2. The Uniqueness and Authority of Jesus Christ (Hebrews 1:1-2:4)Related Media
1 After God spoke long ago in various portions and in various ways to our ancestors through the prophets, 2 in these last days he has spoken to us in a son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he created the world. 3 The Son is the radiance of his glory and the representation of his essence, and he sustains all things by his powerful word, and so when he had accomplished cleansing for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high. 4 Thus he became so far better than the angels as he has inherited a name superior to theirs (Hebrews 1:1-4).2
My friend, Fred Smith,3 did not have the opportunity to obtain a college degree. Nevertheless, he was one of the most educated men I have ever known. This is not just my opinion. Fred used to tell the story of being invited to be the commencement speaker at Harvard University. As the time for him to speak drew near, a woman from the university called to ask Fred what his academic colors were so that they could provide him with the appropriate academic garb. Fred had to inform the woman that he did not have a college degree, and then offered to step aside if they wished to invite someone else (with the proper credentials) to speak. Wisely, they opted to confirm their invitation for him to speak, and thus (much to Fred’s amusement) he wore a choir robe for the occasion. Certain outward indications of intellectual achievement may not have been present, but it didn’t take long for the audience to realize that this man had something significant to say. I have to admit, though, that I would have loved to hear what was said as Fred was being introduced to this audience.
Our first lesson in the Book of Hebrews was my introduction to the book. This lesson focuses on the author’s introduction. In one sense, it is an introduction to the Book of Hebrews; in another sense, it is an introduction to the Person about whom this book is written – Jesus Christ. We know that this is a difficult and challenging book, so the author begins by answering a question that is in the minds of anyone who contemplates whether or not to read it: “What is so special about Jesus that I should expend the time and energy to study Hebrews?” In this lesson, we will discover that Jesus Christ stands above and apart from anyone else.
An Overview of Hebrews 1:1-2:18
My desire is to understand the Book of Hebrews as a whole, as well as to explore the meaning and message of each of its many parts. I will therefore seek to identify the major sections in Hebrews and to study the parts each contains in the light of the argument of that section. The first major section of Hebrews is 1:1—2:18, chapters 1 and 2. Here’s the way I see the structure of this first section:
The Son of God and the “sons of God”4
Introduction: God has spoken in His Son (1:1-4)
The Son is God’s “final Word” (1:1-2a)
The Son is above all, particularly the angels (1:2b-4)
The Son is higher than the angels (1:4-14)
Exhortation: Listen to Him! (2:1-4)
The Son became lower than the angels to save men (2:5-18)
The term “angels” appears twelve times in the Book of Hebrews; ten of the twelve occurrences of this word occur in chapters 1 and 2 (five times in each chapter). The author begins by demonstrating that the Son is “higher than the angels” (1:1-14) and then, after a few words of exhortation (2:1-4), he tells us that the Son of God became “lower than the angels” in order to save sinful men, and having done so, He is once again exalted above all others (2:5-18). Hebrews 1 and 2 thus sums up the person and work of Jesus Christ from beginning (Creator) to end (Heir of all things), with particular emphasis on His incarnation and saving work at Calvary.
Characteristics of Hebrews 1:1-4
I have a friend who lives on a lake in Canada (I would think of this now as it will reach 100 degrees in Dallas, Texas today!) This is a glacier-cut lake, and sometimes large rocks will be invisible, just below the surface of the water. Usually the danger is indicated by a white plastic bottle that is anchored near the rock. On one occasion, the bottle somehow disappeared. Since my friend was relatively new to the lake at that time, he didn’t realize the danger just below the surface. To make a long story short, he got a new boat.
Just below the surface of the English text of Hebrews 1:1-4 are some very interesting features. These are not dangers at all, but beauties. Thankfully, the scholars have marked them for us. For example, in our English translation in the NET Bible, verses 1-4 contain three sentences. I counted five sentences in another translation. Yet in the Greek text, these four verses are one sentence. One implication of this is that we must see verse four as inseparable from verses 1-3. (I confess; I was tempted to deal only with verses 1-3 in this lesson.)
But it is two other characteristics of this text which are of the most interest to me. First, whether in the Greek text or the English, these verses are some of the most theologically powerful words in the New Testament. In so few words, the vast scope of the power and majesty of the Lord Jesus is described.
Second, not only is the content of these verses superb; the style of writing is absolutely top notch. Listen to what George H. Guthrie has to say about them:
“For example, in the book’s first four verses, which one commentator [Ceslas Spicq] has called the most perfect Greek sentence in the New Testament, the author of Hebrews uses periodic style (a crafted configuration of clauses and phrases that concludes with a majestic ending), effectiveness, compactness, contrast, poetic structure, omissions, figures, repetition (alliteration), and rhythm – all features extolled in the rhetorical handbooks of the day. His use of the Greek language ranks at the top of New Testament authors; his rich vocabulary reveals the background of one widely read.”5
Later on in his commentary, Guthrie says,
“Because Hebrews begins like a sermon, without any mention of sender, addressees, or words of greeting, the author opens with a majestic overture, rhetorically eloquent and theologically packed.”6
The first readers of these verses must have been struck with the power and majesty of Jesus, as reflected in both the content and the style of these introductory words.
God Has Spoken By His Son
1 After God spoke long ago in various portions and in various ways to our ancestors through the prophets, 2 in these last days he has spoken to us in7 a son, . . . .
In one sentence, the author sums up the whole of the Old Testament: God spoke to the readers ancestors from time to time, over many years, in many different ways. He spoke directly to some, as He did to Adam and Eve.8 He spoke through dreams and visions,9 such as those of Pharaoh10 and Nebuchadnezzar.11 He even spoke through Balaam’s donkey.12 But most often He spoke by means of the prophets, who then conveyed this revelation to the Israelites, the people of God.13 The Old Testament contained a written account of much of this revelation. The readers of Hebrews were familiar with this revelation, so that the author of this book will feel free to refer to it often, expecting his readers to know what he is talking about.
It is the next words – those found at the beginning of verse two – which come with boldness and authority: “In these last days He has spoken to us by his Son.” We would do well to observe that the author is not belittling the truth or the value of this Old Testament revelation. It is entirely true and authoritative – God spoke. It anticipates and is fully consistent with God’s speaking by His Son. But while there is a clear emphasis on the continuity of God’s revelation to men, there is also a very clear element of contrast. Thus, we can summarize these contrasts in this way:
God Has Spoken . . .
In olden times Now, in these last days
14To our fathers To us
By various means By one means
At various times At one point in time
Partially Fully and once for all
Through the prophets Through His Son
Through prophets who spoke for God Through Jesus, who spoke as God
Let me make one clarification. When the author writes that God has spoken by (or in) His Son, he does not refer only to the words that Jesus has spoken – those words in red in some Bibles. The author means for us to understand that God revealed Himself to us by our Lord’s character, by His words, and by His deeds. Jesus reveals God to man by His entire being.
The Uniqueness of the Son
. . . whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he created the world. 3 The Son is the radiance of his glory and the representation of his essence, and he sustains all things by his powerful word, and so when he had accomplished cleansing for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high. 4 Thus he became so far better than the angels as he has inherited a name superior to theirs.
God has spoken through His Son (literally “through Son”. We know, of course, that this “son” is His Son, Jesus Christ. But what does it mean to be the Son? Put a different way, “So God has spoken through the Son, why should I listen to Him?” Who is the Son, that He deserves to be heard? The author is about to tell us. These powerful words, stated in such eloquent Greek, declare that Jesus Christ is absolutely unique, so unique that He stands apart from and above every other creature, including the angels. Jesus Christ is someone to whom we should pay close attention. This point will be driven home in Hebrews 2:1-4, but for now let us look at those things which make the Son unique, which set Him apart from and above the angels.
The Son has been appointed heir of all things. An heir is one who will inherit something from another. An heir is one who is related to the one through whom the inheritance will come. In a sense, an heir is one who is designated or appointed as such, usually by means of a will. The Son has been “appointed” as such by the Father. It may well be that the author is thinking of this Old Testament text:
Ask me, and I will give you the nations as your inheritance,
the ends of the earth as your personal property (Psalm 2:8).
Because the author has set out to show the superiority of the Son to the angels, my mind was drawn to one angel (Lucifer) who sought to possess “all things” in a very different way:
12 “How you have fallen from heaven,
O star of the morning, son of the dawn!
You have been cut down to the earth,
You who have weakened the nations!
13 “But you said in your heart,
‘I will ascend to heaven;
I will raise my throne above the stars of God,
And I will sit on the mount of assembly
In the recesses of the north.
14 ‘I will ascend above the heights of the clouds;
I will make myself like the Most High.’
15 “Nevertheless you will be thrust down to Sheol,
To the recesses of the pit” (Isaiah 14:12-15, NASB95).
The Son, the Lord Jesus, is designated by the Father to be the heir to the throne, and thus to rule over all creation. Satan first sought to seize the throne, and then later he arrogantly claimed to possess it, promising to hand it over to the Son if He would bow down in worship (see Matthew 4:8-10). The Father who sits on the throne is the One who deserves all glory and honor and praise:
9 And whenever the living creatures give glory, honor, and thanks to the one who sits on the throne, who lives forever and ever, 10 the twenty-four elders throw themselves to the ground before the one who sits on the throne and worship the one who lives forever and ever, and they offer their crowns before his throne, saying: 11 “You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, since you created all things, and because of your will they existed and were created!” (Revelation 4:9-11)
It is He who has designated the Son as the heir. And, let us not forget that those who are the “sons of God” by faith in Jesus Christ are joint heirs with Him and will reign with Him:
16 The Spirit himself bears witness to our spirit that we are God’s children. 17 And if children, then heirs (namely, heirs of God and also fellow heirs with Christ) – if indeed we suffer with him so we may also be glorified with him (Romans 8:16-17; see also Galatians 4:7).
“I will grant the one who conquers permission to sit with me on my throne, just as I too conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne” (Revelation 3:21).
9 They were singing a new song: “You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals because you were killed, and at the cost of your own blood you have purchased for God persons from every tribe, language, people, and nation. 10 You have appointed them as a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth” (Revelation 5:9-10).
The Son is the One through whom the Father created the universe. The writer to the Hebrews is certainly not alone in declaring the Lord Jesus to be the Creator:
1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was fully God. 2 The Word was with God in the beginning. 3 All things were created by him, and apart from him not one thing was created that has been created (John 1:1-3).
Yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we live, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we live (1 Corinthians 8:6).
15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation, 16 for all things in heaven and on earth were created by him – all things, whether visible or invisible, whether thrones or dominions, whether principalities or powers – all things were created through him and for him (Colossians 1:15-16).
15How aptly Moffatt put it when he wrote, “. . . ‘what the Son was to possess he had been instrumental in making’ (Moffatt).” It is little wonder that the One through whom all things have come into being should inherit them:
For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever! Amen (Romans 11:36).
We should also go on to say that if Jesus, the Son, is Creator then He surely is not a part of creation in the sense that He is a created being (as are the angels). He was there, in the beginning, before the angels were called into being. How much greater is the Creator than that which He creates.
The Son is the radiance of the Father’s glory. One of the first times we encounter God’s glory is found in Exodus 16, when God’s glory is revealed in response to the grumbling of the Israelites. You can see why this produced fear. The glory of God appears at Mount Sinai, and once again produces fear, prompting the Israelites to keep their distance (Exodus 19 and 24). Actually, God’s glory was so terrifying that the people wanted Moses to mediate for them, so that they would not encounter God in such close proximity:
22 The Lord said these things to your entire assembly at the mountain from the middle of the fire, the cloud, and the darkness with a loud voice, and that was all he said. Then he inscribed the words on two stone tablets and gave them to me. 23 Then, when you heard the voice from the midst of the darkness while the mountain was ablaze, all your tribal leaders and elders approached me. 24 You said, “The Lord our God has shown us his great glory and we have heard him speak from the middle of the fire. It is now clear to us that God can speak to human beings and they can keep on living. 25 But now, why should we die, because this intense fire will consume us! If we keep hearing the voice of the Lord our God we will die! 26 Who is there from the entire human race who has heard the voice of the living God speaking from the middle of the fire as we have, and has lived? 27 You go near so that you can hear everything the Lord our God is saying and then you can tell us whatever he says to you; then we will pay attention and do it” (Deuteronomy 5:22-27).
God’s glory was frightening, causing men to keep their distance. Even Moses could not look fully on His glory:
18 And Moses said, “Show me your glory.” 19 And the Lord said, “I will make all my goodness pass before your face, and I will proclaim the Lord by name before you; I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, I will show mercy to whom I will show mercy.” 20 But he added, “You cannot see my face, for no one can see me and live.” 21 The Lord said, “Here is a place by me; you will station yourself on a rock. 22 When my glory passes by, I will put you in a cleft in the rock and will cover you with my hand while I pass by. 23 Then I will take away my hand, and you will see my back, but my face must not be seen” (Exodus 33:18-23).
Moses reflected this glory but, as Paul is determined to make very clear to us, the evidence of that glory faded:
12 Therefore, since we have such a hope, we behave with great boldness, 13 and not like Moses who used to put a veil over his face to keep the Israelites from staring at the result of the glory that was made ineffective (2 Corinthians 3:12-13).
When the Son of God took on human flesh at His incarnation, He manifested God’s glory to men. Thus John could write:
14 Now the Word became flesh and took up residence among us. We saw his glory – the glory of the one and only, full of grace and truth, who came from the Father (John 1:14).
And to this the Apostle Paul says a hearty “Amen!”
5 For we do not proclaim ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your slaves for Jesus’ sake. 6 For God, who said “Let light shine out of darkness,” is the one who shined in our hearts to give us the light of the glorious knowledge of God in the face of Christ (2 Corinthians 4:5-6).
It is this to which the writer to the Hebrews refers. Jesus Christ, the Son of God, displays the glory of God to men. That glory was not usually evident in spectacular ways, but there were those rare occasions when the curtain was lifted, and greater outward evidences of it were seen, such as at His baptism16 and at His transfiguration.17 And what glory He now displays from heaven:
12 I turned to see whose voice was speaking to me, and when I did so, I saw seven golden lampstands, 13 and in the midst of the lampstands was one like a son of man. He was dressed in a robe extending down to his feet and he wore a wide golden belt around his chest. 14 His head and hair were as white as wool, even as white as snow, and his eyes were like a fiery flame. 15 His feet were like polished bronze refined in a furnace, and his voice was like the roar of many waters. 16 He held seven stars in his right hand, and a sharp double-edged sword extended out of his mouth. His face shone like the sun shining at full strength. 17 When I saw him I fell down at his feet as though I were dead, but he placed his right hand on me and said: “Do not be afraid! I am the first and the last, 18 and the one who lives! I was dead, but look, now I am alive – forever and ever – and I hold the keys of death and of Hades! 19 Therefore write what you saw, what is, and what will be after these things (Revelation 1:12-19).
This One – the Son – is He who radiates the glory of God, and yet this glory does not force men to keep their distance (as was the case in the Old Testament); it beckons men, women and children to draw near, as so many have done.
The Son is the manifestation of the Father’s essence. The reason why the Son radiates the glory of God is that He is of one essence with the Father. This was a topic of great debate in the Arian Controversy, and our text in Hebrews was one of the primary texts that the church fathers employed to refute the Arian error that Jesus was “like the Father” but not of the same essence. The Bible clearly indicates that the two are of the same essence, as implied or indicated elsewhere in Scripture:
Jesus replied, “Have I been with you for so long, and you have not known me, Philip? The person who has seen me has seen the Father! How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?” (John 14:9)
26 Eight days later the disciples were again together in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and examine my hands. Extend your hand and put it into my side. Do not continue in your unbelief, but believe.” 28 Thomas replied to him, “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:26-28)
Among whom the god of this age has blinded the minds of those who do not believe so they would not see the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God (2 Corinthians 4:4).
He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation (Colossians 1:15).
For in him all the fullness of deity lives in bodily form (Colossians 2:9).
And so the faithful commentators observe:
“Just as the glory is really in the effulgence, so the being (Gk. hypostasis) of God is really in Christ, who is its impress, its exact representation and embodiment.”18
“What God essentially is, is made manifest in Christ. To see Christ is to see what the Father is like.”19
The Son upholds all things by His powerful Word. In the first chapter of the Book of Genesis, we read the repeated statement, “Then God said, ‘Let there be . . . .’”20 We know that God spoke a word, calling all creation to order. The writer to the Hebrews is well aware of this, for later in his epistle he writes,
By faith we understand that the worlds were set in order at God’s command, so that the visible has its origin in the invisible (Hebrews 11:3, emphasis mine).
16 For all things in heaven and on earth were created by him – all things, whether visible or invisible, whether thrones or dominions, whether principalities or powers – all things were created through him and for him. 17 He himself is before all things and all things are held together in him (Colossians 1:16-17).
Those who reject Jesus as the Promised Messiah want to have nothing to do with Him. They want to be left alone. Worse yet, they want Him to go away.23 It is such folks who cried, “Away with Him!”24 It seems to me that at least in some aspects of the Great Tribulation, our Lord gives men what they have asked for by withdrawing His hand from sustaining the cosmos. The Savior who is also the Sustainer of the Universe keeps silent, letting the universe spin out of control:
24 “But in those days, after that suffering, the sun will be darkened and the moon will not give its light; 25 the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken (Mark 13:24-25).
In reading Hannah’s prayer this past week, I noted that she associated God’s power as Creator with His power as Protector and Provider:
8 He lifts the weak from the dust;
he raises the poor from the ash heap
to seat them with princes
and to bestow on them an honored position.
The foundations of the earth belong to the Lord,
and he has placed the world on them.
9 He watches over his holy ones,
but the wicked are made speechless in the darkness,
for it is not by one’s own strength that one prevails (1 Samuel 2:8-9).
He Who created the universe sustains it, and it is He Who also created me, physically and spiritually. Surely I can trust Him to sustain me, just as He does His cosmic creation.
The Son accomplished cleansing for sins. The first major event after creation is the fall of mankind. Sin enters the world, along with its deadly consequences. The Old Testament law and the sacrificial system did not solve the sin problem; it merely served to put off the consequences until a permanent solution arrived.25 It was the Son of God who removed sin once for all:
38 with respect to Jesus from Nazareth, that God anointed him with the Holy Spirit and with power. He went around doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, because God was with him. 39 We are witnesses of all the things he did both in Judea and in Jerusalem. They killed him by hanging him on a tree, 40 but God raised him up on the third day and caused him to be seen, 41 not by all the people, but by us, the witnesses God had already chosen, who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. 42 He commanded us to preach to the people and to warn them that he is the one appointed by God as judge of the living and the dead. 43 About him all the prophets testify, that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name” (Acts 10:38-43).
38 Therefore let it be known to you, brothers, that through this one forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you, 39 and by this one everyone who believes is justified from everything from which the law of Moses could not justify you” (Acts 13:38-39).
God made the one who did not know sin to be sin for us, so that in him we would become the righteousness of God (2 Corinthians 5:21).
The writer does not take this occasion to delve deeply into the atoning work of Jesus for that matter will be taken up much more fully later in the book (this is, after all, the author’s introduction to the book). He accomplished a remedy for sin. It is something that is already done. As our Lord Himself put it, “It is finished!”26
The Son sat down at the Father’s right hand. It is only after our Lord accomplished cleansing for sins that He sat down. That is because He had finished His work of cleansing sins. But the author wants us to know more than just that the Son sat down. He wants us to take note of where the Son was seated – at the right hand of the Father. The right hand is the hand of power.27 The right hand of God is the place of access and intercession.28It is at the right hand of the Father that the Son will await the Father’s indication that it is time for the Son to subdue His enemies and assume His throne.
So then, exalted to the right hand of God, and having received the promise of the Holy Spirit from the Father, he has poured out what you both see and hear (Acts 2:33).
God exalted him to his right hand as Leader and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins (Acts 5:31).
55 But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked intently toward heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. 56 “Look!” he said. “I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!” (Acts 7:55-56)
The right hand of the Father is the place from which one may intercede on behalf of others:
Who is the one who will condemn? Christ is the one who died (and more than that, he was raised), who is at the right hand of God, and who also is interceding for us (Romans 8:34).
This is the place from which our Lord currently ministers on behalf of His people.
The Author’s Conclusion
Ideally this message would be a two-hour sermon. In many parts of the world, that would pose no problem at all, but in America, going longer than forty minutes is an unpardonable sin. Having made his seven statements regarding the Son in verses 1-3, the author reaches his conclusion in verse 4.
“Thus he became so far better than the angels as he has inherited a name superior to theirs.”
Our author has reminded us that “the Son” is (1) the heir of all things; (2) the Creator of the universe; (3) the radiance of the Father’s glory; (4) the manifestation of the Father’s essence; (5) the Sustainer of all things; (6) the One who accomplished cleansing for sins; and, (7) the One who is now seated at the right hand of the Father – all of this to show that the Son is greater than the angels. And now, in verses 5-14, he will buttress this conclusion with seven Old Testament citations which validate the conclusion from these texts. The author’s application will not come until the first four verses of chapter 2.
Having said this, let us conclude with some observations and points of application.
First, I would observe that this passage is a great introduction. The author has certainly gotten our attention. He has informed us of the content of this great book, and He has given us some powerful reasons as to why we should press on to study and understand it, even though this is a substantial task. We now see that Christ is the focus of this book’s message, and we see that there are two main themes about the Son that we are to grasp:
The Son, Jesus Christ, is God’s full and final revelation to mankind.
The Son, Jesus Christ, is above all29 (angels in particular).
Second, the Book of Hebrews is rich in doctrinal content. If we want our theology to be right, we had better check it against the teaching of Hebrews. For example, Hebrews has much to teach us about the inspiration and authority of Scripture, the doctrine of progressive revelation, and even guides us as to how we should interpret and apply it to our lives. Over and over, we are told how essential the Scriptures are to our lives. Our Christology (the doctrine of Christ) must be rooted in the teaching of Hebrews. The atoning work of the Son at Calvary and His current high priestly ministry is examined in depth by the author of Hebrews. Likewise, this epistle has much to contribute toward our understanding of the doctrine of the Trinity. If we would know doctrine as we should, we will be students of the Book of Hebrews.
Third, the Book of Hebrews is much more than a scholarly tome. In the end, Hebrew inspires and exhorts us to “draw near” to the One of whom this book speaks, the Lord Jesus Christ. In this sense, this scholarly work is a devotional work as well. And it is deeply practical. Chapter 11 provides us with ample examples of what it means to live by faith. Chapters 12 and 13 give us specific instructions as to how we are to live in difficult times.
As I was thinking about my introduction to the Book of Hebrews in our last lesson, I was reminded of all the time and toil that scholars have spent agonizing over what we are not told: the author of the epistle, the recipients, the date of its writing, the exact circumstances that prompted it. The epistle could have started as some of the New Testament epistles do:
1 From Paul, called to be an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Sosthenes, our brother, 2 to the church of God that is in Corinth, to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, and called to be saints, with all those in every place who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, their Lord and ours. 3 Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ! 4 I always thank my God for you because of the grace of God that was given to you in Christ Jesus (1 Corinthians 1:1-4).
Do we really wish that the author of this epistle had followed this pattern in Hebrews? Or would we prefer the introduction that he has written:
1 After God spoke long ago in various portions and in various ways to our ancestors through the prophets, 2 in these last days he has spoken to us in a son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he created the world. 3 The Son is the radiance of his glory and the representation of his essence, and he sustains all things by his powerful word, and so when he had accomplished cleansing for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high. 4 Thus he became so far better than the angels as he has inherited a name superior to theirs (Hebrews 1:1-4).
As for me, I’ll take the introduction that God has given, and I’ll not agonize about the things He has purposely omitted, nor will I spend countless hours attempting to “fill in the blanks.” To see Christ, high and lifted up, is all that we need, and that is just what this book will do.
Jesus Christ is totally unique, One of a kind. I have a friend who recently showed me a magnificent automobile, one that belonged to the royalty of a Middle Eastern nation. It is very rare, but it is not unique (so far as I know); it is not one of a kind. Jesus is truly unique, and our text has made that abundantly clear. One might say that God the Father put all His eggs into one basket (proverbially speaking); all of God’s promises and purposes rest upon the perfection and the performance of the Son. He has, so to speak, staked His glory on the person and the work of the Son. And because He is what He is (as summarized in our text), God’s glory has been displayed to mankind (and the heavenly host):
8 To me – less than the least of all the saints – this grace was given, to proclaim to the Gentiles the unfathomable riches of Christ 9 and to enlighten everyone about God’s secret plan – a secret that has been hidden for ages in God who has created all things. 10 The purpose of this enlightenment is that through the church the multifaceted wisdom of God should now be disclosed to the rulers and the authorities in the heavenly realms. 11 This was according to the eternal purpose that he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord, 12 in whom we have boldness and confident access to God because of Christ’s faithfulness (Ephesians 3:8-12).
This One is the One in whom we must trust for the forgiveness of our sins and the gift of eternal life. When we see ourselves in comparison to Him, we see how far short of God’s standard of perfection we fall. Only Jesus Christ meets God’s specifications for righteousness. Only He could speak for the Father with full authority. And only He could die at Calvary in the sinner’s place, accomplishing the cleansing from sins. Are you trusting in anything or anyone other than the Lord Jesus Christ? If so, confess your sin and trust in Him alone. He is God’s only provision for forgiveness of sins and eternal life:
9 The true light, who gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and the world was created by him, but the world did not recognize him. 11 He came to what was his own, but his own people did not receive him. 12 But to all who have received him – those who believe in his name – he has given the right to become God’s children 13 – children not born by human parents or by human desire or a husband’s decision, but by God (John 1:9-13).
16 For this is the way God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16).
6 Jesus replied, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. 7 If you have known me, you will know my Father too. And from now on you do know him and have seen him.” 8 Philip said, “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be content.” 9 Jesus replied, “Have I been with you for so long, and you have not known me, Philip? The person who has seen me has seen the Father! How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? 10 Do you not believe that I am in the Father, and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you, I do not speak on my own initiative, but the Father residing in me performs his miraculous deeds. 11 Believe me that I am in the Father, and the Father is in me, but if you do not believe me, believe because of the miraculous deeds themselves. 12 I tell you the solemn truth, the person who believes in me will perform the miraculous deeds that I am doing, and will perform greater deeds than these, because I am going to the Father. 13 And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son” (John 14:6-13).
12 And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among people by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).
10 (The one who believes in the Son of God has the testimony in himself; the one who does not believe God has made him a liar, because he has not believed in the testimony that God has testified concerning his Son.) 11 And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. 12 The one who has the Son has this eternal life; the one who does not have the Son of God does not have this eternal life (1 John 5:10-12).
Some balk at the fact that the gospel is too exclusive, that all other religions and all other means to reach God are rejected. The reason that the gospel is exclusive is that the Son, Jesus Christ, is unique. No one can make the claims that He has made, claims that the author of Hebrews has reaffirmed. And since He is unique, the only One qualified to accomplish cleansing from sins, His way of salvation is exclusive. Trust in the only One who can save, the only One who has provided cleansing from sins – Jesus Christ.
And for those who have placed their trust in Christ, for those who affirm the statements made in the first verses of Hebrews, I would ask you (and myself) a question: “If we claim to serve Jesus Christ as the unique Son of God, do our lives demonstrate it? Does your checkbook show it? How about your Day Timer? Is He first of all in our finances, our schedules, our priorities, our thoughts and meditations, our reading, our conversations, our devotion (worship), of obedience? That is what the author of this great book is seeking to challenge us to do.
So let us take our study of this great epistle seriously, conscious of Who it is who is speaking to us, and well aware of what He will challenge us to do.
1 Copyright © 2008 by Robert L. Deffinbaugh. This is the edited manuscript of Lesson 1 in the series, Near to the Heart of God – A Study of the Book of Hebrews, prepared by Robert L. Deffinbaugh on July 13, 2008. Anyone is at liberty to use this lesson for educational purposes only, with or without credit.
2 Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the NET Bible. The NEW ENGLISH TRANSLATION, also known as THE NET BIBLE, is a completely new translation of the Bible, not a revision or an update of a previous English version. It was completed by more than twenty biblical scholars who worked directly from the best currently available Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek texts. The translation project originally started as an attempt to provide an electronic version of a modern translation for electronic distribution over the Internet and on CD (compact disk). Anyone anywhere in the world with an Internet connection will be able to use and print out the NET Bible without cost for personal study. In addition, anyone who wants to share the Bible with others can print unlimited copies and give them away free to others. It is available on the Internet at: www.netbible.org.
4 I have used the expression “the sons of God” because this is used to refer to angels in Old Testament texts like Job 1:6; 2:1; 38:7; and some would add Genesis 6:2, 4. It is also found in the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Old Testament) at Deuteronomy 32:43. This expression will be used for Christians in the New Testament.
5 George H. Guthrie, Hebrews – The NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1998), p. 26, fn. 20.
6 Guthrie, p. 45. One should press on in Guthrie’s commentary to pages 54-55, where Guthrie gives more specifics about the magnificent style of this unnamed author.
7 I would much prefer that the translation above (the NET Bible) reflected the fact that the same preposition (en) is used with reference to the prophets and to the Son, making the contrast ever more apparent. Thus, we are told, in times of old God spoke from time to time by the prophets, but now at last He has spoken fully and finally to us by his Son. This is the way the ESV translates it. The NASB also does this by using the preposition in: “in the prophets,” and “in His Son.”
8 Genesis 2:16-17; 3:9-19.
9 Genesis 37:5, 9; 40:8-19.
10 Genesis 41.
11 Daniel 2 and 4.
12 Numbers 22:21-30.
13 See, for example, 1 Samuel 3.
14 “[In these last days] is a literal rendering of the Hebrew phrase which is used in the Old Testament to denote the epoch when the words of the prophets will be fulfilled, and its use here means that the appearance of Christ ‘once for all at the consummation of the ages’ (9:26) has inaugurated that time of fulfillment.” F. F. Bruce, The Epistle to the Hebrews, revised edition (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1990), p. 46.
“Christ is God’s greatest prophet with a distinctive message for these last days. His coming inaugurated a new era. In him the last days have certainly begun; the phrase conveys the superiority of the message and the urgency of the times.” Raymond Brown, Christ Above All: The Message of Hebrews (Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1982), p. 29.
15 Cited by Raymond Brown, p. 30.
16 Mark 1:9-11.
17 Matthew 17:1-8.
18 F. F. Bruce, The Epistle to the Hebrews, revised edition (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1990), p. 48, citing Garvie (fn. 27).
19 F. F. Bruce, The Epistle to the Hebrews, p. 48.
20 See Genesis 1:3, 6, 9, 11, 14, 20, 24, 26.
21 See Philippians 1:6.
22 Hebrews 1:2.
23 See Mark 5:16-17.
24 See John 19:15.
25 See Romans 3:25-26.
26 John 19:30.
27 See, for example, Exodus 15:6, 12; Psalm 18:35.
28 See Romans 8:34.
29Christ Above All: The Message of Hebrews is the title of Raymond Brown’s excellent commentary on Hebrews. Raymond Brown, Christ Above All: The Message of Hebrews (Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1982).