Apostle Paul: Passionate Discipleship
Beginning the Journey (for new Christians).
1, 2, and 3 John
1 & 2 Thessalonians
1 & 2 Timothy
2 Peter, Jude
7 Last Words of Christ
Christ Powered Life (Rom 5-8)
David, Life of
Glorious Kingdom, The
Holy Spirit, Disciple's Guide
Jesus and the Kingdom
Lamb of God
Listening for God's Voice
Names of God
Names of Jesus
Rebuild & Renew: Post-Exilic Books
Sermon on the Mount
1. Jesus, the Father's Own Son (Hebrews 1:1-2:4)
"... In these last days he has spoken to us by his Son" (1:2). J.J. Tissot, detail from "Jesus Teaching on the Sea Shore" (c. 1890). Larger full image.
Just who is Jesus? That's the question with which we begin our study of Hebrews. The original readers of this letter apparently thought he might be an angel of some kind. Some in our time have honored Jesus as the greatest teacher who ever lived. Some have seen him as a great prophet. However, the author of Hebrews presents him as much more than that. He reveals Jesus to us as the Father's own Son.
Son of God (1:1-2)
Let's look at the first few verses:
"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...." (1:1-2a)
The author acknowledges how God revealed himself through the prophets in the Old Testament. They were authoritative spokesmen. But now, he says, God has revealed himself most clearly, directly -- and personally -- "by his Son." If you hadn't already heard "Son of God" ten thousand times, you might gasp when you heard his word. Son! Our author uses this term a dozen times in this book -- usually as "Son" without any modifier, but four times as "Son of God" (4:14; 6:6; 7:3; 10:29). What does he mean by this? What does it say about the relation of Jesus to God Almighty?
The relationship of son to a father was commonly used figuratively in many cultures including Judaism to denote a special honor or to recognize a special achievement, but it did not denote a divine figure.1 Here, however, it is clear that our author is stating that Christ's Sonship is much more than an analogy of relationship and honor. It seems to be used almost literally of physical progeny rather than figuratively. The Son in our passage is used in the sense of Jesus the Son corresponding exactly to the Father and serving as his personal spokesman.
Q1. (Hebrews 1:2) In what way do you think the author of Hebrews is using the word "Son"? As a metaphor? As a biological relationship? How would a Son's words have more weight than a prophet's?
The Divine Son (1:2-3)
The author now spells out what kind of Son is meant by detailing six characteristics of the Son.
"... 2b his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe. 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." (1:2b -3)
This Son is not just the messiah or a prophet, he is appointed2 God's heir (klēronomos), "one who receives something as a possession, beneficiary, heir."3
2. Co-creator and agent of creation
The author of Hebrews declares the Son as the one "through whom he made4 the universe."
3. The radiance of divine glory
"Radiance" (NIV), "reflection" (NRSV), or "brightness" (KJV) is apaugasma. The word can mean "radiance, efflulgence," as well as "reflection."5 God's glory is sacrosanct. No man is to take it. Through the prophet Isaiah, God says,
"I am the LORD; that is my name!
I will not give my glory to another
or my praise to idols." (Isaiah 42:8)
Yet God can bestow it and God's glory is upon his Son. The Apostle John declares:
"The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth." (John 1:14)
4. The exact representation of God's being
This is an awesome statement. Jesus exactly fits who God is. Look at the words. "Exact representation" (NIV), "exact imprint" (NRSV), and "express image" (KJV) is charaktēr, "something produced as a representation, reproduction,"6 "the exact expression (the image) of any person or thing, marked likeness, precise reproduction in every aspect" (such as a facsimile).7
The phrase spells out what Jesus was the exact representation of, that is, God's essential nature. "Being" (NIV, NRSV) and "person" (KJV) translate hupostasis, "the essential or basic structure or nature of an entity, substantial nature, essence, actual being, reality."8
5. The sustainer and preserver of the universe
The Son sustains the entire universe, "all things." "Sustaining" (NIV; cf. NRSV), "upholding" (KJV) is pherō, which has the basic idea "to carry." Here it has the idea of "'to bear up, i.e., uphold' (keep from falling), of God (the Son) 'the preserver' of the universe."9 He does this "by his powerful word," specifically his spoken word.10
Finally, "after he had provided purification11 for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty12 in heaven." At God's right hand is the place of honor and co-regency.
Perhaps a great human personage might be called by one of these titles. But by using all six, the author makes it clear that the Son spoken of is the divine Son of God. With him there is no comparison.
Q2. (Hebrews 1:2-3) What about the author's description of the Son makes you think that the Son described is himself divine? What role does the Son have in doing the Father's will according to these verses?
Superior to Angels (Hebrews 1:4)
"So he became as much superior to the angels as the name he has inherited is superior to theirs." (1:4)
Our author senses that the recipients of this letter have sometimes tried to fit Jesus into the category of an angel (angelos). The word is used of humans in the sense of "a human messenger serving as an envoy, one who is sent." But here what is meant is "a transcendent power who carries out various missions or tasks, messenger, angel."13
When people are looking for wiggle-room, they tend to minimize the authority and person of Jesus Christ. If they can make him a great man among men, then they can choose whether or not to accept his opinion. This has been the effect of the so-called quest for the historical Jesus. If we can minimize Jesus into a great teacher who was unfortunately crucified, then we can believe, think, and do as we please. But if Jesus is, in fact, the Son of the Living God in a literal, physio-biological sense (as the virgin birth would suggest), then his word is final. Jesus is Lord.
As we mentioned in the introduction, the author of Hebrews seems to be writing to a congregation of Christian Jews, perhaps in Rome, who have been flirting with the idea of returning to their former Judaism and giving up Christianity. Our author declares in the most explicit and uncertain terms that Jesus is Lord because he is the unique Son of God.
Therefore, Jesus as Son is "superior" (kreittōn) to any other category of persons or heavenly beings, "pertaining to being of high status, more prominent, higher in rank, preferable, better," and his name, here "Son,"15 surpasses any other.
Messianic Quotations from the Old Testament (1:5-14)
Now the author quotes a series of passages that point to the Messiah as God's Son. He contrasts angels as servants who worship and serve God (verses 6-7 quoting Deuteronomy 32:43 and Psalm 104:4). These angels are "ministering16 spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation" (1:14).
Angels have their place. However, the scriptures that speak of the Son are exalted indeed, most of them acknowledged by Jews of the time as Messianic.
"You are my Son, today I have become your Father."
2 Samuel 7:14
"I will be his Father and he will be my Son," speaking of David's descendents, and ultimately the Messiah.
"Your throne, O God, will last for ever and ever.... Therefore God ... has set you above your companions by anointing you with the oil of joy."
"... and the heavens are the work of your hands [which the author refers to Christ as the co-creator, vs. 2b] ... "but you remain the same and your years will never end."
"Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet"
There is much that could be said about each of these quotations that the commentaries discuss in detail, but I want to spend our time carefully examining the author's exhortation in 2:1-4, since it speaks directly to us who have heard the message of the gospel, in the first century and today.
An Exhortation to Be Attentive (2:1)
"We must pay more careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away." (2:1)
"Pay ... attention" (NIV, NRSV), "give ... heed" (KJV) is prosechō, "to turn the mind to, attend to, be attentive" ... "to apply oneself to something, turn to, occupy oneself with a thing." We are fully responsible for what we have heard. We cannot just drop it and move to something else as if the gospel's commands were merely human opinions.
If we do there is the danger that we will "drift away" (NIV, NRSV) or "let slip" (KJV). The verb is pararreō, "to flow past, glide by," from para, "by, beyond" + rheō, "flow" ... "be washed away, drift away."18 You have probably observed this in others. They've heard the gospel, but they don't take heed to it -- and so drift without moorings. They are like the seed in Jesus' Parable of the Sower (Matthew 13:3-9, 18-23) that was sown on the hard ground of the path, the shallow ground of rocky soil, or the thorny soil where it was choked out. Just hearing the word, without being doers of it (James 1:22) is a dangerous, deceptive position to be in.
Q3. (Hebrews 2:1) In what ways are we not immune to drifting away from the gospel? According to the author, how can we successfully resist the tendency to drift? How did Jesus describe this phenomenon of "drift" in the Parable of the Sower?
Having exhorting his readers about paying attention and the danger of drifting, he warns them of the seriousness of ignoring God's word. The Law given to Moses was understood by the readers of Hebrews to have been given through angels (Galatians 3:19; Acts 7:53).
"For if the message spoken by angels was binding,19 and every violation and disobedience received its just punishment,20 how shall we escape if we ignore such a great salvation?" (2:2-3a)
This is the first of the five warning passages in Hebrews. The author's logic is this, drawing on chapter 1, where he argued that the Son is far superior to angels. If the Law given through angels was binding, with severe punishments for disobedience, how much more the salvation brought about by the Messiah who is God's exalted Son.
Ignoring this salvation is the danger. "Ignore" (NIV), "neglect" (NRSV, KJV) is the verb ameleō, "to have no care for, to neglect, be unconcerned."21 A casual attitude toward the gospel isn't faith. It leads inevitably to drifting away with the current generated by the culture around us. The gospel offers great salvation from the "just punishment" from breaking the Law. But the opposite -- neglecting this salvation -- cuts off any hope of escape22 from the terrors of punishment.
The Salvation Declared and Confirmed to Us (2:3-4)
Our author concludes this section with the attestation of this gospel of salvation that his readers had experienced.
"This salvation, which was first announced by the Lord, was confirmed23 to us by those who heard him. God also testified to it by signs, wonders and various miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will." (2:3b-4)
The readers of Hebrews had heard eyewitnesses speak about what it had been like in the beginning with Jesus. They had also heard about and seen God's stamp of approval on the message of salvation by:
- Signs (sēmeion), "an event that is an indication or confirmation of intervention by transcendent powers, miracle, portent."24
- Wonders (teras), "something that astounds because of transcendent association, prodigy portent, omen, wonder."25
- Miracles (dunamis), "a deed that exhibits the ability to function powerfully, deed of power, miracle, wonder."26 Note that these are described as "various" or "diverse," not just one type of miracle but miracles of various kinds.
- Gifts (literally distributions, merismos27) of the Holy Spirit. These miracles and works of power are recognized to be given by the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 12; Ephesians 4:11; etc.).
It is because of this particular verse that we don't think the Apostle Paul could have written Hebrews. Instead of talking about the salvation "confirmed to us by those who heard him," he would have asserted that Jesus had spoken to him and revealed the gospel to him (Galatians 1:11b-12).
You've not only heard the gospel of Jesus Christ, the author is saying. It has also been confirmed to you as true both by eyewitnesses and by miracles from God. You can't neglect it or drift away from it back to your old ways. You must take heed. You must.
Q4. (Hebrews 2:3b-4) In what way has the truth of salvation been confirmed to you? Would signs and wonders help or hinder establishing the truth of Christ's ministry today? From which portion of the Bible have you formed your opinion of the value of signs and wonders today?
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We need that same urgency today that the writer of Hebrews has. You've probably wished that you could exhort a friend or relative whom you've seen drifting with this kind of exhortation. What we can do, however, is to take heed to our own walk and pray for those around us. There is a battle, there is a strong drift-current. We must "pay more careful attention" (2:1).
Father, sometimes we've become complacent. We've sometimes taken things for granted rather than to take seriously Jesus' words and his salvation. Sometimes we've assumed that others know about your salvation when in fact they do not. We ask you to come again with revival and power into our churches and communities. Stir us up. Confirm your word "with signs following" (Mark 16:17) so that people might believe more surely. Grant it, we pray, in Jesus' name. Amen.
"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. The Son is the radiance of God's glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word." (Hebrews 1:2-3a)
"We must pay more careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away." (Hebrews 2:1)
"How shall we escape if we ignore such a great salvation?" (Hebrews 2:3a)
- John W. Drane, "Son of God," DLNT 1111-1115. Also Eduard Schweizer, huios, TDNT 8:363-392.
- "Appointed" is tithēmi, "put or place," here, "to assign to some task or function, appoint, assign" (BDAG 1004).
- Klēronomos, BDAG 548, 2.a.
- "Made" (NIV, KJV) or "created" (NRSV) is poieō, "to produce something material, make, manufacture, produce" (BDAG 839, 1.b.).
- The noun apaugasma is from apaugazō, "to emit brightness" and augē, "brightness." Gerhard Kittel, augazō, apaugasma, TDNT 1:507-508). Both senses are possible in this verse. (also BDAG 99).
- Charaktēr, BDAG 1078, 2. The word is from charassō, "to engrave, cut into." It first had the meaning "die, stamp" (in minting). Then further senses such as "image, impress, coinage, money, stamp, seal, sign, copy, and letter" (Gerhard Kelber, charaktēr, TDNT 9:418-423).
- Charaktēr, Thayer 655, 2.
- Hupostasis, BDAG 1040-1041, 1.a. "The word was used in Greek stoicism to denote what has come into being or attained reality.... In Hebrews 1:3 it is parallel to doxa and relates to God's essence. 'Transcendent reality' is perhaps closest to what is meant. Christ as son reflects God's glory and bears the impress of this reality" (Helmut Köster, hypostasis, TDNT 8:572-589),
- Pherō, Thayer 650, 1.c. "To cause to continue in a state or condition, sustain" (BDAG 1051-1052, 5.).
- "Word" is rhēma, properly, "that which is or has been uttered by the living voice, thing spoken, word." Here "his omnipotent command." (Thayer 562-563, 1.b.β.). It often translates dabar in the Septuagint. "That which is said, word, saying, expression, or statement of any kind" (BDAG 905).
- "Purification" (NIV, NRSV) or "purged"(KJV) is katharismos, "physical cleansing" then "cultic cleansing." It is used in the LXX for ritual purification ... but the term also denotes here cleansing from sin in baptism, through Christ's death" (Friedrich Hauck, katharos, TDNT 3:423-431).
- "Majesty" is megalōsunē, which means "majesty" (from megas, "great") is used for the divine name in Hebrews 1:3. It also occurs with the glory etc. in the great doxology of Jude 24-25" (Walter Grundmann, megas, TDNT 4:529-544). The word is only found in Biblical and ecclesiastical writings.
- Angelos, BDAG 8, 2.
- Kreittōn, BDAG 566.
- So Ellingworth, Hebrews, p. 106.
- "Ministering" (KJV, NIV) or "in the divine service" (NRSV) is leitourgikos, "one engaged in administrative or cultic service, servant, minister." (BDAG 591-592, 1.a.). The basic meaning of this word group is the sense of "doing things for the body politic, or discharging a task for society." The word occurs about 100 times in the Septuagint, mainly in cultic passages. The term leitourgikos is rare, used here in a non-cultic sense (Hermann Strathmann, leitourgeō, ktl., TDNT 4:226-231.)
- Prosechō, Thayer 546, 2.a.; BDAG 878, 2.
- Pararreō, Thayer 485-486; BDAG 770.
- "Binding" (NIV), "valid" (NRSV), "steadfast" (KJV), bebaios, "firm, steadfast, steady, reliable, certain," from bebaioō, "to make firm, confirm" (Heinrich Schlier, bebaios, TDNT 1:600-603). "To make firm, establish, confirm, make sure" (Thayer 99-100).
- "Just punishment" (NIV), "just penalty" (NRSV), "just recompense" (KJV) is misthapodosia, "recompense," whether favorable or unfavorable, literally, "payment of wages" (BDAG 653), from misthos, "reward for work" + apodidōmi, "to requite, recompense."
- Ameleō, BDAG 52, from a, "not" + melō, "care for."
- "Escape" is ekpheugō, literally, "to flee out of, flee away, to escape" (Thayer 200-201).
- "Confirmed" (NIV, KJV), "attested" (NRSV) is bebaioō, see footnote 19 above.
- Sēmeion, BDAG 920, 2.a.
- Teras, BDAG 999.
- Dunamis, BDAG 262, 3.
- Merismos, "distribution, apportionment" (BDAG 633, 2.).
In-depth Bible study books
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- Apostle Paul: Passionate Discipleship
- Disciple's Guide to the Holy Spirit
- 1, 2, and 3 John
- 1 Peter
- 2 Peter & Jude
- 1 & 2 Thessalonians
- 1 & 2 Timothy
- 1 Corinthians
- 2 Corinthians
- Abraham, Faith of
- Christ Powered Life (Romans 5-8)
- Christmas Incarnation
- Colossians and Philemon
- David, Life of
- Glorious Kingdom, The
- Great Prayers of the Bible
- Jacob, Life of
- Jesus and the Kingdom of God
- JesusWalk: Beginning the Journey
- John's Gospel
- Lamb of God
- Listening for God's Voice
- Lord's Supper
- Luke's Gospel
- Moses the Reluctant Leader
- Names and Titles of God
- Names and Titles of Jesus
- Rebuild & Renew: Post-Exilic Books
- Resurrection and Easter Faith
- Sermon on the Mount
- Seven Last Words of Christ