The Agora
Bible Commentary

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Hebrews 1

Heb 1:1

Vv 1-4: The superiority of God's new revelation through Jesus.

Vv 1,2: The most breathtakingly majestic commencement to a book in all of the NT. It has been said: "This is the most sonorous piece of Greek in the whole NT. It is a passage which any classical Greek orator would have been proud to write. The writer of the Letter to the Hebrews has brought to it every artifice of word and rhythm that the beautiful and flexible Greek language could provide... The writer to the Hebrews felt that, since he was going to speak of the supreme revelation of God to men, he must clothe his thought in the noblest language that it was possible to find."

While "our fathers" to whom the prophets spoke in many ways and in many times, heard their words and wondered, WE have the exquisite and supreme privilege of seeing God's revelation in its awesome and wondrous beauty. We have seen and know that the Father indeed, did leave the very best to last. We have seen His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father and know that he was full of grace and truth!

In some ways this introduction to Hebrews is most comparable to the opening verses of John 1 -- in its presentation of the Word of God made flesh in Jesus Christ. Indeed, Christ is the outgrowth -- the finished product, the full flowering -- of all previous revelations of the Will of God.

IN THE PAST GOD SPOKE TO OUR FOREFATHERS THROUGH THE PROPHETS AT MANY TIMES AND IN VARIOUS WAYS: The OT is the account of God's revelation of Himself to Israel through not only His words, but also His acts. Moreover, our author identifies himself and his readers with those to whom God spoke in the past, our forefathers. This statement is an affirmation of what the Jews have always been committed to: God has indeed spoken to us in the past through the prophets. Prophets here are to be understood as God's spokesmen, His representatives to people in every era and therefore as all the writers of Scripture, not just those referred to in the literature we designate as "the Prophets." This affirmation provides a strong sense of continuity, of reaching back; it says God began with Israel -- and revealed Himself in history, miracles, types, rituals, psalms, and prophets -- but is even now at work in the ecclesia and in what the ecclesia believes. A unity of revelation can be seen as we move from the past into the incomparable present.

IN VARIOUS WAYS: These are two Greek words occurring only here in the NT, whose nuance is captured nicely in the NEB: "in fragmentary and varied fashion."

Heb 1:2

IN THESE LAST DAYS HE HAS SPOKEN TO US BY HIS SON: In other words, God's plan has now come to fruition; we have entered a new age (cp Heb 9:26). A fundamental turning point has been reached as God speaks climactically and finally through his Son. Any further speaking about what remains to happen in the future is but the elaboration of what has already begun. All that God did previously functions in a preparatory manner, pointing as a great arrow to the goal of Christ. This is the argument our author so effectively presents throughout the book. Christ is the goal and ultimate meaning of all that preceded, and the key to its understanding and fulfillment.

IN THESE LAST DAYS: Not so much in a chronological sense as a theological one. The cross, the death, and the exaltation of Jesus point automatically to the beginning of the end: the turning point in the plan that God has had all through the ages and the means by which His previous system of manifestation, the Law and its sacrifices, has been rendered "old" (Heb 8:13). There will be no greater revelation -- just extended developments of the greatest revelation which has already come!

BY HIS SON: This has strong OT messianic overtones, as is evident immediately in v 5, which quotes Psa 2:7, "You are my Son; today I have become your Father," and 2Sa 7:14, "I will be his father, and he will be my son." In fact, the remainder of the ch, with its numerous OT quotations, points to the unique identity of the Son as the Promised One, the Messiah designated by God to bring about the fulfillment of God's great plan and purpose.

WHOM HE APPOINTED HEIR OF ALL THINGS: In the Hebrew culture, to be a son means to be an heir, especially when one is the only or unique son. Therefore, the Son of God, by virtue of his sonship, is appointed the one who will finally possess everything. To the messianic Son of Psa 2:7 are also spoken the words, "Ask of me, and I will make the nations your inheritance, the ends of the earth your possession" (Psa 2:8). The Son -- even when yet unborn -- is thus of central significance at the beginning, in creation, and at the end, in inheritance.

UNIVERSE: "Aion"; lit "the ages": the world. What world is Christ responsible for "creating"? "The world to come, of which we are speaking" (Heb 2:5). It is the new, spiritual creation to be seen in its fullness in the Kingdom Age, that is in mind here (Isa 66:22; Rev 21:1: the "new heavens and new earth"; cp Heb 1:10). Here Barclay translates, "the present world and the world to come" (cp Heb 6:5, sw "aion").

This view of Christ's "creative" work is present also in John 1:3,4 -- which may be repunctuated: "Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made; that which has been made was life in him."). Also it is to be found in Paul (Col 1:16, "all things were created by him") and 1Co 8:6 ("through whom all things came"). The background of this view possibly lies in the concept of Divine Wisdom, which, personified, is instrumental in God's creative enterprise (Pro 8:27-31).

Heb 1:3

THE SON IS THE RADIANCE OF GOD'S GLORY: The word "apaugasma" (only here in NT), or "radiant or resplendent light", means intense "brightness", or "effulgence". Barclay effectively paraphrases: "The Son is the radiance of His glory just as the ray is the light of the sun." Other NT writers hold a similar view of Christ. In the prologue of the Gospel of John, Christ is designated as "the true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world" (John 1:9), in whom "we have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father" (John 1:14). For John, as for our author, Jesus -- the Light of the world (John 8:12) -- expresses the brilliant glory of God. There is a distinct moral element in this as well: Paul, too, speaks of the light that Christ brought, referring to "the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ" (2Co 4:6; cp 2Co 4:4).

THE EXACT REPRESENTATION OF HIS BEING: The "charakter" -- "an accurate representation in the manner of an 'impress' or 'stamp', as of a coin to a die" (NIBC); "the mark [which] is the exact impression of the seal" (Barclay). Christ is "the image of God" (2Co 4:4) and "the image of the invisible God" (Col 1:15); although in these two instances, the Gr word "eikon" is different from that used here. John expressed the same idea in the words "anyone who has seen me [Jesus] has seen the Father" (John 14:9).

SUSTAINING ALL THINGS BY HIS POWERFUL WORD: When John uses "Word" (logos) to describe Jesus, he uses a term that has both Jewish and Greek associations. For the Greek Stoic philosophers "logos" was the underlying principle of rationality that made the world orderly, coherent, and intelligible. Without using the technical term "logos", Paul argues in similar fashion: "He is before all things, and in him all things hold together" (Col 1:17). Although the author of Hebrews does not use the specific term "logos" in this passage, the idea that Christ sustains all things (ie, in the spiritual "creation"), is behind it all, and keeps it all going (as the present participle "sustaining" indicates), is parallel.

SUSTAINING: Or "upholding" (KJV). Contrast with Moses, who could not "uphold" or "bear" all the people (Num 11:14). What Moses could not do, Christ DID -- in bearing all the sins of the people, and upholding them in faith -- thru perfect obedience and a perfect sacrifice.

PURIFICATION FOR SINS: Cp Mat 8:3: "his leprosy was cleansed". Lit, "having made for himself cleansing of sins" (cp Heb 9:12).

With the insertion of this clause, the author anticipates a main argument of the book (cp Heb 9; 10): the work of the high priest is not efficacious in itself but rather foreshadows the priestly work of the one who alone can make atonement for sins. Only God in the Son can accomplish the sacrifice that makes possible the cleansing and the forgiveness of sins (see Rom 3:24-26; cp Rom 8:3). Thus the cleansing of sins rightly belongs with phrases that describe the uniqueness of the Son in his relationship to God.

HE SAT DOWN AT THE RIGHT HAND OF THE MAJESTY IN HEAVEN: This convey a sense of completion and fulfillment of God's purpose. Psa 110:1 is cited or alluded to here and in Heb 1:13 (more fully); Heb 8:1; 10:12–13; 12:2. Psa 110:4, the Melchizedek passage, is cited or alluded to in Heb 5:6,10; 6:20; and throughout Heb 7 (vv 3,11,15,17,21,24,28). Why is this psa so important to our author? Two main arguments of the epistle can be supported by Psa 110: the incomparable superiority of Christ (as revealed in his exaltation to the right hand of God) and the extraordinary high priesthood of Christ (as paralleled and prefigured by Melchizedek). The ascension of Christ to the position of power and authority at the side of the Father is the vindication of the true identity of the one who suffered and died in accomplishing the forgiveness of sins.

THE MAJESTY IN HEAVEN: A circumlocution for "God" (cp Heb 8:1) -- suggesting a Jewish reluctance to use the name of God directly.

Heb 1:4

Christ receives unlimited dominion (Dan 7:14), supreme dignity (Eph 1:20,21), and an exclusive mediatorial position (Heb 8:1).

SO HE BECAME AS MUCH SUPERIOR TO THE ANGELS AS THE NAME HE HAS INHERITED IS SUPERIOR TO THEIRS: This refers to the last clause of v 3: Christ's ascension. Earlier, he had been made a little lower than the angels (Heb 2:7-9, etc), for the express purpose of overcoming sin and death.

In this statement the author employs one of his favorite words ("kreitton") in describing the definitive and final character of the Son and his work, the comparative "superior" (lit, "better"). The word occurs thirteen times, being used in reference to the Son (Heb 1:4), Melchizedek (Heb 7:7), salvation (Heb 6:9), covenant (Heb 7:22; 8:6), sacrifice (Heb 9:23; 12:24), promises (Heb 8:6), present possession (Heb 10:34), and future expectation (Heb 7:19; 11:16,35,40).

In these introductory vv, the Son is set forth as the embodiment of the three main offices of the OT: prophet (speaking for God), priest (accomplishing forgiveness of sins), and king (reigning with God at his right hand). But he is even more than this marvelous combination of traits can express. He is the one through whom and for whom everything in God's new "creation" has been and is being created, the one who sustains this "creation", and who is the very expression of God's glory and essence. He is the one with whom not even the angels can compare. The person of Christ is the key to understanding this epistle.

Heb 1:5

Vv 5-14: OT support for this superiority: Christ is better than the angels, who brought the first covenant (Heb 2:2; Gal 3:19; Acts 7:38,53); this is supported by 7 separate quotations.

FOR TO WHICH OF THE ANGELS DID GOD EVER SAY, "YOU ARE MY SON, TODAY I HAVE BECOME YOUR FATHER"?: Psa 2 specifically refers to the "anointed" one (v 2) who will be given all the nations of the earth and who will bring judgment (vv 8,9). In the first instance this was David, but it may also be easily seen to refer to David's greater son. This Anointed One, or Messiah, is identified as uniquely related to God: "You are my Son; today I have become your Father" (Psa 2:7). Psa 2:7 is cited again in Heb 5:5, and alluded to in Heb 7:28. It is an important text in the early preaching of the gospel (see Acts 13:33) and, combined with Isa 42:1, is applied to Jesus both at his baptism (Mark 1:11 and parallels) and at the transfiguration (see Mark 9:7 and parallels; cp 2Pe 1:17). The "today" is understood most appropriately as referring to the resurrection (see Rom 1:4), or especially the ascension, given the context of our verse. God never spoke so gloriously of angels. (The angels may be called "sons of God" in Job 38:7, but it is only as a group, not as individuals!)

OR AGAIN, "I WILL BE HIS FATHER, AND HE WILL BE MY SON"?: The second of this chain of quotations also refers to a special Son, this time with words drawn from the Davidic covenant: "I will be his Father, and he will be my Son" (2Sa 7:14; see also the parallel, 1Ch 17:13). Again a king is in view, a descendant of David -- this would naturally, in the first instance, point toward Solomon. He would build a temple and with David will be at the head of a dynasty that lasts forever (2Sa 7:13,16). But such is the glorious nature of this promise that this "son of David" comes to merge with the expectation of a messianic king who will bring the final and absolute fulfillment of God's promises. The passage accordingly was seen by Jewish interpreters before the time of Jesus to have a deeper meaning than had yet been realized in any descendant of David. This passage, like Psa 2:7, was regarded as having a distinctly Last Days significance. The repeated references to Jesus in the Gospels as the "Son of David" identify him at once with the Messiah and with the Davidic covenant (see esp Luke 1:31-33 and Rom 1:3).

Heb 1:6

AND AGAIN, WHEN GOD BRINGS HIS FIRSTBORN INTO THE WORLD: Christ, being the "last Adam" (1Co 15:45), is the "firstborn" of God's new, or spiritual, creation: Col 1:15.

"The word 'firstborn', applied to the Son, is to be understood in a special sense, referring not to the creation of the Son but to his supremacy of rank. He stands at the apex of all that exists, not as one who was born first, but rather with God over against the entire created order... The preeminence of the Son is thus conveyed by the word, as also in Paul (Col 1:15,18)" (NIBC).

HE SAYS, "LET ALL GOD'S ANGELS WORSHIP HIM": The third quotation consists of words contained only in the LXX (Deu 32:43). All of God's angels must worship him, although there is also a // in Psa 97:7, "worship him, all you gods!" where the LXX has "all his angels". Most probably our author here as elsewhere depends upon the LXX and thus upon Deu 32:43 (this wording is also supported by the DSS). What is remarkable in this passage (also in Psa 97:7) is that the one who is worshiped is the Lord, or Yahweh -- and thus the Son is identified with Yahweh of the OT. This quotation is used primarily for the reference to the worshiping angels. But if the words spoken to the Lord are referring to the Son, then the Son's oneness with the Father -- Biblically understood, and properly limited -- is clearly implied.

See Lesson, Worship of Christ?

Heb 1:7

IN SPEAKING OF THE ANGELS HE SAYS, "HE MAKES HIS ANGELS WINDS, HIS SERVANTS FLAMES OF FIRE": This fourth quotation presents a description of the function of angels that puts angels in a decidedly subservient position. The source of the quotation is again the LXX (Psa 104:4). Angels are likened to the natural elements that function at God's bidding and thus are also His messengers. Angels are spirits who serve God (cp v 14). There is also an implied contrast between the changeability and transitoriness of wind and fire (and hence of the angels) and the unchanging character and permanence of the Son in v 12, "you remain the same, and your years will never end" (see also Heb 13:8). The angels are indeed God's agents, but they are distinctly subordinate agents, not of central significance, and not to be likened to God or the Son.

Heb 1:8

ABOUT: That is, "of", or concerning. Not nec "unto", as AV.

YOUR THRONE, O GOD: Citing Psa 45:6,7. Psa 45 is an ode to the king, who is God's appointed ruler. Jesus comes in the glory of the Father (Mat 16:27), and he sits on a throne appointed him by the Father (Psa 110:1), which therefore could be called God's throne.

Of course, this has always been true: the kings of Judah (like David, and Solomon) were also sitting on God's throne, and in that capacity were acting as representatives of God Himself! So it would be no matter, in this context, to speak of even mortal men as "God" -- much less the true Son of God as such. Indeed, anyone who acts on behalf of God may be called "God": (a) angels: Gen 16:13; 18:13; Exo 23:20,21; Hos 12:3,5; (b) men: Exo 22:28; Exo 22:6 and 21:8 (elohim); Psa 138:1; Joh 10:34 (cit Psa 82:1,6).

"The throne that will last for ever and ever and will be characterized by righteousness is the promised messianic kingdom with its eschatological overtones" (NIBC).

Heb 1:9

ANOINTING YOU WITH THE OIL OF JOY: "The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me: because the Lord hath anointed me to preach good tidings to the meek..." (Isa 61:1-3). This should have told the men of Nazareth plainly that Jesus was their promised Messiah -- "anointed with the Holy Spirit and with power" (Acts 10:38). This anointing with oil is also a priestly anointing (Exo 30:23-25,30,37,38), symbolizing purification, preservation, sacrifice, and dedication. Consider John 12:3; 19:39: Jesus was thus anointed both before and after his great sacrifice. It is because of this anointing that the "virgins" love him (Song 1:3; Rev 14:4). Also see Psa 133:1,2.

Heb 1:10

Vv 10-12: Heb 1; 2 was written to prove that Christ is greater than the angels. How does the quotation of Psa 102:25-27 in Heb 1:10-12 fit into this? Those words are certainly about the greatness of Yahweh, but they also describe the removing of an old creation, either (a) that of Gen 1, or (b) the Law of Moses (cp Isa 51:6,16; also cp Isa 50:3,9). Therefore the New Creation which takes its place must be better, just as the New Covenant is better than the old (Heb 8:13). The old creation (both a and b) was brought in by angels (a: Gen 1:26; Psa 33:6; b: Heb 2:2; Acts 7:35,38,53; Gal 3:19), but the New Creation is brought in by the Messiah. Therefore Messiah must be greater than the angels, because his "Creation" -- "the world to come" (Heb 1:2; 2:5) and the saints who rule it -- will continue forever! And, in Psa 102:28, the "children" of this new world can "continue" only by sharing the endless years of Yahweh (vv 26,27), that is, by undergoing a change to His divine nature. This is already true of the Messiah (v 27; Heb 13:8), and it will most surely be true of all "in him" (Heb 10:9)!

Literally speaking, the earth will of course not be burned up, despite Peter's words in 2Pe 3:10 (Isa 45:18; 11:9; Hab 2:14; Ecc 1:4; 1Ch 16:30; Mat 5:5; Psa 37:9-11; 115:16; Pro 10:30). The "new heavens and earth" will be a re-creation, or reordering, of the old. This is evident by, among other points, the fact that the new "heavens and earth" will still include a Zion and a Jerusalem (Psa 102:13,20; Isa 65:18,19). But -- as with the flood of Noah's day -- the wicked works of man will be totally destroyed (2Pe 3:5,6), and the "new" heavens and earth will solely be the dwelling place of righteousness (v 13). Or, to use the Biblical figure of speech found in this context, the heavens and earth will shed their old, tattered "garments" and replace them with bright new ones!

Heb 1:13

TO WHICH OF THE ANGELS DID GOD EVER SAY, "SIT AT MY RIGHT HAND UNTIL I MAKE YOUR ENEMIES A FOOTSTOOL FOR YOUR FEET"?: The seventh and climactic quotation introduces Psa 110:1, that passage of such fundamental importance in Heb, which was first encountered at the end of v 3. Here, again, is the ascension of Christ to the position of unparalleled honor and authority at the right hand of the Father.

UNTIL: See Lesson, AN, Conditional deferment.

Heb 1:14

ARE NOT ALL ANGELS MINISTERING SPIRITS SENT TO SERVE THOSE WHO WILL INHERIT SALVATION?: What then is a realistic estimate of angels and their function? They are ministering spirits, servants, with no royal dignity; but, as has been shown, they have a subordinate role of serving God. God's concern is not with angels, but with us, and he accordingly sends them to bring help to those who will inherit salvation (Rom 8:17). God and the Son are the source of our salvation, as the author will demonstrate so boldly in this epistle. By God's grace, his servants serve us in and toward this end. The idea of personal aid from angels builds on an OT motif (eg, Psa 91:11), recalls the ministry of angels to Jesus (Mat 4:11; cp Mat 26:53), and is meant as a note of personal comfort and encouragement (ie Psa 34:7) in the face of real difficulty for these Jewish Christians.

THOSE WHO WILL INHERIT SALVATION: "The word 'inherit' (kleronomeo) is important to the author (cp Heb 6:12, and cognate nouns in Heb 6:17; 9:15; 11:7f). This language reflects the reception of the fulfillment of the OT promises and is therefore particularly suitable for the author's purpose when he writes of the salvation received by Christians" (NIBC).

A popular false doctrine of the times was that fallen angels had had sex with humans (based, tenuously, of course on Gen 6:1-6); these vv are meant to counteract that wrong idea also: cp Lesson, Enoch, Book of.

MINISTERING SPIRITS: Cp angel wi censer; prayers of sts at golden altar (Rev 8:3, etc).

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