Why Jesus Became Man, part 2 (Hebrews 2:9b, 10)

The New Testament theme of the “crucified Lord” scandalized the first-century world.  Paul spoke of the cross as a “stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called…the power of God and the wisdom of God” (1 Cor. 1:23-24).  To many minds a suffering Savior was not a God-worthy concept.

As the writer of Hebrews pens his letter to the harried little church, having reminded them of this dangerous drift in thinking as he alluded to Christ’s suffering death in 2:9, in verse 10 he turns the tables on the critics with an eloquent assertion that the cross is the most fitting and the most God-worthy way of salvation.  The argument crowns and controls all that follows to the end of the chapter.  Moreover, its few lines contain so much that we must give them extra attention before we proceed.

Agreeing with Paul, the author of Hebrews shows how the death of Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, was “fitting” (ἐπρεπεν), placing that word at the beginning of this first sentence for emphasis.  As unthinkable as was the death of Christ to men, it was “appropriate” and “suitable” from God’s viewpoint.  Conceivably God could have done it some other way, but He did not, and the way He chose to do it is amazingly fitting.

10 For it was fitting that he, for whom and by whom all things exist, in bringing many sons to glory, should make the founder of their salvation perfect through suffering.

Here the writer of Hebrews is giving us a commentary on verse 9, especially his last phrase, “by the grace of God.”  Here is how that grace was displayed.

It was fitting that Jesus Christ should suffer and die for sinful man.

  • Jesus became a man, what we are, that we might become what He is.  (Not God, but holy like God.)
  • He took upon himself our flesh, so that he might take upon himself our sins.
  • He was born in our image, that we might be re-born in His image.
  • The Son of God became the Son of Man, so that the sons of men might become the sons of God.

Basically, Jesus became man so that he might die for mankind.  If He had only a divine nature, He could not die.  But by dying, He paid the penalty for my sins, since “the wages of sin is death.” 

Becoming man, dying, and especially dying a shameful death on the cross, was horrifying and despicable in the eyes of Jews and Greeks.  But it is God’s way of salvation, His marvelous way of salvation!

The means of salvation is by no means arbitrary or out of line with God’s will or God’s nature.  Rather, it befits the God “for whom and by whom all things exist.”

As the work of creation is totally of God, so also is the work of salvation.  Just as God poured Himself into the work of creation, not only being the agent that accomplished it but the receiver of all its glory, so Christ poured Himself into the work of our salvation, not only being the agent who accomplished it but who now deserves all the glory.

Christ’s sufferings and death are not only congruent with the character of the almighty God who did everything in creating the universe—they are an even greater demonstration of his power.  Creation was done with a word.  He spoke and voila!—there it was and is, ex nihilo.  But his speech was not enough to effect salvation.  It took not a word, but the Word—his Son incarnate who was humiliated, suffered, died, rose again, ascended, and is in session at the right hand of God—to effect a salvation that was consonant with his character.  From the cross come the loftiest conceptions of him “for whom and by whom all things exist.”  Our salvation is the greatest display of his power and character (Alexander Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1974), pp. 237, 238).

In other words, the display of the glory of God is even more powerful through the crucifixion of Jesus than through the creation of the vast cosmos.

The purpose of Christ’s death, the reason that He endured the cross and despised its shame, the reason He did all this with joy in His heart, is because it would allow him to “bring many sons to glory.”

This was His heartfelt desire in going to the cross.  This is the reason He endured the disgraceful shame of the cross—to bring you and me to glory.  The glory that Adam originally possessed, but lost in the fall, spoken of in Psalm 8 and back in vv. 6-8, will be restored.

It’s the same glory promised in Psalm 8 in Hebrews 2:7, “You have crowned him with glory and honor and appointed him over the works of your hands.”

Paul identifies this glory with the final stage of God’s work in our behalf.  In Romans 8:30 he says…

30 And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.

We experience some of that gloryifying now, as we behold Jesus in His Word.  In 2 Corinthians 3:18 Paul says “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.”

We are in the process of becoming more and more like Him, but one day that process will be super-charged and we will immediately take on the dazzling purity of His righteous glory.  The moment we see Jesus “we shall be like him, because we shall see Him as He is” (1 John 3:2).

Someone has said, “sanctification is glory begun, and glory is sanctification done.”  Verse 11 will speak more about this process of sanctification.

Every single believer in Jesus Christ will be glorified.  Notice that Romans 8:30 puts this in the past tense, as if it has already happened.  Why?  Because in God’s eyes it already has, and that gives us the strong assurance that nothing can derail it.

Jesus here is called the “founder” of our salvation.  He is the source, yes, but more than that, the word (ἀρχηγὸν) is literally more like “pathfinder, pioneer (NIV)” or “captain of a company.”  It describes someone who begins something so that others may enter into it.

Notice that Christ only brings “many sons” to glory.  Not everyone partakes of this glory.  Only those whom the Father draws to Jesus Christ.  But at least there are “many,” not just a few.

Literally, He is “leading” us to glory.  He has been glorified through His death, resurrection and ascension, and is leading us to that destiny in Him.  Marcus Dods says, “He is the strong swimmer who carries the rope ashore and so not only secures His own position but makes rescue for all who will follow.”

Kent Hughes points out how this title bears resemblance to the second of four names Isaiah gives to the “son born to us” in Isaiah 9:6, that he is El Gibbor, “mighty hero God.”  As such, He accomplishes our salvation.  Yes, He did so through a battle with the forces of darkness.  He triumphed over them in the cross.

Have you recognized Jesus as the captain of your life?  Are you submitting to His orders, following in His path?  He will lead you and encourage you, but you have to follow Him.

That pathway, notice, is through suffering.

Oh, we don’t like that.  No thank you, Jesus.

This verse says that Jesus was made “perfect” through suffering.  If you’re like me, this take you aback…because you know that Jesus, by nature, is already perfect.  There is no sin in Jesus, no fault—neither His enemies nor those closest to Him ever reported any fault or failure, any sin, on His part.  Even this letter comments on this.  Hebrews 4:15 says he is “without sin.”  And Hebrews 7:26 claims that Jesus was “holy, innocent, unstained, separated from sinners…”

The apostle Paul boldly asserts that He “knew no sin” (2 Cor. 5:21).  At the announcement of His birth, an angel called Him “that Holy One who is to be born.”  Pilate’s wife told her husband: “Have nothing to do with that just man.”  Pilate himself said, “I find no fault in Him.”  The dying thief acknowledged the innocence of Jesus when he said, “this Man had done nothing wrong.”  The centurion, at the foot of the cross, said, “Certainly this was a righteous man” (Luke 23:47).  Even the demons recognized that Jesus was “the Holy One of God” (4:34).

If Jesus were not sinless, He would have been required to die for His sins, and His sins only.  His death would not have been accepted in the place of others.

So Jesus had to be man to die; had to be God for that death to be universal and eternal; and had to be sinless so that His death would pay for others’ sins, not His own.

This is what v. 9b said, “so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.”  In other words, Jesus became man so that He could die for us.  “Taste death” is a metaphor, but it does NOT mean “to take a sip,” but rather it refers to drinking the full measure of that “cup” of suffering.” 

In the garden Jesus had asked God to “remove this cup from me,” but He went on to submit to God’s will so that He could bring “many sons to glory.”

What was in that cup?  All of man’s iniquity and depravity, the poison of the curse, the filth of the defilement of sin.  This was handed to Christ and He took that cup and fully drank it.  He then handed it back to the Father and said, “It is finished.”

It was a self-initiated death—“by the grace of God.”  What pushed Him to the cross was grace! It was not my goodness or worthiness or value that drew Him to the cross, but God’s initiative to show us kindness and mercy.  God doesn’t love us because we are valuable; rather we are valuable because God loved us.

What did God see when He looked at me?  I was pitiful, poor and perverted; hopeless and helpless; condemned and judged.  Yet…within Himself there arose this passionate love and richness of mercy and out of grace He commissioned His one and only, beloved Son to enter this world and die on the cross for me…and for you.

The initiative that procured our redemption is God’s, not ours.  Were it not for the priority of divine grace we should be without help and without hope.  This truth is pressed home by Paul is his threefold insistence that “while we were still weak,” “while we were yet sinners,” and “while we were enemies” God reconciled us to Himself through the death of His Son (Romans 5:6, 8, 10; cf. 2 Cor. 5:18ff) and by John’s reminder that “in this was love, not what we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:10).

Because this love is entirely motivated by God’s own heart it makes it stronger.  It cannot be caused or forfeited—by me.  It didn’t begin with me and it cannot end with me.

This death He tasted was also a substitutionary death.  He didn’t deserve to die.  He wasn’t a sinner.  He didn’t deserve to drink that cup.  We deserved it, but He drank it.  He died in our place.  Not only was it voluntary, because of grace; but it was vicarious.  “Bearing shame and scoffing rude, in my place condemned He stood, sealed my pardon with His blood.  Hallelujah! What a Savior!” (Philip Bliss)

“Taste death for everyone” is the gospel in a nutshell.  That word “for” is (ὑπὲρ), which means “in place of” or “in behalf of” another.  This is the heart of the good news—that Jesus died in my behalf, for my benefit, in my place.  I should have been there on the cross paying for my sins.  Instead, He took my place and paid my sin debt with His own life.

We find this in such passages as 1 Corinthians 15:3, “Christ died for our sins…”. Galatians 1:4, “gave himself for our sins…”.  Galatians 2:20, “gave himself for me.”  John 10:11, “the good shepherd lays down his life for his sheep,” in their place.  A chorus says…

He paid the debt he did not own, I own the debt I could not pay
I needed someone to wash my sins away.
And now I sing a brand new song, “Amazing grace”
Christ Jesus paid the debt I could never pay.

Thirdly, this death was a “sufficient” death.  This death did enough to reconcile mankind to God.  Verse 10 says only “many” are brought to glory because the reality is, not everyone believes in Jesus Christ.

And that gets us back to verse 10, where we see that through the suffering of death Christ was in some sense “made perfect.”  Obviously this doesn’t mean that He was a sinner in need of sanctification.

Rather, it means that through his suffering his humanity was brought to maturity.  Here being “made perfect” means “learning obedience” through suffering. This does not mean that he was once disobedient and then became obedient.  It means that Jesus moved from untested obedience into suffering and then through suffering into tested and proven obedience.  And this proving himself obedient through suffering was his “being perfected.”

Incarnate, Christ underwent a series of perfections.  Hebrews 5:8, 9 tells us, “Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered. And being made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him.”

He was, of course, already obedient or he would never have undergone the Incarnation.  But he became perfect (complete) in experiencing obedience in human flesh.  Likewise, we believe that he learned such things as patience and faith.  Jesus became perfect in regard to temptation by suffering temptation and putting the tempter to flight (Matthew 4:1–11).  Christ’s sufferings through his atoning death on the cross when “he himself bore our sins in his body on the tree” (1 Peter 2:24), taking all the sins of the world so that they were on him and in him, so that he became sin for us (2 Corinthians 5:21)—rendered him horribly perfect as our atonement.

And finally, all of this—his perfection in incarnation, temptation, and atonement—rendered in our pioneer a perfect identification with us.  It was impossible for God to fully identify and thus fully sympathize with mankind apart from Christ’s incarnation and human experience. But now Christ’s perfection makes possible an unlimited capacity to sympathize with those exposed to troubles and temptations in this life.

Lewis Bayly, one of John Bunyan’s two favorite writers, eloquently portrayed Christ’s willingness to embrace suffering, and his resulting ability to sympathize and lend assistance, through this imaginary dialogue between a redeemed soul and Christ:

Soul. Lord, why did you let yourself be taken when you might have escaped your enemies?

Christ. That your spiritual enemies should not take you, and cast you into the prison of utter darkness.

Soul . Lord, why did you let yourself be bound?

Christ . That I might loose the cords of your iniquities.

Soul. Lord, why did you let yourself be lifted up upon a Cross?

Christ. That I might lift you up with me to heaven.

Soul . Lord, why were your hands and feet nailed to the Cross?

Christ . To enlarge your hands to do the works of righteousness and to set your feet at liberty, to walk in the ways of peace.

Soul . Lord, why did you have your arms nailed wide?

Christ . That I might embrace you more lovingly.

Soul . Lord, why was your side opened with a spear?

Christ . That you might have a way to come near to my heart.8

What wonders of tenderness and sympathy Christ’s incarnation and suffering have wrought!

Perfection in Hebrews has to do with fully completing a course, making it to the end of God’s plan.  Remember in His high priestly prayer in John 17 that Jesus had said, “I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do” (John 17:4).

That Jesus was made “perfect through suffering”, therefore, connotes his full obedience to his mission of death on the cross and, perhaps, the adequacy of that act for bring the children of God to glory.

Now the writer says (in Hebrews 2:10) that it was fitting for Christ to attain this proven perfection through sufferings.  Why?  Because Christ is leading many sons to glory and so he must succeed where we failed.

His being made “perfect through suffering” has reference to his being made a perfect pioneer of salvation.  The idea is that he was perfectly equipped to do the job. His perfection was rooted in the Incarnation.  Man was created in the image of God, the imago Dei, but when Christ came he took on the imago homini—he became man.  

Mike Mason beautifully states the significance of this: “In Jesus the centerpiece of the human race, the wild tangent of all the frayed and decrepit flesh of this fallen old world touches perfectly the circle of eternity” (Mike Mason, The Mystery of Marriage (Portland: Multnomah, 1978), p. 115).

Why Jesus Became Man, part 1 (Hebrews 2:5-9)

Whereas Jesus’ family and disciples had no problem initially seeing Jesus as a man, and only later grasped that He was also fully God, we today seem to have a greater problem believing that Jesus was ever human, that He was fully man as well as fully God. 

Significantly, the first false teaching about Jesus in the days of the early church did not deny that He was God, but rather it denied that He was really human and said He only seemed to be human.  The heresy was called Docetism, coming from the ancient Greek word “to seem,” and was taught by Cerinthus, who opposed the apostle John in the city of Ephesus and whose teaching is probably the focus of 1 John 4:2 and 1 John 5:6.

Some of the original Jewish readers of Hebrews felt inclined to abandon the Christian faith because of Jesus’ humanity and, even more so, because of His death.  The writer said that Jesus was superior to angels, even though Jesus died and angels do not die (Luke 20:36).  The writer had stressed Jesus’ deity first, in chapter 1, because some Jews failed to appreciate that.  In chapter 2, he showed why Jesus was not inferior to the angels even though He was a man.

So far in our study of Hebrews, the author has maintained a persistent focus on the exalted status of the Son of God as Creator, Sustainer, Purifier, etc.  In 2:5-9, however, that focus shifts to move the discussion from the Son’s heavenly position to his earthly ministry.

In this paragraph (2:5-9), the author resumes his exposition on Christ–from which he had briefly departed in 1:14-2:4—by introducing Psalm 8:4-6 to his discussion.  This Old Testament quotation, interpreted Christologically in 2:8-9, contains both elements of exaltation and incarnation, and therefore, it provides the perfect vehicle for moving to a discussion in 2:10-18 about the Son’s solidarity with humanity.

This paragraph might be titled, “The Superior Son for a Time Became Positionally Lower Than the Angels.”  It consists of an introduction, followed by the quotation of Psalm 8:4-6, and then the author’s interpretation of the Psalm’s Christological implications in vv. 8b-9.

Why did Jesus become man?  Why did Deity add sinless humanity?  Chapter 2 will give us four reasons: (1) to recover lost dominion (vv. 5-9), (2) to redeem lost sinners (vv. 10-13), (3) to rout the devil (vv. 14-16), and (4) to relate to saints (vv. 17-18).

So let’s read vv. 5-9

5 Now it was not to angels that God subjected the world to come, of which we are speaking. 6 It has been testified somewhere, “What is man, that you are mindful of him, or the son of man, that you care for him? 7 You made him for a little while lower than the angels; you have crowned him with glory and honor, 8 putting everything in subjection under his feet. “Now in putting everything in subjection to him, he left nothing outside his control. At present, we do not yet see everything in subjection to him. 9 But we see him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.

If we were to read Heb 1:14, skip 2:1-4, and pick up with 2:5, the connection would be seamless. In 1:14, the author refers to angels as ministering spirits who render service for “those who will inherit salvation.”  Then, in 2:5, he mentions angels again and refers to the future world “concerning which we are speaking,” connecting the readers not to the warning of 2:1-4, but to the argument of 1:1-14. 

This fledgling congregation, tossed about by persecution, wondered if hanging onto Jesus Christ would be worth it, will be comforted again to know that who Jesus is gives them massive significance in the world to come.

Once again, the author is illustrating the superiority of Jesus Christ over the angels.  Ancient Judaism held to the belief that God had placed angels over the nations of the world.  This belief goes back to an interpretation of Deuteronomy 32:8, which referred to the boundaries of the nations as set according to the number of God’s angels, literally “sons of God.”  Later, in Daniel 10:20-21 and 12:1 it is even more explicitly explained that angels are designated with the titles of “prince of Persia” and “prince of Greece,” and Michael is referred to as “the great prince” who watches over God’s people, Israel.  Some of these principalities are evil—they are demons.

It was the quoting of Psalm 110 back in Hebrews 1:13 which causes our author to clarify…

5 Now it was not to angels that God subjected the world to come, of which we are speaking.

The “world to come” refers to the “new world-order inaugurated at the enthronement of Christ at the right hand of God and will be culminated in the kingdom when Jesus returns.  While it may seem that angelic beings—good and bad—have dominion, it is actually Jesus Christ who holds dominion.

Some believe that the “world to come” refers not to this present age, but the kingdom age to come after Christ’s return.  Dwight Pentecost says, “This will occur at His second advent when He returns to this earth to sit as David’s Son on David’s throne and rule over David’s kingdom in fulfillment of God’s covenants and promises.”  In that case, angels will not have dominion, but man will, co-reigning with Jesus Christ.

The author establishes this as the ultimate intention by demonstrating that it is in accord with the original intention of God for humanity. 

His proof is a quotation from the middle of Psalm 8 that celebrates God’s original intention for man. He introduces and recites it in verses 6–8a of our text: “It has been testified somewhere, ‘What is man, that you are mindful of him, or the son of man, that you care for him? You made him for a little while lower than the angels; you have crowned him with glory and honor, putting everything in subjection under his feet.’”

Let me just note something which you may have picked up in verse 6.  Our author is definitely quoting from Psalm 8, but he curiously says, “It has been testified somewhere…”  The fact is, this author never identifies the human author of any quotation he uses.  This is because he is concerned that his audience realizes that it is God’s voice they should listen to, not the voice of man (or angels).  It is the voice of the Holy Spirit that concerns him; the human author is incidental.  And John Owen is right: his audience would be well familiar with these passages and know where they would be found in the text and who the human authors were.

So getting back to our text:

“It has been testified somewhere, ‘What is man, that you are mindful of him, or the son of man, that you care for him? You made him for a little while lower than the angels; you have crowned him with glory and honor, putting everything in subjection under his feet.’”

These is a significant difference between this quotation in Hebrews 2, which is using the Septuagint—the Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament.  The actual Hebrew text has “little lower than God” whereas the Septuagint reads “little lower than the angels.”  The writer of Hebrews evidently chose the Septuagint version because it suited his purpose. God made man a little lower than both Himself (God the Father) and the angels, so what the writer of Hebrews wrote is true.

This marvelous declaration of God’s intention can only be appreciated in the full context of the Psalm.  The psalmist is contemplating the mighty expanse of the evening sky, studded with its orbs of light, and he is so overwhelmed with the greatness of God that he bursts into psalm—first celebrating God’s majestic name, then declaring God’s worthiness of praise, and next wondering at God’s intention for puny little man.  Says the psalmist:

When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him? Yet you have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor. You have given him dominion over the works of your hands; you have put all things under his feet. (Psalm 8:3–6)

Compared to this vast universe, man is next to nothing.  But in God’s creation, man is exalted to the highest place.  F. F. Bruce comments: “The Psalmist is overcome with wonder as he thinks of the glory and honor which God has bestowed on mankind, in making them but little lower than himself and giving them dominion over all the lesser creation.”

Think of man’s astonishing position: “You made him for a little while lower than the angels.”  Puny man is only lower than the angels in that man is in a corporal body and the angels are incorporeal.  Man is therefore limited in a way angels are not and has much lesser power.  However, man is not lower spiritually or in importance.

Think of man’s astonishing honor: “you have crowned him with glory and honor.”  Adam and Eve were the king and queen of original creation.  God set them in a glorious paradise and walked with them.

Consider man’s amazing authority: “Putting everything in subjection under his feet.”  This was given to mankind through Adam (Genesis 1:28).  Man was given rule over the world. Adam and Eve were God’s viceroys—creature king and creature queen with the responsibility of ordering creation under the Lordship of God.

God’s original intention is that Adam and Eve and their progeny, would have dominion over all the earth.

Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.  And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”  So, God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.  And God blessed them.  And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” (Genesis 1:26–28)

The original intention of God, to say the least, was stupendous. If the intention had been carried out, we descendants of Adam would be living with our primal parents in the same astounding position and honor and authority—a world of kings and queens.

However, something went terribly wrong.  This is totally different from what we see in the world today.  We have no dominion, no control.  Our author wants us to feel this disjunction, to recognize the incongruity.  In fact, he voices it: “At present, we do not yet see everything in subjection to him” (v. 8c).

One author says

“Some traces of the old lordship are still apparent in the terror which the sound of the human voice and the glance of the eye still inspire in the lower creatures…But for the most part anarchy and rebellion have laid waste man’s fair realm…So degraded has he become, that he has bowed before the objects that he was to command; and has prostrated his royal form in shrines dedicated to birds, and four-footed beasts, and creeping things.”

Paul expresses it this way in Romans 8:20-23

20 For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. 22 For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. 23 And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.

Man’s rule over creation has through the centuries become an ecological disaster.  Chesterton was right: “Whatever else is true about man, this one thing is certain—man is not what he was meant to be.”

Because Adam and Eve failed in their dominion over creation, we see a greater “Son of Man,” Jesus Christ, fulfilling this role.  The last Adam did what the first Adam could not do.  The author understands both Psalm 8:4-6 and Psalm 110:1 to contain a reference to those placed under Christ’s feet, signaling His victory over a vanquished foe.

Here our text takes a great turn in the transition between verses 8 and 9: “At present, we do not yet see everything in subjection to him. But we see him [Jesus] . . .” “We do not yet see . . . we see him [Jesus].”  Not only is God’s original intention achieved, but his ultimate intention is achieved in Christ, the second Adam.

We must understand that Psalm 8 was not only a celebration of the significance of man in the vast cosmos—it was also a messianic psalm that had its ultimate fulfillment in Christ.  We know this because while the term “son of man” originally meant nothing more than man, with the advent of Christ it came to be a messianic reference to Jesus.  He repeatedly called himself “the Son of Man.”  He is the son of man par excellence and fulfills everything the psalm celebrates regarding man.

Through Jesus, man can regain the dominion originally intended for Adam (Revelation 1:65:10 and Matthew 25:21).

Jesus Christ fulfills this passage in a way that the original Adam could not.  He became man, coming from heaven and being incarnated and for a little while as a human being he voluntarily took on a lower status than the angels.  Thus, our author says, “you made him a little lower than the angels.”  It is possible that this word refers to a temporary time period, a “little while” rather than an inferior status, “a little lower.”

The Psalm then moves from Christ’s humiliation to his exaltation, in which He is said to have been “crowned with glory and honor” and to have had “everything” placed “under his feet.”

As mankind’s true representative, accordingly, He must share in the conditions inseparable from the human condition; only so could He blaze the trail of salvation for mankind and act effectively as His people’s high priest in the presence of God.

This means that he is not only the One in whom the sovereignty destined for humanity is most fully and initially realized, but also the one Who, because of human sin, must attain that sovereignty through suffering and death.  Therefore, although he has already been introduced as “so much better than the angels,” for a time He had to be “made a little lower than the angels.”

The important thing is that we believers, “see” Jesus this way, through the eyes of faith—that we see Him, although having suffered and died, now exalted in glory.  It is important that we see Him as our Savior, who died for us.

When the author says we “see” Jesus, he anticipates later exhortations to “consider” Him (3:1; 12:3).  These exhortations focus both on Jesus’ earthly obedience to His Father and to His subsequent exaltation.  To “see Jesus” therefore, does not mean a physical perception, but rather a spiritual perception, recognizing the truth about his earthly endurance and his present exalted position.  One day we will see every knee bow and hear every tongue confess!

Jesus was “crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.”  God crowned Jesus with glory and honor precisely because he suffered and died on the cross.  He did this for us—tasting our death.  Jesus didn’t come to live a long and happy life on earth, but to suffer and die for others.

Jesus’ death was for everyone in that by dying He paid the penalty for the sins of every human being—elect and non-elect (cf. 1 John 2:2; 2 Peter 2:1; John 3:16).  His death was sufficient to accomplish the salvation of everyone, but it is efficient (it accomplishes its intended result) only for those who belong to Him.

To summarize, the writer made three main points in verses 5 through 9: (1) God created man to have mastery over the earth, (2) man through his sin failed to obtain the mastery, and (3) Jesus, the man superior to the angels, came to enable man to do what he was created to do.

“There is a profound note of anticipation in the OT teaching about humanity. The words of the psalmist look forward into the future, and that future is inextricably bound up with the person and work of Jesus.  His condescension to be made for a brief while ‘lower than the angels’ set in motion a sequence of events in which abasement and humiliation were the necessary prelude to exaltation.  His coronation investiture with priestly glory and splendor provide [sic provides] assurance that the power of sin and death has been nullified and that humanity will yet be led to the full realization of their intended glory.  In Jesus the hearers are to find the pledge of their own entrance into the imperial destiny intended by God for them” (William Lane, Word Biblical Commentary, 47a, Hebrews 1-8, p. 50).

This final phrase in v. 10, “so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone” anticipates the next section, which deals with the Son’s suffering on behalf of the heirs of salvation.  Only as man could Jesus die.  Only as man could He die for man.

So Great a Salvation, part 2 (Hebrews 2:2-4)

Last week we began looking at the first warning passage in the book of Hebrews in the opening verses of chapter 2.  The author is very concerned that his audience–mostly Jewish Christians or Jewish people curious about Christ–that they would stop paying attention to the apostolic message—the gospel—and began to listen to the siren call of the more familiar, more comfortable, Mosaic Law—with its rituals and regulations.  So the author of Hebrews says…

1 Therefore we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it. 2 For since the message declared by angels proved to be reliable, and every transgression or disobedience received a just retribution, 3 how shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation? It was declared at first by the Lord, and it was attested to us by those who heard, 4 while God also bore witness by signs and wonders and various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will.

Having established the supremacy of Christ to the angels in chapter 1, our author reminds them that the Old Covenant was “declared by angels” and that those who disobeyed it received “just retribution”—severe punishment—for that disobedience.  But our gospel was “declared…by the Lord,” by the exalted Son of chapter 1, and thus will receive an even greater condemnation for those who disobey it.

C. H. Spurgeon said:

Seeing Christ is so excellent in His person, and seeing the Gospel has such a glorious Author, let us take great care that we esteem His person, revere His authority, reverence His ministry, and believe His message; and let us take heed that our memories be not like leaking vessels, suffering the word at any time to slip or run from us.

The writer wants to drive this point home in an even more forceful way to his wandering friends. So he uses a Hebrew argument style called qal wa homer (literally, “light and heavy”), which employs the reasoning that if something is true in a light or lesser way, it is even more true in a heavy or greater way.

We see it at work in a backwards way in Romans 8:32, where Paul says, “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?”

God giving us “all things” that we need to be glorified (v. 30) may seem like the more difficult thing, but it pales in comparison to the greatest difficulty of God giving up His one and only Son for us.  Thus, we can be certain that if God has already done the most difficult thing, that giving “us all things” is a cinch.

Here the writer of Hebrews argues from the lesser to the greater.  If disobeying the Old Covenant–“declared by angels (v. 2),” by the way—brought “just retribution”—which we will see in a moment involved some pretty terrible judgments—then disobeying and disbelieving the gospel message “declared by the Lord” (v. 3) will bring even greater condemnation and judgment.

The qal, the less heavy argument from the Law, is stated in verse 2 and then flows into the great question in verse 3: “For since the message declared by angels proved to be reliable, and every transgression or disobedience received a just retribution, how shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation?”

The writer refers to the common view in contemporary Judaism and in the New Testament that the angels mediated the giving of the law.

For example, Stephen, in his famous sermon, referred to Moses as being “with the angel who spoke to him at Mount Sinai, and with our fathers.”  Speaking of that memorable event, Moses said that God came “with myriads of his holy ones” (Deut. 33:2). The Greek translation of the text, which was the Bible the pastor read, added these words: “angels were with him at his right hand.”  He received living oracles to give to Israel (Acts 7:38; cf. Acts 7:53; Galatians 3:19).  In the midst of all the fire and lightning on Sinai, God the Father spoke through an honored angel who in turn dictated to Moses.  Josephus also repeated this idea in his ancient history (Antiquities, 15.53).

The Old Testament Law and Prophets were “proved to be reliable.”  God has always been, and ever will be, faithful to keep His promises.  Even in the midst of the horrific judgment upon Jerusalem, Jeremiah reminds us that God’s faithfulness is “great” (Lamentations 3:23) and when God brought victory to Israel against all their foes as they came in to possess the land God had promised to Abraham, we read this refrain near the end of the book:

43 Thus the LORD gave to Israel all the land that he swore to give to their fathers. And they took possession of it, and they settled there. 44 And the LORD gave them rest on every side just as he had sworn to their fathers.  Not one of all their enemies had withstood them, for the LORD had given all their enemies into their hands. 45 Not one word of all the good promises that the LORD had made to the house of Israel had failed; all came to pass.

No promise failed, every one of them came to pass.  That is true of the New Covenant promises as well.  In fact, Paul says in 2 Corinthians 1:20 that “all the promises of God find their Yes in [Jesus Christ].”

Since God is faithful, even His promises of judgment would come to pass.  Yahweh had warned Israel that He would bless obedience and curse disobedience.  Thus we read in Deuteronomy 28:15-68 that Yahweh enumerates all the different judgments that could come upon them, from crop failures to barren wombs to sicknesses to exile from their homeland.  Penalties for breaking the Old Covenant were temporal and largely physical.

These were serious and painful consequences because of their “transgression” and “disobedience” to the covenant made with Moses through angels.  “Trangression” likely refers to a positive offense—doing something that they had been commanded not to do—while “disbobedience” refers to the negative offense of failing to do something they were supposed to do.  Disobedience is that unwillingness to heed God’s voice.

The sanctions which attended the law given at Sinai were severe and inescapable.  Every commandment had the appropriate penalty prescribed for its infringement, and for those who deliberately defied or disregarded the law of God there was no reprieve—no escape from judgment, sometimes the death penalty.

As in chapter 1, verses 1 and 2, the validity of the Old Testament is presupposed.  Our writer is not denying the validity of the Old Testament as if it were now false and the New Testament was true.  Rather, he is arguing from the lesser to the greater.

We also see that God is always consistent in bringing about punishment for sins, whether under the law or under the grace period delivered through His Son, transgressions will still be confronted and punished.

Paul tells us that the law is holy, righteous, and good (Romans 7:12).  “The problem lies not with the law,” writes Philip Edgecombe Hughes, “which is the divine standard of life…, but with the sinful man who is the law-breaker. With the consequence that the law stands over against him as an ordinance of condemnation and death” (A Commentary on the Epistle of the Hebrews, p. 76).  It is at this point that the comparison is enjoined.  “For the glory of the law is completely surpassed by the glory of the gospel because the latter brings life where the former brought death” (Hughes, p. 76).

A greater word brought by a greater Person having greater promises will bring a greater condemnation if it is neglected.  Whereas the penalty for violating the Old Covenant was temporal and mainly physical, the penalty for neglecting the great salvation we have in Jesus Christ would be eternal and primarily spiritual.

There is no escaping that judgment, as the next verse reminds us with the question, “How shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation…?”  He will go on to tell us why this is such a great salvation but for now let’s just linger on the reality that he is telling us—you and me—that there is no escaping the penalty for neglecting this apostolic message, the message of the gospel.  There is greater judgment, in other words, if we go back under the law after learning about Jesus Christ, entertaining the idea that He is such a great Savior, and then trading that all in to go back under the law.

We like escape stories against impossible odds.  Your favorite might be The Great Escape, or Shawshank Redemption, or escape from Alcatraz.  Mine is The Count of Monte Cristo.

Edmond Dantes is falsely accused and unjustly convicted of a crime.  He is sent forth to the most dreaded prison, Château d’If.  There he suffered for years in solitary confinement, until one day he met a co-prisoner, an aged priest who had been there for decades and had spent much time trying to dig a tunnel to escape.  But he didn’t do his math correctly and ended up burrowing into Dantes’s chamber.  So the two met and had fellowship together.  The old priest became Dantes’s mentor and counselor, teacher of science and philosophy and theology.  The priest also told Dantes about a map that led to a vast treasure, hidden under the waters in the sea.  The old priest died in prison.  Through an extraordinary series of circumstances, the death of the priest led to the possible escape of Edmond Dantes from Château d’If. Dantes found the vast treasure that financed the remainder of his life and his nom de plume became the Count of Monte Cristo.

We have NO ESCAPE if we neglect this great salvation.  There is a much more dire and dreadful kind of captivity to those who neglect this salvation through Jesus Christ.

Alcatraz could possibly be escaped from, or Devil’s Island, or even the Château d’If.  But the one prison from which no one ever escapes is hell.  There’s no escape route. You can’t dig under it.  You can’t climb over it.  No guard can be bribed.  The sentence cannot be amended.

Now this is a sobering word for the world and for the church, because most people do neglect the greatness of salvation.  How many people do you know who give serious, sustained attention to the salvation accomplished by Christ—who love it, and think about it, and meditate on it, and marvel at it, and feel continual gratitude for it, and commend it to others as valuable, and weave it into all the lesser things of their lives, and set their hopes on it?

John Newton, near the end of his life, while lying on his death bed, was visited by a young ministerial student named William Jay, hoping to gain some nuggets of pastoral wisdom.  But Newton said: ‘My memory is nearly gone; but I remember two things: that I am a great sinner, and that Christ is a great Saviour.’” John Newton, Wise Counsel: John Newton’s Letters to John Ryland Jr., Ed. Grant Gordon (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 2009), 401.

Of course, he was the one who wrote Amazing Grace.  Are you still amazed by grace?  Is your salvation great in your estimation?  Do you treasure it?

John Piper helps us out in understanding what’s at stake here:

Only what is it really—this great salvation?  What he’s really saying is: Don’t neglect being loved by God.  Don’t neglect being forgiven and accepted and protected and strengthened and guided by Almighty God.  Don’t neglect the sacrifice of Christ’s life on the cross.  Don’t neglect the free gift of righteousness imputed by faith. Don’t neglect the removal of God’s wrath and the reconciled smile of God.  Don’t neglect the indwelling Holy Spirit and the fellowship and friendship of the living Christ.  Don’t neglect the radiance of God’s glory in the face of Jesus.  Don’t neglect the free access to the throne of grace.  Don’t neglect the inexhaustible treasure of God’s promises.  This is a great salvation.  Neglecting it is very evil.  Don’t neglect so great a salvation.

We have a great Savior who saved us from a great penalty because of our great sin.

And we “don’t neglect” it by paying utmost attention to it (2:1).

How shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation? After it was at the first spoken through the Lord [contrast “through angels” for the law in verse 2], it was confirmed to us by those who heard [that is, the apostles, the eyewitnesses who heard the earthly teaching of the Lord Jesus], 4 God also bearing witness with them, both by signs and wonders and by various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit according to His own will.

Why is this great salvation neglected?  One reason might be because we don’t value it as much as something else, so we spend our time and effort valuing whatever it is that we find more valuable—which the Bible calls an “idol.”

Another reason is that we just might not know how great this salvation really is.  Maybe we don’t have the evidence.  That is what vv. 3 and 4 address.

Besides being “great,” why should we devote such attention and affection to this salvation?

First, it is announced.  It was declared to us “by [or “through”] the Lord” Jesus Christ.  While angels mediated the Law, Jesus Christ proclaimed the gospel.  That makes His communication infinitely superior and absolutely true.

“The good news of salvation, then, derives from the Lord, whose mediatorship is absolutely other than that of angels” (Philip Edgcumbe Hughes, A Commentary on the Epistle to the Hebrews (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1977), pp. 77, 78).  “For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time” (1 Timothy 2:5, 6).

That it was “through” the Lord Jesus Christ means the revelation of this great salvation comes from the Father (the source), but it comes through the mediation, not of angels, but through Jesus Christ.

In Acts 10:36, Peter says to Cornelius that the gospel is, “The word which [God] sent to the sons of Israel, preaching peace through Jesus Christ (he is Lord of all).” So the great salvation was spoken by God through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all.

Second, it was confirmed.  Next the text says that the salvation “was attested to us by those who heard” (v. 3c).  This primarily refers to the apostles attesting what Jesus said and passing it along from faith to faith through the succeeding generation (cf. Luke 1:2). The apostles were the first generation eyewitnesses to the life, ministry, crucifixion, resurrection and ascension of Jesus, while these were second generations recipients of the apostolic message.

Eusebius, in his Ecclesiastical History , has preserved an autobiographical fragment from Irenaeus of Lyons that relates how the Apostle John passed along the story of the gospel to Polycarp who, before his martyrdom in AD 155 or 156, passed along the story to young Irenaeus. Irenaeus says of his experience:

And as he [Polycarp] remembered their words, and what he heard from them concerning the Lord, and concerning his miracles and his teaching, having received them from eyewitnesses of the “Word of life” [John], Polycarp related all things in harmony with the Scriptures. These things being told me by the mercy of God, I listened to them attentively, noting them down, not on paper, but in my heart. And continually, through God’s grace, I recall them faithfully. (Eusebius, Hist. Eccl. , V.xx.5ff., A. C. McGiffert’s translation.)

Remember that Paul, wanting to establish the credibility of the resurrection, mentioned more than 500 eyewitnesses, most of whom were still living.  This gospel could be fact checked.

Now, just consider for a moment how critical and strategic these witnesses were.  Without them, there would be no faith communicated to the next generation.  These peoples’ faith rested on the testimony of these witnesses.  Many people today will not hear of this great salvation without the testimony of witnesses.

Finally, God authenticates the gospel message.

“God also bore witness by signs and wonders and various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will” (v. 4).

The testimony was dynamic.  “Signs” pointed beyond themselves to the mighty hand of God.  “Wonders” brought awe and amazement to those who saw.  “Miracles” (literally “powers”) showed the power of God beyond human ability.  And “gifts of the Holy Spirit” were given according to God’s will to minister to the church.

These spectacular gifts served to get people’s attention and attest to the authenticity of the one giving this “new, strange message” about Jesus Christ as Messiah and salvation by grace through faith.

To neglect a salvation announced by Jesus, confirmed through multiple eyewitnesses and authenticated through signs and wonders is very serious indeed!  The neglecting of God’s “great salvation” deserves the severest penalty “in view of the greatness of the grace which is offered in it….God wishes His gifts to be valued by us at their proper worth.  The more precious they are, the baser is our ingratitude if they do not have their proper value for us” (Calvin’s Commentaries: The Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Hebrews and the First and Second Epistles of St. Peter , trans. William B. Johnston (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1963), p. 19).

We, too, must take action to guard ourselves against this impertinence.  It is not necessarily an intentional act, but something that happens through inattention and laziness, through lack of vigilance regarding our own hearts.  It comes through a little neglect of reading and meditating on God’s Word, a little neglect of one’s prayer life, a little neglect of fellowship and accountability.  If we are not actively and studiously availing ourselves of these opportunities, we are in danger of drifting away…and that is very dangerous!

For most of us the threat of life is not so much that we should plunge into disaster, but that we should drift into sin.  There are few people who deliberately, and in a moment, turn their backs on God; there are many who day by day drift farther and farther away from Him.

Don’t let that be you!

So Great a Salvation, part 1 (Hebrews 2:1)

In 1989, Michelle Hamilton, a teacher from Australia, planned a getaway trip for herself and her mother on the small Philippine island of Boracay.  The island was a tiny tropical paradise only four miles long and a mile wide.  After getting acclimated to her surroundings Michelle rented a small canoe.  The little boat, called a bunca, was only about seven feet long (2.13 m.) with outriggers attached to its sides.  Michelle, only 22 years old and full vigor and daring, decided to paddle the little canoe to the end of the island.  She was having a wonderful day enjoying the lush tropical scenery and listening to her favorite music on headphones.

However, as Michelle began rowing back toward the harbor she realized that she was caught in a very strong ocean current.  With a sick feeling in her stomach she began rowing with all her might only to see the harbor and at last the whole island slipping away from her and finally disappearing from sight.  Michelle, clad only in a bikini and with almost no provision found herself a captive of the vast Pacific Ocean.

To make bad matters worse, on her first night at sea the bunca was overturned in a terrifying storm and Michelle was left helplessly clinging to the wreckage of her little boat.  For three days she drifted some 100 miles (160 km.) as she was battered by the waves, blistered by the sun, parched by thirst and threatened by sharks.  At last, through several direct miracles from God, she was rescued by Philippine fishermen.  Michelle, who became a believer in Jesus on that harrowing trip, later began a ministry telling others of her Jonah-like experience and of the God who can rescue those who drift away.

Dangerously drifting away is what our passage is about today.  We are in Hebrews 2:1-4.

1 Therefore we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it. 2 For since the message declared by angels proved to be reliable, and every transgression or disobedience received a just retribution, 3 how shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation? It was declared at first by the Lord, and it was attested to us by those who heard, 4 while God also bore witness by signs and wonders and various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will.

This is the first of five admonitions (2:1-4; 3:7— 4:13; 5:11— 6:12; 10:19-39 and in 12:14-29) scattered throughout the book of Hebrews.  Their purpose is to encourage the readers to pay attention to God’s Word and not to let go of Jesus Christ, not to go back to trusting in law keeping to save them.  This largely Jewish constituency was in danger of going back under the law, believing that Jesus and His obedience and work for them on the cross was not enough.

These admonitions will become stronger and more serious as they progress.  Here, the problem is drifting from what was heard while the last warning regards defying God’s Word (Heb. 12:14-29).

As we look at this first warning passage it is divided into three parts:

First, a statement concerning the danger of drifting and the safeguard against that drifting by paying careful attention to the apostolic message, the gospel (2:1).

He then gives his rationale for this caution by making a comparison between God’s judgment against the Israelites for their failure to pay attention to the Old Testament law and prophets, which shows the more dangerous possibility they face of judgment for neglecting the New Covenant message (2:2-3a).

That message is then described in vv. 3b and 4 as a more authoritative and authenticated word to believe in.

Our passage begins with the word “therefore,” and we should always ask, “What’s it there for?”  This word shows us that our admonition is based upon the doctrinal teaching of chapter 1—that Jesus is superior to the angels and therefore deserves the highest attention.  The Scriptural fact of Jesus’ superiority over the angels has lifechanging implications about how one should respond to that.

Doctrine forms the basis for practice.  Orthodoxy precedes orthopraxy, or as I like to say it here at Grace Bible Church—the indicative (what God has done for us) precedes and forms the basis for the imperative (what we are called to do for God).  If we get these out of order, we fall back into legalism, which is exactly the problem being addressed here in the book of Hebrews.

You might have noticed that most of Paul’s epistles begin with several chapters of doctrinal teaching before getting to any exhortations about how to live.  Sanctification is important.  But sanctification flows out of justification.  These are inseparable, but distinct, and should not be confused.

This admonition is written for believers.  Notice three times in verse 1 and once in verse 3 the writer addresses this admonition to “we,” not “you” or “they.”  “Therefore we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it” and “How shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation…?”

We will have to look closely at who is being addressed in each of these admonitions.  At this point, the writer includes both genuine Christians and those who seem to be Christians, or at least deem themselves to be Christians.  All of us have the possibility of drifting away from our salvation by failing to pay closer attention to it.  This is a warning that we should take seriously and it is a very real possibility for all of us.  Even though this is the mildest of the five rebukes, it is still a very stern warning for us all.

We are challenged to “pay much closer attention,” which is actually in the superlative degree and might be better translated, “pay most closest attention,” even though we rarely say it that way.  That is because eternal issues are at stake.

I like William Barclay’s rendition of this section: We must, therefore, with very special intensity pay attention to the things that we have heard.

Maybe your Mom or Dad has said to you, “I want your full and undivided attention.”  That is what God is calling for here.

Why? God has spoken in His Son. We must continually hold to the Words of Truth spoken by the Son Who alone is Truth. There is nothing else to that needs to be said! No more revelation is forthcoming for none is necessary.

William Newell reminds us: If the Old Testament prophets should be heard, how much more the Lord of glory Himself! He having come to earth, become Man, and speaking to men! 

Not only that, but the particle “must” is here used to indicate that this is a moral obligation placed upon us.  This is not optional.  We can’t take it or leave it.

Also, the present tense is used to convey the idea that this is to be a continual activity—we must never stop paying attention to the apostolic message.  In today’s words, we must constantly “preach the gospel” to ourselves.

It is also in the active voice, meaning that it was the personal responsibility of each person to take action for themselves.  No one else could do this for them.

To have heard the gospel before, but not to give its life-giving, Christ-exalting message the utmost daily attention is to face the danger of drifting into great peril.

We are also exhorted by Peter, having already brought up cleverly devised tales and mountain top experiences like the Mount of Transfiguration and seeing a slight glimpse (although still overwhelming) of the glory of Jesus, that

19 And we have something more sure, the prophetic word, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts, (2 Peter 1:19)

Don’t pay attention at all to cleverly devised tales (v. 16) and don’t put all your confidence in your glorious experiences, rather “you do well to pay attention” to the prophetic word made “more sure” because it comes through the Spirit’s revelation (vv. 20-21).

Pay attention to the Word you have heard.  “Hearing” is a key idea in Hebrews (2:1; 3:7; 3:15; 4:7; 5:9, 11; 11:8).  Verses 3 and 4 show us that these were second generation Christians, hearing the gospel message and doctrine from the first generation of eyewitnesses to Jesus’s ministry and resurrection.  They needed to pay attention to what they had heard.

We may not always perceive the supreme importance of listening.  It might seem optional to us, simply because in daily life we don’t usually listen very well to those around us.  We are constantly distracted by noises around us or our own voice inside our heads.  Biblically, hearing included obeying.  In other words, if you didn’t obey you didn’t really hear what was told to you.

He is not encouraging unbelievers to become Christians here, but encouraging Christians to pay very, very close attention to the Word that had been taught to them, the apostolic teaching, the gospel teaching.

They faced the very real danger of neglecting their salvation and drifting away from Jesus Christ.  The late New Testament Greek scholar, William Barclay, notes that both words used here have a nautical sense dealing with current and tide.   The words “to pay attention” (Gk. prosechein) means “to moor a ship,” while “drift away” (Gk. pararrein) speaks of a ship allowed to drift due to wind or current.

The word used here, pararuomai, could signify objects that are slipping away, like a ring that slips off a finger, or objects that go in the wrong direction, like a golf ball when I play.

It makes me think of the story about the explorer Edward Perry who took a crew to the Artic Ocean.  They were endeavoring to move further north in some of their chartings, so they charted their location by the stars and began a very difficult and treacherous march north.  They walked and they walked, hour after hour after hour, for multiple hours.  Finally, in total weariness and utter exhaustion, they stopped and took their bearings again from the stars and found that they were actually farther south than when they had started.  The reason:  They had been walking on an ice floe drifting south faster than they were walking north.

This reminds me of the uselessness of legalism, like that of a hamster on an exercise wheel, working, working, working, and getting nowhere.

In the case of Michelle Hamilton there were many points along the island where she could have easily returned.  There were other points after she realized her dangerous position that she could have swallowed her pride and signaled for help from the islanders.  She did neither but tried vainly to save herself after it was already too late.

Drifting away is a gradual process that doesn’t even register to us—we don’t even realize it is happening.  The nautical image likens this process to a boat whose anchor was never dropped, or has broken loose, and the boat just gradually and silently slips away into dangerous waters.

Drifting often happens slowly, without splash or fanfare.

Paul speaks of those whose faith had been “shipwrecked” in 1 Timothy 1:19.

In his autobiography, Charles Darwin wrote: “I came to gradually disbelieve in Christianity as a divine revelation …. Disbelief crept over me at a very slow rate, but at last it was complete.  The rate was so slow that I felt no distress and have never since doubted even for a single second that my conclusion was correct.”

Jesus told us that the seed can be sown into different types of soils, or hearts.  Some reject it outright, some can’t stand the heat of persecution and others get their faith choked out by the cares of this life.

We who live in the modern era are busy people, and the multiplicity of our cares and duties can overwhelm us. A snowflake is a tiny thing, but when the air is full of them, they can bury us. Just so, the thousand cares of each day can insulate us from the stupendous excellencies of Christ, causing us to begin a deadly drift.

How easy it is to be distracted.  Statistics show that we spend almost 7 hours a day on screens—from television to computers to phones.  We find it difficult to spend 7 minutes a day in God’s Word.  How can we possibly be paying the most closest attention to God’s Word?  We are in great danger of treating God’s Word too lightly.

This idea of drifting away uses the same verb that is found in the Septuagint translation of Proverbs 3:21, where it is used in reference to someone gradually losing sight of God’s wisdom, suggesting that the fundamental nuance is a gradual departure rather than an abrupt one.

William Newell warned us: “The world is ever tugging at the believer, and that so often unconsciously to him, to go along with its false hopes. Satan likes nothing better than a neglecting Christian! We all know, too, that the tendency of our natures is to drift along with earthly things away from the gospel” (Hebrews, Verse-by-Verse, pp. 35-36).

The writer of Revelation uses different language but refers to the same thing when he quotes Jesus as saying to the ostensibly healthy Ephesian church, “I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first” (Revelation 2:4).

When our anchors begin to lift from our soul’s grasp of the greatness and supremacy of life, we become susceptible to subtle tows.  C. S. Lewis sagely remarked: “And as a matter of fact, if you examined a hundred people who had lost their faith in Christianity, I wonder how many of them would turn out to have been reasoned out of it by honest argument? Do not most people simply drift away?” (C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (New York: Macmillan, 1976), p. 124)

The writer of Hebrews was concerned for his readers. The danger of drifting was real for them, so he warns them: “Therefore we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it.” It seems that some of them were tempted to abandon Jesus and the new message of grace to return to the old ways of law-keeping, sacrifice, and systematic religion.

In Hebrews 6, we are told that

we who have fled for refuge [to Jesus Christ] might have strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us. 19 We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain, 20 where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf, having become a high priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.

We have an anchor, a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul.  That anchor is our hope in Jesus Christ, a hope that is fed by paying closest attention to what we have been taught.  If we do not diligently remain in the truth—and to do so we must know it and remember it and put it into practice—we will depart from it.  We live in a world that is striving to separate us from it.  Satan also wants us to abandon it (cf. Gen. 3; Matt. 4).

Warren Wiersbe notes: “More spiritual problems are caused by neglect than perhaps by any other failure on our part.  We neglect God’s Word, prayer, worship with God’s people (see Heb. 10:25), and other opportunities for spiritual growth, and as a result, we start to drift.  The anchor does not move; we do” (The Wiersbe Bible Commentary: New Testament, p. 807).

W. Griffith Thomas said, “The protection against drifting is to have Christ as once the anchor and rudder of life. The anchor will hold us to the truth, while the rudder will guide us by the truth.”

Again, as the metaphor is communicating, this apostasy from Jesus Christ is not intentional but arises from lack of paying attention.

Matthew Henry uses another metaphor, saying “we have received gospel truths into our mind, we are in danger of letting them slip.  Our minds and memories are like a leaky vessel, they do not without much care retain what is poured into them…”

John Piper shares these insights:

We all know people that this has happened to.  There is no urgency.  No vigilance.   focused listening or considering or fixing of their eyes on Jesus.  And the result has not been a standing still, but a drifting away.

That is the point here: there is no standing still.  The life of this world is not a lake.  It is a river.  And it is flowing downward to destruction.  If you do not listen earnestly to Jesus and consider him daily and fix your eyes on him hourly, then you will not stand still; you will go backward.  You will float away from Christ.

Drifting is a deadly thing in the Christian life.  And the remedy for it, according to Hebrews 2:1, is: Pay close attention to what you have heard.  That is, consider what God is saying in his Son Jesus.  Fix your eyes on what God is saying and doing in the Son of God, Jesus Christ.

This is not a hard swimming stroke to learn.  The only thing that keeps us from swimming against sinful culture is not the difficulty of the stroke, but our sinful desire to go with the flow.

Let’s not complain that God has given us a hard job.  Listen, consider, fix the eyes — this is not what you would call a hard job description.  In fact, it is not a job description.  It is a solemn invitation to be satisfied in Jesus so that we do not get lured downstream by deceitful desires.

One writer phrases it this way…

There is a tide in the affairs of men which, taken at its ebb, leads to victory; neglected, the shores of time are strewn with the wreckage.

That is the danger we face if we stop paying closest attention to the gospel.

The Superiority of Jesus to the Angels, part 3 (Hebrews 1:10-14)

Welcome back to our study of Hebrews.  We are still in chapter 1, noticing how the author piles up Old Testament quotation upon Old Testament quotation to drive home the fact that Jesus is superior to the angels.

Jesus is supreme above all.  The supremacy of Christ is a doctrine surrounding the authority of Jesus and His God-nature.  In the simplest of terms, to affirm the supremacy of Christ is to affirm that Jesus is God.  Jesus is not just a new way of doing things, leaving the temptation to go back to the old and familiar, but He is the better way, the best way, indeed the “only way.”  Thus, it would be foolish to abandon him.

The portion of Scripture we are looking at today is Hebrews 1:10-14.

10 He also says, “In the beginning, Lord, you laid the foundations of the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands. 11 They will perish, but you remain; they will all wear out like a garment. 12 You will roll them up like a robe; like a garment they will be changed. But you remain the same, and your years will never end.” 13 To which of the angels did God ever say, “Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet”? 14 Are not all angels ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation?

We have seen how Jesus has a superior name (vv. 4-5), a superior honor (v. 6) and superior role (vv. 7-9).  Now, in vv. 10-12 we see that Jesus has a superior nature.  Specifically, He does not change.  From age to age, Jesus is the same.

This is the attribute of immutability.  He doesn’t mutate.  He doesn’t change.  He stays exactly the same, no matter the circumstances or the age.  All else changes; Christ does not.

I love how A. W. Tozer applies this doctrine in his little book The Knowledge of the Holy:

In this world where men forget us, change their attitude toward us as their private interests dictate, and revise their opinion of us for the slightest cause, is it not a source of wondrous strength to know that the God with whom we have to do changes not?  That His attitude toward us now is the same as it was in eternity past and will be in eternity to come?

What peace it brings to the Christian’s heart to realize that our Heavenly Father never differs from Himself.  In coming to Him at any time we need not wonder whether we shall find Him in a receptive mood.  He is always receptive to misery and need, as well as to love and faith.  He does not keep office hours nor set aside periods when He will see no one.  Neither does He change His mind about anything.  Today, this moment, He feels toward His creatures, toward babies, toward the sick, the fallen, the sinful, exactly as He did when He sent His only-begotten Son into the world to die for mankind.

God never changes moods or cools off in His affections or loses enthusiasm.  His attitude toward sin is now the same as it was when He drove out the sinful man from the eastward garden, and His attitude toward the sinner the same as when He stretched forth His hands and cried, “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”

God will not compromise and He need not be coaxed.  He cannot be persuaded to alter His Word nor talked into answering selfish prayer.  In all our efforts to find God, to please Him, to commune with Him, we should remember that all change must be on our part. “I am the Lord, I change not.”  We have but to meet His clearly stated terms, bring our lives into accord with His revealed will, and His infinite power will become instantly operative toward us in the manner set forth through the gospel in the Scriptures of truth.

In the OT God reminded Israel that “Even to your old age, I shall be the same” (Isa 46:4) a truth reiterated in the Malachi: “I, the LORD, do not change” (Mal 3:6)

And what is true about God the Father is said here to be true about the Son.  He never changes.

For the fourth proof of Christ’s superiority, the writer quotes Psalm 102:25–27, which contains a broken man’s rising awareness and celebration of God’s transcending existence against the background of even what seems to be the most constant things in existence—the earth and heavenly bodies—being transient.  Mountains and planets seem so stable and secure.  But they are not.

10 He also says, “In the beginning, Lord, you laid the foundations of the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands. 11 They will perish, but you remain…

Jesus is the Lord of creation.  Every created thing changes and eventually perishes.  Jesus Christ remains.  Even the “foundations of the earth,” that which we esteem to be very stable and permanent, changes.  Jesus does not.

While the Greeks felt that the universe was a permanent fixture, modern physicists know that due to the law of entropy, or what is known as the second law of thermodynamics, our universe is running down.

In contrast, Jesus doesn’t change.  He is the “same yesterday, today and forever” (Heb. 13:8).

The writer of Hebrews compares the creation to a garment, which wears out and eventually is changed out.  We might live out many suits in our lifetime, but Christ remains the same—eternal and unchanging.  He will never be given away to Good Will.

“they will all wear out like a garment. 12 You will roll them up like a robe; like a garment they will be changed. But you remain the same, and your years will never end.”

The word used here is palaioo and it has the meaning of being “worn out.”  The Book of Revelation speaks of the universe as simply coming apart in the last days.  We actually see much of the earth burned up (Rev. 8:7), the sea destroyed (16:3), springs and rivers becoming bloody (16:4), the sun turning black and the moon turning to blood (6:12).  We then see the stars of the heavens falling to earth and the heavens themselves being rolled up like a scroll (6:13-14).

John MacArthur comments that “During the Tribulation, as if the heavens were to be stretched to the limit and the corners then cut, they will roll up just like a scroll.  The stars are going to fall, come crashing down to earth, and every island and mountain will move out of its place.  The whole world will fall apart.

We noted in verse 3 that Christ actively “upholds” the universe so that it doesn’t fly apart.  Colossians 1:17 is even more explicit, where Paul says “in him all things hold together.”

Then, 2nd Peter describes that day when it all flies apart…

But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved… (2 Peter 3:10)

When our clothes wear out and lose their beauty and usefulness, we fold them up, lay them aside, and replace them with new garments.  That is what Jesus Christ will eventually do with this world.  When it has served its’ purpose, he will fold it up, put it away and create something new and better, a “new heavens and new earth” (Rev. 21:1), because the first earth had “passed away.”

All else, including angels, are temporal and dependent.  Jesus Christ remains the same.  All else is subject to decay, as the rebellion of the angelic host proves; but Jesus remains constant.

To the suffering Jewish believers who first heard these words, these sure words about Christ must have felt like refreshing rain. Their world was not only changing—it was falling apart. But their superior Christ remained the same—eternal and unchanging.

Our ever-changing culture needs the never-changing Christ who alone can provide both the foundation and direction for Christian faith and practice as the church faces the challenges of a new era. (Daniel Akin)

By the way, did you notice that God the Father again addresses Jesus Christ as “Lord.”  Look again at the beginning of verse 10, “He [that is, God the Father] also says, ‘In the beginning, Lord, you laid the foundations of the earth…’”  God is calling Jesus Lord, the creator of the earth (and heavens, in the rest of this verse).  He is the Creator, alongside the Father and the Spirit, equal in nature and substance, but a distinct person.

So in verse 8 Jesus was called “God” and here in verse 10 he is called “Lord.”  Clearly the author of Hebrews is communicating that Jesus is God.  He is clearly superior to the angels.

Finally, not only does Jesus have a superior name, a superior honor, a superior role and a superior nature, but He has a superior status to the angels.

Again, they are servants; He is sovereign.

Verse 13 says, “To which of the angels did God ever say, ‘Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet?’”

This is a quote from Psalm 110, another Messianic psalm.

1 The LORD says to my Lord: “Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool.” 2 The LORD sends forth from Zion your mighty scepter. Rule in the midst of your enemies! 3 Your people will offer themselves freely on the day of your power, in holy garments; from the womb of the morning, the dew of your youth will be yours. 4 The LORD has sworn and will not change his mind, “You are a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.” 5 The Lord is at your right hand; he will shatter kings on the day of his wrath. 6 He will execute judgment among the nations, filling them with corpses; he will shatter chiefs over the wide earth. 7 He will drink from the brook by the way; therefore he will lift up his head.

Verse 3 told us that “after making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high” and here he says “sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet.”

Our author puts this in the form of a question, asking if God has ever said such a thing to the angels, the same formula he had used back up in verse 5.  So let’s put them side by side.

For to which of the angels did God ever say, “You are my Son, today I have begotten you?” (Heb. 1:5)

And to which of the angels has he ever said, “Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet?”

The answer to both of these questions is clearly: “None, not one, not a single one!”

Again, God is declaring the superiority of His Son over any of the angels.  Even the most powerful and glorious are inferior to the Son.

This, of course, happened when Jesus ascended on high after His resurrection from the grave.  He is seated, having finished his work, at the place of highest honor—at the right hand of the Father.

Here, a time frame is included, “until I make your enemies your footstool.”  This image is taken from the custom of conquering kings putting their feet upon the necks of the conquered as a sign of complete and ultimate victory (cf. Joshua 10:24-26).  This was usually after the conquered person bowed and kissed the conqueror’s feet.

One day every knee will bow before Christ, and every tongue will confess that he is Lord (Philippians 2:10, 11; cf. 1 Corinthians 15:24, 25), including all the angels, both good and bad.

The New Testament uniformly interprets Psalm 110 as referring to the coming Messiah.

In Acts 2, Peter refers to this by saying…

32 This Jesus God raised up, and of that we all are witnesses. 33 Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you yourselves are seeing and hearing. 34 For David did not ascend into the heavens, but he himself says, “‘The Lord said to my Lord, Sit at my right hand, 35 until I make your enemies your footstool.’ 36 Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.”

And in Acts 3:21 Peter says about Jesus…

21 whom heaven must receive until the time for restoring all the things about which God spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets long ago.

Thus, this seems to be referring to the fact that Jesus will sit in heaven at the Father’s right hand until that time that He returns as conquering King and defeats the armies of the Antichrist.  At that time He will receive the kingdom, His earthly kingdom and reign on the earth for a thousand years, fulfilling God’s covenant to David.

But that isn’t the end of it.  In 1 Corinthians 15 Paul tells us what happens next:

24 Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. 25 For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. 26 The last enemy to be destroyed is death. 27 For “God has put all things in subjection under his feet.” But when it says, “all things are put in subjection,” it is plain that he is excepted who put all things in subjection under him.

What an encouragement this is!  This glorious truth should remind all believers in all ages that Christ ultimately and totally triumphs over all unrighteousness, all sin, all suffering, even death, the last enemy.

Are you suffering because of your faith now?  Are you belittled or ostracized because of Jesus?  Then you need to look carefully at the “time expression” in this verse—“until.”  Not “if it might occur at some time,” but “until.”  “Until” means up to the time and in this context it is that glorious day when our Lord will reign as King of kings and Lord of lords over all creation.  He will bring justice for all.  Hold onto this word “until” if you are weak and tired and feel like throwing in the towel, for He will return and right all wrongs.

Finally, we read in verse 14.

14 Are not all angels ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation?

The most exalted angels are those whose privilege it is to “stand in the presence of God,” like Gabriel (Luke 1:19).  But none of them has ever been invited to sit, still less to sit in the place of unique honor at His right hand.  Their standing position betokens their promptness to execute his commands, or simply to abide His pleasure.

All of them, from highest to lowest, are but servants of God, “ministering spirits” and not to be compared to the Son.

More remarkable, even, is that they are here to serve us, the heirs of salvation, because of our close association with the Son.

Though our author does not enlarge upon the specifics of angelic ministry to us here, it only requires a review of Bible stories to see that such ministry involves protection (Psalm 91:1), guidance (Genesis 19:17), encouragement (Judges 6:12), deliverance (Acts 12:7), supply (Psalm 105:40), enlightenment (Matt. 2:19-20) and empowerment (Luke 22:43), as well as the occasional rebuke (Numbers 22:32) and discipline (Acts 12:23).

Angels are sent to minister to us; not us to them.  Only Christ is to be served and worshipped.

This service, by the angels, is not a disgraceful vocation.  Far from it!  It is a sublime privilege.  But the point is that this shows they are inferior to the sovereign Son, who deserves everyone’s service.

The ”salvation” spoken of here at the end of verse 14 clearly lies in the future, even if its blessings are beginning to be enjoyed even now.  It is that eschatological salvation (our glorification) which, in Paul’s words “is nearer to us now than when we first believed” (Romans 13:11) or, in Peter’s words is “ready to be revealed in the last time” (1 Peter 1:5).

The word “salvation” can refer to the past—justification, to the present—sanctification or to the future—glorification.

What these readers needed to understand was that the fearful dangers to which they would be exposed could not keep them from their ultimate salvation.  Likewise, it reminded them to make sure they didn’t treat lightly this salvation and fail to listen to the Son.

So to the beleaguered Jewish believer who was being tempted to say that Christ is an angel and thus escape persecution, God’s Word issues a clear call: Christ is superior to angels because he has a superior name —he is Son; a superior honor —all the angels worship him; a superior role —he is Sovereign King; a superior nature —he is eternal and unchangeable; a superior status —he rules the universe.

I want to leave you with this truth ringing in your heart:  Jesus Christ is infinitely superior to all angels.  They were created not to compete with Christ for glory, but to give Him glory and to serve Him.  The chief way they do that on earth is by serving us so that we hold fast to Christ and treasure Him and ultimately experience glory with Him.  Christ is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied with Him.

The Superiority of Jesus to the Angels, part 2 (Hebrews 1:5-9)

Welcome back to our study of the book of Hebrews.  We were talking last week about how the author of Hebrews wants to establish the superiority of Jesus so that the recipients of this letter don’t walk away from Jesus back into Judaism.  In this first portion he is establishing the superiority of Jesus over the angels.

Throughout the latter half of chapter 1 he uses seven Old Testament quotations, which the Jewish people would highly respect, to show that Jesus is superior to angels.

So, let’s begin looking at chapter 1, verses 4-14…

So he became as much superior to the angels as the name he has inherited is superior to theirs. 5 For to which of the angels did God 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”? And again, when God brings his firstborn into the world, he says, “Let all God’s angels worship him.” In speaking of the angels he says, “He makes his angels spirits, and his servants flames of fire.” But about the Son he says, “Your throne, O God, will last for ever and ever; a scepter of justice will be the scepter of your kingdom. You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness; therefore God, your God, has set you above your companions by anointing you with the oil of joy.” 10 He also says, “In the beginning, Lord, you laid the foundations of the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands. 11 They will perish, but you remain; they will all wear out like a garment. 12 You will roll them up like a robe; like a garment they will be changed. But you remain the same, and your years will never end.” 13 To which of the angels did God ever say, “Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet”? 14 Are not all angels ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation?

Jesus has the superior name—“Son.”  Although collectively the angels were sometimes referred to as “sons of God,” this is the special name the Father gave to Jesus Christ.  It is a special relationship; Jesus is the one and only Son.

From eternity Jesus Christ has been the Son to the Father.  While equal to God in substance and nature, in the economic Trinity, or the way that the Trinity works, is that Jesus is the Son, who submits to the Father.

We noticed last time that he first quotes from Psalm 2:7, a Messianic Psalm.  “I will tell of the decree: The LORD said to me, “You are my Son; today I have begotten you.”  This verse pinpoints the time of Jesus’ begetting as the resurrection, when he was declared “Son.”  This verse, in its Old Testament context, was part of a coronation liturgy used by the Davidic dynasty.  On the day of coronation, he would be known as “Son.”  For Jesus Christ, that coronation took place at His resurrection, not his incarnation.

We will start today from the second quotation in verse 5, from 2 Samuel 7:14 or 1 Chronicles 17:13, like the first, ties in with the Davidic Covenant and advances the previous point.

Or again, “I will be his Father, and he will be my Son”

The immediate application in David’s experience was to his son, Solomon, whom God would love and discipline as a son (Psalm 89:27).  However, Solomon would fail to fulfill the conditions of this covenant.

So, the ultimate application of this statement is to Jesus Christ, the “greater than Solomon” (Matt. 12:42).  Although Solomon did go on to build the temple, the promises of David were not exhausted in him, but looked forward to Jesus Christ.

He is the peaceful ruler of Micah 5:2

But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days.

He is the prince with four names, according to Isaiah 9:6-7.

6 For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

Those names are greater names than any angel had!  He goes on to say…

7 Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore.  The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this.

Gabriel’s words to Mary in Luke 1 were, “He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High.  And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” (Luke 1:32-33)

So we see that Jesus is superior to the angels because he always was God’s Son and because two Old Testament sonship prophecies were marvelously fulfilled by him at his incarnation and resurrection and exaltation.  His name is “Son,” while all that can be said of angels is that they are messengers.  How dare anyone ever think of demoting him to the position of an archangel, much less to a perfect man!

Not only does Jesus Christ have a superior name, but He also has a superior honor.  The next point in the author’s argument for Christ’s superiority over angels is that he is worshiped by angels. “And again, when he brings the firstborn into the world, he says, ‘Let all God’s angels worship him’” (v. 6).

Here he turns to the final lines of verse 43 of the Song of Moses (Deuteronomy 32:43), which the Jews considered to be Messianic.  The line he borrows, “Let all God’s angels worship him,” is not in the Hebrew original but is a Greek edition called the Septuagint.

This occurred at Jesus’ incarnation when the angelic host announced His arrival.  “Suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest’” (Luke 2:13, 14a). 

At the nativity the sky exploded with the glory of God and an entire army of angels was there in force, greeting the birth of the Savior.  They announced His birth and led the worship of the Son of God.  God does not call us to worship angels, but calls angels to worship Jesus Christ.

Again, the “firstborn” son always had a special place in the heart of his father (e.g., 2 Sam. 13:36-37; 1 Chron. 3:2), shared the father’s authority and inherited the lion’s share of his property.  Yes, the word can indicate one who was born first among sons and daughters in a family.  But it also stood for an idea—the idea of one who held special place in the father’s judgment and affections.  Thus David (Psalm 89:27) and Ephraim (Jeremiah 31:9) are called firstborn not because they were the eldest sons, but because of their importance.

The Rabbis used the term “firstborn” as a specifically Messianic title. One ancient Rabbi wrote, “God said, ‘As I made Jacob a first-born (Exodus 4:22), so also will I make king Messiah a first-born (Psalm 89:28).’” (R. Nathan in Shemoth Rabba, cited in Lightfoot)

This word says nothing about a beginning or creation point for Jesus, but rather the special place He had in His Father’s heart.

The incarnation is not the only point where we see the angels worshipping Christ.  It started before the incarnation, during his thirty-three years on earth and now in heaven.  We see a glimpse of this in Revelation 5.

Then I looked, and I heard around the throne and the living creatures and the elders the voice of many angels, numbering myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, saying with a loud voice,

“Worthy is the Lamb who was slain,

to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might

and honor and glory and blessing!”

And I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, saying,

“To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb

be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!” (Revelation 5:11–13)

Ultimately, every being will bow before Jesus Christ and proclaim Him Lord.

9 Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Not every knee will bow willingly, but they will all bow to the glory and authority of Jesus Christ.

So even though the angelic host greeted His first coming, it will be at the second coming that every knee will bow.  This may be the primary reference since we read the word “again” in verse 6.  Most scholars, however, believe the word “again” refers to yet another Psalm called upon to witness to Christ’s superiority—“again” as in “another proof.”

Thirdly, in addition to a superior name and superior honor, Jesus Christ has a superior role.  He came to rule, angels are here to serve.

Now, it is true that Jesus initially came to serve rather than to be served (Mark 10:45), but taking Jesus’ lifeline as a whole, He came to reign.

In verse 7 the author of Hebrews quotes Psalm 104:4.  “In speaking of the angels he says, ‘He makes his angels spirits [or “winds”], and his servants flames of fire.’”

In the context of Psalm 104, this shows that the place of angels, though high in the created order, is in a far inferior position related to the supremacy of the Son.  They are presented here as “servants.”  While they are servants, the Son is sovereign.

The meaning of the text seems to be that the angels are executing the divine commands with the swiftness of wind and the strength of fire. The chariot of fire that bore Elijah from the earth were possibly angels.  Certainly those chariots of fire surrounding Elisha and his servants were the angels of God (2 Kings 6:17-18).

A. W. Pink says: “How sharp is the antithesis!  How immeasurable the gulf which separates between creature and Creator!  The angels are but “spirits,” the Son is “God.”  They are but “ministers,” His is the “throne.”  They are but a “flame of fire,” the executioners of judgment, He the One who commands and commissions them.”

In the next verses Jesus will be addressed as God, possessing a throne, a scepter and a kingdom, loving righteousness and hating wickedness, forever and ever.  No angel could claim these attributes.

Here the writer quotes Psalm 45:6, 7, a nuptial Psalm addressed originally to a Hebrew king, but phrased in language that could only be fulfilled by the ultimate Davidic king, the Son of God.

But of the Son he says,

“Your throne, O God, is forever and ever,

the scepter of uprightness is the scepter of your kingdom.

You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness;

therefore God, your God, has anointed you

with the oil of gladness beyond your companions.” (vv. 8, 9)

Angels minister before the throne, but they don’t sit on the throne.  The Son does…alone.

Notice first of all that Jesus is called “God” here.  He is the one being referred to in the words “Your throne, O God…”  When the First Person of the Trinity spoke to the Second Person of the Trinity, He called Him God.  Therefore, we should too.  This is unique and powerful evidence of the deity of Jesus.

Some argue that there are many beings called “gods” in the Bible such as Satan (2 Corinthians 4:4) and earthly judges (Psalm 82:1 and 6).  But these others are supposed gods, pretenders to the throne.  They might think of themselves as gods and others might, but they are not by nature gods.  These are false gods, but Jesus is the true God.  Jesus is the True and Living God, called so here by God the Father; and also by John in John 1:1, by Thomas in John 20:28, and by Paul in Titus 2:13 and Titus 3:4.  With the exception of the Gospel of John, Hebrews contains the clearest expression of the deity of Christ.

His throne is both unending (“forever and ever”) and unchanging.  All things created, including the angelic beings, are subject to time and tide, change and decay.  Christ’s kingdom is the only kingdom that never ends and the only one characterized by perfect righteousness.  This righteousness and justice which are the foundation of God’s throne (Psalm 89:14) are equally the foundation of Messiah’s throne (Isaiah 11:5).  The prophets expected the Messiah to rule in righteousness.

One of the main teachings of Psalm 110 is that Jesus Christ, God’s Anointed (Messiah in Hebrew, Christos in Greek), is now enthroned in glory.  Jesus himself referred to this important psalm (Mark 12:35-37; 14:62) and Peter used it on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:34-36).  His kingdom was inaugurated when He ascended to heaven but will find its fullest expression, a more physical and geographical expression, when He returns.

His throne, his scepter, his anointing give us the dimensions of his brilliant sovereignty.  His throne—his rule—will never end. His scepter—his authority—will be executed in his righteousness—a righteousness that he established in becoming a sacrifice for our sins.  His being anointed with the oil of joy refers to the heavenly joy that was his as sovereign King of kings.

Wouldn’t we love to have rulers that loved righteousness and hated wickedness?  But only the Messiah will embody these attributes perfectly.

“God your God” is the Father, anointing His Son.  And that anointing has in mind the presence of the Holy Spirit.  Jesus Christ was anointed by the Holy Spirit for the three-fold offices of prophet, priest and king.  Here His kingship is being emphasized.

Notice that this anointing with the oil of gladness is a consequence of the Messiah “loving righteousness and hating wickedness.”  True joy is the result of loving what is right and good and beautiful.  It should remind us that there is no gladness, no real joy, in sinning.  Real joy arises out of heart that loves Jesus and loves what is right and good and beautiful.

Was Jesus a happy person?  I believe so.  This verse tells us that he was anointed “with the oil of gladness beyond your companions,” meaning that He was the happiest person among every group of people He has ever interacted with.

John Piper writes, “Jesus Christ is the happiest being in the universe. His gladness is greater than all the angelic gladness of heaven.  He mirrors perfectly the infinite, holy, indomitable mirth of his Father” (John Piper, Seeing and Savoring Jesus Christ, p. 36).

Spurgeon said, “We are happy to think Christ is happy. I do not know whether you have ever drank that joy, Believer, but I have found it a very sweet joy to be joyful because Christ is joyful” (Spurgeon, “The Special Call and the Unfailing Result,” Sermon #616)

Jesus is not stern or moody, He is overflowing with joy!

Jesus invites us to spend eternity with a happy God when he says, “Enter into the joy of your master” (Matthew 25:23).  The gospel is “the good news of the glory of the happy God.”

Like priests and prophets, Old Testament kings were anointed with oil, signifying God’s appointment to ministry.  Kings were anointed with oil when they ascended to the throne.

In the clearly Messianic Psalm 2:2, the writer records…

The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the LORD and against his Anointed

Jesus has been specifically appointed to this role by anointing.  He is the “anointed One” par excellence.

In Psalm 89 we read of David’s anointing which pictures the anointing of one greater than David, “I have found David, my servant; with my holy oil I have anointed him” (Psalm 89:20).  But this ultimately refers to Jesus Christ.

The companions above whom this Messiah is glad would have in the original context been the royal family or kings of surrounding nations.  In Jesus’ life it would have been His disciples and now it would be the “many sons” he is bringing to glory (Hebrews 2:10).

Peter, in his Pentecostal sermon, quoted from Psalm 16 to show that Jesus’ resurrection and eternal joy was prophesied by David.  Paraphrasing Psalm 16:11 Peter says about Jesus, “you will make me full of gladness with your presence.”

We, too, will be full of forever gladness when we step out of death and into God’s eternal presence.  O what a day!

The Superiority of Jesus to the Angels, part 1 (Hebrews 1:4-5)

Angels are “in.”  You can walk into a bookstore and find a whole shelf devoted to the topic of angels.  The television show Touched by an Angel ran for nine seasons and movies such as Ghost and City of Angels delved into the world of angels.  There are magazines such as Angel Times, which is dedicated to recounting the contacts with numerous angelic beings.

For a long time, angel figurines were very popular.  Angels are created beings, grand and glorious beings and certainly are active for God’s service as well as for ours (Heb. 1:14).  The Hebrew word for angel is malak and the Greek word is angelos, both of which mean “messenger.”

The godly Samuel Rutherford of Scotland, as a little boy, fell into a well.  His playmates ran for help, thinking he had perished.  But when the adults arrived to rescue him they found the young boy out of the well, drenched, and declaring that “a bonny white man” had rescued him.

John Patton, the Scottish missionary to the Hebrides Islands in the South Pacific, experienced an unusual deliverance by angels.  He and his wife were surrounded by a group of headhunters, but as Patton prayed, the headhunters all fled.  Later the chieftain of the group described to Patton that they had seen a group of men in shining white clothes with drawn swords surrounding the hut; so they left without doing any harm.

That may remind some of you of the time that Elisha’s servant was afraid of the vast armies that were around the city and Elisha prayed

“O LORD, please open his eyes that he may see.”  So, the LORD opened the eyes of the young man, and he saw, and behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha. (2 Kings 6:17)

While we might find our minds thrilled with such angelic feats, they all pale into insignificance when compared to our Lord Jesus Christ and all that He has accomplished for us.

Angels were also an important part of the Jewish religion, primarily because thousands of angels assisted in the giving of the law at Mount Sinai.  This fact is recorded for us in Deuteronomy 33:2, which says…”The LORD came from Sinai and dawned from Seir upon us; he shone forth from Mount Paran; he came from the ten thousands of holy ones, with flaming fire at his right hand.”  This is also found in Psalm 68:17; Acts 7:53 and Galatians 3:19.

The writer’s contrast of Jesus Christ’s authority and name with that of the angels suggests that his original readers may have regarded the angels too highly.  This was true of certain first-century sects within Judaism, one of which was the Essene community that lived at Qumran.  The Dead Sea Scrolls have revealed that this group had a highly developed angelology and that they regarded angels with more veneration than they should have.

Some people still believe that angels are mediators between us and God.  People who are hesitant to talk about Jesus are unashamed to bring up angels.

Since the writer of Hebrews is seeking to establish the superiority of Jesus Christ so that all faith would be placed in Him, he has to deal with this issue of the place of angels.  Warren Wiersbe notes:

“This long section on angels is divided into three sections.  First, there is an affirmation (Heb. 1:4-14) of the superiority of Christ to the angels.  The proof consists of seven quotations from the Old Testament.  Second, there is an exhortation (Heb. 2:1-4) that the readers (and this includes us) pay earnest heed to the Word God has given through His Son.  Finally, there is an explanation (Heb. 2:5-18) as to how Christ, with a human body, could still be superior to angels, who are spirits” (The Wiersbe Bible Commentary: NT, p. 805).

So we’ve just looked at seven facts about Jesus that make him superior, in vv. 2 and 3, now we’re going to look at seven quotations that continue to argue for His superiority.

Tom Constable points out these parallels:

Parallels between 1:1-4 and 1:5-13
1:1-41:5-13
A       Appointment as royal heir (2b)A’      Appointment as royal Son and heir (5-9)
B       Mediator of the creation (2c)B’      Mediator of the creation (10)
C       Eternal nature and pre-existent glory (3a-b)C’      Unchanging, eternal nature (11-12)
D       Exaltation to God’s right hand (3c)D’      Exaltation to God’s right hand (13)
https://www.planobiblechapel.org/tcon/notes/html/nt/hebrews/hebrews.htm#_ftnref88

Again, the number seven is significant to the Hebrews to communicate a sense of perfection or completion.

Why is it important to understand that Jesus is better than angels?  Why is important for us to compare and contrast them?

First, because we often understand things best when they are set in contrast to one another.  This way we can see the differences.

Second, since the Old Covenant came with the help of angels, the writer of Hebrews wants to establish that the New Covenant came through Jesus, giving it prime place.

Third, there has been a dangerous tendency to worship angels.  This is what Colossians 2:18 is referring to, and possibly Galatians 1:8, and Hebrews shows us that it is more important to worship Jesus, and Him alone, than any angelic being.

What the writer said here about angelic mediators applies especially to those who claim to mediate knowledge concerning God and the after-life to humankind.  Such self-proclaimed mediators today include leaders of some cults such as Theosophy, some New Age proponents, Shirley MacLaine, and other advocates of reincarnation.  Finding one’s spiritual “guide” and “channeling” to the unseen world, through that being, is popular in some circles.  

Fourth, there is a heretical idea that Jesus Himself was an angel.  Jehovah Witnesses believe he is the same person as the archangel Michael.

Finally, because understanding how Jesus is better than the angels, that helps us to understand how he is better than any of the “competitors” that come into our lives.

So, let’s begin looking at chapter 1, verses 4-14…

So he became as much superior to the angels as the name he has inherited is superior to theirs. 5 For to which of the angels did God 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”? And again, when God brings his firstborn into the world, he says, “Let all God’s angels worship him.” In speaking of the angels he says, “He makes his angels spirits, and his servants flames of fire.” But about the Son he says, “Your throne, O God, will last for ever and ever; a scepter of justice will be the scepter of your kingdom. You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness; therefore God, your God, has set you above your companions by anointing you with the oil of joy.” 10 He also says, “In the beginning, Lord, you laid the foundations of the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands. 11 They will perish, but you remain; they will all wear out like a garment. 12 You will roll them up like a robe; like a garment they will be changed. But you remain the same, and your years will never end.” 13 To which of the angels did God ever say, “Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet”? 14 Are not all angels ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation?

So this section is comprised of seven quotations from the Old Testament, each of which proves the superiority of Jesus Christ.  This writer favors the Greek version of the Old Testament, which we call the Septuagint, since seventy men were commissioned to translate the Hebrew Old Testament into the Greek language.

First, Jesus has a superior name, and that name is “Son.”  The more excellent name that Jesus possesses is “Son.”  It is through this name, and relationship, that Jesus is superior to the angels.

While the angels collectively could be called “the sons of God” (as in Job 1:6), no angel could claim this title individually.  This is also true about us.  We are called “sons of God” in passages such as Romans 8:14 and 19 and Galatians 3:26.  But we don’t have special claim to that title like Jesus does.

From eternity Jesus Christ has been the Son to the Father.  While equal to God in substance and nature, in the economic Trinity, or the way that the Trinity works, is that Jesus is the Son, who submits to the Father.

“Inheriting” the name does not mean that he did not possess it before, yet he “inherited” it when it was “declared” by the resurrection, so Paul says he “was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord,” (Romans 1:4)  Although Jesus has been “Son” before the creation began, His resurrection declared that for all to see.

Jesus has a superior name, “Son,” and that makes him “much superior” to the angels.  He is not just a little better, but much better.  He is not temporarily better, but eternally better.

Now our author launches into seven quotations from the Septuagint version of the Old Testament to buttress his argument for the superiority of Jesus.

HebrewsOld Testament QuoteProves that…
Hebrews 1:5Psalm 2:7Jesus is God’s only begotten son
Hebrews 1:52 Samuel 7:14God is His Father; Jesus is the Son
Hebrews 1:6Psalm 97:7 (or Deut. 32:43Jesus is to be worshipped by the angels
Hebrews 1:7Psalm 104:4Angels are His ministers
Hebrews 1:8-9Psalm 45:6-7Jesus is God forever and ever
Hebrews 1:10, 11-12Psalm 102:25-27Jesus is immutable and eternal
Hebrews 1:13Psalm 110:1Jesus is honored as victor over all

One commentator notes that this was a common ancient practice, adducing a quantity of texts “to offer so much evidence that your listeners shook their heads in agreement with you by the end of these quotations” (Guthrie, p. 67).

The quotation in verse 5 begins with “to which of the angels did God ever say…? The passage also ends, in v. 13 with the same statement, forming an inclusio.

The quotation in verse 5 is from Psalm 2:7, “I will tell of the decree: The LORD said to me, “You are my Son; today I have begotten you.”  This verse pinpoints the time of Jesus’ begetting as the resurrection, when he was declared “Son.”  This verse, in its Old Testament context, was part of a coronation liturgy used by the Davidic dynasty.  On the day of coronation, he would be known as “Son.”  For Jesus Christ, that coronation took place at His resurrection.

The whole Psalm presents a glorious kingdom quashing rebellion and becoming an eternal kingdom.  It is alluded to in Luke 1:32, starting in verse 30…

30 And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31 And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, 33 and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”

The eternal Son of God “… entered into the full exercise of all the prerogatives implied by His Sonship when, after His suffering had proved the completeness of His obedience, He was raised to the Father’s right hand” (F. F. Bruce).

When you “beget” something, you “beget” something of the same kind as yourself.  Thus, Jesus has the exact same nature as the Father.  He is equally God.

In the Old Testament context, this verse was about Solomon, whom God would love and discipline as a son (of the Davidic covenant, 2 Samuel 7).  But the ultimate application is to Jesus Christ, the greater Solomon (Matthew 12:42).

Son of God is a title that referred to the Davidic kings (2 Sam. 7:14) and specifically to Jesus Christ: God the Son (Mark 1:11; Luke 1:32). 

The use of the word “begotten” throws some, thinking that this must mean that Jesus Christ had a beginning, that He is not, in fact, eternal.  First, recognize that this verse, nor any other, says that Jesus was “made” or “created.”  That he was begotten just speaks to his role as Son, not to His eternal nature.

Aside from that, where it speaks of Jesus being “begotten” in John’s gospel (John 1:14, 3:16), it uses the term monogenes.  Actually, the word “to beget” is gennao, with two “n’s.”  This word is genes, which means “kind” or “race.”  Thus, a better translation, rather than “only begotten,” is “one of a kind,” or “unique.”

He is the unique Son of God, there is none like Him in all creation.

According to Jewish thought, a person’s name revealed his essential nature and could express rank and dignity.  Jesus had the name “Son” from all eternity, and it is the name he will always keep, as the perfect tense of the phrase “the name he has inherited” indicates.

The second quotation, from 2 Samuel 7:14 or 1 Chronicles 17:13, like the first, ties in with the Davidic Covenant and advances the previous point.

Or again, “I will be his Father, and he will be my Son”

Not only is Jesus the Son of God, but He is also the promised son of David (Luke 1:32-33, 68-69; Rom. 1:3).  Even though Jesus Christ was always God’s eternal Son (in eternity past), in human history He becamethe Son prophesied to rule over David’s house.  He received permission to rule the whole earth after His ascension (cf. Ps. 2:8).

To summarize, the title Son refers to Jesus in three separate respects: He was always the pre-existent Son (v. 3a-b; cf. 5:8), He became the incarnate Son at His birth (v. 2a), and He became the exalted Son when He returned to heaven.

In all three ways Jesus is superior to the angels.

God never said to an angel, “You are my son.”  However, he said that several times to Jesus Christ.

First, at his baptism.

16 And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; 17 and behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” (Matthew 3:16-17)

Then on the Mount of Transfiguration, in Matthew 17:5:

He was still speaking when, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.”

At his resurrection (Psalm 2:7; Rom. 1:4; Heb. 5:5)

concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord, (Romans 1:3-4)

You will notice in verse 3 that Jesus was already God’s Son, but he was “declared to be the Son of God in power” when He rose from the dead.

So F. F. Bruce said:

“The eternity of Christ’s divine sonship is not brought into question by this view; the suggestion rather is that he who was the Son of God from everlasting entered into the full exercise of all the prerogatives implied by his Sonship when, after his suffering had proved the completeness of his obedience, he was raised to the Father’s right hand” (F. F. Bruce, Epistle to the Hebrews, p. 54).

The early church understood these passages to refer to the induction of Jesus into His royal position as King of the universe at the time of His resurrection and exaltation to the Father’s right hand.  These events vindicated Jesus as the Jewish Messiah and inaugurated His kingdom.

Seven Realities about Our Amazing Jesus, part 3 (Hebrews 1:2b-3)

Oh, how rich this passage is.  Now, for the third week, we are mining the depths of this glorious expression of who Jesus, the Son, is, in Hebrews 1:2-3.  We are picking it up today in verse 3…

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,

Fifth, Jesus “upholds the universe by the word of his power.”

The Son who created the universe (Heb. 1:2), now upholds it by means of His powerful word.  The present tense verb indicates the continuous word going out to sustain His creation.

Unlike the mythic Atlas, who passively upholds the world upon his back, straining under the weight, the Son of God upholds the universe with just the word of His mouth.  Here the word is rhema rather than logos, to emphasize the spoken utterance.

In His earthly ministry Jesus constantly demonstrated the power of His word.  He could heal, forgive, cast out demons, calm nature’s fury all at the expression of one word.  Here we see that His word is so powerful that it can uphold all things.

“And this,” says Chrysostom on this place, “is a greater work than that of the creation.” By the former all things were brought forth from nothing; by the latter are they preserved from that return unto nothing which would be their natural course.

He holds the atomic elements, the quarks and leptons together through superstrings.  These particles are flying around, bumping into one another, totally chaotic.  If Christ weren’t actively speaking sovereign control, it would dissolve with a great conflagration at once.

We base our very lives on the constancy and dependability of what we call the “laws of the universe.”  When things get out of whack (like tornadoes and earth quakes) it messes up our lives—and those are just little things.

Imagine what would happen if the earth’s rotation slowed down just a little bit.  We would either burn up or freeze.  If it sped up, we would be blown off the face of the earth!

If our moon did not retain its exact distance from the earth, the ocean tides would inundate the land twice daily—although just once would be enough to wipe out all life.

If the ocean floors were merely a few feet deeper than they are, the carbon dioxide and oxygen balance of the earth’s atmosphere would be completely upset and no plant or animal life could exist.

Tides come in and our heart beats because of the sustaining word of Christ.

It would be impossible to conduct science experiments if the universe did not run in an orderly fashion, as it does, only because Jesus Christ sustains it by the word of His power.

Hey, if Jesus can do all this, without any effort and at once, surely he can take care of our lives, right?

Jim Gerrish quips, “Our immediate universe is thus not helio-centric but huio-centric, huio being the Greek word for ‘Son.’”

Unlike the Deists, who believed that, yes, God created the world, but then he left it to run on its own and has no current interactions with His creation, the author of Hebrews says that Christ not only created this universe, but has an active part in keeping it running.

We base our entire lives on the continuance, the constancy, of laws.  When something such as an earthquake comes along and disrupts the normal condition or operation of things even a little, the consequences are often disastrous.  Can you imagine what would happen if Jesus Christ relinquished His sustaining power over the laws of the universe?  We would go out of existence.  If He suspended the law of gravity only for a brief moment, we would all perish, in unimaginable ways.  (John MacArthur Jr., The MacArthur NT Commentary: Hebrews, 16-7)

Because Christ is actively sustaining the universe it is a cosmos rather than a chaos, an ordered and reliable system instead of an erratic and unpredictable muddle, only because Jesus Christ upholds it. 

Without Christ’s active, providential involvement this universe would fly apart.  Paul, in Colossians 1:16-17, says it like this:

16 For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities–all things were created through him and for him. 17 And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.

Because Christ sustains everything, nothing in creation is independent from him.  All things are held together in a coherent or logical way, sustained and upheld, prevented from dissolving into chaos.  In him alone and by his word, we find the unifying principle of all life.  He is transcendent over all other powers.  (Bruce Barton, Life Application Bible Commentary: Hebrews, 5)

A. W. Pink notes:

Glimpses of this flashed forth even in the days of His flesh.  The winds and the waves were subservient to His word.  Sickness and disease fled before His command.  Demons were subject to His authoritative bidding.  Even the dead came forth in response to His mighty fiat.  (Arthur W. Pink, An Exposition of Hebrews, 38)

As the Creator and Sustainer, He brings the universe to its desired end, so that in the fullness of time He will “unite all things in him, things in heaven and on earth” (Eph. 1:10).  He is working all things according to His purpose (Eph. 1:9).

And if Christ upholds all things effortlessly, then He can uphold you and me.  As Charles Spurgeon said: “If the word of His power upholds earth and heaven, surely, that same word can uphold you, poor trembling heart, if you will trust him”.  (Charles Spurgeon, Spurgeon Commentary: Hebrews, 10).

Sixth, Jesus “made purification for sins.

Here we pass from the grand statements about the divine-human character of Jesus and His cosmic activities, to the personal, redemptive work He has done for us.  He is not only all-powerful; He is full of love for you and me.

Philip Hughes also notes that whereas Jesus is (now) the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of His nature and is (right now) upholding all things by the word of his power, the writer turns intentionally to the past tense here to indicate what Christ did as our high priest, that it was done once for all.  Ceaseless cosmic activity, and then boom! his once-and-for-all sacrifice for our sins. 

With the statement about the Son’s having effected purification of sins, the author comes to what is for him the heart of the matter.  His whole epistle shows that the thing that had gripped him was that the very Son of God had come to deal with the problem of man’s sin.  He sees him as a priest and the essence of his priestly work as the offering of the sacrifice that really put sin away.  The author has an unusual number of ways of referring to what Christ has done for man:  The Savior made a propitiation for sins (2:17).  He put sins away so that God remembers them no more (8:12; 10:17).  He bore sin (9:28), he offered a sacrifice (thysia) for sins (10:12), he made an offering (prosphora) for sin (10:18), and brought about remission of sin (10:18).  He annulled sin by his sacrifice (9:26).  He brought about redemption from transgressions (9:15).  In other passages the author speaks of a variety of things the former covenant could not do with respect to sin, the implication in each case being that Christ has now done it (e.g., 10:2, 4, 6, 11).  It is clear from all this that the author sees Jesus as having accomplished a many-sided salvation.  Whatever had to be done about sin he has done.  (Frank E. Gæbelein, Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Vol. 12, 14-5)

Other prophets gave instructions about what we must do to be reconciled to God.  Jesus, on the other hand, did the work on our behalf.  He did for us what we couldn’t do for ourselves (made purification for sins).  This is not a present tense action that we have a part in.  Jesus has already done this.  It is over and done with.

The Jewish people had a sacrificial system to cover over their sins.  It was a great picture of what Jesus would do, but it was never complete.  Sacrifices were offered daily.  Each family had to participate at least yearly.  The priest was always standing by the altar.  Imagine what the altar looked like, with the blood of hundreds of thousands of animals offered daily for hundreds of years.  Our author will go into this more deeply in Hebrews 7-10.

Listen to Hebrews 7:27

27 He has no need, like those high priests, to offer sacrifices daily, first for his own sins and then for those of the people, since he did this once for all when he offered up himself.

Also, Hebrews 9:12-14

12 he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal (how long? “eternal”) redemption. 13 For if the blood of goats and bulls, and the sprinkling of defiled persons with the ashes of a heifer, sanctify for the purification of the flesh, 14 how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God.

Then in verses 25 and 26 he once again contrasts the continuing work of the priests with Christ’s completed work:

25 Nor was it to offer himself repeatedly, as the high priest enters the holy places every year with blood not his own, 26 for then he would have had to suffer repeatedly since the foundation of the world.  But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself.

The priesthood of Jesus is a major theme in the book of Hebrews.  What our author wanted his audience (and us) to know is that Jesus has done everything that was necessary to bring about the instant, complete, eternal, never-to-be-repeated purification of our sins.

The Law said, “Do this and live.”  Jesus says, “Trust this and live.”

Let’s break this down.

“He” refers to Jesus.  This is the same Jesus who created and sustains all things.  The same Jesus who is truly and fully God.  Yet He is also man, having taken on flesh, and therefore able to die for our sins.  So the personal cost was paid by Jesus Christ.

“Of sins” tells us what the problem is.  This is why Jesus died on the cross.  This word occurs 25 times in the book of Hebrews.  It is the word hamartia, which means “missing the mark.”  Our lives are supposed to glorify God, but our bent nature means that we always miss that mark, living for ourselves rather than God’s glory.

Sin is a grave reality with terrible consequences.  It results in judgment and death.  “The wages of sin is death” (Rom. 3:23).  Because we are sinners we are “children of wrath” (Eph. 2:3), already condemned (John 3:18).

“Had made purification” is the way Jesus solved that problem.  The word katharismos has the idea of both cleansing and removal.  Our sins had defiled us, making us unacceptable to God.  Jesus purified us through His death on the cross.

Behind this treatment of this subject stands the Old Testament concepts of the Day of Atonement (Leviticus 16) and the blood of the covenant (Exodus 12, 24).

Again, it was through Jesus’ willing and gracious offering of Himself that purification is made.  Peter said in 1 Peter 1:18-19…

18 knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, 19 but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot.

Having created the vast universe and sustaining it by a mere (but powerful) word should give us a sense of wonder and awe; but the grace and mercy which motivated Jesus Christ to give His life so that we might be forgiven, should surely bring forth a deep sense of grateful indebtedness offered from our knees.

And this accomplishment has as its proper sequel the seventh on the present series of fact which bring out the unequaled superiority of Jesus Christ, God’s Son.

And seventh, Jesus “sat down at the right hand of the majesty on high.”

Once again, our author puts this in the past tense.  This action was completed when Christ ascended.  His redemptive work is done.

Jesus offered Himself once for all as the perfect sacrifice for sins and then He sat down.  There was nothing left to do.  As He said from the cross, “It is finished.”  Everything has been done for forgiveness to be offered.  It has been “paid in full.”

The overarching significance here is that priests never sat down.  The Levitical priests always were standing, standing, standing—because no sacrifice was complete.  They had to offer them day after day and year after year.  By the way, there was no place to sit in the sanctuary because it was never appropriate for them to sit.

The borders of the high priest’s garment was sewn with bells so the people could hear him moving inside the Holy of Holies—and thus know he had not been struck dead.  See him enter the Holy Place trembling as he bore the sacrificial blood before the glowing mercy seat.  There he entered and stood year after year, high priest after high priest, for the work was never done.

But Jesus, a high priest after the order of Melchizedek, sat down. “And every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins.  But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God” (Hebrews 10:11, 12).  From the cross Jesus shouted, “It is finished” (John 19:30) and then, reassured, took his seat forever.

What could not be accomplished under the Old Covenant, even after centuries of sacrifices, was accomplished once by Jesus Christ for all time.  (John MacArthur Jr., The MacArthur NT Commentary: Hebrews, p. 20)

Jesus’ colossal work underlines the utter blasphemy of the thought that we can pay for our own sins with works of righteousness.  There is only one way to purity, and that is through the blood of Christ; not the blood of bulls and goats.

The only way to justification is by faith in his blood (Romans 3:25; 5:9).  Paul says, “But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it—the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe” (Romans 3:21, 22).

This sentence not only communicates that Christ’s work as redeemer is finished, but that His rule as King has commenced.  He has taken the choice place, the highest place (at the father’s right hand), of honor and glory and authority in relation to the Father (cf. Eph. 4:10; Phil. 2:9; Luke 22:69).

Christ’s kingship was inaugurated when He ascended to heaven, so that now when we trust in Christ we are “transferred from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of His dear son” (Col. 1:13).

But this is not the final and fullest display of Christ’s kingly authority.  In Ephesians 1, Paul prays that they would become aware of the hope of their calling, the riches of their inheritance and the great power available to them, that power was demonstrated in raising Jesus from the dead and “seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come” (Eph. 1:20-21).

That age to come is when Christ will return to sit upon the throne of David (Isa. 9:6-7; Dan. 2:44; 7:13-14; et al.). Jesus will begin His rule over Israel and the whole world on earth as the Davidic Messiah after He returns to the earth at His second advent (Rev. 20:1-6).

Jesus being enthroned at the right hand of God goes back to Jesus’ own application of the opening words of the divine oracle of Psalm 110: “Sit at my right hand.”  Paul expresses the same thought in Philippians 2:9, “Therefore God exalted him to the highest place…”

Psalm 110 provides the key text of this epistle and the significance of Christ’s being seated as a high priest at God’s right hand is explicitly set forth in the following chapters, where it is contrasted with the Aaronic priests who remain standing because their sacrificial service never comes to an end.

But having sat down doesn’t mean that all His work is done.  He is not inactive in heaven—besides ruling His church, He is praying for us.  He sat down so that he could intercede for us before the Father, using His hard-won authority.  That is why we pray in Jesus’ name.

Paul, in Romans 8:34, writes: “Who is to condemn?  Christ Jesus is the one who died–more than that, who was raised–who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.”  He doesn’t condemn us for our sins—they’ve been paid for by Christ—but is praying for us.

The author of Hebrews adds:

Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them.

The glory associated with Moses and Elijah was so eclipsed by the infinitely greater glory connected with Christ, that they faded from view.

Now it is something very much like this that we see here all through the Hebrews’ Epistle.  The Holy Spirit takes up one object after another, holds each one up as it were in the presence of the all-excellent “Son,” and as He does so, their glory is eclipsed, and the Lord Jesus is “found alone.”  The prophets, the angels, Moses, Joshua, the Levitical priesthood, the OT men of faith, each come into view; each is compared with Christ, and each, in turn, fades away before His greater glory.  Thus, the very things which Judaism most highly esteemed are shown to be far inferior to what God has now made known in the Christian revelation.  (Arthur W. Pink, An Exposition of Hebrews, 29)

Thus, the greatness of the Son of God receives sevenfold confirmation, and it appears, without being expressly emphasized, that he possesses in himself all the qualifications to be the mediator between God and the human race.  He is the Prophet through whom God has spoken his final word; he is the Priest who has accomplished a perfect work of cleansing for his people’s sins; he is the King who sits enthroned in the place of chief honor alongside the Majesty on high.  (F. F. Bruce, The New International Commentary on the NTHebrews, 50)

Deity is not to be explained, but to be adored.  The sonship of Christ is to be accepted as a truth of revelation, to be apprehended by faith, though it cannot be comprehended by the understanding.  (Charles Spurgeon, Spurgeon Commentary: Hebrews, 6-7)

Here is the final answer to the cults.  Jehovah’s Witnesses teach that Jesus Christ was nothing more than an angel, the highest created angel.  They identify Him with Michael, the Archangel.  But this passage in Hebrews utterly demolishes that theory, for Christ is a Son and not an angel. To what angel did God ever say, Thou art my Son?  (Ray C. Stedman, How to Live What You Believe, 13)

Seven Realities about Our Amazing Jesus, part 2 (Hebrews 1:2b-3)

Last week we began looking at how the author of Hebrews amasses evidence that Jesus is superior to the angelic beings, even though He came in the flesh.

We are looking at Hebrews 1:2b-3

1 Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, 2 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. 3 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,

We had discussed the first description of the Son as “heir of all things” and were discussing this second description as the one “through whom [God] created the world.”  So, we’re going to finish His work in creation before moving on in our passage.

He created all things, we have created nothing.  He can do it ex nihilo, out of nothing.  Only God can do that!

God was sitting in heaven one day when a scientist said to Him…

“God, we don’t need you anymore. Science has finally figured out a way to create life out of nothing – in other words, we can now do what you did in the beginning.”

“Oh, is that so? Explain…” replies God. “Well,” says the scientist, “we can take dirt and form it into the likeness of you and breathe life into it, thus creating man.”

“Well, that’s very interesting… show Me.”

So the scientist bends down to the earth and starts to mold the soil into the shape of a man. “No, no, no…” interrupts God, “Get your own dirt.”

God created from scratch—there was absolutely nothing here.  No raw elements.  So God created those (Genesis 1:1-2) and then shaped and filled it (Genesis 1:3-31).

Neither did this world come about by chance and time, but rather through the active, creative power of God.  He spoke, and the universe began.  The active agent of creation was the word, and Jesus is that Word.

John 1:1-3 says

1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made through him [there’s that word of active agency again, “through him”], and without him was not any thing made that was made.

In other words, Jesus made all things and there is nothing that exists that Jesus did not make.  Nothing.

If He is the creator of all things, then He is not a created being Himself.

That’s important because Arius, back in the 3rd century, argued that “if the Father begat the Son, he that was begotten had a beginning of existence: and from this it is evident, that there was a time when the Son was not. It therefore necessarily follows, that he [the Son] had his substance from nothing.”

Jehovah Witnesses and Mormons believe in this same idea today.

Arius stumbled over words such as “begotten” and “firstborn,” thinking that these words signaled a beginning for Christ, and if a beginning, then He too was created.  He held that Christ had a “similar” nature to the Father, as the only begotten, but Arius was condemned at the Council of Nicea, which maintained that Christ had the “same” nature as God.

In his “Four Discourses Against the Arians,” Athanasius reports that Arius stated, “God was not always a Father… Once God was alone, and not yet a Father, but afterwards He became a Father. The Son was not always… [He was] made out of nothing, and once He was not.”

But the Scriptures we’ve looked at today, especially John 1:3, tells us that Christ created “all things.”  He was Creator, not created.  His eternal existence is expressed in John 1:1 and John 8:58—“In the beginning (already) was the Word…”

John Piper asks the question, “why is the Son described first as the “heir of all things” and second as the one “through whom God made the world?”  That seems backwards.  You create first, then possess.

He suggests that what the author of Hebrews is doing is starting with the most significant, most important issue.  In other words, if I am called to stake my life on something, and may literally lose my life for it, don’t I ultimately want a Savior who is heir of all things and makes it possible for me to experience everlasting joy?

Sure, it is glorious that He created all this, but what I need is a word of surety about my future.  What is it all going to come to?

Well, the author of Hebrews starts by saying that it all wraps up in Christ.

So we have a double reason to give heed to the Son of God.  He is heir because He made it all and He was appointed heir because He died and rose again to redeem for himself a people and to destroy all enemies, including Satan, and everything that has ruined our lives.

He can make good on his word because he is God, because he is Creator, and because he is the Triumphant Heir over all evil and misery. This is a better word than anything the prophets ever spoke in many ways in the Old Testament.

The Son, to whom all of creation will be subjected in the end (cf. 1 Cor 15:28; Heb 1:13; 2:5, 8), is he through whom it originated in the beginning.  (George H. Guthrie, The NIV Application Commentary: Hebrews, 47).

Now, Philip Edgecumbe Hughes notes that the next two descriptions of Christ, as the “radiance” of God and the “exact representation of his nature” may seem to make Christ less than God.  Isn’t a radiance a mere emanation and a copy, however perfect, something other than the real thing?

Chrysostom, in the 4th century, had to encourage a church being torn apart by Christological controversies, not to be “sick of the disease of Marcellus and Photinus,” whose doctrines were among those condemned at the Council of Constantinople.

However, I do believe that it is possible to see in this language precisely what is needed to arrive at a correct understanding of the relationship between the Father and Son—a relationship that requires both sameness and distinctiveness.

Third, Jesus is the “radiance of the glory of God.”  The ancient Greek word for brightness is apaugasma, which speaks of the radiance that shines from a source of light.

Glory is often viewed metaphorically as light (e.g., Isa. 60:1, 192 Cor. 4:4–6Rev. 21:23), and here the Son is that glorious light of God.

In this sense, Jesus is the “beam” of God’s glory.  We have never seen the sun, only the rays of its light as they come to us.  Even so, we have never seen the God the Father, but we see Him through the “rays” of the Son of God.  In this way we have seen His brilliance.

Light comes to us in two forms: radiant and reflective.  There is a vast difference between the two.  The moon reflects light, but the sun radiates light because it is its source.

The run radiates at 15,000 degrees.  That heat-light radiates through the heavens 93 million miles away, through the earth’s atmosphere, and heats up our planet just right.  If you stand out in the sunlight very long, you are likely to get a sunburn.  But I bet you’ve never gotten a moon burn.

We reflect God’s glory; it is not inherently ours by nature.  But Jesus radiates it because that is His nature.

Jesus is more like the rays of the sun than the reflection of the sun on the surface of the moon.  He is the manifestation of God to us.

This is nothing less than the essential glory of God himself, corresponding to the shekinah glory which in the OT signified the very presence of God in the midst of his people.  It was the radiant glory of Yahweh’s presence which settled as a luminous cloud on Mount Sinai when Moses went up to meet with God (Ex 24:15ff.), and which was seen at the door of the tabernacle when Yahweh “used to speak with Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend” (Ex 33:9ff.).  It was, moreover, the glory manifested resplendent cloud of the shekinah (Mk 9:22ff., par.), an event which reflection of a glory not his own:  the apostles who were present were witnesses for a brief while of the glory which the Son had with the Father before the world was made (Jn 17:5).  The brilliant light, brighter than the midday sun, seen by Paul at his encounter with the Risen Jesus on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:3; 22:6; 26:13) was the same radiant glory of the divine presence.  (Philip Edgcumbe Hughes, A Commentary on the Epistle to the Hebrews, 42)

Looking at Christ in the way we see most fully the glory of God.  It is the glory of God in the face of Christ that we need to see for salvation.  Paul puts it like this in 2 Corinthians 4:3-6:

3 And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled only to those who are perishing. 4 In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. 5 For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. 6 For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.

Verse 4 speaks of the “light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God” and Verse 6 says that God speaks to “give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.”  Jesus Christ is the visible expression of the glory of God.

Of course, Jesus revealed God in a veiled way during His incarnation.  Only on the Mount of Transfiguration did Jesus reveal a small and brief glimpse of His glory.  John, however was promised a greater glimpse of that glory, which we see in Revelation 1.

Jesus does not simply reflect God’s glory; he is part of it!  This was shown on the Mount of Transfiguration when “His clothes became dazzling white, whiter than anyone in the world could bleach them” (Mk 9:3).  It was his own essential glory, but it was also the Father’s….This is why the Nicene Creed sings of Christ, “God of God, Light of Light, Very God of Very God.”  (Kent Hughes, Preaching the Word: Hebrews, 29)

He is the “light of the world” (John 8:12) and can make our lives full of light so that we are called “children of light” (Eph. 5:8; 1 Thess. 5:5).  We can radiate the glory of God—truly but not nearly like Christ—so that people can see our light shine and give glory to God (Matt. 5:16).

Fourth, Jesus is “the exact imprint of [God’s] nature.”  The idea here is of exact correspondence.  The Greek word for “exact imprint” is charaktēr.  John Owen believes that two things seem to be intended.

  • That the Son in himself is ἐν μορφῇ Θεοῦ , “in the likeness of God,” (Phil. 2:6)
  • That unto us he is εἰκὼν Θεοῦ , “the image of God,” representing him unto us, (Col. 1:15).

He goes on to say…

The whole manifestation of the nature of God unto us, and all communications of grace, are immediately by and through the person of the Son.  He represents Him unto us; and through Him is every thing that is communicated unto us from the fullness of the Deity conveyed.

Jesus is the full and definitive representation of God, because He is God.  He is the “exact imprint,” the fully reliable expression of the real being, the essence of God.  We get a perfect picture of God when we look at Jesus Christ (John 1:18; 14:9).

Herveus insists that the Son is the express likeness of the Father “not in an external sense but in substance” and links this truth with the declaration of the Incarnate Son: “He who has seen me has seen the Father” (Jn 14:9).

Thus, the Son is identical in substance to God, being himself fully God.  In all attributes and abilities, the Son is exactly like the Father. 

Philip Edgecumbe Hughes says, “The principal idea intended is that of exact correspondence.  This correspondence involves not only an identity of the essence of the Son with that of the Father, but more particularly a true and trustworthy revelation or representation of the Father by the Son” (A Commentary on the Epistle to the Hebrews, p. 43).

This is saying that Jesus exactly, and faithfully, represents God to us.  Maybe you’ve heard someone say, “He’s the spitting image of his father,” meaning he looks just like him.  Maybe you’d even mistake one for the other.

By the way, that colloquialism has nothing to do with spewing spittle out of our mouths.  It was originally “spirit and image.”  Some say, “He’s the carbon copy of his father.”  It’s the same idea, but not quite.  A human son is never exactly like his father, but Jesus Christ IS exactly like His Father.

When you see Jesus, you see the Father.  Christ, the Son, is the visible image of the invisible glory of God.  The invisible God can be seen and known in the Person of Jesus Christ.

Paul said it like this: “For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily” (Col. 2:9).  In essence, Jesus is just as much God as the Father, but He is a distinct person.  Because He has the same nature, He is the perfect visible representation of God to us.

The prophets could only tell God’s people what they saw and heard.  Jesus was God himself–his message was firsthand.  (Bruce Barton, Life Application Bible Commentary: Hebrews, 5)

The whole point: Jesus was a fundamentally different type of message from God.  Other prophets gave the word of God; Jesus is the Word of God.

When you take the radiance and the representation together, you get a very strong expression of the likeness between the Father and the Son—that they are the same in nature, though distinct in person.  As radiance he is part of the source flowing out and being seen.  As representation he is distinct from that source.

John says, “The Word was God…and the Word was with God.”  This too expresses the sameness and the distinctiveness of the Son.  He is the same in essence with the Father, but distinct in person.

“The apostle, calling the Son of God ‘the stamp of the Father’s hypostasis’ [nature, v. 3], doubtless assigns some subsistence to the Father wherein he differs from the Son” said John Calvin (Institutes of Christian Religion, 1.13.2)

Jesus is a superior revelation of God.  When we see him, we know just what the God of the universe is like.  We know how he thinks.  We know how he talks.  We know how he relates to people.  God has spoken in his Son.  It is his ultimate communication, his final word, his consummate eloquence.  Oh, the superiority of the Son!

Here we have the reality of that doctrine we call the Trinity.  Although that word is not found in the Scriptures, the concept is.

Even as early as the opening chapter of Genesis we find God speaking “Let us make man in our image…” (Gen. 1:26).  We find not only God creating, but the performative word (cf. John 1:1-3) and the Spirit (Gen. 1:3).

The biblical teaching on the Trinity embodies four essential affirmations:

  1. There is one and only one true and living God.
  2. This one God eternally exists in three persons—God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.
  3. These three persons are completely equal in attributes, each with the same divine nature.
  4. While each person is fully and completely God, the persons are not identical. The differences among Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are found in the way they relate to one another and the role each plays in accomplishing their unified purpose.

From Genesis to Revelation, the Bible clearly affirms monotheism—that there is only one God.  Every morning the faithful Jew would repeat a prayer known as the Shema: “Listen, Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one” (Deut. 6:4).  Isaiah also speaks with clarity that there is no God but one (Isa. 43:10; 44:6; 45:5; see 1 Cor. 8:4). Jesus too affirms this belief when explaining the greatest commandment (Mark 12:29).

The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are clearly distinguished from each other by the way they interact with one other in personal ways. For example, at Jesus’s baptism, as the Holy Spirit descends on the Son, the Father says, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well-pleased” (Luke 3:22).

All three persons of the Trinity are fully God. The Father is repeatedly called God (1Cor. 8:6; 1 Pet. 1:3).  Paul writes, “Blessed is the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Eph. 1:3).  The Son is called God on numerous occasions (John 1:1; Rom. 9:5; Titus 2:13–15; Heb. 1:8; 2 Pet. 1:1).  For instance, Thomas boldly calls Jesus, “My Lord and my God” (John 20:28).  Finally, in the inception of the church, Ananias and Sapphira dropped dead after lying to the Holy Spirit since they had “not lied to people but to God” (Acts 5:1–4).

Seven Realities about Our Amazing Jesus, part 1 (Hebrews 1:2-3)

John Piper says…

“We are all starved for the glory of God, not self.  No one goes to the Grand Canyon to increase self-esteem.  Why do we go?  Because there is greater healing for the soul in beholding splendor than there is in beholding self.  Indeed, what could be more ludicrous in a vast and glorious universe like this than a human being, on the speck called earth, standing in front of a mirror trying to find significance in his own self-image?  It is a great sadness that this is the gospel of the modern world.  The Christian Gospel is about “the glory of Christ,” not about me.  And when it is—in some measure—about me, it is not about my being made much of by God, but about God mercifully enabling me to enjoy making much of Him forever.”

Meditating on the glory of Jesus Christ is not easy, but it is worth the effort.  But the Puritan John Owen said…

“The person who never meditates with delight on the glory of Christ in the Scriptures now will not have any real desire to see that glory in heaven.  What sort of faith and love do people have who find time to think about many other things but make no time for meditating on this glorious subject?”

There are definitely positive benefits to meditating on the glory of Jesus Christ.  Owen goes on to say…

“By beholding the glory of Christ by faith we shall find rest to our souls. Our minds are apt to be filled with troubles, fears, cares, dangers, distresses, ungoverned passion and lusts. By these our thoughts are filled with chaos, darkness and confusion. But where the soul is fixed on the glory of Christ then the mind finds rest and peace for “to be spiritually minded is peace” (Rom. 8:6).”

Michael Reeves, in his book Rejoicing in Christ says this:

“If the Father can be infinitely and eternally satisfied in him [the Son], then he must be overwhelmingly all-sufficient for us, In every situation, for eternity.”

And John Newton, who wrote the song Amazing Grace, reminds us that “Discovering the amazingness of grace requires that we focus on the amazingness of Christ.”

When Charles Spurgeon opened this text to his congregation on the Lord’s Day evening of May 21, 1882, he gloriously announced, “I have nothing to do to-night but to preach Jesus Christ” (C. H. Spurgeon, The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit , vol. 45 (Pasadena, TX: Pilgrim, 1977), p. 385).  He was merely following the apostolic pattern.

Luke tells us that the very first Christians “kept right on teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ” (Acts 5:42 NASB).  When Philip went down to Samaria, he “proclaimed to them the Christ ” (Acts 8:5).  And when he climbed into the Ethiopian’s chariot “he preached Jesus to him” (Acts 8:35 NASB).

Immediately after Paul was converted, “he began to proclaim Jesus in the synagogues” (Acts 9:20 NASB).  Regarding his preaching, Paul told the Corinthian church that he had resolved to know nothing “except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:2).

In Colossians 1:28, Paul identifies his priority:

28 Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ.

The best thing any of us can do is to preach Jesus, whether to win someone to Christ or to build them up in the faith.

Well, this is what the author of Hebrews helps us do in our passage today.  He writes…

1 Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, 2 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. 3 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,

The Father’s favorite subject is His Son.  The Spirit promises to exalt Jesus Christ.  So we can almost feel the pleasure of the Father and the Spirit in this exalted description of Jesus Christ.

The grand theme of these verses is the supremacy of Christ as God’s final word.

First of all, the background for these exalted statements about Jesus Christ is the fact that angels were very highly regarded in the Jewish religion, primarily because they believed that thousands of angels assisted in the giving of the Mosaic law at Mount Sinai (cf. Deut. 33:2; Psalm 68:17; Acts 7:53 and Galatians 3:19).

For example, Stephen mentions, in his speech in Acts 7…

you who received the law as delivered by angels and did not keep it. (Acts 7:53)

Thus, angels were very important in the Jewish religious traditions.  So the writer of Hebrews had to deal with this and he did this in this section (Hebrews 1:2b-2:18), first by affirming the superiority of Jesus Christ by description and through Old Testament quotations in (Hebrews 1:2b-14), then by exhortation in Hebrews 2:1-4 and finally by explanation in Hebrews 2:5-18.  He shows how Jesus Christ, through possessing a human body, is still superior to these exalted angelic spirits.

The author of Hebrews has already introduced the Son as the final, fullest revelation from God.  He fully explains who God is and perfectly communicates God’s nature to us.  Now the writer of Hebrews gives us a beautiful, majestic description of who Jesus is, who “his Son” is, in seven statements.

If you want a simple way of understanding this passage, jut think of Christ as (1) the inheritor, (2) the creator, (3) the sustainer, (4) the radiator, (5) the representor, (6), the purifier, and (7) the ruler.

Why these seven descriptions, when it would be impossible to define Christ Jesus with a hundred descriptions?  Because seven is the number of completion and fulfillment.

In the movie Prince Caspian, based on C. S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia, Lucy finds herself again in the presence of Aslan and she throws her face into his mane with a big hug.  Then he rolls over, placing his huge paws around her.  The sweetness of his breath flows around her.

“Aslan,” said Lucy, “you’re bigger.”

“That is because you are older, little one,” answered he.

“Not because you are?”

“I am not.  But every year you grow, you will find me bigger.”

You see, a measure of our spiritual growth is when Jesus becomes bigger and more important in our eyes.

No matter what troubles and trials this congregation was going through, what they needed most was not “six steps to victory,” but solid teaching about Jesus Christ.  That is what we need as well.

So what does the author of Hebrews tell us about Jesus?

First of all, he has been “appointed heir of all things.”  It is natural for the writer to first emphasize that Christ the Son is Inheritor because sons are naturally heirs.

He is the Son of the most high King.  As such, he has come into his inheritance.  It is the greatest inheritance in all the world, in all of history, for He is the “heir of all things.”

God appointed Christ heir of all things.  Appointing reflects assignment to a position.  Although Jesus has always been the heir of God, his appointment came through His death and resurrection.

In Psalm 2, an enthronement Psalm for the coming Messiah, we find God sitting in heaven, laughing at the defiance of the nations.  They have never been a match for Him!  In that context, he declares…

6 “As for me, I have set my King on Zion, my holy hill.” 7 I will tell of the decree: The LORD said to me, “You are my Son; today I have begotten you. 8 Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage, and the ends of the earth your possession.

 (We know that this verse is in mind because Psalm 2:7 is quoted as referring to Christ in verse 5 of our text.)

Although the nations, indeed all creation, is in rebellion against Christ, God has ordained that through Christ’s faithful obedience and through His death and resurrection, these enemies will ultimately be subdued and all creation will bow down and acknowledge that Jesus is Lord.

Hebrews 10:12–13 says this:

Having offered one sacrifice for sins for all time, [Christ] sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time onward until his enemies be made a footstool for his feet.

So Jesus is specifically, in Psalm 2, the heir of all the nations.  But that will be expanded in chapter 2, verses 5-9, where his inheritance includes the universe and the world to come.  There “everything” will be subject to Him.

This will be gloriously fulfilled near the end of the tribulation period when Jesus returns and defeats the armies of the Antichrist.  This is expressed in Handel’s Messiah as he repeats the words of Revelation 11:15…

Then the seventh angel blew his trumpet, and there were loud voices in heaven, saying, “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he shall reign forever and ever.”

Admittedly, when Jesus was on earth during His incarnation he had nothing, no place to lay his head.  No property, no money.  He was even buried in a borrowed grave.

Yet, one day every knee will bow and every tongue confess that He is Lord (Phil. 2:10).

Philip Edgecumbe Hughes says…

“Christ is the heir of all things precisely because God has only one Son and one Heir.  Christians, it is true, are also called sons and heirs of God, but they are so not in their own right but solely by virtue of their incorporation into the only-begotten Son with whom alone God is well pleased (Mt. 3:17; 17:5; Rom. 8:14-17; Gal. 4:4-7; 1 Pet. 1:3f).  In short, apart from Christ there is no sonship and heirship.  Those therefore who desire to enjoy the privileges of the sons and heirs of God can do so only as by faith they are found in Christ” (A Commentary on the Epistle to the Hebrews, p. 39).

When Christ came the first time he came in poverty, to make us rich (2 Cor. 8:9), but when He returns a second time, it will be to take authority and receive His full inheritance, which he will share with us—because we have become “fellow heirs with Christ” (Rom. 8:16-17) through faith.

Because Christ and Christ alone is heir to all things, and we live in him, we are heirs of all. “All things are yours,” says Paul, “whether . . . the world or life or death or the present or the future—all are yours, and you are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s” (1 Corinthians 3:21–23).

A. W. Pink points out that Jesus is not here called “Lord of all things,” but heir.  We can never be “joint-lords,” but grace has made us “joint-heirs.”  Because of this the Redeemer said to the Father, “the glory which Thou gavest Me I have given them” (Jn 17:22).

The word “heir” suggests two things:  dignity and dominion, with the additional implication of legal title thereto.  The title “Heir” here denotes Christ’s proprietorship.  He is the Possessor and Disposer of all things.  (Arthur W. Pink, An Exposition of Hebrews, 31).  He is the proper heir of God.

“Heir of all things,” then, is a title of dignity and shows that Christ has the supreme place in all the mighty universe.  His exaltation to the highest place in heaven after his work on earth was done did not mark some new dignity but his reentry to his rightful place (cf. Phil 2:6-11).  (Frank E. Gæbelein, Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Vol. 12, 13)

In our author’s thought, this royal inheritance of Christ has only been inaugurated but will be consummated at the end of the age (1:13; 2:8-9).  Thus this initial proposition both affirms the present and anticipates the future rule of Christ.  (George H. Guthrie, The NIV Application Commentary: Hebrews, 47)

Second, Jesus was the instrumental agent of creation—“through whom he [God] created the world.”  Literally, He created the “ages” (aion).  He created both space and time, implying that He existed before either.

“Thus the writer of Hebrews, in a single term (aionas), unites the idea of the world existing in space with the idea of the world moving through time—no mean accomplishment” (Alva J. McClain, The Greatness of the Kingdom, p. 32).

Bishop Westcott defines aionas here as “The sum of the ‘periods of time’ including all that is manifested in and through them . . . an order which exists through time developed in successive stages” (The Epistle to the Hebrews (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1967), p. 8).

Christ created not only the physical earth, but also time, space, energy, and every variety of matter. He effortlessly created the entire universe and finished it as something good. For that reason, the creation, which was marred by humanity’s sin, longs to be restored to what it was originally (Romans 8:22)—and one day Christ will create a new and perfect heaven and earth.

The immense scope of Christ’s inheritance comes from his dual functions as Creator and Redeemer. 

Paul makes dramatic reference to this in Colossians 1:16b: “all things were created . . . for him.”  Or as some have even more graphically translated it: “All things were created . . . toward him.”

Everything in the universe has its purpose and destiny in the heir, Jesus Christ. Romans 11:36 has the same idea as it tells us that everything in the work of creation is to him—“to him are all things.”

He has also earned a vast inheritance by means of redeeming mankind to Himself through the atoning work of reconciliation on the cross.

Paul prayed that the church would have its eyes opened to “the riches of his [that is, Christ’s] glorious inheritance in the saints” (Ephesians 1:18).

Just imagine the creative power of Jesus Christ.  As we look out at this vast universe, or considered the cosmic constants that must be tuned precisely to the 100th or 1,000th degree for life to even exist on this planet, or the profundity of data within the human DNA and the amazing ways that our bodies work, we should stand in awe at the One who made it all, with just a word.

For example, “Scientists have identified 109 characteristics of our galaxy and solar system that require exquisite fine-turning for life’s existence and sustenance,” explains astrophysicist Hugh Ross, “and that’s to say nothing, yet, about the possibility of organic matter arising from inorganic” (interview, “Scientists Are Getting Warmer,” New Man, September/October 1999, p. 34).

A British mathematician at Oxford University, Roger Penrose, has calculated that the precision seen in the created universe is 1010(to the 128th power).28.  I cannot fathom how high that number is, but it must be “out of this world”!

Early Jewish Christians interpreted the role of Wisdom in Proverbs 8:22-31 as referring to the creative work of Jesus.  I love the way verses 30 and 31 express this creative cooperation between the Father and Son…

30 then I was beside him, like a master workman, and I was daily his delight, rejoicing before him always, 31 rejoicing in his inhabited world and delighting in the children of man.

The Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit were all involved in creating this universe, both the visible and the invisible, and they delighted in it, pronouncing it “very good.”  But the emphasis here is on the creative power of the Son.