A FOCUSED LIFE
Week of August 3, 2008
Bible Verses:† Hebrews 1:1-6,10-14; 2:1-4.
Biblical Truth: Because Jesus is the perfect, most complete revelation of God, we need to focus on Him.
God Has Spoken: Heb. 1:1-3.
† God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, † in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world. † And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power. When He had made purification of sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high,† [NASU]
In these last days means that in Jesus the new age, the Messianic Age, has appeared. Jesus is more than simply the last in a long line of prophets, He has inaugurated a new age altogether. In Jesus there is continuity and there is discontinuity. The continuity comes out when we are told that God has spoken to us by His Son. The verb spoken is the same one used in verse 1 of the prophets, and there is a grammatical connection. The old prepares the way for the new, a truth that will be brought out again and again in this epistle as the author backs up his arguments with quotations from Scripture. The discontinuity is seen when we come to the reference to the Son. The consummation of the revelatory process, the definitive revelation, took place when He who was not one of the prophets but the very Son of God came. The writer is concerned to show that in Jesus Christ we have such a divine person and such divine activity that there can be no going back from Him.†
This emphasis on the Son leads to a series of seven propositions about him. (1) Appointed heir of all things: in the New Testament, heir points to lawful possession but without indicating in what way that possession is secured. Heir of all things, then, is a title of dignity and shows that Christ has the supreme place in all the mighty universe. (2) Through whom also He made the world:† through preserves the important truth that God is the Creator. But as elsewhere in the New Testament the thought is that He performed the work of creation through the Son [John 1:3; 1 Cor. 8:6; Col. 1:16]. World is literally ďthe agesĒ and has a temporal sense, hinting at the temporal nature of all things material. (3) brightness of His glory: means either that Jesus is the outshining of the brightness of Godís glory, or is the reflection of that glory. Glory indicates either the presence of God or the revelation of Godís majesty. (4) the express image of his person: the word for express image originally denoted an instrument for engraving and then a mark stamped on that instrument. Here the writer is saying that the Son is an exact representation of God. The Son is such a revelation of the Father that when we see Jesus, we see what Godís real being is. (5)† upholding all things by the word of His power: upholding has a meaning of carrying along the universe toward a goal. All things is all inclusive, meaning that nothing is excluded from the Sonís sustaining activity. The author pictures the Son as active in creation and then as bearing creation onward towards the fulfillment of the divine plan. All this He does by the power of his word. The word is thought of as active and powerful. (6) purged our sins: this is the heart of the matter for the writer. 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 manís sin. The word purged is most often used in the New Testament of ritual cleansing [Mark 1:44], but here (and in 2 Pet. 1:9) it refers to the removal of sin. The verb is in the aorist tense; the cleansing in question, being based on a past action, is complete. (7) sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high: sitting is the posture of rest, and the right hand position is the place of honor. This says that Christís work is done and He now sits in the place of highest honor. The word translated Majesty appears again in the New Testament only in 8:1 and Jude 25. It means greatness and thus came to signify majesty.
† Having become as much better than the angels, as He has inherited a more excellent name than they. † For to which of the angels did He ever say, "You are My son, today I have begotten you"? and again, "I will be a father to Him and He shall be a son to Me"? † And when He again brings the firstborn into the world, He says, "And let all the angels of God worship Him." † And, "You, Lord, in the beginning laid the foundation of the earth, and the heavens are the works of Your hands; † they will perish, but You remain; and they all will become old like a garment, † and like a mantle You will roll them up; like a garment they will also be changed. But You are the same, and Your years will not come to an end." † But to which of the angels has He ever said, "Sit at My right hand, until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet"? † Are they not all ministering spirits, sent out to render service for the sake of those who will inherit salvation?† [NASU]
† The comparative adjective ďsuperiorĒ (much better) is a key word in this epistle, occurring no less than 13 times. The Son who was described above  as having been appointed the heir of all things is here spoken of as the inheritor of a name which in itself attests His supremacy. The Son who for our redemption humbled Himself for a little while to a position lower than the angels has by His ensuing exaltation become superior to the angels, and in doing so has achieved and retains the inheritance of a name which is more excellent than theirs. The name which distinguishes Christ from the angels and elevates Him above them is that of Son. The Son inherits the position of privilege and authority, whereas angels are no more than ministers or servants in the realm of Godís creation. But why is our author so concerned to demonstrate at some length the superiority of the risen and glorified Redeemer to angels, as though, in the thinking at least of his readers, angels posed a threat to the lordship of Christ. It is important that the supremacy of Christ in this as in all other connections should be unequivocally established. Evidently, those to whom this letter was sent were entertaining, or being encouraged to entertain, teaching which elevated angels to a position which rivaled that of Christ Himself.†
† The superiority of Christ to
angels is now confirmed by a sequence of seven quotations from the Old Testament
which attest His Sonship and His sovereignty. It is apparent that the recipients
of the letter acknowledged the authority of the Old Testament and were open to
persuasion from its pages. The first of the seven quotations comes from Psalm
2:7, one of the messianic psalms. What is the significance of the assertion, today I have begotten you? At what
point of history is the ďdayĒ of his begetting to be fixed? In the apostolic
perspective the day of the resurrection of Jesus is the chief focal point in
the interpretation of the Psalmistís words. It is by that event that Jesus was
designated the Son of God in power [
† Our authorís designation of the Son as the firstborn carries important doctrinal implications. It carries on the thought of the immediately preceding verse in which the Mediator is assigned the dignity of the divinely begotten Son. As the unique Son He is also the firstborn, and as the firstborn He has precedence over all others who, in a secondary and non-essential sense, may at times be addressed as sons, whether angels or men. As the firstborn, moreover, He is the heir to whom the birthright with all its privilege and prestige belongs. The designation firstborn belongs to Christ both as the eternal Son and also as the incarnate Redeemer who, after humbling Himself for our salvation, has been exalted to the place of highest honor. Thus the term firstborn indicates the exalted place of highest honor and worship that belongs only to Christ as the firstborn of God.
† The fourth quotation is from Psalm 104:4, which, in its original setting, is generally taken to mean that God employs winds as His messengers and flames as His servants. The contrast here is between, on the one hand, the status of angels, which is that of servants, and their function, which is effective but intermittent as are the elements of wind and fire through which their activities may be displayed. And, on the other hand, the status and authority of Christ, which are resident in the abiding glory and supremacy of His royal and eternal Sonship. It is, in short, the contrast between Him who is the Son and Heir and them who are the servants under His command in the royal household of Godís kingdom.†
[8-9]† The fifth quotation proclaims the everlasting sovereignty of the Son taken from Psalm 45:6f. The everlasting rule of the Son is marked by absolute justice and equity. The main reason for the introduction of this quotation here is to underline the contrast between the royal and eternal office of the divine Son and the subservient function of the angels. The anointing with the oil of gladness refers to the triumphant entry of Jesus into the heavenly glory. It is the logical consequence of the completion of His earthly mission. The achievement of eternal redemption for mankind and the world is the cause of gladness and rejoicing in the presence of God.
[10-12]† Number six in the series of quotations is a sublime passage from Psalm 102:25-27, applied here to the Son, and extolling Him as the one who brought into being the totality of heaven and earth and who, despite the change and dissolution of all created things, remains constant and unchanging. Moreover, if God is unchangeable, so also are the word of His promise and His oath. How inescapable, once again, is the contrast between the Son and the angels. He is the Lord God; they offer Him worship and homage. He is the Creator; they are His creatures. He is infinite in being and power; they are finite and dependent. Though all else should pass away, He remains.
[13-14]† The seventh quotation comes from the messianic Psalm 110. This psalm plays an important part in this letter, providing scriptural authentication of the uniqueness and supremacy of Christ, not only as Son and Lord but also as High Priest and Redeemer. It is evident that Psalm 110:1 was seen as an Old Testament pillar supporting the doctrine of the exalted session and rule of Christ. The radical contrast between the enthroned Son as described in Psalm 110:1 and the subordinate status of the angels is unmistakably plain from these texts.
The Consequences of Neglect: Heb. 2:1-4.
† For this reason we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away from it. † For if the word spoken through angels proved unalterable, and every transgression and disobedience received a just penalty, † how will we escape if we neglect so great a salvation? After it was at the first spoken through the Lord, it was confirmed to us by those who heard, † God also testifying with them, both by signs and wonders and by various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit according to His own will. †[NASU]
† This is the first of a number of admonitory passages which are interspersed throughout the letter [3:12-4:3; 4:14-16; 5:11-6:8; 10:32-39; 12:3-13; 12:14-17; 12:25-29]. These passages serve to demonstrate that the teaching of this epistle is not merely theoretical and unrelated to the realities of everyday life, but is intensely practical and therefore full of intense seriousness. The conjunction Therefore points to the essentially logical connection between theology and practice. It is precisely because Christ is incomparably superior to all others that what we have heard, that is, concerning Him who is Godís final word to mankind and whom apostles and evangelists proclaimed as Savior and Lord, is of such crucial importance. Our author is pressing on his readers the extreme seriousness of carelessness and unconcern. The dangerous consequence of lack of due seriousness where this vital teaching is concerned is that we may drift away from it. The metaphor in mind here seems to be that of allowing the current to carry one away from a fixed point through carelessness and unconcern, and, instead of keeping a firm grip on the truth, of failing to maintain a secure anchorage which will keep one from drifting from the gospel. Those to whom this letter is addressed are evidently not far from losing their right to be acknowledged as authentic Christians because of a loss of nerve, a failure of application, or a willful negligence in practicing the faith they profess.
[2-3]† The word spoken by God at Sinai, namely, the law, was communicated through angels, who mediated to Moses what God had to say [see Acts 7:53; Gal. 3:19]. Our author has already given scriptural evidence to demonstrate the inferiority of angels to Christ; yet, he now says, the word of the law spoken through their mediation at Sinai was valid or binding and unchallengeable, as is evident from the consideration that every infraction of the law received a just retribution. The law, of course, was firm and valid precisely because it was spoken by God; but there is another mediation of great significance in the central teaching of this epistle, that of the Son who is the mediator of the new covenant [8:6;9:15;12:24]. Here is the immensely greater mediation to men of everlasting redemption sealed by the blood of the incarnate Son Himself. The argument, then, is if under Moses the law stood firm and its penalties were stringently enforced on those who deliberately or through negligence broke its precepts, it cannot but be that the direst consequences await those who are careless and unconcerned about the gospel, which is here described as such a great salvation: it is so wonderful that no language is adequate to do it justice. Unlike the law which was, as it were, mediated by word of mouth, the gospel was mediated by the Word-made-flesh. The law, as Paul insists, is holy and good and also glorious [Rom. 7:12,14; 2 Cor. 3:7ff]. How could what is God-given be anything less? The problem lies not with the law, which is the divine standard of life [Lev. 18:5; Ex. 20:11,13; Neh. 9:29; Luke 10:28; Gal. 3:12], but with sinful man who is a law-breaker, with the consequence that the law stands over against him as an ordinance of condemnation and death, precisely because it is holy and just. But the glory of the law is completely surpassed by the glory of the gospel because the latter brings life where the former brought death.
† The message spoken by God through angels at Sinai is exactly balanced here by the declaration that the gospel was spoken by God through the Lord. The mediatorial qualification of the Son is infinitely superior to that of the angels, for, as both God and man, He is uniquely qualified to effect reconciliation between God and mankind. As God, the incarnate Son is supreme in power and grace, in contrast to the impotence and resourcelessness of fallen mankind. As man, the incarnate Son is able fully to identify Himself with mankind, and in particular in manís place to endure the divine punishment of sin on the cross, thus securing for mankind eternal redemption. In Christ mediatorship is raised to an eternal category, truly bridging the gulf between heaven and earth caused by manís sinful rebellion against the sovereignty of His Creator. The validity, firmness, and authenticity of the gospel is demonstrated primarily by its dynamic effect in transforming human lives and attitudes. A sign indicates that the event is not an empty ostentation of power, but is significant in that it points beyond itself to the reality of the right hand of God in operation. A wonder is an event which, because of its superhuman character, excites awe and amazement on the part of the beholder. A miracle (or literally power) emphasizes the dynamic character of the event, with particular regard to its outcome or effect. The mention here of various miracles indicates the diversity of these powerful manifestations.
Questions for Discussion:
1.††††††††† List and discuss the seven things said about the uniqueness of Christ in vv. 2-3. How would meditating on these seven statements enable you to endure patiently through hardships and attacks on your faith?
2.††††††††† What divine names and descriptions are ascribed to Christ in 1:4-14?
3.††††††††† In 2:1 we have the first command given in Hebrews. The writerís first command was not labor for Jesus, or serve Jesus or witness for Jesus, but listen to Jesus, give heed or pay attention to him. Pay attention means both to focus the mind on a thing and to act upon what one perceives. What makes it easy or difficult to pay attention to someone or something? What implications does the importance of listening have for our spiritual lives? How do we become effective listeners to the revealed Word?
4.††††††††† What picture does drift away present? How do we or other believers tend to drift away from God, or fail to pay much closer attention to what He has said? What restorative steps would you advise for those who have drifted away from God or failed to pay attention to his Word?
The Book of Hebrews, Philip Hughes, Eerdmans.