Hebrews Part 1.1 (Chapter 1 Verse 1 through Chapter 2 Verse 4)

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PART ONE

What a Supreme Treasure We Have in Christ
(Chapter 1 Verse 1 to Chapter 10 Verse 18)

Christ is superior in his person

He is superior as the perfect revelation of God

Hebrews chapter 1 verses 1-3
In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.

Commentary

In all the New Testament, no epistle comes more quickly to the point. Without introduction or greeting, the author launches into his subject. It’s as if he just could not wait to set forth the glorious superiority of Jesus Christ.

Writing to people half-inclined to turn back to Judaism because of difficulty and danger, the author began with a point with which they could hardly disagree. God had indeed spoken in the past to their forefathers. At many times and in the various forms of law, history, poetry, and prophecy, God had spoken to them through his prophets from Moses down to Malachi. But the ministry of the prophets had been partial and their message incomplete. More was to come, not to cancel what had been divinely recorded but to complete it.

So it happened, just as the fathers had been told. Moses had told them in Deuteronomy chapter 18 verse 15, “The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own brothers. You must listen to him.” And it had happened! “In these last days,” that New Testament period of time in which we live and after which comes only eternity, God has spoken in the person of his Son.

Note the stress on inspiration. Through the prophets and now through his Son, God was speaking. They spoke his words. The prophets spoke for God; the Son spoke as God. Now having spoken through his Son, God has nothing more to say to man. His Son, the Redeemer to whom the Old Testament pointed, is the ultimate Word and the perfect Revelation of God. How foolish for anyone to turn his back on such a revelation for any reason!

Next follow a series of seven statements pointing out Christ’s superiority as the perfect revelation of God. (1) At the end of all, he is seen as “heir,” owner and ruler of all. (2) At the beginning of all, he stands as Creator, participating in that awesome act.

(3) Even more, he is “the radiance of God’s glory.” God’s glory, the whole array of his divine attributes, radiates forth in Jesus. Radiance is an inner brightness that shines out like the sun in the sky with its streaming light. To see that light is to see the sun; to see Jesus is to see the God of glory. (4) And he is “the exact representation of his being.” An exact representation is some exact impression made by a tool, like a coin stamped by a die. So Jesus exactly represents the Father. To know Jesus is to know God’s nature and glory. We might call Jesus “God in focus.” He expressed it even better when he said in John chapter 14 verse 9, “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father.”

(5) There’s still more. Not only was Jesus active in creation, but he is “sustaining all things by his powerful word.” Let the scientists theorize and test; we know who holds all things together and leads them toward their final goal. It is he whose powerful word brought all into being in the beginning. “He is before all things, and in him all things hold together,” says Colossians chapter 1 verse 17. In the strong hands of such a Christ, believers are eternally secure.

(6) The sixth statement takes us to the heart of the matter. The whole letter was written to show that Christ was superior because he had come to provide “purification for sins.” Sin stains; it defiles and damns. Only one could purify, and only once would he need do it. At Calvary’s cross the Creator and Sustainer became the Sin-bearer. Here is his most amazing glory! What a staggering thought—the sovereign Lord became the sacrificial Lamb!

With the work of redemption done, (7) “he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.” “Right hand” refers to a position of power and honor; “Majesty in heaven” refers to God and all his awesome greatness. The ascended Lord Jesus holds the scepter in his nail-scarred hands, ruling over all in heaven, earth, and hell. What a picture of greatness!

Tired under affliction and almost ready to call it quits because of persecution, those Jewish Christians needed such a view of the perfect and victorious Christ. So do we! Struggling to keep the faith in an increasingly hostile world, so often engaged in what seems no more than a holding action, we need eyes lifted to the Lord Jesus, who is God’s perfect revelation. May what the author has shown us of Christ’s glory prompt us to say, “My Lord and my God!” (John chapter 20 verse 28).

He is superior to the angels

Hebrews chapter 1 verses 4-6
So he became as much superior to the angels as the name he has inherited is superior to theirs.
For to which of the angels did God ever say,
“You are my Son; today I have become your Father”?
Or again,
“I will be his Father, and he will be my Son”?
And again, when God brings his firstborn into the world, he says, “Let all God’s angels worship him.”

Commentary

In the Old Testament, the law was given through angels. In those days angels frequently appeared to God’s people. So Jewish Christians would know and respect the high position of such heavenly beings. Yet Jesus ranked head and shoulders above them. He is eminently “superior” to the angels, the author tells us, using a word that is to appear again and again in Hebrews, 13 times in all. In fact, Jesus was superior to anything and everything, and he was these Jews’ Savior. How could they even think of leaving him?

Those Jewish Christians would also be well versed in the Old Testament Scriptures and would readily accept their authority. So the author lets the Old Testament speak. In every chapter of his letter there is at least one quotation from the Old Testament; in this chapter there are seven! Reading the quotations makes us marvel at the depth of the Old Testament.

The Messiah was at the heart and center of the whole Old Testament Scripture. He was in passages where we might not have even imagined him to be. In John chapter 5 verse 39 the Messiah himself told the Jews about the Old Testament, “You diligently study the Scriptures. . . . These are the Scriptures that testify about me.” In Acts chapter 10 verse 43 Peter repeated that tremendous thought to Cornelius, “All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.” And the author of Hebrews underscores the point! Skillfully, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit and with the Holy Spirit as interpreter, he shows how the Old Testament testified about Christ.

The first quotation is from Psalm 2. To prove his point that Jesus has a name far greater than the angels, the author quotes verse 7 of David’s psalm. “You are my Son; today I have become your Father,” the Father in heaven is quoted as saying to his Son. From all eternity Jesus is God’s Son, second person of the triune God, true God with the Father and the Holy Spirit.

But that name “Son” is his also in a special sense. The angel Gabriel referred to it in Luke chapter 1 verse 32 when he told Mary of that child to be born of her: “He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High.” In his incarnation Jesus inherited the name “Son” also according to his human nature. The God-man Jesus is God’s Son. At the Jordan when Jesus was baptized and on the Mount of Transfiguration when his glory shone, the Father said it for all to hear, “You are my Son, whom I love” (Luke chapter 3 verse 22; chapter 9 verse 35).

With the resurrection the Father placed the exclamation point behind that statement. Read Acts chapter 13 verse 33 to see how Paul used this very verse from Psalm 2 and connected it with Christ’s resurrection to show that Jesus was the Son of God. The word “today” refers to the whole matter of the Son becoming man to take away the world’s sins, the mission on which the Father had sent him and which marked him as far superior to the angels.

Next follows 2nd Samuel  chapter 7 verse 14: “I will be his father, and he will be my son.” Spoken originally about Solomon, these words had deeper meaning. They pointed ahead to David’s greater Son, the eternal one whose kingdom would never end. Note how the author doubles the words. It is not enough to call Jesus “Son”; he also calls God “Father.” Never was such divine sonship claimed for the angels.

Do we need more proof that Jesus is superior to the angels? Then look ahead to that great day of judgment when God again “brings his firstborn into the world.” On that day Christ will surely stand out as “firstborn,” first in rank and position, as all the angels—not just some here and some there, but all the angels—bow down before him in worship. In Revelation chapter 5 verses 11-12 John gives us a preview of the scene: “Then I looked and heard the voice of many angels, numbering thousands upon thousands, and ten thousand times ten thousand. . . . In a loud voice they sang: ‘Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise!’”

Some are troubled by the last part of verse 6. In the Hebrew text, the phrase “Let all God’s angels worship him” is missing from Deuteronomy chapter 32 verse 43. Those words, however, are found in the Septuagint, the ancient Greek translation of the Old Testament, which the author of Hebrews evidently uses here. This seeming problem will not trouble us when we remember that the author of Hebrews quotes as guided by the Holy Spirit. The Spirit himself interprets, guiding his New Testament author to see the intent and meaning of the Old Testament prophet.

Hebrews chapter 1 verses 7-14
In speaking of the angels he says,
“He makes his angels winds,
his servants flames of fire.”
But about the Son he says,
“Your throne, O God, will last for ever and ever,
and righteousness will be the scepter of your kingdom.
You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness;
therefore God, your God, has set you above your companions by anointing you with the oil of joy.”
He also says,
“In the beginning, O Lord, you laid the foundations of the earth,
and the heavens are the work of your hands.
They will perish, but you remain;
they will all wear out like a garment.
You will roll them up like a robe;
like a garment they will be changed.
But you remain the same, and your years will never end.”
To which of the angels did God ever say,
“Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet”?
Are not all angels ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation?

Commentary

Superior in name, the Son is also superior in nature. Quoting Psalm 104 verse 4, the author speaks of “angels,” which means “messengers,” and of “servants,” a word that referred to people functioning in an office. True, the angels are exalted messengers and function in high capacity. Fleet as the wind, they carried God’s messages to some; ferocious as fire, they executed his judgments on others. Through an angel Mary heard God’s message in Luke chapter 1 verses 26-38, and through an angel King Herod felt God’s judgment in Acts chapter 12 verse 23. But that’s all the angels can be—messengers and servants under God’s complete control.

Now look at Psalm 45 verses 6-7 and see the supremacy of the Son. “O God,” both the psalmist and the author of Hebrews call him, God whose throne “will last for ever and ever.” He’s no mere messenger but the eternal ruler of all. And a perfect ruler! His scepter is “righteousness.” There is no partiality or prejudice with him, as with earthly kings, but a ruling that is straightforward and right. In his heart is love for righteousness and hatred for wickedness as evidenced during his life on earth. During those 33 years, there was no flaw or failure but perfect doing of his Father’s will. Now anointed with “the oil of joy,” a reference to the perfect joy and bliss at God’s right hand, the ascended God-man rules in heaven. The Father, overjoyed at the completion and completeness of his Son’s work, has set him far above his “companions,” those believers who will share his gladness.

There is still more. Look at the splendid sunsets, the splashing ocean, the star-studded sky. The Son was there before they existed! He even helped lay their foundations. Those foundations, seemingly so solid, will wear out like clothing and will be rolled up to be discarded and replaced. “But you,” the author quotes Psalm 102 verses 25-27 as referring to Jesus, “you remain the same, and your years will never end.” Age cannot touch him; death cannot breathe upon him; his years never come to an end. This eternal, unchangeable King is truly Jesus Christ, “the same yesterday and today and forever.” What a ruler he is! His throne starts in a stable; his scepter is held in sinless hands; his kingdom lasts forever; his brothers share his glad joy.

The author concludes with the telling words of Psalm 110 verse 1. No angel ever heard God say, “Sit at my right hand.” That position of power and glory is reserved for the Son. All his enemies lie helpless in the dust before him as a footstool beneath his feet. All of history becomes his story, which he writes in the eternal interest of his church.

And the angels? The best they can do is to be “ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation.” To carry out God’s will for the believers is their task and also their limit. All the journey home even the lowliest believer can have their service, but far better to have him who is in every way “superior to the angels,” the eternal Savior who promises in chapter 13 verse 5, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.”

WARNING:
DO NOT DRIFT AWAY FROM WHAT YOU HAVE HEARD

Hebrews chapter 2 verses 1-4
We must pay more careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away. For if the message spoken by angels was binding, and every violation and disobedience received its just punishment, how shall we escape if we ignore such a great salvation? This salvation, which was first announced by the Lord, was confirmed to us by those who heard him. God also testified to it by signs, wonders and various miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will.

Commentary

How much like a pastor the author was. In the midst of documenting the supremacy of Christ as the final revelation of God and one far superior to the angels, he stops in pastoral concern to warn his readers. “We must pay more careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard,” he tells them, “so that we do not drift away.” Both terms take us down to the sea. “Drift away” reminds us of a ship that is drifting past, instead of into, the safety of the harbor. Some wayward wind is carrying it slowly, almost unnoticed, past its destination. “Pay more careful attention” reminds us of sailors sweating and straining, sparing no effort to bring their ship safely to the dock.

This was no idle concern on the part of the author. The drifting past the harbor had already begun for those Jewish Christians. The winds of persecution and oppression were carrying them farther out to sea. Someone had to shout out to them, to warn them to head back into port. Then, as now, drifting away from God and his Word can be such a slow, unnoticed process. Like some tire with a leaky valve, faith can lose its air little by little till it is completely flat.

So the author warned them strongly, reinforcing his warning with a searching question. All of those Jewish readers knew how serious God’s law was. Even the giving of the law showed its seriousness. God himself spoke it (Exodus chapter 20 verse 1), writing it on two tablets of stone (Deuteronomy chapter 5 verse 22), using angels in some way to transmit it (Galatians chapter 3 verse 19), and binding everyone to it. Everyone who violated the law by stepping over it in thought, word, or deed and everyone who disobeyed it by being unwilling to hear it would be justly punished. No sin of commission or omission would go unpunished by a fair and impartial God; so the Old Testament history of God’s people plainly showed.

If that was how God felt about the law, the author argues going from the lesser to the greater, then “how shall we escape if we ignore such a great salvation?” How great that salvation was, he goes on to detail. It was “first announced by the Lord.” Not angels but the Lord himself brought the glorious gospel message. It was he who said in Luke chapter 19 verse 10, “The Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost.” From his own lips came those words in Matthew chapter 20 verse 28, “The Son of Man [came] . . . to give his life as a ransom for many.” He himself is both messenger and message, both proclaiming the good news and making it possible by the sacrifice of himself.

Nor did the proclamation of this great salvation cease with his ascension. Commissioned by him, the first disciples went about their task of witnessing and confirming what they had heard firsthand. “Confirmed” is a legal term designating something as properly documented. What court in the land will throw out evidence brought by actual eyewitnesses?

Nor did God leave those apostles to bear witness alone. He “also testified to it by signs, wonders and various miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will.” The gospel was not human speculation but divine revelation. It was not man’s thoughts but God’s truth. And God plainly showed this!

“Signs” puts the stress on the meaning of the miracles. The miracles were not to be pointless displays but pointers—just as when Jesus in John chapter 6 fed five thousand and then used this miracle as a sign to point to himself as the Bread of Life.

“Wonders” refers to the effect of the miracle on the observers, and “miracles” refers to the superhuman power involved, which points to the Omnipotent as the source.

The Holy Spirit distributed his gifts in order to authenticate the gospel message. Let those who today insist upon such gifts mark well those words “according to his will.” The Spirit gave what, to whom, when, and where he willed. And when he gave, it was to testify to that great message of salvation.

Such was the message—given by God himself, confirmed by those who heard it, authenticated by the gifts of the Spirit. This is the only message that can save. To both believer and unbeliever goes that serious question, “How shall we escape if we ignore such a great salvation?” The author leaves the question hanging hauntingly in the air. Let each one answer for himself. And let each one heed the author’s advice, “We must pay more careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard.”

End of Part 1.1