This is the story of the Prodigal Son from Luke 15:11-32 told in a different manner than the Biblical story. The brother is not Jesus in the story but an elder brother. The mansions refers to John 14:2 where Jesus says: in my father's house there are many mansions. As far as I threw away the key this seems to be in distant hindsight and with deep regret. Note the deepening anquish and resignation with each repetition of this phrase. After the musical interlude, hope returns. For the first time, I feel love.
Halhiker halhikeraol.com (contributed before the 20:th of February 1998)
I am not too sure who Bono refers to in the first two verses refering to "Lover" and "Brother" .. I sorta like to think that "Lover" is his wife Ali, and "Brother" perhaps his best friend - like Edge or Gavin Friday or who knows?
But what struck me was the last verse. You know how Bono is often refered to as some kinda Messiah or he is often compared to Jesus or God. And this verse tells me that even if he was offered the job Jesus was offered by his Father, he would leave by the back door and throw away the keys, i.e. he just can't be a Messiah / Jesus or so.
For the non-religious, the "Cup of Gold" was given to Jesus Christ to drink from, i.e. to go through with the crucifixion and resurection, and the keys to the Father's Kingdom has been given to Jesus Christ as well. So, Bono is role playing but with a difference, he is telling us what he would have done in the same situation as Jesus was in.
Etienne de Bruin edebruinkathryn.mikom.csir.co.za (contributed before the 20:th of February 1998)
To continue on the line Etienne de Bruin have mentioned above. Bono have for the last years pointed on the wierd business that's called the rock and roll business. The fact that four guys is traveling in limosines and have police escort. The rockstar is considered as a sort of Messiah but Bono claims in the song that he doesn't fit for the job. He would throw away the key.
Another interpretion would be of the TV-churches you find in the USA. The man who wears a rich man's cloak would then be the TV-priest who in some cases is very rich but Bono rejects him as a true speaker for God.
Jonas Steverud (Maintainer of U2MoL) (contributed at an unknown date)
IMHO, I think the structure of For The First Time is something of a fake-out. The first interpretation that comes to mind is that it's about the Holy Trinity, and this works perfectly well, but I think the Trinity explaination is too neat and easy to be the primary meaning behind the song. We all know that U2 songs function on many levels and that the meaning closest to their hearts is usually not the most obvious. That's why I think the lyrics for "For The First Time" are about a far more immediate trinity in Bono's life, his sometimes troubled relationship with his family. Namely, his wife in verse 1, his brother, Norman, in verse 2 and his dad in verse 3.
For the First Time is about the enduring, overcoming love of Bono's family for him, and his coming to finally feel secure in that love. But then again, it could be about everyone's family. Powerful abstactions like the Holy Trinity affect us deeply, but there is no stronger and more constant influence in our lives than our families.
jhontee onescaemail.msn.com ( 4:th of October 1999)
"It's about losing your faith," Bono adds. "I haven't lost my faith. I've a great deal of faith. But that song expresses that moment a lot of people feel." Quote taken from U2 Into the Heart by Niall Stokes.
Joel Davies mungo_snikkethotmail.com ( 4th of September 2006)
Reading some of the other contributions for this song provided inspiration and the meaning just 'clicked'.
As Bono himself has stated, The First Time is a song about losing one's faith. Bono is not singing about himself.
In the first verse the song's persona extols his lover's virtues. The 'brother' mentioned in the second verse may not mean a literal brother, but rather a close friend, always there to support him in difficult times.
It is important to note that the persona is sincere when he sings about this love, it is not an illusion.
It is genuine, lasting romantic and brotherly love he experiences.
However, this powerful love he feels, leads him to question and reject his faith.
Like many might, the persona realises he has the love of his partner, his friends and family, why does he need God? Whose love is intangible and something he cannot feel. This is "that moment a lot of people feel" Bono describes.
So in the third verse, despite God freely offering him his eternal love and all the riches of his heavenly kingdom, the persona shuns God, rejects his love and discards the 'keys to the kingdom'. As Halhiker observes, this is an act the persona deeply and painfully regrets. However, the song ends on a hopeful note, alluding to God's forgiveness of the persona. Who realises that is only now, "for the first time" (repeated thrice) that he truly feels love.
vanquish amvanquish7hotmail.com (18th of September 2009)