Lesson 1: Notes on Hebrews 1:1-4

David H. Linden   ~~~  Action International Ministries

 

 

1 In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways,  2 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.  3 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.  4 So he became as much superior to the angels as the name he has inherited is superior to theirs.

 

The Opening Sentence     Hebrews 1:1-4 in the original language is one sentence. This means there is one main verb that indicates the emphasis of the book of Hebrews.   That verb in v.3 is “sat”.   This surprise shows how much Psalm 110 affects Hebrews, and reveals how much the epistle is aimed at the priestly work of Jesus. 

 

The finality of revelation         It is not that the Son is just the One through Whom the Father is speaking.  He is the One through Whom the Father has spoken.  The verb tense indicates a note of finality and closes off the prospect of a continuing revelation apart from what God has spoken in the Son.  Those who teach that there is a continuing gift of prophecy (i.e., with prophets giving new revelations) must reckon with this feature of the uniqueness of Christ.  Those apostles who completed the New Testament canon, and thus spoke for Him, were authorized as eyewitnesses of His resurrection, and as appointed by Him, to speak with His authority (John 14:15-21; 25,26, plus John 16:12-15).  We reply to Muslims, who claim Mohammed as a later prophet than Jesus, that God HAS spoken in His Son.  It would be wise for Christians not to stand in opposition to this truth.  Christ is THE prophet Who was to come (Deuteronomy 18:17-20; Acts 3:22,23).  How contradictory for someone to say, “Yeah, but I am a later prophet than He; you need what I now add to His Word.”  

 

Hebrews is a book of contrasts.  It compares Christ with angels and Moses, His offering with animal sacrifices; other priests with His priesthood, the old covenant with the new, etc.  In this context, we ought to see a contrast in revelation. Just as it is wrong to revert to animal sacrifices, it is wrong as well to accept prophecies from those who claim such a role when they are not apostles of Christ. The movement of the Bible is from lower to higher, as in the Passover to the Lord’s Supper. To claim continuing revelation, is to move from God’s “has spoken in His Son” to a lower class of revelation. 

 

Continuing Revelation       It is a serious error to add to the priestly work of Christ by any kind of imagined additional atonement for sins.  Hebrews opens by telling us that Christ has made purification.  We do not go back to the many offerings of other priests, whose ministry is now obsolete.   Likewise, God has spoken in His Son, so we do not go back to the ministrations of lesser prophets to give additional revelations, which imply that God has not spoken sufficiently in His Son.  In other words, the role of Christ as priest and prophet are supreme.  If we consider the other office of Christ, we point out that we have in the law of God His will for us.  This law Christ as a king and prophet has endorsed, interpreted, and applied in New Testament revelation from the Sermon on the Mount to the writings of His apostles.   For men to add further laws, or further obligation, or further truth, is to diminish the ruling role of Christ as King over us.  The Roman Catholic Church fell into this kind of triple error.  It has added to Jesus’ work the sacrifice of the mass, purgatory to purge remaining sins, and penance.   It has the Pope speaking ex cathedra to announce new doctrines supposedly binding on us to believe and obey.  In one stroke this is a violation of the rule of Christ as King and Head of the church and as the Son through Whom the Father has spoken.   That is why we needed and had the Reformation. 

 

The Place of Psalm 110 in Hebrews:  The first main verb in the book of Hebrews is “sat.”  This came from Psalm 110:1.  In that psalm Jesus is called a priest, so Hebrews joins Psalm 110:1 & 4.  He is the king-priest told to sit, an idea that dominates Hebrews.  This use in 1:3 of this key word will later be expanded.  Matthew 22:41-46 speaks of the Messiah as the Lord God, an argument for the deity of Christ not repeated in Hebrews.  Hebrews points to His being seated, a priest of a higher order (Melchizedek’s), that He was appointed with an oath, and that His priesthood is forever.  To understand Hebrews, one must be familiar with Psalm 110.

 

Five Descriptions of the Deity of the Son

 

Hebrews 1 gives much to show that Christ is God.  There are five descriptions of Christ.  He is: 1) heir of all things, 2) One through Whom God made the universe, 3) the radiance of God's glory, 4) the exact representation of his being, and 5) One who sustains all things by His powerful word.  The assumption of Hebrews is that since He is THE Son, He is all that the Father is.  From that comes this multiple description that can only fit the Lord God Himself.  There is nothing that the Father is that the Son is not, except that the Son is not the Father.   We must not confuse that creatures (both angels and men) are spoken of as sons.  This simply means that God gave us existence; we are His offspring (Acts 17:28, Luke 3:38).  The Son of God is the Son because He is what the Father is (John 5:17-29).  These two ways of using the same word must not be confused. 

 

1:2 Appointed heir of all things     It is just as true that Christ is heir of all things, and that statement is not weakened by the addition that He was appointed as such.  It mystifies our minds that the relation of Father and Son is so intermingled that everything Christ is and does is related to and comes from the Father.  It is impossible to separate them as Persons, (and necessary not to confuse them).  This fact extends to the very life and activity of the Son.  For the Father to appoint Christ as Heir of all things is completely in keeping with how the Father and Son relate. It is not contradictory to say that everything is the inheritance of the Son (Hebrews 1) and that the Son will hand over the kingdom to the Father (1 Corinthians 15:24) and that even the Son will be subject to the Father Who put all things under the Son (1 Corinthians 15:28).  Only God can have all authority in heaven and on earth!  (Matthew 28:18).  Yet this authority was given to Christ, by the Father Who is His head and equal (1 Corinthians 11:3).  Hebrews will later add that those who are called and receive His promise, are also heirs (6:17; 9:15; 11:8,9).

 

1:2 One through Whom God made the universe          Christ is never presented in Scripture as an independent Creator.  Again the bond of Father-Son affects creation.  It is not that the Father created and so did Jesus.  It is that the Father created and all things were made

 

by Him (and even for Him) – Colossians 1:15,16

through Him, in fact, without Him nothing was made – John 1:3

and, “through whom [Christ]  He [God the Father] made the universe” – Hebrews 1:2

 

Note that these three books begin with the deity of Christ!  To provide a more complete picture, the role of the Holy Spirit in the execution of all that God does must be added.  “In the beginning God [the Trinity] created the heavens and the earth… and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters…” (Genesis 1:1,2).   All three Persons are God the Creator, and the roles of each Person remain in doing all He does, and all They do.  Great is the mystery of godliness! (1 Timothy 3:16).  Since Christ participates in the creation of all that was ever created, He cannot be a created being.  He is the eternal, pre-existent Son.      

 

1:3  The Radiance of God’s Glory and

1:3  The Exact Representation of His Being

These words are less common.  We have more in Scripture about inheritance and creation. The idea of Christ being the radiance of another’s glory is a fresh way to describe Christ.  We must be careful that we not fall into thinking of Christ as merely a reflection of God’s glory the way the moon, with no light of its own, reflects to us the light of the sun.  John 1:14 speaks of Jesus’ glory as His glory. In Mark 9:2, when He was transfigured showing His majesty, honor and glory (2 Peter 1:16-18), He was not a mere mirror. Further, a cloud appeared and overshadowed them (Mark 9:7), a replication of the shekinah glory of the Old Testament, indicating the Presence of the Lord with Israel.    

 

To see the Son is to see the Father (John 14:9-11).  We have not seen God directly, but God the only Begotten has made Him known to us, (John 1:18). The One whom the Father has placed between us and Himself is the Son, Who is the exact and complete representation of Himself.  In the past God, spoke in other ways; in sending Christ, He has sent God to show us God. Hebrews has again combined the glory of Christ and the image of God, (2 Corinthians 4:4-6).  Does Christ reflect the glory of another?  Yes, and He does it by being the glory of God that He is (Colossians 1:15).

 

 

1:3 The Son Sustains all Things by His Powerful Word       Of the five descriptions, Hebrews links the first four to the Father.  There is no other way to understand Christ.  This is the only one of the five where it is not expressly stated as a Father-Son connection.  It could have been, since the Son does not speak His word on His own (John 12:49; 14:10; 14:24).  Creation is complete.  Since then something continues, (present tense).  Thus Jesus carries the whole world.  (The Greek verb for “sustains”’ is the ordinary word for “carry.”)  Jesus the Son sustains all things by His powerful word.  Just as God, speaking let there be, called all things into existence by His Word, (11:3) the Son continues to speak and His will is done as He rules all creation.  The winds and the waves obey Him! (Luke 8:25; Psalm 148:8).  In Him all things hold together (Colossians 1:17).

 

Why so much attention in Hebrews to the rank of the Son?  First, the writer will soon turn to show that the Son is not an angel and cannot be compared to them as if one of them!  Hebrews 1 beats the life out of a certain error, therefore that error must have had some appeal to those he wrote to.  Second, he wants to show Christ as a priest of a different order.  To be a priest He must be human; but this priest is absolutely unique because the One God sent to represent men before Him, is Himself God the Son.  He is not merely a mediator between God and men.  He is the Mediator Who is both God and Man.

 

Hebrews will emphasize that Jesus is our Great High Priest, but before doing so it lays a foundation as to Who this Jesus is Who became a priest.  He was always the Son, but He was not always a priest.  To be a priest He must become human, but first things first.  Hebrews will begin at the beginning: Jesus Christ is God.  That is clear in the opening sentence, but in chapter 1 the writer will give two Old Testament quotations that address Him as God and Lord. One other quotation tells angels to worship Him.  It is not enough for Hebrews to show what roles Jesus has as a man.  We must begin with Who this Person is Who became a man.

 

Jesus Christ as Prophet, Priest and King:  1:1,2 opens with God speaking through His Son, thus Christ was a Prophet.  As heir of all things (v.2) and sustaining all things (v.3), He is King at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven (v.13).  He is Priest because it is the role of a priest to make purification for sins, (v.3).  This simple mention of a priestly activity is the earliest introduction of the major theme of the entire book, Christ as our Priest.  Of His three offices as Messiah, Hebrews will emphasize two (priesthood and kingship) yet it opened with His role as a Prophet. Christ served on earth as a Priest by His offering (and in heaven by intercession). He was raised from the dead on earth, and is now seated as King over all in heaven.  Both the cross and the resurrection are historical events on earth in which God has spoken in His Son. 

 

 

Christ Superior to Angels

 

1:4  Angels      We make very important things clear by stating them from opposite angles. For example: “You must be home by midnight, and that means you must not arrive home after midnight!” The opening sentence has made the deity of Christ clear, therefore He cannot be a created angel. He is seated on the throne of God. But now we see the other angle – an explicit contrast with angels. He is not only spoken of in terms of God, He has been given a name superior to angels.  Note Philippians 2:9-11 which shows Christ too, is the LORD God of Israel.  The Father has seated the Son (Ephesians 1:20-22) at His right hand (Psalm 16:11), thereby making Christ’s place to be above the angels.  His Name shows He is the LORD; the throne shows He is God.

 

Two great contrasts occur in the opening sentence. First as revelation, God’s speaking in Christ is superior to and better than all other occasions and persons of revelation, such as prophets and angels (see 2:2).  Second, Christ is shown to have a higher rank than angels.  The Hebrews sermon begins with giving strong reason for its readers to pay attention to Christ.

 

Two themes are introduced that will be emphasized in the epistle:  1.) Seated at the right hand shows He is the exalted Son.  2.) Since He made purification for sins He is the priest.  The themes are related, for He will later be shown to be the priest who made a sacrifice on earth, but Who ascended to the Father as our Priest.  There the Father seated Him.  Hebrews begins with Jesus as the King Priest.