Hebrews 1 – A Superior Savior
A. Jesus, the superior Savior.
1. (1-2a) Jesus brought a revelation superior to the prophets of old.
God, who at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, has in these last days spoken to us by His Son,
a. God: The Book of Hebrews begins with no mention of the author, only of God. The human author of Hebrews remains unknown, but the book’s inspiration by the Holy Spirit is evident.
i. The earliest statement on the authorship of Hebrews is from Clement of Alexandria, who said that Paul wrote it in Hebrew and Luke translated into Greek (Eusebius, History 6.14.2). Perhaps the “majority opinion” believes the Apostle Paul wrote the Book of Hebrews without attaching his name to it, though his original readers knew him (indicated by passages such as Hebrews 13:18-19 and 13:23-24).
ii. However, many other commentators believe it is unlikely that Paul wrote this book. Dods quotes Farrar: “The writer cites differently from St. Paul; he writes differently; he argues differently; he declaims differently; he constructs and connects his sentences differently; he builds up his paragraphs on a wholly different model . . . His style is the style of a man who thinks as well as writes in Greek; whereas St. Paul wrote in Greek but thought in Syriac.”
iii. F.F. Bruce quoted Calvin on this point: “The manner of teaching and the style sufficiently show that Paul was not the author, and the writer himself confesses in the second chapter (Hebrews 2:3) that he was one of the disciples of the apostles, which is wholly different from the way in which Paul spoke of himself.”
iv. The early commentator Tertullian (who wrote in the early 200s) said Barnabas wrote Hebrews, but he offered no support for this statement other than that Barnabas was a Levite (Acts 4:36) and a man of encouragement (Acts 4:36).
v. Martin Luther believed that Apollos wrote the Book of Hebrews because Acts tells us Apollos was eloquent and had a strong command of the Old Testament (Acts 18:24).
vi. German theologian Adolf Harnack thought Priscilla (with her husband Aquilla) wrote Hebrews, and it remained anonymous to hide its controversial female authorship. But when the writer to the Hebrews writes of himself in Hebrews 11:32, the masculine grammar of the passage argues against the idea that a woman wrote the letter.
vii. No matter who the human author of Hebrews is, there are indications that it was written fairly early in the New Testament period, probably somewhere around 67 to 69 ad. The reference to Timothy (Hebrews 13:23) places it fairly early. The present lack of physical persecution (Hebrews 12:4) puts it fairly early. Finally, the lack of any reference to the destruction of the temple probably puts it before 70 ad, when Jerusalem and the second temple were destroyed. Since the writer to the Hebrews is so concerned with the passing of the Old Covenant, it seems unlikely that he would ignore the destruction of the temple if it had already happened before he wrote.
b. God: This is how the book begins. There is no attempt to prove God’s existence; Scripture assumes we learn of God’s existence and some of His attributes from nature (Psalm 19:1-4 and Romans 1:20). The writer of the Hebrews knew that God existed and that He spoke to man.
c. Who at various times and in different ways spoke: The revelation given through the prophets was brought in various ways – sometimes through parables, historical narrative, prophetic confrontation, dramatic presentation, psalms, proverbs, and the like.
i. It is true that God spoke in a variety of ways in the Old Testament.
· He spoke to Moses by a burning bush. (Exodus 3)
· He spoke to Elijah by a still, small voice. (1 Kings 19)
· He spoke to Isaiah by a heavenly vision. (Isaiah 6)
· He spoke to Hosea by a family crisis. (Hosea 1:2)
· He spoke to Amos by a basket of fruit. (Amos 8:1)
ii. Yet the idea here is that the prophets spoke to the fathers in various ways; not that God spoke to the prophets in various ways (though that is true also).
iii. Using the properties of light as an illustration, we may say that God spoke in a spectrum in the Old Testament. Jesus is a prism that collected all those bands of light and focused them into one pure beam.
iv. This reference to the Old Testament will be repeated often through the Book of Hebrews. Hebrews is a book deeply rooted in the Old Testament. Hebrews has 29 quotations and 53 allusions to the Old Testament, for a total of 82 references. Significantly, Hebrews does not refer even once to the books of the Apocrypha.
d. These last days: This term refers to the age of Messiah. It may be a long period, but it is the last period.
e. Spoken to us: This is the first general mention of the readers, but they are not specifically identified. Yet the context of the work clearly identifies it as a letter – or perhaps even a sermon or an essay – written to Jewish Christians in the first century.
i. The structure of the Book of Hebrews is different from other New Testament books. It begins like an essay, continues as a sermon, and ends like a letter.
ii. Hebrews was obviously written to Christians with a Jewish background, but it was also written to a Greek frame of mind with its analysis of Jesus as the ultimate reality. This approach to the nature of Jesus explains the Savior to the mindset of the Greek philosophers.
iii. Hebrews is basically a book that exhorts discouraged Christians to continue on strong with Jesus in light of the complete superiority of who He is and what He did for us.
f. Spoken to us by His Son: It isn’t so much that Jesus brought a message from the Father; He is a message from the Father. The idea is that Jesus is far more than the latest or best prophet. He has revealed something no other prophet could.
i. The revelation from Jesus Himself was unique, because not only was it purely God’s message (as was the case with every other inspired writer) but it was also God’s personality through which the message came. The personality of Paul, Peter, John, and other Biblical writers is clear in their writings. Yet in the revelation from Jesus we see the personality of God.
ii. The Book of Hebrews (for the most part) does not present Jesus speaking of Himself. There is a sense in which the Son does not speak in Hebrews; the Father speaks concerning the Son. The book of Hebrews is the God the Father telling us what God the Son is all about. “If men cannot learn about God from the Son, no amount of prophetic voices or actions would convince them.” (Guthrie)
2. (2b-3) A sevenfold description of the glorious Son.
Whom He has appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the worlds; who being the brightness of His glory and the express image of His person, and upholding all things by the word of His power, when He had by Himself purged our sins, sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high,
a. Heir of all things: This begins a glorious section describing Jesus, first as the heir of all things. This is the idea that Jesus is preeminent. It is connected to Jesus’ standing as firstborn over all creation (Colossians 1:15).
b. He made the worlds: The ancient Greek word here translated worlds is aion, from which we get our English word “eons.” It means that Jesus made more than the material world, He also made the very ages – history itself is the creation of the Son of God.
c. The brightness of His glory: Jesus is the brightness of the Father’s glory. The ancient Greek word for brightness is apaugasma, which speaks of the radiance that shines from a source of light.
i. In this sense, Jesus is the “beam” of God’s glory. We have never seen the sun, only the rays of its light as they come to us. Even so, we have never seen God the Father, but we see Him through the “rays” of the Son of God.
ii. The ancient Greek philosopher Philo used the word apaugasma to describe the Logos: the being or intelligent mind who ordered the universe. The writer of Hebrews explained Jesus in terms that made sense to both first-century Jews and those familiar with Greek philosophy.
d. The express image of His person: The idea is of an exact likeness as made by a stamp. Jesus exactly represents God to us.
e. Upholding all things by the word of His power: The idea behind the word translated upholding is better thought of as “maintaining.” The word does not have the idea of passively holding something up (as the mythical Atlas held up the earth), but of actively sustaining.
i. In His earthly ministry Jesus constantly demonstrated the power of His word. He could heal, forgive, cast out demons, calm nature’s fury all at the expression of one word. Here we see that His word is so powerful that it can uphold all things.
f. Himself purged our sins: From the previous description, we know that the Son of God is a being of great power and wisdom. Now we know He is also a being of great love, who purged the guilt and shame of our sins. He did this Himself, showing that no one else could do it for us, and we could not do it for ourselves.
g. Sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high: This is a position of majesty, of honor, of glory, and of finished work. This position of Jesus sets Him far above all creation.
3. (4) Therefore, Jesus is so much better than the angels.
Having become so much better than the angels, as He has by inheritance obtained a more excellent name than they.
a. Having become so much better than the angels: This description of Jesus in previous verses shows us that He is far superior than any angelic being. Yet this tells us that Jesus becamebetter than the angels. We could say that He is eternally better than the angels, but He also became better than the angels.
i. Jesus became better in the sense that He was made perfect (complete as our redeemer) through sufferings (Hebrews 2:10) – something no angel ever did.
b. A more excellent name than they: Jesus’ superior status is demonstrated by a superior name, which is not merely a title, but a description of His nature and character. There are many reasons why it is important to understand the surpassing excellence of Jesus, setting Him far above every angelic being.
· We often best understand things when they are set in contrast to other things.
· Though the Old Covenant came by the hands of angels to Moses, a better covenant came by a better being, Jesus. First century Jews might think that the gospel came at the hands of mere men – the apostles. But in truth, the gospel came by Jesus, who is superior to the angels.
· There was a dangerous tendency to worship angels developing in the early Church (Colossians 2:18, Galatians 1:8), and Hebrews shows that Jesus is high above any angel.
· There was the heretical idea that Jesus Himself was an angel, a concept that degrades His glory and majesty.
· Understanding how Jesus is better than the angels helps us to understand how He is better than anyone or anything in our life.
i. In this sense, the purpose of Hebrews is like the purpose of the Transfiguration of Jesus mentioned in the Gospels. They each cry out and say, “This is My beloved Son. Hear Him!” (Mark 9:7)
B. The Scriptures prove Jesus is superior to the angels.
1. (5) Jesus is superior to the angels because He is the Son of God, as shown in Psalm 2:7 and 2 Samuel 7:14.
For to which of the angels did He ever say: “You are My Son, Today I have begotten You”? And again: “I will be to Him a Father, and He shall be to Me a Son”?
a. You are My Son: God the Father calls Jesus, “Son” – the more excellent name of Hebrews 1:4. This shows that Jesus is greater than the angels because no angel was ever given this great name. Though the angels may collectively be called “sons of God” (such as in Job 1:6), but no angel is ever given that title individually.
b. Today I have begotten You: The word begotten speaks of the equality of substance and essential nature between the Father and Son. It means that the Father and the Son share the same being.
2. (6-7) Jesus is superior to the angels because angels worship and serve Jesus, who is their God, as shown in Deuteronomy 32:43 (in the Septuagint and the Dead Sea Scrolls) and Psalm 104:4.
But when He again brings the firstborn into the world, He says: “Let all the angels of God worship Him.” And of the angels He says: “Who makes His angels spirits and His ministers a flame of fire.”
a. The firstborn: This word was used both as an idea and to designate the one born first. Since the firstborn son was “first in line” and received the position of favor and honor, the title “firstborn” could indicate that someone was of the highest position and honor.
i. Many of those not born first in the Bible are given the title “firstborn.” David is an example of this (Psalm 89:27) and so is Ephraim (Jeremiah 31:9).
ii. According to Rabbi Bechai (quoted in Lightfoot) the ancient Rabbis called Yahweh Himself “Firstborn of the World.” It was a title, not a description of origin.
iii. Rabbis used firstborn as a specifically Messianic title. One ancient Rabbi wrote, “God said, ‘As I made Jacob a first-born (Exodus 4:22), so also will I make king Messiah a first-born (Psalm 89:28).’ ” (R. Nathan in Shemoth Rabba, cited in Lightfoot)
b. Let all the angels of God worship Him: Jesus is superior because He is the object of angelic worship, not an angelic worshipper. They worship Him; He does not worship among them. Revelation 5 gives a glimpse of the angelic worship of Jesus.
c. Who makes His angels spirits and His ministers a flame of fire: Jesus is Lord over the angels. They are His angels and His ministers. The angels belong to Jesus, and He is not among them.
3. (8-12) Jesus is superior to the angels because the Father Himself calls Him (and not any angel) God and Lord (Yahweh), as shown in Psalm 45:6-7 and 102:25-27 from the Septuagint.
But to the Son He says: “Your throne, O God, is forever and ever; a scepter of righteousness is the scepter of Your Kingdom. You have loved righteousness and hated lawlessness; therefore God, Your God, has anointed You with the oil of gladness more than Your companions.” And: “You, Lord, in the beginning laid the foundation of the earth, and the heavens are the work of Your hands. They will perish, but You remain; And they will all grow old like a garment; like a cloak You will fold them up, and they will be changed. But You are the same, and Your years will not fail.”
a. Your throne, O God: This makes it plain that the Father calls the Son God. When the First Person of the Trinity spoke to the Second Person of the Trinity, He called Him God. This is unique and powerful evidence of the deity of Jesus.
i. Some argue that there are many beings called “gods” in the Bible such as Satan (2 Corinthians 4:4) and earthly judges (Psalm 82:1 and 6). But these others are supposed gods, pretenders to their throne. If Jesus is not the true God, He is a false god – like Satan and the wicked judges of Psalm 82.
ii. But Jesus is the True and Living God, called so here by God the Father, and also by John in John 1:1, by Thomas in John 20:28, and by Paul in Titus 2:13 and Titus 3:4.
b. Therefore God, Your God, has anointed You: This passage shows striking interaction between the Persons of the Trinity. “God, Your God” speaks of the Father and His position of authority over the Second Person of the Trinity. “You” refers to the Son. “Anointed” has in mind the ministry and presence of the Holy Spirit, the Third Person of the Trinity.
c. You, Lord, in the beginning: The Son is not only called God, but also Lord (Yahweh). Then the Son is described with attributes and terms that belong only to God.
i. You, Lord, in the beginning laid the foundation of the earth: This shows that Jesus Christ, the Second Person of the Trinity, is the Creator. Yahweh is specifically said to be the Creator (Isaiah 45:12, Isaiah 45:18).
ii. They will perish, but You will remain: This shows that Jesus Christ, the Second Person of the Trinity is self-existent, even as Psalm 102:25-27 says this of Yahweh.
iii. Like a cloak You will fold them up, and they will be changed: This shows that Jesus Christ, the Second Person of the Trinity is sovereign, with authority over all creation and history, even as Psalm 102:25-27 says this of Yahweh.
iv. You are the same: This shows that Jesus Christ, the Second Person of the Trinity is immutable, unchanging, and eternal (Your years will not fail). Psalm 102:25-27 says this of Yahweh and the writer to the Hebrews says that it clearly applies to Jesus as well.
4. (13-14) Jesus is superior to the angels because He has sat down, having completed His work, while the angels work on continually, as shown in Psalm 110:1.
But to which of the angels has He ever said: “Sit at My right hand, till I make Your enemies Your footstool”? Are they not all ministering spirits sent forth to minister for those who will inherit salvation?
a. Sit at My right hand: Anyone who sits in the divine presence shows they have the perfect right to be there. There are no seats for the angels around the throne of God because they are constantly busy praising God and serving Him. Yet Jesus can – at the invitation of God the Father – sit at the right hand of God the Father.
i. It isn’t good to be too comfortable in the presence of majesty. There is a story about a man named Lear who was hired to give Queen Victoria art lessons. Things went well, and Lear started to feel quite at home in the palace. He enjoyed standing in front of the fire, leaning on the hearth and warming himself in a relaxed manner, but every time he did one of the Queen’s attendants invited him to look at something on the other side of the room, making him move. No one explained it to him, but after a while he got the idea: good manners said it was wrong for a subject to have such a relaxed attitude in the presence of their Queen. Jesus is not a subject – He is the Sovereign, so He sits in the presence of majesty.
b. But to which of the angels has He ever said: “Sit at My right hand.” The angels are not permitted to “relax” before God. They “stand” before the Father, but the Son sits down – because He isn’t a subject, He is the Sovereign.
c. Are they not all ministering spirits: Angels are ministering spirits, not governing spirits; service, not dominion is their calling. In this respect angels are like a toy that won’t quit. They keep working while the Son takes a posture of rest because He is the Son.
i. Jesus is also called a servant and a minister, but this is part of His voluntary humiliation, not his essential nature – as it is in the essential nature of angels to be servants.
d. Sent forth to minister for those who will inherit salvation: The angels are commanded to serve God, but He shares His servants with redeemed men and women. This shows the great love of God for us and how He wants to share all things with us.
©2013 David Guzik – No distribution beyond personal use without permission