Redeeming The Firstborn
The law of Moses called for the firstborn of a Jewish couple to be set aside, or dedicated, to the service of God as a minister to the tabernacle. (Exodus 22:29-31, 13:1213, 34:19.) The unblemished firstborn of cows, sheep and goats were to be sacrificed to God. (Numbers 18:15-17.) The firstling of an ass was to be redeemed from death by the substitution of a lamb. The firstborn of other unclean animals (animals not to be offered as sacrifice) could be redeemed from death by paying a price. (Exodus 18:13; Numbers 18:15; Leviticus 27:11-12, 27.)
There was a law of redemption of land. (Leviticus 25:23-28.) If a man had to lease his land, he or his kinsman acting on his behalf might redeem the land by paying the estimated value of the crops during the years preceding the year of Jubilee. The year of Jubilee was a year of liberty that came every 50 years in which restitution of liberty and property was made. When the year of Jubilee arrived, all leases expired and indentured labor ceased. There was also a law for releasing houses which was parallel to the law concerning land. A law existed for the redemption from indentured labor. If a Jew had to sell his labor he could redeem himself from the obligation by paying a price equal to his services due up to the year of Jubilee. (Leviticus 25:39-55.)
God altered the law involving the Jewish firstborn, and the firstborn of the people were redeemed from the life of service in the tabernacle. In this alteration of the law in which the tribe of Levi peculiarly and exclusively was appointed to the service of the tabernacle (Numbers 3:11-51), God instructed Moses to take a census of all the males of the Levites "from a month old and upward." There were 22,000. God then instructed that a census be taken of the firstborn males of the other tribes. The total came to 22,273. The 22,000 Levites were to be substitutes for the firstborn of the other tribes. The 22,000 Levites would be sufficient in number to redeem the 22,000 other Israelites from the requirements of the law in a balance of male for male. But there was a surplus of 273. The Lord made provision for this by instructing that a price of five shekels be paid for each of the males making up the surplus.
The perpetual law of redemption from service in the tabernacle allowed for the firstborn of the other tribes to be presented in the tabernacle or temple when one month old. They were to be redeemed with the price of five shekels. (Numbers 18:15ff.) Accordingly the baby Jesus was presented and redeemed in Luke 2:22.
Peter makes an allusion in 1 Peter 1:18-19 to this practice: "Forasmuch as ye know that ye were not redeemed with corruptible things, as silver and gold, from your vain conversation received by tradition from your fathers; but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot." The Lord's substitution extended beyond the firstborn — "he by the grace of God should taste death for every man." (Heb. 2:9.)
Man born into the world of sin ultimately becomes a sinner. Thus he comes under condemnation; he is "without Christ . . . . without God in the world." But man "is made nigh by the blood of Christ" — nigh, near, reconciled unto God. (Eph. 2.) As Peter teaches in 1 Peter 1:19 we are redeemed from the fate determined by disobedience, we are "redeemed by the precious blood of Christ." The firstborn males of Israel were redeemed by corruptible things from the consequence of their being the firstborn male. We are redeemed from the consequences of sin by the blood of Christ.
Is that the end of the story? Recollect your attention, enquirer that is not all to be said. We must learn how to appropriate the precious ransom price, bringing it into contact with our sinful souls. The ransom price standing alone is not efficacious to the individual unless it be utilized toward his redemption. The cleansing power in the ransom price must be in contact with the individual needing cleansing. How may that be accomplished? Let us read on in 1 Peter 1 until we come to verse 22; pause, now read verse 22, then again; stop, meditate. "Seeing ye have purified your souls in obeying the truth unto unfeigned love of the brethren, see that ye love one another with a pure heart fervently." There is a redeemer, a redeeming price and one to be redeemed. But the one in need of redemption must be willing! "For if while we seek to be justified by Christ, we ourselves also are found sinners, is therefore Christ the minister of sin? God forbid." (Gal. 2:17.) "Seek those things which are above. (Col. 3:1.) "Seek ye first the kingdom of God." (Matt. 6:22.) The individual's willingness, his willingness as a seeker, leads him to the cross in obedience. Through the waters of baptism he comes in contact with the cleansing power — the blood of Jesus Christ, the redeemer. (Rom. 6:1-6.)
Thousands of years before Christ appeared on earth the old patriarch Job exclaimed "For I know that my redeemer liveth, and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth." (Job 19:25.) A few hundred years before Christ came, Isaiah joyfully prophesied "And the Redeemer shall come to Zion." (Isaiah 59:20.) We turn to the pages of the New Testament and see the Redeemer on earth as he performed his Father's will. As the time approached for him to experience the agonies, then the victories, of the events that were to be supreme in importance, our Lord said "The Son of man came to give his life a ransom for many." (Matt. 20:28.) Some years later the great apostle to the Gentiles spoke of "Christ who gave himself a ransom for all." (1 Tim. 2:6.) In another place it is said that we are justified by the grace of God "Through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus." (Rom. 3:24.) Note that redemption comes in Christ Jesus. Again the apostle said of our relationship "in" the Redeemer: "In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace." (Eph. 1:7.) In Christ we have redemption; and consider, fellow wayfarers, the import of the phrase "In whom" — in Christ. Paul is speaking to the church at Ephesus and he tells them that they were once "without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world." (Eph. 2:12.) But in the 13th verse he tells them, "But now in Christ Jesus ye who sometimes were afar off are made nigh by the blood of Christ." In Christ the individual escapes from the situation of being without hope. Get the importance of the blood of Christ as the cleansing power, and the necessity of being in Christ where "ye are not your own, for ye are bought with a price" (1 Cor. 6:19-20) — the price is the blood of Christ. The blood of Christ is the all important element, being in Christ is the all important condition. In our next article we shall consider how one appropriates the effects of the blood of Christ and how he gets into Christ.