By Blake E. Jones
HEBREWS CHAPTER I
Without so much as a hint of salutatory greetings, the author plunges into this regal discourse to the Hebrews. Our attention is at once focused on the high and lofty One. The faithful God who has so perfectly planned and prescribed the way of salvation has declared His purpose to us through His Son. This ultimate revelation has not come through a faltering, human prophet, but by the God-Prophet, Jesus Christ. Marcus Dods has compared those of the Old Testament to "men listening to a clock striking, always getting nearer the truth but obliged to wait till the whole was heard".1 Now we are privileged to have heard the whole story as it is embodied in, declared by, and proven through the life, death and resurrection of the Son of God.
However, the implication is very clear. The Son far transcends all of the former prophets. He is of a different class entirely. He possesses a "transcendent glory in three basic relationships"2 according to Raymond Pollard's threefold trilogy of the glorious distinctives of Christ.
I. Christ's Relation To The Universe
First, we understand that our heavenly Messenger surpasses the prophets in His relation to the universe. He is the Creator "by whom also He (God) made the worlds" (v. 2). John proclaimed that "all things were made by Him and without Him was not anything made that was made" (John 1:3). No prophet could have ever claimed such power or expertise. This blessed Son spoke and worlds appeared, stars began to twinkle and birds began to sing.
The great Creator is also the Sustainer of the Universe, "upholding all things by the word of His power" (v. 3). Mr. Pollard writes, "By Him the materials were called into being and arranged in comely order. By Him also they are preserved from running into confusion, or reverting back to nothing."3 In Colossians 1:17 we discover that "He is before all things, and by Him all things consist". This simply means that Christ is holding things together by His powerful word. Peter echoes the same truth saying, "By the word of God the heavens were of old" and "the heavens and the earth, which are now, by the same word are kept in store, reserved unto fire" (II Peter 3:5,7). The smallest atom is being sustained by Jesus. Dr. Dale Yocum has so aptly underscored this by describing the nucleus of the atom. There we find positively charged protons that naturally tend to repel one another and push apart. What keeps that nucleus intact? It is Christ our Sustainer who is holding the tiniest atom together as well as our vast universe.
In Christ's connection to the universe, He is also its Possessor; for God has appointed Him "heir of all things" (v. 2). The term "heir" is to be understood "in relation to the possession, as marking the fullness of right, resting upon a personal connection, and not, as implying a passing away and a succession" according to Mr. Westcott.4 Jesus holds full right to all things for He is the Creator, the Sustainer, and the redeeming Possessor. Oh, what glory is invested in our Saviour as He sits Sovereign of the Universe.
II. Christ's Relation to the Father
Our second consideration is the transcendent glory of Christ in relation to God the Father. He is the Son (v. 2). What an exalted place Jesus holds. The Jews understood the deep implications of our Lord's claim to be the Son of God. It threw them into a frenzy for they perceived divinity to be wrapped up in the claim --and so it was! The point is simply that the Divine One has come to communicate with humanity. All He is and all He has said is to be given reverent attention and worship.
The Son is the Manifestation of God, "the brightness of His glory" (v.3). If we were called upon to explain the splendour of our God's great glory, I suppose that most of us would give an impressive list of lofty adjectives. Perhaps we would suggest descriptions such as regal, awesome, unapproachable, eternal and dazzling. Actually, the author declares that it is the Son, Jesus Christ, who is the brightness (radiance, N.A.S.) of God's glory. It is He who radiates and personifies the bright effulgence of God. Little wonder then, that John the Revelator tells us that the heavenly "city had no need of the sun, neither of the moon to shine in it, for the glory of God did lighten it and the Lamb is the light thereof" (Rev. 21:23). Just as light rays streaming from the sun reveal the sun itself, so Christ is the radiance of unapproachable light. Adam Clarke helps to explain this when he writes that "Christ is thus of the same essence with the Father, yet He is a distinct person from the Father; as the splendour of the sun, though of the same essence, is distinct from the sun itself, though each is essential to the other".5 Therefore Jesus plainly says, "He that hath seen me hath seen the Father" (John 14:9).
As we move on in verse three, the Son is further shown to be the Counterpart of God, the copy, the duplicate, the "express image of His person" (v. 3). As such Mr. Lenski states, "The Son is God in essence and has every divine attribute".6 Not only is He outwardly demonstrating God's glory, but Christ's very being is "the exact representation of His (God's) nature" (N.A.S). What clearer statement could be made as to Christ's divinity and the fact that He is coeternal with the Father?
III. Christ's Relation to the Church
Finally, we see the great glory of the Son in His wonderful relationship to the church. He is the church's Prophet --the God-Prophet. God has "spoken unto us by His Son" (v. 2). What an honour is ours; what a privilege. God has spoken! The eternal Word has condescended to speak to spiritual wreckage called humanity. His message has pointed man back to a yearning God. The Father sent Him to bear that message. Glory to God.
This heavenly Prophet did not stop with just an announcement of God's mercy, but proceeded, on behalf of the sinners of Adam's race, to act as our Priest. "He ...Himself purged our sins" (v. 3) when He offered His own body as the sacrifice of Calvary. Expiation has been provided through the blood sacrifice of Divinity. Purification for our tainted nature was made available in this purging. Westcott notes that "Christ Himself, in His own Person, made the purification: He did not make it as something distinct from Himself, simply provided by His power".7 He is the church's Priest and its perfect sacrifice. Hallelujah to the Lamb!
Having satisfied the justice of Almighty God, the Son "sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on High" (v. 3). This sitting in glory certainly leads us to envision a King on his throne. The church claims Christ as its Head and King. As we proceed in the epistle to the Hebrews, a warm welcome is made to us to enter this throne room of God's presence. Oh, that the church of Jesus Christ would know afresh the transcendent glory of the Heavenly Prophet, Priest and King.
Oh, that we would fall on our faces before Him and proclaim Him Lord and King of our lives. He is worthy for He far surpasses any messenger that our globe has ever welcomed.
Our regal God-Prophet has spoken; and His relation to the universe, to God the Father, and to the church has placed His message as the message of all messages, the revelation of all revelations and the proclamation of all proclamations. To follow any added revelation is to embrace the spurious. To revert to Judaism and the Old Testament prophets is like living in a dark room with a flickering candle when, in fact, the shutters could be thrown open allowing the glory of the noonday sun to pour in.
The heart-warming story has been told of a native who heard of Jesus for the first time at a mission station. However, when he got back to his distant home, he had forgotten the wonderful name of the Supreme One. What a loss he felt. Thus, he walked the weary miles back to the missionary. "Please tell me His name again," was the substance of his earnest inquiry. Oh that our world might know that name that is above all names --the name Jesus Christ.
To the Jewish intelligence, the angels were in a class next to God. Therefore if Christ the Son is "so much better than the angels" (v. 4), it naturally must be concluded that He is God. The theme of the remainder of this chapter is that Jesus is far superior to the angels in general, as well as to any particular rank of archangels. This superiority is demonstrated in five distinct qualifications.
I. Christ, Superior by Name (1:4,5)
Angelic beings are not being belittled or demoted in this discourse, and yet, Michael himself does not bear the lofty title of "Son". There is but one "only begotten Son" and He is with God and He is God. The first question in verse five is taken from the Old Testament and applies to the Messiah and not to angels. The quotation is drawn from Psalm 2:7 where Mr. Lenski notes that "the everlasting King Himself ...quotes Yahweh as having said to Him: 'Son of mine art Thou'".8 In Acts 4:24-28 the apostles certify that this Psalm is Messianic in nature.
The second question in verse 5 is taken from II Samuel 7:14 where Solomon is being addressed. However, the 16th verse points to another Son, an eternal Solomon, whose "throne shall be established for ever". The application, simply stated, is that never has God directed a statement of Sonship to an angel. Only Christ bears the name, Son, and in that name is deity, lordship, sovereignty, and majesty. The angels bear an excellent name, but this name by far excels theirs.
II. Christ, Superior by Worship (1:6)
At Christ's first advent, the angels sang over the Judean hillsides their songs of worship and adoration. They were merely the heralds of the great Messiah's birth. However, a very different occasion is being spoken of here as Psalm 97:7, the basis for this verse, suggests. The term "first begotten" is understood differently by various scholars. Some feel it has reference to the place of prominence that was enjoyed by the firstborn son of a Jewish family, and thus bespeaks pre-eminence and not time or even birth order. On the other hand, others understand "first begotten" to apply to the resurrection of Christ as the forerunner of a great host who have died in faith and await the resurrection of their body. At any rate, Christ the resurrected Lord is to appear "again" and at that occasion, the second advent, God the Father has given command that the angels are to worship Him. This very act of worship verifies the superiority of the One being reverenced.
III. Christ, Superior by Office (1:7-9)
Here is a beautiful lesson in contrasts. On the one hand angels fill the role or office of messengers and executives of the divine will. In antithesis to these heavenly servants, we see the Son occupying His throne and holding a sceptre of righteousness. This combination of throne and sceptre sets forth the dignity and authority of our Lord. Verse 9 recalls the inaugural anointing of the Old Testament kings and pictures the Father anointing the Son as the King of Righteousness. What a contrast is painted for us as again Christ is beyond question the superior One and very God Himself.
IV. Christ, Superior by Character (1:10-12)
10 And, Thou, Lord, in the beginning hast laid the foundation of the earth; and the heavens are the works of thine hands: 11 They shall perish; but thou remainest; and they all shall wax old as doth a garment; 12 And as a vesture shalt thou fold them up, and they shall be changed: but thou art the same, and thy years shall not fail.
In one grand sweep from creation to the creation's destruction, we are shown the glorious immutability of Jesus Christ. He is today the same as He was when He "laid the foundations of the earth" and laid out the heavens, including angelic beings. He has not diminished in strength or character. He is still, and always will be, a lover of righteousness and a hater of iniquity. On the other hand, we learn from the Scriptures that the angels were given a probationary period in which some of them chose to embrace rebellion and evil. Following their choice, they were fixed in an unchanging position as either good or evil. However, we can cling to One who has been unchanging in His holy character for all eternity.
Adam Clarke made an interesting note in regard to the wearing out of our world and the actual etymology of the word "world". He propounds that "our word 'world' is a contraction of 'wear old'; a term by which our ancestors expressed the sentiment contained in this verse".9 Why, oh why, do we hang on so feverishly to the material things around us that will decay, wear old, and someday all be folded up and changed? May the clasp of our soul be on the hand of the Unchanging One.
V. Christ, Superior by Victory (1:13,14)
A rhetorical question sums up this section with a resounding "no" understood as the answer. Never has God spoken to an angel with such a celebrated pronouncement of victory. Verse 13 refers back to Psalm 110:1 where "the LORD" (Yahweh, the self-existent One) speaks these words to the "Lord" (Adonai, the sovereign Master). This is understood as the Father talking to the Son. The Father seats Christ, for He has victoriously accomplished His work as Redeemer of lost mankind. This is not merely a passive arrangement. Mr. Lenski points out that "this sitting is the exercise of power and authority".10 He is seated until someday a grand display of His triumph over sin, death, hell and the devil is exhibited before a trembling world. Ancient kings who succeeded in battle placed their foot on the neck of the displaced ruler as a mark of their victory. Jesus, too, will someday return riding a stomping steed and all of His enemies will be placed under His feet.
Further argument is not necessary to verify the superiority of Christ to the angels. Their highest function is to serve their Creator and "minister for them who shall be heirs of salvation" (v. 14). In apposition to Jesus, they appear far inferior even though they are heavenly beings in a class above humanity.
In looking back over this opening chapter of Hebrews, Mr. Lenski notes "that verses 4-14 are the Old Testament exposition and elaboration of verses 1-3. To believe Jesus means only to believe the Old Testament prophecies."11 Gazing up the path of unfolding truth, we discover that chapter one has laid a perfect foundation for the key verse of this epistle --chapter 7, verse 25. It is the transcendent Son who is able to save to the uttermost; and why is He thus able? First, because He is the supreme Prophet; and second, because He is superior even to angels. As such, Christ is none other than God Himself and well able to accomplish this wonderful salvation.
It seems that a great emphasis should be placed on this transcending Son in the church world. After all, who else is left to honour if the highest One is ignored. Adapted from the Presbyterian Journal comes a pithy observation:
The Glide Memorial United Methodist Church in San Francisco recently added a distinguished Jewish rabbi, Abraham L. Feinberg, to its staff as full time counsellor.
When reporters asked the rabbi, "Isn't it difficult for you to work in obviously Christian surroundings?" he replied, "Not at all, because in this church Christ is never emphasized!" In commenting on the appointment, the pastor said, "It is a great step forward into the ecumenical movement!"
When any church ceases to make Christ preeminent and proclaim Him as the only way to God, it ceases to be a New Testament Christian church, and has no heart-transforming Gospel to offer to a morally corrupt and spiritually confused world. Jesus said, "I am the way, the truth and the life: no man cometh unto the Father but by me" (John 14:6).12
1. Quoted in Charles Carter, The Wesleyan Bible Commentary, (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1972) Vol. VI, p. 32.
2. Raymond Pollard, Lois I. Crooks, Ed., Adult-Hebrews, (Overland Park, Kansas: Herald and Banner Press, 1976) Vol. X, No. 3, p.4.
3. Pollard, p. 5.
4. B. F. Westcott, The Epistle to the Hebrews, (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1952) p. 8.
5. Adam Clarke, Clarke's Commentary, (Nashville, New York: Abingdon Press) Vol. VI, p.687.
6. R. C. H. Lenski, The Interpretation of the Epistle to the Hebrews and the Epistle of James, (Minneapolis, Minnesota: Augsburg Publishing House, 1966) p. 37.
7. B. F. Westcott, The Epistle to the Hebrews, (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1952) p. 15.
8. R. C. H. Lenski, The Interpretation of the Epistle to the Hebrews and the Epistle of James, (Minneapolis, Minnesota: Augsburg Publishing House, 1966) p. 46.
9. Adam Clarke, Clarke's Commentary, (Nashville, New York: Abingdon Press) Vol. VI, p.691.
10. R. C. H. Lenski, The Interpretation of the Epistle to the Hebrews and the Epistle of James, (Minneapolis, Minnesota: Augsburg Publishing House, 1966) p. 61.
11. Lenski, p.60.
12. W. Knight, More of Knight's Timely Illustrations, (Murfreesboro, TN: Sword of the Lord Publishers) p. 163