“to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are registered in heaven, to God the Judge of all, to the spirits of just men made perfect” (Hebrews 12:23).
This passage returns to the use of a concept that made an earlier appearance in chapter one of this epistle: “firstborn.” In the culture of that era, the eldest son (or firstborn) typically held a privileged position among his other family members. In a similar manner, the word “firstborn” conveys the idea of a favored or elevated position when used in this context. Here, the “church of the firstborn” identifies the assembly of those who share in the spiritual inheritance of Christ.
This passage also reminds us that “firstborn” is not necessarily synonymous with “born first.” The rights of a firstborn son were transferable, as was the case with Joseph’s son Ephraim (Genesis chapter 48), Israel’s King David (Psalm 89:27), and Isaac’s son Jacob, whose experience with Esau was referenced earlier in this chapter.
One Biblical scholar thus reminds us that the term firstborn “…must be understood from the background of first-century Jewish culture. From this vantage point we can see that the term firstborn refers to Christ’s exalted status as the heir of the Father. Just as the firstborn son usually received the patriarchal inheritance, so Jesus as the divine Son receives the Father’s kingdom as His inheritance…” (1)
Another author presents this concept in very practical terms…
“Notice that the following description, written to believers alive on Earth, is in the present perfect (not future) tense, which expresses a completed action: ‘You have come to Mount Zion, to the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the judge of all men, to the spirits of righteous men made perfect’ (Hebrews 12:22-23).
In a metaphysical sense, we’ve already entered Heaven’s community. By seeing ourselves as part of the heavenly society, we can learn to rejoice now in what Heaven’s residents rejoice in… Heaven, then, isn’t only our future home. It’s our home already, waiting over the next hill. If we really grasp this truth, it will have a profound effect on our holiness. A man who sees himself seated with Christ in Heaven, in the very presence of a God to whom the angels cry out, ‘Holy, holy, holy,’ won’t spend his evenings viewing Internet pornography.” (2)
(1) Sproul, R. C. (1992). Essential truths of the Christian faith. Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House p.53
(2) Randy Alcorn, Heaven, Copyright © 2004 Eternal Perspective Ministries [pp. 192-193]