A Bible Lesson on Hebrews 1:1-2:4

Scripture taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version.  Copyright 2000; 2001, by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers.  Used by permission.  All rights reserved.

This is a lesson not in the current ISSL cycle.  It, like lessons from Colossians 1 and John 1, concerns a passage providing a grand and substantial statement of who Christ is.  The passage is important basic historical orthodox Christology.

The best guess is that the letter to the Hebrews was written fairly early, before the destruction of the Jerusalem temple in 70 AD.  It is pretty clearly written to Jewish Christians, some of whom seem tempted to throw over their faith in Christ as Messiah and Savior and return to Judaism.  As the author carefully lays out the foolishness of such a move in light of what really is, he gives us a rich statement of the absolute superiority of Christ in every realm of life and in comparison to every being and institution.  The book thus stands as a pivotal link between the Old and New Testaments, explaining clearly and comprehensively who Christ is and what it is that He has done for us.

The first four verses of Hebrews constitute a single sentence in the Greek, that powerfully introduces the author’s thesis of the comprehensive superiority of Christ.

Hebrews 1:1 Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, 

Note first that it is God who is the subject of this sentence.  It is He that has spoken.  It is He who is the beginning point.  Had He remained silent, you and I would be in a world of hurt, in darkness and confusion, with no means of sanity or light.  But God spoke.  It’s not that man reasoned and inquired, but that God spoke.

The author jumps right to his thesis, and it is one of both continuity and discontinuity.  Contrary to post-modern thinking, what happened in the past is relevant.  God spoke in the past.  That’s relevant to now, but incomplete, says the author.  The Old Testament is full of examples of “at many times and in many ways.”  There was the preaching of Noah and the flood, the dream of Joseph, the burning bush in the desert and the plagues on Egypt, the still small voice to Elijah after the storm, the prophetic acts of Jeremiah, Ezekiel lying on his left side for 390 days, etc., etc., etc.  Indeed God spoke in many different ways and at many different times.  Those were all relevant, but incomplete.

2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. 

“in these last days” means much more than just “recently.”  The sense we should have in light of the usage of this kind of language in the Old Testament is “once for all at the consummation of the ages,” the final and complete revelation is in His Son.  That is not to downplay the importance or relevance or trueness of the things that God spoke to the forefathers, but the fact is that the revelation of Jesus is something else entirely.  All that went before pointed ahead to Jesus.  Jesus points ahead to no one.  Instead, He reveals the Father as clearly as He can be revealed to us humans. F.F. Bruce said “The progression is one from promise to fulfillment …”

Think about what we should hear in the language/word choice here.  In the phrase “his Son” we ought to hear “of the same essence.”  Prophets are creatures like you and me.  A “Son” is of the same nature as the Father.  As “heir,” all things exist for Him.  But it is not as if Christ is somehow going to come into these things when the Father gets tired and decides to retire.  Instead Christ was intimately involved in the creation of all that is.  It’s been His from the start!  That is, He is “through whom he also created the world.”

The next verse goes on to say a series of magnificent things about the Son, things that make it abundantly clear that while there is continuity with the former things, Jesus is something else entirely.

3 He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, 

He is the radiance of God’s glory.  This is the outshining of God’s glory.  His brilliance visible to us.  The picture is that of light bursting from a brilliant lamp, and that light is God’s.  This person Jesus is being described as the dazzling shining forth of the one true and living God.  Remember that this is almost surely before 70 AD and the author already sees clearly the eternal deity of Christ in a way that ought to completely silence skeptical modern liberal theologians.

He is the exact imprint of His nature.  The picture here is that of a stamp and a corresponding impression.  As far as you and I are concerned, if we have seen the impression, we know what the stamp looks like.  We shouldn’t push this figure further than is intended.  There is not a sense in which the Father is the original and the Son is a derivative from Him.  That’s not what’s being said.  Rather, the emphasis is on the perfection of Christ’s representation of the Father to us.  He is the exact representation and embodiment of what the Father is.  To see Christ is to see what the Father is like.

He upholds the universe by the word of His power/by His enabling word.  This is not the pagan picture of a “god” like Atlas with the world on shoulder.  This is the Biblical picture of Christ holding together the very essence of all that is (as in Colossians 1:17 And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.)  The Jews knew much more clearly than modern man that if God for a micro-second ceased to work at sustaining the universe, it would cease to be.  This is miles from the deist/clock-maker picture of God and His creation.  And it is Jesus the crucified and risen Messiah who is seen to be at work in this.

“after making purification for sins …”  We pass from what Christ has done and is in the cosmos to what He’s done and is in relation to mankind.  The Greek tense here is such that this is to be understood as a finished and complete work.  It’s done.  Glory to God!  Every halfway honest human being must face this matter somehow.  We’re guilty and we know it.  And the author says of the Son that He has made provision for our most fundamental need, not only to somehow escape wrath, but to be made genuinely right and pure.  The Son has made that possible.

He sat down at the right hand of majesty on high.  Jesus, God’s final Word to us, His work completed, now sits in the place of highest honor in heaven.  He is our seated high priest and king.  The Aaronic priests would still be standing, their work incomplete, in fact never capable of being complete.  Jesus of Nazareth, eternal Son of God, born a human being of the Virgin Mary, Messiah, crucified and risen, now is in the place of highest honor in heaven, figuratively seated, His salvation work done.  There is a wonderful contrast in this verse.  Jesus is ceaselessly the radiance of God’s glory, He continuously upholds the universe by the word of His power, but He once for all at a single point in time gave Himself for your salvation and mine, and that work completely finished, He sat down.  His cry on the cross was “It is finished.”

4 having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs.

This sounds strange to us because we really think very little about angels.  But the Jews held them in highest regard.  For one thing, they held that angels were somehow intermediaries in the giving of the law.  The point here is that both by virtue of who Christ has been from before the beginning of time and by virtue of what He has done in time and space, Jesus is infinitely superior to both human prophets (verse 1) and angels.  Angels are messengers of God in both name and function.  Christ is God.  There simply is no comparison.

Again we should not hear the “having become” and “inherited” to imply that in the past Christ was inferior to beings He created.  That is a silly impossibility.  The emphasis is on what is now evident.

The “name” here is almost certainly “Son.”  What is greater, to be God’s Son or to be a created being like a man or an angel?

5 For to which of the angels did God ever say, “You are my Son, today I have begotten you”? Or again, “I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son”?

The writer begins a series of Old Testament quotes.  The first is Psalm 2:7 I will tell of the decree: The Lord said to me, “You are my Son; today I have begotten you.  This was understood by early Christians to be Messianic, to apply to David and the son of David, God’s Messiah … on the other hand, it cannot apply to an angel.  The “I have begotten” might originally have referred to the coronation of David.  In the present context, it may refer to the incarnation or the resurrection.  It certainly does not refer to any kind of creation, and the fundamental intent is to show the present relationship as superior to that of a Creator/creature relationship.

The second quote of the verse comes from 2 Samuel 7:14 I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son.  The original context is God promising to build David an everlasting dynasty.  Again, here the emphasis is the relationship of the Father to the Son.  It is one of sameness of essence.

6 And again, when he brings the firstborn into the world, he says, “Let all God’s angels worship him.”  

This is in all likelihood a reference to the birth of Christ.  The right place of angels at the birth of Christ was to worship.  On the other hand, some commentators think that the reference is to the 2nd coming and that a better rendering here might be “And when he again brings …” Either way, God’s angels and all of us ought to worship Christ.

7 Of the angels he says, “He makes his angels winds, and his ministers a flame of fire.”

“he makes his angels …”  Angels were created, created to serve.  The Son’s place is different.  He is to rule.  Creatures serve, the Son, of the same essence as the Father, rules.

8 But of the Son he says, “Your throne, O God, is forever and ever, the scepter of uprightness is the scepter of your kingdom.

9 You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness; therefore God, your God, has anointed you with the oil of gladness beyond your companions.”

The quote in verses 8 and 9 is exactly Psalm 45:6-7  Your throne, O God, is forever and ever. The scepter of your kingdom is a scepter of uprightness; you have loved righteousness and hated wickedness. Therefore God, your God, has anointed you with the oil of gladness beyond your companions;

Messiah’s kingdom, the kingdom of Christ, is forever and ever.  It is beyond the realm and influence of time.  It is not subject to change or decay.

Messiah’s kingdom is characterized by righteousness and uprightness.  It’s the hallmark of Christ’s reign.  Why?  Because righteousness is central to His nature and His affection.  He loves righteousness.  It’s who He is.  The One who perfectly fulfilled the law, of necessity hates lawlessness.  He is personally the embodiment of righteousness, and both the Father and the Son take great  joy in the Son’s perfection and vindication of uprightness.

10 And, “You, Lord, laid the foundation of the earth in the beginning, and the heavens are the work of your hands;

11 they will perish, but you remain; they will all wear out like a garment,

12 like a robe you will roll them up, like a garment they will be changed. But you are the same, and your years will have no end.”

Verses 10-12 are a quote from Psalm 102:25-27  Of old you laid the foundation of the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands. They will perish, but you will remain; they will all wear out like a garment. You will change them like a robe, and they will pass away,  27but you are the same, and your years have no end.  In the original context this description concerns the Father.  The writer of Hebrews applies the verses to the Son.  He understands, with John, that the Son was there at creation, that the Son is eternal, that the universe is passing, but the One who made it is “the same,” that He is unshakable and unchangeable.  We are to understand that that which is created is simply not in the class of its Creator.

13 And to which of the angels has he ever said, “Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet”?

This is a quote of Psalm 110:1 The Lord says to my Lord: “Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool.”  The picture here is one of enthronement, sovereignty, and absolute power.  It is not a picture rightly applied to any created being, including an angel.  At no time are angels ever seen as sitting.  Rather, they are at work serving.  Christ is thus superior.  It is this Psalm to which Jesus alluded at His trial and which allusion was condemned as blasphemy.  Mark 14:62 And Jesus said, “I am, and you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven.”

14 Are they not all ministering spirits sent out to serve for the sake of those who are to inherit salvation?

The contrast is between angels presently at work carrying out the will of the Father on the behalf of men and women, and the Son, His work of redemption completed, sitting at the right hand of the Father.

2:1 Therefore we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it. 

2 For since the message declared by angels proved to be reliable and every transgression or disobedience received a just retribution, 

The argument here is that if, properly enough, a Jew would pay attention to the Jewish law and religion, how much more should he pay attention to the salvation provided by God in Christ.  We must pay closer attention, lest we drift away from it.  Our fallen hearts tell us that we can coast, that we can rest this side of the grave, that things really don’t have to be taken all that seriously.  But that simply isn’t true.  If the picture of Christ that the writer has painted is at all correct, we dare not be indifferent.

3 how shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation? It was declared at first by the Lord, and it was attested to us by those who heard, 

4 while God also bore witness by signs and wonders and various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will.

Here is a .pdf of this lesson.

Scripture taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version.  Copyright 2000; 2001, by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers.  Used by permission.  All rights reserved.

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