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First and Last: A Concept Study

By R.S. Neaville



The Spirit expresses truth in the scriptures through the use of physical examples and figurative speech.  These examples are usually in the form of true events in the people of the Bible's lives, and the parables Jesus used to teach these truths.  Like the parables, the meanings of many of the events in scripture are hidden from those who place no value on spiritual understanding.  It is the Holy Spirit who reveals these hidden truths to Christ's disciples even as Jesus himself did when he walked on the Earth as a man.  When Jesus walked with his disciples he taught them privately the meaning of his parables.   Others were left to marvel at his sayings.  Jesus explained the use of parables in Matt. 13:10-17:

And the disciples came, and said unto him, Why speakest thou unto them in parables?
He answered and said unto them, Because it is given unto you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it is not given.
For whosoever hath, to him shall be given, and he shall have more abundance: but whosoever hath not, from him shall be taken away even that he hath.
Therefore speak I to them in parables: because they seeing see not; and hearing they hear not, neither do they understand.
And in them is fulfilled the prophecy of Esaias, which saith, By hearing ye shall hear, and shall not understand; and seeing ye shall see, and shall not perceive:
For this people's heart is waxed gross, and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes they have closed; lest at any time they should see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and should understand with their heart, and should be converted, and I should heal them.
But blessed are your eyes, for they see: and your ears, for they hear.
For verily I say unto you, That many prophets and righteous men have desired to see those things which ye see, and have not seen them; and to hear those things which ye hear, and have not heard them.

These hidden understandings usually have a physical example that expresses them, like the parables of Jesus.  The physical is a mirror of sorts:  In the creation we see the Creator, like an artist is seen in his art.  We see wondrous revelation of the Father's nature and plan in his handiwork.  In man we see God because he was made to reflect him. Only sin has perverted the picture, muddied the waters if you will. Sin has distorted the picture of God in the Earth.  It has also warped our ability to understand the spiritual by what we see in the physical.
The new birth corrects this flaw by giving us a new nature, a spiritual one.  As newborn babes our eyes are then opened to a new world.   With this new sight, we begin to appreciate the scriptures.  The Spirit speaks to our hearts just as Christ taught his disciples.  God begins to reveal certain concepts that enhance our spiritual life and understanding.  These concepts work as keys that unlock the mysteries of God; mysteries of which we as Christians are stewards.  Like the parables these concepts are hidden in physical illustrations. The abstraction of  "first and last" is one of the more profound.
As Christians we are all aware of the simple truth that first we were born physically, then spiritually.  The primary part of our lives as spiritual beings came last.  Of these two parts of our existence the spirit is to have headship.  Our bodies or flesh must be made subject to the spirit's leadership.  In Romans 8: 5-13  we get a close look at the headship of the spirit:

For they that are after the flesh do mind the things of the flesh; but they that are after the Spirit the things of the Spirit...Therefore, brethren, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live after the flesh.   For if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die: but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live.

This theme of "first and last" is one of the largest  in the Bible.  It is one of these keys that unlocks many other portions of scripture.  With this lock opener  in hand   we can enter a door to a broader understanding of God's plan for us.   Illustrations of this theme can be found in the book of Genesis in the stories of several sets of brothers.
In the story of Cain and Abel we see one of the earliest examples of "first and last", a picture of the relationship between the flesh and the spirit.  Cain is figurative of the flesh and Abel of the spirit. The first persecuted the last because he was favored by God.  Abel presented a sacrifice of a lamb without blemish, the first fruits of his flock.  In this we can see a shadow of Christ, the perfect lamb of God. Cain should have bartered with Abel to present a lamb as a sacrifice as well, but instead he chose some of what he raised:   The fruit of the ground.  His sacrifice was one of self justification.   Abel understood that sin was covered only by innocent blood.  He offered his sacrifice to God in faith.  Cain thought that if Abel was accepted for his first fruits, then his produce should be good enough for God.  His understanding of the situation was warped by his lack of faith and his own arrogance.  His sacrifice was cast aside by the Lord, and  Cain in his jealousy of God's regard for Abel, slew his younger brother.  The first persecuted the last for his righteousness.  The first son sought to justify himself and hide his sin from God.  The second son looked in faith for God to justify him. So it is with the flesh and the spirit.  Cain like the flesh was rejected.  In the Bible this theme is reenacted over and over again. The first son is rejected and the second accepted (Gen.4:1-16)
This same theme emerges in the lives of two other brothers, Ishmael and Isaac, the sons of Abraham.  Abraham and his wife Sarah were promised a son would be born to them even though Sarah was barren. When Isaac, the promised child did not seem to be forthcoming, Sarah gave her bondslave Hager to Abraham as a surrogate to bear them a son. This was not God's plan, this was a scheme devised carnally by Sarah.  Hagar bore Ishmael but later Sarah gave birth to the promised child Isaac.  Isaac was the child brought about by God's spirit. ( Gen.16:1-16; 21:1-14)
 Ishmael persecuted Isaac because Abraham loved Isaac more.  Eventually God told Abraham to "cast out the bondwoman and her son " (Gen.21:10-12).   The counterfeit of the flesh is always revealed for what it is when the true comes on the scene. The promise of God could not be brought about by any carnal effort, only by God's spirit.  The firstborn was rejected. In  John 1:12-13  we see God's method and purpose in election:

But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name:   Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.

 The above verse demonstrate God's way of doing things.  He has an order and a manner in which he creates and fulfills. This can be seen in every story in Scripture.
So it is with the flesh and the spirit.   The flesh came first by an act of the flesh , but the spirit came about after by God fulfilling his promise:  An act of the Spirit.  The carnal man is rejected because the flesh cannot worship God in spirit and in truth.  Flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God.  The carnal man cannot act in faith, for faith is spiritual. Without faith the Bible says,  "it is impossible to please God" (Heb.11:6).  So again we see the first cast off and the last affirmed by God.
Isaac's sons were no different.  Esau and Jacob were born to Rebecca, also barren like Sarah.  Isaac prayed for his wife to conceive and God gave her twins.  As the children begin to grow in her womb they struggled  with one another.  Rebecca questioned God  because she feared that they would kill each other before they were ever born.  God answered Rebecca with a prophesy in Gen. 25:23:

 And the LORD said unto her, Two nations are in thy womb, and two manner of people shall be separated from thy bowels; and the one people shall be stronger than the other people; and the elder shall serve the younger.

Literally this prophesy spoke of Edom, the people who descended from Esau, and Israel the descendants of Jacob.  Spiritually it spoke of the flesh and the spirit.   The two nations and two manner of people are those of Esau  and Jacob .  The elder (the flesh) and the younger (the spirit).  The prophesy was that the spirit would be stronger than the flesh, and that the flesh would one day serve the spirit.
Esau is the picture of a carnal man in every way.  He was a man of the field, a hunter and self sufficient.  He lived by the might of his own right arm. Jacob, however,  was a quiet man who lived in tents. The spirit dwells in this tent of the body as Paul referred to it, a quiet man indeed (2Cor.5:1-4).  When these twins were born they seemed to come out as one, Jacob holding on to Esau's heel. Like one man, flesh and spirit.  Our spirits are attached to these bodies.  Together body and spirit make one living soul.
There are plenty of other figures that mark these men for what they represent.   For example Esau despised his birth right. He traded it to Jacob for a pot of lentils.  He traded something intangible of great value for food to fill his belly.  Esau eventually lost his Father's blessing to Jacob.  The Bible records how he sought for repentance of this with tears, but could find none (Heb.12:16-17).  There is no repentance for the flesh.  The spirit is destined for the birth right.  The right of the last to be considered as first.  Again the first son is cast off, the second  accepted.
All of these stories are true as they were recorded in the Bible, and they also contain great spiritual truths hidden from the carnal mind. They are pictures and prophecies of Adam and Christ.  In 1 Cor.. 15:44-50   Paul tells us that Adam  the first man, the carnal man, is rejected. Christ the spiritual man, the "last Adam" is accepted:

 It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. There is a natural body, and there is a spiritual body.   And so it is written, The first man Adam was made a living soul; the last Adam was made a quickening spirit.   Howbeit that was not first which is spiritual, but that which is natural; and afterward that which is spiritual.  The first man is of the earth, earthy: the second man is the Lord from heaven.
 As is the earthy, such are they also that are earthy: and as is the heavenly, such are they also that are heavenly. And as we have borne the image of the earthy, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly. Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; neither doth corruption inherit incorruption.

There are many more illustrations along this vein. Jew and gentile for example:  The Jews were the physical chosen people of God, but they were rejected for unbelief. They persecuted the child of promise, the second son Jesus.  They showed they were of Adam, the flesh.  The largely gentile church received Jesus, but the Jews were blinded from the truth until  "...the times of the gentiles be fulfilled " (Luke 21:24).   But just like our bodies, which came first, there is a promise that the Jew will be redeemed in the end times.  Just as our bodies will be redeemed in the resurrection.  It is written that God seeks to make one new man out of Jew and gentile.  The physical people of God and the spiritual people of God will one day be as one, even as our bodies and spirit will be as one. The first and the last will be one, even as Christ who is the first and the last (Rev.22:13) is one with his Father.  This is a mystery.
A second part of the theme "first and last" gives us another aspect of the same abstract, as demonstrated in Matt. 20:16:

So the last shall be first, and the first last: for many be called, but few chosen.

While this plays along the same lines as the earlier aspect, a second theme is added in  Mark 9:33-35:

And he came to Capernaum: and being in the house he asked them, What was it that ye disputed among yourselves by the way?
But they held their peace: for by the way they had disputed among themselves, who should be the greatest. And he sat down, and called the twelve, and saith unto them, If any man desire to be first, the same shall be last of all, and servant of all.

What we have added is the concept of humility to achieve God's favor.  If we want to be great in God's kingdom we must humble ourselves and serve even as Christ served. God exalts those who humble themselves.   God also brings down everyone who exalts themselves. Again last is considered first and first last.
There is a third concept  we should examine in "first and last".   It is the truth that God has ordered his pattern to reflect  his will.  In this we see that the temporary comes first because it is temporary.  The last is eternal.  In the Gospel of John we can see this part of  first and last demonstrated when Jesus turned water into wine.   We'll start our examination in John 2:1-5:

 And the third day there was a marriage in Cana of Galilee; and the mother of Jesus was there:   And both Jesus was called, and his disciples, to the marriage.   And when they wanted wine, the mother of Jesus saith unto him, They have no wine.   Jesus saith unto her, Woman, what have I to do with thee? mine hour is not yet come. His mother saith unto the servants, Whatsoever he saith unto you, do it.

Mary informed Jesus that there was no wine for the wedding, but his answer was one you might not expect. When Jesus spoke of his hour,  he wasn't speaking of  whether or not it was time to do any miracles as some suppose, ( up to this point he had done none).  He was speaking of the time of his death as in John 7:28-30:

Then cried Jesus in the temple as he taught, saying, Ye both know me, and ye know whence I am: and I am not come of myself, but he that sent me is true, whom ye know not.   But I know him: for I am from him, and he hath sent me. Then they sought to take him: but no man laid hands on him, because his hour was not yet come.

Whenever Jesus spoke of his   "hour"  in scripture, he was speaking of the time of his death. What did the time of his death  have to do with wine?  Wine is representative of his blood as seen in Mark 14:22-25:

 And as they did eat, Jesus took bread, and blessed, and brake it, and gave to them, and said, Take, eat: this is my body.   And he took the cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them: and they all drank of it.   And he said unto them, This is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many.   Verily I say unto you, I will drink no more of the fruit of the vine, until that day that I drink it new in the kingdom of God.

Having established the meaning of the wine and of Jesus's hour, we can now see that in this, his first miracle, is revealed a picture of Jesus as the lamb of God.
The next part of this chapter in John 2 shows us in figure how we are cleansed of sin by Jesus's blood in verses 6-8:

 And there were set there six waterpots of stone, after the manner of the purifying of the Jews, containing two or three firkins apiece.   Jesus saith unto them, Fill the waterpots with water. And they filled them up to the brim.   And he saith unto them, Draw out now, and bear unto the governor of the feast. And they bare it.

Notice the waterpots that Jesus chose for his water made wine.  These were vessels used in the purification rites as described in the law.  If a person touched a dead body, or if they were deemed unclean for some reason as pertaining to the law, they would go to the priest for help to be made clean according to the law  (Leviticus 13:6).  The priest would give them instructions concerning the washing and the accompanying ceremony.
In these waterpots Jesus used to turn water in to wine, we can see the blood of Jesus that purifies us of our sin according to the law.  It is in the final part of this story from the Gospel of John in verses 9-11 that the concept of  " first and last "  is expressed:

 When the ruler of the feast had tasted the water that was made wine, and knew not whence it was: (but the servants which drew the water knew;) the governor of the feast called the bridegroom, And saith unto him, Every man at the beginning doth set forth good wine; and when men have well drunk, then that which is worse: but thou hast kept the good wine until now.  This beginning of miracles did Jesus in Cana of Galilee, and manifested forth his glory; and his disciples believed on him.

The ruler of the feast approached the bridegroom to comment on the  "good"  wine and remarked on how most men serve the best wine first. We know from scripture that Jesus is often called the bridegroom.  Though he was not literally so in this case, the bridegroom is still figurative of Christ in this passage.
The wine as we have already discussed was figurative of Christ's blood, it is indeed the best wine, and God did save it for last.   The blood of animals could be seen as the wine that was 'worse' or cheaper.   The blood of animals only atoned for sin but once a year, a temporary measure of the law in dealing with sin.  God saved the best wine for last, which cleanses us of our sin once and forever.  Hebrews 9:7-15 speaks eloquently of the two wines or "bloods" of these two different testaments:

 But into the second went the high priest alone once every year, not without blood, which he offered for himself, and for the errors of the people: The Holy Ghost this signifying, that the way into the holiest of all was not yet made manifest, while as the first tabernacle was yet standing: Which was a figure for the time then present, in which were offered both gifts and sacrifices, that could not make him that did the service perfect, as pertaining to the conscience; Which stood only in meats and drinks, and divers washings, and carnal ordinances, imposed on them until the time of reformation. But Christ being come an high priest of good things to come, by a greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this building; Nether by the blood of goats and calves, but by his own blood he entered in once into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption for us. For if the blood of bulls and of goats, and the ashes of an heifer sprinkling the unclean, sanctifieth to the purifying of the flesh: How much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without spot to God, purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?
 And for this cause he is the mediator of the new testament, that by means of death, for the redemption of the transgressions that were under the first testament, they which are called might receive the promise of eternal inheritance.

In this first miracle of Jesus we see the man and his mission, to shed his blood for mankind and cleanse them from all unrighteousness.  Once again we see the concept of   "first and last" reveal a precious truth about our Savior and our salvation.  Whenever you go to study the scripture, take this key with you.