Her Son, the Firstborn
“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 (ESV)
A lot happens in this verse. Jesus is born, Mary swaddles Him, she lays the baby to rest in a feeding trough instead of in a proper bed. These details paint a beautifully humble scene, but one brush stroke is often forgotten—Jesus is called Mary’s “firstborn Son.”
More literally, the text reads “her son, the firstborn.” Birth order is not the reason Luke calls Jesus the firstborn. “The firstborn” is a title that carries with it massive Scriptural meaning. To be the firstborn meant you held a place of prominence—you were the heir of your father’s inheritance.
The entire nation of Israel is given the title “firstborn son” by God in Exodus 4:22-23, “Then you shall say to Pharaoh, ‘Thus says the Lord, Israel is my firstborn son, and I say to you, “Let my son go that he may serve me.” If you refuse to let him go, behold, I will kill your firstborn son.’” Israel held the prominent place of God’s firstborn son because He chose Israel as the nation through whom Christ would come to redeem the world. Israel having the title of God’s firstborn son was not to be taken lightly by the king of Egypt.
In Exodus chapter twelve the Lord judged Egypt by killing every firstborn in the land, for they had sinned against God by enslaving His firstborn. None of Israel’s firstborn children were harmed because the Lord “passed over” when He saw the blood of the Passover lamb on the doorposts of Israelite homes.
By the grace of God and the blood of the lamb, the firstborn in Israel were saved. After they were spared, the Lord said to Moses in Exodus 13:2, “Consecrate to me all the firstborn. Whatever is the first to open the womb among the people of Israel, both of man and of beast, is mine.” With this decree, God claimed every firstborn as His own. The people of Israel were even commanded to pay a redemption price of five shekels of silver when their firstborn baby was one month old (Numbers 18:15-16) in order to continually remember God’s salvation of Israel, His firstborn.
Then in Numbers 8:14-19, God said, “Thus you shall separate the Levites from among the people of Israel, and the Levites shall be mine. …Instead of all who open the womb, the firstborn of all the people of Israel, I have taken them for myself.” God took the Levites as a substitute firstborn for all the people of Israel! Interestingly, the Levites’ God-given work was to make atonement for the sons of Israel.
So it is indeed massively significant to read in Luke 2:7 that Mary gave birth to her son, the firstborn. God called Israel His firstborn son, but Israel was unfaithful. God called Jesus His Son in whom He was well pleased, and Jesus was faithful where Israel failed.
The brush stroke of Jesus as the firstborn son deepens in beauty with the thought of Jesus as the substitute firstborn. Just as the Levites were a collective substitute firstborn for the people of Israel and they made atonement for the people through sacrifices, Jesus is the ultimate firstborn who acts as a substitute not only for Israel but for all men. He not only made the final sacrifice, but He was the sacrifice. He was truly the substitute Passover lamb. Jesus is the new and greater Israel, the new and greater Levite, and the new and greater lamb.
The concept of the firstborn has been carried by God throughout history. It is amazing that Luke’s statement in Luke 2:7 is so simple, since it is not simple at all, but amazing: “She gave birth to her son, the firstborn.”
The term firstborn is used in Hebrews 12:23 to give you comfort, dear Christian. It says that by faith we have come “to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven…” Firstborn is plural in this verse, referring to believers whose names are recorded in heaven. He is calling the believers “the congregation of the firstborn (ones)”.
As the church, we are firstborn ones, belonging to the ultimate Firstborn, Jesus. Just as He was set apart to accomplish our salvation, we have been set apart to be saved. Your title as one who is firstborn in God’s sight means that you are held by Him in a place of prominence and you are an heir of all that Jesus has accomplished.