NOTES on Hebrews
1:1-14 (click here for study)
The author of Hebrews remains unknown. Although for 1,200 years (from A.D. 400 to 1600) people commonly called it "The Epistle of Paul to the Hebrews", the earliest church fathers did not agree on its authorship. Since the Reformation, however, scholars have generally agreed the author couldn't have been Paul. While Hebrews agrees theologically with Paul, the style of writing is different from his letters.
In his book De Pudicitia (c. 200) Tertullian referred to a book called "an epistle to the Hebrews under the name of Barnabas." Martin Luther proposed Apollos as the author. Today, many scholars lean towards agreeing with Martin Luther.
The author was intellectual, well educated in the Old Testament, and had authority in the early church. Both Barnabas and Apollos possessed these requirements. The date of the letter is also unknown, but it almost certainly predates the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70.
Hebrews is directed to Jewish Christians who are being tempted to fall back into Judaism or to Judaize the gospel.
Revelation in the Last Days
Hebrews opens with a declaration that God spoke to his people "in the past" through prophets "at many times and in various ways". "In these last days," however, "he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things" This passage clearly identifies the "last days" as the Messianic era, the time which began with the birth of Christ and continues until today.
Jesus' incarnation divided history. Before Jesus came, God inspired people to speak and prophesy about the coming Savior. God made promises to his people that a Redeemer would come and established a complete system of worship and government that put Israel in the center of a living prophecy. This prophecy, known as the Old Covenant, identified the hopeless stranglehold of sin and revealed the certainty that a Savior would come who would take responsibility for sin and bear its burden. The Old Covenant also promised that this Savior would die the death of sin and break its power by rising from the dead.
These prophecies were promises of hope and redemption, but they were shadows, not reality. As powerful and reassuring as they were, the prophecies and their spokespeople the prophets were not able to mediate salvation or to bring holiness into people's lives. The prophets revealed hope, but they could not reveal God. They revealed guilt, but they could not reveal God's forgiveness. They revealed his holiness, but they could not reveal God's Spirit restoring our souls to life. The prophets could only promise that these things would one day be reality.
When Jesus came, however, the promises and prophecies found fulfillment. At last God spoke to humanity directly, face to face, through his Son Jesus Christ. At last the shadows and rituals of hope which Israel had kept alive for hundreds of years became obsolete. God revealed himself through Jesus. God himself tangibly loved men and women through the ministry of Jesus. He revealed his forgiveness; he died our death; he broke sin's power by rising from death, and he brought our spirits to life by sending his Spirit to indwell us.
In these last days we have a superior revelation; we have seen the Living God, and he has left his Holy Spirit in us so we can also be alive in Him.
Creator and Heir
Hebrews explains how Jesus fulfilled the living prophecy that God gave to Israel in the Old Covenant. This explanation begins with a powerful paradox: "He has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe."
The Creator is the Heir. What does the Creator inherit, and from whom?
"In the beginning was the Word," says John in John 1, "and the Word was with God, and the Word was God."
In 1 Corinthians 8:6 Paul says, "Yet for us there is but on God, the Father, from whom all things came and for whom we live; and there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things came and through whom we live."
God the Father and God the Son are one. They were together and they were one in the beginning. Our life came from the Father, and it also came through the Son. But the Son agreed to lay aside his rightful glory and become human, "a little lower than the angels". (Hebrews 2:7)
Through Jesus God restored life to us, his creations. Jesus, through whom we were created, became human, suffered, died, and rose to life. Because he died and rose to life, he defeated the power of sin, and God appointed him heir of all things. Jesus is Lord of all creation. He has inherited the right to rule over everything, including sin. Because he "disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross." (Col 2:15) Jesus has inherited even the right to rule over Satan.
In the beginning Jesus the Word was "with God" and "was God". Now, in these last days, he is more than the Creator. He is also the Redeemer, the inheritor of all power and glory and authority. He not only created life, he restored life. He created perfection, but he became the object of brokenness when perfection failed. He became human, subject to the Father as are we, but as a perfect Son he inherited the right to rule over everything.
Because he became human and is the Heir, we also become heirs with him when we believe in him and become spiritually alive. "The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God's children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs-heirs of God and co-heirs with Chirst, if indeed we share in his suffering in order that we may also share in his glory." (Romans 8:17)
Because Jesus is our Creator and also God's rightful heir, we also inherit the right to become sons and heirs of God when we are in Christ.
Jesus is both Creator and Heir. "I am the Alpha and the Omega," he says, "the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End." (Rev. 22:13) He created the universe, and as the inheritor of all things he restores perfection to his creation. By his love and by his blood he is the First and the Last. In him we live. In him we die. In him we are born again. He is our beginning and our end.
Seven Defining Statements
The second two verses in Hebrews 1 give seven descriptions of Jesus by which we know his superiority to prophets and to angels. He is the appointed heir, the creator of the universe, the radiance of God's glory, the exact representation of his [God's] being, the sustainer of all things, the provider of purification from sins, and the one sitting at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.
God's glory is so intense that Moses, the lawgiver, the recipient of the words of the covenant mediated by angels, could not look at it. Yet Jesus, God incarnate, actually was/is the "radiance of God's glory and the exact representation of his being." Jesus embodied the holiness, purity, justice, mercy, wisdom, power, and love of God. When he came as a man, he was also actually God. The covenant he established is far superior by virtue of his being God than was the covenant Moses received. Jesus established the New Covenant because, as a human, he was also God, and as God, he was able not only to fulfill all the requirements of the law which Moses' covenant demanded but also to take our sins onto himself and die our death. As God he rose from death, and as God he grants us life, forgiveness, and his own Spirit to live in us. His covenant is superior to Moses'; no longer do we live under a sentence of death. Instead we live in eternal life as joint heirs with Christ!
Jesus also sustains "all things by his powerful word." By his word Jesus created the universe. "He is before all things," Paul says in Colossians 1:17, "and in him all things hold together." Jesus pre-existed the physical reality that we know. He is bigger than our three (or four) dimensional universe, and as his creations we live inside a reality that is bigger and beyond what we can perceive with our senses. We and our physical universe exist within dimensions we can only infer. We exist inside the power of God, and it is God that holds us, our galaxy, and our universe together. His seminal word created us, and his word sustains us. The word of the Word (John 1:1) is the creative, life-giving and life-sustaining force that keeps creation together.
After Jesus "provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven." After Jesus died for our sins, rose again, and returned to the Father where he sat down, his work completed. Jesus did not partially complete our salvation. He did not pay a down payment on our salvation and then challenge us to pay the balance in order to receive the prize. Jesus did everything. He died our death; he rose from the dead, the firstfruits of those who sleep; he sent us the Holy Spirit to bring life to our spirits so we can begin now to live in eternity. His work for our salvation is done. Now we work from victory, not toward victory. Jesus sits at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven, our sovereign king who loves us and ransomed us from eternal death by suffering and shedding his blood for us.
Superior to Angels
The Jews believed, based on texts such as Deuteronomy 32:43 and Psalm 97:7, that the Mosaic covenant was mediated to Moses by angels from God. Because of the angels' involvement with the law, the Jews considered angels to be holy and powerful creations of God, creations to be revered.
The author of Hebrews spends the rest of chapter 1 demonstrating why Jesus is superior to angels. Jesus, he points out, was never called "angel"; rather, God called Jesus "Son". No covenant mediated by angels is equal to, much less superior to, a covenant established by Jesus. God's Son is as superior to angels as the covenant he establishes is superior to theirs.
Angels are God's messengers sent to help and even fight for the people of God. Jesus was never commissioned to be God's messenger. Jesus IS God, and what he does is actually what the Father would do. Jesus is our creator, sustainer, redeemer, and king. Angels are co-creations with us. They are powerful, but they take orders from God and work as his messengers to us.
Especially interesting is the fact that the Dead Sea scrolls indicate that at least some communities of Jews expected that Michael the Archangel, mentioned in Daniel, Jude, and Revelation and identified as "one of the chief princes" (Dan. 10:13), would be the central figure in the Messianic kingdom. The heresy that some of us learned-that Michael the Archangel is Jesus-has its roots in Old Testament times. Jesus is God. He created and sustains all things. To call Jesus Michael the Archangel is to negate Jesus' divinity. The Bible clearly refers to Michael as an angel, not as God. To equate the name of Michael with the identity of Jesus is heresy.
God our Savior
We have a Savior who is superior in every way to every created being. Jesus is the Creator and the appointed heir. He is Life, and he holds the keys of death. He is God, and he died and rose again to save us. He loves us with love that is beyond our understanding, and he is sovereign over all. Jesus is alive, and he is sitting "down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven."
In Jesus we are completely safe. Our future is secure, and our present is already embracing eternity. He has given us his life and perfection, and he has made us joint heirs with him. Everything we are is subject to him, yet only in him are we free.
Jesus draws us to himself with irresistible love. He brings our spirits to life and reshapes our view of reality. He sustains us with power and love, and in him we are never the same again.
Jesus asks us to accept him, the One who is superior to all others. He asks us to live in his covenant of grace and mercy which is perfect because his perfect sacrifice justifies our transformation.
In Jesus we are alive. In Jesus we become part of eternity. In him we are one with the creator and with the heir, the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last.
Jesus is our beginning and our end.
Jesus is all.
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Studio, Redlands, CA USA. All rights reserved. Revised October 7, 2000.