Hebrews 1:1-4; 2:5-12
The author identified neither himself nor the people to whom he was writing. However, the content of the book, including the frequent references to the Hebrew Scriptures, makes it clear that he was writing to Jewish Christians who were sorely tempted to leave the Christian church and revert to Jewish worship.
There were a number of reasons why these Jewish Christians might have been tempted to return to Judaism:
- Families and friends surely pressured them. This could have taken many forms––expressions of disapproval, shunning, disinheritance, etc.
- They would have missed the elaborate rituals and furnishings of the Jewish Temple and the synagogues. Christians didn’t have church buildings in those days, but met in the homes of fellow Christians. Compared to Jewish worship, Christian worship must have seemed spare––even poor.
- Those who had enjoyed special status in Judaism would miss the prestige and influence that they once enjoyed. Luke tells us that “a great company of the priests were obedient to the faith” (Acts 6:7). Whether they could have become Jewish priests again is open to question, but some would likely be tempted to return if they thought that would be a possibility.
The author spends the first ten and a half chapters of this thirteen chapter book (1:1 – 10:18) emphasizing the superiority of Christ and the new covenant to Moses and the old covenant. In chapters 1-2, he focuses specifically on the superiority of Christ to angels.
Angels are God’s messengers (Hebrews 1:14; Revelation 1:1), but are not God.
- They are part of the created order, and not the creator (Colossians 1:16).
- They are subject to judgment for wrongdoing (2 Peter 2:4; Jude 1:6).
- Paul says that humans will judge angels (1 Corinthians 6:3).
- Angels deserve respect (1 Corinthians 11:10; 1 Timothy 5:21). In the created order, people were created “a little lower than the angels” (2:7, 9) but Christ is far superior to angels (1:4-13; 1 Peter 3:22).
- Thus, we should worship God, rather than angels. To worship angels is to run afoul of the First Commandment, “You shall have no other gods before me” (Exodus 2:3; see also Matthew 4:10).
- Gnostics worshiped angels as intermediaries between God and humans––but the author of Colossians warned that angel worship could result in their disqualification for the prize of Christ (Colossians 2:18).
- God consigned sinful angels to hell and darkness “until the judgment” (2 Peter 2:4, 11; Jude 1:6).
- At the end of time, the dragon (Satan) and his angels will make war against Godly Michael and his angels––but they will neither prevail nor find a home in heaven (Revelation 12:7-8).
The worship of angels is still a problem today. Angels appear on television and in movies. They are popular images for notecards. There are collectible angels. While those things can be harmless, they also have the potential to segue into a form of idolatry.
Popular media today portray angels as lovely, delicate, and feminine, but Biblical writers either cite masculine names for angels or give no clue to their gender. Angels were often fearsome.
As is true with many things, we need to be careful lest we be seduced by the popular culture. We need to insure that we are worshiping God and not angels––the creator and not the creation––the Supreme Being instead of one of his messengers.
HEBREWS 1:1-4. GOD HAS SPOKEN TO US BY HIS SON
1 God, having in the past spoken to the fathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, 2 has at the end of these days spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, through whom also he made the worlds. 3 His Son is the radiance of his glory, the very image of his substance, and upholding all things by the word of his power, when he had by himself made purification for our sins, sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high; 4 having become so much better than the angels, as he has inherited a more excellent name than they have.
“God, having in the past spoken to the fathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways” (v. 1). A key feature both of Judaism and Christianity is God’s revelation to humans. God revealed himself and his will in various ways.
- On many occasions, God spoke DIRECTLY to a person, as he did to Abram (Genesis 12:1) and Moses (Exodus 3:5).
- God spoke through DREAMS (Genesis 31:10-13) and VISIONS (Genesis 15:1).
- God sent ANGELS to deliver his message (Genesis 16:10-11).
- God spoke through the TORAH, which prescribes proper relationships between people and God, people and each other, as well as certain religious behaviors (such as keeping the Sabbath) and rituals intended to honor God and to expiate sin.
- God spoke through SCRIPTURES of various types (history, poetry, prophecy, etc.)––in both Old and New Testaments.
- The STORIES of God’s interaction with people as found in scripture are of special interest, because they so easily capture our attention and are so profoundly memorable and instructive.
- God spoke through the PROPHETS, to whom God revealed secrets that had been hidden––and whom God called to proclaim guidance, judgment, and salvation. The largest body of prophetic revelation is found in the books of the prophets, from Isaiah through Malachi. However, there were other significant prophets, such as Samuel, whose stories are found elsewhere (1 Samuel 3; 8). Prophetic revelation is the particular revelation mentioned in this verse.
“has at the end of these days spoken to us by his Son” (v. 2a). Note the parallelism. In the past, God spoke through the prophets (v. 1), but now speaks through the Son (v. 2).
The phrase, “at the end of these days,” could be interpreted in several ways, but in this context probably means the new age brought into being by Christ, who will bring both judgment and salvation..
While the other forms of revelation were powerful and instructive, God’s ultimate revelation came through his Son, Jesus Christ. Jesus said, “He who has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9). Jesus was God made visible, superseding every other form of revelation.
“whom he appointed heir of all things” (v. 2b). This is the first of two things in this verse that demonstrate the superiority of Christ, God’s Son.
An heir is a person who has the legal right to an inheritance. Jewish law regulated inheritances, giving two shares to the firstborn son and one share each to the other sons (Deuteronomy 21:17).
God’s first family was the nation of Israel (Romans 9:4-5). God said, “Israel is my son, my firstborn” (Exodus 4:22)––and “I will be (Israel’s) father, and he shall be my son” (2 Samuel 7:14).
Paul says that Christ’s disciples have become “joint heirs with Christ” (Romans 8:14-17)––the result of God adopting us into his family (John 1:12-13; Romans 8:15, 23; Galatians 3:16; 4:4-6; Ephesians 1:5; Revelation 21:7).
Now, the author of Hebrews, tells us that God has appointed his Son “heir of all things” (1:2).
“through whom also he made the worlds” (v. 2c). This is the second thing in this verse that demonstrates the superiority of the Son. Not only did the Father appoint the Son as heir of all things (v. 2b), but the Son was present at the creation––intimately involved in the creation of all that is.
Note the phrase “let us” in the creation story (Genesis 1:26) and the account of Babel (Genesis 11:7).
The Gospel of John traces the Word back to the very beginning––before time––before the creation of the world. The Word was not part of the creation––was not created––but stood with God before the creation. This is important, because it is contrary to the prevailing Jewish thought of God working alone in creation.
- The Prologue to John says:
“In the beginning was the Word,
and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
The same was in the beginning with God.
All things were made through him.
Without him was not anything made that has been made” (John 1:1-3).
- Jesus prayed, “Now, Father, glorify me with your own self with the glory which I had with you before the world existed” (John 17:5).
- Paul uses similar language––”for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created… all things have been created through him and for him (Colossians 1:16).
- Now the author of Hebrews speaks of a Son, “through whom also he (God) created the worlds (1:2).
“His Son is the radiance of his glory” (v. 3a). Glory is characteristic of God, and refers to God’s awe-inspiring majesty. God shared this glory with Jesus. Jesus’ glory was revealed at the Transfiguration (Luke 9:28-36) and his death and resurrection (Luke 24:26).
At the parousia (the Second Coming), Jesus will return “in a cloud with power and great glory” (Luke 21:27). At that time, “at the name of Jesus every knee (will) bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue (will) confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:10-11).
“the very image (Greek: charakter) of his substance” (v. 3b). Elsewhere in the New Testament, the Greek word that is translated “image” is eikon (from which we get our word “icon”). This is the only place where charakter appears.
The Greeks used the word charakter (from which we get our word “character”) to speak of an engraved image that could be used to create an exact replica of the original. Thus it is especially appropriate in this verse to describe the Son, whose character exactly replicated that of the Father.
“and upholding (Greek: phero) all things by the word of his power” (v. 3c). The Greek word phero means “to bear up” or “to govern” or “to direct.”
It’s interesting that this verse has the Son bearing up “all things by the word of his power.” That brings to mind God’s creative power, as exercised by the agency of his word.
- In the creation, “God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light” (Genesis 1:3).
- “God said, ‘Let there be an expanse…’ …and it was so” (Genesis 1:6-7).
- God’s word gathered the waters together in one place (Genesis 1:9).
- God’s word brought forth vegetation (Genesis 1:11-13).
- God’s word put lights in the sky (Genesis 1:14-19).
- God’s word created animals (Genesis 1:20-25) and humans (Genesis 1:26-27).
So also the Son’s word serves as the agency of his power. By his word, the Son upholds––sustains––bears up––governs––directs all things.
That also brings to mind, once again, that “In the beginning was the Word, (and that)…All things were made through him” (John 1:1-2). In other words, the one who upholds everything by the power of his word is actually himself known as “the Word.”
“when he had by himself made purification (Greek: katharismos) for our sins” (v. 3d). The Greek word katharismos is derived from katharizo, which means “to make clean.” From those words, we get our word cathartic, which we usually use in one of two ways:
- We talk about the emotional catharsis (cleansing) that we experience when we discuss our problems with a good listener.
- We use the word cathartic to refer to laxatives, which cleanse us from the inside.
However, the cleansing in which the Son is involved is spiritual in nature––the purification of the soul––the forgiveness of sins.
The Jewish sacrificial system was for the purpose of cleansing the supplicant from sin. But while people could submit to purification rites, purification ultimately depends on God’s action––so the Psalmist cries, “Purify me with hyssop, and I will be clean. Wash me, and I will be whiter than snow…. Create in me a clean heart, O God. Renew a right spirit within me” (Psalm 51:7, 10)––and God promises, “Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow. Though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool” (Isaiah 1:18)––and “I will save you from all your uncleanness” (Ezekiel 36:29).
It’s that kind of spiritual purification that the Son accomplished by his word.
“sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high” (v. 3e). Having accomplished his mission, the Son ascended to the heavenly kingdom from which he had descended for the Incarnation––and took his seat at the right hand of the Father (see Psalm 110:1; Hebrews 1:13; 8:1; 10:12; 12:2).
The right hand was the place of honor, as it still is today in many places. In military or corporate settings, commanders or CEOs typically sit at the head of the table. Their seconds in command sit at their right, and the next senior person sits at their left.
“having become so much better than the angels” (v. 4a). See the remarks on angels in The Context above.
“as he has inherited a more excellent name than they have” (v. 4b). In that culture, people considered a person’s name to be more than a simple label to identify that person. They believed that something of the person’s identity was tied up in the name––that the name expressed something of the person’s essential character. As is obvious from this verse, they also assumed that a name––at least some names––possessed something of the power of the one who wore that name.
While that might sound foreign to us today, it is not. When we talk about a person’s reputation, we are talking about something that expresses the essence of that person. A person’s reputation also conveys a certain power or lack of it. When the author says that the Son “has inherited a more excellent name than (the angels) have, he means that the Son’s essential character and power are far superior to those of the angels.
What is his name? His name is Son––a name that trumps all other names.
HEBREWS 2:5-8. YOU HAVE PUT ALL THINGS IN SUBJECTION
5 For he didn’t subject the world to come, of which we speak, to angels. 6 But one has somewhere testified, saying,
“What is man, that you think of him?
Or the son of man, that you care for him?
7 You made him a little lower than the angels.
You crowned him with glory and honor.
8 You have put all things in subjection under his feet.”
For in that he subjected all things to him, he left nothing that is not subject to him. But now we don’t see all things subjected to him, yet.
“For he didn’t subject the world (Greek: oikoumeme) to come, of which we speak, to angels” (v. 5). The world to come is the new age instituted by Christ.
The usual Greek word for world is kosmos. The word oikoumeme is softer, being derived from oikos (house or home) or oikeo (dwelling place). We say, “Home is where the heart is.” While the world is too large to have the feel of a cozy fireplace, we nevertheless sense a kinship with it, especially when camping under the stars or amid pine trees––or gazing at it from a distant space station.
Our hold on the world––and the world to come––is not one of owner but of tenant. “The earth is (the Lord’s), with its fullness; the world, and those who dwell therein” (Psalm 24:1; 1 Corinthians 10:26).
This verse implies that God has subjected the world to come to someone––but not to angels. The author is continuing his effort to show that angels are inferior to Christ.
The following quotation is from Psalm 8:4-6, but we get a better sense of its meaning if we include verse 3:
“When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars, which you have ordained” (Psalm 8:3).
“What is man, that you think of him?
Or the son of man, that you care for him?
You made him a little lower than the angels.
You crowned him with glory and honor
You have put all things in subjection under his feet”
(Psalm 8:4-6; Hebrews 2:6b-8a).
The point of the Psalm was that, in the scope of God’s wondrous creation, people seem almost too inconsequential to matter––but we matter to God, who made us “a little lower than the angels.” In Psalm 8:5, it says, “You have made him a little lower than God.”
With his references to “man” and “son of man,” the author is doing two things:
- First, he is acknowledging man’s significance in God’s scheme of things.
- Second, he is acknowledging Christ’s humanity. He could meet our deepest needs only by becoming one of us and living and dying among us.
“Son of man” was the title by which Jesus most often identified himself. Its use in this verse both acknowledges man’s elevated status––and points us to Christ.
“For in that he subjected all things to him, he left nothing that is not subject to him. But now we don’t see all things subjected to him, yet” (v. 8b). This is true only of Christ, whom God crowned with glory and honor (Psalm 8:5b)––”that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, those on earth, and those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:10-11).
HEBREWS 2:9-12. DEATH CROWNED WITH GLORY AND HONOR
9 But we see him who has been made a little lower than the angels, Jesus, because of the suffering of death crowned with glory and honor, that by the grace of God he should taste of death for everyone. 10 For it became him, for whom are all things, and through whom are all things, in bringing many children to glory, to make the author of their salvation perfect through sufferings. 11 For both he who sanctifies and those who are sanctified are all from one, for which cause he is not ashamed to call them brothers, 12 saying,
“I will declare your name to my brothers.
In the midst of the congregation I will sing your praise.”
“But we see him who has been made a little lower than the angels, Jesus, because of the suffering of death crowned with glory and honor” (v. 9a). Until now, the author has referred to Jesus only as God’s Son (vv. 2-3)––and somewhat obliquely as “the son of man” (v. 6). Now he introduces his earthly name––Jesus––who, like other men, was made “a little lower than the angels”––but who, because of his suffering and death on the cross was “crowned with glory and honor.”
This is the first mention in this epistle of Jesus’ suffering, but it will not be the last. Suffering (of Jesus and other Godly people) will be a significant theme (2:18; 5:8; 9:26; 11:26, 36; 13:12).
“that by the grace (Greek: charis) of God he should taste of death for everyone” (v. 9b). Grace (charis) is a significant word in the New Testament. The use of charis in the New Testament has its roots in the Hebrew word hesed, used in the Old Testament to speak of God’s lovingkindness, mercy, and faithfulness.
Jesus was the ultimate expression of God’s grace––sent to “save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21)––“to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45)––“that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have eternal life” (John 3:16).
“For it became (Greek: prepo) him” (v. 10a). “Him” refers to the Father rather than the Son.
The Greek word prepo means “it is becoming” or “it is proper” or “it is fitting.” The author mentions that, because the author is writing to Jewish Christians––and it didn’t seem at all proper to the Jews that their Messiah should suffer and die. The author wants to reaffirm that what happened to Jesus was in accord with God’s plan of salvation.
“for whom are all things, and through whom are all things” (v. 10b). “Whom” refers to the Father rather than the Son. Paul uses this same phrase in Romans 11:36, where it clearly applies to God. The point is that the Father is the actor, and it is he who makes the Son perfect (v. 10d below).
“in bringing many children to glory” (Greek: doxa) (v. 10c). Glory is characteristic of God, and refers to God’s awe-inspiring majesty. God shared this glory with Jesus. Jesus’ glory was revealed at the Transfiguration (Luke 9:28-36) and his death and resurrection (Luke 24:26).
Now we learn that God also shares his glory with many children––those whom Christ has saved.
“to make the author of their salvation perfect through sufferings” (v. 10d). The author of our salvation is Christ. God made Christ perfect through Christ’s suffering on the cross.
“For both he who sanctifies (Greek: hagiazo) and those who are sanctified are all from one, for which cause he is not ashamed to call them brothers” (v. 11). The word hagiazo (sanctify, make holy) is closely related to the word hagios (holy––usually translated “saint” in the New Testament). A saint is someone who has been sanctified.
The New Testament uses the word hagios (holy or saint) to speak of ordinary Christians (Acts 9:13, 41; Romans 1:7; 12:13; 15:26; 1 Corinthians 1:2; Philippians 1:1, etc.). We are saints––people made holy by the grace of God––set apart for a Godly purpose––”sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ” (Hebrews 10:10).
And so the Son is not ashamed to call us brothers and sisters.
“saying, ‘I will declare your name to my brothers'” (v. 12a). This comes from Psalm 22:22, regarded by the early church as messianic. That psalm begins with the words, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Psalm 22:1)––words that Jesus spoke from the cross (Mark 15:34).
“In the midst of the congregation (Greek: ekklesia) I will sing your praise” (v. 12). The Greek word ekklesia (usually translated “church”) means “those who are called out.” That is how Israel thought of itself––called out to be the people of God. The church continues that tradition under the banner of Christ.
Once again, these words come from Psalm 22. The psalm has moved from despair to praise.
In the Hebrews verse, Jesus is declaring the Father’s name to his brothers––to those whom he has sanctified and made holy.
SCRIPTURE QUOTATIONS are from the World English Bible (WEB), a public domain (no copyright) modern English translation of the Holy Bible. The World English Bible is based on the American Standard Version (ASV) of the Bible, the Biblia Hebraica Stutgartensa Old Testament, and the Greek Majority Text New Testament. The ASV, which is also in the public domain due to expired copyrights, was a very good translation, but included many archaic words (hast, shineth, etc.), which the WEB has updated.
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Copyright 2017, Richard Niell Donovan