We read in Exodus 4:22 that the people Israel are God's firstborn son:

"Then you shall say to Pharaoh, 'Thus says the LORD, "Israel is My son, My firstborn. (NASB)

So now, how can Jesus be the firstborn Son of God, let alone the only Son?

Several of the "prophecies" about Jesus mentioned in the Gospels refer to what is in fact a statement about Israel the past and present. For example Matthew describes the family of Jesus leaving Egypt and says:

"He remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet: "OUT OF EGYPT I CALLED MY SON."" - Matthew 2:15 (NASB)

The Prophet referred to in Mathew 2:15 is Hosea, who says:

When Israel was a youth I loved him, and out of Egypt I called My son. 2 The more they called them, the more they went from them; they kept sacrificing to the Baals and burning incense to idols." - Hosea 11:1–2 (NASB)

The problem I have with such interpretations of Jesus' actions as fulfilments of propecy are that they were 1) about Israel 2) statements about the past rather than predictions and 3) the behavior being described is hardly matching the character and actions of Jesus in the gospels.

How do Christians reconcile the logic of Jesus being God's firstborn son or even the only son, with the actual words of God in the Old Testament about the nation of Israel? I don't mean metaphorically, but what is the actual reality? How are the later verses in the Gospels interpreted? On the one hand they seem as "additional" interpretations of the "original" verses about Israel, but read "in the light of the Gospel". But that can't negate the original meaning, can it? In reality, which is it?

  • 1
    This question may be a better fit for BHSE. As is stands, "Christians," broadly, may interpret this in many different ways. Perhaps you could request an answer from a particular tradition or denomination. Commented Feb 27, 2018 at 3:05

5 Answers 5


Abraham's first-born son was Ishmael; but God referred to Isaac as Abraham's only son in Genesis 22:12:

Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son.

Abraham sent his first-born son, Ishmael, away, making Isaac his only son - his only legitimate son, just as God sent his first-born son, Israel, away (after Israel sinned and sinned and sinned again), making the Lord Jesus Christ his one and only son - his one and only legitimate son, the Messiah.

Just as Isaac was the fulfillment of God's promise to Abraham, the Lord Jesus is the fulfillment of his covenant - with Abraham and with all of humanity. And we know that Isaac is symbolic of Jesus as a sacrifice, with Abraham's righteous willingness to sacrifice his own son as God did for us.

There is also a recurring theme of the second-born claiming the birthright that the firstborn rejects, or displacing the firstborn - see Esau and Jacob, Perez and Zerah, and later Jacob putting Ephraim ahead of Manasseh. To some extent this applies to Cain and Abel - the firstborn sins and is exiled, and the second-born does what is right.

  • Also the first Adam and the second Adam (Jesus). +1 Commented Oct 4, 2023 at 13:16

You address multiple scripture and make several claims so let's talk about them. First off, the New Testament doesn't teach that Christ is the only Son, it teaches he is "the only begotten Son " ( John 3:16) . Big difference. In John 1:12 John teaches that through Christ we "become the sons of God". So again, the New Testament does not teach that Christ is the only Son, he is the only begotten Son that was with the Father before all creation.

Then you say that Israel is the first born according the exodus. Notice it says "firstborn" and not only son? First born means more to come. Man fell in rebellion even after the flood. And after the nation's were divided at babel, Yahuwah chose Abraham and his descendants out all the nation's to receive the promises and covenant. Genesis 12:3 and 22:18 teaches that Yahuwah promised all nations would be blesses through Abraham and his seed. He chose the nation of Israel to be a kingdom of priests and a holy nation (exodus 19:6) to serve Him and be a light to the gentiles. And to fulfill his purpose of reconciling the fallen world back to Him through the promised seed.

So Israel was the first born, meaning they are the first out of the nation's to receive the adoption of sons , they are not physically begotten of Yahuwah. Paul explains in Romans 9:4 When speaking of his brethren the Israelites he says " who are Israelites, to whom pertain the adoption, the glory, and the covenants and the giving of the law, and the service of God, and the promises ".

Then you bring up Hosea 11:1 and imply that Matthew falsely used it as a prophecy to Christ. First off you need to see what Matthew is portraying Christ as. As I said before, Israel was suppose to be a nation of priests to be a blessing to the world. But they failed their calling, and instead worshipped idols become wicked. Mathew is showing Christ to be the true Israel, fulfilling everythinh they failed at, and becoming that promised seed of Abraham that Israel failed to fulfill. That why Christ came out of Egypt, was baptised (red sea), was tempted in the wilderness 40 days ( as Israel was 40 years). In the wilderness Israel murmered because of hunger and thirst in unbelief ( exodus 15:22-16:3), while Christ fasted in faith. Israel tempted Yahuwah, while Christ refused to and obeyed the law (Matthew 4:7). Israel worshipped false gods while Christ refused to bow down to Satan. Everything they failed at, Christ accomished. So when Matthew quoted hosea 11 he is showing Christ to be the true Israel and promised seed to bring blessings to the nations.

Also the title "son" has messianic connotations through the promise made to David's seed in 2 samuel 7:12-16.

So the New Testament doesn't contradict the Old, it addressed all the points you made.

  • I appreciate this answer. But how can Israel be the firstborn Son and Jesus also be the firstborn of all Creation? Which one was before which? Commented Feb 27, 2018 at 12:32
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    As I explained in the answer, Israel is the first of the nations to recieve the adoption. They are not physically begotton of God. Also the term "first born" shows the Hebrews recieved the double portion. Christ is the first born of creation who was begotton of the Father. While Israel is the first of the nations to recieve thr adoption. The first born , when speaking of Israel, is spoken metaphorically because they are not literally the first physical descendents of the Creator. First born to the Hebrews brings to mind the one who recieves the blessings and double portion of inheritance
    – diego b
    Commented Feb 27, 2018 at 15:39
  • So to answer your question, the First born of creation comes first. Christ is even called the first born fron the dead, meaning he is the first to recieve the end time ressurection promised to the righteous by the prophets, the first to recieve the New glorified eternal body.
    – diego b
    Commented Feb 27, 2018 at 15:43
  • Also remember that Israel is also called Yahuwahs wife. Are they both sons and a wife? Of course not. You must see the term "first born" when spoken of Israel is not literal.
    – diego b
    Commented Feb 27, 2018 at 15:45

QUOTE: Several of the "prophecies" about Jesus mentioned in the Gospels refer to what is in fact a statement about Israel the past and present. For example Matthew describes the family of Jesus leaving Egypt and says:

"He remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet: "OUT OF EGYPT I CALLED MY SON."" - Matthew 2:15 (NASB)

The reason that Matthew said this was fulfilled in Jesus, is complex. The bible is divided into 3 parts. God the Father's part, then Jesus in the Middle, then the Holy Spirit from the book of Acts on. When Matthew writes that this was fulfilled, he means again. The scriptures are all fulfilled in all 3 parts of the complex unity.

Here is an example: God: (Joshua 10:22) Then Joshua said, “Open the mouth of the cave, and bring out those five kings to me from the cave.” Then in Joshua 10:26 Joshua struck them and killed them...

Jesus: (John 20:11) But Mary stood outside by the tomb weeping, and as she wept she stooped down and looked into the tomb. 12 And she saw two angels in white sitting, one at the head and the other at the feet, where the body of Jesus had lain. 13 Then they said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” Jesus emerges the true King.

Holy Spirit: (Revelation 6: 15-17) And the kings of the earth, the great men, the rich men, the commanders, the mighty men, every slave and every free man, hid themselves in the caves and in the rocks of the mountains, 16 and said to the mountains and rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of Him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb! 17 For the great day of His wrath has come, and who is able to stand?”

God: Baby Moses escapes Pharaoh's wrath. Gen 1:22

Jesus: Baby Jesus escapes Herods wrath. Matthew 2:16, 17

Holy Spirit: Baby escapes the wrath of the Dragon. Rev 12:5 She bore a male Child who was to rule all nations with a rod of iron. And her Child was caught up to God and His throne.

God: (Jonah 1:17-2:1,2) Now the Lord had prepared a great fish to swallow Jonah. And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.

2 Then Jonah prayed to the Lord his God from the fish’s belly. 2 And he said:

“I cried out to the Lord because of my affliction, And He answered me.

“Out of the belly of Sheol I cried, And You heard my voice.

Jesus: Rose on the 3rd day.

Holy Spirit: (Revelation 11:11) Now after the three-and-a-half days the breath of life from God entered them, and they stood on their feet, and great fear fell on those who saw them.

Jesus told John in Revelation 1:19 "Write the things which you have seen, and the things which are, and the things which will take place after this."

One more thing. I don't agree with the other poster that Israel isn't a real Son. Adam is the first "Son of Man" and Jesus is the second Adam the son of promise. Israel is the first born "son of nations" if you will, and the Church is the son of promise. And Peter wrote in 1st Peter 2:9: "But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation..." The Church and Israel are brothers, and when Israel became a nation again, it's like Ruth and Naomi came back into the land.

  • I appreciate your answer also, John. This is just to refer you to 1 Corinthians 15:45-49 where Jesus is shown to be the LAST Adam, not the second Adam. Jesus is never second in anything. In all things he has the pre-eminence, the priority, and he was before Adam, having been Adam's creator (John 1:1-3). All that Adam failed in, Jesus succeeded in, as the last Adam. Thanks for your contribution.
    – Anne
    Commented Apr 4, 2018 at 14:53

How do Christians reconcile the logic of Jesus being God's firstborn son or even the only son, with the actual words of God in the Old Testament about the nation of Israel

The term to understand what is happening in Matthew 2:15 is Biblical Typology. In order to understand what Matthew means when he says that the Egypt passage is fulfilled in Jesus, you have to understand the sense in which he considers it fulfilled. Consider two possibilities.

Type 1, Prediction that comes true:

Hosea is making a prediction that the future Messiah will come out of Egypt. Jesus came out of Egypt, therefore Matthew affirms Hosea's prediction was true.

Type 2, The Lesser to the Greater:

Matthew sees Jesus as a "greater Israel," and therefore when Jesus came out of Egypt we should see this as a kind of reenactment of the Exodus, indicating that the true purpose of the Exodus will finally be realized in Jesus.

It is this second sense that Matthew is most likely talking about in this instance. The Bible has examples of both kinds of "fulfillment," but some people assume that only Type 1 fulfillment is in view.

Biblical Typology is the understanding that some parts of the Bible, especially in the Old Testament, point forward to the New Testament in an elevated fashion.

For example, in Matthew's gospel, Jesus comes out of Egypt like Israel (2:15), he passes through the Jordan River in baptism like Israel did in the Red Sea (3:13), he is led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted/tested like Israel did after the Exodus (4:1), he fasted for 40 days like Moses did on Sinai and like the 40 years of the nation in the wilderness (4:2), and he is taken to a high mountain again like Sinai. Matthew's gospel was likely directed towards a primarily Jewish audience who would immediately recognize the connections.

Just like the Jews would have a "Passover Lamb" each year to commemorate the Exodus, Jesus would be crucified over Passover as the greater Passover Lamb (1 Corinthians 5:7).

The Passover was looking backward to the historical Exodus as a way to look forward to the fulfillment of true salvation with the greater Passover Lamb.

Bringing this together, when the question wrestles with the question of who is the "son of God" you simply have to look at what sense in which a "son" or a "firstborn son" is being used.

Adam is called the son of God (Luke 3:38), Israel the firstborn (Exodus 4:22), and Jesus the only begotten (John 1:14).

The connection here is not an accident. Adam, corporate Israel, and Jesus all had a similar vocation of being God's representative on earth who owed him loyal obedience. Adam failed miserably, Israel failed badly with only the occasional success, and Jesus succeeded perfectly.

As for Jesus, he was unique in that he was the Only Begotten, and is God himself. Neither Israel nor Adam have that distinction.


Two important points to consider.

1 Jesus is never referred to as the Firstborn of God. He is referred to as the "only begotten of the Father." and "only begotten son". This of course is because Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit, and this title "only begotten of the Father" is referring to the Incarnation, when Jesus (who eternally existed with the Father and the Holy Spirit) was born of the Virgin Mary.

  1. The most important point is that while Israel often means the Jews, or the Children of Israel, we have to remember that Israel was the new name that God gave to Jacob. Jacob and Esau were the fraternal twins of Isaac and Rebecah, and Esau was the actual physical firstborn, and he came out with Jacob grasping his heel. Jacob comes from the Hebrew words "Heel grasper" and we see him in scripture as a trickster/cheater.

In Biblical times, there were not only special inheritance rights for the firstborn, but also special blessings that went to the firstborn, and the "Birthright" was sort of like a will or a deed, which showed and guaranteed possession.
Esau was so hungry, he was weak and feared he would die, and said that the birthright would not do him any good if he died, and so Jacob said he would give him stew, if Esau sold him his birthright. Out of hunger and desperation, Esau sold Jacob his birthright for a bowl of stew.
Years later, their Father Isaac was about to die, and almost blind. Jacob tricked his Father and Isaac did indeed give his special blessings and promises to Jacob, so even though Esau was literally the firstborn, he had sold it to Jacob, and the special blessings of being the father of a great nation went to him.
Later on, we see Jacob wrestling with the Angel and the angel gave him a new name and this also meant a special destiny or mission. Jacob's new name was Israel and in this passage, Israel is my firstborn - is Jacob, renamed Israel.
The full story is in Genesis 27. The narrative of Esau selling his birthright to Jacob, in Genesis 25, states that Esau despised his birthright. ... Isaac then refuses to take Jacob's blessing back after learning he was tricked, and does not give this blessing to Esau but, after Esau begs, gives him an inferior blessing (Genesis 27:34–40).

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