In the Old Testament, the firstborn was just that; the baby or the animal that was born first. When God delivered His people from bondage in Egypt, He sent the angel of death to claim the firstborn in every herd and household. Only those covered by the blood on their doorposts would be safe. Later, God transferred this claim to those who served as priests . . .
“And the Lord said to Moses, ‘List all the firstborn males of the people of Israel, from a month old and upward, taking the number of their names. And you shall take the Levites for me—I am the Lord—instead of all the firstborn among the people of Israel, and the cattle of the Levites instead of all the firstborn among the cattle of the people of Israel . . . . Take the Levites instead of all the firstborn among the people of Israel, and the cattle of the Levites instead of their cattle. The Levites shall be mine: I am the Lord. And as the redemption price for the 273 of the firstborn of the people of Israel, over and above the number of the male Levites, you shall take five shekels per head; you shall take them according to the shekel of the sanctuary (the shekel of twenty gerahs), and give the money to Aaron and his sons as the redemption price for those who are over.’ So Moses took the redemption money from those who were over and above those redeemed by the Levites.” (Numbers 3:40-41, 44–49)
I’m not a big-picture person, but I can see a bigger picture here. In the OT, the firstborn were those born first, most would die but those under the blood will live. The priests replace the firstborn who are redeemed by a price. In the NT, Jesus Christ is the firstborn, the actual first son of Mary, but spiritually the “firstborn” of many brothers and of all creation, raised from the dead to redeem us.
This means the word “firstborn” takes on different meanings. One meaning is obvious . . . “And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.” (Luke 2:7)
The others are in a different context, and because of other Scriptures, I know they are not quite the same. These mean to be prior or superior to all else. Firstborn is a messianic title and could be translated as ‘existing before all creation’ or ‘existing superior to all creation’ or ‘existing before anything was created’
“For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.” (Romans 8:29)
“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation . . . . 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.” (Colossians 1:15, 18)
“And again, when he brings the firstborn into the world, he says, ‘Let all God’s angels worship him.’” (Hebrews 1:6)
“Jesus Christ the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of kings on earth. To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood.” (Revelation 1:5)
What Jesus did fulfills what is shadowed by the firstborn who died that the people might go free, and by the priests who were made substitutes that the firstborn might be redeemed. How cool is that!
The second reading offers these words from Jesus, “I have come into the world as light, so that whoever believes in me may not remain in darkness. If anyone hears my words and does not keep them, I do not judge him; for I did not come to judge the world but to save the world. The one who rejects me and does not receive my words has a judge; the word that I have spoken will judge him on the last day. For I have not spoken on my own authority, but the Father who sent me has himself given me a commandment—what to say and what to speak. And I know that his commandment is eternal life. What I say, therefore, I say as the Father has told me.” (John 12:46–50)
I’m not sure what all this means for my life, but I do know that Jesus came the first time to deliver sinners, not condemn us. Those who refuse Him will answer to the Word of God at His second coming. I also know that Jesus only said what His Father told Him to say and that I am supposed to be like Jesus. That means less yakking and much more listening . . . at least most of the time. The next reading tells me to talk to God, to ask Him to listen to me, and when I do, I will experience joy in His care and protection.
“Give ear to my words, O Lord; consider my groaning. Give attention to the sound of my cry, my King and my God, for to you do I pray. O Lord, in the morning you hear my voice; in the morning I prepare a sacrifice for you and watch . . . . But let all who take refuge in you rejoice; let them ever sing for joy, and spread your protection over them, that those who love your name may exult in you. For you bless the righteous, O Lord; you cover him with favor as with a shield.” (Psalm 5:1-3, 11–12)