God’s Firstborn Sons
By Arlen L. Chitwood
For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that shall be revealed in us.
For the earnest expectation of the creation eagerly waits for the revealing of the sons of God. . . .
For we know that the whole creation groans and labors with birth pangs together until now.
Not only that, but we also who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, eagerly waiting for the adoption, the redemption of our body.
(Romans 8:18, 19, 22, 23)
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new. (2 Corinthians 5:17)
Christians, because of creation, are seen in Scripture as “sons” of God, with the adoption yet future. And following the adoption of Christians, God will have a third firstborn son — a corporate or national son, as Israel.
God presently has two firstborn Sons — Christ and Israel. And He is about to bring into existence a third firstborn son — the Church. Only then can God’s purpose for man’s creation, six millennia prior to that time, be realized.
“Sonship” portends rulership; only “sons” can occupy regal positions in God’s kingdom. That’s the way it has always existed in the angelic realm, prior to, at the time of, and following man’s creation. And, once man had been brought into existence, for the regal purpose revealed at the time of his creation (Genesis 1:26-28), that’s the way it had to exist in the human realm as well.
In the human realm though, something additional was subsequently revealed. Not only must the one holding the scepter be a son, but he must, more particularly, be a firstborn son. Within the human realm, only firstborn sons can rule in God’s kingdom.
That’s why Scripture places such a heavy emphasis upon Christ not only occupying the position of God’s Son but that of God’s Firstborn as well.
Note how the author of Hebrews brings both to the forefront in the first of seven Messianic quotations in chapter one of the book:
You are My Son, today I have begotten You. (Hebrews 1:5a; cf. Psalms 2:7)
Then, following a Messianic quotation dealing with the Father-Son relationship (v. 5b), reference is again made to Christ as God’s Firstborn preceding the remaining five Messianic quotations:
But when He again brings [lit., “And when He shall again bring”] the Firstborn into the world . . . (v. 6a; cf. 2 Samuel 7:14).
And even in a passage such as John 3:16, attention is called to God’s “only begotten Son,” a direct reference to not only Christ’s Sonship but to His Firstborn status.
(The statements to this effect in both the opening verses of Hebrews and John chapter three should be expected.
The opening verses of Hebrews form the manner in which The Spirit of God arranged seven Messianic quotations, introducing the subject matter in the book. The Holy Spirit, when He moved the author of this book to pen the recorded words, arranged these seven Messianic quotations from the Old Testament in such a manner that Christ’s Sonship and His Firstborn status as God’s Son would be brought to the forefront at the beginning, forming the foundational basis for all that follows.
Then, John 3:16 forms a part of Christ’s discourse to Nicodemus, where the subject matter begins through referencing the coming kingdom, responding to Nicodemus’ question about the signs being manifested (vv. 2-5). “Signs” in Scripture always have to do with two things: Israel, and the kingdom. And it would be in complete keeping with the subject at hand to continue the thought portended by Nicodemus’ question surrounding “signs” into the latter part of the discourse, which is exactly what is seen.)
Within the family relationship, Christians are referred to as both children and sons. And the two are closely related but are not really the same.
All Christians are referred to as “children” (Greek: teknon), but Scripture does not use “sons” (Greek: huios) in the same all-encompassing manner. Though all Christians are “sons” because of creation, the New Testament use of the Greek word huios, referring to Christians through this means, appears only within contexts which are both regal and where Christians are seen actively progressing toward the goal set before them. In this respect, the word is used relative to Christians in complete keeping with that which “sonship” portends — with rulership.
Children, Sons, Adoption
In the New Testament epistles (both the Pauline and the general epistles), Christians are referred to as “children [teknon] of God” and “sons [huios] of God” about an equal number of times. They are referred to as “children of God” in Romans 8:16, 17, 21; Philippians 2:15; 1 John 3:1, 2, 10; 5:2. And they are referred to as “sons of God” in Romans 8:14; Galatians 3:26; 4:6, 7; Hebrews 12:5-8 (the word “sons” alone, rather than “sons of God,” is used in the latter reference; but a Father-son relationship is in view throughout, showing God dealing with Christians as His sons).
In all three sections of Scripture where Christians are presently referred to as “sons,” adoption is also in view. In both Romans and Galatians, in the Greek text, the word huiothesia (the word for “adoption [son-placing]”) appears in the context of the verses where Christians are referred to as “sons” (Romans 8:15, 23; Galatians 4:5).
And in Hebrews, adoption is seen in the context as well, though from a different perspective. It is seen following the verses referring to Christians as “sons” (in vv. 16, 17 — verses forming the heart of the fifth and final major warning in the book, dealing with Esau [the firstborn] forfeiting his birthright).
In the antitype of the account pertaining to Esau forfeiting his birthright, the thought of adoption would have to be brought into the picture, for Christians must not only be sons but they must be firstborn sons to realize the rights of the firstborn that Esau in the type forfeited. And the only way Christians can be brought into this position is through adoption.
(Aside from Romans 8:15, 23; Galatians 4:5, the only other place in the New Testament where the Greek word huiothesia is used relative to Christians is in Ephesians 1:5. And the use of this word early in the book of Ephesians is in complete keeping with how the subject matter of the book is introduced in this first chapter — a future “redemption” and “inheritance,” in connection with the “mystery” revealed to Paul [vv. 7, 9, 11, 14, cf. 3:1-6; 4:30], to be realized “in the dispensation of the fullness of times” [v. 10]. These interrelated things are presently being made known, “by [‘through’] the Church,” to “the principalities and powers in heavenly places” [Satan and his angels], which accounts for the warning and instructions concerning the spiritual warfare at the close of the book [3:9-11; 6:10ff].
As in any New Testament epistle, the central subject seen in Ephesians is not salvation by grace, though that subject is dealt with in the book. Rather, the central subject has to do with the things seen in the opening chapter, which introduce the things about to be developed in the book — things pertaining to Christians in relation to the coming kingdom of Christ. And if this epistle, or any New Testament epistle, is not studied after the manner in which the epistle is introduced, the central message of the epistle will be lost to the reader.)
Thus, Christians are referred to as “sons” only in sections of Scripture where adoption is in view. Both sonship and adoption place matters within a regal setting; and Christians, in all three passages where adoption is dealt with, are seen actively moving toward the goal set before them — the adoption of sons and being brought into a realization of the rights of the firstborn.
On the other hand, Scripture refers to Christians as “children” within a regal setting as well, but not with respect to adoption. This is the main difference concerning how the two words are used in the New Testament epistles. It is sons who are adopted, not children.
(In Romans 8:16, 17, 21, the Greek word for “children” [teknon] is used in a context with the Greek word for “sons” [huios]. And an inheritance, an adoption, and a manifestation of sons are seen in the passage [with huios alone used relative to the latter two (v. 14)]. In Philippians 2:15, teknon appears in connection with present Christian activity, with a view to the coming day of Christ [v. 16]. And in 1 John 3:1, 2, 10; 5:2 the context shows the same thing as seen in Philippians 2:15, 16.
Teknon is used in these verses to depict present Christian activity, with a view to the hope set before Christians, Christ’s future appearance, and being shown as an overcomer in that coming day.)
Thus, there is the central distinction between the way in which “children” and “sons” are used in the New Testament. Both are used in regal settings, with the latter used more specifically in connection with the rights of the firstborn. Both can be used of Christians today; but, only “sons” is used when adoption is in view.
Romans, Galatians, Hebrews
In the New Testament passages where Christians are presently called “sons” (Romans 8:14; Galatians 3:26; 4:6, 7; Hebrews 12:5-8), each passage presents a different facet of biblical truth surrounding sonship. In Romans, the central issue is flesh and spirit, with adoption in view. In Galatians, the central issue is “the faith” in relation to Law, with adoption in view; and in Hebrews the central issue is God’s training for sons, with adoption in view.
1) Romans chapter Eight
For if you live according to the flesh you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.
For as many as are led [lit., “are being led”] by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God.
For you did not receive the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry out, “Abba, Father.” (vv. 13-15)
Chapters one through seven in the book of Romans build into what could be considered an apex in chapter eight, which begins with “There is therefore . . . .” These opening words are based on that which has proceeded, and they introduce that which is about to follow. And that which follows brings to the forefront teachings surrounding flesh and spirit, dealt with different ways in the chapters that proceeded.
All Christians possess two natures, “the old man [the man of flesh],” and “the new man [the man of spirit]” (Colossians 3:9, 10). And the far-reaching ramifications of Christians (all Christians, none excluded) following one nature or the other is graphically stated in Romans 8:13.
Christians following the fleshly nature, living after the flesh, will die; but, Christians following the leadership of the Spirit, putting to death “the deeds of the body,” that associated with the flesh, will live.
Life in this respect is then explained (vv. 14ff), with death simply being the absence of that seen in the explanation.
Those following the leadership of the Spirit are presently looked upon as sons (v. 14), and this is with a view to a future adoption and manifestation of sons, with the sons corporately (as Israel) forming a firstborn son (vv. 15-23).
But those following after and minding the works of the flesh (cf. vv. 5-8) will have no part in these things. They are not presently looked upon and being dealt with as sons, and they will have no part in the things seen in this chapter awaiting sons.
The preceding is the manner in which both life and death are used in this chapter. And the salvation or loss of the soul/life is in view, which is simply another way seen in Scripture to state the matter at hand (cf. Matthew 16:24-27; Hebrews 10:35-39; 1 Peter 1:3-9). Christians following after the things pertaining to their fleshly nature will lose their souls/lives; but Christians following the leadership of the Spirit, putting to death “the deeds of the body,” will realize the salvation of their souls/lives.
For all Christians, it is either one or the other. No middle ground exists (cf. Matthew 12:30).
The salvation or loss of the soul has to do with occupying or not occupying a position with Christ in the coming kingdom, living or not living with Him in this respect. And, with “sonship” implying rulership, Romans chapter eight places the emphasis on a present recognition of sons, for a reason seen in the context: a future adoption of sons, followed by a manifestation of these sons.
Both life and death are dealt with in the chapter, with both relating to the saved and covering the same time period, which can only be millennial, not eternal. If for no other reason (though there are other reasons), this time period would be evident from both 1 Corinthians 15:25, 26 and Revelation 21:4, which specifically state that death will not exist during the ages beyond the Messianic Era.
Thus, that portended by death in Romans 8:13 cannot extend into these subsequent ages; and, viewing the other side of the matter, neither can that portended by life in this same verse.
(The Messianic Era will be the last 1,000 years of a septenary arrangement of 1,000-year periods, which are foreshadowed in the opening verses of Genesis through the use of six and seven days. Scripture deals at length with events during these 7,000 years but sparingly with events outside this septenary period.
During the Messianic Era, man’s rule will be confined to this earth. The manifestation of sons during this time will have to do with bringing one province in God’s kingdom back into the condition and use for which it was originally intended, with governmental power emanating from the Son’s throne in the heavenly sphere of the kingdom [cf. Revelation 2:26, 27; 3:21]. The Son, with His co-heirs, will take 1,000 years to bring order out of disorder. Then, once order has been restored, the kingdom will be delivered back to the Father, that the Father might be “all in all [‘all things in all of these things’ (1 Corinthians 15:24-28)].”
During the eternal ages beyond the Messianic Era, man’s rule will emanate from “the throne of God and of the Lamb,” a throne from which universal rule will issue forth. And this throne will both rest upon a new earth and be the central governmental point in the universe. Thus, the manifestation of sons at that time will no longer have to do with governmental affairs of the present earth but with an apparent restructuring of the government of the universe itself, possibly beginning with the new earth.)
As previously seen, in Romans 8:14, God views only those Christians as “sons” who are being led by the Spirit and, as a result, are putting to death the deeds of the body. And the reason why God limits viewing Christians as His sons in this manner need not be stated in so many words. God’s apparent reasoning can be easily ascertained from the context and that which “sonship” implies — rulership.
It is only those Christians presently allowing the Spirit to control their lives who will, in that coming day, live, be adopted (vv. 14-23), and be among those manifested as sons (forming God’s firstborn son). And it is with this end in view that God looks upon certain Christians as “sons” during the present time (v. 19; cf. Hebrews 12:23).
Those Christians failing to govern their lives in this manner will die, and there will be no adoption or manifestation as sons for them. And with this end in view, there would be no reason for God to view these Christians as “sons” during the present time, but only as “children.”
2) Galatians chapters Three and Four
For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. . . .
But when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law,
to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons.
And because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying out, “Abba, Father!”
Therefore you are no longer a slave but a son, and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ. (Galatians 3:26; 4:4-7)
Christians are referred to as “sons” in three different verses in the book of Galatians (3:26; 4:6, 7). And, as in the book of Romans, references of this nature are used in a context having to do with adoption (4:5). It is simply the same picture once again, though from a different perspective.
A different facet of sonship and adoption is dealt with — how the Law, given through Moses, can have absolutely nothing to do with the matter at hand.
The inheritance was given to Abraham, by promise, four hundred and thirty years before the Law was given through Moses; and the giving of the Law didn’t, it couldn’t, bring about any type change to that previously given to Abraham (3:16-18).
Then, as in Romans, “faith” is brought to the forefront in that which is stated in Galatians. The Law cannot be separated from faith, for the Law is God’s Word, and “faith” is simply believing that which God has stated about a matter. In this respect, an Israelite keeping the Law would be acting by faith (cf. Deuteronomy 5:33; 28:1-14; Matthew 19:16-21; Hebrews 11:6).
“Faith” in connection with the Law though is not how “faith” is dealt with in this section of Galatians, preceding and leading into the reference to Christians as “sons” (3:19-25). Rather, “the faith” is introduced (which is a means used by the New Testament writers to reference the Word of the Kingdom), and “the faith” (used in vv. 23, 25 [“faith” in both verses is articular in the Greek text]) is sharply contrasted with Law. One has nothing to do with the other.
(Regarding “the faith,” refer to the author’s book, From Acts to the Epistles, chapters 10, 11.)
The picture presented in Galatians is that of individual “sons,” forming part of God’s national firstborn son (Israel), under Law, who become “new creations” in Christ. And, through this means, they relinquish their national identity with Israel — no longer being associated with the things pertaining to Israel (in this case, the Law, or the adoption relative to a present firstborn status) — and become members of a new nation where there is no distinction between Jew and Gentile (3:28).
And, once they have become followers of “the faith,” these individuals are looked upon as “sons” (because they are “new creations” in Christ) and, along with all other Christians of like mind in this new nation (whether formerly Jew or Gentile), await the adoption.
Then, beyond the adoption will be the realization of an inheritance, through Christ, who is Abraham’s Seed, seen in Galatians 3:29 (cf. v. 16):
And if you are Christ’s [lit., “And if you are of Christ,” i.e., among those belonging to Christ], then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise. (Galatians 3:29)
The promise given to Abraham was to be realized through both an earthly and a heavenly seed, as seen in Genesis 22:17, 18. “Israel,” the seed of Abraham through the nation’s lineage from Isaac and Jacob, will, following Israel’s repentance, conversion, and restoration, realize the earthly portion of the inheritance; and “the Church,” the seed of Abraham through being “in Christ,” will, following the adoption, realize the heavenly portion of the inheritance.
3) Hebrews chapter Twelve
And you have forgotten the exhortation which speaks to you as to sons: “My son, do not despise the chastening of the LORD, nor be discouraged when you are rebuked by Him;
For whom the LORD loves He chastens, and scourges every son whom He receives.”
If you endure chastening, God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom a father does not chasten?
But if you are without chastening, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate and not sons. . . .
lest there be any fornicator or profane person like Esau, who for one morsel of food sold his birthright.
For you know that afterward, when he wanted to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no place for repentance, though he sought it diligently with tears.
(Hebrews 12:5-8, 16, 17)
The passage in Hebrews 12:5-8 deals with God’s training for those Christians whom He views today as “sons.” The words “chastens” (vv. 5, 7, 8) or “chastening” (vv. 6, 7) are translations of the Greek words paideia or paideuo, which are noun and verb forms of the same word. These words refer to “instruction” or “training,” and the translation should reflect this fact.
Paideia and paideuo are cognate forms of the word paidion, which refers to “a very young child” (used this way in Matthew 18:2-5; 19:13, 14). In this respect, the words paideia and paideuo in Hebrews 12:5-8 refer to God’s child-training for those whom He presently views as His “sons.” And this child-training would, of necessity, take the exact form of that seen in Matthew 18:2-5:
Unless you are converted and become as little children [paidion], you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven. (v. 3b).
Then note Hebrews 12:8. All whom God views as “sons” partake of this training, and any Christian who doesn’t is referred to by the Greek word nothos (translated “bastard,” KJV). The thought, through the use of nothos, has to do with “illegitimate sons,” i.e., Christians not having a part in God’s training of His “sons” — through rejection, unfaithfulness, etc. — and thus cannot be His sons.
Then the adoption awaiting Christians is seen in a type-antitype structure in verses sixteen and seventeen, forming the last of the five major warnings in this book.
God will possess a third firstborn son only after God’s present child-training of His sons is brought to completion, followed by the adoption. Only then can the Messianic Era be ushered in, bringing to pass the goal seen throughout all prophetic Scripture.