Scholars generally divide the books of the New Testament into four major sections: the gospels, the historical book (Acts), the epistles (or “letters”), and the apocryphal book of Revelation.
Of the twenty-one books that comprise the New Testament epistles, thirteen were written by the Apostle Paul. These books are thus known as the Pauline Epistles. At least seven of the remaining eight letters were written by others. These books are called the General Epistles because they were written to be shared among many Christian communities. In between these subdivisions lies a book that defies easy categorization. That book is the Biblical book of Hebrews.
The earliest known copy of this letter is simply entitled “To the Hebrews.” One source offers a further explanation regarding the origin of that title…
“The title ‘to the Hebrews’ only appears in the 2nd century with Clemens of Alexandria (around 150 – 215 AC). As there is no other name known for the epistle it probably goes back to a very old tradition. …’Hebrews’ is a name for the Israelites and for the descendants of Abraham (compare Genesis 14:13; Philippians 3:5).” (1)
Since there are many quotes, references, and allusions to the Old Testament throughout this letter, “Hebrews” is certainly an appropriate title for this work.
There are several elements that can help us determine when this letter was written. For example, a first century writer named Clement of Rome quoted from this epistle around 95 AD. This tells that the book of Hebrews must have been written sometime prior to that date. Another source summarizes the chronology of this letter based on several lines of internal and external evidence…
“…there are indications that (Hebrews) was written fairly early in the New Testament period, probably somewhere around AD 67 to 69. The reference to Timothy (Hebrews 13:23) places it fairly early. The present lack of physical persecution (Hebrews 12:4) puts it fairly early. Finally, the lack of any reference to the destruction of the temple probably puts it before AD 70, when Jerusalem and the second temple were destroyed. Since the writer to the Hebrews was so concerned with the passing of the Old Covenant, it seems unlikely that he would ignore the destruction of the temple if it had already happened before he wrote.” (2)
Much like the questions surrounding the title and date of this work, the human author and the intended audience for this epistle are shrouded in mystery as well. We’ll begin our look at those subjects next.
Featured Image: ba1969 (Billy Frank Alexander)
(1) Coffman, James Burton. “Book Overview – Hebrews”. “Coffman Commentaries on the Bible“. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/bcc/hebrews.html. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.
(2) Guzik, Dave, Hebrews 1 – A Superior Savior. https://enduringword.com/bible-commentary/hebrews-1/
We can open three lines of inquiry to advance our understanding of the Biblical book of Hebrews. Those inquiries involve…
- The identity of the recipients.
- The author of this letter.
- Why it was written.
Our first task in addressing these questions concerns the original recipients of this letter. Unlike some other New Testament letters (such as Romans, Colossians, and Philippians, for example), the target audience for this epistle is never clearly defined. However, there is a great deal of circumstantial evidence that can help us familiarize ourselves with those who received this letter…
- As we’ll see beginning in chapter one, the book of Hebrews contains many quotations from the Old Testament Scriptures. The author also assumes that the original recipients of this letter are well-acquainted with the Old Testament system of sacrificial offerings. These cultural identifiers point to a Jewish audience.
- The author’s readers had been introduced to the gospel through Jesus’ followers and not directly from Jesus Himself (2:3). Thus, they were likely second-generation Christians.
- The recipients of this letter had been followers of Christ for quite some time. However, at least some of them were spiritually immature (5:11-14).
- They viewed their ministry to others as a labor of love (6:10).
- Nevertheless, they had suffered and endured confiscation of their goods (10:33-34).
- The author found it necessary to remind them to attend church regularly (10:25).
- The members of the original audience of this letter were facing a great deal of spiritual discouragement (12:1-13).
- They were acquainted with Timothy, a person who appears frequently in several other New Testament epistles (13:12).
Finally, the author closes this letter with the following salutation: “Those from Italy greet you” (Hebrews 13:24). While commentators differ in their interpretation of that verse, it seems reasonable to say that those who received this letter must have lived somewhere other than the country of Italy. Of course, this might also imply that the author was in Italy at the time of this letter, but we’ll get to that portion of our discussion shortly.
For now, it is perhaps safest to say, “The traditional, and commonly accepted, view is that it was addressed to the Jewish Christians of Palestine, specially those in Jerusalem.” (1) So, while these pieces of information do not give us the exact location or identity of this audience, they do tell us quite a bit about them. This epistle thus offers meaningful counsel to anyone who may also be experiencing some of the same challenges faced by the original recipients of this letter.
(1) Henry H. Halley, Halley’s Bible Handbook, Copyright © 2000, 2007 by Halley’s Bible Handbook, Inc. [pg. 646]
Our next line of inquiry into the Biblical book of Hebrews involves the human author of this Epistle. We can open our investigation of this question with a quote from the following authors who say, “There is no portion of Scripture whose authorship is more disputed, nor any of which the inspiration is more indisputable.” (1)
While most first-century letters customarily featured the name of the author somewhere near the beginning of the text, the author of the Biblical book of Hebrews remains anonymous. As another source comments, “…Evidently, knowledge of where the original recipients lived disappeared about the same time as knowledge of who the writer was.” (2)
So much like the original audience for this Epistle, the author of Hebrews remains unidentified. Nevertheless, this letter provides us with some defining characteristics that serve to characterize its author. For instance, it seems the writer of Hebrews was…
- A second-generation Jewish Christian (2:3).
- Someone who held a position of authority.
- Knowledgeable about the circumstances surrounding another first-century leader named Timothy (13:12).
- Well-known to the original recipients of this letter (10:34).
- Familiar with the Old Testament sacrificial system.
- Well-versed in theology.
- Likely writing from Italy (13:24).
- A highly educated person who knew how to present and defend a premise.
As one Biblical scholar observes…
“The author of Hebrews was skilled in Greek and Hellenistic literary style, immersed in the OT (specifically, the Septuagint), sensitive to the history of redemption culminating in Jesus, and pastorally concerned for the original readers, who knew him personally (13:22, 23) and whose background he knew (10:32–34). Like his readers, he came to faith not through direct contact with Jesus but rather through the apostles’ preaching (2:3, 4). In addition, he was acquainted with Timothy (13:23).” (3)
In light of these things, there are many who believe that Paul the Apostle wrote the Biblical book of Hebrews under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Others suggest Luke, Barnabas, Apollos, Silas, Philip the evangelist, or Aquila and Priscilla as other potential authors. However, the anonymous nature of this letter helps focus our attention upon God as the ultimate author, for as we’re told in 2 Timothy 3:16, “All scripture is given by inspiration of God.”
In the words of another commentator…
“The writer obviously wanted his readers to give their full attention to the greatness of Jesus Christ. Some students of Hebrews have concluded that the writer did not identify himself or his readers deliberately, because he wanted to make Jesus Christ primary in the readers’ thinking throughout this epistle. I think this is very likely.” (4)
(1) W J. Conybeare, J. S. Howson, The Life And Epistles Of Saint Paul Hartford, Conn. The S. S. Scranton Company. 1909 [pg. 848] https://www.google.com/books/edition/The_Life_and_Epistles_of_Saint_Paul/9DNNAQAAMAAJ?hl=en&gbpv=0
(2) James Moffatt, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Epistle to the Hebrews, p. xvii. Quoted in Dr. Thomas L. Constable, Notes on Hebrews 2021 Edition https://www.planobiblechapel.org/tcon/notes/html/nt/hebrews/hebrews.htm
(3) Sproul, R. C. (Ed.). (2015). The Reformation Study Bible: English Standard Version (2015 Edition) (p. 2191). Orlando, FL: Reformation Trust.
(4) Dr. Thomas L. Constable, Notes on Hebrews 2021 Edition https://www.planobiblechapel.org/tcon/notes/html/nt/hebrews/hebrews.htm
Our final line of inquiry into the Biblical book of Hebrews involves the purpose of this book. One way to ascertain that purpose involves a look at the cultural challenges faced by the original audience for this letter…
“We need to keep in mind that this epistle is directed to Hebrew believers who stood at the juncture of two great dispensations. The dispensation of law had come to an end. The sacrifices in the temple that had once been so meaningful were now meaningless. What God had before required was now actually sin for a believer to practice, as this epistle will make very clear.” (1)
This brings us to the primary theme that marks the book of Hebrews: Jesus Christ is the ultimate, final, and complete revelation of God to humanity. Every other practice, illustration, created being, or individual person who ever pointed to God has now been superseded by Him.
However, the book of Hebrews features another important theme…
“Hebrews places great emphasis on the importance of living by faith. It teaches us three things about faith (ch. 11): First, Hebrews defines faith. “Faith” is volitional surrender and obedience to God, regardless of appearances. It is not just intellectual conviction. It is the action of the will that expresses intellectual conviction. This epistle regards unbelief as disobedience, as does all of Scripture. People in the past who lived by faith made decisions and acted because they believed God, in spite of appearances (ch. 11).
Second, Hebrews also illustrates faith. It describes faith as doing, as suffering, and as waiting. These are the primary activities of faith that the writer of Hebrews emphasized. They are progressively more difficult. It is harder to suffer persecution for our faith than it is to obey God when obedience does not involve suffering. It is most difficult to keep on trusting God when suffering does not end. Waiting for God to fulfill His promises is hardest of all when our hopes do not materialize (e.g., Christ’s return).
Third, in addition, Hebrews vindicates faith. It assures us of the ultimate triumph of faith. People in the past, who acted in faith, achieved. People who suffered for their faith triumphed. People who waited in faith received their reward. There are examples of all three types of people in Hebrews. On the positive side, then, we need to continue to trust God in order to realize our full reward as believers. What we must not do is turn away from God. This is the negative responsibility that the letter also stresses. If we apostatize, we will lose our full reward.” (2)
(1) J. Vernon McGee, Thru The Bible with J. Vernon McGee, “Hebrews 1:1-3” Copyright 1981 by J. Vernon McGee
(2) Dr. Thomas L. Constable, Notes on Hebrews 2021 Edition https://www.planobiblechapel.org/tcon/notes/html/nt/hebrews/hebrews.htm
The New Testament book of Hebrews is an epistle that contains more than eighty quotations and references to the Old Testament Scriptures. In fact, there is at least one Old Testament reference in each of the thirteen chapters of this book. While it is certainly helpful to possess a good understanding of these references in advance, it’s important to note that this letter has some important things to say to everyone, even those with a limited understanding of these Old Testament passages.
For instance, the Biblical book of Hebrews is a book that prompts Christians to act upon what they believe. That call to action is illustrated by the words, “Let us…”, a phrase that appears one dozen times within the pages of this letter. Those exhortations are balanced by nine appearances of the word “lest.” That word is repeatedly followed by a description of the negative consequences that are sure to follow an attitude of spiritual neglect.
Hebrews 2:1 provides us with a good example of this idea…
“Therefore we must give the more earnest heed to the things we have heard, lest we drift away” (NKJV).
One author concludes our introduction to this letter by summarizing an important premise from this book along with the value of this epistle for Jewish and non-Jewish audiences alike…
“What men needed was a perfect priest and a perfect sacrifice, someone who was such that he could bring to God a sacrifice which once and for all opened the way of access to him. That, said the writer to the Hebrews, is exactly what Christ did. He is the perfect priest because he is at once perfectly man and perfectly God. In his manhood he can take man to God and in his Godhead he can take God to man. He has no sin. The perfect sacrifice he brings is the sacrifice of himself, a sacrifice so perfect that it never needs to be made again.
To the Jew the writer to the Hebrews said: ‘All your lives you have been looking for the perfect priest who can bring the perfect sacrifice and give you access to God. You have him in Jesus Christ and in him alone.’ To the Greek the writer to the Hebrews said: ‘You are looking for the way from the shadows to reality; you will find it in Jesus Christ.’ …Jesus was the one person who gave access to reality and access to God. That is the key-thought of this letter.” (1)
(1) Barclay, William. William Barclay’s Daily Study Bible, “Introduction To The Letter To The Hebrews”
“God, who at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets” (Hebrews 1:1).
While the human author of the Biblical book of Hebrews remains unnamed, the divine Author behind this work commands our attention from the very first word: God.
One interesting aspect of this epistle is found in the fact that there are no introductory paragraphs used to open this book. In other words, there are no lengthy orations or extended greetings to begin this letter. This direct overture makes the epistle to the Hebrews unique among the twenty-seven books of the New Testament. One commentary summarizes this straightforward approach by observing, “No other NT Epistle comes to the point as quickly as this one. Without benefit of salutation or introduction, the writer plunges into his subject.” (1)
That brings us to an important premise of this letter that appears in the very first sentence: God communicates with human beings. With this in mind, we should note that the Biblical Scriptures invest little (if any) effort in attempting to convince human beings that God is real. One reason for this is that God has already assigned the task of declaring His existence to various aspects of His creation. This may explain why Scriptural passages such as Hebrews 1:1 take God’s existence for granted.
So, if God does communicate with the members of the human family, the next question is, “how does God speak?” Hebrews 1:1 provides us with the initial answer to that question: “In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets…” (NIV). From the Biblical books of Moses all the way through to the last Old Testament prophet named Malachi, God used human agents (like the prophets) to carry forth His message.
Nevertheless, we should also notice the fragmentary nature of those messages: “In many separate revelations [each of which set forth a portion of the Truth] and in different ways God spoke of old to [our] forefathers in and by the prophets” (AMPC). The late Biblical scholar Kenneth Wuest expands on this idea with an important distinction: “In the giving of the First Testament truth, God did not speak once for all, but in separate revelations, each of which set forth only a part of His will. One writer was given one, and another, another element of truth. God spoke in different ways.” (2)
We’ll discuss some of the methods God used to communicate with these Old Testament prophets and the superiority of His ultimate message to humanity over the next few studies.
(1) William Macdonald, Believer’s Bible Commentary Edited by Arthur Farstad Thomas Nelson Publishers (2 Corinthians 5:10) p.2158
(2) Kenneth S. Wuest, Word Studies in the Greek New Testament [note on Hebrews 1:1] Copyright © 1942-55 by Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.
“Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets” (Hebrews 1:1 ESV).
As mentioned in the passage quoted above, God used a variety of methods to communicate His message to humanity throughout the Old Testament period. For example…
- God interacted with Moses on a personal level, speaking to him “…face to face, as a man speaks to his friend” (Exodus 33:11).
- Some Biblical personalities received revelations from angels (Genesis 19:1-29).
- God spoke to others through dreams on various occasions (Genesis 37:1-11, Daniel 7:1, Numbers 12:6).
- Another communication method involved miraculous events (Exodus 3, Judges 6:34-40).
- Israel’s High Priest had access to a means of discerning God’s will called the Urim and Thummim. While the mechanics of this method are poorly understood, it represented a valid means of obtaining God’s direction (see Exodus 28:30, Numbers 27:18-21, Ezra 2:63).
- The prophet Daniel received direction from God through his study of the works of the prophet Jeremiah (Daniel 9:1-2).
- God spoke to the prophet Isaiah through visions (Isaiah 6).
- God also communicated with others through the natural world (Psalm 8, Psalm 19:1-6).
- There was at least one person who received God’s direction through the accumulation of a lifetime’s worth of experience (Solomon in the Old Testament books of Proverbs and Ecclesiastes).
- Another legitimate but poorly understood method of receiving God’s direction involved casting lots (see Leviticus 16:8-10 and Proverbs 16:33).
These communication techniques help bring important context to Hebrews 1:1…
“By putting these words first the author fixes our attention upon the variations and imperfection of the Old Testament revelation… That revelation came bit by bit, as men were ready and able to receive it. God used visions, dreams, events, and direct communication to reveal His message by the prophets. This fragmentary and varied method demonstrates God’s graciousness and versatility in matching His message to the capability of man to understand it…” (1)
While it is important to recognize that God used these methods to communicate with human beings in the past, it is equally important to recognize that God no longer utilizes them as His primary means of communication today. While God may still employ some of these methods (especially in those areas of the world where access to His written Word is limited), the following verse will alert us to the principal means by which He speaks to us today. This new means of communication is so complete, thorough, and all-encompassing, that it renders every other method obsolete.
(1) Hindson, E. E., & Kroll, W. M. (Eds.). (1994). KJV Bible Commentary (pp. 2533–2534). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.
“but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world” (Hebrews 1:2 ESV).
The “last days” reference here in Hebrews 1:2 corresponds with this current period of human history, an era where God has spoken to us through His Son. We can turn to an example from the game of baseball to illustrate this concept.
Unlike other timed sports like football, hockey, or basketball, a major league baseball game is separated into nine untimed innings. This means that two baseball teams in the final inning of a game may continue play for an indefinite period of time. In a similar manner, this reference to “these last days” indicates that humanity has reached the “final inning,” so to speak. That era began with Jesus’ ascension, continues for an indefinite period today, and will conclude upon His return.
One pastoral author offers a further explanation…
“Many people take the phrase, ‘these last days,’ to refer to the time just before Christ’s return, but the biblical usage of that phrase indicates that it refers to the whole period of time between the first coming of our Lord and his second coming. In other words, for 2,000 years we have been living in the last days…
In the account in Acts 2, we read that, on the Day of Pentecost, Peter quoted the prophecy of Joel, in which the prophet said that ‘in the last days’ God would pour out his Spirit upon all flesh, (Acts 2:17). That, Peter said, was beginning to be fulfilled on the Day of Pentecost, almost 2,000 years ago. The first words of the book of Hebrews are: ‘In many and various ways God spoke of old to our fathers by the prophets; but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son,’ (Hebrews 1:1-2a RSV). So, it is clear, from that, that ‘the last days’ is a period which has now grown to 2,000 years’ duration.” (1)
In contrast to the fragmentary nature of God’s message to humanity throughout the Old Testament era, Hebrews 1:2 tells us that God has spoken to us today through His Son. This tells us that we do not need to pursue alternative methods of communication that purportedly offer guidance, insight, or direction from God. Instead, God has spoken definitively through Christ. We’ll consider the extent of that message next.
(1) Excerpted with permission from Dangerous Times © 2021 by Ray Stedman Ministries. All rights reserved. Visit www.RayStedman.org for the complete library of Ray Stedman material. Please direct any questions to webmaster@RayStedman.org https://www.raystedman.org/new-testament/timothy/dangerous-times
“has in these last days spoken to us by His Son, whom He has appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the worlds” (Hebrews 1:2).
Unlike the prophets, psalmists, or other Old Testament authors, Jesus is no mere spokesperson for God; He is the eternal Word of God. For instance, the New Testament gospel of John identifies Jesus in the following manner…
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made. In Him was life, and the life was the light of men” (John 1:1-4).
So Jesus, the Son of God, is the final, conclusive Word of God to humanity. In other words, “It isn’t so much that Jesus brought a message from the Father; He is a message from the Father. The idea is that Jesus is far more than the latest or best prophet. He has revealed something no other prophet could.” (1)
This portion of Scripture then goes on to tell us God has appointed His Son as the heir of all things. As with other portions of the Biblical book of Hebrews, this passage references an aspect of ancient Jewish culture. You see, the eldest son in a Jewish home of the Old Testament era traditionally held a position of authority within the family. This son received a double portion of the family’s inheritance and held oversight responsibility in respect to the family estate.
This imagery communicated something important to ancient readers of this epistle and modern-day readers by extension: everything belonging to the Father also belongs to the Son. This includes every material thing that exists within the universe of God’s creation. It also means that immaterial things like power and authority also belong to Him as well.
Although it may not seem obvious from Hebrews 1:2, this has important implications for those who have accepted Christ based on the following passage from the Biblical book of Romans…
“The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him, that we may also be glorified together” (Romans 8:16-17).
So, if Jesus has been appointed heir of all things (as we see here in Hebrews 1:2) and those who have accepted Christ are joint heirs with Him (as we read in the passage from Romans quoted above), it means that God’s people inherit all that Christ inherits- and that includes everything.
(1) Guzik, Dave, Hebrews 1 – A Superior Savior. https://enduringword.com/bible-commentary/hebrews-1/
“In these last days, He has spoken to us by His Son. God has appointed Him heir of all things and made the universe through Him” (Hebrews 1:2 HCSB).
In just a few short words, Hebrews 1:2 expresses a truth so profound that it almost defies comprehension: “God… made the universe through Him.” In other words, Jesus is the agent by which God established the cosmos. He is the one who established the universe and everything that exists within it, known or unknown.
For instance, this passage tells us that Jesus built every galaxy, star, nebula, planet, moon and everything else that exists for untold billions of light years throughout the universe. Two other New Testament epistles expand upon this idea…
“yet for us there is one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we for Him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, through whom are all things, and through whom we live” (1 Corinthians 8:6).
“For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. All things were created through Him and for Him. And He is before all things, and in Him all things consist” (Colossians 1:16-17).
So, the Son is the Creator of this world and everything else within the cosmos. One source frames this passage in a familiar manner in describing Christ as the Architect of creation…
“Several steps are involved in the construction of a substantial building. First, an architect is obtained to design the building and prepare plans and specifications in accordance with the expressed desires of the owner. Then the plans are submitted for bids by builders or contractors, and a builder secured. After the completion of the edifice, it is occupied by the owner and devoted to its intended use.
Our Lord is not only the builder of the universe; He is also its architect and owner. All things have been created in Him (the eternal plans for the creation abide in Him), by Him (He acted as builder), and for Him (the creation belongs to Him and is to reflect His glory).” (1)
Nevertheless, this amazing display of power and creatively should give us pause to consider a potentially unsettling thought. If Jesus could bring the universe into existence, He could also choose to dismiss it as well. The following verse will serve to remind us of Jesus’ role in sustaining our universal home, a role that is often undervalued or overlooked.
(1) S. Lewis Johnson Jr., “Studies in the Epistle to the Colossians,” Bibliotheca Sacra 118:470 (July-September 1961):473:15. Quoted in Dr. Thomas L. Constable, Notes on Colossians 2021 Edition https://www.planobiblechapel.org/tcon/notes/html/nt/colossians/colossians.htm
“who being the brightness of His glory and the express image of His person, and upholding all things by the word of His power, when He had by Himself purged our sins, sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high” (Hebrews 1:3).
Hebrews 1:3 is a passage that helps unlock some important truths regarding the person and nature of Christ. We can begin with a look at three different translations of this verse in respect to Christ as the image of God. For instance, this portion of Scripture tells us that Jesus is…
- The exact expression of His nature (HCSB).
- The exact representation and perfect imprint of His [Father’s] essence (AMPC).
- The exact likeness of God’s being (GW).
The New Testament book of Colossians builds upon this idea when it tells us, “Christ is the visible image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1:15 NLT). In the original language of that verse, the word “image” refers to “that which resembles an object and represents it, as a copy represents the original.” (1) Another source adds…
“The words ‘express image’ are the translation of charakter. This word was used in classical Greek of an engraver, one who mints coins, a graving tool, a die, a stamp, a branding iron, a mark engraved, an impress, a stamp on coins and seals. Metaphorically it meant ‘a distinctive mark or token impressed on a person or thing, by which it is known from others, a characteristic, the character of.’ It was a Greek idiom for a person’s features. It was used of the type or character regarded as shared with others. It meant also an impress or an image.” (2)
With these things in mind, we can say that Jesus doesn’t simply resemble God; He is the exact counterpart or image of God. He is the perfect visible expression and representation of the invisible God, much like an image on a coin or a reflection in a mirror. This helps explain the following interaction between Jesus and the Apostle Philip…
“Philip said, ‘Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.’ Jesus answered: ‘Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father’” (John 14:8-9 NIV).
Finally, we should note the word “person” as used in relation to God here in Hebrews 1:3. Unlike those who view “god” as a “higher power” or an impersonal form of matter or energy, God is a Being who personally interacts with those whom He has created in His own image.
(1) “Image” International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, James Orr, M.A., D.D., General Editor
(2) Kenneth S. Wuest, Word Studies in the Greek New Testament [note on Hebrews 1:3] Copyright © 1942-55 by Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.
“He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high” (Hebrews 1:3 ESV).
There are some who simply view Jesus as a prominent leader, a skilled teacher, or a great man of God. Then there are others who believe that Jesus was someone who showed us the way to live a more fulfilling life. These beliefs, while true in themselves, all fall short in at least one important way. You see, Hebrews 1:3 tells us that Jesus is the one who personally sustains everything that exists within the universe.
The New Testament book of Colossians 1:17 expresses this truth in a more concise manner: “He is before all things, and by Him all things hold together” (Colossians 1:17). Whether that aspect of the universe comprises the smallest atomic particle or the largest stellar body, Jesus personally “…sustains all that exists through the power of His word” (Voice).
This important Biblical truth should leave a deep impression on our view of Christ…
“Biblical religion is not deism, which says the Lord got everything off to a start and then stood back to watch how it would all fall out. Instead, even after He rested from His work of initial creation, God has continued to act in His creation to preserve it and to direct it to His ends (Gen. 1:1–2:3; Eph. 1:11)…
God’s sustaining work means that the universe has no independent existence but continues to exist only because He has willed it to do so. Were the Lord to cease existing -an impossibility if there ever were one- the universe would cease to exist as well. The reverse, however, is not true. If the universe were to cease existing, God lives on. He alone is self existent. We are not self-existent but rely on Him at every point to hold the world together and give us breath. Consequently, every moment we live is a gift of His sustaining grace.” (1)
So, Jesus was not only responsible for creating all time, space, and matter, He is also responsible for continuously preserving and supporting those things as well. Unlike a wind-up clock that is left to run unsupervised after it is initially set, Hebrews 1:3 tells us that Christ is actively involved in sustaining and upholding everything within the cosmos.
(1) “God Makes It All Happen” Tabletalk magazine, August, 2013 [pg. 60]
“Who being the brightness of his glory, and the express image of his person, and upholding all things by the word of his power, when he had by himself purged our sins, sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high” (Hebrews 1:3 KJV).
Hebrews 1:3 draws our attention to an important aspect of Jesus’ substitutionary atonement: Jesus purged our sins by Himself. The author of Hebrews will return to this subject again in chapters nine and ten, but for now, we can say that no other person or thing contributes to our salvation. Instead, Jesus completely addressed the issue of sin through His atoning death on our behalf.
Jesus’ seated position “…at the right hand of the Majesty on high” (ESV) also sheds some additional light on the finality of His sacrificial offering. While we might normally associate a seated position with a place of rest, we know Jesus continues to sustain everything that exists as mentioned earlier in this verse. Therefore, we can say with certainty that this imagery conveys something else. That “something else” finds its origin in the sacrificial system of the Old Testament.
Unlike an Old Testament priest who engaged in daily sacrificial offerings, Jesus’ sacrificial work is finished…
“The representation that Christ has ‘sat down’ is a testimony to the completed nature of his work. In the Jewish economy, the high priest did not sit down when he went into the Holy of Holies, there being no provision of a chair, testifying to the preparatory and temporal nature of the atonement that he made; but not so with Christ who having accomplished all things is seated at God’s right hand…” (1)
So, Jesus has assumed a seated position at “…the right hand of the Majesty on high” along with all the dignity and honor that accompanies that exalted position. This symbolism originates in an ancient, cross-cultural symbol of authority and power. Since most people are right-handed, the right hand (or right arm) eventually came to be associated with the greatest degree of skill and strength.
This eventually led to a further identification with the concepts of favor, importance, righteousness, blessing, and sovereignty. In fact, we continue to acknowledge this ancient imagery today whenever we refer to a person who serves as the “right hand” of someone in authority. This symbolic representation of Jesus’ authority is so important that the author of Hebrews will go on to reference it four additional times throughout the rest of this epistle.
(1) Coffman, James Burton. “Commentary on Hebrews 1”. “Coffman Commentaries on the Bible”. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/bcc/hebrews-1.html. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.
“having become so much better than the angels, as He has by inheritance obtained a more excellent name than they” (Hebrews 1:4).
There are dozens of references to angelic beings within the Biblical Scriptures. Therefore, it is well worth our time to get to know these important members of God’s created order. For instance, the Biblical book of Psalms offers the following insight into the origin of the angelic realm…
“Let them praise the name of the Lord, For He commanded and they were created. He also established them forever and ever; He made a decree which shall not pass away” (Psalm 148:5-6).
So, this portion of Scripture tells us that angels were created at the command of God. It also implies that angelic beings cannot die for “…God set them in place always and forever” (NIV).
The Scriptures also identify angels as beings who possess capabilities that are far superior to ordinary human beings. In addition, the final verse of Hebrews chapter one uses the phrase “ministering spirits” to describe angelic beings. This indicates that angels do not normally possess a material form. However, angelic beings do have the ability to assume the physical appearance of human beings when necessary.
That capability was displayed in the life of the Old Testament patriarch Abraham when three men (who turned out to be God accompanied by two angels) appeared to him (see Genesis 18:1-2 and Genesis 19:1-26). Hebrews 13:2 will also go on to elaborate upon this capability when it says, “Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some have unwittingly entertained angels.”
While the word “angel” is generally associated with a supernatural being today, it is interesting to note that this word is related to the concept of a messenger in the original Biblical languages. Thus, we can say that angels serve as emissaries, representatives, or agents for God. We find one such example in the New Testament gospel of Luke, where the angel Gabriel was sent to announce the impending births of John the Baptist and Jesus (Luke 1:5-38)
Angels also appeared to a group of shepherds to announce Jesus’ birth saying, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord” (see Luke 2:8-20).
In light of these things, the author of Hebrews makes certain to establish Jesus’ superiority to any being who exists within the angelic realm. Our author will go on to support that premise in greater detail throughout the remainder of this chapter.
“Thus he became so far better than the angels as he has inherited a name superior to theirs” (Hebrews 1:4 NET).
In William Shakespeare’s famous play Romeo and Juliet, we hear Juliet ask, “What’s in a name?” This is an important question, for a name is more than just a way to identify one human being from another. You see, a “name” also refers to one’s character, reputation, or position. This is why we typically seek to maintain a “good name” with our peers and avoid those who carry a “bad name.”
In this context, Jesus holds a name that is superior to any angelic being. This was a subject of great interest to the original readers of this epistle. It should also be a subject of interest to anyone who might be tempted to elevate the status of an angelic being today…
“The next step in the argument of the Epistle demonstrates that Christ is superior to the angels. This was necessary because the Jewish people had a very high regard for the ministry of angels. After all, the law had been given through angels (Act_7:53; Gal_3:19), and angelic beings had appeared frequently throughout the history of God’s ancient people.
Perhaps it was argued that in leaving Judaism for Christ, a person would be cutting himself off from this important feature of his national and religious heritage. The truth is that, in gaining Christ, he gained One who is superior to angels in a twofold sense—first as Son of God (1:4-14) and then as Son of Man (Heb_2:5-18). (1)
So how did Jesus inherit or obtain (RSV) this name? One author offers a brief but thorough response to that question: “The Gr. verb used here refers to a change of state, not a change of existence. The Son in His divine essence has eternally existed, but for a while He was made lower than the angels (2:9) and afterward was exalted to an infinitely higher position by virtue of what He had accomplished in His redemptive work.” (2)
In this manner, Jesus demonstrated who He had always been. Through His teaching, ministry, sinless life, and sacrificial work on our behalf, Jesus established His supremacy over every angelic being. As the author of Hebrews will go on to discuss at greater length in the following chapter, Jesus willingly accepted a position below the inhabitants of the angelic realm for a time. But following His death and resurrection, Jesus demonstrated to all that He carries a name that is far superior to that of any angel.
(1) William Macdonald, Believer’s Bible Commentary Edited by Arthur Farstad Thomas Nelson Publishers p.2159
(2) MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (2006). The MacArthur study Bible: New American Standard Bible. (Heb 1:4). Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers.
“For to which of the angels did He ever say: ‘You are My Son, Today I have begotten You’? And again: ‘I will be to Him a Father, And He shall be to Me a Son’?” (Hebrews 1:5).
A rhetorical question is a figure of speech that asks a question for emphasis or effect. Unlike other types of questions, a rhetorical question is not designed to elicit information. Instead, the answer to a rhetorical question is clearly self-evident.
Our author made use of this literary tool here in Hebrews 1:5 to help direct us to an important conclusion regarding the person and nature of Christ. You see, God never referred to an angel as “My Son” within the Scriptures. However, He did refer to Jesus in that manner on at least two occasions (Matthew 3:13-17, Luke 9:28-36). Thus, God spoke of Christ in a way that He never spoke of an angelic being.
This passage represents one of the initial building blocks in the foundation of our author’s premise: Jesus is supreme over all, including those who inhabit the angelic realm. The author of Hebrews will go on to add additional layers to that foundation as we progress through this chapter and beyond.
Nevertheless, we should recognize the Biblical difference between “the Son of God” and those who are called “the sons of God.” For instance, the Scriptures often use the term “sons of God” in referring to those who come to Him through Christ (see Romans 8:14, Romans 8:19, Romans 9:26, 2 Corinthians 6:18, and Galatians 3:26 for some examples).
In addition, several other Old Testament passages refer to angels as “sons of God” as well (see Genesis 6:2-4, Job 1:6, Job 2:1, Job 38:7). But even though angels and humans are sometimes called “sons of God” in a collective sense, there is only one eternal Son of God…
“Though angels have been called ‘sons of God’ in the sense that they are of a direct creation of God, no individual angel has ever been addressed as ‘son of God’ in all of Scripture (Kent, p. 40). By contrast, the preincarnate Christ was often designated as ‘the Angel of the Lord.’ Thus, it becomes important that the readers understand that, though He was the Messenger of the Lord, He was not in any sense an angelic being. He is superior, first, because of the name the Father attributes to Him and, second, because of His position which the author now develops in the next nine verses.” (1)
(1) Hindson, E. E., & Kroll, W. M. (Eds.). (1994). KJV Bible Commentary (p. 2535). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.
“For to which of the angels did God ever say, ‘You are my Son, today I have begotten you’? Or again, ‘I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son’?’” (Hebrews 1:5 ESV).
Hebrews 1:5 draws upon two Old Testament passages to support the conclusion that Jesus is greater than any angelic being. We find the first in Psalm 2:7, a passage that refers to the Lord and His Anointed (2:2). God also issued the following invitation to His Son within that Psalm: “Ask of Me, and I will give You The nations for Your inheritance, And the ends of the earth for Your possession” (Psalm 2:8).
John the Baptist acknowledged Jesus’ fulfillment of that Messianic promise when he said, “The Father loves the Son, and has given all things into His hand” (John 3:35). Jesus issued a similar affirmation in other portions of Scripture such as Matthew 11:27, John 13:3, and John 16:15.
The second reference appears in 1 Chronicles 17:13. That verse chronicles God’s response to Israel’s King David and his desire to build a dwelling place for God. Although God looked favorably upon David’s ambition, He responded to David in a way he didn’t expect…
“And it shall be, when your days are fulfilled, when you must go to be with your fathers, that I will set up your seed after you, who will be of your sons; and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build Me a house, and I will establish his throne forever. I will be his Father, and he shall be My son; and I will not take My mercy away from him, as I took it from him who was before you. And I will establish him in My house and in My kingdom forever; and his throne shall be established forever” (1 Chronicles 17:11-14).
One source identifies the connection between these Old and New Testament passages in the context of Hebrews 1:5…
“God’s plan was that David’s son would build Him a house, and He revealed this to David (vv. 11-15). However, these words look beyond Solomon to One who would not fail to fulfill all God’s purposes as David’s descendant.
‘This verse  along with Psalms 2:7, 12, is one of the major OT revelations on the deity of the Messiah. It foretells Jesus’ being uniquely God’s son (Heb. 1:5; cf. Acts 13:33; Heb. 5:5), for it is not really applicable to Solomon (cf. comment on 22:10) or to any other of David’s more immediate successors.’” [a] (1)
(1) [a] J. Barton Payne, “1, 2 Chronicles,” p. 396. Quoted in Dr. Thomas L. Constable, Notes on 1 Chronicles 2021 Edition, https://www.planobiblechapel.org/tcon/notes/html/ot/1chronicles/1chronicles.htm
“For to which of the angels did He 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? (Hebrews 1:5 HCSB).
If Jesus is God, then how could God “become” His Father? Theologians and Biblical commentators have addressed that question in several different ways…
“The word ‘TODAY’ indicates that God’s Son was born in a point of time. He was always God, but He demonstrated His role as Son in space and time at His incarnation and was affirmed as such by His resurrection (Ro 1:4).” (1)
“Jesus has always been deity (cf. John 1:1-18). Therefore, [today I have begotten you] cannot refer to the essence of His nature, but to His manifestation in time (the incarnation).” (2)
“The Son is eternally begotten by the Father. He is equal to the Father, but he is called a Son, and the Bible speaks of his being begotten. God exists in eternity, so there was never a time when the Son did not exist. Begetting is not an event in time; it simply describes the relationship between Father and Son. The Son is eternally mature and equal to the Father and also eternally begotten by the Father. This is a mystery because we cannot imagine a timeless state.” (3)
“Jesus was uniquely God’s son by nature—meaning that he has the very nature of God. It is significant that when Jesus claimed to be the Son of God, his Jewish contemporaries understood him to be claiming deity in an unqualified sense and sought to stone him: ‘We have a law, and according to that law he [Jesus] ought to die, because he made himself out to be the Son of God’ (John 19:7 NASB, insert added). They thought Jesus was committing blasphemy because he was claiming deity for himself.
Many evangelicals believe that Christ’s sonship is an eternal sonship. Evidence for Christ’s eternal sonship is found in the fact that he is represented as already the Son of God before his human birth in Bethlehem (John 3:16– 17; cf. Prov. 30:4). Hebrews 1:2 says God created the universe through his ‘Son’—implying that Christ was the Son of God prior to the Creation. Moreover, Christ as the Son is explicitly said to have existed ‘before all things’ (Col. 1:17; compare with vv. 13–14). As well, Jesus, speaking as the Son of God (John 8:54–56), asserts his eternal preexistence before Abraham (v. 58). Seen in this light, Christ’s identity as the Son of God does not connote inferiority or subordination either of essence or position.” (4)
(1) MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (2006). The MacArthur study Bible: New American Standard Bible. (Heb 1:5). Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers.
(2) Dr. Bob Utley, Hebrews 1 [1:5] Copyright © 2014 Bible Lessons International http://www.freebiblecommentary.org/new_testament_studies/VOL10/VOL10_01.html
(3) Sproul, R. C. (1994). Before the face of God: Book 4: A daily guide for living from Ephesians, Hebrews, and James (electronic ed.). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House; Ligonier Ministries. [Page 30]
(4) Norman L. Giesler and Ron Rhodes, When Cultists Ask A Popular Handbook on Cultic Misinterpretations [note on John 3:16] Baker Books, 1997
“But when He again brings the firstborn into the world, He says: ‘Let all the angels of God worship Him’” (Hebrews 1:6).
Much like the word “begotten” in the previous verse, the word “firstborn” offers an inviting target for misinterpretation by various cultic organizations. For instance, does “firstborn” mean Jesus was God’s first creation? If so, then He cannot be God, for God is eternal.
So how are we to understand this passage? Well, it’s important to remember that the word “firstborn” is not necessarily synonymous with “born first.” You see, the term “firstborn” may also refer to…
- Priority in time.
- Supremacy in rank.
In Jesus’ case, both are true…
- As God, Jesus is before any created thing.
- As God, Jesus is greater than any created thing.
In the culture of that era, the eldest son (or “firstborn”) traditionally held a privileged position among the other family members. As the firstborn and Son of God, Jesus also holds the rights and privileges associated with that position. In other words, Jesus holds a position of authority and superiority over everything. Because of this, it is entirely appropriate for the angelic world to worship Him. We can see an example of such worship in the New Testament book of Revelation (see Revelation 5:8).
We should also remember there are several Biblical instances where certain individuals received firstborn status even though they were not born first chronologically. For instance, the book of Genesis tells us that Isaac’s son Jacob received the blessing associated with the firstborn son even though he was Jacob’s younger son (see Genesis chapter 27). The same thing occurred with Jacob’s son Joseph. His son Ephraim also received the firstborn’s blessing even though he was the younger of Joseph’s two sons (see Genesis chapter 48).
Later, we have the example of Israel’s king David. In speaking of David, Psalm 89:27 tells us, “…I will make him My firstborn, The highest of the kings of the earth” (see Psalm 89:20-37). This is important to the context of our discussion, for David was actually the youngest son of his father Jesse (see 1 Samuel 16:4-13 and 1 Samuel 17:13). Finally, it is worth noting that God once referred to the entire nation of Israel as His firstborn (Exodus 4:21-22).
When viewed in this context, it becomes clear that the word “firstborn” is associated with a favored or exalted position. It also means “firstborn” is not necessarily synonymous with “first-created” as some cultic organizations might have us believe.
“When He again brings His firstborn into the world, He says, And all God’s angels must worship Him” (Hebrews 1:6 HCSB).
The Biblical word “worship” serves to express an act of exceptional reverence or honor. It also refers to an attitude of exceeding respect and high regard, especially when used in relation to God. As found in the original language of this passage, the concept of worship finds its origin in the act of kissing one’s hand, just as one might do in the presence of royalty today. (1)
Thus, it is important to note the command here in Hebrews 1:6: “…all God’s angels must worship Him.” This clearly separates Jesus from the members of the angelic realm, for God is to be worshipped, but angels are not. Perhaps the clearest expression of this Biblical truth is found in a scene from the New Testament book of Revelation. In that portion of Scripture, John, the human author of Revelation, drew a rebuke for responding to his angelic escort in an inappropriate manner…
“And I fell at his feet to worship him. But he said to me, ‘See that you do not do that! I am your fellow servant, and of your brethren who have the testimony of Jesus. Worship God!…’” (Revelation 19:10).
This has led one scholar to conclude, “The argument of the writer is that if the Son is to be worshipped by angels, surely He must be superior to them, which fact makes the New Testament He inaugurated better than the First Testament which they were instrumental in bringing in.” (2)
In addition, we should note that Jesus also accepted those who sought to worship Him. That lengthy list includes…
- Jesus’ disciples, both collectively (Matthew 14:22-33) and individually (John 20:28).
- A rich young ruler (Matthew 9:18).
- A diseased individual (Matthew 8:2).
- A Canaanite woman (Matthew 15:21-28).
- A formerly blind man (John 9:38).
- Mary Magdalene and another woman named Mary (Matthew 28:1-10)
To that list, we might also add the Magi who came to visit Jesus following His birth and worshipped Him while He was still an infant (Matthew 2:1-12). So, among this group, we have the rich and powerful, the healthy and sick, men and women, and those who followed Jesus as well as those who did not. Therefore, “It is noteworthy that Jesus always accepted such worship as perfectly appropriate (Matt. 28:9; John 9:38). Knowing that only God is to be worshiped (Exod. 20:5), Jesus never once corrected anyone who bowed down before him in worship.” (3)
(1) G4352 proskuneo https://www.blueletterbible.org/lexicon/g4352/kjv/tr/0-1/
(2) Kenneth S. Wuest, Word Studies in the Greek New Testament [note on Hebrews 1:6] Copyright © 1942-55 by Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.
(3) Norman L. Giesler and Ron Rhodes, When Cultists Ask A Popular Handbook on Cultic Misinterpretations [note on Hebrews 1:6] Baker Books, 1997
“And of the angels He says: ‘Who makes His angels spirits And His ministers a flame of fire’” (Hebrews 1:7).
The passage from Hebrews 1:7 is one among dozens of Old Testament quotations contained within the Biblical book of Hebrews. A closer look at this reference in the context of Hebrews chapter one reveals some important truths regarding Jesus and the members of the angelic realm…
“Bless the Lord, O my soul! O Lord my God, You are very great: You are clothed with honor and majesty, Who cover Yourself with light as with a garment, Who stretch out the heavens like a curtain. He lays the beams of His upper chambers in the waters, Who makes the clouds His chariot, Who walks on the wings of the wind, Who makes His angels spirits, His ministers a flame of fire” (Psalm 104:1-4).
So, the subject of this passage is God, who makes (or “fashions”) spiritual messengers and ministers of these angelic beings. This offers a stark contrast to the Son, who is seated “at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become so much better than the angels” (Hebrews 1:3-4). The following commentary offers further insight into the relationship between these Old and New Testament passages…
“Hebrews 1:7 quotes Psalm 104:4, which the NIV translates, ‘He makes winds his messengers, flames of fire his servants.’ The idea conveyed is that God uses all things in creation as his agents, including light, clouds, wind, fire, and water. The author of Hebrews uncovers a hidden dimension in Psalm 104 by reversing the word order to read: ‘He makes his angel-messengers into winds, his servants into flames of fire’…Wind and fire are servants of the throne.” (1)
Another Biblical scholar ties these ideas together for the benefit of modern-day readers…
“The word ‘servants’ is the translation of leitourgos, the word used of the sacred and religious ministry of the Old Testament priests. Since Messiah is the Creator and Master of angels, He is superior to them, which fact makes the New Testament better than the First which it displaces.” (2)
Nevertheless, the following verse will present us with a greater declaration concerning the Son, one that comes from God Himself. Two portions of Scripture will help prepare us for our look at that passage…
“Thus says the Lord, the King of Israel, And his Redeemer, the Lord of hosts: ‘I am the First and I am the Last; Besides Me there is no God” (Isaiah 44:8).
“…These things says the First and the Last, who was dead, and came to life” (Revelation 2:8).
(1) R. C. Sproul, Before the Face of God Book 4 A Daily Guide for Living from Ephesians, Hebrews, and James [pg. 31] © 1994 by R. C. Sproul, Published by Baker Books a division of Baker Book House Company P.O. Box 6287, Grand Rapids, Michigan
(2) Kenneth S. Wuest, Word Studies in the Greek New Testament [note on Hebrews 1:7] Copyright © 1942-55 by Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.
“But to the Son He says: ‘Your throne, O God, is forever and ever; A scepter of righteousness is the scepter of Your kingdom’” (Hebrews 1:8).
The next Old Testament quotation referenced in Hebrews chapter one comes from Psalms 45:6-7. In order to fully grasp the impact of this statement as it relates to Christ, we can start by defining the word “God.”
While this may seem unnecessary, the word “god” has been applied to comic book superheroes, rock music guitarists, and ancient Roman Emperors, among others. Therefore, it is important to understand how “God” (or “theos” in the original language of this passage) is used in the context of Hebrews 1:8.
First, “God” is all-powerful by definition. Since there can only be one Being who possesses all power, this precludes anyone or anything else from assuming that title. However, we should note that there are some legitimate uses of this term in other contexts.
For example, some are called “gods” by virtue of the authority they possess over life and death. However, these “gods” have no inherent authority; instead, their authority is derived from the God who allows them to exercise such power. In addition, the New Testament book of 2 Corinthians refers to Satan as the “…god of this age.” This expression acknowledges Satan’s temporary authority over this present world system (see 2 Corinthians 4:3-4).
Therefore, it is important to separate those beings who fall within these parameters from the eternal, self-existent, all-powerful, all-knowing, and omnipresent God of the Scriptures. This distinction is important in light of God’s reference to the Son as God here is Hebrews 1:8: “Your throne, O God, will last for ever and ever…” (NIV).
This tells us that Jesus is not simply a great man, a great teacher, or a great leader. He is not a creation of God, a demigod (a being with human characteristics and superhuman abilities), or an exalted angel. He is God. No angel was ever addressed in this manner, a point that the author of Hebrews will continue to emphasize throughout the rest of this chapter.
One author draws several key implications from this passage…
“We have seen that the human king in Psalm 45 will occupy a throne that lasts forever. Yet no Davidic king ever measured up to the mark of perfection required to maintain that throne. Thus, the psalm implied that a perfect king was yet to come. The author drew out another point as well. Since the throne is everlasting, we need one everlasting person to sit on it. A dynastic succession of kings won’t do. Thus, Psalm 45 really pointed forward to the incarnation of the Son of God.” (1)
(1) R. C. Sproul, Before the Face of God Book 4 A Daily Guide for Living from Ephesians, Hebrews, and James [pg. 33] © 1994 by R. C. Sproul, Published by Baker Books a division of Baker Book House Company P.O. Box 6287, Grand Rapids, Michigan
“but of the Son he says, ‘Your throne, O God, is forever and ever, and a righteous scepter is the scepter of your kingdom’” (Hebrews 1:8-9 NET).
In Matthew 1:23, Christ is called “Immanuel,” a word that means “God with us.” This tells us that Jesus isn’t simply a god, He is the God. Many Biblical references substantiate this reference to Jesus’ divine nature.
For instance, the New Testament gospel of John opens with the following reference to Jesus as the Word of God: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (John 1:1). Near the close of that same gospel, the Apostle Thomas exclaimed, “My Lord and my God” when he was presented with Jesus’ post-resurrection crucifixion wounds (see John 20:24-29).
Paul the Apostle referenced the “…the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ” in the epistle of Titus (Titus 2:13). He also referred to “…Christ, who is God over all, blessed forever” in the book of Romans (Romans 9:5 ESV).
We can turn to the epistle of 1 John for another clear expression of Jesus’ deity…
“We know also that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true. And we are in him who is true by being in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life” (1 John 5:20 NIV).
Jesus also made a claim to deity in the following exchange with the religious leaders of His day…
“Jesus said to them, ‘Most assuredly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM.’ Then they took up stones to throw at Him; but Jesus hid Himself and went out of the temple, going through the midst of them, and so passed by” (John 8:58-59).
Jesus’ use of the term “I AM” in reference to Himself is a direct, unmistakable, and intentional claim to deity, for it aligns with the Old Testament book of Exodus where God used an identical self-designation (see Exodus 3:14). Therefore, we can say the following regarding Christ…
“He is fully God and fully man (Col. 2:9); thus, He has two natures: God and man. He is not half God and half man. He is 100% God and 100% man. He never lost his divinity. He continued to exist as God when He became and added human nature to Himself (Phil. 2:5-11). Therefore, there is a ‘union in one person of a full human nature and a full divine nature.’” (1)
(1) “Hypostatic Union” CARM Theological Dictionary, retrieved 22 November, 2021 from https://carm.org/dictionary/hypostatic-union/
“But of the Son he says, ‘Your throne, O God, is forever and ever, the scepter of uprightness is the scepter of your kingdom’” (Hebrews 1:8 ESV).
Hebrews 1:8 is a remarkable portion of Scripture when we stop to consider it. Here within this passage, God refers to the Son as God, and adds, “…the scepter of your kingdom is a scepter of justice” (CSB).
A “scepter” is a staff held by a reigning monarch. This regal symbol of authority serves to represent a position of leadership, sovereignty, and power. God, the Son holds this royal emblem of authority that is characterized by righteousness (KJV). As this word implies, “righteousness” is associated with that which is right. This characteristic is a basic attribute of God, for He always does what is true, honest, right, and good.
For instance, God does not maintain a double standard or “bend the rules” to favor one person at the expense of another. Instead, He always acts righteously, just as we are told in the Old Testament book of Psalms (see Psalm 11:7). One Biblical scholar offers a further explanation…
“When the Bible speaks of God’s justice, it usually links it to divine righteousness. God’s justice is according to righteousness. There is no such thing as justice according to unrighteousness. There is no such thing as evil justice in God. The justice of God is always and ever an expression of His holy character. The word justice in the Bible refers to a conformity to a rule or a norm. God plays by the rules.”
This same author continues with a question that anticipates the type of objection that might be raised by a skeptic…
“…Is God qualified for the job? To function as the Supreme Judge of heaven and earth, He ought to be just. If the Supreme Judge is unjust, we have no hope of justice ever prevailing. We know that earthly judges can be corrupt. They take bribes; they show partiality; at times they act from ignorance. They make mistakes. Not so with God. There is no corruption in Him. No one can bribe Him. He refuses to show partiality. He is no respecter of persons. He never acts out of ignorance. He does not make mistakes.” (1)
Finally, we can say that every form of human government has one thing in common- they have all come (or will come) to an end. But this is not so with the righteous kingdom of the Son, for as we read here in Hebrews 1:8, “Your throne, O God, is forever and ever…”
(1) Sproul, R. C. (1993). The Holiness of God. Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers. [Page 52]
“These people come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship of me is made up only of rules taught by men” (Isaiah 29:13).
“You have loved righteousness and hated lawlessness; Therefore God, Your God, has anointed You With the oil of gladness more than Your companions” (Hebrews 1:9).
Hebrews 1:9 raises a challenging question regarding the nature of Christ. Just one verse earlier, we read, “…of the Son he says, ‘Your throne, O God, is forever and ever…” Yet here in the very next verse, we read, “Therefore God, Your God…” In light of these passages, it is not unreasonable to ask the following question: “How could God be the God of God?”
In considering these verses, it’s important to reiterate that Jesus is 100% God and 100% human. But Jesus is not only 100% human; He is the perfect human. You see, one characteristic of human existence is that human beings are limited in such things as knowledge, ability, and experience. As a perfect human being, Jesus subjected Himself to such limitations while continuing to do everything that a perfect human should do. That included things like praying, accepting the limitations of human knowledge, trusting God in the midst of a difficult trial, and acknowledging that God is supreme.
This helps explain the apparent dichotomy we find here in Hebrews 1:9. Jesus did not cease to be God at any time in accepting these human limitations (see Philippians 2:5-8). But in doing so, Jesus secured the ability to fully identify with the human condition in all its forms. We’ll examine this concept in greater detail when we reach Hebrews chapter two.
We can also address this question in another way. While the interrelationship between God the Father and God the Son is one of complete equality, these co-equal members of the Trinity each bear different responsibilities with respect to one another. For instance, the Father holds a place of authority, rule, and leadership. The Son is willingly subordinate to the Father and freely submits to His will. In fact, Jesus even went so far as to say that His very nourishment came from doing God’s will and completing His work (see John 4:31-34).
So, while God the Son is subject to God the Father, the Son is not inferior to the Father. Therefore, “God, your God, has set you above your companions” as we read in the Scripture quoted above. While this passage initially referred to human royalty when it first appeared in the Biblical book of Psalms, it now finds its complete expression here in Hebrews 1:9 in reference to Christ.
“And: ‘You, Lord, in the beginning laid the foundation of the earth, And the heavens are the work of Your hands. They will perish, but You remain…’” (Hebrews 1:10-11).
Like many of the passages we’ve already considered in Hebrews chapter one, verses ten and eleven help unlock some essential truths regarding the person of Christ. In this instance, our author has turned to a quote from Psalm 102:26-27 for use as a foundation.
The first element in that foundation is this reference to “You, Lord…” in Hebrews 1:10. The following source analyzes this reference using an ancient Old Testament translation known as the Septuagint (often abbreviated as “LXX”) …
“The Father calls the Son ‘Lord.’ While ‘Lord’ (Greek kurios) can merely be a title ascribed to men or angels, it is also the word used in most LXX manuscripts to render the Divine Name, YHWH. This is likely the sense it carries in the LXX translation of Psalm 102. When used in the Bible as an honorific, ‘lord’ always signifies that the one addressed is superior in rank or social station to the speaker. There are no exceptions.
Thus, if the Father calls the Son ‘lord’ in this sense, it would mean that He acknowledges the Son as superior to Himself in rank. While this usage is possible, it would seem to contradict the numerous times the Father is spoken as being superior to the Son. It is better, then, to understand ‘Lord’ to mean YHWH, as it was in its original setting.
…In relation to the Father, Christ is the Agent through which all things came into being. Yet, in relation to creation both the Father and the Son, along with the Holy Spirit, are the one Creator with all three Persons being fully responsible for bringing all things into existence (Cf. Genesis 1:2, 26-27; Job 33:4; Psalm 104:30)” (1)
In addition, these verses offer several other valuable insights concerning the person and nature of Christ. For instance…
- He is beyond time (or eternal): “You, Lord, in the beginning laid the foundation of the earth…“
- He is the agent of creation: “And the heavens are the work of Your hands.”
- He will abide beyond the dissolution of this universe: “They will perish, but You remain…’”
This reference to “the heavens perishing” also holds great value for modern-day readers of this passage as well. You see, Hebrews 1:10-11 foreshadows a well-known (but relatively recent) scientific principle. We’ll consider that principle in greater detail next.
(1) Apologist’s Bible Commentary, [Hebrews 1:10] Copyright © 2001-2005 by Robert Hommel
“And: ‘You, Lord, in the beginning laid the foundation of the earth, And the heavens are the work of Your hands. They will perish, but You remain; And they will all grow old like a garment’” (Hebrews 1:10-11).
One of the more intriguing aspects of this passage involves this reference to the heavens and how they will perish and grow old like a garment. One source explains how this ancient Biblical message is reflected in a relatively modern scientific principle…
“Three different places in the Bible (Isa_51:6; Psa_102:25-26; Heb_1:11) indicate that the earth is wearing out. This is what the Second Law of Thermodynamics (the Law of Increasing Entropy) states: that in all physical processes, every ordered system over time tends to become more disordered. Everything is running down and wearing out as energy is becoming less and less available for use.
That means the universe will eventually ‘wear out’ to the extent that (theoretically speaking) there will be a ‘heat death’ and therefore no more energy available for use. This wasn’t discovered by man until fairly recently, but the Bible states it in clear, succinct terms.” (1)
While the academic community has formulated this truth into a modern scientific principle, even those who aren’t familiar with the Second Law Of Thermodynamics undoubtedly recognize that everything breaks down, wears out, or stops functioning over time. This is true for living beings and immaterial things alike. For instance, batteries run out of power, metallic surfaces rust, buildings suffer structural failures, bridges and roads decay, and all living things eventually die.
While this may be a depressing reality, it is important to face this critical truth: everything in this present physical order will eventually cease to exist one day. Nevertheless, there is hope in the midst of this fatalistic reality. While the people, places, and things we know today will eventually pass from the scene, Jesus remains. And even though our current world is subject to entropy and decay, it will eventually be replaced by “…a new heaven and a new earth, where righteousness dwells” (2 Peter 3:13).
With this in mind, we would do well to follow the counsel that Jesus offers in the Gospel of Luke…
“Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will not be exhausted, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Luke 12:33-34 NIV).
(1) The Evidence Bible [note on Psalm 102:25-26] Bridge-Logos Publishers 2011
“Like a cloak You will fold them up, And they will be changed. But You are the same, And Your years will not fail” (Hebrews 1:12).
The heart of this passage involves the Biblical doctrine of God’s immutability. The word “immutable” can be defined as something that does not change. Psalm 102:27 (quoted here in Hebrews 1:12) ascribes that quality to God. This passage credits that same attribute to Jesus. The inference is that Christ maintains the same eternal, unchanging nature of the sovereign Lord who appears in Psalm 102:27.
This point from the first chapter of Hebrews is one that our author will reinforce once again in the last chapter of Hebrews: “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever” (Hebrews 13:8). This is important for several reasons.
Since Jesus is unchanging, we can first say that He is utterly dependable. To use a colloquial expression, Christ is as steady as a rock in an ever-changing world. For instance, we never have to worry that Jesus will change and become something other than who He is. Unlike others, we do not need to be concerned that Jesus might change His mind. Instead, He is unchangingly reliable and trustworthy.
Next, the fact that Jesus “…is the same yesterday and today and forever” demonstrates that He is God. You see, some religious organizations teach that Jesus is a man who became a god. Others teach that He was an angel, or a created being. But if either of those beliefs were true, then Jesus could not have been “...the same yesterday and today and for all time” (Mounce).
For example, the idea that a person “becomes” something else implies that he or she has changed. Therefore, if Jesus became a god, an angel, or a being, then He could not have been the same yesterday, today, and forever. Instead, the Biblical Scriptures tell us that Jesus was, is, and will always be God. One Biblical scholar builds upon this idea with an important insight…
“Angels change, heaven and earth change, Jesus does not change, herein is mankind’s hope (cf. Mal 3:6; Jas 1:17) …As the previous phrase addresses the stability of Jesus’ character, this one addresses the permanence of His person.” (1)
Because of this, we can find encouragement in the words of the following commentary…
“…Christ is our only security in a changing world. Whatever may happen in this world, Christ remains forever changeless. If we trust him, we are absolutely secure, because we stand on the firmest foundation in the universe—Jesus Christ.” (2)
(1) Dr. Bob Utley, www.freebiblecommentary.org [Hebrews 1:12] Copyright © 2014 Bible Lessons International http://www.freebiblecommentary.org/new_testament_studies/VOL10/VOL10_01.html
(2) Life Application Study Bible [Hebrews 1:11-12] Copyright © 1988, 1989, 1991, 1993, 1996, 2004 by Tyndale House Publishers Inc., all rights reserved.
“But to which of the angels has He ever said: ‘Sit at My right hand, Till I make Your enemies Your footstool’?” (Hebrews 1:13).
One of the more frequently quoted Old Testament passages in the New Testament can be found here in Hebrews 1:13: “The Lord said to my Lord, ‘Sit at My right hand, Till I make Your enemies Your footstool’” (Psalm 110:1). In addition to its appearance here in Hebrews 1:13, this portion of Scripture also appears in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke, as well as the book of Acts.
Jesus once employed this portion of Scripture in a manner that served to disarm His spiritual opponents…
“While the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them, saying, ‘What do you think about the Christ? Whose Son is He?’ They said to Him, ‘The Son of David.’ He said to them, ‘How then does David in the Spirit call Him ‘Lord,’ saying: ‘The Lord said to my Lord, “Sit at My right hand, Till I make Your enemies Your footstool”’? If David then calls Him ‘Lord,’ how is He his Son?” And no one was able to answer Him a word, nor from that day on did anyone dare question Him anymore” (Matthew 22:41-46).
This question revealed a truth regarding the Messiah that these religious leaders were not prepared to accept. Since Jewish culture traditionally held a father to be greater than his son, Jesus essentially asked the following question: “If the Savior is the Son of David, why does David call Him ‘My Lord’ instead of ‘My Son?’” The answer is that Christ (as God) is David’s Lord but He is also David’s son according to His genealogy.
One Biblical scholar provides us with a further explanation…
“Jesus stumped his skeptical Jewish questioners by putting them in a dilemma. How could David call the Messiah ‘Lord’ (as he did in Psalm 110:1 ), when the Scriptures also say the Messiah would be the ‘Son of David’ (which they do in 2 Sam. 7:12f .)? The only answer to this is that the Messiah must be both man to be David’s son (offspring) and God to be David’s Lord. In other words, in affirming these two truths from Scripture, Jesus is claiming to be both God and man.” (1)
Thus, the Son is seated in a position of authority, power, sovereignty, and honor, while the members of the angelic realm serve within their designated areas of responsibility. We’ll consider those responsibilities at greater length in our final study in this chapter.
(1) Geisler, N. L., & Saleeb, A. (2002). Answering Islam: the crescent in light of the cross (2nd ed., p. 266). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.
“Are they not all ministering spirits sent forth to minister for those who will inherit salvation?” (Hebrews 1:14).
Hebrews 1:14 tells us that angels “…are spirits sent to serve those who are going to receive salvation” (GW). The Biblical record tells us that angels approach that ministry in a variety of ways. For instance…
- Angels have extricated God’s people from imprisonment (Acts 12:7).
- Angels have also served to encourage the people of God in times of trouble or danger (Judges 6:12, Acts 27:23-24).
- Jesus once related the account of a poor beggar who was carried by angels following his death (Luke 16:22).
- Psalm 91 tells us that God directs His angels to protect those who trust in Him (Psalm 91:11).
- An angelic being once provided food and drink for a person in need (1 Kings 19:5-7).
- Joseph, the husband of Mary, received guidance and direction from an angel concerning his wife and the infant Jesus (Matthew 2:19-20).
- In addition, angels ministered to Jesus following the devil’s temptation in the wilderness (Matthew 4:1-11).
However, angels have also carried out far more contentious tasks. For example…
- Angels were actively involved in executing God’s judgment against the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 19:1-29).
- It also appears that there are (or at least have been) clashes between angelic beings who are loyal to God and those who are not (see Daniel chapter ten and Jude 1:9 for some examples).
- The Old Testament book of 2 Kings reports that the angel of the Lord once put 185,000 soldiers to death (2 Kings 19:35).
- Revelation 12:7-9 tells us that there will be open warfare between the members of the angelic and demonic realms in the future.
In light of these things, the following author offers some important reflections…
“Notice that Hebrews 1:14 tells us that angels are sent to render service to the heirs of salvation. The angels are specifically appointed by God to carry out tasks on behalf of believers. They are all under His control, and are in a subordinate position to Him. It is important to keep this in mind, for many angel enthusiasts today have focused so much attention on angels that God is left entirely out of the picture. We must never forget that angels assist us because God has ordained it that way.” (1)
And with that, another source prepares us for our transition into Hebrews chapter two…
“With this mention of ‘salvation’ the author closes his discussion concerning the cosmic dimensions of the Son, and moves on to a new topic-the role of Jesus in redemption on the plane of historical events.” (2)
(1) Rhodes, Ron, Angels Among Us [pg. 108] Copyright © 1994 by Harvest House Publishers
(2) New International Bible Commentary [pg. 1508] Copyright© 1979 by Pickering & Inglis Ltd