God is working to a plan: Part 3
[The following article was originally published in the Banner of Truth Magazine, July 2020]
God is working to a plan (3)
The climax of it all
Someone is showing you round their fine country house and it’s time to go upstairs. So up you go. When you get to the landing you pause, look out the window, and think to yourself, ‘What a great view’. Then you continue on up. When you get to the top you do as you did before. You pause, look out the window, and take in the view. And as you do so you think to yourself, ‘This is even better’.
It’s a bit like that with God’s plan of salvation as we glimpse it in Romans 8.29: ‘For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers’. There are evidently two parts to it. God’s plan is first of all to make those whom he saves like Jesus. Think of it as the first landing. What a magnificent view it commands! But it doesn’t take in everything. There is a purpose in salvation beyond this, one that terminates on Jesus himself. God is saving us so that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. Think of it as the top landing. And the view? Even better! As I trust we will see.
God’s Son is going to have brothers
In order to think our way into this we have to picture God’s Son in our humanity, the man Christ Jesus. As such he had natural brothers (and natural sisters too – the word brothers includes both). We even know some of their names: James, Joses, Judas, and Simon (Mark 6:3). And though we don’t know his sisters’ names we do know that he had them (Mark 6:3).
Furthermore, as a Jew God’s Son had Jewish brothers. As the sons of Abraham Jews thought of themselves as brothers. In the very next chapter of Romans, for example, Paul will say, ‘I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh’ (Ch.9:3). Paul’s fellow Jews were his brothers. So were Christ’s.
It is not, however, of these natural or Jewish brothers that Paul writes in Romans 8:29. He’s thinking rather of spiritual brothers; brothers through grace; those who have become Christ’s brothers because God, in love, has adopted them as his sons (Eph.1:4-5). According to Hebrews these sons, whom God is bringing to glory, Christ is not ashamed to call brothers (Ch.2:10-11).
These brothers are going to be many in number
Jesus’ heavenly family is not going to be a small one. God’s plan is that he be the firstborn among many brothers. Let’s think about who they are. Among them are some of his natural brothers – perhaps all. They didn’t believe in him at first. But later the New Testament pictures them among the believers devoting themselves to prayer (Acts 1:14). Later still, it gives us two of their letters, one from the pen of James, the other from Jude.
Then there are his Jewish brothers. The great tragedy here is that so many of them persisted in their rejection of him. But not all. The three thousand converted on the Day of Pentecost were Jews. Many others believed in the days that followed. And all over the world there are Jewish Christians today. They have this double link to their Saviour. They are his brothers because of Abraham, their common ancestor. But more important by far, through grace they are his spiritual brothers.
The majority of Christ’s spiritual brothers, however, are non-Jewish and in one of his visions the Apostle John sees them: ‘After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb’ (Rev.7:9). How many of them there are! More than can be counted! And they are drawn from every part of the world. You may be part of a very small human family. But if Christ is your brother (and he is if you are a believer) you are one of millions upon millions.
These many brothers are all going to be like him
On this our text is explicit. The many brothers among whom Christ will be firstborn have been predestined to be conformed to his image. The whole of the second article was devoted to this. God’s plan is to make Christ’s brothers like him. And we saw in what respects. We are destined to be like him both inwardly and outwardly. As his heart is holy, loving, believing, and happy so also will ours be. As his body is imperishable and immortal so also will ours be. We are one day going to be like him as a whole. And because of that, like him in our relations with one another, with our future world, and with God himself.
Among them he is going to be pre-eminent
God’s plan is that among these many brothers his Son shall be the firstborn. In the Ancient Near East the firstborn son had a special place in the family – a place of authority, of pre-eminence. And in the vast family of Jesus’ brothers that will be his place. As firstborn he will be the leader. Jesus won’t just be like you or me – one of millions upon millions. He will be the first. In Philippians he is given the title Lord. In Ephesians he is described as head. Here, the firstborn among many brothers. Each assigns him the place of supreme honour and authority.
Thus far we’ve been keeping close to the words of verse 29. Let’s take a broader sweep. What will it all mean? Christ the firstborn among many brothers?
It will mean companionship for him. When God the Son became one of us he took a nature that required the companionship of its own kind. We see it in Adam in the Garden. To fully supply the needs of the nature with which God created him another human being had to be made. It was no different with our Lord. He too needed the love, the friendship, the sympathy, the companionship of his own kind – divine Person that he was! So he grew up in a family. And then there were the Twelve. And among the Twelve the Three – Peter, James, and John. And of the Three the One – John, ‘the disciple whom Jesus’ loved’. It was not good for the Son of Man to be alone! And God the Father is making sure that for eternity he will never be alone. On the contrary he is going to enjoy the companionship of the innumerable brothers whom God is preparing to be with him.
It will mean honour for us. There’s perhaps less of it today than in previous generations – a feeling of honour in belonging to a particularly distinguished family; one that over generations has done much for a community or nation. Nothing, however, exceeds the honour of being part of this family – a family with God for its Father and Jesus for its firstborn brother.
It will mean delight for us all. What kind of brothers will be to him? When God makes us perfectly like him? The best of brothers! It will be our greatest delight to serve him, to follow him, to be in his company. And he will be the best of brothers to us. None more kind, more loving, more protective than he. To live with him, to labour alongside of him, to learn from him – what words can express the blessedness that will then be ours?