God’s Firstborn Sons
By Arlen L. Chitwood
God, who at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets,
has in these last days spoken to us by His Son, whom He has appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the worlds;
who being the brightness of His glory and the express image of His person, and upholding all things by the word of His power, when He had by Himself purged our sins, sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high,
having become so much better than the angels, as He has by inheritance obtained a more excellent name than they.
For to which of the angels did He ever say: “You are My Son, Today I have begotten You”? And again: “I will be to Him a Father, And He shall be to Me a Son”?
But when He again brings [lit., “And when He shall again bring in”] the firstborn into the world [“the inhabited world”], He says: “Let all the angels of God worship Him.” (Hebrews 1:1-6)
God has many “sons.” Angels, because of their special and individual creation, are viewed as “sons of God” (Genesis 6:4; Job 1:6; 2:1; 38:7). The first man, the first Adam, for the same reason as seen in the angelic realm — a special and individual creation — was also viewed as God’s “son” (Luke 3:38b). Adam’s descendants though, following the fall, were not viewed in this same manner. Rather, they were viewed as sons of Adam, or sons of his progeny. They were revealed to be sons of a fallen individual, or sons of his descendants (cf. Genesis 5:3ff; 11:10ff; Luke 3:23-38).
(The word “son” only appears once in the Greek text throughout the genealogy in Luke 3:23-38 — at the very beginning, in v. 23a [“the son of Joseph”]. The structure of the Greek text though [a list of articular genitives, beginning in v. 23b] necessitates that the thought of son, though not shown in each succeeding generation, be continued from its introductory usage and understood throughout the genealogy. This is why translators have shown the word in italics in each generation, following its introductory usage, all the way back to Adam, “the son of God.”)
In the divine realm, the one created (whether an angel or a man) is viewed as a “son.” In the human realm, the one begotten is viewed as a “son.” In the former realm, “sons of God” are in view; in the latter realm, “sons of a fallen creature” are in view.
Within God’s economy, “sonship” is inseparably connected with regality, in both the angelic and the human realms. Angels, “sons of God,” were created to have a part in God’s government of the universe. And man, a “son of God,” was created for exactly the same purpose — to first replace the incumbent ruler of this earth (Satan, a disqualified ruler), and then to subsequently occupy regal positions beyond the earth, in God’s universal kingdom. “Sonship,” in this respect, implies rulership.
But “sonship” among Adam’s descendants following the fall is another matter, which cannot be connected with regality in this same respect. Descendants of Adam, following the fall, could no longer be looked upon as “sons of God.” Rather, they could only be looked upon as sons of a fallen individual, possessing the same fallen nature as their father (cf. Genesis 5:3ff).
Thus, following man’s fall, redemption became necessary if man was to ever realize the purpose for his prior creation. This was something that God brought to pass immediately following man’s sin, something involving death and shed blood. And once God had established matters in this respect, no change could ever occur. Redemption at any subsequent point in Scripture would always be the same — that brought to pass on the basis of death and shed blood.
But redemption itself has nothing to do with “sonship.” Adam, as Satan, was a “son of God” before his fall; and he remained a “son of God” following the fall. Adam’s fall wrought no change in his position as God’s son (though he was no longer in a position to exercise that which is portended by sonship — regality).
And, relative to Adam’s descendants, who are not “sons of God,” the converse of matters pertaining to redemption and sonship are equally true. The redemption of Adam’s descendants does not restore the sonship standing possessed by Adam. One (redemption, or even the fall itself, necessitating redemption) has nothing to do with the other (with sonship).
“Sonship” results from creation alone, not redemption. This was something originally established in the angelic realm and then subsequently seen in the human realm in Genesis chapters one and two. And, as the established means for “redemption” never changes throughout Scripture, the established means for bringing into existence “a son of God” never changes throughout Scripture as well.
Thus, in order for God to place Adam’s progeny back into the position for which man was created — to rule and to reign — fallen man must not only be redeemed but creation must again be involved, for only sons of God can rule in God’s kingdom.
That is to say, God must not only redeem fallen man but He must also perform a special creation of a nature that would place man back in the position of “God’s son.” Apart from this dual act, man would forever be estranged from the reason God brought him into existence.
Then, because of the rights of primogeniture (rights of the firstborn) that God established in the human realm (seen in the position that Christ holds as God’s Son — that of Firstborn, through being begotten by the Father), the one to hold the scepter must be more than just God’s son to realize these established rights. He, as Christ, must be a firstborn Son of God. And God accomplished/will accomplish this through the process of adoption (Greek: huiothesia, “son-placing”). Adoption in Scripture is connected with sons, not with children. The process has to do with taking one who is already a son (because of creation) and placing that son in a firstborn status (through adoption).
Viewing the entire matter from the beginning, man is saved via the birth from above. The Spirit breathes life into the one having no life, on the basis of death and shed blood, allowing man to pass “from death to life” (John 5:24; Ephesians 2:1). This has been God’s only means of salvation for fallen man since the matter was introduced in the opening three chapters of Genesis.
Only then do matters having to do with sonship, or a subsequent firstborn status within sonship, enter into the matter. Creation must be involved in the former and adoption in the latter. And neither creation nor adoption enters into matters surrounding the birth from above. Both are always subsequent to the birth from above.
Creation during the past dispensation had to do with Jacob and his descendants through his twelve sons, for God took Jacob and performed a special creative act — one which, as the Adamic creation preceding the fall, had to do with the physical man and could be passed on from father to son (Isaiah 43:1-10).
Creation during the present dispensation has to do with an individual’s positional standing “in Christ.” God takes an individual who has been born from above and places him “in Christ,” resulting in an entirely new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17) — something that occurs at the time of the birth from above, though subsequent to this birth. And because this has to do with the spiritual man rather than the physical, these things cannot be passed on from father to son. Rather, an individual has to himself believe and experience these things personally.
And adoption then follows these two creative acts. Israel has already been adopted and is presently God’s firstborn son (Exodus 4:22, 23). The adoption of Christians though is future (cf. Romans 8:15, 23; Galatians 4:5; Ephesians 1:5).
Thus, because of “creation,” Christians can presently be viewed as sons (cf. Romans 8:14; Galatians 3:26; 4:6, 7; Hebrews 12:5-8 [the Greek word huios, “son,” is used in these passages); but, because the “adoption” is still future, Christians cannot presently be viewed as firstborn sons.
(The preceding briefly introduces this three-part series on “God’s Firstborn Sons,” showing the why and necessity of sonship and adoption with respect to regality. As previously shown, God presently has two firstborn Sons [Christ and Israel] and will one day have a third firstborn son [the Church, following the adoption]. And only when God’s third firstborn son has been brought into existence can man realize the regal purpose for his creation revealed at the beginning, in Genesis 1:26-28.
Both “creation” with respect to sonship and “adoption” with respect to a firstborn standing, in relation to both Israel and Christians, will be dealt with more fully in chapters 2, 3. The remainder of chapter 1 will deal with God’s Son from eternity, the One possessing a standing as Firstborn, through birth, providing Him with the rights of primogeniture within the human realm in relation to His position as the second Man, the last Adam.)
God’s Son from Eternity
There has never been a time when Christ was not God’s Son. He has been God’s Son from eternity, always co-existing and being co-equal with the Father.
But, though there has never been a time when the Son did not exist and occupy the position of God’s Son, being co-equal with the Father, there has been a time when the Son did not occupy the position of Firstborn in the human realm. God, at a point in time, took His Son and, through birth, placed Him in the position of Firstborn (God’s “only begotten Son”) — a necessary position for His Son to realize the rights of primogeniture as the second Man, the last Adam.
Thus, when dealing with the incarnation, far more is involved than Christ becoming a Man in order to redeem fallen man. Salvation that fallen man possesses today is only the beginning of the matter. Salvation is for a revealed purpose, which has to do with man ultimately being placed back in the position for which he was created. In this respect, the reason for the incarnation covers the whole panorama of the matter — from the new birth to the adoption of sons.
Note what Jesus told Pilate in John 18:37 in response to the question, “Are You a king then? [lit., ‘So you are a King!’ (a statement, or a statement in the form of a question, worded in the Greek text in a manner expecting a ‘Yes’ response)].” And Jesus responded in complete keeping with that which Pilate had stated. Rather than as in the KJV — “Thou sayest that I am a king…” — the translation should be more along the lines of “Yes! You say truly that I am a King” (Ref. Weymouth). Jesus then went on to say, “For this cause I was born, and for this cause I have come into the world…”
Christ was born King (Matthew 2:2), but He came into the world for purposes surrounding the complete panorama of redemption. The incarnation was for purposes foreshadowed by God’s work throughout the six days in Genesis chapter one, and the incarnation has its fulfillment in that foreshadowed by God’s rest on the seventh day in Genesis chapter two.
Then there will be a further fulfillment beyond that in the eternal ages beyond the seventh day of rest, which Scripture deals with only sparingly. Man in that day beyond the Messianic Era will exercise power of a universal nature, for this power will emanate from “the throne of God and of the Lamb” (Revelation 22:1, 3), a throne from which universal rule will emanate.
At the time Jesus appeared before Pilate, shortly after the interchange with Pilate relative to His Kingship, the Jews accused Christ of making Himself “the Son of God” (John 19:7b; cf. 2 Samuel 7:12-14). This resulted in Pilate becoming even “more afraid” (v. 8), for he apparently knew, in complete keeping with his previous conversation with Jesus, the implications involved if Christ were truly God’s Son.
As previously shown, “sonship” implies rulership; and this is clearly seen in the Jewish religious leaders’ next accusation, which immediately followed their statement relative to Christ’s claim to be God’s Son: “Whoever makes himself a king [i.e., a statement in complete keeping with their previous accusation — Christ had ‘made Himself the Son of God’ (v. 7)] speaks against Caesar” (v. 12b).
The picture is similar to that seen in Exodus 4:22, 23. God had instructed Moses to tell Pharaoh, “Israel is My son, My firstborn.” And Pharaoh was expected to understand from Moses’ statement that God recognized this lowly nation of slaves (the Israelites) in subjection to the most powerful Gentile nation of that day (the Egyptians) as His firstborn son, the nation in possession of the rights of primogeniture, the nation which God recognized as possessing the right to hold the scepter.
In John chapters eighteen and nineteen, God’s firstborn Son, Christ, stood before Pilate and was falsely accused by God’s firstborn son, Israel; and Pilate himself became increasingly afraid surrounding the entire matter. The fear that Pilate exhibited, as seen in the text, could only have been a mild description of how Pilate would possibly have responded had he known the full scope and implications of that which was transpiring on that day, for he was using his power to subjugate one son and to ultimately condemn the other Son. And both of the Sons being mistreated that day were the Ones possessing the right to hold the scepter, not Pilate.
The Heir of All Things
The book of Hebrews opens by introducing Christ as the One whom God has placed at the center of all things in the outworking of His plans and purposes. God spoke “in time past to the fathers by the prophets,” but, “in these last days,” God has spoken “to us by His Son.” In both instances, God is the One doing the speaking. In the former instance, God spoke in the person of the prophets; in the latter instance, God has spoken in the person of His Son (vv. 1, 2a).
The record then continues with references to the Son, not to the prophets. The Son is the One whom the Father “has appointed Heir of all things”; and the Son is the One through whom the Father “made the worlds [lit., ‘made the ages’]” (v. 2b). The Father designed the ages around the person and work of the One whom He “has appointed Heir of all things,” with the outworking of that seen in the Son’s heirship occurring within the framework of these designed ages.
Reference is then made to Christ’s person, His finished work at Calvary, His ascension to the Father’s right hand, and His position relative to the angels following His ascension (which was different than His position before His ascension [cf. Hebrews 2:7, 9]). Then the thought immediately moves back to the subject previously introduced — Christ as the “appointed Heir of all things” (vv. 3, 4). And this second statement surrounding Christ’s heirship is used to introduce seven Messianic quotations from the Old Testament (vv. 5-13).
The way in which the book opens introduces the subject matter in the book — something seen in the structure of all the books in Scripture, along with Scripture as a whole in the opening verses of Genesis (Genesis 1:1-2:3). The subject matter in Hebrews, shown through the manner in which the book is introduced, is about that coming day when God’s appointed “Heir of all things” holds the scepter and rules the earth with “a rod of iron” (cf. Psalm 2:9; Revelation 2:26, 27).
Through the arrangement of these seven Messianic quotations (a number showing the completion of that which is in view), “heirship” is immediately connected not only with sonship but with a firstborn status as well. It is God’s Firstborn Son, the appointed “Heir of all things,” whom the Father will one day “again bring into” the inhabited world (vv. 5, 6).
These seven Messianic quotations are introduced in verse five and begin with a quotation from Psalm 2:7:
You are My Son, Today I have begotten You.
This verse is quoted three times in the New Testament — once in Acts (13:33) and twice in Hebrews (1:5; 5:5). And in all three passages, as in Psalm 2:7, the verse is used in Messianic settings.
The reference in each of the four appearances of the verse is to the Father begetting the Son at the time of the incarnation. This was an absolute necessity if the Son was to be God’s Firstborn, allowing the Son to hold the scepter as the Father’s appointed “Heir of all things.”
Note how all of this is set forth in the Psalm chapter two. Though a present application to Psalm 2:1-3 is made in Acts 4:25ff, the reference in these verses is more specifically to events at the end of Man’s Day, progressing into the Messianic Era.
The Gentile nations are seen at this time in “rage” and imagining “a vain thing.” They are seen allied “together, against the Lord, and against His Anointed” (vv. 1, 2). And in their alliance, they are seen saying, “Let us break their chains…and throw off their fetters [the restraining and authorative power of the Father and Son in v. 2]” (v. 3, NIV).
This is a picture of Gentile world power in a day not far removed from the present day. The Gentile nations at that time will be as “the sea” in Jonah, raging; they will imagine that which will not be possible — to continue holding the scepter under the present world ruler, Satan (cf. Daniel 10:13-20; Revelation 13:2); and, under Satan’s leadership, they will counsel together concerning how they can stay God’s hand and prevent the fulfillment of that foretold by the prophets centuries before this time.
But all will be in vain. The One seated in the heavens will laugh, He will scoff at the puny efforts of the Gentile powers, and He will then speak to them in His anger and wrath (vv. 4, 5).
This will be followed by that seen in the continuing text of Psalm chapter two:
Yet I have set My King on My holy hill [or, ‘mountain’ (Hebrew: har)] of Zion.
I will declare the decree: The LORD has said to Me, “You are My Son, today I have begotten You.
Ask of Me, and I will give You the nations [Gentiles] for Your inheritance, and the ends of the earth for Your possession.
You shall break them with a rod of iron; You shall dash them to pieces like a potter’s vessel” (vv. 6-9)
The Gentile nations under Satan, in the end time, will be unable to do any more than Satan found that he could do when he sought to exalt his throne at a time in the distant past (Isaiah 14:12-17; cf. Ezekiel 28:14-19). Satan’s prior efforts proved utterly futile, resulting in God’s wrath; and exactly the same thing will result from the actions of the Gentile nations at the end of Man’s Day.
Satan, seeking to exalt his throne, found himself disqualified to continue holding his appointed position, and his kingdom was reduced to a ruin (Genesis 1:2a). And, at a time yet future, with the Times of the Gentiles brought to an end, the Gentile nations will find themselves no longer qualified to hold their appointed positions. At that time, their power and kingdom will be reduced to a ruin (Daniel 2:34, 35, 44, 45; Joel 3:9-21; Revelation 19:11-21; cf. Isaiah 2:1-5).
Now, note the context on either side of Psalm 2:7. Immediately before (v. 6), God is seen placing His King on the holy mountain called Zion; and immediately after (vv. 8, 9), God is seen referring to the King’s inheritance and possession. But the thought of the Father begetting the Son between these two Messianic statements is a reference to an event occurring over 2,000 years in the past, allowing God’s Son to become His Firstborn, making these events possible.
In one frame of reference, God is saying in Psalm 2:7, “You are my Son; today [i.e., for this day, to allow this day to be brought to pass] I have begotten you [at a time in the past, making You more than My Son, making You My Firstborn Son].”
And this would be borne out by the structure of the Greek text in Acts 13:33; Hebrews 1:5; 5:5. In each verse, the word “begotten” appears in the perfect tense, pointing to action completed in past time, with the results of that action continuing into the present and existing in a finished state.
In Acts 13:33, it is an action that precedes Christ’s resurrection, anticipating that day when Christ comes into possession of “the sure mercies [lit., ‘the holy things’] of David [which are regal]” (vv. 33, 34). In Hebrews 1:5, it is an action set at the beginning of seven Messianic quotations from the Old Testament. And in Hebrews 5:5, it is an action anticipating Christ one day exercising the Melchizedek priesthood — as the Great King-Priest in Jerusalem (vv. 5-10; cf. Psalm 110:1-4).
This is that which Scripture reveals concerning God’s Firstborn Son, Jesus, the One who, in a coming day, will bring to pass that which continually eludes man today — effecting peace in the troubled Middle East, a peace that can only follow that seen in Psalm 2:1-5.