The Firstborn Citizens of Heaven (Hebrews 12:23)

Believers in Christ are “the church of the firstborn”. This is a description of our status as citizens of Heaven whose names are indelibly recorded there. The term “firstborn” is rich in symbolism. In this sermon, we look at seven significant truths captured by that description. An exposition of Hebrews 12:22-24.


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Hebrews 12, we’re going to begin reading at verse 18 and read through the end of verse 24. Been a couple of weeks since we were here so I just wanted to remind you again of the context and the comparison.
Verse 18:
18 For you have not come to a mountain that can be touched and to a blazing fire, and to darkness and gloom and whirlwind,
19 and to the blast of a trumpet and the sound of words which sound was such that those who heard begged that no further word be spoken to them.
20 For they could not bear the command, “If even a beast touches the mountain, it will be stoned.”
21 And so terrible was the sight, that Moses said, “I am full of fear and trembling.”
22 But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to myriads of angels,
23 to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the Judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect,
24 and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood, which speaks better than the blood of Abel. (Heb. 12:18–24 NASB)
There are a lot of descriptions and terms in your New Testament that describe the people of God, the church, the gathering out of the called-out ones of God’s people. For instance, we are familiar with the analogy or the phrase, the picture, of the body of Christ that you find in 1 Corinthians 12. Of the called-out ones, the very idea of church or the very word church itself speaks of a gathering of people called out of a larger assembly for a special purpose. We’re called the bride of Christ in Ephesians 5. We are called a living temple in 1 Peter 2. We are called a holy nation in 1 Peter 2, and a royal priesthood in 1 Peter 2. We’re called the children of God in Ephesians 1; we are adopted. We are called the elect in Romans 8 and in Ephesians 1.
In each one of those phrases—the body of Christ, the bride of Christ, the living temple, a holy nation, children of God, the elect—all of them tell us something different, something unique, each one of them, about the people of God that constitute this age or around which this age is unfolding. Each one identifies the reality of the church and points to something important. “The body” speaks of the interconnectedness of all of us. “The bride” speaks to the love relationship and the submission that we render to the Lord for all of His protection and provision. And “the children of God” tells us something of our adoption and our special status. “The elect” tells us something about God’s choice of us and why He has chosen us and of who we are and how special we are in His loving plan.
But now we come to another description of the church of God. It’s in Hebrews 12, and it is in verse 23. We are called the “church of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven.” Now, the author here is listing the blessings that we have been brought to as a result of the new covenant that are part of the new covenant. And he is contrasting here the state that we occupy or the place that we have in contrast with Old Testament Israel. So there is the contrast between the two mountains, Mount Sinai and Mount Zion. There is the contrast between these two peoples, the children of Israel and the church. And there’s the contrast between the blessings and the experiences of that old covenant and that which is remarkably better for us, the new covenant.
And now we have this list of blessings to which we have been brought: Mount Zion, the city of the living God, the myriad of angels in festal assembly, in festive garb, the celebration that is ours in heaven, and then this phrase, the “church of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven (v. 23).” That is only used one time in the New Testament, and it is used here. It is an entirely unique phrase and one that I thought was going to be rather simple to explain and decide to sort of dive into and plumb the depths of, but one that once I jumped into it, I realized the uniqueness of this phrase, particularly with this context, is incredibly significant and just the title “firstborn” reminds us of a number of significant truths and things about us, special blessings that we enjoy. And given its context, it’s interesting and understandable how the author uses it here.
So that’s what we’re going to look at today. Five precious and significant truths that are at play here in this word firstborn. And there is significance, too, to the fact that we are said to have been enrolled in heaven, that we are enrolled in heaven. And we’re going to cover all five of these profound and spiritual truths; though each one could be its own sermon, I’m not going to do that to you. But there are five of them we’re going to cover today. Then we’re going to look at what it means to be enrolled in heaven. And then I want to connect all five of these to the context and show you why it is significant that the author in this context describes us as the church of the firstborn, an entirely unique phrase in the New Testament, though the concept of being firstborn is not.
So here is the first thing, the first precious truth that the word firstborn reminds us of. Firstborn describes a preeminent position. It describes a preeminent position. It does not always mean “first one born,” though you’re going to see in a moment that it can refer to the first one who was born. It can describe birth order, but it doesn’t always describe birth order. And that is obviously not its meaning here, since he is not writing to a church that is comprised of people who were the first ones born in their family. Does that make sense? This is not the church of the firstborn in that sense. Not everybody here is the first one born. Some of you are the last ones born in your family. Some of you are in the middle and fortunate enough to be plugged into the middle and some of you are firstborn children.
So it is obviously not “church of the first ones who were born in their family” that is meant here. He is describing something else. He is describing a position of preeminence or prominence, a position that entailed certain rights and responsibilities, a position that entailed a certain degree of preeminence, among others. That’s the nature of this word firstborn. It is used that way, for instance, to describe prominence or preeminence in Exodus 4:22, where the Lord said to Moses, “Then you shall say to Pharaoh, ‘Thus says the Lord, “Israel is My son, My firstborn.”’” Now, Israel was the name that God changed Jacob’s name to. He was called Israel. But was Jacob the first one born? He was not the first one born, but in terms of God’s purpose and the prominence of Jacob in God’s redemptive plans and purposes, because of his position of preeminence, he is regarded as the firstborn, even though he is not the first one born. But Scripture can describe him as the firstborn because often when it uses this word, it’s describing a position of preeminence or prominence. Having a position of being the head or the first one is the idea, even if it has nothing to do with birth order.
Now, it can describe both. It can describe somebody who is the first one born and also has the position of preeminence. But that is not how it’s often used in Scripture, and it’s certainly not how it is used of Jesus when that word is used to describe Him. For instance, in Colossians 1:15 and following, it says that He—that is, Christ—“is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.” That phrase doesn’t mean that He is the first one born. It doesn’t mean that He is the first one created. In fact, it has nothing to do with being born or being created or being first in that sense at all. But it does describe His preeminence, His position as being head over all things, which the author continues to explain in the following verses. “For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things have been created through Him and for Him. He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together” (Col. 1:16–17).
Everything continues as it is because Jesus Christ exercises power and authority and will to hold the very atoms in the orbits in which they are. He holds it all together, guiding all of it, as it were, to its appointed end. He is the One who has preeminence over all created things. For by Him, Colossians says, all things were created, visible, invisible, Heaven, earth, everything. So He is the firstborn. He is the preeminent One, the head One, prominent One over all of creation, because it is all His by virtue of the fact that He has created it and by virtue of the fact that He upholds it and He maintains it. And so the next phrase says, “He is also head of the body, the church; and He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead [He is the first one resurrected], so that He Himself will come to have first place [preeminence] in everything” (Col. 1:18). He is the firstborn.
In fact, that’s how the word is used to describe Christ in Hebrews 1:6: “And when He [that is, the Father] again brings the firstborn into the world [that’s Christ], He says, ‘And let all the angels of God worship Him.’” He is the preeminent or the prominent One. He is the head of all. And so when that divine Son is incarnated and comes into the world, the command of the Father to all of the angelic realm is, “Worship Him.” Because He is the preeminent One or the prominent One. So it’s not describing one who is the first one born.
Now, you and I are treated and regarded as firstborn because we have been brought into the church of the firstborn. So what does this mean for us? It means that Christ acts as our representative, and He lives on our behalf, and He dies on our behalf, and He rises again on our behalf, and He ascends to the right hand of the Father on our behalf, where He has taken a position of preeminence and prominence where He is the head over all things.
And Ephesians 1, 2, and 3 says that you and I, by virtue of faith, are in Him. That is, we are in Him. We are seen in the eyes of the Father as if we had lived His life, died His death, been buried with Him and raised again to newness of life and ascended again and seated at the Father’s right hand, so that being in Him, we now are regarded as and seen in the eyes of the Father as having positionally a position of preeminence and prominence with Him, because we’re in Christ. So everything He did, He did on our behalf. We receive His righteousness, He acts as our representative before the Father, and now we are the church of those who are regarded in the eyes of God like firstborn sons. Preeminent and prominent. That’s what we enjoy.
In Christ, you and I are given everything that the Father gives to the Son. We don’t enjoy all of that now, but we are promised all of that. And outside of Christ, no good thing is given. Even an unbeliever, if you’re sitting here and you are not clothed in the righteousness of Christ and you have never trusted Christ for salvation, being under the wrath of God, the very grace that God has granted to you to come here and to hear a message of salvation and to hear this is a gift of God’s grace that is provided to you because of what Christ has done. Every good thing that is purchased for the elect and for the non-elect that they have ever enjoyed is purchased through Jesus Christ. And outside of Him, no good thing comes to anybody. But in Him all good things come to those who repent and believe. We have a position of prominence and preeminence.
Second, firstborn describes a position that is acquired by birth. And you say, “This seems to contradict what you just told us, which is that firstborn does not necessarily refer to birth order.” It doesn’t necessarily refer to birth order. It can be used to describe prominence or preeminence, but it can also be used to describe one who received the rights and privileges of the firstborn by virtue of their birth order, the fact that they were born first.
Now, we covered this a little bit when we looked at Esau back in verses 16 and following. We talked about Esau and what he forfeited. There was this practice in ancient cultures called the law—or it was the practice of primogeniture. And it was the practice in ancient cultures to give to the firstborn son either a double portion of the inheritance compared to all of the other siblings in the family or to give to the firstborn child all of the blessings and the rights and the privileges of the entire estate. Sometimes the entire estate would go to the firstborn child or the firstborn son, and sometimes they would get a double portion of that.
Now, here’s what is key: you and I are called the church of the firstborn. We have our status of firstborn, not because we are the first one born physically, but we get that status because of a birth that has taken place. What birth is it? It’s the new birth. Jesus said you must be born again. Now, if you were the firstborn, this was a glorious thing in ancient cultures. But here was the glorious thing about being firstborn in ancient cultures: that you would get the inheritance or the double portion of the inheritance. And listen, it didn’t matter how good-looking you were or not good-looking you were, how smart you were or how not smart you were, how tall, how short, how big, how small, how crippled or able-bodied. None of that meant anything. You would get the right and the privileges of the firstborn just by virtue of the fact that you were born in that position. It had nothing to do with merit, your righteousness, your piousness, your spiritual inclinations, your wisdom, your knowledge, your ability to handle family affairs. Had nothing to do with any of those things. You got it simply by being born. You and I become part of the church of the firstborn simply by virtue of the fact that we are born again. We are born into this position not physically but spiritually.
Jesus said you must be born again. This is the work of the Spirit. He goes where He wills. He causes those who have been given by the Father to the Son in eternity past to be regenerated and to come to repentance and faith in time. That is all the work of the Spirit. You and I cannot merit that. You and I cannot manipulate that. We can’t control that. I can’t make that happen for certain people. You can’t make that happen for certain people. None of it is our work. It is the result of the Holy Spirit, not as the result of human merit or effort or will at all.
Spurgeon said, “If we are born only once, we must die twice—but if we are born twice, we die but once—and after that one death which is not really death, we enter into eternal life!” Catch that. If you are born once, you will die twice. You will die in this world, and then you will die forever in a lake of fire that burns with the wrath of God. You die twice. But if you’re born twice, you die once, physically in this life, and that’s really not death. And after that, you go to have life eternal. Born once, you die twice. Born twice, you die once. You must be born again.
In John 1, John says, “But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:12–13). We are part of the church of the firstborn because we have been born again. So you are born into this. And listen, your spiritual birth has nothing to do with your merit, your righteousness, your inclination to believe, your wisdom, your abilities, your skill, your knowledge, your spiritual sensitivity, or anything else. You have nothing to do with your new birth. You are regenerated by the sovereign spirit of God.
And that brings us to the third thing that firstborn reminds us of. It is a reminder of our divine election. Our divine election. This description of firstborn is mentioned in the context, remember, of the comparison with Mount Zion and Mount Sinai. Now, Mount Sinai was connected in the minds of the Jewish people with their deliverance from Egypt and all that took place in Egypt, their time of slavery there, God bringing them out by the Passover and the death of the firstborn of Egypt and the sparing of the firstborn of Israel. And then they are brought out of that bondage and slavery out into the desert where God brings them to the base of Mount Sinai and made a covenant with them and gave them the law. So in the mind of the Jew, when you had mentioned Mount Sinai and the giving of the law and the covenant that was made, you could not disconnect that from the whole notion of the firstborn being spared and them being brought out of slavery as a result of what God did in sparing the firstborn of Israel and in punishing and judging and killing the firstborn of Egypt.
Exodus 11:4–5:
4 Moses said, “Thus says the Lord, ‘About midnight I am going out into the midst of Egypt,
5 and all the firstborn in the land of Egypt shall die, from the firstborn of the Pharaoh who sits on his throne, even to the firstborn of the slave girl who is behind the millstones; all the firstborn of the cattle as well.’” (NASB)
Anything that was born first—and this is not position of preeminence; this is order of birth when it’s used this way. Everyone who was born first is going to die as a judgment. Everyone in the land of Egypt. Exodus 12:29: “Now it came about at midnight that the Lord struck all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, from the firstborn of Pharaoh who sat on his throne to the firstborn of the captive who was in the dungeon, and all the firstborn of cattle.” God fulfilled His word, killed all the firstborn.
Exodus 13 says, “Then the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, ‘Sanctify to Me every firstborn, the first offspring of every womb among the sons of Israel, both of man and beast; it belongs to Me’” (v. 1). Now, those firstborn were set apart to God, and they belonged specifically and specially to Yahweh. Why is that? Because God had made a demonstration of something in Egypt by slaughtering all of the Egyptian firstborn and preserving all of Israel’s firstborn. And because that was the object lesson, this whole thing becomes a picture of our salvation later on in the New Testament, because that is the object lesson. All of the firstborn were to be dedicated and given over to the Lord. Exodus 22:29: “You shall not delay the offering from your harvest and your vintage. The firstborn of your sons you shall give to Me.”
So herein lies the special significance of the firstborn. God destroyed and killed all the firstborn of Egypt, but He spared all the firstborn of Israel. He did this by the application of the blood to the doorpost and over the top of the door of every Israeli home. We’ll get to that in just a moment. But why did God choose the firstborn to do this with? He could have chosen to kill all the second born or the third born, or the shortest in the family, or the tallest in the family, or everybody in the family who was the slowest, or everybody in the family who was the fastest. But God didn’t do that. He chose the firstborn. Why? Do you know why? Doesn’t explain that. That’s why you don’t know why. You’re sitting there wondering, Why is that? There’s no explanation as to why He chose the firstborn, not the second born or the third born.
And it’s even more significant that it becomes a picture of God’s choice when Esau is the first one born but Jacob gets all of the blessings and the promises of the firstborn. And it’s even equally as pronounced when Isaac, who is not the first one born from Abraham, but Ishmael is, but yet God gives all of the blessings and the promises and the preeminence to Isaac and not to Ishmael. Why did God choose Jacob over Esau? The only explanation that God gives is, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated” (Rom. 9:13). And in Romans 9, He says, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion” (v. 15), and I will harden whom I will (v. 18). So you, O man, do you have a problem with that? That God would choose some and not others and then not explain Himself to you? Well, you’re like a lump of clay arguing back to the potter. And Paul’s point in Romans 9 is you have no right to even question it. You certainly do not deserve an answer to it.
Now, you want something that offends people? You just tell them that you are chosen by God to be in the church of the firstborn. And it has nothing at all to do with the condition of your heart, your wisdom, your spiritual insight, your inclination, your lineage, your good looks, your intellect. Nothing. Has nothing to do with you whatsoever. And in fact, God has not even revealed why it is that He chose you other than He has set His love on you ahead of time. That’s what it means to be the firstborn. Just like Jacob over Esau. Just like Isaac over Ishmael. Exodus 4:22: “Israel is My son, My firstborn.” But he wasn’t the first one born, but he was the one chosen by God to receive the blessings. “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated” (Rom. 9:13).
Divine love obviously plays into this. Divine sovereignty plays into this. A foreordained loving relationship obviously plays into this; it must. In fact, that’s what the word foreknown means. You say, “Doesn’t it say that God has chosen us by the foreknowledge, by His own foreknowledge?” It does. But you know what the word foreknowledge means? It doesn’t mean that God is a good prognosticator and He can look down through time and somehow tell what you might do when presented with the gospel. It means that God has decided ahead of time, in eternity past, to set His affections on you. Why you? I don’t know. Why me? I don’t know. God knows. He chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world.
I had somebody recently who said to me that they were having a conversation—it was nobody here, so don’t worry about that—who said they were having a conversation with somebody who raised this issue of God choosing us and not based upon anything that we would do and that this is what the word foreknowledge meant. And this little lady said to me, quite gently—she said, “But I’m trying to explain to her that God knows our hearts. He knows our hearts, and that’s why He chose us.” And I said, “How was your heart before you came to faith in Christ? Was it pure and simple and inclined toward righteousness? Or were you a wicked sinner?” She was a wicked sinner. So I said, “So your heart was just as dark as the rest of ours, right? Which means that God didn’t choose you because He saw something special in you.” That is the point of Romans 9. That’s the point of God’s choosing. Had nothing to do with anything in you whatsoever. So if you ever ask yourself, “Why me and not somebody else?” it has nothing to do with you. There were probably a lot of other people whom God could have chosen, but He didn’t, who were smarter than you, prettier than you, more able than you. In fact, God says that He chooses the weak and the foolish things so that He might confound the wise in the eyes of the world (1 Cor. 1:27). I guess that’s another explanation why you [were chosen] over somebody else. Because you’re weak and foolish and stupid and simple and unable and uneducated and a North Idaho rube.
Ephraim was chosen over Manasseh by God’s choice. Manasseh was the first one born. Yet Jeremiah 31:9 calls Ephraim His firstborn. You are the church of the firstborn, which describes your election. You are in this by God’s sovereign choice, chosen of God. Ephesians 1:4: “Just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him in love.” Second Thessalonians 2:13: “But we should always give thanks to God for you, brethren beloved by the Lord [there’s the loved], because God has chosen you from the beginning for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and faith in the truth.” Second Timothy 2:10: “For this reason I endure all things for the sake of those who are chosen, so that they also may obtain the salvation which is in Christ Jesus and with it eternal glory.”
You say we are undeserving children of wrath, worthy of judgment. That’s right. And you’re the church of the firstborn. God chooses undeserving children of wrath, worthy of judgment, and puts them into the church of the preeminent ones. Because He loved you before time. That’s what His foreknowledge means. He loved you before time, and He set His affections on you. Before He ever spoke an angel or an atom into existence, He knew your name and every day you would live and when you would come to saving faith and that you would be here today and that you would be brought into the church of the firstborn.
He saved us and called us. Second Timothy 1:9: “. . . with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose [listen to this] and grace which was granted to us in Christ Jesus from all eternity.” Grace granted to you from all eternity. Go back in the mind and purposes of God as far as you can go. Grace was granted to you back then, from all eternity. That is how you were in the church of the firstborn. Preeminent position, something acquired by our new birth. We are adopted into it, and it reminds us of our election.
Fourth, firstborn is a picture of a blood-bought redemption. Again, Sinai is the context here. A blood-bought redemption. Exodus 19:4, we read this back when we looked at the incident at Sinai. Exodus 19:4: “You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings, and brought you to Myself.” God purchased the land of Israel out of redemption, and it was the blood sacrifice which was the means or the payment of that purpose. He brought His people out into the desert and brought them to Sinai. And then God says to them, “I did this so that I might bring you to Myself.” There was a love and affection that God placed upon that nation and those people, and He brought them out of slavery in Egypt. And that mountain, Mount Sinai, reminded them that they had been delivered through a plague, through death. The death of the firstborn of Egypt, but not the death of the firstborn of God because Israel was God’s firstborn. So He protected His own firstborn by means of the blood. And on their last night in Egypt, the angel that came through the land of Egypt slaughtered all the firstborn of the Egyptians, from the firstborn of Pharaoh to the firstborn of every slave to the firstborn of all the cattle. Everything that was born first died that night except any of the firstborn of Israel. And though they were right there in the midst of the land of Egypt, right there in the midst of the land of Egypt, among the Egyptians, by the sovereignty of God all of the firstborn were spared.
So the firstborn who were not covered by blood died under the judgment of God. And the firstborn who were covered by blood were saved and brought through and delivered out of that judgment. First Corinthians 5:7 says Christ is our Passover and has been sacrificed for us. That’s the connection. How is it that you become the firstborn of the church of God, the church of the firstborn? It is because God has brought you out of that judgment. Because the blood of the sacrificial Lamb, the Lord Jesus Christ, has covered you. And so you are part of the church of the firstborn.
You see this phrase that we’re studying here and thinking about this morning, it is all connected to the land of Israel. It’s connected to Egypt and to their deliverance and the Passover. All of that is behind that phrase firstborn. You couldn’t mention the term firstborn to a Jew without them thinking of Passover and Egypt and being delivered out of that, being given the covenant, and their own head of their own nation, Jacob, being called the firstborn, even though he was not the first one born. He was given a position of preeminence by the election and the sovereignty of God, and then he was purchased by the blood of that sacrifice. And so you and I are as well.
Acts 20:28 says that we are “the church of God which He purchased with His own blood.” God purchased the church with His own blood. Every Sunday when you gather together here, you are gathering together with a group of people who have been purchased by the blood of Christ—bought. And so you are bought and owned by Him, you are a temple of the Holy Spirit, you are not your own. First Corinthians 6:20 says, “For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body.” If He has purchased you by His blood, then our obligation is to obey Him because we do not belong to ourselves, and therefore we don’t get to dictate the terms of our own walk with the Lord or our own life behavior before Him. All of that is dictated to us. We are obligated to obey because we are blood-bought saints.
So it reminds us of our preeminent position, our adoption by the new birth, our election by the Father, the picture of blood being poured out for our sake, and fifth and finally, the firstborn reminds us of our inheritance. This was the right of the firstborn, back again to that law that we talked about that was practiced in ancient cultures where the firstborn child got the inheritance. So it is the case with you as well, that you, as being in the church of the firstborn, guess how much of the inheritance you get. You say, “Well, I get, I guess, twice as much as the other—” Hold on a second. The other what? The other firstborn children? You can’t have twice as much as the other firstborn children because guess what? We’re all firstborn in that sense. So how much of the inheritance are you given? One billionth of it, assuming that there’s a billion of God’s chosen people who share that inheritance? You’re given all of it. You’re given all of it.
Romans 8: “And if [we are] children, [we are] heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ” (v. 17). And guess whose inheritance you get to share? The One who has purchased that inheritance on your behalf. Because Christ died perfectly righteous, guess what He will enjoy for all of eternity? All that the Father has is given to Christ, who is the firstborn. And He has a whole church full of people, His bride, whom He has purchased with His own blood, who share that inheritance, not portioned out an equal part to each of us, one whatever it is of the number of people that we share it with. But He takes that entire inheritance and you get all of it.
I don’t know how it is in eternity in the new creation that you and I are going to share in full the fullness of all of that and never feel like we are splitting the Father’s inheritance amongst us. But that is exactly what eternity will be. We will feel for all of eternity as if everything that the Father has promised has been given, not for us to split up and divvy up between us, but all of it has been given to each and every single one of us.
First Peter 1 says, this “inheritance is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away” (v. 4). It cannot be taken. It is ours by birthright, the new birth. It is ours by election, it is ours by blood, it is ours by adoption, redemption. Matthew 25:34: “Then the King will say to those on His right, ‘Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.’”
Luke 12:32: “Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has chosen gladly to give you the kingdom.” I love that word gladly. Not begrudgingly, not reluctantly. The Father has chosen gladly to give you the kingdom. How much of the kingdom? Just your portion, just your corner? No, all of the kingdom is yours. The entire thing becomes yours. And how has the Father done this? Gladly. He’s not doing this because He is reluctant to have us share that inheritance. He wants to lavish it on us. And so, in my mind at least—this is my own sanctified speculation—in my mind, I picture the Father with a smile on His face, though He doesn’t have a smile, but you know what I mean. With a glad and overflowing heart of love. And He cannot wait for that day when the heavens and the earth are made new and all of us are resurrected, and He gets to give us the entire kingdom. All of it, the full inheritance.
I wish that that were possible for me as a father to give to my children everything I have. Not much, but at least I could give to them everything I have. And to see the smile on their faces and to see the smile on my face. And for that to be a great joy. The Father has chosen to gladly give you the kingdom.
Second Timothy 2:12: “We will also reign with Him.” James 2:5: “Listen, my beloved brethren: did not God choose the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which He promised to those who love Him?” Revelation 5:10 says He has made us “to be a kingdom and priests to our God; and [we] will reign upon the earth.” And speaking of Revelation, chapter 21, verse 7, after describing the heavenly Jerusalem and all the glory of that heavenly Jerusalem, we read in verse 7 of 21: ”He who overcomes will inherit these things.” Wow. Just stop for a second and be stunned by that. You read about the New Jerusalem, the new heavens, the new earth, all the glories of that. He who overcomes will inherit these things. That is your inheritance, secured for you by virtue of the blood of Christ and yours because you are the firstborn. You’re the church of the firstborn.
Our preeminence, our adoption, our election, our purchase by blood, and our inheritance. And if that is not enough, if all of that grace is not sufficient, look at the very next phrase. You’re “enrolled in heaven” (Heb. 12:23). You’re enrolled in Heaven, which means it is secured for you. All of this has been secured by your Savior, and here’s the glorious part: all of it is preserved by your Savior. It is reserved there for you, and your name is written there.
And again, this phrasing here would mean—it doesn’t mean that much to us. “Enrolled in heaven” (v. 23)—we think, OK, Lamb’s book of Life, written from the foundation of the world, all of that is true. But to a Jew, the imagery here is very significant because again, it goes back to Sinai, which is mentioned in verse 18, that mountain which cannot be touched, blazing with fire and all of that, that was Mount Sinai. And remember again now the phrasing “enrolled in heaven” is significant because you know what happened after Sinai? After Sinai, after the giving of the law and the priesthood was established, and after the instructions for the Tabernacle were given and the covenant was given and established, then we read in Numbers 3:40, “Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘Number every firstborn male of the sons of Israel from a month old and upward, and make a list of their names.’” In other words, enroll them. Make a list of the names of all the firstborn children in the nation of Israel.
41 You shall take the Levites for Me, I am the Lord, instead of all the firstborn among the sons of Israel, and the cattle of the Levites instead of all the firstborn among the cattle of the sons of Israel.
42 So Moses numbered all the firstborn among the sons of Israel, just as the Lord had commanded him;
43 and all the firstborn males by the number of names from a month old and upward, for their numbered men were 22,273. (Num. 3:41–43 NASB)
So what happened after God brought them to that mountain? He put all of their names on a list and enrolled them on a list. And now the author is saying you also, as the church of the firstborn, are enrolled. Just as Israel was brought out of the slavery of Egypt, brought to that mountain, given a covenant, blessed there with their relationship with the Lord, so have you been done. They were redeemed by blood. So are you. They were made God’s people by election. So are you. They were given a position of preeminence among the nations. So are you.
And guess what else happened at Sinai? Their names were written on a list. And the author says your names also are written, but not on a tablet at Sinai, not on a parchment out in the desert. Your names are enrolled in Heaven. Which means when you step up to the New Jerusalem, your name is on the registry inside of that city. And you have full and free access to that city and every nook and cranny and every corner of it. No security clearance, no badge that you have to show. Your name is enrolled in Heaven, written on the register there. And that can never be taken away. It can never be erased. It will never perish. That ink will never fade. And a million times a bajillion years from now, your name will be written down in the Lamb’s book of life, right there, enrolled in Heaven. That is the imagery and the picture.
Philippians 4:3 said that we are to help the fellow workers whose names are in the book of life. Jesus said in Luke 10:20, “Nevertheless do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are recorded in heaven.” Rejoice that your names are recorded in heaven. The Father is waiting to gladly give you the kingdom. Why? Because as the church of the firstborn, your name is not written at the base of Mount Sinai. Your name is written in the heavenly city, which is Mount Zion. You have eternal and unfettered access, eternal citizenship. And your entrance into the heavenly Jerusalem is secure because your name is enrolled there.
That’s a glorious picture, isn’t it? Adoption, election, the blood-bought purchase of the saints of God. You get this by virtue of the new birth. It is secured for you because your name is enrolled in Heaven. How encouraging this would be to dejected and rejected saints in the first century. And I think it was. The imagery here is intended to encourage them and to remind them to be steadfast and immovable and to always abound in the work of the Lord, to be focused upon Christ, and to keep their eyes fixed on Him, and to run the race that is set before them. And they’re reminded here that their inheritance is secure and that nothing that has been promised to them can possibly be taken away. And they may be unpopular with the world.
And listen, you will be unpopular with the world and you are unpopular with the world, but you’re the firstborn of God. So what do you care what the world thinks of you? And your possessions might be seized, but you have an inheritance that cannot be taken away. And you might be rejected by all of the world’s highest class, but you are the chosen ones of God. And you may be excluded from polite society, but you have a position of preeminence and promise in the Father’s court. And you might be forgotten on earth, but your name is enrolled in Heaven, where you have for you a spot at the Father’s table, an unfettered access to all of this magnificent inheritance that has been given to you by your Savior and purchased for you by His blood.
So you may suffer the loss of all things in this world. That’s fine. But here’s the glorious part: when this world and all that they take from you is consumed by fire and burnt up and forgotten, the Father is going to recreate a new heavens and a new earth which will never be spoiled by sin. And He is going to raise you in glorified bodies and put you on that new creation to live and glory and joy and work and rejoice with the company of festival angels forevermore. So they’ll take everything from us here, and you’re going to be given everything there. There will come this time when the Lord will destroy all the works of the wicked and they will be forgotten, and He will establish the works of the righteous and they will endure forevermore.
Every citizen of Heaven is a firstborn son. Every citizen. There’s no lowlifes. There’s no lowbrow. There’s no lowborn people in Heaven. Everywhere you turn, you will see one who is the firstborn, the heir to the throne, the heir to the kingdom, gets all the inheritance. You’re going to see children of royalty everywhere you look. In Heaven you’re going to turn, you’re going to see somebody who’s sitting here next to you today, and you’re going to think to yourself, “Oh, there’s the firstborn child of royalty.” And you’ll say that to them, “Look at that. Firstborn child of royalty.” And they would say, “I was just thinking about saying the exact same thing to you; firstborn child of royalty.” Everywhere you look, you will see firstborn sons, firstborn daughters, possessors of the entire inheritance. That is what we get. That is the glory that we are promised.
So now the question: do you live in this world like you are the firstborn son and daughter of the world to come? It’s really the question. Do you live in this world? Do you fight sin? Do you serve Him? Do you sacrifice? Do you pray? Do you praise? Do you worship? Do you do that like you are a firstborn child of the world that is to come?
To connect this to our context just briefly, we are not too far removed from Esau in verse 16. He was the firstborn. Remember what he did with his firstborn status? He despised his birthright and he traded it for a single meal. See, Esau shamed his father, shamed his family, shamed his name, all of that, because he didn’t understand the value of the birthright. He didn’t care for it. He didn’t love it, didn’t cherish it. And so Esau didn’t live like one who had the status of birthright. Instead he lived like a pagan. He lived like an unbeliever, an immoral and godless person who gave no thought to God in his mind and his heart at all. He didn’t live like somebody who was the firstborn heir of everything that was promised to Abraham and everything in the world to come. Instead he despised that.
And so now the author is speaking again of firstborn status and saying you are like Esau in that you have been promised a great blessing, a great inheritance. Everything that is to come has been given to you now, believer. So don’t be like Esau, an immoral and godless person who would trade all of that away, barter all of it away for simply a bowl of soup to satisfy some craven lust in the moment. Instead, live like a child of the King. Live like firstborn sons. Live like you belong to the church of the firstborn and that your inheritance is secured for you by another, and that that is what you get to look forward to.
And listen, you and I will possess it a lot faster than it feels like we are going to possess it now. We get on the other side of taking possession of that, we’re going to say, “Man, that happened quick. I can’t believe all that time went by that fast. But here we are and we have it already. That was just a blink of an eye.” It’s coming a lot quicker than we think it’s coming. And so live today in a manner that is worthy of the calling with which you have been called. One who is preeminent, one who has been adopted, one who has been chosen, one who has been purchased by blood, and one who has been promised an inheritance. You have not been merely delivered from Egypt and its slavery. You have been delivered from sin. And that is a more exacting taskmaster than Egypt ever was. And your names are not written on a parchment in the desert. Your names are enrolled in the heavenly Jerusalem. So live in a manner that is worthy of the calling with which we have been called (Eph. 4:1), and keep your eyes fixed on the goal for the glory of Christ our Lord.