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Explore the Bible Series

September 3, 2006

 

Background Passage: Hebrews 1:1-2:4

Lesson Passage: Hebrews 1:1-8, 14; 2:1-4

 

Introduction to the Epistle to the Hebrews:

Authorship:  The identity of person who penned this book remains a mystery to contemporary Bible students.  The epistle does not contain the customary salutation, nor does the author provide many clues about his identity. The Eastern Church affirmed Pauline authorship very early, but even the Christian scholars in Alexandria had some questions about Paul’s involvement in the composition of the work.  Clement of Alexandria postulated the Paul wrote the epistle in Hebrew; then, Luke translated the letter into Greek. The early Latin Church did not attribute Hebrews to Paul until quite late (Augustine and Jerome).  A.W. Pink and B.H. Carroll argued forcefully for Pauline authorship.

 

The Reformers rejected Pauline authorship of Hebrews, and they posed some interesting theories about the origins of the book.  Calvin argued that Luke or Clement of Rome may have written this treatise, and Luther theorized that Apollos wrote Hebrews. 

 

Modern conservative Bible scholars continue to struggle with the background issues surrounding this splendid epistle.  F.F. Bruce surmised that a second generation Christian (someone who was not an eyewitness to Jesus’ ministry) wrote Hebrews.  This person had an impressive mastery of the Old Testament and a stellar background in Greek.  He wrote in a sophisticated style and employed an advanced vocabulary.  Beyond these observations, we must acknowledge that we do not have final answers to this mystery.

 

Date: Both internal and external evidence points to an early date for Hebrews.  Having read several scholars, I conclude that the book was written during the Neroian persecution of the mid-60s.

 

Occasion and Recipients: Some Bible editions refer to Hebrews as an epistle, but the text does not fit the formula that we find in other New Testament letters.  For instance, Paul’s epistles customarily begin with a salutation identifying the author and recipients.  A quick survey of the first chapter of Hebrews highlights the fact that we find no salutation.  This convinces me that this was not a traditional letter; rather, it seems more like a theological treatise or sermon, with an epistletory conclusion (See Hebrews 13:22-24).  Clearly, the original readers came from a Jewish background.  In all probability these were Hellenistic (Greek-speaking) Jews who had converted to Christianity. In time, these believers experienced a measure of persecution for their faith.  Some stumbled under the stress of this rising mistreatment, and, in the midst of their hardship, they considered abandoning Christianity in favor of a return to Judaism.  The author encouraged his readers to remain faithful to Christ; indeed, the theme of Christ’s supremacy permeates the entire book.  The shadows, promise, and types of the Old Covenant found their fulfillment in the Lord Jesus, and recantation was unthinkable. 

Outline of the Background Passage:

 

I.                   Introduction to Hebrews (1:1-4)

A.    God’s previous means of revelation (1:1)

1.      “God spoke”: This remarkable claim affirms the authority of the Old Testament.  God did not remain silent thus leaving sinful mankind in desperate silence; instead, merciful God broke the silence by speaking to his people through the prophets.  Bruce points out that this verse affirms the principle of progressive revelation; however, he makes an important clarification.  The progression is not from the less true to the more true or from the less worthy to the more worthy; rather, it is a progression from promise to fulfillment (See Bruce’s helpful commentary on Hebrews). 

2.      “Long ago, at many times and in many ways”: God used a variety of methods in speaking to his people: theophanies, angelic messages, visions, dreams, oracles, sermons, burning bushes, tables of stone, dew-drenched fleeces, and a talking donkey!  In particular, God revealed himself through the preaching and writing of the prophets. Personal word: many Christians neglect the study of the Old Testament prophets and do so without warrant. Glance at the pages of your copy of the Scriptures.  Perhaps you, like me, find the pages of the New Testament worn and well-read.  On the other hand, you may find the pages of the Old Testament prophets nearly untouched and pristine.  We must study the entirety of God’s word and refuse to neglect any segment of God’s revelation.

B.     God’s final revelation in his Son (vv 2-4): Seven statements

1.      “whom he appointed as heir of all things”: There are other heirs in the Lord’s household, but to Christ alone belong the prerogatives of this unique sonship (See Psalm 2:8).  He alone governs his Father’s estate, and all other heirs receive their inheritance through the mediating of the Only Begotten of the Father. 

2.      “through whom he created the world”: The author employed a word, translated “world” in the ESV, which might be better rendered “ages.” The phrase affirms the creative work and lordship of Christ over time and space.

3.      “He is the radiance of the glory of God”: This phrase designates Christ as the embodiment of the immeasurable wisdom of God.  Christ is the shining effulgence of God in a dark world of sin (See John 8:12). 

4.      “and the exact imprint of his nature”: Christ bears the imprint and all the marks of divinity.  He is the exact representation of the Father (See Colossians 1:15).

5.      “he upholds the universe by the word of his power”: Previously, the writer affirmed Christ’s activity in the creation of the universe; now, the text reveals the Son’s role in sustaining the created order.  This phrase indicates that the Lord preserves creation, but it also teaches that he sovereignly moves the world toward its appointed purpose.

6.      “after making purification for our sins”: The tense of the verb indicates an action that took place at a particular moment of time.  Christ, at the appointed moment, cleansed his people of their sins. This action, of course, denotes the defilement of sin and the Lord’s gracious cleansing for our transgressions.

7.      “he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high”: Unlike the Aaronic priesthood, our Great High Priest finished his work and sits enthroned at the right hand of the Father.  The Son’s proximity to the father indicates his unique status as the heir of all things and highlights Christ work as the believer’s mediator. 

 

Application:  These few verses delineate the three-fold office of Christ: prophet, priest, and king.  As a prophet, Jesus came as God’s final and definitive self-revelation.  As priest, the Lord made purification for sin, and, as king, he sits enthroned in radiate glory in the position of honor and glory at the Father’s right hand. In a sense, the rest of the Book of Hebrews expands on the claims made in these first few verses.  The book, again and again, reinforces the writer’s convictions concerning the supremacy of Christ.  The next section, for instance, affirms Christ’s supremacy over the angels, and there follows a procession of persons and institutions that must take second place to the exalted Son.

 

 

II.                Christ’s Supremacy Over the Angels (1:5-14): The author concluded the previous paragraph with an affirmation of Christ’s superiority to the angels (See v. 4).  As a means of demonstrating the point, the text cites seven Old Testament passages that buttress the argument.

A.    Psalm 2:7 (v 5a): This passage does not deny the eternity of the Son; rather, it points to the exaltation of Christ to the throne of heaven.

B.     II Samuel 7:14a (v. 5b): A portion of the verse from II Samuel found its fulfillment in the life of Solomon (the promise of correction in the case of moral failure, but Hebrews applies the initial statement (I will be to him a father…) to the relationship between the Father and the Son.

C.     Deuteronomy 32:43 (v. 6): The Septuagint (Greek translation) of this text has a somewhat longer reading than reflected in the ESV.  It reads “bow down to him all you gods and angels.”  Hebrews quotes this rendering of the text in Deuteronomy.

D.    Psalm 104:4 (v. 7): This verse in Psalm 104 depicts angels as divine servants who do the Lord’s bidding with the speed of the wind and shine like blazing fire.  The fleeting nature of wind and fire stand in stark contrast to the eternity and permanence of the Son.

E.     Psalm 45:6-7 (vv. 8-9):  These verses reflect the immutability and righteousness of the Son. 

F.      Psalm 102:25-27 (vv. 10-12): The angels, like the rest of creation, are not self-determinate and self-sufficient; rather, they depend on the Lord for their preservation and sustenance.  In contrast, Christ stands outside of the parameters of creation, and he will not meet with decay or dissolution.

G.    Psalm 110:1 (vv. 13-14): These last two verses in the chapter state, remarkably, that the redeemed in, in time, have a more exalted position than the angels.  God has bid the angels to serve the heirs of salvation.

 

III.             The First Exhortation (2:1-4)

A.    A grave danger (v 1):  “lest we drift away”:  Hebrews warns that negligent people may drift away from the glorious claims of the gospel. 

Illustration: Some years ago, Kathy and I traveled to Corpus Christi, and, while we enjoyed the beach near Mustang Island, a law enforcement officer told us of a man who had recently drowned in the area.  The officer surmised that the man had fallen asleep on a surfboard, and the current carried out to sea.  The poor man never made it back to shore because he unwittingly drifted too far from the safety of the shore.

B.     An earnest exhortation (vv. 1-3): “pay much closer attention to what you have heard”:  Angels delivered words of warning to the ancient Jews, but the readers of this treatise had a better mediator of the message they heard.  If the Jews needed to heed the message of angels, how much more do men need to listen to the message of the Son of God and his chosen apostles?