“…as it is written in the Law of the Lord, ‘Every first born male that opens the womb shall be called holy to the LORD.’ ” Luke 2:23
This New Testament citation of an Old Testament quote in the inspired record of Luke comes most likely from Exodus 13:2: “Sanctify to Me every first-born, the first offspring of every womb among the sons of Israel, both of man and beast; it belongs to Me.” (NAS).
There are other passages (Ex. 13:12; Num. 3:13, 8:17) in the Old Testament that convey the same principle in similar language. The firstborn male was a big thing to the patriarchs of ancient times. He would be given a double portion of the father’s inheritance and, upon the death of his father, would become the leader of the clan, serving as priest as well. This practice and associated customs were also important in God’s eternal plan set in motion before the foundation of the world. Once the nation of Israel was brought out of Egypt, and the house of slavery, Moses was commanded to set aside (make holy) every first born male Israelite to the LORD. Part of this sanctifying of the first born was the requirement they be redeemed. (Ex. 13:13) After the golden calf caper in the wilderness (Ex. 32), the LORD took the Levites from among the sons of Israel instead of every first-born, telling Moses, “The Levites shall be Mine.” (Num. 3:12) The first born males among the rest of the tribes of Israel were still to be redeemed, but the price according to the law given Moses, five silver shekels, was to go to the Levites (Num. 18:16). Now let’s consider a few principles the LORD put forth concerning the Levites, His first born ones by proxy, those who were set aside for Him. The Levites were brought before Aaron, the high priest, then presented before the LORD as a wave offering (lifted up to Him) after being cleansed and atonement had been made for them by the high priest. Once cleansed and presented before the LORD, they were then given as a gift to the high priest and his sons to perform service at the tent of meeting (tabernacle, ultimately the temple) and make atonement for the nation of Israel as recorded in Numbers 8:14-19. They were not to be given an inheritance in the physical land like the other tribes, except the forty-eight cities they were told they could have houses in which to live. Their inheritance was the LORD, like the sons of Aaron. Now let’s consider Jesus as a first born son. Space limitations don’t allow us to go into great detail, but consider this. Jesus was a first born son of God and He understood He had been set aside, called holy to the LORD, to serve Him while walking in the flesh even though he was not born of the tribe of Levi. He demonstrated no concern for physical possessions, an inheritance in the land or a physical kingdom. He realized well His inheritance was solely in the LORD. He purified Himself (by faith) and knew He was going to be presented before the LORD as a wave offering, lifted up, first upon the cross, then ultimately redeemed from the grave, lifted up and presented in the LORD’s throne room in heaven. All this to make atonement for not only the tribes of Israel, but all mankind. There is much more we could say, but let’s turn our attention now to us, as those in Christ, the royal priesthood of the house of God (1 Peter 2:4-9). Jesus’ example had a purpose. He was to be the “first-born among many brethren.” Not the only first born but the One who would confer upon all those who were called according to God’s purpose, the rights of first-born ones. Those born of God are sanctified and belong to the LORD. The church, those the inspired writer of Hebrews calls the church of the first-born ones, have been redeemed not by silver or gold, but by the precious blood of our Passover Lamb, Jesus Christ. Having been redeemed and cleansed, we are now presented to the LORD, having been lifted up, akin to the foreshadow of the wave offering, and seated with Jesus Christ in heaven (Eph. 2:6; Col. 3:1). Like the Levites and the high priest, we have no desire to have an inheritance in the world, because we are the LORD’s inheritance and He is ours. What’s our purpose? Same as the foreshadow of the Levites, to assist our High Priest, Jesus Christ in glory, in the service of the true sacred tent. Hence the exhortation to be equipped “for the work of service to the building up of the body of Christ” (Eph. 4:12). If we understand who we are in Jesus, we’ll value properly the work He has entrusted to us. You’re raised up, now go build!