Reading: Heb. 12:18-29; Matt. 18:1-3; Num. 3:5-7,9,11-13,41,45.
"...to the general assembly and church of the firstborn, who are enrolled in
In that designation there are two things; firstly, the church, which is the
supreme object of God's concern throughout this dispensation. Then, secondly,
the words "the firstborn" set forth the nature of that object. It is the "church
of the firstborn". The word is in the plural, and the more perfect translation
would be: "The church of the firstborn ones, whose names are enrolled in
heaven". Thus the second part of the statement gives character to the first
part; it is the church of the firstborn ones.
Being in the letter to the Hebrews, and being, as it is, a part of a large
statement which goes right back to the beginning of the history of the nation,
when they were constituted a nation under the government of God at the Mount, it
is easy to see that this phrase, "the church of the firstborn ones", links
immediately with the Levites, of whom we read in the book of Numbers that they
stood for the firstborn ones. They were a representative company in whom all
Israel were gathered. So that, away back there in the constituting of Israel as
the people of God under His government - and for our present purpose, especially
the Levites - there are bound up spiritual, heavenly and eternal principles.
You will be familiar with the object of this letter to the Hebrews, and the
last part of chapter 12 very largely expresses that object; that is, an earthly
representation of heavenly things, which has served its purpose was passing or
had passed; that a great shaking was to come, in which all that was not
spiritual, heavenly and eternal would pass away and only that which was other
than of this world would abide. The Jewish system, as a system of representation
and of type, was a part of this earth and was to perish. It had passed in the
coming of Christ, but as a system it was about to be entirely broken and
scattered. And the letter was written to seek to hold these Hebrew believers to
the heavenly and the spiritual and the eternal realities as their earthly system
was passing, and to show them that Christ had taken up all the spiritual values
of the Jewish system, had embodied them, and carried them into heaven and that
now for them everything was in Christ above in heaven: "we
see Jesus, crowned with glory and honour...". He, there in heaven, was the
centre and fulness of the life of His people, and the earthly was passed.
We are familiar with all that, but our object is to see the abiding spiritual
principles which have been introduced by figures and types and representations,
"patterns of things in the heavens", and to seek to be in the value of
these spiritual principles, for they endure. They
are eternal, they are heavenly, they are unshakable, immovable; they abide all
that is of the shaking of the heavens and the earth. So we are to be occupied in
these meditations with this phrase, "the church of the firstborn ones".
We take the second half of the phrase first - the firstborn - and observe
that it embodies several things.
The Firstborn Relates to
(1) A New Beginning
God begins in, and with, a firstborn. The firstborn shows where and how God
begins. Israel's beginning as a nation, as a people before God, was bound up
with the firstborn: "all the firstborn are mine; on the day that I smote all
the firstborn in the land of Egypt I hallowed unto me all the firstborn to
Israel" (Numbers 3:13). By the taking of the firstborn God began the history
of that people. Thus the phrase speaks of God's new beginning. The Lord Himself
said, "Except ye turn and become as little children, ye shall in no wise
enter the kingdom of heaven" (Matt. 18:3).
We shall speak more of these things as we go on. For the moment, we want to
indicate something of what is represented.
(2) The Rights of God
The second thing set forth by the firstborn is that God's place, God's rights
are represented by them. The thought, the idea of the firstborn ran throughout
everything in the life of Israel. It commenced with the firstborn of the family,
and then it extended over the flock and the herd to the field, so that the very
first fruits of all their labours in the field, and in the vineyard, were
claimed by God, and had to be brought into the presence of God before anything
else could be appropriated. Indeed, God held them so much to this principle
that, if they failed in the firstfruits, in the course of their history they
lost the whole harvest. You remember what the Lord had to say to His people
through the prophet Malachi, at a time when a blight lay upon everything, and
the crops failed, and failure was seen in all directions. In answer to the
question, Why? the Lord said it was because of their tithes and offerings. Bring
the whole tithe, said the Lord, and you will have the whole blessing. It was a
question of the Lord's people, and of the Lord's rights, so that the firstborn
represented or symbolized God's place and God's rights as first, supreme.
The church of the firstborn ones represents these two things to begin with;
firstly, that God begins with birth (first-born), and never takes up
anything at any later date. It is a law with God that He will never take up a
thing at an advanced point. He will start right at the beginning, no matter how
long its history, no matter how long-standing its tradition. If God is going to
take it up He will bring it right back to the beginning, where it is born out
from Himself, and He never accepts anything else.
The church is the embodiment of that truth, and of this also: that God has
the first, the pre-eminent place. The church stands for God's place, God's
(3) Death and Resurrection
Israel is represented as being a people which has come out of death by a
mighty intervention of God, out from where death was raging, active, spread like
a blanket over the land. There was this act of God which meant that people were
given power to overcome death. There was that in them of God which defeated and
defied the other, an ultimate work of death, and they are regarded as a people
who have been in death, and have been taken out of death in resurrection. That
very truth is set forth in their own history again at the Red Sea, and yet again
at the Jordan. It is basic to their life at every stage. At its inception they
are a people brought out unto God, and are brought out unto all that is of God.
In the stages from Egypt to the land, everything is based upon the great truth
of death and resurrection.
Mark it in the case of the Lord Jesus. While by birth He is the Son of God,
there is that particular attestation of Him in resurrection: "set
forth (or designated) the Son of God with power, according to the spirit of
holiness by the resurrection of the dead"; "God raised him from the dead"; "Thou
art my Son; this day have I begotten thee." - Begotten again from the dead,
and designated in a particular way the Son of God.
So that with regard to the firstborn, whether it be in the type in the Old
Testament or the Antitype of Christ, or in the church which is the corporate
expression of Christ, the principle underlies all; that the firstborn are
invariably with death and resurrection. Therefore, the church of the firstborn
is the embodiment of that truth of death and resurrection, or the power of life
which conquers death.
(4) The Inheritance
Then the next thing about the firstborn is that they are related to the
inheritance. It is a matter of honour, position, government, and administration.
There is no need for us to trace that through the Word. We know that it is
always so. The firstborn represent the inheritance. The inheritance belongs to
them. What is the inheritance of the saints? It is the place of honour in glory,
the place of the government in the ages to come. The church of the firstborn is
chosen unto this.
Thus in this letter to the Hebrews you find that from the outset Christ is
presented as the Son. Then reference is made to His brethren: "He
was not ashamed to call them brethren"; "Wherefore, holy brethren,
partners in a heavenly calling". Thereafter the inheritance comes into view,
and we hear the echo of Paul's word to the believers in Rome: "heirs... and
joint-heirs with Christ". All that is in this letter and then it is all
gathered up at the end in this comprehensive statement of chapter 12, what the
church is: "the general assembly and church of the firstborn ones...". We
are come to that.
There is one all-governing fact which runs right through the ages. It is that
Christ is in all the thoughts and ways of God. That is a statement that is
comprehensive. Through all the ages, in all the thoughts of God, and in all the
ways of God, Christ is central, Christ is supreme. Everything relates to Him,
and everything connects with Him; Christ is the end, for Christ was the
beginning. If we could stand by the side of God and see through God's eyes, and
become governed by God's mentality, we should recognise that God has but one
thought and that one thought is influencing Him in every one of His dealings
with men, with nations, and with the world throughout all the ages. That one
thought centres in His Son, Jesus Christ, and therefore the very essence of
revelation, and the very heart of spiritual enlightenment is that you see Christ
in all those thoughts and ways of God as they are expressed in His Word and in
His activities. If you ask: What is revelation, what is it to have spiritual
enlightenment? the answer is
this: that you are able to see in a living and ever-growing way God's thoughts
as centred in Christ. We could put that in another way, and say that you are
growingly able to see Christ and His place and His meaning in this universe,
that this universe is interpreted and explained in the light of Christ, and that
everything in our own lives in God's dealings with us, is connected with Christ
in some way. If that is true universally, and if that is true sovereignly and
providentially; if that is true not only in the whole history of things in this
universe, but true in a special way in human life, it is true, perhaps, in the
most essential way in the Word of God as the expression of God's thought. So
that revelation, spiritual illumination, is to see Christ in all the Word of God; not
truths, not doctrines, but Christ.
Here we have a concrete and very clear instance and example in the case of
the Levites. The Levites are a divine thought. They are set forth as having come
out of the mind of God. Everything concerning them that is written is a part of
that mind of God. Now if what we have said is true, then everything to do with
the Levites is the expression of a divine thought concerning Christ, and we too
look to see what of Christ there is in this and in that. The end is Christ. The
question then, that we ever need to ask, is: In what way does this or that lead
us to Christ? In what way does this mean an increase of Christ, a knowledge of
Him in a living and experimental way? We are looking for what is of Christ. We
are not interested in anything else, because God is not interested in anything
else. God is not interested in merely running a wonderful universe, in seeing
His sovereignty operating in this world, in just seeing how He can bring good
out of evil, and overrule everything to His own ends. God is interested in one
thing, and that is in bringing all things to His Son, and bringing His Son into
all things. He has one thought - comprehensive, vast, many-sided, but one
Now then, we have one thought, and only one. This is not how much we can do
for the Lord, and how much we know of Christian truth; it is not things at all,
it is Christ. Our whole course here is to learn Christ, and with our latest
breath we shall still, if we are living in a spiritual way, cry, "That I may
know him". The longer we live, and the more we know, the more we shall be made
aware of how little we do know, and how vast this Christ is.
Now we see in the Levites as a type a concrete example of God's thoughts
leading to Christ.
The Levites Represent
(a) The People of God Related to Him in Christ
In the first place they set forth in representation the people of God as
connected with God in Christ. They were taken in the place of the firstborn,
which means that they represented all Israel. They were, in the thought of God,
not a class called ministers, separated from all the others, but a spiritual
representation of God's thought concerning all His people, that all His people
should be Levites.
God had other ways of doing this if that were not the truth. The Lord could
have said: "Now, I understand that you cannot all be My servants, for you have
other things to do; therefore I would have you ordain a certain class, a certain
company to be ministers, and they shall minister and be a class by themselves in
this kind of service!" No such thought is ever expressed or hinted at. On the
contrary, God gets right down to the bottom of things and says: "Now in the very
birth of Israel, they are a priestly people, they are a kingdom of priests. It
is not that they have a class in the midst of them who are priests, but that
they are a kingdom of priests." The Levites are but the expression of God's
thought concerning all His people, and inasmuch as it is priestly in nature and
function, it is Christ, and Christ at the centre; God and His people brought
into oneness on priestly ground, on a priestly basis, a mediatory basis, a
sacrificial basis, a basis of blood. They are one, and the Levites declare this
great truth, that man and God have been made one in Christ; and that is the
church of the firstborn. That title is the title of Jesus Christ, and the title
of the church; it is one title. He is the Firstborn, they are the firstborn
ones; the one title governs them both. It is not the case that there are some
apart; all are that. It is the oneness in Christ of God and His own that is set
forth by the Levites.
(b) God's Thoughts as to His People in Christ
Then as you look carefully into their life, their order, their function - and
it is a very wide-ranged function, it has to do with everything that represents
God - we see that they set forth God's thoughts as to His people in Christ. It
is not only that God and His own meet and are one in Christ, but there all God's
thoughts concerning His own are set forth
- what God's thoughts are for His people. They are centred in
Christ, and the Levites bring out into view all the thoughts of God which are
centred in Christ concerning His own people.
(c) The Vessel of Testimony
Then further, the Levites represent the vessel of the testimony of Jesus, one
with Him. That is central to this universe. The testimony of Jesus is the
occasion of the terrific conflict throughout the ages in the spiritual realm.
John says, "I was in the isle that is called Patmos, for the... testimony of
Jesus." Later again, he says, "I saw the souls of those who had been
beheaded for the testimony of Jesus", speaking of that rage of the adversary
against that which is so designated.
What is the testimony of Jesus? The testimony of Jesus is what God has
determined in the eternal counsels that Jesus shall be in this universe. It is
the place which God has eternally given to His Son. Now, the Levites are the
vessel of that testimony; that is, that in them God's intention for His Son is
set forth, and they are called into being to preserve and maintain that
testimony. When you have those things, you have just got the ground prepared for
the practical values that arise. The Levites set forth God's thoughts in Christ
concerning His own people. Where do you begin with God's thoughts? You begin
when you look at the Lord Jesus, and take Him into account. You begin with the
altogether otherness of Christ so far as the whole race and the whole world are
It is important to see where likeness between Christ and the rest of the
human race begins and ends. There is likeness and difference, and you have to
see where the one ends and the other begins.
In what way is Christ like the rest of us? He is like the rest of men
inasmuch as He is constituted on the same principle. He is a Man, a human being,
and the make-up of His humanity is the same as that of all other men. He is
spirit, soul and body. We would call that the vessel. He has a mind, a heart,
and a will, as the constituents of His human soul. He is like all other men,
that is, as to His form; He has a body like our body. As to appearance there is
no difference. He has a soul like our soul, capable of feeling, reasoning,
choosing and determining. He has a spirit - yes, so far as the entity is
concerned, a human spirit, as we have. In all these respects He is like us.
That is where the likeness ends, and then the difference begins. What is the
difference? The difference is in the inner man. We have spoken of that as the
vessel, but what is in the vessel? What kind of thing is working in the vessel?
Therein lies the vast difference between Him and ourselves. In the New Testament
a great principle, indeed the governing principle of the old-creation life in
man, a very great deal is spoken of under the title of "the flesh". That is the
inner thing with us, it is a principle, a power, something in us: intangible,
but very real and very strong; and in the fallen creation wholly evil. That is
the difference between Him and us. There was no such thing in Him. He is
altogether other. There is the vessel, the same, similar, but the actuating
power (that which moves in the vessel) is entirely different, belonging to a
wholly different creation. A wide unbridgeable gulf is fixed between Him and
ourselves in the matter of the dominating, governing nature. We call it, in the
language of one who has invented this phrase (and it is a useful one): the
That is where God begins with the firstborn. The firstborn from God's
standpoint is an "altogether other" than the old creation. Now this is not just
doctrine, technique; it is something of tremendous value. I do not know of
anything of greater importance than this particular thing upon which we bear for
this short time.
The church of the firstborn from God's standpoint is something altogether
other than we are by nature, and that altogether other-ness is what Christ is.
Perhaps the major problem of most of the Lord's people is to keep that line of
division between what we are in ourselves and what Christ is in us. The great
line of attack on the part of the enemy is to bring what we are ourselves
continually up into view and occupy us with that, and by so doing obscure
Christ. The great object of the Holy Spirit in His opposing of Satan
is to bring Christ into view and to occupy us with Him to the obscuring of
ourselves. That is where the great difficulty arises for most of the Lord's
people. There is always this beat back, this drive back to get us occupied with
ourselves, as to what we are, to keep us from being occupied with Christ and
what He is; in some way to get that gap, that gulf, that separation filled up,
and the line of demarcation obliterated, so that there is confusion. God begins
with the firstborn. That implies something altogether other than what we are,
and it is important to see what God says, and how God views those who are
represented as being in Christ, and in whom Christ is.
As a type (not spiritual reality, but as representing this truth) think of
that tremendous statement which was forced through the lips of Balaam, in spite
of himself, concerning Israel: "He hath not beheld iniquity in Jacob."
Read those terrible Psalms about Israel's forty years in the wilderness, and all
the terrible things that are said about them, of their heart not being steadfast
toward God, and all their constant declension. Terrible things are said; and
then you have a statement like this coming up by the compulsion of God as Balaam
looks over the whole camp of Israel, standing as it were by God's side, and
saying: "He hath not beheld iniquity in Jacob." Why? The Levites were in
the midst, and all that they stood for, and God did not look upon what the
people were in themselves, but upon what they were as having His thoughts in the
midst of them in living expression, in active expression. He had His thoughts
When Christ is in us, God views us through Christ. Oh, that we might
recognise this, that in Christ in us, there is the embodiment of God's thought,
and He is able to speak so of us. His activities with us are all in relation to
the Christ who is now by the Holy Spirit in us, and in Whom we are.
The fact that the Firstborn is invariably connected with death and
resurrection is God's way of saying that what we are in ourselves by nature is
buried from His standpoint, and it is His Son alone who obtains where we are
concerned as a risen One, the only One who lives before Him. All else are dead
and buried in the sight of God, and God would have us take that attitude.
Remember that we are dead and buried.
The Root-cause of Trouble amongst Believers
Now you can see the reason of all the confusion, all the trouble amongst the
Lord's people. It is because they will bring over on to the other side of Jordan
what they are by nature. Have we not yet recognised the terrible complication of
the old creation, what a complicated, inextricable tangle the old creation is?
If we were the most adept at introspection, and could analyse ourselves to the
most minute point, we should never have got to the end of that complication.
We talk about our motives, and we say, Our motive was right! We talk about
our conscientiousness, we talk about our intentions; but you and I do not know
what lies behind what we call our good motives. There is a deceitfulness about
this human heart that defies our greatest attempt at tracking it down, and we
shall never do it. It takes Him that hath the seven Spirits of God, with the
seven eyes, the perfect insight, to see through you and through me. We shall
never see through ourselves, and you and I can never talk with any certainty
about our good motives, our pure motives, our conscientiousness, because of this
tangle of the old creation. This soul life of ours is such an awful mixture that
you never, never know when you are on safe ground with it. It will lead you into
all kinds of deceptions as to yourself, and as to others, and if you begin to
live in your soul life, and assert it and develop it, you are developing what is
capable of leading you into the greatest confusion and contradiction and
mixture. There is an alliance with this fallen creation of forces that are not
the forces of God, and you and I cannot break in between the two and sort the
matter out. God Himself has not undertaken to do that. God Himself has not
undertaken to disentangle this network of confusion in this old creation. God is
not going to get to work like a great surgeon and drive in between this part and
that part, and separate the good from the bad. He is not going to excavate and
analyse and rearrange this whole tangled mass; He has not undertaken to do it.
God's whole attitude is (and this is the revelation of God's Word) that that
tangled mass is finished with, dead and buried, and God brings in something that
is altogether other than that: a new creation, even Jesus Christ. There is no
tangle in Him, no confusion in Him, no mixture in Him; there is perfection of
harmony, a balance of order, of arrangement. All the rest is put out.
Here is where the church has become such a confused thing, and such a
tragedy; for the prevailing idea is that if you give yourself over to God He
will take you up and use you: "Bring over your humanity and consecrate it to the
Lord! Consecrate your old man to the Lord, and go out and serve the Lord, with a
consecrated old man!" it is utterly contrary
to the teaching of God's Word. The result is that in the work of God all the
world over you have people serving the Lord in the energy of the flesh, in the
reasoning of the flesh, in the emotions of the flesh. Meet them, counter them,
frustrate them, and you meet something evil; you meet with a fight, a division,
a schism, a scattering, and wholesale resignations.
Do you see what a havoc the enemy can make in that which is called the
church, because people with best intentions, purest motives have come to serve
the Lord with all their own intelligence, their own strength, and their own
emotion? They have not seen that God has closed the door to the old creation,
and that God's attitude is this: "The only thing that can satisfy Me, that can
serve Me is My Son, and if you are going to come into My service, He has to be
the energy of everything, the Life of everything, the Wisdom of everything!" He
has to be the governing, ruling reality in everything. It is not to be a matter
of your impulses, but of His urgings and leadings by the Holy Spirit; not your
sitting down to reason out what it would be good to do for the Lord, what ought
to be done, what needs to be done, but
what He shows you,
nothing more. It is Christ who is God's thought, and only Christ, and He is
He lived on that principle Himself, when He was here. Great appeals were made
to His sympathies, but He never responded to those appeals until He had weighed
the thing up before the Father and obtained the Father's mind about it. Appeals
were made to His reason, that He ought to do certain things: He ought to go up
to the feast, it was the recognised thing, everybody was going up. If He was not
going up He was laying Himself open to misunderstanding and misrepresentation! "Mine
hour is not yet", He said. And when they had gone up then He went up
secretly. He was not playing a trick, acting a deception; He was making sure
that the voice governing His movements was not the voice of popular habit, but
was the voice of the Father governing Him. See how other Christ is from men,
from what we are.
You and I must not bring over our old creation and give it to God, expecting
God to use it. God begins with birth. The church of the firstborn is something
quite new, and it comes out of a death. That death is the death of an old
creation, and the resurrection is of something that is not the resuscitation of
an old creation, but the resurrection of something wholly of God.
The Way of Deliverance
Now, of course, that is very largely the negative side, the side which
forbids, which counters, which sets back. There is the other side, the great,
the blessed reality, that over against what we are by nature there is Christ as
God's object of concern, and the Holy Spirit's object of interest. The Holy
Spirit has been sent from God in relation to, and on behalf of, Jesus Christ,
for one purpose only. We should not be taken up with the Holy Spirit Himself,
nor with the manifestations of the Holy Spirit. We should be solely occupied
with the object of the Holy Spirit, and the sole purpose of the Holy Spirit's
coming is to make Christ everything, to conform us to the image of Christ, fully
to form Christ in us. The Holy Spirit has the view of God, that Christ is the
object always in sight.
Do we want to know the only way of deliverance? It will never be by going
round ourselves, being occupied with ourselves, sorting ourselves out, and just
weeping and mourning over ourselves; it will be by occupation with Christ. That
is the only way, but it is the Way.
Paul in Romans 7 tells us of the one side of things. He says he had longings in
a certain direction, but his longings were frustrated by what was in himself. He
had loathings in other directions, but even his loathings led to no deliverance,
for what he loathed he did, what he longed for he never did. At length in
despair he cried, "who shall
deliver me?" Then, espying a way out, he said:
"Ah, I see, I thank God, through Jesus Christ our Lord". There are
no divisions into chapters in the original, you must read straight on. Because
people have not been led straight on they have been left in doctrinal confusion.
It should be, "I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord... There is
therefore no condemnation to them that are..." - longing to be like Christ,
and deploring how unlike Christ they are? No! "...to
them that are in Christ Jesus". Why no condemnation? Because God is looking
upon the One in Whom there is no ground of condemnation at all, and He says:
"Your deliverance is to be occupied with the ground where there is
no condemnation, that is Christ."
Every secret of the life of the believer is there.
Our greatest need is to be delivered from ourselves into Christ. There we
find all God's intentions and activities concerning His Son. It is "Christ in
you, the hope of glory", that is the great secret, and there is no hope of
glory anywhere else.
What does this mean? Not that I come before God saying,
"I have had pure motives; I have been very honest, earnest and
conscientious, and my intentions have all been of the best."
Let us stop talking nonsense. It is utter folly to talk like that. We do not
know ourselves. Only God knows the truth about us, and none of that finds a
place with Him or counts with Him for a moment. The point is, have I recognised
that the Cross of the Lord Jesus was the smashing and ending of me, good and
bad, so that I am not holding up before the Lord anything? I am as capable of
the worst as any being in God's creation is. For anybody to take the attitude
that they are not capable of the worst is an attitude of the deepest deception.
We do not know the power in our beings until we are put to it. If we have never
committed the worst, it is because we have never been put to it in the mercy of
God, but it is all there. The Lord puts His finger upon it in principle when He
says, "He that hates his brother is a murderer." It is the same spirit.
You have only to extend that, provoke that anger enough, put that nature into
certain circumstances, and you will discover that you are capable of things of
which you would have stood in utmost horror at one time. You and I have got to
come down before God and admit that we are capable of the worst, not standing on
the ground of our right. The only right one is Christ from God's standpoint. The
only safe one is Christ, and therefore the only one who stands in God's eyes is
Christ, and it is as you and I, in all the brokenness, frailty, conscious
weakness and humility of our own beings, by faith cling to Christ that we shall
find the way out, the deliverance, the salvation. We must look behind God's
words to see bigger things than words on the surface indicate. "To this man
will I look, even to him that is poor and of a contrite spirit, and that
trembles at My word." That statement embodies all that we are saying.
To what one will He look? To the one who never says, "I am right!" but to the
one who says, "I may be as wrong as ever man or woman was wrong, there is nothing
of which I am not capable; my only ground is Christ; so help me God, Christ is
my ground!" To stand on Christ is to stand always in the consciousness and
recognition that this other ground, ourselves at any point, is dangerous ground. He is
so Other, and there is the great divide, there is no overlapping. Between Christ
and us there is a gaping chasm. God never sees that bridged, but thank God He
will put Christ into us by the Holy Spirit, and while the two will ever remain
apart, the old creation will go one day and that which is of Christ, as wrought
into us, will abide.