Unit: Hebrews (Part 1)
Lesson Text: Hebrews 1:1–2:4
Supplemental Text: John 5:16-23; 10:22-39
Aim: Put your faith in the eternal Son, to whom both prophets and angels testify.
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By Mark Scott
Of the 21 Epistles in the New Testament, Hebrews is one of the most unique. We do not know who wrote it (parts sound like Paul, but other parts do not). We do not know to whom it was written (though it seems to have been for Jewish Christians). And we do not know when it was written (though it likely was prior to AD 70). Its importance, however, is not up for debate.
If Galatians and Colossians addressed a “Jesus-plus” type of faith, then Hebrews addressed a “minus-Jesus” type of faith. Hebrews says that any step away from Jesus is regression. The reason is simple: Jesus is superior to anyone and anything. Four lessons highlight this superiority.
Through the Prophets
God spoke through the prophets, but Jesus is superior to the prophets. The first four verses are one sentence in Greek, and that sentence is very involved. But the main idea is quite simple: God spoke. The God of the Bible is a speaking God. He communicates, and he did so many times (piece by piece) and in various (diverse) ways.
However, God spoke uniquely by his Son. This took place in real time and space (known as last days, which have been occurring since Pentecost—Acts 2:16-21). To emphasize how Jesus is superior to the prophets, the writer highlighted seven of his characteristics.
First, Jesus was appointed (placed) heir of all things. Second, he was involved in the creation of (i.e., made) the universe (John 1:3; Colossians 1:16). Third, Jesus is the radiance of God’s glory (splendor or light). Fourth, he is the exact representation (character, from a verb meaning “to cut”) of his being. Fifth, he sustains (bears up) all things by his powerful word. Sixth, he provided purification for sins (cleansing). Finally, he sat down at God’s right hand (Hebrews 10:12) to make intercession for us (Romans 8:34). Jesus the Messiah was a prophetic figure (Matthew 21:11), but his revelation to humankind was superior to that of the prophets.
Over the Angels
In the Dead Sea region of Israel, there had arisen a rather highly developed angelology. In addition to these verses, glimpses of this can be seen elsewhere in the New Testament (Galatians 1:8; Colossians 2:18). The writer of Hebrews respected the ministry of angels (1:6, 7, and 14). They worshipped God, served God, and were sent to those who would inherit salvation. But the angels cannot hold a heavenly candle to Jesus.
The writer clustered several passages from the Old Testament to bolster his case that Jesus was superior to angels (Psalm 2:7; 2 Samuel 7:14; 1 Chronicles 17:13; Psalms 104:4; 45:6-7; 102:25-27; and 110:1). The angels did not occupy the place of the Son. They could not claim God as their Father. In fact, when the Father sent the Son into the world, the angels worshipped him—not the other way around. (The same will be true at the second coming.)
Angels are fiery servants (the real meaning of seraphim). But Jesus is divinely eternal. He was not like angels, which were created. In fact, Jesus’ throne lasts forever, and his scepter of justice (straightness) will help him rule well. The Son loved righteousness and hated wickedness (lawlessness). No wonder the Father set him above his heavenly companions and anointed him (think Messiah) with joy.
The angels did not create anything; rather, they themselves were created. They did not lay the foundations of the earth, nor did they speak the heavens into existence. Creation is distinguished from its Creator. Creation will perish (“be loosed down”) in the same way that a garment wears out or is changed, or in the same way a robe is rolled up. Jesus sits at the right hand of God—angels do not.
So . . . Pay Attention
This is the first warning in the Epistle against returning to Judaism instead of clinging to Christ (additional warnings occur in Hebrews 3:1–4:13; 5:11–6:20; 10:19-39; 12:1-17). If God spoke through the prophets, and if Jesus is over the angels, then believers should give Jesus their undivided attention. Pay the most careful attention means “to abundantly hold on to.” The alternative to holding on to something is to drift away (first-century nautical language for the sailing away of a boat).
The former message (logos) from the time of Moses was put in place with the help of angels (Galatians 3:19). Under that message, people were rewarded or punished accordingly. How much more would that be true of the salvation found in Christ? Therefore, believers should not ignore (neglect) that message. Jesus announced it first and the apostles worked miracles to affirm its truthfulness. Jesus is superior to prophets and angels.
Dr. Mark Scott serves as minister with Park Plaza Christian Church in Joplin, Mo. He retired in May after more than 30 years as professor of New Testament with Ozark Christian College in Joplin.