The letter to the Hebrews is anonymous. Many believe that Paul wrote this book but there is compelling evidence both for and against his authorship. Some others that have been suggested as authors include: Luke, Clement of Rome, Barnabas, Apollos, Epaphras, Silas, Priscilla and others. In reality, we do not know for sure who wrote this book. The author was well schooled in the Old Testament, acquainted with their audience, capable of writing excellent Greek, and a friend of Timothy. Hebrews was written before the fall of Jerusalem in 70 AD. In light of the authors determination to demonstrate Christ’s superiority over the Aaronic priesthood and the temple sacrifices, it seems inconceivable that no mention would have been made of the destruction of the temple, the ultimate sign of rejection by God, had that event already happened. Scholars know that the book was written as the persecution of Christians was heating up. Scholars suggest a date between 60-70 AD. Not only is their uncertainty about the author of this book, but there is also ambiguity about just who this was written to. The title was not part of the original text but most scholars agree that it was written to Jewish Christians who spoke Greek and most likely used the Septuagint; the Greek translation of the Old Testament. The author seems to have been concerned that these Christians might shrink back though there seems to have been no danger of their claiming paganism. Hebrews everywhere stress the superiority of Christ to the glory of the old covenant. Against the magnificence of Herod’s temple, the worship service carried out in house churches must have seemed rather paltry. The author of Hebrews sought to warn their struggling audience that the glory of the earthly temple was but a shadow, soon to disappear. The author gave five warnings to the readers regarding their spiritual condition (2:1, 3:7, 5:11, 19:26, 12:25). Note the writers statements about Jewish customs and their explanation that Jesus brought a new covenant (of grace through faith) that is infinitely better than the old one (of obedience to the law). Pay attention to the repeated use of the words “better” and “superior”. Here are some themes to watch for as you read. First, the superiority of Christ. Hebrews presents Christ as superior to the prophets, angels, Moses, Joshua, the Old Testament priesthood and the high priest, the sacrificial system, and the sanctuary. Second, perseverance. Believer are called to a heavenward journey but must first undergo testing. Third, faith pleases God. Hebrews 11 emphasizes a faith that is exercised in numerous large and small ways. Four, discipline comes to God’s children. Hardship is the means God uses to discipline His children. Fifth, Christian living. Christians are to show hospitality, refrain from sexual immorality, guard against the love of money, do good and share with others, obey their leaders, and pray.
Ancient sermons often began with an introduction meant to grab the hearers attention and introduce the sermons first topics. In Hebrews the first four verses form a single, eloquent Greek sentence built around the main clause, God has spoken. Most English translations present these verses as several sentences for ease of reading. The author begins with two time periods, long ago and now. In both of those times, God has spoken. Long ago, in Jewish theology, referred to the time before the Messiah appeared. For the author of Hebrews this meant the Old Testament era. Throughout that past era God spoke many times and in many ways; through dreams, visions, mighty acts, stories, commands, exhortations, angelic appearances, and appearances of God Himself. The prophets were all those through whom God gave His revelation. The final days refers to the historical era inaugurated at Christ’s coming. So revelation in the Old Testament came is a wide variety of ways over the course of time but God’s ultimate revelation was given through His Son Jesus Christ. Jesus is God’s royal heir. It is possible the author was thinking about Psalm 2:8 here.
The Son radiating God’s glory is found only here in the New Testament. This indicates a level of brightness never seen before. God’s own glory is the glorious manifestation of His presence. Think the Shekinah glory here…pillar of fire by night. And the Son’s glory is an expression of God’s glory, the Son of God manifests the person and presence of God. The Son is the exact representation, a very clear picture of the very character of God the Father. God’s word is the powerful, dynamic force that created and governs the world. Elsewhere the Son is called the Word of God. (Revelation 19:13 and John 1:18). The Son has washed us clean and made us acceptable to stand before the Lord. And after He completed that, He sat down at the right hand of God. The right hand is the place of highest honor. The Son’s exalted position shows that the Son is far greater than the angels in rank and status. First century Jews were fascinated with angels and held them in high esteem, so the author of Hebrews established the Son’s superiority over them.
In verses 5-14, the rest of chapter one, the author uses a variety of Old Testament texts to show that Jesus is superior to the angels. Among ancient Jews and Christian interpreters, Old Testament passages were strung together one after the other in chain quotations called pearl stringing to convince the hearers or readers of a certain theological point by presenting a lot of scriptural evidence together. In verse five the author quotes both Psalm 2:7 and 2Samuel 7:14. By exalting Jesus to His right hand the Father proclaimed His unique relationship with the Son. He said today I have revealed you as my Son. Jesus did not become the Son at the exaltation. He had been involved in creation. The exaltation verified His identity to all. The firstborn or supreme Son shares the authority of the father, inherited most of his property, and was especially favored. In the New Testament firstborn typically refers to Christ’s supremacy in both the church and the created order. His resurrection is commonly given as the evidence for this status. The quote from Deuteronomy 32:43 once again demonstrated the lower status of the angels in regards to Christ. Not only are the angels lower than Christ but they are called to worship Him as well. Verse seven quotes Psalm 104:4 to show yet again that the angels are messengers or servants making them a lesser rank than the Son. This is the chain of quotes I wrote of just a bit earlier. Sometimes angels in the Old Testament are associated with wind and fire which is why angels are mentioned in connection with God’s Lordship over nature.
Verses 8-9 quote Psalm 45:6-7, proclaiming the Son as the divine, just, eternal, anointed king of the universe. Jesus here is addressed as God, and”your God” is a reference to God the Father. Pouring the oil of joy is an Old Testament reference to the anointing of kings. Olive oil was used to anoint kings of Israel at the inauguration of their rule. God has anointed His Son, Jesus Christ, as king. Verses 10-12 quote Psalm 102:25-27. These verses celebrate the Son as both the creator and the one who brings the created order to an end. All created things will wear out like old clothing and the Son will discard them. By contrast, the Son of God will live forever. The author ends their string of quotes with Psalm 110:1 in celebration of Christ’s exaltation. The picture of the Son’s enemies as a footstool under His feet represents their absolute subjugation. In the ancient world it was common for a victorious king to place their foot on the neck or back of an enemy as an act of domination. And one final word on angels in verse 14. They are only servants and not someone to be worshiped. God sends the angels out to care for His people, who will inherit salvation at the end of the age.
Chapter two begins with a warning, with an argument that moves from the lesser to the greater. If in the Old Testament era, people who rejected God’s Word as delivered by angels were severely punished, how much greater the punishment will be for those who now reject the Word of salvation that has been delivered by the Son Himself and confirmed by the Holy Spirit. The truth we have heard is the message of salvation delivered through Christ. The drifting away pictures a ship going off course. Here it speaks to getting off track spiritually due to not listening very carefully to the Good News. According to Jewish tradition the message God delivered, the law given on Mount Sinai, was delivered through the angels. Violations of the law were punished and that punishment was unavoidable. In verse three the author brings the full force of the danger of turning away from Jesus Christ and His salvation. There is no escape from punishment for those who walk away, and the punishment will be of the greatest severity. Salvation here refers to God’s acts on behalf of His people. For example, God saved His people from slavery in Egypt by way of the exodus. In the New Testament salvation is a reference to Christ’s work of saving people from the penalty of sin and the wrath of God. In His actions we are given new life now and eternal life after this life is over. Jesus was the first to announce the salvation He was bringing and then He validated the message through those who heard Him speak of it. God bore witness to the message by giving signs and wonders and assorted miracles and gifts of the Holy Spirit.
The author of Hebrews used Psalm 8:4-6 to transition from the discussion of Christ’s exalted divinity to the discussion of His humanity. Psalm eight is often presented along with Psalm 110:1 to speak to the submission of created things to Christ. He is the consummate human being. In His exaltation, He fulfills what fallen and sinful humanity could not. He has true and complete dominion over the created order. Again we see references to angels. They will not control the future. Psalm eight speaks of the position God had given humanity, but the author of Hebrews applies it as a prediction about Christ, who is the fulfillment and the representative head of humanity. Mere mortals speak to God’s attention to humans. The phrase Son of Man is what Jesus often called Himself. It speaks to His human existence and parallels the phrase mere mortals . For a time God made Jesus a little lower than the angels, like other human beings. But as a result of His suffering death on the cross Jesus has been crowned with glory and honor. Verse eight is a reminder that all things have been put under Jesus’ feet. Nothing is left out and all things are ultimately subject to Him. We have not yet seen the complete expression or fulfillment of this reality. That will come when Christ returns triumphantly, at the end of the age. We see Christ as a little lower than the angels as He spent time on earth. He lived a perfect life. He did not sin, not even once. He willingly gave His life up so that we could have eternal life. His suffering as fully human led to His exaltation as the Son of God who is seated at the right hand of God, in the place of highest honor.
The rest of the chapter gives us at least four reasons why the Son of God became human. First, it was only right. It is consistent with what we know of God’s character that He would accomplish salvation this way. Second, Jesus had to become human to die. Third, high priests, as detailed in the Old Testament law, had to come from among God’s people. Fourth, Jesus became a sympathetic priest, experiencing the suffering and testing we know as humans. The author here plays off their use of the title Son for Jesus throughout this section, here referring to the people of God as sons. The translation children makes it clear that this term refers to all of God’s people, male and female. The term translated leader had a wide range of meanings in the ancient world including; founder, hero, champion, prince, captain, leader, or scout. Jesus is the leader who blazed a trail for those who are saved, leading them to glory. Based on the family terminology used here, this phrase, “have the same father”, can be understood as referring to God. However, the author might have been thinking of Abraham as a common ancestor or of human nature as a common experience.
Verse twelve quotes Psalm 22:22, commenting on the phrase brothers and sisters. Psalm 22 contains profound Messianic prophecies concerning the sufferings of Christ. This Psalm shows the solidarity of the righteous sufferer, Jesus, with the people of God in praising God for His help. Verse thirteen quotes Isaiah 8:17-18 which comes from a broader Messianic context. Putting trust in Him here is Jesus putting trust in the Father’s plan for Him. And He spoke of the close relationship between Jesus and the children of God. The death of the Son of God served to break the power of the evil one and made his death ineffective. Through His sacrificial death Christ set free those who were slaves to the fear of death and dying. And more about angels. Jesus didn’t come to help them but instead, the heirs of Abraham. That would be all of us. Finally we see Jesus’ role as our merciful and faithful high priest. We will revisit this theme extensively in chapters 4:14-10:25. Suffice it to say, it was necessary for Jesus to share in our humanity.
In His Grip
Pastor Matt W