Hebrews 1:1-14:

God Has Spoken

By Dr. Hal Harless

Foundation Fellowship of Greenville, TX

June 8, 2008

 

I.  Introduction

A.  Please turn to Heb 1:1.  Today, we will begin our study of the book of Hebrews.

B.  Read Heb 1:1-14.

II.  Exposition

A.  Background

1.  Authorship

a.  Hebrews is unique in that it does not tell us who the author is.

b.  Paul

1)  Internal evidence

a)  Similar terminology

b)  However, the terminology is used differently from Paul.

c)  Shows an association with Paul.

2)  Bible

a)  1 Pet 1:1 and 2 Pet 3:1 indicate that Peter wrote both of those letters to Messianic Jews scattered abroad.

b)  Peter writes that "our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given him, wrote to you" (2 Pet 3:15).

c)  Therefore, Paul did, write a letter to the Messianic Jewish Diaspora, maybe Hebrews. 

d)  You can also compare the statement that the teaching comparing Messiah to Melchizedek is "hard of interpretation" (Heb 5:11 KJV) to Peter's statement that Paul had written some things "hard to be understood" (2 Pet 3:15-16 KJV).

3)  Tradition

a)  The earliest reference to authorship is Clement of Alexandria's (c. 150-c. 215 AD) that Paul wrote it in Heb. and that Luke translated into Gk.

b)  Eusebius (c. AD 263-339) attributes Hebrews to Paul with Luke translating.

c.  Luke (I favor.)

1)  Clement of Alexandria linked Luke as translator.

2)  Origen (AD 185-254) suggested that Luke might have been the author.

3)  Gk. vocabulary very similar to Luke.

4)  It fits the circumstances of Hebrews.

d.  Barnabas

1)  Hebrews is a "word of exhortation" (Heb 12:5).  Barnabas was referred to in Acts as "Joseph, who by the apostles was surnamed Barnabas (which is, being interpreted, Son of exhortation), a Levite" (Acts 4:36 ASV).

2)  Being a Levite, Barnabas would be interested in the offering system as is the author of Hebrews.

3)  If Barnabas authored Hebrews, then it can claim apostolic origin since Barnabas was called an apostle (Acts 14:4, 14). 

4)  Tertullian (AD 155-230) says that Barnabas was the author.[1]

5)  However, we have a letter from Barnabas and it is very different.

e.  Apollos

1)  Only because of his eloquence and the fine Gk. of Hebrews.

2)  Martin Luther was the first to suggest his authorship.

f.  Origen wrote, "But who wrote the epistle, in truth, God knows."[2]

2.  Date

a.  Early use like a "Who's Who" of early Church fathers

1)  Clement of Rome (AD 30-100) quoted from Hebrews.

2)  Polycarp (AD 65-155), Irenaeus (c. AD 115-202), and Hermas (c. AD 160) also quote from Hebrews.

b.  Before the destruction of the temple (AD 70)

c.  Before the Jewish revolt against Rome (AD 66)

d.  After Paul's death

1)  Paul was imprisoned in Rome when 2 Timothy was written (2 Tim 1:8; 2:8-10).

2)  Paul asked Timothy to come to him in Rome (2 Tim 4:9).  Luke was the only one with him at the time (2 Tim 4:11).

3)  Paul probably died in Nero's persecution of AD 64-65 leaving Luke and Timothy in Rome.

4)  The author of Hebrews sends greetings from "those from Italy" (Heb 13:24).

5)  Hebrews mentions Timothy's release and that the author will come with him (Heb 13:23).  The church in Jerusalem knew both Timothy and Luke (Acts 20:4; 21:1, 15).

e.  Hebrews was probably written AD 64-65.

3.  Circumstances

a.  Exclusively Jewish audience

b.  Jerusalem

c.  Time-line

1)  AD 64: Paul martyred in Rome

2)  AD 64-65: Hebrews written in Rome

3)  AD 66: Jewish Revolt began in Caesarea. 

a)  The rebellion had early successes; one legion was defeated and sent packing back to Syria. 

b)  Rome sent Vespasian with two legions (60-72,000 troops). 

4)  AD 68: Rome crushed the revolt in the North. 

5)  AD 69:

a)  After Nero's death, civil war broke out in Rome with the "year of four emperors." 

b)  Vespasian is declared emperor and returns to Rome leaving his son, Titus, in charge.

6)  AD 70: Jerusalem fell.  The Romans destroyed the temple on the same day that the temple of Solomon had been destroyed, the 9th of the Jewish month Av.

7)  AD 73: The fortress Masada fell.

d.  The issue

1)  Messianic Jews

a)  James related to Paul:

You see, brother, how many thousands there are among the Jews of those who have believed, and they are all zealous for the Law; and they have been told about you, that you are teaching all the Jews who are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, telling them not to circumcise their children nor to walk according to the customs (Acts 21:20-21).

 

b)  Therefore, it appears that most, if not all, Messianic Jews in the early Church continued to practice the same customs as their non-Messianic counterparts. 

c)  In that case, they would be difficult for the Romans to distinguish them from each other. 

2)  Other Jews

a)  It would have been much easier for other Jews to see the difference than the Romans.

b)  Because Messiah had made the final sacrifice (Heb 10:10-18), Messianic Jews would not have been able to participate fully in the Temple rituals. 

c)  This alone would have caused them to stand out from their fellow Jews and drawn the wrath of the Zealots.[3] 

d)  There would be a temptation to return to the sacrificial system to avoid persecution.  However, this would be an implicit denial of Christ's final sacrifice.

4.  Structure

a.  Two main parts

1)  The superiority of Messiah (Heb 1:1-10:18)

2)  The superiority of faith (Heb 10:19-13:19)

b.  To show them the superiority of what they have in Christ to anything that they had in Judaism

c.  Five warnings

1)  Pay attention 2:1-4

2)  Beware unbelief 3:7-4:13

3)  Beware immaturity 5:11-6:20

4)  Do not set aside faith 10:26-31

5)  Do not turn away when disciplined 12:25-29

d.  The present audience is warned by comparing them to the Exodus generation.

B.  Exposition: The superiority of Messiah (Heb 1:1-10:18)

1.  Messiah is superior to angels (Heb 1:1-2:18).

a.  God has spoken through His Son (Heb 1:1-4)

            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, having become as much better than the angels, as He has inherited a more excellent name than they (read Heb 1:1-4).

 

1)  Hebrews 1:1-4 is one long sentence in Gk.

2)  These prophets that spoke "long ago" are clearly OT prophets, since they are contrasted with the revelation "in these last days."

3)  "In many separate revelations--each of which set forth a portion of the Truth--and in different ways God spoke of old" (Amplified).  God's revelation through the prophets was partial and progressive.

4)  "In these last days"--The Rabbis divided the whole of time into "this age," or "world," and "the age to come" (Hebrews 2:5 6:5).  The days of Messiah were the transition period or "last days" (in contrast to "in times past"), the close of the existing age.

5)  "In His Son" is literally "in a Son" or "in [the person of a] Son" (Amplified).  This contrasts with "in the prophets."  His Son is the pinnacle of His revelation.  I love to share this entire section with Jehovah's Witnesses because it is such a clear statement of Christ's deity.

a)  "Whom He appointed heir of all things"

i)  God gave rule over the planet Earth to Adam, but he lost that through his sin. 

ii)  The eternal Son of God became a man in order to regain that rule for mankind.  

iii)  He earned that right through His redemptive work, but He has not yet claimed the title deed to the world, the seven-sealed scroll in the Father's hand (Rev. 5:1-7). 

b)  "Through whom also He made the world"

i)  "All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being" (John 1:3).

(a)  Jesus is the Creator.

(b)  Jesus did not "come into being."  He is eternal.

ii)  The Gk. word translated "world" is literally "ages."  Christ is in control of human history.  In fact, history is "His-story!"

c)  "Radiance of His glory"--The very glory of God shines from Christ. 

d)  "Exact representation" (charaktēr) means "an engraver or engraving tool; figuratively in the NT of Christ in relation to God exact representation, precise reproduction, impress."  

i)  Other translations include "stamped with God's own character" (Moffatt). 

ii)  Paul speaks of the "glory of Christ, who is the image of God" (2 Cor 4:4). 

e)  "Nature" (hypostasis) is defined as " the objective aspect and underlying reality behind anything ... as God's substantial nature real being, essence."

i)  "This Son is the radiance of the Sh'khinah, the very expression of God's essence" (CJB).

ii)  "An exact representation of his very being" (Rotherham).

iii)  "Flawless expression of the nature of God" (Phillips).  

f)  "Upholds all things by the word of His power"

i)  Paul says, "He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together" (Col 1:17). 

(a)  Christ is not just the Creator. 

(b)  He is also the Sustainer and Governor of the universe. 

ii)  "Word" (rhēma) means "spoken word."

iii)  Messianic Jewish author Stuart Sacks writes:

            No dry doctrine this!  It is impossible to estimate the importance of this truth to the Hebrew believers.  Branded meshumadim (traitors to Israel's faith), the rejection by family and friends needed to be offset by the love and full acceptance they received from God's eternal Messiah, the God-Man, sustainer of all things.

            I recall, more than half a life-time ago, when I confessed my belief in Yeshua before the disgruntled rabbi in whose synagogue I had received my spiritual education.  "How," he asked, "can you identify yourself with those who have persecuted us?"

            Although I was young in the faith, I knew enough to tell the rabbi that a true follower of the Messiah, whether or not he called himself a "Christian," would never harm another person, regardless of his ethnic roots.  In desperation my rabbi suggested that I was meshugah (crazy) and gave me the name of a Jewish psychiatrist.

            During the long ride home from the synagogue, I recall being filled with sorrow.  I knew that none of my family relationships could be untouched by what had happened.  I sensed I was entering my own midbar (wilderness) and wondered how I'd survive.

            But the Messiah had become real to me through the words his disciples had written.  Following him was not simply an option.  There was for me, as a popular Hebrew saying goes, eyn b'rera (no alternative).  One cannot easily dismiss him who created all things and holds them all together (Colossians 1:16-17).

            It was not that I was cleaving to him; he was holding me together and pressing me to himself.[4]

 

g)  "When He had made purification of sins"--This refers to Christ's sacrificial death on the cross.

i)  The aorist tense (snap-shot action) of the participle ("having made") shows that He completed His work of redemption completely and finally.

ii)  "Sat down"--The priests stood while they ministered; sitting, therefore, indicates the completion of His sacrifice.

6)  The more excellent name, of course, is "Son!" 

7)   "Better"--The underlying Gk word is used 13 times in Hebrews out of only 19 times in the entire NT (Heb 1:4; 6:9; 7:7, 19, 22; 8:6 (twice); 9:23; 10:34; 11:16, 35, 40; 12:24).

8)  This verse is a segue to the next section that demonstrates that Messiah is superior to angels.  The DSS show that some first century Jews were fascinated with angels even subordinating the messiah to them.

b.  Messiah is greater than the angels (Heb 1:5-14).

1)  Angels are not the Son (Heb 1:5-7).

            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 of the angels He says, "WHO MAKES HIS ANGELS WINDS, AND HIS MINISTERS A FLAME OF FIRE" (read Heb 1:5-7).

 

a)  This section (Heb 1:5-14) contrasts the Messiah as the divine Son and the angels.  This has application to the Jehovah's Witnesses who see Jesus as the incarnation of the archangel Michael.

i)  "Angels" (angelos) means "one sent to tell or bring a message, messenger; (1) of persons messenger, envoy, one sent ... (2) of divine messengers and agents of God angel." 

ii)  Not necessarily a supernatural messenger, although it is so used here. 

iii)  The point is that Jesus, since God has spoken in His Son, is a better messenger than angels, prophets, or any other messengers. 

b)  "YOU ARE MY SON, TODAY I HAVE BEGOTTEN YOU"

i)  The Amplified translates this as "begotten You [that is, established You in an official Sonship relation with kingly dignity" (Amplified). 

ii)  This is a quote from the messianic Ps 2:7.  It was not spoken to an angel, but the Messiah.

c)  "I WILL BE A FATHER TO HIM AND HE SHALL BE A SON TO ME"--The quotation comes from either 2 Sam 7:14 or 1 Chr 17:13, part of the Davidic covenant.  Again, this refers to the Messiah, the descendant of David and not the angels.

i)  The Lord Jesus Christ has always been the eternal Son of God. 

ii)  However, the writer was thinking of the title Son in the sense of the Heir to the Davidic covenant who is entitled to ask God for rule over the whole earth (Ps 2:8). 

iii)  This title belongs uniquely to Jesus and not to the angels.

d)  "When He again brings the firstborn into the world"

i)  Note the word "again."  This refers to the second coming.

ii)  Goodspeed translates, "But of the time when he is to bring his firstborn Son back" (Goodspeed).

iii)  The title "firstborn" is messianic. "I also shall make him My firstborn, the highest of the kings of the earth" (Ps 89:27).

iv)  At the second coming the kingly prerogatives of the Son will be recognized with open angelic worship.

e)  "AND LET ALL THE ANGELS OF GOD WORSHIP HIM"--This is a paraphrase of the LXX of Ps 97:7. 

i)  The author of Hebrews applies this to the Son's return, but notice Who the text is talking about:

Jehovah reigneth;

            Let the earth rejoice;

            Let the multitude of isles be glad. 

Clouds and darkness are round about him:

            Righteousness and justice are the foundation of his throne. 

A fire goeth before him,

            And burneth up his adversaries round about. 

His lightnings lightened the world:

            The earth saw, and trembled. 

The mountains melted like wax at the presence of Jehovah,

            At the presence of the Lord of the whole earth. 

The heavens declare his righteousness,

            And all the peoples have seen his glory. 

Let all them be put to shame that serve graven images,

            That boast themselves of idols:

Worship him, all ye gods [LXX worship him, all ye his angels] (Ps 97:1-7 ASV).

 

ii)  This is a clear reference to Christ's deity.

f)  "WHO MAKES HIS ANGELS WINDS, AND HIS MINISTERS A FLAME OF FIRE"

i)  This is a quote of Ps 104:4.

ii)  "Winds" (pneuma) means either "wind" or "spirit."

iii)  "Flame"--The root meaning of Seraphim is "burning ones."

2)  Angels are not God (Heb 1:8-14).

            But of the Son He says, "YOUR THRONE, O GOD, IS FOREVER AND EVER, AND THE RIGHTEOUS SCEPTER IS THE SCEPTER OF HIS KINGDOM.  YOU HAVE LOVED RIGHTEOUSNESS AND HATED LAWLESSNESS; THEREFORE GOD, YOUR GOD, HAS ANOINTED YOU WITH THE OIL OF GLADNESS ABOVE YOUR COMPANIONS."  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? (read Heb 1:8-14).

 

a)  This and the next verse are quotes from Ps 45:6-7. 

b)  Note that these things are said "of the Son." 

i)  First, the Son is directly addressed as "God."

ii)  His throne is forever.

iii)  "YOU HAVE LOVED RIGHTEOUSNESS"--"You" would most naturally be referring to "God."

iv)  "GOD, YOUR GOD, HAS ANOINTED YOU"--God is anointing God!  This only makes sense from the point of view of the Trinity.

(a)  "Anointed"--Jesus' anointing of joy was because of His obedience. 

(b)  This is a pun on "Messiah" (Christ), which means "anointed."

(c)  The King has companions in joy. 

(i)  The reference to "companions" is a significant theme for the writer.  The same word metochoi ("companions or partners") is used in Heb 3:1, 14 of Christians and also in 12:8. 

(ii)  Since the King has attained His joy and rule through a life of steadfast righteousness, His companions will share His experience the same way.

v)  And, "YOU, LORD, [...] IN THE BEGINNING LAID THE FOUNDATION OF THE EARTH, AND THE HEAVENS ARE THE WORKS OF YOUR HANDS;"

(a)  This is a quote of Ps 102:25-27.  "You LORD" is not in the Heb. of Ps 102:25, but in the LXX. 

(b)  Comparison of the context, especially Ps 102:12 and 102:26-27, demonstrates that the LORD (YHWH), which is often pronounced incorrectly as "Jehovah," is the subject. 

(c)  "But thou, O Jehovah, wilt abide for ever" (Ps 102:12 ASV). 

(d)  Note that according to verse 8 this is said "of the Son."  Therefore, Jesus is Jehovah!  Jehovah's Witnesses would do well to pay attention to this verse!

vi)  However, even when the present creation wears out like an old garment and is exchanged for a new one, the Son will remain unchanged. 

(a)  The reference here of course is to the new heavens and earth, which will occur after the Millennium and will begin the eternal state (2 Pet 3:10-13).

(b)  This world is temporary; the only real security is in Christ, Who is the eternal God.

c)  This verse and the next quote from Ps 110:1. 

i)  Psalm 110 is quoted from or alluded to twelve times in Hebrews (1:3, 13; 5:6, 10; 6:20; 7:3, 11, 17, 21; 8:1; 10:13; 12:2). 

ii)  Jesus used it to argue that the Messiah was divine as well as Davidic (Matt 22:41-46). 

iii)  "Sit at My right hand--associated with Me in My royal dignity" (Heb 1:13 Amplified).

iv)  This also was not addressed to any angel; it was addressed to the Messiah.

d)  Angels are our servants.

i)  "Inherit salvation" is not the same as "being saved" contrary to the translation "those who are destined to obtain Salvation" (Twentieth Century New Testament).

ii)  We should not automatically assume that "salvation" here refers to a believer's past experience of regeneration; it is something future as both the context and the words "will inherit" tell us.

iii)  "Salvation" is being used in the sense of "deliverance."  This meaning is very suitable here since the Son's own triumph over His enemies has just been mentioned.

iv)  The readers were under pressure.  They had endured persecution in the past, and were encouraged not to give up now.  The author reminds them that the final victory over all enemies belongs to God's King and that the angels presently serve those who are destined to share in that victory, that is, to "inherit salvation."

e)  The warning in 2:1-4 is a parentheses in the argument.  The thought picks up again at 2:5.  We will look at that section next week.

III.  Applications

A.  Jesus Christ

1.  He is the coming King, the Messiah, the Son.

2.  He is vastly superior to any messenger, either prophets or angels.

3.  He is God.

B.  Believers

1.  When under pressure, remember Jesus is the only security in a changing world.

2.  When under pressure, remember that God will send angels to minister to us.

3.  When under pressure, remember that Jesus will one day deliver us from all enemies.

 

 



[1] Tertullian, De Pudicitia 20.

[2] Origen quoted in Eusebius, Eccl. Hist. 6.25.

[3] See Josephus, Jewish War 5.6.1.

[4] Stuart Sacks, Hebrews Through a Hebrew's Eyes: Hope in the Midst of a Hopeless World (Baltimore, MD: Lederer, 1995) 11.