Of the names of Jesus in the New Testament, one of the most curious is “firstborn.” It seems to imply that Jesus was a created being, like man, and not the eternally existent God. In fact, some religious bodies have seized on this title to assert that Jesus is not God but at best, a god. A Jehovah’s Witness publication says, “According to the customary meaning of ‘firstborn,’ it indicates that Jesus is the eldest in Jehovah’s family of sons.” (Reasonings. Watchtower Bible and Tract Society: Brooklyn, 1989. p.408).
Although firstborn can mean the first child or first son born in a family (Exodus 11:5; Matthew 1:25), the scriptures also use it to indicate prominence. The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia notes, “The laws and customs of all nations show that to be “firstborn” means, not only priority in time, but a certain superiority in privilege and authority.” (ISBE. “First-begotten”). God uses the title to indicate a special relationship with Israel and the tribe Ephraim in Exodus 4:22 and Jeremiah 31:9, respectively. Ephraim was not the oldest son of Jacob (Israel), in fact, he was a grandson of Jacob, a son of Joseph, but the name became synonymous with Israel in many prophetic writings.
Another example of how “firstborn” indicates prominence, not order, is the reference to Jesus as the firstborn from the dead. Jesus was not the first person raised from the dead. Elisha raised a young boy from the dead and a dead man thrown into Elisha’s grave came back to life. Jesus raised Lazarus, Jairus’ daughter, and many dead rose when Jesus died. Jesus was certainly not the first to come back from the dead but He had the most prominence for in His resurrection, He conquered the power of death and seized the keys of death, 1 Corinthians 15:20-26; Revelation 1:5, 18.
Jesus is also called the firstborn over creation, Colossians 1:15. Since we know that firstborn does not always mean the first in order, we must conclude that Jesus is prominent over all creation. He was not created but is the creator of all things, John 1:3. John said that Jesus was in the beginning with God and was God, John 1:1-2. In the book of Revelation, he writes that Jesus is the first and the last, Revelation 1:8, 17. Jesus Himself acknowledged His deity when He called Himself the I AM , John 8:58 (see Exodus 3:14). Jesus was not created but lived in the flesh like the creation and died that our corruptible natures might inherit incorruptibility. He is the source of life and our every breath depends upon Him. Truly He is the firstborn, or the greatest, over creation.
Jesus is also the firstborn among brethren, Romans 8:29. This final title also indicates the superiority of Christ. He is the head of the body, the church. We, as children of God—brethren—answer to Jesus as Lord. Jesus intercedes with the Father on our behalf. He is not the first brother of many brothers but is the firstborn—the preeminent one—among all the brethren because it is through His sacrifice we can become God’s children, Isaiah 53:10; 1 John 3:1. In Romans 8, Paul emphasized that God predestined us to be conformed to the image of Jesus.
Jesus is the firstborn—or greatest—over all creation, over all who have risen from the dead, among many brethren. Let us consider His greatness and worship Him daily.