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Hebrews 1

Overview

  • The author tells his audience:
  • Back in the day, God revealed himself and his true nature in bits and pieces through many people over a long period of time. But now, via Jesus, God has shown us who he fully is and what he truly wants all at once, definitively. Done. #dropthemic
  • All that belongs to God now belongs to Jesus (just like everything a father has goes to his son) because Jesus was the reason, means and method by which the universe was made to begin with.
  • Just like light is how we see the sun, so the Son (Jesus) enables us to see the light of God. He is the brightness of God’s splendor.
  • Furthermore, Jesus is the exact representation of everything God is. Just like the marks on a coin tell you it’s monetary value, so Jesus demonstrates God’s worthiness.
  • And you know how God spoke everything into existence? And how God’s words equal life? Yeah, well, Jesus is that word.
  • After Jesus’ death and resurrection (i.e. the events that removed sin from all our lives, forever), Jesus went to heaven, exalted as God is exalted, because his work was done. He did what he came to do. #dropthemic #again
  • So, don’t mistake Jesus for being an angel just because he delivered a message from God and then went back up to heaven (you know, like angels are known to do). Oh no, no, no. He’s way superior to them. He’s God himself.
  • Jesus is called the Son of God, and I know angels are called “sons of God”, but to which angel did God ever say, “You are my son?” (singular tense, yo). Umm, no one. He only said that about the Messiah, back in the Psalms, remember?
  • Or how about that time, way back when, when King David wanted to build God a temple, and God’s all, “No, I’ll be the builder here, and I’m gonna build you a dynasty, a kingdom that will last forever and rule the whole world. And that final, ultimate king, I will call him son, because he’ll inherit everything in creation.” Remember that? Yeah, that was predicting Jesus.
  • Then there’s those passages in the Old Testament where it says God wins in the end and everyone (including the angels) will worship him. That was about Jesus, too.
  • Remember, angels are God’s servants. They’re like the wind and lightning–swift, strong and temporary.
  • But in Psalms it says, “God set his chosen one (his son, his Messiah) on a throne that will last forever.” For. Ev. Er.
  • Another Psalm (that one where the writer is all desperate and depressed until he remembers how awesome God is) says, “All of the universe is temporary, compared to God. God alone is eternal.”
  • No angel heard God say, “I’ll make you my heir until all the forces that oppose you are defeated.” He only said that to the Messiah.
  • Angels just help people along the path to salvation. Jesus is salvation.

Historical Context

Glory

Glory carries the idea of light. It is used to describe the splendor surrounding God and is thought to be eternally shining “above the heavens” (cf. Exodus 24:15; Kings 8:11; Ezekiel 8:4; Psalm 24:7, 8, etc.). The full blaze of this glory, i.e. ” the face” of God, no one is allowed to see; for no man could see him and live. Moses was hidden in a cleft of the rock while the God’s glory passed by, and saw only its outskirts, i.e. the radiance left behind after it (Exodus 33:18).6

The glory of God is occasionally manifested as an unearthly radiance; as in the vision of the shepherds (Luke 2:9), the Transfiguration (Luke 9:28, etc.), the ecstasy of Stephen (Acts 7:55). “God is Light;” 1 Timothy 6:16, “Dwelling in the light which no man can approach unto, whom no man hath seen nor can see.”6

In Hebrews, Jesus is described as being the “brightness” of the light that is God’s glory. He is the light which emanates from a luminous body. The rays or beams of the sun are its “brightness,” or that by which the sun is seen and known. The sun itself we do not see; the beams which flow from it we do see. The meaning here is, that if God be represented under the image of a luminous body, as he is in the Scriptures (see Psalm 84:11; Malachi 4:2), then Christ is the radiance of that light, the brightness of that luminary.8

In the OT the most common Hebrew word for “glory” (kabod) was originally a commercial term (which referred to a pair of scales) which meant “to be heavy.” That which was heavy was valuable or had intrinsic worth. Often the concept of brightness was added to the word to express God’s majesty during the Exodus.2

Angels

The Hebrew word, Malʾakh (מַלְאַךְ), is the word used most often to describe angels and means “messenger” (from the Ugaritic lak “to send”). It is applied frequently to human agents (e.g., Gen. 32:4) in addition to heavenly agents. Elsewhere in the Bible angels are called ʾelohim (usually translated “god” or “gods”; Gen. 6:2; Job 1:6), more often bene ʾelohim or bene ʾelim (lit. “sons of gods”) – in the general sense of “divine beings.” They are also known as kedoshim (“holy beings”; Ps. 89:8; Job 5:1). Often in Scripture, an angel is called simply a “man.” For example, the mysterious being who wrestled with Jacob is first called a man, then ʾelohim (Gen. 32:24). The Bible also speaks of winged creatures of angelic character called cherubim and seraphim, who serve a variety of functions.10

Angels are thought to be immortal, though created beings (tradition holds they were created on the first or second day of creation), and though they seem to know more than mankind, they are not omniscient.10

In the Scriptures, angels: (1) Bear away the souls of the righteous in death (Luke 16:22), as in the case of Lazarus. (2) Oppose purposes and designs of Satan, not in their own names, but in the name of the Lord (Jude 1:6). (3) Execute the punitive judgments of God upon the incorrigibly wicked, as in the case of Sennacherib (2 Kings 19:35) and that of Herod (Acts 12:23). (4) Exert influence over the rulers and governments of nations, as in the case of Persia (Daniel 10:20). (5) Aid providentially in bringing the unsaved to hear the redeeming words of the gospel, as in the case of Cornelius (Acts 10:3). (6) Exercise solicitous care over little children, as shown by Jesus’ words (Matthew 18:10).1 (7) Deliver critical messages from God. (8) Helped Moses deliver the Law to Israel (Deuteronomy 33:2).

Ultimately Jews believed there were millions and millions of angels and that they presided over many things including the sea, the frost, the dew, the rain, the snow, the hail, the thunder and the lightning. Angels were also the wardens of hell and torturers of the damned.1

Firstborn Sons

In Israel, the firstborn son was to inherit the mantle of leading the family in his father’s place. The firstborn also received a double portion of the father’s inheritance. This is why, when twins were born, great care was taken to identify the first to come from the womb.4

The author of Hebrews is speaking of Jesus as God’s Son not in terms of his natural birth, but as it relates to his preeminence, and rights to inheritance in creation as the “firstborn Son.” Note that Jesus is not only the “firstborn,” He is also the “only begotten” Son, so that he alone is the heir of all things.Indeed, the mere use of the title in the singular, “my Son,” carries with it a different idea from its use in the plural used to describe angels (“sons of God”).6

To modern minds, “firstborn” sounds like a chronological concept, that someone was born first in time in a family. But for the Hebrews, firstborn signified position, not time. The oldest son was usually, but not always, the heir to the father’s estate. As such, he was in a position of privilege and preeminence over his brothers. Note that King David was not the firstborn son of Jesse. In fact, he was the youngest son. But he was the most prestigious and preeminent son, because God had chosen him above his brothers.3

Psalms 2:7

  • “You are my son; this day I have begotten you.”
  • This Psalm (thought to be written by David) sets the context that there is a rebellious confederation of subject kings opposing the king of Israel (called “the Anointed” of the Lord). In view of their hostile preparations, the Lord in heaven is laughing. Then the king of Israel speaks, “I will tell you what the Lord said unto me, ‘Thou art my Son; this day have I begotten thee.’ Ask of me, and I will give thee the nations for thine inheritance, and for thy possession the ends of the earth.” Then follows an admonition to the rebels to do homage to this “son,” submission to whom is submission to the Lord, and whose anger is as the Lord’s anger.6
  • In this Psalm, David essentially calls the day of his coronation as king the day of his birth as God’s son.6
  • This Psalm is considered a coronation Psalm and was used to confirm God’s chosen leader of Israel.
  • What time period do the words,  “This day have I begotten thee” apply? The author of Hebrews makes is clear that Jesus has always existed (as God had), so he was not implying that Jesus was created, as man was. At the very least he is implying that Jesus’ incarnation is a “begetting.” However, Paul said, “God hath raised up Jesus; as also it is written in the second Psalm, Thou art my Son, this day have I begotten thee” (Acts 13:33). Thus, the begetting mentioned is the resurrection of Christ, for it was the resurrection that established all that Christ said and did.1
  • The main argument of the author here does not turn on the time when the “begetting” happened, but on the fact that this was said to Jesus and not to any one of the angels.8

2 Samuel 7:14

  • I will be a father to him, and he will be a son to me.” A sentiment similar to this is found in Psalm 89:20-27.
  • In 2 Samuel, David wanted to build a temple, a “house” for God. God made it clear that He did not really need a “house.” Instead, God promised to build a “house” – a dynasty – for David. God assured David that there would always be someone of his descendants who will sit on the throne of Israel. After David dies, God will raise up one of his descendants to take his place. God then tells David that when his son sins, He will correct him (verse 14). Thus, we have a double prophecy. David will always have a descendant to sit on the throne. But beyond this, David’s descendant, the Messiah, will reign forever because He is eternal. God will not need to correct Him for committing iniquity.4
  • The “son” in this passage originally referred to Solomon, as David’s heir, and reinforces that the father-son relationship between God and a man is not about one’s birth; it is about being installed on the throne.4

Deuteronomy 32:43, Psalms 97:7

  • “Let all God’s angels worship him.”
  • These passages reflect how God will triumph over all his enemies and as a result all the “gods” or “angels” will bow before him.

Psalms 104:4

  • “He makes his angels spirits and his servants flames of fire.”
  • The context of the psalm is that God has arrayed himself in the glories of the universe and operates through the powers of nature.6
  • The Rabbis often refer to the fact that God makes his angels assume any form he pleases, whether men (Genesis 18:2) or women (Zechariah 5:9) or wind or flame (Exodus 3:2; 2 Kings 6:17).7
  • “Flame of fire” probably refers to lightning – which is often the meaning of the phrase. The word “ministers” here, means the same as angels, and the sense of the whole is, that the attending retinue of God, when he manifests himself with great power and glory, is like the winds and the lightning. His angels are like them. They are prompt to do his will – rapid, quick, obedient in his service; they are in all respects subordinate to him, and occupy, as the winds and the lightnings do, the place of servants.8
  • As flames of fire they are God’s agents of judgment and illumination. Wind and fire were also symbols of the Holy Spirit in the Old Testament.9

Psalms 45:6-8

  • “Your throne, O God, will last for ever and ever; a scepter of justice 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.”
  • This psalm celebrated a royal wedding, perhaps of King Solomon or one of David’s other descendants, addressing the king as God.3
  • This psalm is addressed to “the precentor” (“the chief musician”), which shows that the psalm was used in the temple services, and thus, whatever might be the occasion of its composition, was understood by the Jews of old as having an ulterior meaning.6
  • The Hebrew term “anointed” (msh) is the OT word for Messiah (masiah).In the OT prophets, priests, and kings were anointed with olive oil as a symbol of God’s choice and provision for an assigned task. In this context it also refers to the cultural usage of olive oil at a time of joy and feasting (cf. Isa. 53:11).2

Psalms 102:25-27

  • “In the beginning, 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.”
  • This Psalm is labeled, “a prayer of the afflicted when he is faint and pours out his complaint before the Lord.” The psalmist has gone through some difficult trials, which he describes in strong poetic language in the first part of the psalm. He feels as if he is about to be taken away in the midst of his days. But in his weakness and desperation, he considers the eternality, power, and unchangeableness of the Lord as Creator. He says that even though heaven and earth will perish, God remains. Like a man throws away old clothes, God will throw away the universe, but He remains the same, and His years will never come to an end.2
  •  This Psalm was originally addressed to Jehovah, but the author of Hebrews unhesitatingly applies them to Jesus.1

Psalms 110:1

  • “Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet”
  •  At the beginning of the psalm, two forms of “lord” are used; the first is YHWH, the second is Adoni (Lord). David’s Lord (the Messiah) sits on YHWH’s (lord) throne, in the place of authority and power.2
  • The phrase “to make an enemy a footstool,” is borrowed from the custom of ancient warriors who stood on the necks of vanquished kings on the occasion of celebrating a triumph over them as a token of their complete prostration and subjection (Isaiah 10:6). The enemies referred to are the foes of God, and the meaning is, that the Messiah is to be exalted until all those foes are subdued.8
  • This psalm is quoted or alluded to more frequently than any other psalm in the New Testament (Acts 2:34; Acts 7:55, 56; Romans 8:34; Ephesians 1:20-22; 1 Peter 3:22; Hebrews 1:3, 13, 14; Hebrews 8:1; Hebrews 10:12, 13; Matthew 22:41; Mark 12:35; Luke 20:41).6

Observations

  • The personality of God, and the ability to know God as a distinct person (vs. a force of nature), is a concept underlying the whole fabric of the Christian faith.1
  • The author of Hebrews indicates that the same God who gave the Old Testament through mediators has likewise given the New Testament and its system, but this time in person.1
  • The contrast in the manner of God’s speaking to the prophets in piecemeal, here a little and there a little, is set against the revelation for the new covenant through the Son alone.1
  • The Jews believed that prophets wrote Scripture. This is why Moses was considered a prophet (cf. Deut. 18:15) and why the Jews labeled the historical books of Joshua through Kings as the “former prophets.” Therefore, this phrase does not refer to the OT prophets only, but to all the OT writers.2
  • The Jews saw history divided into two ages: the current evil age of rebellion and sin and the coming age of righteousness inaugurated by the coming of the Messiah. The OT emphasizes the coming of the Messiah in judgment and power to establish the new age.  The coming of this new age is designated by the phrase “last days.”2
  • “Exact representation” is a phrase found only here in the NT but is found often in the writings of Philo. This Greek term was originally used of an engraving tool, but it came to represent the mark it made. Jesus not only reflects deity, He bears the unique stamp of deity.2
  • The representation that Christ has “sat down” is a testimony to the completed nature of his work. In the Jewish economy, the high priest did not sit down when he went into the Holy of Holies, there being no provision of a chair, testifying to the preparatory and temporal nature of the atonement that he made; but not so with Christ who having accomplished all things is seated at God’s right hand.1
  • The metaphor of sitting at “God’s right hand” is based upon the custom of ancient kings to elevate their favorite minister to a seat on the king’s right hand.1
  • Notice that the author confirms Jesus’ standing through a series of seven OT texts from the Septuagint (mostly from the Psalms): Psalm 2:7; II Sam. 7:14; Ps. 97:7; Ps. 104:4; Ps. 45:6-7; Ps. 102:25-27 and Ps. 110:1. Seven is the number of perfection in Jewish numerology.2
  • The “name” of an individual in Scripture often indeed implied the inmost essence of that person.7

Discussion

  • The key issue the author of Hebrews is addressing in chapter one is one of “demoting” Jesus to the rank of an angel. His audience reasoned that Jesus was an important messenger, but certainly not God, himself. In what ways do we, or our society, still demote Jesus to a position lower than God? Are we more comfortable with him being a good man, or a prophet, or a demigod, or just a sub-set/aspect of God? Would we rather just think of him as something less than the creator of the universe? What contradictions does Jesus present for us in accepting him fully as God? After all, God is supposed to be eternal, all powerful, omniscient (all knowing), omnipresent (everywhere) and immutable (unchanging), how could Jesus have been any of these things as a First Century Jewish carpenter from an obscure village who ended up dying? Do we really believe that Jesus was fully God?
  • Who do you think God’s enemies are that are subdued and made into his “footstool”?
  • The author of Hebrews doesn’t argue for Jesus’ divinity from Jesus’ personal history–his miracles, his birth stories, his teachings, etc. Instead he argues from the cultural context of his audience, i.e. the Old Testament. He takes their understanding of God and shows how it points to Jesus as God. What cultural context could be used today in a similar way to show that Jesus is God?

References

  1. Coffman’s commentary
  2. Utley’s commentary
  3. Cole’s commentary
  4. Deffinbaugh’s commentary
  5. Gill’s commentary
  6. Pulpit commentary
  7. Cambridge commentary
  8. Barnes’ commentary
  9. Constable’s commentary
  10. Jewish virtual library – angels
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