Hebrews 1–2 . An Introduction.
Key Notes: The theme of the book is drifting away. Jesus' Deity is declared in seven assertions. Angels are second-level communicators.
Hebrews was written to Jewish Christians probably before the fall of Jerusalem (70AD). The sacrifice system is perceived as still in place. The descriptions of the procedures used are the present tense. (9:7). There is not a mention of the destruction of the Temple. The writer refers to information “attested to us by those who heard Him”….. (3:2), indicating that the first generation of Christians and apostles were still alive. No New Testament text is cited.
Because the author of Hebrews is unknown, the early Church was hesitant to admit it to the Canon. The writings of the apostles and Paul were more readily accepted. Paul, Apollas, Barnabas and others have been named as possible authors, with scholars wavering or asserting its canonicity based on the probable author. But its teaching about Christ is of the highest quality and so it was embraced by the Church. Hebrews was in general circulation by 95AD, and quoted by Clement, one of the early Church fathers.
The problem that Hebrews addresses is a common one. The Hebrew believers of the first century were prone to slide back into Judaism, as are Hebrew Christians today--and anyone who comes from a non-Christian background is tempted to do the same. The Jewish Christians were exposed to the heresy that Jesus was a great prophet, a good moral teacher and nothing more. One group of Jews who held this view were called Ebionites. Ebionism is an old heresy which puts Jesus on the same level with other world leaders like Mohammed or Moses, Socrates or Gandhi. Proving His Deity was an important first step in Hebrews , making the case for Jesus as "the Author and Finisher of our Faith."
The task of the writer was to encourage Hebrew believers to keep the Faith. He will go back and forth between warning them away from losing salvation on one side and assuring them of God’s faithfulness on the other. It is important to read Hebrews carefully in view of the difficult doctrines of eternal security and the perseverance of the saints. These texts are summarized at the end of the lessons.
The material in this first chapter is so concentrated as to make discussion difficult. It is a series of assertions without argument, covering the deity of Christ, and His superiority to angels. Angels are a mysterious class of spiritual beings that may be confused with Deity. Here they are described in enough detail to make their difference from Christ clear.
1:1–4 “In many and various ways God spoke of old to our father by the prophets….”
The revelation of God in the Old Testament is given to us in fragments. No one source contains all we want to know about our God. We compile our doctrine from OT history, its wisdom writing, and prophecy, written over a period of a thousand years (1400–400BC). We read the major prophets who wrote large books--Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and Daniel--as well as a dozen writers of smaller works--Hosea through Malachi. They tell us what God's will for Israel was and the consequences of disobedience as well as a hope for future salvation. That salvation was embodied in the coming Messiah.
“…but in these last days He has spoken to us by a Son….”
The prophets said "thus saith the Lord". The Son says "...but I say to you...." "...He taught them as one having authority and not as the scribes." (Matt.7:29)
In Jesus Christ we see The Word of God made flesh and dwelling among us, full of grace and truth. Jn.1:14
Are these the last days? The coming of Christ signaled the end of that age, and the beginning of the Messianic or Church Age. “…He has appeared once for all at the end of the age to put away sin….” (Heb. 9:26).
Peter said “…In the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh….” (Acts 2:17).We have these arresting phrases--the end of the age,the last days--which held the attention of the Church for two Millennia. Who could have dreamed that the world would last so long?
*“…whom He appointed heir of all things…”
He is Heir of the universe, the Kingdom, and the World to Come. (2:5). He owns it all; He will rule it all.
“…putting everything in subjection under His feet.” (Heb.2:8)
God says to His Anointed, “Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage, and the ends of the earth your possession.” (Psa.2:8)
*“…through Whom He also created the world.”
Jesus was the active creator not only of the world but of the aeons, the ages; not just the 92+ elements, the material stuff of the universe, but the ages of astronomy, the time of creation and cycles of biology, and the periods of human history. He is heir to it all because He made it all. Jn.1:1–3; Col.1:15–17
*”He reflects the glory of God…”
If we think of the Father as the sun, the Son is the sunshine. No one can survive the sun directly ; everyone can enjoy the sunshine and you cannot have one without the other.
*”…and bears the exact stamp of His Nature….”
This prase is in parallel with “He reflects the glory of God”. Jesus is the expressed image of The Father's Person. In literal Greek terms Jesus is the “character" (the die-cut stamp) of His (God’s) "hypostasis" ( nature or essence). The Father the Son and the Holy Spirit are of one Essence, one Nature. "He who has seen Me has seen the Father." (Jn.14:9)
*”…upholding the universe by His word of power….”
“And God said, ‘Let there be light’ and there was light.” (Gen.1:3).
“…and in Him all things hold together.” (Col.1:17)
He spoke it into existence by His word of power; He sustains it with His word of power.
*”…when He had made purification for sins….”
He alone made our purification for sins. We had no part in it.
The Cross work was Jesus’ primary task on earth and when He completed it….
*“He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on High.”
"Sit at my right hand, till I make your enemies your footstool." (Psa.1101)
This tells us that His work of redemption was then complete.
There is more concentrated information on Jesus' deity here than virtually anywhere else in Scripture, with Col.1:15–20 close behind. In each of these seven assertions, Jesus is Deity, the second person of the Trinity. Note that Purifier from sins is also a criterion of Deity: "Who can forgive sins but God alone?" (Mk.2:7).
1:4–14 Jesus is also far above angels. Angels are introduced here for two reasons: they are spiritual beings close to God and above humans. Jesus’ superiority is argued from as many as nine OT texts and confirmed in many NT references. Also angels were mediators of the Law of Moses and the message Christ mediates is far superior, as we see later.
What information on angels can we collect from this passage? It is a rich source of basic material about these ministering spirits.
1:4 Jesus’ name is superior to theirs. Jesus’ name is “God saves”, or “Savior”. "Angel" means messenger. The named angels are Michael (“Who is like God?”) and Gabriel (“Man of God”).
1:6 They worship Christ.
1:7 God makes them winds and flames of fire. “Seraphim” may mean “the burning ones”.
1:14They are ministering spirits sent forth to serve for the sake of those who will be saved.
2:2 The message was declared by angels. That message is the Law of Moses. This revelation-work of the angels is confirmed repeatedly. (Act 7:53; Gal.3:19, with Deut.33:1 and Psa.68:17) and it is a little-known truth. The OT passages describe God coming from Mt. Sinai with myriads of angels although the Law is not mentioned. but since Mt. Sinai is a metaphor for the Law, we understand this to be the connection.
2:5 The World to Come (the Millennial reign) is not under their control. The saints will judge angels! ICor.6:3
2:7 Jesus as a human being was made a little lower than the angels.
2:16 Jesus is more concerned with humans than with angels.
But the intent of the writer is not to teach us about angels except to assure us that Christ is superior to them.
No angel is called "My Son".
“This day I have begotten Thee.” (Psa. 2:7). “This day” refers to Jesus’ resurrection. (Acts.13:33; Rom.1:4)
”…when He brings the First-born into the world….”
Jesus as “First-born” refers to His priority, especially in the Resurrection. Rom.8:29; Col.1:18
Angels are to worship Christ. The quotation is from Deut.32:43 in the Greek translation (LXX). Angels are His servants—notably at His Temptation (Mk.1:13) and in the Resurrection. Matt.28:2
“Your throne, 0 God, is forever and ever. Your righteous scepter is the scepter of Your kingdom. You have loved righteousness and hated lawlessness; therefore God, Your God, has anointed You with the oil of gladness beyond Your comrades.” (Psa.45:6,7). The psalm is a Messianic reference, fulfilled here.
The Son is creator of heavens and earth. The quotations are from Psa.102:25 and Isa. 34:4.
God never allowed an angel to sit at His right hand till His enemies were subdued. (Psa.110:1) They are ministering spirits sent out to participate in the salvation of human beings.
2:1–4 The central message of the passage is that Christ, greater than angels, has given us “so great” salvation
declared by Christ Himself,
witnessed to us by those who heard Him,
witnessed by God through signs and wonders and miracles,
witnessed by the Holy Spirit who gave gifts to men.
How shall we escape if we drift away from it?
1:5 "...this day I have begotten Thee".
When is "This Day"? The phrase is originally from Psa. 2:7, and is also quoted in Acts 13:3 and Heb.5:5.
Peter tells us that "This Day" is Jesus' Resurrection Day. The interpretation is found in Acts 13:33: "...this He has fulfilled to us their children by raising Jesus, as also it is written in the second psalm 'Thou art my Son, today I have begotten Thee.'"
Heb.5:5 also quotes Psa.2:7 and uses the word "appointed" as High Priest, also suggesting a day of appointment.
Paul says Jesus was "...designated Son of God in power... according to the resurrection from the dead". (Rom.1:4). He was the Son of God Begotten from the beginning, but is demonstrated to be so on This Day, the Resurrection.
The word "prophet" reaches back two millennia. It includes Abraham (Gen.20:7) and Moses Deut.18:15–18). Abraham was the first of the prophets, around 2000BC. Moses came to lead Israel out of bondage, around 1400BC. Most of the prophets advised the monarchy in the periods of Israel's history in which they worked:
•Samuel, Nathan, Zadok, Asaph, and Ahijah prophesied to the United Kingdom under David and Solomon, from 1000 to 920BC. None of them left written messages.
•Elijah, and Elisha are also non-writing prophets who testified after the partition of the Kingdom about 920BC.
•Joel, Obadiah, Jonah, Amos, Hosea, Isaiah, and Micah worked and wrote up to end of Northern Kingdom which fell to the Assyrians in 720BC.
•Jeremiah, Nahum, Habukkuk, and Zephaniah worked and wrote at the end of Southern Kingdom when Jerusalem fell to the Babylonians in 587BC.
•Daniel, and Ezekiel were writing prophets in exile after 606BC.
•Haggai, Ezra, Nehemiah, and Malachi testified and wrote after Israel's return from exile in 516 to 400BC.
•Christ, the last and greatest Prophet, came 400 years after Malachi. He has the last word.