HEBREWS, Part 1

The letter to the Hebrews is different from all other New Testament letters. For one thing, it is anonymous. With respect to the KJV, the apostle Paul almost certainly did not write it. The simple fact is, we have no idea who is responsible for writing this most remarkable letter. However, as we read it, we realize that while the human agent may be unknown, the Holy Spirit is clearly behind each and every sentence.

We also don’t know who the intended recipient or recipients were. The salutation is non-existent. Based on the content of this letter, we can be sure that the author is writing to Hebrew Christians; but beyond that, we don’t where they lived, when the lived, or where they went to church. However, given the nature of this letter, it could easily have been written to any group of believers, in any location, at any time in history. Hebrews transcends time and space. This is the dynamic, spiritual quality of the Word of God.

The first four verses constitute a powerful introduction of the Person and work of Jesus Christ. The author points to Jesus as being superior to all heavenly beings. In the Greek, these four verses are one, single, powerful sentence designed to show the difference between the old, partial revelation from God through His prophets and the new, complete revelation through His Son.

1. The God who spoke, 1:1-2a

In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways…

It is significant that the subject of the very first verb is “God.” In this letter, God is continually on the mind of its author. He uses the word 68 times in throughout the letter, which is an average of about once in ever 73 words. No other book in the New Testament mentions God as often.

As was mentioned, the author dispenses with the usual greetings and salutations and dives right into his subject. With this first phrase, the inspired writer refers, not to a general revelation to all people, like God revealing Himself through nature or man’s conscience, but to a special revelation, given to specific men (prophets) of the nation of the Hebrews.

In Genesis, the first thing God is seen doing is creating the material universe. Here in Hebrews, the first thing God is acknowledged as doing is speaking in a variety of ways. How did God communicate to His people? Consider:

Moses and the burning bush, Exodus 3;
Elijah in a still, small vice, 1 Kings 19;
Isaiah in a vision in the Temple, Isaiah 6;
Hosea in his family circumstances, Hosea 1;
Amos in a basket of fruit, Amos 8

In the Old Testament, in the days before Christ, God spoke in a variety of ways to individuals. He may have spoken in dreams and visions, through angelic visitors in the night, through the Urim and Thummin, through symbols, or through nature. There seemed to be no end to the variety of ways God used to get His message through to certain individuals so they in turn could give it to the nation of God’s people.

When the author uses the term “prophets,” he isn’t necessarily referring to only to those who preached and prophesied, but also to those who wrote the books of the Old Testament and those who read them. Moses, David, Ezra, and Nehemiah would be included, along with the likes of Jeremiah and Malachi. What God said through Moses to the Israelites in the desert, He also spoke to Ezra and Nehemiah and their people through the Books of Moses as they were read aloud.

God spoke in the past, then, through what the Old Testament writers recorded in written form as history, psalm, proverb, and prophecy. As far as the writer to the Hebrews was concerned, the “prophets” were simply all those saints, called by God and anointed with His Spirit to speak and write the Word as a progressive revelation that pointed toward the coming of Christ, thousands of years later, as God’s final and complete Word to all mankind. Peter echoed a similar sentiment over in the New Testament:

Concerning this salvation, the prophets, who spoke of the grace that was to come to you, searched intently and with the greatest care, trying to find out the time and circumstances to which the Spirit of Christ in them was pointing when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow. It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves but you, when they spoke of the things that have now been told you by those who have preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven. Even angels long to look into these things. (1 Peter 1:10-12)

…but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son… (verse 2a)

“In these last days” is a striking contrast with “In the past,” signifying that though the days or times may have changed, God has continued to speak to His people. God’s revelation, in other words, cannot be disassociated from the history of the world. In fact, the opposite is true: the events of history served to buttress the truth of God’s Word.

And even though “in these last days” God has effectively stopped speaking the way He did “in the past,” both parts of God’s revelation–the old, fragmented part and the new completed part–constitute one, single unit of revelation because there is but one Revealer. There is ONE God, therefore there is ONE revelation. The Word spoken by God to the forefathers in the past does not differ in essence from the Word spoken to us by His Son. There is a continuity between the Old Testament and New.

There is, however, a difference. Jesus Christ is seen throughout Hebrews as the complete and culminating revelation of God to man. He is God’s full and final Word to all men. Everything prior to Christ is partial and preparatory. Every word after Christ is merely the restatement or clarification of what God spoke through His Son.

But it wasn’t just through the verbal teachings of Jesus that God spoke; it was through all the remarkable events of our Lord’s life and ministry: His virgin birth, His sinless life, His work of redemption, His death, resurrection, and ascension. Jesus Christ’s whole existence, His whole reason for being, was to deliver, personally, the full revelation of God to man.

2. The Incarnate Son, 1:2b-3

a. His mission, verse 3d

…he had provided purification for sins…

Note how the author states what Christ’s mission was: He provided purification for sins. Jesus Christ did it; He did not attempt it. The mission of Christ is an accomplished fact. The word “purification” comes from the Greek katharismos, and usually means “ritual cleansing,” but here it refers to the complete and absolute removal of sin. Not only that, the idea of cleansing cannot be ignored. Sin stains. Sin corrupts the sinner. Christ’s work of cleansing not only removes the sin from the sinner, but it cleans the sinner! As if that’s not enough, the verb “provided” is in the aorist tense. The cleansing done for every repentant sinner is based on a past action: Christ’s action, once and for all.

b. His Person, verses 2b-3

These Hebrew believers needed to understand that the humiliation of our Lord was but a brief interlude between His preexistent glory and its resumption after the Ascension. While these Hebrews were undoubtedly Christian converts, they were in danger of drifting back into their old way of thinking. Remember, to the Jew, the Cross was an offence; it was a sign of weakness and defeat instead of victory and power. These Hebrew believers needed to be reminded of what the Cross really meant in terms of Jesus Christ. So, just who is the Son of God?

First, He is seen as the agent of God’s awesome power, verse 2.

…through whom also he made the universe…

As “the heir of all things,” Jesus Christ is the lawful owner of every created thing in the universe. The power and significance of this thought cannot be overstated. As the lawful owner of all creation, Jesus did not come to negotiate with Satan, but to defeat him.

While God may be the Creator, it was through His Son that He created all things. The word translated as “universe” is tous aionas, means literally “the ages.” What a staggering thought. Jesus Christ, the originator of time, and all the things that fill it. Jesus Christ, the eternal Logos–the eternal Word–that proceeded from the mind of God.

He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. (John 1:10, 11)

Second, the Son is the expression of God’s Person, verse 3a

The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being…

The word “radiance” is useful word and may be translated in different ways. Perhaps a better way to understand it is “reflection.” Jesus Christ is the very reflection of God’s glory. The moon receives its light from the sun and we see that reflected light here on earth. The moon itself doesn’t generate light, it has no light apart from the sun. Similarly, we may picture Jesus Christ as the radiant light coming from the Father as sunlight comes from the sun. In other words, we see the glory of God in the Son of God.

But even more than that, Jesus is the exact representation of God’s being. This is much more than the image of God in which man was created. The word for “exact representation” is an rare and unusual Greek word, charakter, and it refers to the image stamped on a coin, for example. The RSV translates charakter in such a way as to bring this out:

The Son…bears the very stamp of his nature…

The Amplified Bible renders the phrase:

He is the perfect imprint and very image of [God’s] nature…

Third, Jesus Christ, the Son of God is the Sustainer of all creation, verse 3c

…sustaining all things by his powerful word.

Not only is Christ the great Architect of the ages, He literally holds it all together; He is the superglue that keeps all the atoms from blowing apart! The word “sustaining” really means “to carry forward.” In other words, the Son of God holds the universe together and is carrying it to its designated end. What’s truly remarkable is that Jesus does this work simply with a mere utterance. The mighty Son of God, ruler of the universe, says one word and all things listen in obedience to His voice.

As awesome as that thought may be, the final phrase speaks of the the greatest work of the Son:

After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.

The redemptive work of Christ is the main theme of this letter. It is through this work that the Son of God has made God’s nature known to man. Through the ministry of Jesus, we see God’s unparalleled love, grace, mercy, justice, holiness and righteousness. Thanks to the work of Christ on the Cross, all sin is purged from all creation; our personal sins and all creation is purged from sin. This amazing work was done once, for all. Our Lord accomplished it by Himself.

The last phrase of verse 3 affirms the Son’s Lordship. “Sitting at God’s right hand” signifies far more than rest. It is a way to illustrate enthronement. Jesus took the seat of honor and authority after His work was finished. Having completed the work of revelation and redemption, He assumed His rightful place of honor and authority that was His from all eternity.

And now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began. (John 17:5)

Today, there is a lot of “God talk.” North Americans are obsessed with a kind of pseudo-spirituality and a “generic faith” in God. But believing in God is not sufficient. Anybody can believe in God. If belief in God was enough to get you into heaven, then Jesus wasted His time. The fact is, the measure of anybody’s faith in God is their response to Jesus Christ. The burning question of this age is one that Jesus asked over 2,000 years ago:

What do you think about the Christ? (Matthew 22:42)

(c)  2011 WitzEnd
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