The Epistle To The Hebrews
Part 1 ... Chapter 1:1-2:4
A fair number of the questions posed to me have to do with
whether our salvation is conditional or not, and what part our behavior plays in
obtaining and maintaining it, or causing the loss of it. Answers to these and
other questions about our relationship with the Lord are found in the Letter to
the Hebrews and so I've quoted from there on a regular basis.
But although I've taught Hebrews a number of times from both pulpit and
platform, I've never before published a comprehensive study of the letter.
The Letter to the Hebrews was written anonymously but
there's been speculation as to its authorship for most of the Church's history.
The earliest recorded suggestion, in 200 AD, was that Barnabas, a learned
Jew from the tribe of Levi and one of Paul's associates, wrote it.
From 400 to 1600, it was universally assumed that Paul was the letter's
author. After the reformation Apollos became the leading candidate, probably
because Martin Luther had proposed him as being the letter's most likely author.
Each of these three had the Jewish background and
intellectual horsepower to write the letter, but I continue to favor Paul.
He had both the strong motivation to write it, having a passionate desire
to see his brothers accept their Messiah, and to remain anonymous, since he was
considered a turncoat by the Jewish leadership. But while even the mention of
his name would incite them to anger, Paul said that he would agree to be cursed
and cut off from Christ himself it meant that salvation would come to
those of his own race. (Romans 9:3) And while some have challenged
Paul's authorship, claiming that the letter was not written in his typical
style, it's closer to his style than to either Apollos or Barnabas.
But the simple fact is that the Letter to the Hebrews was written
anonymously at the direction of the Lord who had His own reasons for wanting it
that way. And that should be good enough for us.
While no date is given, whoever wrote the letter did so
between 35 and 70 AD since there's no mention of the Temple's destruction. In
fact, it's referred to in the present tense several times.
The letter's purpose was to document the absolute sufficiency of the
Lord's death as payment in full for man's sins to the large community of Jewish
believers in Israel, many of whom had been priests in the Temple when it
happened. Considerable pressure was
being exerted upon them to revert to Judaism or at least maintain some sort of
hybrid status, blending adherence to the Levitical system with the belief in
Jesus as Israel's Messiah.
This attempt to “Judaize” the Gospel was by no means
confined to either Jerusalem or the first century.
From the time Jesus went to the cross to this very day, man has tried to
add his own effort to the salvation equation in a misguided attempt to either
complete or maintain what he thinks the Lord only partially accomplished.
In doing so He has relegated the Lord's death to the same status as that
of a bull or a goat, insufficient to the task.
But from the beginning the letter offers persuasive evidence of the
Lord's deity, another issue that's still unresolved in the minds of some, making
any thoughts of insufficiency even more ridiculous.
So the message of Hebrews is that God became man to
accomplish for man what man could never accomplish for himself.
All that's left for us to do, indeed all we can do, is to accept this by
faith and enter in to a lifelong rest from the work of our salvation.
Everything in the letter has to be considered from this perspective. The
conflict between Law and Grace will make itself evident in nearly every chapter,
as will the necessity of choosing grace.
Clearly this letter has as much to say to us now as it did to them then.
Hebrews Chapter 1
In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the
prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken
to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made
the universe. (Hebr. 1:1-2)
Immediately the Lord is revealed as the Son of
God, His Prophet for the last days, and the one through whom the universe was
created. His arrival changed the
manner in which God communicated with His people.
From now on everything had to conform with the words of the Son.
Without any preamble the Lord is portrayed not as a mere man who had
lived among them for about 33 years, but as one who, in the words of the Prophet
Micah, is from eternity past (Micah 5:2) John would later make the same
claim in his Gospel. (John 1:1-3)
The Son is the radiance of God's glory and
the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful
word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand
of the Majesty in heaven. (Hebr. 1:3)
God is a Spirit, invisible to man.
In His Son He became the visible image of Himself, recognizable to man.
“When you've seen Me you've seen the Father,” Jesus said. (John
14:9) And after He died for our
sins, He rose again, and ascended into Heaven and sat down at the right hand of
Majesty, the work of saving us completed.
There were no chairs in the Temple because the purifying work of the
priests was never done. After Jesus
had (literally by Himself) provided purification for sins, He sat down.
The work was finished. There was nothing more to do.
Sometime in the past it had been decided that
the Son would become a physical being and when He did it would be forever.
So there's a man sitting on the Throne of God today, an exalted one to be
sure, but a man just the same. And
when God steps out of time He sees you there too, seated with Him, the example
for all eternity of the incomparable riches of His grace. (Ephes. 2:6-7)
So he became as much superior to the angels
as the name he has inherited is superior to theirs. (Hebr. 1:4) In
Hebrew the angels are called, b'nai haElohim, which is translated sons of God.
Jesus is the only begotten Son of God.
For to which of the angels did God ever say,
"You are my Son; today I have become your Father
[Psalm 2:7] Or again,
"I will be his Father, and he will be my Son" [2 Samuel 7:14] (Hebr.
1:5) In this second reference God was speaking to David about Solomon, but
the writer shows that the Messianic Son of David is in view, not just his
And again, when God brings his firstborn into the world, he
says, "Let all God's angels worship him." (You have to read Deut. 32:43 in
the Septuagint to get this one.)
In speaking of the angels he says,
"He make his angels winds, his
servants flames of fire." [Psalm 104:4]
But about the Son he says, "Your throne, O God, will
last for ever and ever, and righteousness will be the scepter of your kingdom.
You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness; therefore God, your God, has
set you above your companions by anointing you with the oil of joy."
[Psalm 45:6-7] (Hebr.
This is an astonishing quote, missed by many.
It shows the Father calling the Son “God.”
Jesus had said that He is God.
John (John 1:1) and Paul (Colossians 1:15) had agreed.
But here is God Himself confirming it.
He also says, "In the beginning, O Lord, you
laid the foundations of the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands.
They will perish, but you remain; they will all wear out like a garment.
You will roll them up like a robe; like a garment they will be changed.
But you remain the same, and your years will never end." [Psalm 102:25-27]
(Hebr. 1:10-12) The Psalmist
ascribed this to the Father but the writer of Hebrews is applying it to the Son.
Not only did He inhabit eternity past but will inhabit eternity future as well.
To which of the angels did God ever say,
"Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet"?
[Psalm 110:1] Are not all
angels ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation? (Hebrews
The notion that Jesus was an angel, as early
gnosticism held and as the Jehovah's Witnesses still teach, is clearly refuted.
While angels exist to minister to God's people, Jesus is the visible image of
God. He was with God in the
beginning and He is God. He became flesh and dwelt among us. God in human form.
We must pay more careful attention, therefore, to what
we have heard, so that we do not drift away. For if the message spoken by angels
was binding, and every violation and disobedience received its just punishment,
how shall we escape if we ignore such a great salvation? This salvation, which
was first announced by the Lord, was confirmed to us by those who heard him.
testified to it by signs, wonders and various miracles, and gifts of the Holy
Spirit distributed according to his will.
Here is the writer's first warning against
drifting back into Judaism. The Law
was given at Mt. Sinai with the help of angels. (Deut. 33:2, Acts 7:38, Gal
3:19) If it was binding,
refusing to forgive even a single violation, how much more so the remedy, the
free gift of Grace given by the Lord Himself and confirmed with witnesses,
miracles, and gifts? The two cannot
co-exist because there's no middle ground.
In spite of all of its other freedoms, grace does not grant us the
freedom to participate in our own salvation by keeping the Law.
This is the no nonsense beginning to a complex
letter written to people who obviously had more than a passing understanding of
their scriptures. For them it was
the bridge from the Torah to the Gospel.
For us it's a challenging look into the Church's theological foundations
as we discover that the bridge goes both ways.
More next time. 11-03-07