father is established in the rest of the passage:

1) By Christ, all things (visible/invisible) were created (v.16).
2) By Christ, all things are held together, Himself being before all things (v.17).
3) By Christ, the church has its Head, its ruling Authority (v.18a).
4) By Christ, all who believe will be raised and resurrected to eternal life as He is “the firstborn from the dead,” the preeminent one if terms of mastery over death (in v.15 over life as well—v.18b).
5) By Christ, all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell (what created being, man or angel, could EVER say this?—v.19).
6) By Christ, all things will be reconciled to Him on earth or heaven (that is, all things fallen, with believers reconciled to eternal life and unbelievers consigned to hell and eternal death, perfecting the order of all things either in righteous redemption or righteous judgment), making this ASTORNOMICAL peace by His own blood, the perfect atonement for the all-destructive consequences of sin (v.20).

By all proper understanding and interpretation of God’s holy and awesome Word, no created being could ever even dream to do this in order to perform the eternal task of everlasting redemption of sinful humanity ever. Jesus Christ alone is Lord, second Person of the Trinity, and one day He will be worshipped by all as such (Philippians 2:11). Beloved, let us look to our firstborn ruler with awe and wonder at His wonderful redemption and trust in the work that only a perfect God could perform; perfect adherence to a perfect law by a perfect Savior in a perfect atonement on behalf of imperfect rebels. May our lives increasingly reflect His glorious lordship over all!

Soli Deo Gloria