All the talk of narrative theology, the Genesis-to-Revelation story of the Bible, and our collective inhabiting and living out that story, can take on profound depth when this story is viewed as having one protagonist acting within one personal locus—Christ the Firstborn. The biblical story as God’s story in union with man is actually a story of God’s actions in and through Christ. And it is a story of incorporation—of God incorporating the elect into this Christ.
This entire story can be viewed through the interaction of three titles that Paul ascribes to Christ—the Firstborn of all creation (Col. 1:15), the Firstborn from the dead (Col. 1:18), and the Firstborn among many brothers (Rom. 8:29). Paul seems to have in mind here an underlying unity of thought about how God operates to carry out His eternal purpose for His glory.
Here is Kerry Robichaux summing up this thought in his excellent article entitled “Christ the Firstborn“:
We generally view God’s actions in His economy as a series of episodic events in time, somewhat like a universal drama unfolding across the æons. A scene opens in a certain setting; a Character or characters appear; actions take place; problems arise, crest, and resolve. The goal is mankind’s redemption, and the ending is known and expected. First, God creates; man falls in a garden; God calls a race of chosen people; after some interval God comes to redeem and reconcile; finally, the effects of the fall are nullified, and there is a glorious city in which God and man dwell as one. The saga is not wrong, for the events are all true and the characters are all real. But there is a deeper sense to what is going on in the episodes, a sense that unifies all God’s work in the person of Christ. There is one God who acts in and through one Christ to produce one result. All God’s actions are confined to His one operation in and through the one Christ, and the one Christ is best viewed as the Firstborn. God creates in and through Christ the Firstborn, and the creation springs into being with Christ the Firstborn as both its beginning and its goal. All the created realm exists in Him because He incorporates in Himself all creation, especially all the human race. When He appears in time as an individual man, He does not lose His identity as the unique God-man, but He nevertheless includes all our race in Himself as He dies for our redemption and rises for our justification and regeneration. While His death is the unique sacrifice for sins, He undergoes the process of death and resurrection as the Firstborn of all creation, thereby terminating the old creation and germinating the new creation. In raising Him from the dead, God operates in and through the one Firstborn not only to beget Him in His humanity but also to beget His believers into the new creation. Through this one operation Christ the Firstborn of all creation becomes the Firstborn from the dead and the Firstborn among many brothers, and God’s elect, the believers of Christ, become the many brothers of the Firstborn. In this way, the whole and grand economy of God is accomplished not as a series of episodic events populated by a full stage of characters but as a single operation of God on the one person of Christ, in whom both the old creation and the new creation find their source and subsistence. In whatever way we as creatures, as human beings and as regenerated believers, relate to God, we do so by virtue of our incorporation into this central and universal Christ, who is to the Father as well as to us the Beloved.
1. Kerry S. Robichaux, “Christ the Firstborn.” Affirmation & Critique. Vol. 2, No. 2 (1997): 38