A Bible Lesson on Hebrews 1:1-4 and 2:1-18

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 the first of a short series of 5 lessons from the book of Hebrews. Hebrews itself doesn’t name its author. There are good reasons why some think that Paul wrote it and others thinks that he didn’t. Barnabas is the other named serious contender for authorship. But it may well have been someone else entirely. Ultimately it doesn’t make much difference who God used to write it. What is important is that we recognize it for what it is, the inspired word of God.

The best guess is that the letter 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 who has spoken. It is He who is the beginning point.

The author jumps right to his thesis, and it is one of both continuity and discontinuity. Contrary to post-modern thinking, what has 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. 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.

The final and complete revelation is in His Son. That is not to downplay the importance or relevance 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.

Think a bit about what we should hear in the language here. In the phrase “a 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!

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 a liberal theologian.

Jesus is the exact imprint of the Father’s 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 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 upholds the universe by the word of His power. This is not the pagan picture of a “god” like Atlas with the world on his shoulder. This is the Biblical picture of Christ holding together the very essence of all that is. The Jews knew much more clearly than post-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.

The text says “after making purification for sins.” The Greek tense here is such that this is to be understood as a finished and complete work. It’s completely 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 have things 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 complete, now sits in the place of highest honor in heaven. Jesus of Nazareth, eternal Son of God, born a human being of the Virgin Mary, Messiah, crucified and risen, now is in the first place. How in the world, the author asks, can even the wonderful things of the Old Testament stack up to this? How can anyone be tempted to turn back to Judaism?

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 Old Testament 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.

Again we should not hear the “became” 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? The writer goes on to hammer this point home. The contrast he makes is between angels 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.

We jump to the beginning of Chapter 2.

Hebrews 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,

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.

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 too 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 correct, we dare not be indifferent.

5 Now it was not to angels that God subjected the world to come, of which we are speaking.

The writer returns to the contrast between Jesus and angelic beings begun in Chapter 1. He says that glorious though they are, and though they presently are in administration over our world, angels will have no administrative role in eternity. That role is for Christ alone. (It’s worth noting that the word rendered “world” in Hebrews 2:5 by the ESV is not the word “cosmos” which would put the focus on the “world as a system,” but rather one that focuses on the “world inhabitants.” The writer is primarily and rightly concerned about the personal rather than the abstract.)

To make his point, he refers to Psalm 8:4-6.

Psalm 8:4 what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him?

5 Yet you have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor.

6 You have given him dominion over the works of your hands; you have put all things under his feet,

 

6 It has been testified somewhere, “What is man, that you are mindful of him, or the son of man, that you care for him?

7 You made him for a little while lower than the angels; you have crowned him with glory and honor,

The original meaning of “man” the Psalm was surely “mankind.” The writer of Hebrews applies the Psalm to Christ. It’s He who was made for a little while lower than “the angels.” It is the Septuagint’s rendering of the Psalm that is being quoted/followed here. It’s interesting that contrary to that rendering, the most natural reading of the Hebrew version of Psalm 8 is having been made for a little while lower than God.

8 putting everything in subjection under his feet.” Now in putting everything in subjection to him, he left nothing outside his control. At present, we do not yet see everything in subjection to him.

The description of mankind provided in verses 6-9 here follows from Genesis 1:26.

Genesis 1:26 Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”

That, of course, applied originally to the first Adam. The writer of Hebrews sees it applying perfectly only to Christ, the 2nd Adam. But we don’t yet see it completely. What we do see is

9 But we see him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.

Angels don’t die, that’s for fallen man and other earthbound creatures affected by the fall. And angels don’t suffer. Jesus did both. The writer has to deal with these issues of suffering and death if he’s going to convince the Jews to whom he writes of the supremacy of Christ. He insists that 1) the suffering and death of Christ were only for a little while (they were temporary) and 2) far from being any indication of low position, they are glory. The glory that the writer said in the first chapter belongs to Christ, is intimately related to the suffering and death. Jesus is the outshining of God’s brilliance and glory, and that glory is evident in His mercy and kindness. That He would take your place and mine is brilliant outshining of the Creator alone.

10 For it was fitting that he, for whom and by whom all things exist, in bringing many sons to glory, should make the founder of their salvation perfect through suffering.

It was fitting, it was consistent with the way things are. It was consistent with the nature of our God, that He would qualify Christ as Savior through suffering. We should not hear in this the writer giving his opinion about what God should or should not have done. That would be silly. All God’s ways are perfect. The statement is, that whether or not we naturally find suffering to our liking, the suffering of Christ tells us fundamental things about the heart of our Creator. Christ was brought to perfection in the sense that the perfect Creator and Son of God became the perfect Savior of His people. And the revelation of His nature and great love were made complete.

Many sons are brought to glory. Christians reflect the glory of their God. The glory of Christ is shared with His people, and the heart of God is seen in His people.

Jesus is the founder/captain/pathfinder/pioneer of their salvation. He provided the way, and that was through suffering.

11 For he who sanctifies and those who are sanctified all have one origin. That is why he is not ashamed to call them brothers,

He shared our humanity and suffered as one of us. He is the Son of God and by His work we are adopted into the family of God. The priest who consecrates and the people who are consecrated are of the same stock. We share with Christ a common humanity and a common place as children of the Father. Three quotes follow that show the close relationship between Christ and His people.

12 saying, “I will tell of your name to my brothers; in the midst of the congregation I will sing your praise.”

This is from Psalm 22:22.

Psalm 22:22 I will tell of your name to my brothers; in the midst of the congregation I will praise you.

It’s part of the triumphant conclusion of the Psalm. Though in the Psalm the Psalmist suffers, at the end He breaks into praise for God. The writer of Hebrews points to the Psalm and the suffering there as Messianic, and implies that the praise at the end of the Psalm comes as the Messiah sees His suffering in light of the glory His people/church bring to God.

13 And again, “I will put my trust in him.” And again, “Behold, I and the children God has given me.”

The second quote is from Isaiah 8:17.

Isaiah 8:17 I will wait for the Lord, who is hiding his face from the house of Jacob, and I will hope in him.

The context is one where Isaiah’s prophecies have been ignored by both people and king, and he seals them up and gives them to disciples, trusting in God for later vindication. Christ, rejected by officials and nation, has entrusted His disciples with the Gospel. This, implies the writer of Hebrews, awaits God’s vindication. The situation concerning Christ and His suffering is parallel to Isaiah’s situation.

The third quote is from Isaiah 8:18.

Isaiah 8:18 Behold, I and the children whom the Lord has given me are signs and portents in Israel from the Lord of hosts, who dwells on Mount Zion.

In the original context this referred to Isaiah and his natural children. Here the writer applies it to Christ and His people, His brethren. Jesus, crucified Messiah, and His people are signs to the world. In dealing with the issue of Christ’s suffering and death, the writer sees praise for God as Jesus finished the work, he sees the final vindication yet in the hands of God, and he sees Christ and His people as signs to a world that presently is blind.

14 Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil,

So Jesus is intimately related to His people. They are flesh and blood and He too became flesh and blood. They are flesh and blood by creation, by nature. He became flesh and blood voluntarily. Why? For the express purpose of dying. Remember that the discussion here is the supremacy of Christ to angels, and the “problem” is that humans are mortal and angels are not. Christ was human and Christ died. But, says the writer, Jesus became what He wasn’t for the very purpose of dying. This is not weakness, this is purpose and glory. And the purpose was the end of death.

15 and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery.

16 For surely it is not angels that he helps, but he helps the offspring of Abraham.

This is of no use to angels, but it is liberty and deliverance for all who like Abraham, are friends of God. Literally, “it is not of angels he takes hold but, but of the offspring of Abraham that he takes hold.” This is an active, strong thing that is being described. This is intervening on our behalf and taking us by the hand and leading us from death to life.

17 Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people.

The principle is that a priest must be like those for whom he intercedes. Jesus was qualified on that account to be a great high priest for all mankind. He was qualified to in Himself satisfy the righteous and just anger of a Holy God.

18 For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.

This is a different thought, but a wonderful one. Because “He’s been there,” He can provide help for us in temptation. Not only did He have to deal with what comes our way as ordinary human beings, but He was tempted in ways we cannot appreciate: to use His divine powers to avoid the road to Calvary.

Did He die? Was He human? ABSOLUTELY! But that is not in any way indication that He is not superior to all created beings, including angels.

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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