|Series Theme: Meditations in Hebrews|
Meditations in Hebrews 1: 1. Introduction
Heb 1:1-4 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. So he became as much superior to the angels as the name he has inherited is superior to theirs.
Hebrews, a book full of Gems: A little while ago I started writing a series of short meditations here in Hebrews. I write ‘short meditations' when I feel under pressure and don't want to spend quite so long each morning reflecting in depth. The ‘short meds' are also, I realise, easier to read and so some prefer them to wading through a much longer study in God's word. So, I started doing this series on Hebrews and got about half a dozen verses through and thought, “This is wrong, this area of Scripture is so full of truth this doesn't do justice to it, this ‘short' approach,” so I stopped. The point I would wish to make is that I believe Hebrews is one of one of the ‘mining areas' where you find you are stumbling over gem after gem in every paragraph (Ephesians is also like that). It cannot, indeed it must not be rushed!
A Need for Continuity as well as detail: But there is a danger in approaching passages like this, passages that are so full of specific truths and it is that as we focus in on one little phrase and then a next little phrase, we can so easily miss the big intent of the writer. For instance, as I quickly peruse these four verses above, I can see there are at least ten gems there to be put under the microscope.
Recognising the Gems: Several years ago, our local jeweller introduced me to diamonds and told me there was a whole range of colours for diamonds and showed me a small spectrum of ten diamonds, I think it was, in a small display box and said, “Tell me what you see.” I peered at these diamonds for a minute or two. My instant respond was, “They are all the same,” but as I studied these stones that appeared the same I came to realise the range was from lighter to darker, hardly discernible but lighter to darker, more yellow at one end. When I made this comment his assistants applauded me. “Let me tell you,” he said, “what a trained jeweller who deals in diamonds has to do. They have to take a test whereby 360 stones are poured out on a table ad you have to order them in colour hues. The last time I did it, I got four wrong, which is considered quite good.”
If a jeweller takes that amount of trouble learning about diamonds, can we not take equal time in discerning the truths of God's word? So be warned, we are going to put each one of those gems above under the microscope and ask the Holy Spirit to teach us and enlighten us, to challenge us and feed us. Now over the years I have built up a testimony and it is this: every time I do a study and pray and ask for the Lord's help, I come away at the end going, “Wow, that was amazing!” Every time. Now your problem if you read these notes is that you are getting them second hand and if I am honest I have to say I write for my benefit first and last. If, somehow, you can be blessed by them being here, then I am glad, but the best way is to do it yourself and let God feed you directly. So, read these notes by all means, and if you get blessed by them, I am pleased – but there is a better way.
A Depth of Revelation: OK, back to these verses. They are history laden with revelation. If we have read them many times before we may take them for granted but the level of revelation here is immense. They are staggering. In no other world religion will you find such a compressed package of revelation that says so much and makes such staggering claims. If you ever wonder what makes Christianity unique among the world religions, these four verses will give you the answer several times over; in fact I count eight things here about Jesus Christ that mark him out from any other person in all of history. That is how powerful these verses are.
Hebrews is Jewish: Hebrews, I find, is a bit scary, if that is the right word. It is very Jewish and was clearly written to early Jewish Christian believers and it is packed with Old Testament information. Indeed, in the following remaining verses of chapter 1 there are seven quotations from the Old Testament. In the whole book there are more than 80! I once heard someone say, “Oh, we Christians don't need the Old Testament.” Well ‘need' might be quite an emotive word in this context but this book shows us that our understanding of our faith is greatly enhanced by our knowledge of the Old Testament.
Jesus, Superior to Angels: But the clue to the thrust of chapter 1 is given away in verse 4 as the writer, speaking of Jesus, says, “So he became as much superior to the angels as the name he has inherited is superior to theirs.” There was clearly a cult who were focusing on angels and so in chapter 1, after the ‘Prologue' of verses 1-4, the rest of the chapter goes on to show how Jesus is greater than angels. The rest of the book is about how he is greater than anyone or anything shown in the Old Testament. As a book it is fascinating as it does this.
The writer? For quite some time it was thought to be Paul but there are so many differences in style that that is generally rejected. One of the early Church Fathers, suggested Barnabas, and Martin Luther suggested Apollos but generally it is agreed we just don't know, but that won't detract from it. Whoever it was, was someone who had deep insight into the wonder of the person of Jesus Christ, a level of revelation that is incredible!
The Prologue: To conclude this first introductory note, we can do no better than suggest you read through these first four verses several times before you finish, and then you can finish by worshipping the One that this is all about, for we will get no further than these verses in the coming week:
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. So he became as much superior to the angels as the name he has inherited is superior to theirs.
Meditations in Hebrews 1: 2. God the Communicator
Heb 1:1 In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways
God of Communication: I think I have lost count of the number of times, over the years, I have written, “God is a communicator”, for the whole Bible is about God communicating with mankind. From the outset, before the Fall, He communicated with Adam (Gen 2:16,17). After the Fall He communicated with Adam and Eve (Gen 3:9-19), then later with Cain (Gen 4:6-15) and then even later, by implication to Enoch (Gen 5:22-24) and then later still to Noah (Gen 6:13 on), but the ‘big conversation with God' man was Abram (Gen 12 on).
Jesus, greater than the Prophets: In our verses at the beginning of Hebrews the writer is going to contrast Jesus with even the prophets and say how much greater than them he was, so whatever we see of these men (and they were mostly men although Deborah (Judges 4:4 on) stands out) we need to remember that Jesus was greater than them.
Now Abraham is the first man designated by God as a prophet (Gen 20:7) yet not a man who brings, “Thus says the Lord,” types of word but without a doubt he us shown as a man who has conversations with God and is later described in the Bible as ‘God's friend' (Jas 2:23). Now Jesus was more than a friend, he was the unique Son of God, begotten of the Father (begotten means ‘comes out of').
Four hundred years or so later, Moses would designate himself a prophet (Deut 18:15) but Moses was unique among those designated prophets in the Old Testament in that he spoke face to face with God and when he came out of God's presence, his face shone with the glory of God (Ex 34:34). When the writer to the Hebrews says “at many times and in many ways” we don't know what he has in mind but clearly already we have seen Abraham walking and talking with God and Moses waiting in God's presence in the Tent of Meeting or the Tabernacle having face-to-face encounters with God. Remember along the way, my assertion that God is a communicator. There had been previous communications but now much deeper communications with both of these men, both designated as ‘prophets'.
We next see the word ‘prophet' applied to a specific individual (Moses had used the word in teaching throughout Deuteronomy) in Judges 6 where we read, “When the Israelites cried to the LORD because of Midian, he sent them a prophet, who said, "This is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says…..” (Judg 6:7,8) This seems to be the first ‘Thus says the Lord' type of prophet who bring one message calling Israel to repent. However, when you read Judges you realise this is not the only divine communication. In chapter 2 an angel of the Lord comes with a message of rebuke to Israel (Judg 2:1-3) and at the end of that chapter the Lord speaks to Israel again (2:20-22). In chapter 4 we come across Deborah the prophetess (4:4-) who clearly communicates God's will. This brings us to Gideon to whom the Lord appears to speak directly (7:2-). Later, in Judges 10 there is a time when Israel appear to repent and call on the Lord who answers (Judg 10:11-14), presumably through a prophet. When it comes to the story of Samson in Judges 13, it starts with an angel of the Lord communicating with his parents (Judg 13:3-5,11-18)
At the end of the period of the judges, Samuel “was attested as a prophet of the LORD” (1 Sam 3:20) and we read the Lord, “ revealed himself to Samuel through his word.” (v.21) which, examining Samuel's ministry, would suggest a combination of “Thus says the Lord” type of words plus words of wisdom as he judged the people. Samuel, of course, initially heard God's word out loud (1 Sam 3:4-). What we tend to forget is that before this started to happen to Samuel, we are told “a man of God” came to Eli, the old priest, with a strong and lengthy prophetic word of rebuke and correction. (1 Sam 2:27-36). God of communication!
God spoke many times: Now rather that go on and write several pages of all the records of the times when the Lord spoke to His people through the rest of the Old Testament, we would simply suggest that as you read your Bible you keep an eye out for the times when the Lord spoke and how He spoke. There are clearly times when He spoke directly to individuals and other times when an unknown prophet turns up with a word, or even more, when a prophet with a full prophetic ministry is clearly one who hears God - e.g. Elijah, Elisha then the major prophets – Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel, and then a number of ‘minor prophets'.
Jesus' 'speaking': Already, in the limited scan of the earlier part of Israel's history, we have seen that the Hebrews' writer is accurate when he says that God spoke, “through the prophets at many times and in various ways”. We are going to go on to see how God then spoke through His Son, Jesus Christ, but that ‘speaking' involved a lot of action. Perhaps the big difference between Jesus and many of the prophets is that Jesus demonstrated the kingdom of God and the others merely spoke it. The only real exception was Elisha who also demonstrated the wisdom and power of God through his ministry.
And Us? Of course, now we are in the era of the Church, the body of Christ, the clear teaching of the New Testament is that we too are to be God's mouthpiece and we too, like Jesus, are to demonstrate the presence of the kingdom of God as he did. Remember he said, “I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these.” (Jn 14:12) That really leaves no room for argument! That is the intended style of life in and through the Church. May we see it more and more.
Meditations in Hebrews 1: 3. Jesus the Word
Heb 1:1-2 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,
The Setting for Jesus: So, in the drama of the world, the curtain falls on the Old Testament with a restored Israel having rebuilt the Temple and the walls of Jerusalem and are now settling down after a most traumatic period of their history where they had been exiled and then restored. Prophetic words have come in more recent years through Malachi and Zechariah but those had been largely to encourage the rebuilding work, but that was now complete. What next? The record is there, centuries of God communicating with this nation through His prophets, what more might He say? Time passes and nothing. More time passes and still nothing. Several hundred years have passed and still nothing.
A Mystery: The scholars look at the scrolls and wonder. There have been prophetic hints that there will be one who will come, a messiah, but the prophetic words seem so contradictory that different schools of thought declare different things about him. Suffering seems to be part of the prophetic package, but then so does the thought that he will be a mighty ruler, but how can the two harmonise? The apostle Paul was later to use the word ‘mystery' to describe this conundrum (Rom 16:25, Eph 3:2-11, 6:19, Col 1:26,27, 2:2,3, 4:3) and it was a mystery because God had not made it fully clear, and yet in the fullness of the New Testament revelation, at least seven times the scriptures declare that the mystery that was Christ was planned by the Godhead before the foundation of the world.
Preplanned! Merely because it was a mystery to us, that doesn't mean it was to God. The plan of sending Christ was not a last-minute crisis plan because everything was going wrong. No, God had planned it when He looked into the future in what would become time-space history and He saw sin and saw the need that would be there and saw the only way to deal with it, and so they, the Trinity, decided he would come, he would die and he would be raised from the dead, all before He spoke the words, “Let there be light”.
When & to whom written: What I find strange, at first sight at least, is that the writer to the Hebrews does not lay out a history of Jesus Christ. Why? Well, that has already been done. It is probable that at least three of the Gospels are in existence and the church is up and running. This book doesn't come over as a gospel weapon demanding belief and repentance, but more like a treatise for Jews who already believe, to bolster their belief with in-depth understanding of the wonder of the Christ. The basic facts of Christ were already well known. Probably the best we can say is that it was written before AD70 when the temple was destroyed because all references to the temple are still in the present. They know about Christ, they are believers.
And thus we come to this incredibly compact ‘prologue' as some like to call the first four verses and because they are so compact it is so easy to skim past them hardly taking in the wonder that is here compacted into such a small space. So (yes, you can breathe a sigh of relief, we have got here) we come to the text, now God has spoken to us through His Son. Even at this point in history, it is possible they do not fully realise what this means.
The Contribution of the apostle John: It is going to take the aging apostle John, living in Ephesus, to take his years of reflecting on the wonder of those three incredible years with Jesus, and conclude he needs to write it down, an insight that went much further that the three Synoptic Gospels. John has memories, John was there, and in old age those incredible memories are sharp and clear and he realises that so much was said and done that the first three had nor picked up on. And so, for example, we have John remembering Jesus speaking about being the bread that has come down from heaven (read John 6) and we realise the ‘person' who comes into the Gospels as a tiny baby had already existed in eternity, he didn't just begin two thousand years ago. It is almost certain that Hebrews came before John's Gospel but that makes even more amazing the revelation that comes through these first four verses of just who Jesus the Christ was.
The Communicating Son: John in his Gospel speaks of Jesus as ‘the word' and although that would have much significance for Greek readers, put very simply a word is a basic form of communication. Jesus is God's communication to this world. When our writer says that God has spoken to us “by his Son,” we should not just take that to mean He has spoken only through Jesus' words but by everything that happened to Jesus, what he said AND did. All those things shout into history; “THIS IS THE UNIQUE SON OF GOD. THERE HAS NEVER BEEN AND NEVER WILL BE ANOTHER BEING LIKE HIM!” This is not in any way to detract from Jesus' words which in themselves were often so wonderful, but it says look at the wonder of what he did and that will also speak to you.
The Contribution of the apostle Peter: The apostle Peter on the Day of Pentecost understood this: “Men of Israel, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know. This man was handed over to you by God's set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him.” (Act 2:22-24)
There it is, so much information again in such a short space: Jesus a man, a man from Nazareth, who did miracles, wonders and signs to show who he was and to turn eyes to God, a man who was acting out the will of God planned from long past, the will which included him being crucified but then being raised from the dead. This is the Christ we follow. But Peter didn't say everything in that encapsulated history, he didn't have time to do that. He didn't tell of the wonder of the events surrounding Jesus birth, which were already told by Matthew and Luke, he didn't tell of so many of the things John remembered and which make his Gospel such a wonder, but he said sufficient to mark out Jesus as unique.
Peter was not a theologian and so did not try to explain the theory and detail behind the events. Later theologians, trying to formulate the truths that had been conveyed through the New Testament, having to stand against heresies in the early centuries of the Church, would speak of Jesus as begotten of the Father which simply means, come out of the Father, as they sought to explain that Jesus was God, of the same essence as the Father, one with the Father, truly God himself. It is a word that only comes up once in an Old Testament prophecy but it is the nearest we can come to trying to understand the incarnation, the coming of God in human form in the person of Jesus Christ. We will ponder more on it as we consider the wonder of what these first four verses say. Ask the Lord to open your eyes so that you may see as you've never seen before.
Meditations in Hebrews 1: 4. Heir of all things
Heb 1:2 in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things,
Will - Inheritance - Heir: I don't know why, but talk of inheritances and heirs have never rung clearly with me but I am praying for something new here. I know what an inheritance is; it is what someone leaves in their will. I know what an heir is; it is the person who receives the inheritance in the will of another, more often than not, an older family member. But God doesn't make a will because God doesn't die.
Nevertheless, the writer says that the Father has ‘appointed' the Son to be His heir, the one who will receive all that He owns. Oh yes, when a person makes a will they don't hold on to bits of what they own for themselves because they won't be around to enjoy those bits when the other comes into their inheritance! What the Father wills for the Son is literally everything in Creation (because he goes on to speak of Creation).
When Jesus was teaching, he used a parable about a landowner with a vineyard that he let out. The rent for the vineyard would be fruit at harvest but when the owner sent servants to collect some fruit they were beaten, killed or stoned. Eventually he sent his son, “ But when the tenants saw the son, they said to each other, `This is the heir. Come, let's kill him and take his inheritance.” (Mt 21:38 – also see Mk 12:7 & Lk 20:14) which they then do. It is clearly about Israel and Jesus and his coming death. All three Synoptic Gospels have it and it is as if Jesus wants us to note the language – he is an heir and he has an inheritance, this land, this people, God's people.
Ephesians speaks: Now there are two passages in the epistles that speak to this and we need to quote them in their entirety to catch the full thrust of what is being said. First from Ephesians: “I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is like the working of his mighty strength, which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.” (Eph 1:18-23)
Paul wanted them to understand their hope, an inheritance for all believers, His power (in reality the power of His Holy Spirit) that transforms and conveys eternal life. That is OUR inheritance, everything flows from that and we have it of course because of the Cross. But, says Paul, that's the same power (now in us) that raised Jesus from the dead and lifted him back to heaven so that he could sit at his Father's right hand again, for now and eternity, where he is above everything and every one in existence. Jesus' inheritance FIRST means his right to sit at the Father's right hand ruling over everything, but everything. This is what the kingdom of God is all about, about His Son ruling over this kingdom over all of creation, man and beast, powers and principalities. The mystery which I believe we have never yet understood, is that al of this is “for the church.”
1 Corinthians speaks: The second passage, again from Paul, comes near the end of 1 Corinthians: “For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. But each in his own turn: Christ, the first fruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him. Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death. For he "has put everything under his feet." Now when it says that "everything" has been put under him, it is clear that this does not include God himself, who put everything under Christ. When he has done this, then the Son himself will be made subject to him who put everything under him, so that God may be all in all.” (1 Cor 15:22-28) The end outworking of the kingdom of God under the rule of His Son, is that one day there will come a time when the Son leaves his Father's side and returns to the earth as a conquering king (see Rev 19) and subdues anyone and anything that has so far refused to come under his rule. When he has done that he will hand back the completed project to the Father. Until then, he is the rightful heir to the kingdom of God , the rule of God on earth.
Revelation speaks: A third passage may also shed some light, that of Revelation 5 where the lamb stands before the throne in heaven and is found to be the only one worthy to undo the scroll of the end time history. Those around the throne sing of his work of redeeming mankind and add, “Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise!” (Rev 5:12) Because he died on the Cross he was deemed worthy to receive his inheritance, these seven things of this verse. There never has been, nor ever will be, one who can compare in any way with the unique Son of God, Saviour of the World yes, but also ruler of the world, which he continues to do in a benign manner until the great and glorious day comes when he will wind it up.
Before all things: When was this inheritance established and declared by the Father? It must have been before even the Creation of all that we know. Jesus was able to say to the Father, “you loved me before the creation of the world,” (Jn 17:24) and the apostle Peter tells us that, “He was chosen before the creation of the world.” (1 Pet 1:20) so that, looking forward into the future, the apostle Paul could say of God's planning, “he chose us in him before the creation of the world.” (Eph 1:4) Why? Because they agreed then on, “the Lamb that was slain from the creation of the world.” (Rev 13:8) Yes, that was all part of the package we call the will of God decreed from before the foundation of the world, so that the fruit or outworking of the Cross would entitle Jesus to reign over all things from then on at his Father's right hand. That was his inheritance. Hallelujah!
Meditations in Hebrews 1: 5. Creator of all things
Heb 1:2 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.
Beware Ignorance: It can only be by pure ignorance that anyone can say that all the religions of the world are the same. It can only be by pure ignorance that anyone can say that Jesus Christ is just another Hebrew prophet or teacher. These opening verses of Hebrews 1 – corroborated by other verses in the New Testament and elsewhere in the Bible – are staggering in their claims and they lift Jesus Christ higher than any other individual or any other claims for greatness than the world has seen before or elsewhere.
Jesus the Creator? “and through whom he made the universe.” What? Pardon? Jesus is part of the Creation process? But we've always just accepted the Genesis account that says, “In the beginning God….” and now we are saying Jesus created the world?
Contributions of John and Paul: We suggested recently that probably John's Gospel hadn't been written yet which makes this all the more incredible revelation and yet it is obviously a revelation that God had shared, for John is shortly to write in his prologue to his Gospel, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made…. The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father.” (Jn 1:1-3,14) and the apostle Paul had probably already written of Jesus, “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him.” (Col 1:15,16)
The J.B.Phillips version makes it even more clear; “Now Christ is the visible expression of the invisible God. He existed before creation began, for it was through him that every thing was made, whether spiritual or material, seen or unseen. Through him, and for him, also, were created power and dominion, ownership and authority. In fact, every single thing was created through, and for him. He is both the first principle and the upholding principle of the whole scheme of creation.” This is amazing this threefold revelation from the writer to the Hebrews, the apostle John and the apostle Paul who all say the same thing.
Revelation speaks: Yet it seems that the honour and glory for the Creation still remains with the Father for in the heavenly vision in Revelation 4 & 5 they sing before the Father, “You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they were created and have their being.” (Rev 4:11) and when it comes to the Lamb (Jesus) the focus is on his work of redemption, not creation: “You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain , and with your blood you purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation.” (Rev 5:9), and yet at the end Father and Son are praised together: “To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honor and glory and power, for ever and ever!” (Rev 5:13)
The Supreme Father: Scripture, it seems, is careful to give the Supreme honour to the Father who existed from before all else and yet, as the Colossians verses tell us, the Son existed before creation began or, as some other versions confusingly put it, “firstborn over all creation” (the emphasis being on the rights of a firstborn son as seen in Hebrew tradition). As we have already commented in a previous study, the early church fathers struggled with this and used the word ‘begotten' of Jesus, meaning he came out of or was an expression of the Father but existing before time began.
Proverbs speaks: A delightful picture of the Father and Son together working in Creation is given in Proverbs where Solomon (perhaps unwittingly) personified wisdom: “I was appointed from eternity from the beginning, before the world began….. I was there when he set the heavens in place, when he marked out the horizon on the face of the deep, when he established the clouds above and fixed securely the fountains of the deep, when he gave the sea its boundary so the waters would not overstep his command, and when he marked out the foundations of the earth. Then I was the craftsman at his side. I was filled with delight day after day, rejoicing always in his presence, rejoicing in his whole world and delighting in mankind.” (Prov 8:23,27-31) What a beautiful picture, especially those words in the last verse – delight, rejoicing, rejoicing, delighting. How wonderful.
Separate yet One: And yet even that beautiful picture doesn't seem to convey the full strength of what our three writers convey: through whom he made the universe (Heb writer), without him nothing was made that has been made (John) and by him all things were created (Paul). There is a mystery here. When the Father, who is spirit, (Jn 4:24) expressed Himself in a separate entity (imagine the mind having a thought and that thought takes on a life of its own from the rest of the thoughts of that mind – a poor illustration but we are scrabbling for understanding aren't we) called the Son, was the Son a channel through whom spirit could become material being? Unity of oneness, the godhead, who have unity of thinking, unity of purpose and unity of action, and yet exist as two expressions of the one, and it is through the second ‘expression' that the material world comes. As we said, a mystery. Yet that is at the heart of these incredible claims about Jesus the Christ, that he is and was so one with the Father that he was truly part of the Creation process. Amazing! Worship the Lord for who He and he is.
The Revelation of Melchizedek: Perhaps as a concluding aside, it is fascinating to note that Melchizedek was the first human to declare God as Creator: “Then Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine. He was priest of God Most High, and he blessed Abram, saying, "Blessed be Abram by God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth. And blessed be God Most High, who delivered your enemies into your hand,” (Gen 14:18-20) which was then picked up by Abram who (as Moses writing the account centuries later) identifies with the name that would later be given, “The I AM”: “ Abram said to the king of Sodom, "I have raised my hand to the LORD , God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth.” (Gen 14:22) The ‘I AM' of Old Testament revelation is Creator of all things, and His Son who (as John records) used the ‘I am' formula so many times of himself, was one with Him in the Godhead who brought the world into being. Hallelujah!
Meditations in Hebrews 1: 6. Jesus is God
Heb 1:3 the Son is the radiance of God's glory and the exact representation of his being
Not all agree: I commented recently that I have been reading R.T.Kendall's book on wisdom and in it he cites an occasion when he had to rely on that special wisdom Jesus speaks about when we are called before authorities. This time was earlier in his ministry when, as a pastor, he was reported to the denominational leaders for false teaching. And what was that ‘false teaching'? Jesus is God!
Many in the early church were slow to coming to this conclusion and some of us are sometimes loath to give Jesus this glory for we fear detracting from God's glory. Yet it was not what Jesus himself feared when he said to Philip, “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, `Show us the Father'? Don't you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me?” (Jn 14:9,10) and then he prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane , “Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began.” (Jn 17:5)
The Mystery of the Incarnation: The idea of the Incarnation is one of the greatest of mysteries about Jesus. How could God Himself inhabit a human body? The apostle Paul scrabbled at this when he wrote, “Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself” (Phil 2:5-8) The prophet Isaiah gave us clues about how he would come: “He grew up before him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of dry ground. He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.” (Isa 53:2) Somehow God would inhabit a human body, a body that started its human life in the womb of a young woman, and this body would grow as any normal human being and there would initially be nothing of his outward appearance that would mark him out for who he was.
Isaiah's revelations: Earlier Isaiah had brought a strange prophecy, “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.” (Isa 7:14). Now Immanuel means ‘God with us', which probably at the time they took to simply mean His blessing was on them, rather than literally, this was God. But then he brings an even more enigmatic prophecy: “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” (Isa 9:6) We probably read that every Christmas and so familiar has it become that we lose the incredible meaning; this son will be called Mighty God! There it is in the middle of that familiar verse. This child IS God!!!!!!
"I AM": We have already briefly commented on the fact that God revealed Himself to Moses as “the I AM”, now recorded in the pages of your Bible in capital letter whenever it is used, LORD. And we also briefly commented about the fact that again and again Jesus used the formula, “I am,” in describing himself.
Jesus' claims: In various ways Jesus made these claims, for instance, “So, because Jesus was doing these things on the Sabbath, the Jews persecuted him. Jesus said to them, "My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I, too, am working." For this reason the Jews tried all the harder to kill him; not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God.” (Jn 5:16-18)
John's testimony: The apostle John in his Gospel was sure of this: “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only , who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (Jn 1:14) If it says nothing else, it declares Jesus' uniqueness, but the setting suggests he is even more than this. We must wait until near the end of the Gospel for him to declare about Jesus' works, “these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God.” (Jn 20:31) “The” Son, the unique Son. Yet a few verses on in chapter 1 he records, “No one has ever seen God, but God the One and Only, who is at the Father's side, has made him known.” (Jn 1:18) Perhaps it is an over simplification but the Easy to Read version of the Bible puts it so simply: “ No one has ever seen God. The only Son is the one who has shown us what God is like. He is himself God and is very close to the Father.”
Slowly revealed revelation: Slowly the Church saw it. Our Hebrew writer saw it. The apostle Paul saw it when he wrote, “He is the image of the invisible God.” (Col 1:15) and again in 2 Cor he speaks of, “the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” (2 Cor 4:4) The same message comes over again and again: this one who appeared in human form was in fact God incarnate.
Help from the Creeds: I have briefly referred to it before but perhaps now we might close with some larger quotes from the so called Athanasian Creed:
Such as the Father is, such is the Son, and such is the Holy Spirit; the Father uncreated, the Son uncreated, and the Holy Spirit uncreated; the father infinite, the Son infinite, and the Holy Spirit infinite; the Father eternal, the Son eternal, and the Holy Spirit eternal…. So the Father is God, the Son God, and the Holy Spirit God; and yet not three Gods but one God….. The Father is made of none, neither created nor begotten. The Son is of the Father alone, not made nor created but begotten. The Holy Spirit is of the Father and the Son, not made nor created nor begotten but proceeding….. The right faith therefore is that we believe and confess that our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is God and Man. He is God of the substance of the Father begotten before the worlds, and He is man of the substance of His mother born in the world; perfect God, perfect man subsisting of a reasoning soul and human flesh; equal to the Father as touching His Godhead, inferior to the Father as touching His Manhood.
I hope that helps.
Meditations in Hebrews 1: 7. ‘Jesus is God' Questions
Heb 1:3 the Son is the radiance of God's glory and the exact representation of his being
More Questions: The previous meditation, I believe, said right things but left me feeling incomplete. The subject of the Incarnation, God coming in human form is an enormous challenge. It is not something that can be categorically proved but has to be accepted by faith in the tremendous mountain of evidence that there is that points to this conclusion.
And yet people of his day struggled with Jesus and even more got very hostile whenever he approached the subject, inferring that he was God's unique son. Today similarly people either shy away from thinking about Jesus or try to explain him away as just a good teacher or a good miracle worker who lived and died two thousand years ago. Challenges to the belief in the resurrection come from various quarters.
Questions are asked, difficult questions. For example, how can God who fills the Universe fill just one body? I don't know, but He did. Or, was Jesus always God or did he start at some point? Yes, that is easier, for John records him speaking of coming down from heaven where he had always existed. Or there is, did Jesus know everything like God knows everything? I believe the answer to that is that he knew everything the Father released into that human mind by His Spirit which was therefore not the sum of all knowledge but the sum of knowledge that surrounded that one being. Or there is, how can God be limited in time and space? He, as God isn't, it is just that as Jesus was one body, the Spirit allowed God to express Himself in this one body while still being God who inhabits the entire universe. Or there is, how could Jesus be free from sin? The answer has to be because he was ‘conceived' by the Holy Spirit.
The Creed speaks: Let's look again at the ‘Son' parts of that Athanasian Creed we quoted previously: the Son uncreated… the Son infinite…., the Son eternal, and the Holy Spirit eternal…. So the Father is God, the Son God, and the Holy Spirit God; and yet not three Gods but one God…. The Son is of the Father alone, not made nor created but begotten. The Holy Spirit is of the Father and the Son, not made nor created nor begotten ….our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is God and Man. He is God of the substance of the Father begotten before the worlds, and He is man of the substance of His mother born in the world; perfect God, perfect man subsisting of a reasoning soul and human flesh; equal to the Father as touching His Godhead, inferior to the Father as touching His Manhood.
Divine & Human - a helpful example: Some may struggle with that word inferior in respect of his manhood. An interesting and, I believe, helpful analogy I have heard, uses the Meal Offering in Lev 2 which comprised fine flour, representing the perfect humanity of our Lord, which was mixed with olive oil which stands for the Holy Spirit and therefore divinity. In this offering the two were mixed and there was one cake and yet within that cake there are two distinct materials even though we cannot see them except as the one mix. So the divine nature that is Christ comes from heaven and joins himself to a human body being formed by the work of the Spirit within Mary. Divine and human that cannot be observed separately when you view the man. Jesus himself gave us a clue about this when he said, “ the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does.” (Jn 5:19)
Hidden Glory: But all of these questions hide a fundamental truth: in Jesus Christ the glory of God is hidden from those who are perishing but seen by those who are hungry for God. For example, Jesus spoke about ‘signs' and the Jews asked for signs and yet these signs had already been provided by Jesus, miracle after miracle. If you have a mind closed against miracles, you will see it but not believe it; you will rationalize it and explain it away, as real as it was. Jesus came revealing the love and goodness of God and the Jews focused on trivia. For instance, the story in John 5 of the man at the Pool of Bethesda who Jesus healed. When the Jewish thought police, the Jews who were probably Pharisees, saw him they complained that it was the Sabbath. Again and again they missed the shear wonder of the miracle because their man-made interpretations of the Law clashed with what happened so they missed the glory.
In heaven, his glory had been, and now is, clearly seen but for his period on the earth in this human form, the glory was hidden except to those with hearts wide open, and even then, it was limited. Perhaps we should note more fully the Hebrews' writer's words – “the radiance of God's glory”. Perhaps this is more like the reflected glory that Moses had when he came out of the presence of God. Every time Jesus spoke or performed a miracle he was revealing the glory of God; it was God expressing Himself in the material world but that glory would only be seen with the help of the Holy Spirit in hearts that are wide open to Him.
Representing God: Note also “exact representation of his being”. We will not see the fullness of God until we get to heaven but Jesus exactly or perfectly represented Him. No, he wasn't the fullness of God. Let's use another analogy. Imagine electricity coming out of a powerful generator. Then see it being scaled down through transformers so it can be used to light a light bulb. It is still electricity and if you touch the bare wires you will know it, but it is nothing like the enormous power that comes from the generator that will light an entire city – but it still is electricity.
This is God in the flesh we are talking about and that statement alone marks out Christianity from any other world religion.
Meditations in Hebrews 1: 8. Sustainer of the World
Heb 1:3 the Son is the radiance of God's glory and the exact representation of his being sustaining all things by his powerful word
The Mystery of the Beginning: If you talk to a scientist you will hear talk of an expanding world, every celestial body moving outwards from one point where billions of years ago there was a ‘big bang' and everything came into being and blasted outwards and they know this because – there appear this outward trajectory in the heavens. The focus there is of movement and some undefined, no, impossibly definable event where, according to science something came from absolutely nothing, and yet our finite minds and the very heart of science believes that such a thing is literally impossible.
Action and Reaction: In our knowledge, something happens because something else starts it. Within all this we take such things as gravity for granted, the assumption that a large mass has an inward pull and yet no one knows why that is. At a much simpler level we know that water can also exist as ice or steam. These are basic givens among millions of other basic ‘scientific facts'. What we don't know is WHY any of these things should be. Scientists will revert back to mathematics so often and even molecular structures to explain why it must be why it is like it is, but there is growing a whole new area of scientific philosophy that no longer takes these things for granted. The theory of evolution is one of the biggest speculative guessing games of the scientific world. People like Richard Dawkins would like you to believe it is survival of the fittest that has produced the present pattern of life on this planet, but that is so full of holes when you think of it as to be laughable.
Keep Going! I would love to expand on that but we must get to the back end of verse 3: “sustaining all things by his powerful word.” Now I must confess that of all the mini-statements that we are considering in these verses, I find this one the most difficult to substantiate in the scriptures, let alone understand what it means. The basic implication is that Jesus, the Son of God, now seated at his Father's right hand in heaven, ruling over all things (as we have seen in previous studies), is so powerful that with the Father he created all things and in the same way as the Father said, “Let there be light and there was light,” so Jesus, now given the role of overseeing it all until some defined-in-heaven point in our future, winds it all up, this Jesus says, “Continue,” and the world continues.
Have you ever seen those sci-fi films where some person with super powers can make everything just stop and so you have a picture of a street full of people in mid stride but all stationary? Jesus, Lord over all, has the power to do that but does it in the reverse and keeps it going. At one point the apostle Paul wrote, “there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things came and through whom we live. there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things came and through whom we live.” (1 Cor 8:6) Now I suspect that most of us take those last words to refer to our salvation but the words before those are words about creation and I believe it is fair to assume that the last words of the sentence refer to Jesus' power that enables the world to continue and us to remain alive. However, Paul was more specific than this: “He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” ( Col 1:17) If we accept that Jesus was with the Father and all that we know exists because the Father and Son brought it into being, then it is a logical step to believe that not only did they bring it into being, but they keep it going.
Taking Life for Granted? Now you might ask, isn't this a purely theoretical or philosophical moot point? My answer must be, definitely not! One of the things human beings do more than anything else, is take life for granted. We live in a fallen world, yes, where because of sin things wrong. That is one aspect of life but the bigger aspect is what we have been considering, the fact that this world only continues going because the Son wills it so. Have you ever thought that every day is a gift? Both the Bible and experience shows that sometimes life just stops, people die and sometimes they just die for no known explicable reason. I assume my heart will continue beating throughout the next twenty-four hours and that my brain cells will similarly continue to work throughout that period (and I hope longer) but the truth is that life is a gift, the whole world is a gift. If it is not, it is a random-chance accident and utterly meaningless and there is no future and the present is wide open for us to do whatever we like. But that is not the Bible's message; it is that the world was brought into being by God the Father and God the Son and together they continue to keep it going – and it only keeps going because they say so.
Thankfulness: Can I invite you to add a new dimension to your praying if you have a ‘quiet time' each day? It is the dimension of thankfulness that you are alive – and are still alive – with all the wonder of what that means. We are sentient human beings with five senses all of which are clearly designed to help us enjoy the wonderful world in which we live. It is a gift of God and it continues to be so because God decrees it. Because he is sitting at the Father's right hand overseeing it all, this continuation is part of the reign of Jesus, the work of Jesus, the joy of Jesus. Thank him and praise him for it at the beginning and end of every day you have.
Meditations in Hebrews 1: 9. Sin Purifier
Heb 1:3b After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.
A Strange Description: We will only consider the first half of this sentence here and leave the second part until the next study. It is a slightly strange description of Jesus' work on the Cross, because that is what it is, the only reference to his work of redemption in this short-hand or potted description of Jesus. It is strange because it has a completely different emphasis to it. Let's see its usual use in presentation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Testimonies to Forgiveness: The angel speaking to Joseph in a dream said of his future son, “ you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” (Mt 1:21) At the Last Supper Jesus himself said, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” Mt 26:28). Speaking of John the Baptist, Mark records, “John came, baptizing in the desert region and preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” (Mk 1:4) His father, Zechariah in his prophetic prayer, spoke of his son, “you will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him, to give his people the knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins.” (Lk 1:76,77) On the road to Emmaus, Jesus taught the two disciples that, “The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations.” (Lk 24:46,47) On the Day of Pentecost at the end of his first sermon, Peter declared, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins.” (Acts 2:38)
A Different Old Testament emphasis: And so we could carry on. The big emphasis in every single one of those verses about the work of Jesus, is on forgiveness. That is the main New Testament thrust, which is slightly different from the Old Testament thrust. Speaking of the work of the high priest Moses writes, “on this day atonement will be made for you, to cleanse you. Then, before the LORD, you will be clean from all your sins,” (Lev 16:30) which accords with what we now have here in Hebrews, “After he had provided purification for sins……”
Let's see how some other versions put it: “After he finished the sacrifice for sins.” (Message version). “He is the one who died to cleanse us and clear our record of all sin” (Living Bible). Understandably the Easy to Read version of the Bible puts it most simply: “The Son made people clean from their sins. ” Yes they each place this emphasis rightly on us being ‘cleansed' from our sins. So why did I suggest that this is an Old Testament emphasis. I suggest there are three things to say.
OT focus = Behaviour: Well, first, because the Old Testament Law was all about behaviour, how to live righteously as the people of God and so when it came to the Day of Atonement it was all about having sins washed away so that the individual could continue to carry on being one of God's people free from their past sin so they could walk anew and free from its guilt and, even more, its practice, tomorrow. It was all about behaviour.
NT focus = Relationship: Second, by contrast, the New Testament salvation is all about relationship with God. It is all about now being free from guilt and shame to live Spirit-empowered and Spirit-directed lives, as adopted children of God, that are pleasing to our Father in heaven. To be able to do that, we must first know that we are FORGIVEN. That is why all those verses above put the emphasis on forgiveness.
OT Culture & Language: But there is a third thing. The writer to the Hebrews is writing to Jews and Jews would know their history and that included about the Day of Atonement and would know the thrust there was on cleansing. Moreover, as he goes through his ‘book' he is going to explain the work of Jesus in terms of the High Priest. It will all be Old Testament language and concepts and the big thrust there, as we have said several times, is on being cleansed from our sins.
Unity in the NT: Now interestingly the apostle John in his first letter brings these two things together: “ If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” (1 Jn 1:9) or as the old RSV that I grew up with put it, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just, and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” To emphasis it, let's check a couple of the other versions: “He'll forgive our sins and purge us of all wrongdoing.” (Message) and “he forgives our sins and makes us thoroughly clean from all that is evil.” (JBP)
And Us? So there it is. Today we have this double emphasis of the work of Christ on the Cross. When we receive his work, we are forgiven (so we can live at peace with God) AND we are cleansed (so that we can live new righteous lives). Do you see the fruit from that work? First it is peace with God and second, it is newness of life. Hallelujah!
Meditations in Hebrews 1: 10. Seated with the Father
Heb 1:3b After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.
Testimonies to Jesus in Heaven: We now consider the second half of this sentence. Jesus, now seated at the right hand of the Father is testified to by a number of scriptures. Now I need to make a point here so please be patient: “Jesus … was taken up into heaven and sat down in the place of honour at God's right hand.” (Mk 16:19) “Now he sits on the throne of highest honour in heaven, at God's right hand.” (Acts 2:33) “Then God put him in the place of honour at his right hand as Prince and Saviour.” (Acts 5:31) “Stephen…saw Jesus standing in the place of honour at God's right hand.” (Acts 7:55) “he …. is sitting at the place of highest honour next to God, pleading for us.” (Rom 8:34) “and seated him in the place of honour at God's right hand in the heavenly realms.” (Eph 1:20) “God raised him up to the heights of heaven and gave him a name that is above every other name.” (Phil 2:9) “Christ sits at God's right hand in the place of honour and power.” (Col. 3:1 ) “Our High Priest sat down in the place of highest honour in heaven, at God's right hand.” (Heb 8:1) “Then he sat down at the place of highest honour at God's right hand.” (Heb 10:12) “Now he is seated in the place of highest honour beside God's throne in heaven.” (Heb 12:2) “He is seated in the place of honour next to God, and all the angels and authorities and powers are bowing before him.” (1 Pet 3:22)
How often have you heard sermons about Jesus glory and authority at the Father's right hand? I have just given you twelve verses that point this out in the New Testament. That way outnumbers the numbers of verses about him being involved in creation or upholding the world by his word of power. This I would have to suggest to you is a vital doctrine. Now notice various things that are said.
At The place of honour: In eleven of those verses it emphasises that this is THE place of honour and in the other verse it simply said he has been given a name above every other name, which is the same intent. A place of honour is given to someone who deserves it or who has earned it. Often this positioning is linked with his work on the Cross and his death and resurrection; other times it is just a statement of fact.
At the Father's right hand: Second, note it is at the Father's right hand. The right hand was always the hand of authority and so Jesus is sitting in the place of authority next to the Father. Again, notice the equality words – besides, next to – he is there ruling with the Father.
Ruling: That is the third main point to note, that it is a place where he rules. Prophetically the psalmist declared, “The LORD says to my Lord: "Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet." The LORD will extend your mighty scepter from Zion ; you will rule in the midst of your enemies.” (Psa 110:1,2) Echoing this, the apostle Paul wrote of Jesus, “For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet .” (1 Cor 15:25). I think we have commented before on the heavenly anthem recorded in Revelation: “Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise! ….. To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honor and glory and power, for ever and ever!” It is the acclamation of the supreme rule of Father and Son from heaven.
Ruler over all: Now the application of this is fairly obvious. The Jesus we worship today is not the meek and mild Jesus of the children's song; he is the Lord of all Creation and in heaven all bow before both Father and Son. He has no competitor, he is supreme ruler, all powerful as he administers His Father's kingdom: “Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power.” (1 Cor 15:24) i.e. the end product points to the present process.
A Mystery: Now there is a mystery in all of this for we don't know how Jesus is bringing down all his enemies – sin, Satan and all demonic powers and world authorities. The ultimate end is decreed: “Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Phil 2:9-11) It may be that he is working within history and things happen that we don't realise he was behind – e.g. the end of the Cold War, the fall of the Berlin Wall, and many other major events of recent history (as well as other things that are likely to have been his judgments on the folly of mankind).
The Unique Claims of Christ: We have to make the comment yet again, because the folly and ignorance of so many has produced such a loud voice that needs denouncing, there is NO other figure in all of human history, and certainly not within the world religions, who compares in any ways to the claims of the Bible of Jesus Christ. Nowhere else is there any claim that in any way matches what we have been considering in this study.
And Us? One final linked thought before we finish: “Here is a trustworthy saying: If we died with him, we will also live with him; if we endure, we will also reign with him.” (2 Tim 2:11,12) This is clearly one of the doctrinal sayings that was taught in the early church, that we are to reign with Jesus. This is confirmed in the heavenly singing: “You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth.” (Rev 5:10) How can that be? Well, “God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.” (Eph 1:22,23) As we, his body, respond to the head, so he will lead us into situations where we, his body, take control and take authority and bring change. I have a suspicion that we have a lot to learn here yet. May we be open to be taught.
Meditations in Hebrews 1: 11. Greater than Angels
Heb 1:4 So he became as much superior to the angels as the name he has inherited is superior to theirs.
Realisation: And so we come to the conclusion of this mini-prologue that we have been considering in the first ten studies. I am sure there are some words here that we just skim over and fail to note. For instance, “So he became”. This might almost infer that at some point Jesus was not superior to angels but we have seen a number of things in these verses already that clearly show he always has been. This “So he became”, I suggest means ‘so he became in our understanding.' Initially we knew nothing of Jesus. Initially even the teaching of the coming Messiah was unclear to the Jews. It was only as we perceived the work of the revealed Christ on earth and listened to his teaching about himself did we start to come to a place of realisation of just who he is.
Countering false teaching: Now why should it be necessary for the writer to the Hebrews to go to these lengths to elevate Jesus, what is it about angels that creates this need? Well, let's first acknowledge that need because even the apostle Paul had come across this problem, which is obvious when he wrote, “Do not let anyone who delights in false humility and the worship of angels disqualify you.” ( Col 2:18) Clearly he had encountered this in Colosse, this worshipping of angels teaching.
Teaching on Angels: Well, the reality is that angels are mentioned over ninety times in the Bible. They are a very real presence. The writer to the Hebrews himself says, “Are not all angels ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation?” (Heb 1:14) Angels are seen sometimes as the voice of God, communicating His will to us, hence, “He was in the assembly in the desert, with the angel who spoke to him on Mount Sinai, and with our fathers; and he received living words to pass on to us.” (Acts 7:38) and the Jewish understanding was that, “The law was put into effect through angels by a mediator.” (Gal 3:19). The apostle Peter sheds light on them, “angels, although they are stronger and more powerful…” (2 Pet 2:11) The psalmist wrote, “what is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him? You made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor.” (Psa 8:4,5) which our present writer soon quotes (Heb 2:7). That indeed is the picture conveyed in the historical sections of the Bible, that they are messengers (e.g. Jud 6:11) and that they are strong and powerful.
Gradual revelation: So there were these mystic Jews who elevated angels prior to the fuller revelation of the Christ. The knowledge of the Messiah was indeed a mystery as the apostle Paul comments upon a number of times (Rom 16:25,26, Eph 1:9,10, 3:3,4,6,9, 6:19, Col 1:26,27, 2:2, 4:3). Yes, it was unclear until he came, revealed himself and taught on the Father, died and rose again and ascended to heaven. Suddenly, it was clear who he was (with those who had eyes to see). Now the writer to the Hebrews could write, “But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, now crowned with glory and honor because he suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.” (Heb 2:9) Yes, he came in human form – and had been portrayed in the Old Testament prophecies as a human being – and thus had initially appeared as a human being, lower than the might and power that was often seen in angels. NOW the perspective has been changed, now we see who he is.
Recap: Yes, let's check back to note the things this writer has said to us in the opening three verses of his book:
1. “in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son”
2. “whom he appointed heir of all things”
3. “through whom he made the universe”
4. “the radiance of God's glory”
5. “the exact representation of his being,”
6. “sustaining all things by his powerful word.”
7. “provided purification for sins,”
8. “he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.”
Unique Son of God: None of these things could be applied to angels. Indeed, as we have commented before, they could not be applied to any other person in history. Without question the unanimous record of the New Testament is that he is the unique Son of God, supreme over any other being, sitting next to his Father in heaven today. Hallelujah!
Meditations in Hebrews 1: 12. The Start of the Prophetic Testimony
Heb 1:5 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"?
The approach: The writer's starting point in verse 1 had been, “In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways,” Having, in quick brush strokes, just given a panorama of the Son in verses 2 and 3 to show how he was greater than angels (v.4), he now goes back and takes some of the words from the Old Testament to confirm what he has just said. This is prophetic testimony to Jesus, all that follows in this chapter.
Prophetic testomony to Jesus' superiority: As a follow-on to verse 4, note his starting point: “For to which of the angels did God ever say…..” In the verses he is going to quote, his point is twofold: first, that these are references to the Son of God, yes back there in the Old Testament and, second, they show how the Son must be much superior to the angels by way of his relationship to the Father. In your Bible, you will see these laid out in such a way that we can see two different quotes, and they have ‘note letters' after them pointing to Bible references at the bottom of the page.
Psalm 2 speaks: The first quote is, “You are my Son; today I have become your Father.” This quote comes from Psalm 2: "I have installed my King on Zion , my holy hill." I will proclaim the decree of the LORD: He said to me, "You are my Son; today I have become your Father.” ( Psa 2:7) If you look up that Psalm you will see that an alternative for ‘King' could be “ anointed one” and so the Jews would look back to that Psalm as one of those possibly pointing forward to a ‘Coming One'. Also you will see an alternative note to “I have become your Father,” that says, “ have begotten you.”
'Begotten'? Now we picked up on this word ‘begotten' in an earlier study and it simply means “comes out of” and as we also noted earlier the early church who formulated creeds went to some trouble to emphasise that Father and Son were and are of the same ‘essence'. The Son came out of the Father to be a distinct being who could communicate with the Father. So, what was remarkable was that the writer of Psalm 2 was moving in prophetic mode and actually spoke of a ‘Coming One' who would be described as having come out of God Himself. Now it is probable that the scholarly Jews down through the ages, pondered over this and simply took it to mean, the Messiah would come from God because they could not envisage a being actually coming out of the One who was God, and certainly not being of the same essence as Him. This is why it was such a challenge for them every time Jesus even hinted at this.
Samuel speaks: The second quote is, "I will be his Father, and he will be my Son" and in your Bible you should see a footnote that suggests that this comes from 2 Samuel where we find, “He is the one who will build a house for my Name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be his father, and he will be my son.” (2 Sam 7:13,14) This time we know the prophet because the context in 2 Samuel tells us that this is the Lord talking to Nathan who is to pass it on to David. The same quote is found in 1 Chron 17:13. Now this would have possibly confused subsequent Jewish scholars because they would see that the throne of David and the building of the temple referred to Solomon whose son brought about a split in the kingdom. Admittedly the southern kingdom did continue on as far as the Exile but after that there were no kings, just leaders until eventually one of the procurators, under the Romans, Herod the Great, was granted the title, ‘king of the Jews' but this was clearly not of David's line and anyway when Jerusalem was destroyed in the rebellion in AD70 again any thought of a throne that goes on ‘forever' is long gone – in human terms at least. Perhaps because of those struggles verse 14 is largely forgotten, the idea of father and son.
The Septuagint speaks: Nevertheless, it was there and clearly referred to one who was not merely a human of descent of David. The Messiah will be the Son of the Father and the Father is God. No wonder the writer now adds a further quote, “And again, when God brings his firstborn into the world, he says, "Let all God's angels worship him." (v.6) Now this is where the writer gets picky because he quotes from the Greek version (the Septuagint) of the Old Testament scrolls which reads, “And again, when God brings his firstborn into the world, he says, "Let all God's angels worship him,” (Deut 32:43) although the older version is very different (probably in your Bible). The reality was that they had this newer Greek version (not liked by some) and so he felt free to quote from it. The point he was again making that when the Son was begotten he was worthy of the worship of all the angels who would subsequently be created. The theme continues: the Son is far greater than angels!
Meditations in Hebrews 1: 13. Angels versus the Son
Heb 1:7,8 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."
Comparison with Angels: The writer has already started making comparisons between angels and the Son. In verse 4 we read, “ So he became as much superior to the angels.” In verse 5 he has said, “For to which of the angels did God ever say, "You are my Son” and then in verse 6, “when God brings his firstborn into the world, he says, "Let all God's angels worship him.” Now he goes on to make a further comparison. (Beware: to try to get as full an understanding as possible of the way the Hebrews' writer thinks, we are going to have to look a little into the background of the scriptures he quotes along the way.)
He next takes a simple quote about angels: “In speaking of the angels he says, "He makes his angels winds, his servants flames of fire.” Here we appear to have a quote from Psa 104:4 which, when you look it up, reads, “He makes winds his messengers (angels), flames of fire his servants.” Note a possible alternative ‘angels' for our translation, ‘messengers'.
The Septuagint again: Again it is a quotation from the Septuagint, that Greek version that came into being between 300 and 200BC and was widely used by the Hellenistic Jews, those Greek speaking Jews who had spread across the Greek and then Roman empires who were beginning to lose the use of their Hebrew language. It is believed that it had its origins in Alexandria in Egypt and some 70 or 72 scholars were commissioned to carry out a Greek translation of the existing Hebrew scriptures.
It has been suggested that the Septuagint (sometimes referred to by the Roman numbers as the LXX) reflects the developing doctrine of angels during the period between the Old Testament and the New Testament. This version would have been known and used by first century Jews and that is perhaps the reason the writer to the Hebrews uses quotes that are more aligned with that Greek version. Perhaps we should note before moving on that our Psa 104:4 quote speaks of the storm wind and the lightning as agents of God's purposes, which the Septuagint interprets as something like ‘he makes the angels his servants of change.' The point being, behind all this, that he defines angels as servants of God.
Contrast the Ruling Son: Then comes the contrast: “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.” (v.8) Now I have purposely split what is the complete quote which is verses 8 and 9 to show the importance of careful reading. Looking at verse 8 you might legitimately ask, “How does he take that quote to mean the Son?” Good question. Read on in verse 9: “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."
OT Interpretation Styles: The words, “your God” show us that that psalmist saw two beings who are being referred to, and what might have appeared so strange, that perhaps the early scholars balked at it, was that the psalmist was prophetically talking to one he referred to as ‘God' and yet that one had had God setting him up above others. See it more clearly with the complete quote from the Old Testament: “Your throne, O God, will last for ever and ever; a scepter of justice will be the scepter of your kingdom. You love righteousness and hate wickedness; therefore God, your God, has set you above your companions by anointing you with the oil of joy.” (Psa 45:6,7)
It is obviously a common form of argument in those days (and should be therefore today) for we see the apostle Peter using the same approach when anointed by the Spirit on the Day of Pentecost he preached the first ‘Christian' sermon. In fact, he used it twice. First it was in respect of the resurrection: “ David said about him (the Coming One, the Messiah ): "I saw the Lord (God) always before me (the Messiah) . Because he is at my right hand, I will not be shaken. Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices; my body also will live in hope, because you (God) will not abandon me (the Coming One, the Messiah ) to the grave, nor will you let your Holy One (the Coming One, the Messiah ) see decay.” (Acts 2:25-27 quoting Psa 16:8-11) The one the psalmist was referring to, and appears to be speaking, separates himself off from ‘the Lord' and yet has the confidence he will not stay in the grave. Peter applies that to Jesus.
But then he also uses the same approach in respect of Jesus going up into heaven and sitting with his Father: “For David did not ascend to heaven, and yet he said, "The Lord (God) said to my Lord (the Coming One, the Messiah ): "Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet." (Acts 2:34,35 quoting directly from Psa 110:1) Note particularly in Psa 110, “The LORD said to my Lord.” i.e. ‘the I AM (God) said to my Lord, sit at my right hand.”
The truth was there - unseen: Apart from the truths being conveyed in the words of the scriptures we have quoted, it seems to me that there is a challenge here to be careful as we read the scriptures. The words are clearly there and they clearly show, as the various New Testament writers show us, that these Old Testament words applied in the various prophecies to the Coming One, the Messiah, now seen as Jesus Christ. The point I would make is that the Jewish scholars had had these scriptures before them for centuries but could never believe what the scriptures actually said, that the Messiah would be God's Son, one who would return and rule at his Father's side. Do we have similar blindness that stops us from seeing the wonder of God's will in His word, being applied into our lives today?
Contrast Jesus & Angels: But to return to the main point of these verses, it is that there may be myriads of angels but they are merely God's servants. Jesus, by comparison, is the unique Son of God who is actually worshipped by angels. The reality of that is seen in Revelation 5. read it and wonder afresh, and then join in the worship.
Meditations in Hebrews 1: 14. The Eternal Son
Heb 1:10-12 He also says, "In the beginning, O Lord, you laid the foundations of the earth,…. like a garment they will be changed. But you remain the same, and your years will never end.”
Purpose - to exalt Jesus: It is important at this point to remember the writer is enveloped in a single goal – to exalt Jesus and show him to be the glorious Son of God who is greater than anyone else, angels or who knows who else. It is also important to see these verses in context. Now why do I say these things? Because in verses 10 to 12 there is no mention of the Son and no indication of his presence in the thinking – but the thinking is all about Jesus. Hold on to what we read in the ‘prologue', that Jesus is the Son of God and it was through him that God created the world, the world which the Son now upholds with his word as he rules over it, seated at his Father's right hand.
Prologue Plus: All of that has been laid out before us in those earliest verses. To that prologue he had added the emphasis that this is the Son (v.5) before whom the angels worship (v.6), angels who are mere servants of God (v.7), but this is the Son (v.8) who from old was destined to reign at his Father's side over all things (v.9). Thus, when he comes to verse 10, it is important to realise that this is simply an extension of those thoughts, a continuation of the logic, if you like.
Psalm 102 applied: These words, quoted from Psa 102:35-37, although originally seen to apply to the LORD, now also, in the light of all we have said above, apply to the Son. Yes, that is what is in the writer's mind; these words apply to the Son. He starts with the recognition, already laid down previously, that the Son was there in the beginning in the work of Creation: “ He also says, "In the beginning, O Lord, you laid the foundations of the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands.” (v.10) In that there is nothing new being added but it is in verse 11 that he brings a new amazing thought which might not yet have crossed our minds: “They will perish, but you remain.” (v.11a)
The world will wear out: But of course! The Creation is created material matter and as such will wear out. We know that, we see it and experience it every single day of our lives. Matter – whether it be say a house, or a human body – deteriorates with age and eventually decays. Now here's the big point: matter may decay but God doesn't, the Son doesn't; he has no ending this Son for he is the unique Son of God. There is no one or no thing in all of existence that this can be said of – except God, except the Son.
Now, as a good teacher, he repeats this to push it home in case we hadn't taken it in first time. In respect of this Creation he says, “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.” (v.11b,12) There it is, the Creation will come to an end, but the Son never will; he is eternal, that is what marks him out from anyone else in all of existence, they will die and decay, but he never will.
Psalm 110 applied: And then, just to make sure we haven't forgotten who he is talking about, he uses that Psa 110 quote that we have already noted: “To which of the angels did God ever say, "Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet"? (v.13 quoting Psa 110:1) He put the quote alongside the thought of the angels to whom God has never said this. This is the unique and eternal Son who is so, so, so much superiors to the angels as he sits at his Father's right hand ruling over all of existence. And then, just to knock the final nail in the coffin of angelic heresy he adds, “Are not all angels ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation?” (v.14) i.e. JUST servants!
The conclusion: And that brings us to the end of Chapter 1, a chapter of the most incredible claims, but claims that are justified and vindicated by the rest of the New Testament and, indeed, the prophecies of the Old Testament. The message is loud and clear: Jesus Christ is the unique, everlasting Son of God.
No Jesus? Ah! Perhaps there is something you might not have noticed but the critic may throw at us – the name of Jesus is not mentioned in this chapter. Is this who the writer is referring to or is there someone else? Well, first of all, there was no one else in that period (or since) who has stood out with that claim. Second, there is no one else who fits the description of verse 2 – “in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son.” Third, there is no one else who fits the rest of the descriptions of both Testaments that are confirmed in this chapter or which confirm the things of this chapter. Without question, although his name is not mentioned here, this all refers to Jesus Christ.
Focus on God the Father & His Son: Now why, therefore, might this be? We can only make a suggestion and it is this: the person, the being that the writer wants us to focus on is no mere man with a name, Jesus, or even a title given by the scriptures, the Christ or the Messiah. No, the whole emphasis is that the One he wants us to focus on is God, an expression of God, revealed for our understanding as those with finite minds, as the eternal Son. It is all about relationship of Son to Father. It is only because he is the begotten Son that he was involved in Creation, it is only because he is the begotten Son that he now upholds the world by his word of power, it is only because he is the begotten Son that he is ‘big enough' to be the redeemer of the world, and it is only because he is the begotten Son that he now sits at his Father's right hand ruling over all of existence.
But what about prevailing sin? I do not want to detract from any of this in our minds but I sense the cry of so many, ‘How can Jesus be ruling over this world when Sin prevails, Satan is at work and human beings are in rebellion. Ah! Remember the verse we've now quoted at least twice – he rules “in the midst of his enemies” (Psa 110:2) The fact that he gives us free will, allows us to exercise it as expressions of Sin, and allows Satan a measure of freedom as well, does not detract from the fact that a) he is the Lord over all, and can bring it to an end the moment he wants to, and b) he is working in the midst of all this to bring about his purposes for his Father, God. So, in respect of human beings, he watches and when the time is right he convicts of sin and draws them to himself and they are saved. In respect of Satan, as the book of Job shows us, his instruction to Satan is “thus far and no further,” and Satan has to obey and the “thus far” is always a limit that fits in with his own plans and purposes.
The Begotten Son: So, as we said, not to detract from what this chapter has been saying, let's repeat the thrust from above to finish: It is only because he is the begotten Son that he was involved in Creation, it is only because he is the begotten Son that he now upholds the world by his word of power, it is only because he is the begotten Son that he is ‘big enough' to be the Redeemer of the world, and it is only because he is the begotten Son that he now sits at his Father's right hand ruling over all of existence. We might now add, that it is only because he is the begotten Son that he will one day come back as conquering king (Rev 19) and wind all things up and then make all things new. Hallelujah!