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Pink's Commentary on John and Hebrews Pink's Commentary
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These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Pink, A.W. "Commentary on Hebrews 1". "Pink's Commentary on John and Hebrews". https://www.studylight.org/
commentaries/ eng/ awp/ hebrews-1.html.
Pink, A.W. "Commentary on Hebrews 1". "Pink's Commentary on John and Hebrews". https://www.studylight.org/
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The Superiority of Christ over the Prophets.
(Hebrews 1:1-3 )
Before taking up the study of the opening verses of our Epistle, let us adduce further evidence that the apostle Paul was the writer of it. To begin with, note its Pauline characteristics. First, a numerical one. There is a striking parallel between his enumeration in Romans 8:35-39 and in Hebrews 12:18-24 . In the former he draws up a list of the things which shall not separate the saint from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus. If the reader will count them, he will find they are seventeen in number, but divided into a seven and a ten. The first seven are given in verse 35, the second ten in Hebrews 10:38 , Hebrews 10:39 . In Hebrews 12:18-23 he draws a contrast between Mount Sinai and Mount Sion, and he mentions seventeen details, and again the seventeen is divided into a seven and a ten. In Hebrews 10:18 , Hebrews 10:19 , he names seven things which the saints are not "come unto"; while in Hebrews 10:22-24 he mentions ten things they have "come unto," viz., to Mount Sion, the City of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, an innumerable company of angels, the general Assembly, the Church of the Firstborn, to God the Judge of all, to the spirits of just men made perfect, to Jesus the Mediator, to the Blood of sprinkling. Compare also Galatians 5:19-21 , where the apostle, when describing the "works of the flesh," enumerates seventeen. So far as we are aware, no other Epistle writer of the New Testament used this number seventeen in such a manner.
Again; the terms which he used. We single out one only. In Hebrews 2:10 he speaks of the many sons which Christ is bringing to glory. Now Paul is the only New Testament writer that employs the term "sons." The others used a different Greek word meaning "children."
For doctrinal parallelisms compare Romans 8:16 , with Hebrews 10:15 , and 1 Corinthians 3:13 with Hebrews 5:12-14 , and who can doubt that the Holy Spirit used the same penman in both cases?
Note a devotional correspondency. In Hebrews 13:18 , the writer of this Epistle says, "Pray for us." In his other Epistles we find Paul, more than once, making a similar request; but no other Epistle-writer is placed on record as soliciting prayer!
Finally, it is to be noted that Timothy was the companion of the writer of this Epistle, see Hebrews 13:23 . We know of no hint anywhere that Timothy was the fellow-worker of anyone else but the apostle Paul: that he companied with him is clear from 2 Corinthians 1:1 , Colossians 1:1 , 1 Thessalonians 3:1 , 1 Thessalonians 3:2 .
In addition to the many Pauline characteristics stamped on this Epistle, we may further observe that it was written by one who had been in "bonds" (see Hebrews 10:34 ); by one who was now sundered from Jewish believers (Hebrews 13:19 )-would not this indicate that Paul wrote this Epistle while in his hired house in Rome (Acts 28:30 )? Again; here is a striking fact, which will have more force with some readers than others: if the Epistle to the Hebrews was not written by the apostle Paul, then the New Testament contains only thirteen Epistles from his pen-a number which, in Scripture, is ever associated with evil! But if Hebrews was also written by him, this brings the total number of his Epistles to fourteen, i.e., 7 x 2-seven being the number of perfection and two of witness. Thus, a perfect witness was given by this beloved servant of the Lord to Jew and Gentile!
In the last place, there is one other evidence that the apostle Paul penned the Hebrews' Epistle which is still more conclusive. In 2 Thessalonians 3:17 , 2 Thessalonians 3:18 we read, "The salutation of Paul with mine own hand, which is the token in every Epistle, so I write, the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all." Now, if the reader will turn to the closing verse of each of the first thirteen Epistles of this apostle, it will be found that this "token" is given in each one. Then, if he will refer to the close of the Epistles of James, Peter, John and Jude, he will discover a noticeable absence of it. Thus it was a distinctive "token" of the apostle Paul. It served to identify his writings. When, then at the close of Hebrews we read "grace be with you all" the proof is conclusive and complete that none other than Paul's hand originally wrote this Epistle.
Ere passing from this point a word should be added concerning the distinctive suitability of Paul as the penman of this Epistle. In our little work "Why Four Gospels" (pages 20-22), we have called attention to the wisdom of God displayed in the selection of the four men He employed to write the Gospels. In each one we may clearly perceive a special personal fitness for the task before him. Thus it is here. All through the Epistle of Hebrews Christ is presented as the glorified One in Heaven. Now, it was there the apostle Paul first saw the Lord (Acts 26:19 ); who, then, was so well suited, so experimentally equipped, to present to the Hebrews the rejected Messiah at God's right hand! He had seen Him there; and with the exceptions of Stephen, and later, John of Patmos, he was the only one who had or has!
Should it be asked, Why is the apostle Paul's name omitted from the preface to this Epistle? a threefold answer may be suggested. First, it is addressed, primarily, to converted "Hebrews," and Paul was not characteristically or essentially an apostle to them: he was the apostle to the Gentiles. Second, the inscribing of his name at the beginning of this Epistle would, probably, have prejudiced many Jewish readers against it (cf. Acts 21:27 , Acts 21:28 ; Acts 22:17-22 ). Third, the supreme purpose of the Epistle is to exalt Christ, and in this Epistle He is the "Apostle," see Hebrews 3:1 . Therefore the impropriety of Paul making mention of his own apostleship. But let us now turn to the contents of the Epistle:
Hebrews 1:1-3 . These verses are not only a preface, but they contain a summary of the doctrinal section of the Epistle. The keynote is struck at once. Here we are shown, briefly but conclusively, the superiority of Christianity over Judaism. The apostle introduces his theme in a manner least calculated to provoke the antipathy of his Jewish readers. He begins by acknowledging that Judaism was of Divine authority: it was God who had spoken to their fathers. "He confirms and seals the doctrine which was held by the Hebrews, that unto them had been committed the oracles of God; and that in the writings of Moses and the prophets they possessed the Scripture which could not be broken, in which God had displayed unto them His will" (Adolph Saphir). It is worthy of note that the Gospels open with a summary of Old Testament history from Abraham to David, from David to the Captivity, and from the Captivity to Jesus, the Immanuel predicted by Isaiah (see Matthew 1:0 ), and that the Epistles also begin by telling us that the Gospel expounded by the prophets had been "promised afore by God's prophets in the Holy Scriptures" (Romans 1:1-3 ).
Having affirmed that God had spoken to the fathers by the prophets, the apostle at once points out that God has now spoken to us by His Son. "The great object of the Epistle is to describe the contrast between the old and new covenants. But this contrast is based upon their unity. It is impossible for us rightly to understand the contrast unless we know first the resemblance. The new covenant is contrasted with the old covenant, not in the way in which the light of the knowledge of God is contrasted with the darkness and ignorance of heathenism, for the old covenant is also of God, and is therefore possessed of Divine glory. Beautiful is the night in which the moon and the stars of prophecy and types are shining; but when the sun arises then we forget the hours of watchfulness and expectancy, and in the clear and joyous light of day there is revealed to us the reality and substance of the eternal and heavenly sanctuary" (Adolph Saphir). Let us now examine these opening verses word by word.
"God" (verse 1). The particular reference is to the Father, as the words "by (His) Son" in verse 2 intimate. Yet the other Persons of the Trinity are not excluded. In Old Testament times the Godhead spoke by the Son, see Exodus 3:2 , Exodus 3:5 ; 1 Corinthians 10:9 ; and by the Holy Spirit, see Acts 28:26 , Hebrews 3:7 , etc. Being a Trinity in Unity, one Person is often said to work by Another. A striking example of this is found in Genesis 19:24 , where Jehovah the Son is said to have rained down fire from Jehovah the Father.
"God . . . spake." (verse 1). Deity is not speechless. The true and living God, unlike the idols of the heathen, is no dumb Being. The God of Scripture, unlike that absolute and impersonal "first Cause" of philosophers and evolutionists, is not silent. At the beginning of earth's history we find Him speaking: "God said, Let there be light: and there was light" (Genesis 1:4 ). "He spake and it was done, He commanded and it stood fast" (Psalms 33:9 ). To men He spake, and still speaks. For this we can never be sufficiently thankful.
"God who at sundry times . . . spake" (verse 1). Not once or twice, but many times, did God speak. The Greek for "at sundry times" literally means "by many parts," which necessarily implies, some at one time, some at another. From Abraham to Malachi was a period of fifteen hundred years, and during that time God spake frequently: to some a few words, to others many. The apostle was here paving the way for making manifest the superiority of Christianity. The Divine revelation vouchsafed under the Mosaic economy was but fragmentary. The Jew desired to set Moses against Christ (John 9:28 ). The apostle acknowledges that God had spoken to Israel. But how? Had He communicated to them the fullness of His mind? Nay. The Old Testament revelation was but the refracted rays, not the light unbroken and complete. As illustrations of this we may refer to the gradual making known of the Divine character through His different titles, or to the prophesies concerning the coming Messiah. It was "here a little and there a little."
"God who . . . in divers manner spake" (verse 1). The majority of the commentators regard these words as referring to the various ways in which God revealed Himself to the prophets-sometimes directly, at others indirectly-through an angel (Genesis 19:1 , etc.); sometimes audibly, at others in dreams and visions. But, with Dr. J. Brown, we believe that the particular point here is how God spake to the fathers by the prophets, and not how He has made known His mind to the prophets themselves. "The revelation was sometimes communicated by typical representations and emblematical actions, sometimes in a continued parable, at other times by separate figures, at other times-though comparatively rarely-in plain explicit language. The revelation has sometimes the form of a narrative, at other times that of a prediction, at other times that of an argumentative discourse; sometimes it is given in prose, at other times in poetry" (Dr. J. B.). Thus we may see here an illustration of the sovereignty of God: He did not act uniformly or confine Himself to any one method of speaking to the fathers. He spake by way of promise and prediction, by types and symbols, by commandments and precepts, by warnings and exhortations.
"God . . . spake in times past unto the fathers by the prophets" (verse 1). Thus the apostle sets his seal upon the Divine inspiration and authority of the Old Testament Scriptures. The "fathers" here goes right back to the beginning of God's dealings with the Hebrews-cf. Luke 1:55 . To "the fathers" God spake "by," or more literally and precisely, "in" the prophets. This denotes that God possessed their hearts, controlled their minds, ordered their tongues, so that they spake not their own words, but His words-see 2 Peter 1:21 . At times the prophets were themselves conscious of this, see 2 Samuel 23:2 , etc. We may add that the word "prophet" signifies the mouthpiece of God: see Genesis 20:7 , Exodus 7:1 , John 4:19 -she recognized God was speaking to her; Acts 3:21 !
"God . . . hath in these last days spoken unto us by"-better "in (His) Son" (verse 2). "Having thus described the Jewish revelation he goes on to give an account of the Christians, and begins it in an antithetical form. The God who spake to 'the fathers' now speaks to 'us.' The God who spake in 'times past,' now speaks in these 'last days.' The God who spake 'by the prophets,' now speaks 'by His Son.' There is nothing in the description of the Gospel revelation that answers to the two phrases 'at sundry times,' and 'in divers manners'; but the ideas which they necessarily suggest to the mind are, the completeness of the Gospel revelation compared with the imperfection of the Jewish, and the simplicity and clearness of the Gospel revelation compared with the multi-formity and obscurity of the Jewish" (Dr. J. Brown).
"This manifesting of God's will by parts ('at sundry times,' etc.), is here (verse 1) noted by way of distinction and difference from God's revealing His will under the Gospel; which was all at one time, viz., the times of His Son's being on earth; for then the whole counsel of God was made known so far as was meet for the Church to know it while this world continueth. In this respect Christ said, 'All things that I have heard of My Father, I have made known to you' (John 15:15 ), and 'the Comforter shall teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance whatsoever I have said unto you' (Heb. 14:26). The woman of Samaria understood this much: 'When the Messiah is come, He will tell us all things' (John 4:25 ). Objection: the apostles had many things revealed to them later. Answer: those were no other things than what Christ had revealed before, while He lived" (Dr. Gouge).
The central point of contrast here is between the Old Testament "prophets" and Christ "the Son." Though the Holy Spirit has not here developed the details of this contrast, we can ourselves, by going back to the Old Testament, supply them. Mr. Saphir has strikingly summarized them under seven heads. " First , they were many: one succeeded another: they lived in different periods. Second , they gave out God's revelation in 'divers manners'-similitudes, visions, symbols. Each prophet had his peculiar gift and character. Their stature and capacity varied. Third , they were sinful men-Isaiah 6:5 , Daniel 10:8 . Fourth , they did not possess the Spirit constantly. The 'word' came to them, but they did not possess the Word! Fifth , they did not understand the heights and depths of their own message-1 Peter 1:10 . Sixth , still less did they comprehend the whole of God's revelation in Old Testament times. Seventh , like John the Baptist they had to testify 'I am not the Light, I am only sent to bear witness of the Light.'" Now, the very opposite was the case in all these respects with the "Son." Though the revelation which God gave the prophets is equally inspired and authoritative, yet that through His Son possesses a greater dignity and value, for He has revealed all the secrets of the Father's heart, the fullness of His counsel, and the riches of His grace.
"In these last days" (verse 2). This expression is not to be taken absolutely, but is a contrast from "in time past." The ministry of Christ marked "the last days." That which the Holy Spirit was pressing upon the Hebrews was the finality of the Gospel revelation. Through the "prophets" God had given predictions and foreshadowings; in the Son, the fulfillment and substance. The "fullness of time" had come when God sent forth His Son (Galatians 4:4 ). He has nothing now in reserve. He has no further revelation to make. Christ is the final Spokesman of Deity. The written Word is now complete. In conclusion, note how Christ divides history: everything before pointed toward Him, everything since points back to Him; He is the Center of all God's counsels.
"Spoken unto us" (verse 2). "The pronoun us refers directly to the Jews of that age, to which class belonged both the writer and his readers; but the statement is equally true in reference to all, in every succeeding age, to whom the word of this salvation comes. God, in the completed revelation of His will, respecting the salvation of men through Christ Jesus, is still speaking to all who have an opportunity of reading the New Testament or of hearing the Gospel" (Dr. J. Brown).
"In (His) Son" (verse 2). Christ is the "Son of God" in two respects. First, eternally so, as the second Person in the Trinity, very God of very God. Second, He is also the "Son as incarnate." When He took upon Him sinless human nature He did not cease to be God, nor did He (as some blasphemously teach) "empty" Himself of His Divine attributes, which are inseparable from the Divine Being. "God was manifest in flesh" (1 Timothy 3:16 ). Before His Birth, God sent an angel to Mary, saying, "He (the Word become flesh) shall be called the Son of God" (Luke 1:35 ). The One born in Bethlehem's manger was the same Divine Person as had subsisted from all eternity, though He had now taken unto Him another, an additional nature, the human. But so perfect is the union between the Divine and the human natures in Christ that, in some instances, the properties of the one are ascribed to the other: see John 3:13 , Romans 5:10 . It is in the second of these respects that our blessed Savior is viewed in our present passage-as the Mediator, the God-man, God "spake" in and through Him: see John 17:8 , John 17:14 , etc.
Summarizing what has been said, we may note how that this opening sentence of our Epistle points a threefold contrast between the communications which God has made through Judaism and through Christianity. First , in their respective characters: the one was fragmentary and incomplete; the other perfect and final. Second , in the instruments which He employed: in the former, it was sinful men; in the latter, His holy Son. Third , in the periods selected: the one was "in time past," the other in "these last days," intimating that God has now fully expressed Himself, that He has nothing in reserve. But is there not here something deeper and more blessed? We believe there is. Let us endeavor to set it forth.
That which is central and vital in these opening verses is God speaking. A silent God is an unknown God: God "speaking" is God expressing, revealing Himself. All that we know or can now know of God is what He has revealed of Himself through His Word. But the opening verse of Hebrews presents a contrast between God's "speakings." To Israel He gave a revelation of Himself in "time past"; to them He also gave another in "these last days." What, then, was the character of these two distinct revelations?
As we all know, God's Word is divided into two main sections, the Old and the New Testaments. Now, it is instructive to note that the distinctive character in which God is revealed in them strikingly corresponds to those two words about Him recorded in the first Epistle of John; "God is light" (Hebrews 1:5 ); "God is love" (Hebrews 4:8 ). Mark attentively the order of these two statements which make known to us what God actually is in Himself.
"God is light." It was in this character that He was revealed in Old Testament times. What is the very first thing we hear Him saying in His Word? This: "Let there be light" (Genesis 1:3 ). In what character does He appear to our fallen first parents in Genesis 3:0 ? As "light," as the holy One, uncompromisingly judging sin. In what character was He revealed at the flood? As the "light," unsparingly dealing with that which was evil. How 'did He make Himself known to Israel at Sinai? As the One who is "light." And so we might go on through the whole Old Testament. We do not say that His love was entirely unknown, but most assuredly it was not fully revealed. That which was characteristic of the revelation of the Divine character in the Mosaic dispensation was God as light.
"God is love." It is in this character that He stands revealed in New Testament times. To make known His love. God sent forth the Son of His love. It is only in Christ that love is fully unveiled. Not that the light was absent; that could not be, seeing that He was and is God Himself. The love which he exercised and manifested was ever an holy love. But just as "God is light" was the characteristic revelation in Old Testament times, so "God is love" is characteristic of the New Testament revelation. In the final analysis, this is the contrast pointed to in the opening verses of Hebrews. In the prophets God "spoke" (revealed Himself) as light: the requirements, claims, demands of his holiness being insisted upon. But in the Son it is the sweet accents of love that we hear. It is the affections of God which the Son has expressed, appealing to ours; hence, it is by the heart, and not the head, that God can be known.
"God . . . hath in these last days spoken unto us by (His) Son." It will be noted that the word "His" is in italics, which means there is no corresponding word in the original. But the omission of this word makes the sentence obscure; nor are we helped very much when we learn that the preposition "by" should be "in." "God hath spoken in Son." Yet really, this is not so obscure as at first it seems. Were a friend to tell you that he had visited a certain church, and that the preacher "spoke in Latin," you would have no difficulty in understanding what he meant: "spoke in Latin would intimate that that particular language marked his utterance. Such is the thought here. "In Son" has reference to that which characterized God's revelation. The thought of the contrast is that God, who of old had spoken prophet-wise, now speaks son-wise. The thought is similar to that expressed in 1 Timothy 3:16 , "God was manifest in flesh," the words "in flesh" referring to that which characterized the Divine manifestation. God was not manifested in intangible and invisible ether, nor did He appear in angelic form; but "in flesh." So He has now spoken "in Son," Son-wisely.
The whole revelation and manifestation of God is now in Christ; He alone reveals the Father's heart. It is not only that Christ declared or delivered God's message, but that He himself was and is God's message. All that God has to say to us is in His Son: all His thoughts, counsels, promises, gifts, are to be found in the Lord Jesus. Take the perfect life of Christ, His deportment, His ways; that is God "speaking"-revealing Himself-to us. Take His miracles, revealing His tender compassion, displaying His mighty power; they are God "speaking" to us. Take His death, commending to us the love of God, in that while we were yet sinners, He died for us; that is God "speaking" to us. Take His resurrection, triumphing over the grave, vanquishing him who had the power of death, coming forth as the "first fruits of them that slept"-the "earnest" of the "harvest" to follow; that is God "speaking" to us.
That which is so blessed in this opening sentence of the Hebrews' Epistle, and which it is so important that our hearts should lay hold of, is, that God has come out in an entirely new character-Son-wise. It is not so much that God speaks to us in the Son, but God addresses Himself to us in Son-like character, that is, in the character of love. God might have spoken "Almighty-wise," as He did at Sinai; but that would have terrified and overwhelmed us. God might have spoken "Judge-wise," as He will at the great white Throne; but that would have condemned us, and forever banished us from His presence. But, blessed be His name, He has spoken "Son-wise," in the tenderest relation which He could possibly assume.
What was the announcement from Heaven as soon as the Son was revealed? "Unto you is born"-what? Not a "Judge," or even a "Teacher," but "a Savior, which is Christ the Lord" (Luke 2:11 ). There we have the heart of God revealed.
It is the character in which God "spoke" or revealed Himself which this opening sentence of our Epistle emphasizes. He has appeared before us in the person of His beloved Son, to bring us a knowledge of the Divine affections, and this in order to engage our affections. In the very nature of the case there can be nothing higher. Through Christ, God is now fully, perfectly, finally revealed.
We lose much if we fail to keep constantly in mind the fact that Christ is God-"God manliest in flesh." We profess to believe that He is Divine, the second person of the blessed Trinity. But it is to be feared that often we forget this when reading the record of His earthly life or when pondering the words which fell from His lips. How necessary it is when taking up a passage in the Gospels to realize that there it is God "speaking" to us "Son-wise," God's affections made known.
Take the familiar words of Luke 19:10 , "The Son of man is come to seek and to save that which is lost." But who was this "Son of man?" It was God "manifested in flesh"; it was God revealing Himself in His "Son" character. Thus, this well-known verse shows us the heart of God, yearning over His fallen creatures. Take, again, that precious word of Matthew 11:28 , "Come unto Me all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest" Those words were uttered by "Jesus of Nazareth," yet they illustrate what is said in Hebrews 1:2 : it was God "speaking" Son-wisely, i.e., bringing to poor sinners a knowledge of Divine affections. Let us re-read the four Gospels with this glorious truth before us.
Cannot we now discern the wondrous and blessed contrast pointed in the opening verses of Hebrews? How different are the two revelations which God has made of His character. In Old Testament times God "spoke," revealed Himself, according to what He is as light; and this, in keeping with the fact that it was "in the prophets"-those who made known His mind. In New Testament times God has "spoken," revealed Himself, according to what He is as love; and this, in keeping with the fact that it was "in Son" He is now made known. May we not only bow before Him in reverence and godly fear, but may our hearts be drawn out to Him in fervent love and adoration.
That which distinguishes the Hebrews' Epistle from all other books is that it has for its subject the superiority of Christianity over Judaism. Its theme is the super-abounding excellency of the new covenant. The method followed by the Holy Spirit in developing His theme is to take Him who is the center and circumference, the life and light of Christianity, even Christ, and hold before Him one object after another. As he does so, elevated, important, venerated, as some of those objects are, yet, in the presence of the "Son" their glories fade into utter insignificance.
Someone has suggested an analogy with what is recorded in Matthew 17:0 . There we see Christ upon the holy Mount, transfigured before His disciples; and, as they continue gazing on His flashing excellency, they saw no man "save Jesus only." At first, there appeared standing with Him, Moses and Elijah, and so real and tangible were they, Peter said, "If Thou wilt, let us make here three tabernacles; one for Thee, one for Moses, and one for Elijah." But as they looked "a blight cloud overshadowed them." and a Voice was heard saying, "This is My Beloved Son: hear Him" (Luke 9:35 ). How significant are the words that immediately followed: "And when the Voice was passed, Jesus was found alone." The glory associated with Moses and Elijah was so eclipsed by the infinitely greater glory connected with Christ, that they faded from view.
Now it is something very much like this that we see here all through the Hebrews' Epistle. The Holy Spirit takes up one object after another, holds each one up as it were in the presence of the all-excellent "Son," and as He does so, their glory is eclipsed, and the Lord Jesus is "found alone." The prophets, the angels, Moses, Joshua, the Levitical priesthood, the Old Testament men of faith, each come into view; each is compared with Christ, and each, in turn, fades away before His greater glory. Thus, the very things which Judaism most highly esteemed are shown to be far inferior to what God has now made known in the Christian revelation.
In the opening verses the keynote of the Epistle is at once struck. As is usual in Scripture, the Spirit has placed the key for us over the very entrance. There we see an antithesis is drawn. There we behold a contrast between Judaism and Christianity. There we are shown the immeasurable superiority of the latter over the former. There we have brought before us the "Son" as the Speaker to whom we must listen, the Object on which to gaze, the Satisfier of the heart, the One through whom God is now perfectly and finally made known. God hath, in these last days, "spoken unto us in Son." As God is the Source from which all blessings flow, He is set before us in the very first word of the Epistle. As Christ is the Channel through which all blessing comes to us, He is mentioned next, and that, in His highest character, as "Son." The more these opening verses are prayerfully pondered, the more will their wondrous depths, exhaustless contents, and unspeakable preciousness be made apparent.
In the preceding article we pointed out how that in the first two verses of Hebrews a contrast is drawn between Christ and the prophets. Israel regarded them with the highest veneration, and justly so, for they were the instruments Jehovah had condescended to employ in the giving forth of the revelation of His mind and will in Old Testament times. But Divine as were their communications, they were but introductory to something better and grander. The revelation which God made through them was neither complete nor final, as was hinted at in its fragmentary character: "in many parts and in many ways" God, of old, spake to the fathers in the prophets. Over against this, as transcending and excelling the Old Testament revelation, God has, in these last days "spoken to us in Son," i.e., in Christianity has given a new, perfect, final revelation of Himself.
Thus, the superiority over Judaism of Christianity is here denoted in a twofold way: First, by necessary implication the latter, not being diverse and fragmentary, is one and complete; it is the grand consummation toward which the other was but introductory; it is the substance and reality, of which the former furnished but the shadows and types. Second, by the instruments employed: in the one God spoke "in the prophets," in the other "in (His) Son." Just as far as the personal glory of the Son excels that of the prophets, so is the revelation God made through Christ more sublime and exalted than that which He made under Judaism. In the one He was made known as light-the requirements, claims, demands of His holiness. In the other, He is manifested as love-the affections of His heart are displayed.
Now, to prevent the Hebrews from concluding that Christ was nothing more than another instrument through which God had "spoken," the Holy Spirit in the verses which we are now to take up, brings before us some of the highest and most blessed of our Savior's personal excellencies. He there proceeds to exalt the Hebrews' conception of the Divine Prophet and Founder of the new economy. This He does by bringing into view seven of His wondrous glories. To the contemplation of those we now turn. Let us consider.
1. His Heirship.
"Whom He hath appointed Heir of all things" (verse 2). There are three things here claiming attention. First, the character in which Christ is viewed. Second, His appointment unto the inheritance. Third, the scope of the inheritance.
First , this declaration that God has appointed the Savior "Heir of all things" is similar in scope to that word of Peter's on the day of Pentecost. "Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly, that God hath made that same Jesus, whom ye have crucified, both Lord and Christ" (Acts 2:36 ). In both passages the reference is to the honor which has been conferred upon the Mediator, and in each case the design of speaker or writer was to magnify the Christian revelation by showing the exalted dignity of its Author and Head.
That the title "Heir" is similar in force to "Lord" is clear from Galatians 4:1 , "The heir, as long as he is a child, differeth nothing from a servant, though he be lord of all." Yet though there is a similarity between the terms "Heir" and "Lord," there is also a clear distinction between them; not only so, we may admire the Divine discrimination in the one used in Hebrews 1:2 . Strikingly does it follow immediately after the reference to Him as "Son," in fact furnishing proof thereof, for the son is the father's heir.
The word "heir" suggests two things: dignity and dominion, with the additional implication of legal title thereto. For its force see Genesis 21:10 , Genesis 21:12 ; Galatians 4:1 , etc. "An 'heir' is a successor to his father in all that his father hath. In connection with the Father and the Son, the supreme sovereignty of the One is nowise infringed upon by the supreme sovereignty of the Other-cf. John 5:19 . The difference is only in the manner: the Father doeth all by the Son, and the Son doeth all from the Father" (Dr. Gouge). The title "Heir" here denotes Christ's proprietorship. He is the Possessor and Disposer of all things.
Second , unto an inheritance Christ was "appointed" by God. This at once shows us that the "Son" through whom God has revealed Himself, is here viewed not in His abstract Deity, but mediatorially, as incarnate. Only as such could He be "appointed" Heir; as God the Son, essentially, He could not be deputed to anything.
This "appointment" was in the eternal counsels of the Godhead. Two things are hereby affirmed: certainty and valid title. Because God has predestined that the Mediator should be "Heir of all things," His inheritance is most sure and absolutely guaranteed, for "the Lord of hosts hath purposed, and who shall disannul?" (Isaiah 14:27 ); hath He not said, "My counsel shall stand, and I will do all My pleasure" (Isaiah 46:10 )! Again: because God has "appointed" the Mediator "Heir" we are assured of His indubitable right to this supreme dignity. That which is said of Christ's being made priest, in Hebrews 5:5 , may also be applied to this other dignity: Christ glorified not Himself to be an Heir, but He that saith to Him, "Thou art My Son, today have I begotten Thee," also "appointed" Him Heir.
Above we have said, This appointment was in the eternal counsels of the Godhead. With our present passage should be compared Acts 2:23 , "Him, being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain." Thus there were two chief things to which the Mediator was "appointed": sufferings (cf. also 1 Peter 1:19 , 1 Peter 1:20 ), and glory-cf. 1 Peter 1:11 . How this shows us that, from the beginning, Christ was the Center of all the Divine counsels. Before a single creature was called into existence, God had appointed an "Heir" to all things, and that Heir was the Lord Jesus. It was the predestined reward of His Voluntary humiliation; He who had not where to lay His head, is now the lawful Possessor of the universe.
This appointment of Christ to the inheritance was mentioned in Old Testament prophecy: "Also I will make Him My Firstborn, higher than the kings of the earth" (Psalms 89:27 ). "Firstborn" in Scripture refers not so much to primogeniture, as to dignity and inheritance: see Genesis 49:3 for the first occurrence. It is remarkable to observe and most solemn to discover that, in the days of His flesh, Israel recognized Him as such: "This is the Heir come let us kill Him, and the inheritance shall be ours" (Mark 12:7 ), was their terrible language.
Third , a few words now on the extent of that Inheritance unto which the Mediator has been deputed: "Whom He hath appointed Heir of all things." The manifestation of this is yet future, but confirmation of it was made when the risen Savior said to the disciples, "All power is given unto Me in heaven and earth" (Matthew 28:18 ). At that time we will recall God's words, "I will declare the decree (i.e., the "appointment"), Thou art My Son; this day have I begotten Thee. Ask of Me, and I shall give Thee the heaven for Thine inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for Thy possession" (Psalms 2:7 , Psalms 2:8 ). His proprietorship of mankind will be evidenced when He shall "sit upon the throne of His glory: and before Him shall be gathered all nations; and He shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats" (Matthew 25:31 , Matthew 25:32 ). His right to dispose of all will be witnessed at the great white throne. But it is when this world has passed away that His universal Heirship will be fully and eternally displayed: on the new earth shall be "the throne of God and of the Lamb" (Revelation 22:1 )!
"How rich is our adorable Jesus! The blessed Lord, when He was upon the cross, had nothing. He had not where to lay His head; even His very garments were taken from Him. He was buried in a grave which belonged not to Him or to His family. On earth He was poor to the very last; none so absolutely poor as He. But as man, He is to inherit all things; as Jesus, God and man in one person. All angels, all human beings upon the earth, all powers in the universe, when asked, 'Who is Lord of all?' will answer, 'Jesus the Son of Mary'" (Saphir). Such is the reward which God has ordained for the once humiliated One.
But most wonderful of all is that word in Romans 8:16 , Romans 8:17 , "The Spirit Himself beareth witness with our spirits, that we are the children of God; and if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ." This the angels are not. It is because of their indissoluable union with Him that His people shall also enjoy the Inheritance which God has appointed unto the Son. Herein we discover the Divine discrimination and propriety in here speaking of Christ not as "Lord of all things," but "Heir." We can never be "joint-lords," but grace has made us "joint-heirs." Because of this the Redeemer said to the Father, "the glory which Thou gavest Me I have given them" (John 17:22 ).
2. His Creatorship.
"By whom also He made the worlds" (verse 2). The Greek term for the last word is "aionas," the primary meaning of which is ages. But here, by a metonymy, it seems to be applied to matter, and signifies, the universe. "Aion properly denotes time, either past or future; and then comes to signify things formed and done in time-the world . . .The aionas is plainly the synonym of the ta panta ("all things") in the preceding clause" (Dr. J. Brown). Two things incline us to this view. First , other scriptures ascribe creation to the Son: John 1:3 ; Colossians 1:16 . Second , this gives force to the previous clause: He was, in the beginning, appointed Heir of all things because He was to be their Creator. Colossians 1:16 confirms this: "all things were created by Him and for Him."
"By whom also He made the worlds." Here is furnished clear proof of the Mediator's Diety: only God can create. This also is brought in for the purpose of emphasizing the immeasurable value of the new revelation which God has made. Attention is focused on the One in whom and through whom God has spoken in the "last days." Three things are told us in verse 2 concerning Christ: first, we have His person-He is the "Son"; second, His dignity and dominion-He is the "Heir of all things"; third, His work-He has "made the worlds," heaven and earth. If, then, His dignity be so exalted, if His glory be so great, what must not be the word of such a "Son"! what the fullness of truth which God has made known to His people by Him!
3. His Effulgency.
"Who being the brightness of (His) glory" (verse 3). In this verse the Holy Spirit continues to set forth the excellencies of Christ, and in the same order as in the preceding one. First, the Divine dignity of His person, His relation to the Father-He is the Brightness of His glory. The Greek verb from which "brightness" is derived, signifies "to send forth brightness or light," and the noun here used, such brightness as cometh from light, as the sunbeams issuing from the sun. The term is thus used metaphorically. So ably has this been developed by Dr. Gouge we transcribe from his excellent commentary of 1650: "No resemblance taken from any other creature can more fully set out the mutual relation between the Father and the Son: " 1. The brightness issuing from the sun is the same nature that the sun is-cf. John 10:30 . John 10:2 . It is of as long continuance as the sun: never was the sun without the brightness of it-cf. John 1:1 . John 1:3 . The brightness cannot be separated from the sun: the sun may as well be made no sun, as have the brightness thereof severed from it-cf. Proverbs 8:30 . Proverbs 8:4 . This brightness though from the sun is not the sun itself-cf. John 8:42 . John 8:5 . The sun and the brightness are distinct from each other: the one is not the other-cf. John 5:17 . John 5:6 . All the glory of the sun is this brightness-cf. John 17:5 ; 2 Corinthians 4:6 . 2 Corinthians 4:7 . The light which the sun giveth the world is by this brightness-cf. John 14:9 . . . Thus the Son is no whit inferior to the Father, but every way His equal. He was brightness, the brightness of His Father, yea, also the brightness of His Father's glory. Whatever excellency soever was in the Father, the same likewise was in the Son, and that in the most transplendent manner. Glory sets out excellency; brightness of glory, the excellency of excellency."
That which is in view in this third item of our passage so far transcends the grasp of the finite mind that it is impossible to give it adequate expression in words. Christ is the irradiation of God's glory. The Mediator's relation to the Godhead is like that of the rays to the sun itself. We may conceive of the sun in the firmament, yet shining not: were there no rays, we should not see the sun. So, apart from Christ, the brightness of God's "glory" could not be perceived by us. Without Christ, man is in the dark, utterly in the dark concerning God. It is in Christ that God is revealed.
4. His Being.
"The express image of His person," or, more literally, "the impress of His substance" (verse 3). The Greek for "express image" is a single word, and the verb from which it is derived signifies "to engrave," and in its noun form "that which is engraved," as the stamp on a coin, the print pressed on paper, the mark made by a seal. Nothing can be more like the original mold or seal than the image pressed out on the clay or wax, the one carrying the very form or features of the other. The Old Testament saints did not perfectly "express" God, nor can angels, for they are but finite creatures; but Christ, being Himself God, could, and did. All that God is, in His nature and character, is expressed and manifested, absolutely and perfectly, by the incarnate Son.
"And the very impress of His substance." Here again we are faced with that which is difficult to comprehend, and harder still to express. Perhaps we may be helped to get the thought by comparing 1 Timothy 6:16 with Colossians 1:15 : "Dwelling in the light which no man can approach unto; whom no man hath seen, nor can see," "Who is the image of the invisible God." All true knowledge of God must come from His approach unto us, for we cannot by "reaching" find Him out. The approach must come from His side, and it has come, "the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, He hath declared Him" (John 1:18 ).
"The very impress of His substance." This is the nearest approach to defining God's essence or essential existence. The word "substance" means essential being or essential existence; but how little we know about this! God-self-existent: One who never had a beginning, yet full of all that we know of blessed attributes. And Christ, the incarnate Son, is the very "impress," as it were, of that substance. As we have said, the original term is taken from the impress of a seal. Though we had never seen the seal we might, from beholding the impress of it (that which is exactly like it), form a true and accurate idea of the seal itself. So Christ is the Impress of the substance of God, the One in whom all the Divine perfections are found. Though essentially Light, He is also the Outshining of the "Light"; though in Himself essentially God, He is also the visible Representation of God. Being "with God" and being God, He is also the Manifestation of God; so that by and through Him we learn what God is.
"The very impress of His substance." It is not enough to read Scripture, nor even to compare passage with passage; nor have we done all when we have prayed for light thereon; there must also be meditation, prolonged meditation. Of whom were these words spoken? Of the "Son," but as incarnate, i.e., as the Son of man; of Him who entered this world by mysterious and miraculous conception in the virgin's womb. Men doubt and deny this, and no wonder, when they have nothing but a corrupt reason to guide them. How can a sin-darkened understanding lay hold of, believe, and love the truth that the great God should hide Himself in a frail human nature! That Omnipotence should be concealed in a Servant's form! That the Eternal One should become an Infant of days! This is the "great mystery" of godliness, but to the family of God is "without controversy."
But if the human mind, unaided, is incapable of grasping the fact of the great God hiding Himself in human form, how much less can it apprehend that that very hiding was a manifestation, that the concealing was a revealing of Himself-the Invisible becoming visible, the Infinite becoming cognizable to the finite. Yet such it was: "And the very impress of His substance." Who was? The incarnate Son, the Man Christ Jesus. Of whose "substance?" Of God's! But how could that be? God is eternal, and Christ died! True, yet He manifested His Godhead in the very way that He died. He died as none other ever did: He "laid down" His life. More, He manifested His Godhead by rising again: "destroy this temple" (His body) said He, "And I will raise it again"; and He did. His Godhead is now manifested in that "He is alive forever more."
But God is immutable and self-sufficient, and Christ hungered and thirsted/ True; because He was made "in all things like unto His brethren," and because that from actual experience of these things, He might be able to "succor them that are tempted." Moreover, He manifested His self-sufficiency by miraculously feeding the five thousand, and by His absolute power over all Nature-ruling the winds and waves, blasting the fig tree, etc.
But God is Lord of all, and Christ was "Led as a lamb to the slaughter": He seemed so helpless when arrested and when hanging upon the cross! But appearances are deceptive; sometimes it is a greater thing to withhold the putting forth of power than to exert it! Yet glimpses of His Lordship flashed forth even then. See Him in the Garden, and those sent to apprehend Him prostrate on the ground (John 18:6 )! See Him again on the Cross, putting forth His power and "plucking a brand from the burning": it was the power of God, for nothing short of that can free one of Satan's captives! Yes, Christ was, ever was, the "very impress of His substance," "for in Him dwelleth all the fullness of the Godhead bodily" (Colossians 2:9 ).
5. His Administration.
"Upholding all things by the word of His power" (verse 3). The Spirit of truth continues to describe the dignity and majesty of Him in whom God now "speaks" to us. Here is a declaration that is unequivocal in meaning and unlimited in its scope. Against the statement "by whom" God "made the worlds," it might be argued that, after all, the "Son" was only a minister, an agent whom God employed for that great work. In reply it would be sufficient to point out that there is no hint in Scripture of God ever having assigned to a mere creature, no matter how exalted his rank, a work which was in any wise comparable with the stupendous task of "making the worlds." But as if to anticipate such an objection, to show that the "Son" is high above the noblest and most honored of God's ministers, it is here affirmed that "He upholdeth all things by the word of His power," that is, His own power; we may add that the Greek reads "His own" as in Matthew 16:26 -"his own soul"; and "His own house" (Hebrews 3:6 ). The "upholding" of all things is a Divine work.
We have said that the term "Heir" connotes two things: dignity and dominion. In the opening clauses of verse 3 the dignity of the Mediator is set forth; here, it is His dominion which is brought before us. As it was said that He is appointed Heir of "all things," so are we now told that He upholds "all things"-all things that are visible or invisible, in heaven or earth, or under the earth: "all things" not only creatures, but all events.
The Greek word for "upholding" means to "carry or support," see Mark 2:3 ; it also signifies "to energize or impel," see 2 Peter 1:21 . It is the word used in the Septuagint for "moved" in Genesis 1:2 . That which is in view in this fifth glory of Christ is His Divine providence. "The term 'uphold' seems to refer both to preservation and government. 'By Him the worlds were made'-their materials were called into being, and arranged in comely order: and by Him, too, they are preserved from running into confusion, or reverting back into nothing. The whole universe hangs on His arm; His unsearchable wisdom and boundless power are manifested in governing and directing the complicated movements of animate and inanimate, rational, and irrational beings, to the attainment of His own great and holy purposes; and He does this by the word of His power, or by His powerful word. All this is done without effort or difficulty. He speaks, and it is done; He commands, and it stands fast" (Dr. J. Brown). What a proof that the "Son" is God!
He who appeared on earth in servant form, is the Sustainer of the universe. He is Lord over all. He has been given "power over all flesh" (John 17:2 ). The Roman legions who destroyed Jerusalem were "His armies" (Matthew 22:7 ). The angels are "His angels," see Matthew 13:41 ; Matthew 24:31 . Every movement in heaven and earth is directed by Jesus Christ: "by Him all things consist" (Colossians 1:17 ). He is not only at the head of the spiritual realm, but he "upholds all things." All movements, developments, actions, are borne up and directed by the word of His power. Glimpses of this flashed forth even in the days of His flesh. The winds and the waves were subservient to His word. Sickness and disease fled before His command. Demons were subject to His authoritative bidding. Even the dead came forth in response to His mighty fiat. And all through the ages, today, the whole of creation is directed by the will and word of its Heir, Maker, and Upholder.
6. His Expiation.
"When He had by Himself purged our sins" (verse 3). Here is something still more wondrous. Striking is it to behold the point at which this statement is introduced. The cross was the great stumbling-block unto the Jews; but so far was the apostle from apologizing for the death of the "Son," he here includes it as among His highest glories. And such indeed it was. The putting away of the sins of His people was an even greater and grander work than was the making of the worlds or the upholding of all things by His mighty power. His sacrifice for sins has brought greater glory to the Godhead and greater blessing to the redeemed than have His works of creation or providence.
"Why has this wonderful and glorious Being, in whom all things are summed up, and who is before all things the Father's delight and the Father's glory; why has this infinite light, this infinite power, this infinite majesty come down to our poor earth? For what purpose? To shine? To show forth the splendor of His majesty? To teach heavenly wisdom? To rule with just and holy right? No. He came to purge our sins. What height of glory! what depths of abasement! Infinite in His majesty, and infinite in His self-humiliation, and in the depths of His love. What a glorious Lord! And what an awful sacrifice of unspeakable love, to purge our sins by Himself"! (Saphir).
"By Himself purged our sins." This has reference to the atonement which He has made. The metaphor of "purging" is borrowed from the language of the Mosaic economy-cf. 9:22. The Greek word is sometimes put for the means of purging (John 2:6 ), sometimes for the act itself (Mark 1:44 ). Both are included here: the merits of Christ's sacrifice, and the efficacy thereof. The tense of the verb, the aorist, denotes a finished work, literally, "having purged." Another has suggested an additional and humbling thought which is pointed by this metaphor-the filth of our sins, which needed "purging" away. The contrastive and superlative value and efficacy of Christ's sacrifice is thus set before us. His blood is here distinguished from that of the legal and ceremonial purifications. None of them could purge away sins-Hebrews 10:4 . All they did was to sanctify to "the purifying of the flesh" (Hebrews 9:13 ), not to the "purifying of the soul!"
"The manner and power of this purification form the subject of this whole Epistle. But in this short expression, 'by Himself He purged our sins,' all is summed up. By Himself; the Son of God, the eternal Word in humanity. Himself: the priest, who is sacrifice, yea, altar, and everything that is needed for full and real expiation and reconciliation. Here is fulfilled what was prefigured on the day of atonement, when an atonement was made for Israel, to cleanse them from all sins, that they may be clean from all their sins before the Lord (Leviticus 16:30 ). Thus our great High Priest saith unto us, Ye are clean this day before God from all your sins. He is the fulfillment and the reality, because He is the Son of God. 'The blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanseth us from all sin' (1 John 1:7 ). The church is purchased by the blood of Him who is God (Acts 20:28 , with His own blood). Behold the perfection of the sacrifice in the infinite dignity of the incarnate Son. Sin is taken away. Oh, what a wonderful thing is this!" (Saphir).
7. His Exaltation.
"Sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high" (verse 3). Unspeakably blessed is this. The One who descended into such unfathomable depths of shame, who humbled Himself and became "obedient unto death, even the death of the cross," has been highly exalted above all principality and power, and dominion, and every name which is named, not only in this world, but also in that which is to come. All-important is it, too, to mark carefully the connection between these two wondrous statements: "when He had by Himself purged our sins, sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high." We cannot rightly think of the God-man as where He now is, without realizing that the very circumstance of His being there, shows, in itself, that "our sins" are put away for ever. The present possession of glory by the Mediator is the conclusive evidence that my sins are put away. What blessed connection is there, then between our peace of soul, and His glory!
"Sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high." Three things are here denoted. First, high honor: "sitting," in Scripture, is often a posture of dignity, when superiors sit before inferiors: see Job 29:7 , Job 29:8 ; Daniel 7:9 , Daniel 7:10 ; Revelation 5:13 . Second, it denotes settled continuance. In Genesis 49:24 Jacob said to Joseph that his "bow sat in strength," fittingly rendered "abode in strength." So in Leviticus 8:35 , "abode" is literally "sit." Though He will vacate that seat when He descends into the air (1 Thessalonians 4:16 ) to receive His blood-bought people unto Himself, yet it is clear from Revelation 22:1 that this position of highest honor and glory belongs to Christ for ever and ever. Third, it signifies rest, cessation from His sacrificial services and sufferings. It has often been pointed out that no provision was made for Israel's priests to sit down: there was no chair in the Tabernacle's furniture. And why? Because their work was never completed-see Hebrews 10:1 , Hebrews 10:3 . But Christ's work of expiation is completed; on the cross He declared, "It is finished" (John 19:30 ). In proof of this, He is now seated on High.
The term "the Majesty on high" refers to God Himself. "Majesty" signifies such greatness as makes one to be honored of all and preferred above all. Hence it is a delegated title, proper to kings, cf. 2 Peter 1:16 . In our passage it denotes God's supreme sovereignty. It is brought in here to emphasize and magnify the exaltation of the Savior-elevated to the highest possible dignity and position. The "right hand" speaks of power (Exodus 15:6 ), and honor (1 Kings 2:19 ). "On high" is, in the Greek, a compound word, used nowhere else in the New Testament; literally, it signifies, "the highest height," the most elevated exaltation that could be conceived of or is possible. Thus we are shown that the highest seat in the universe now belongs to Him who once had not where to lay His head.
It is to be observed that in Hebrews 10:2 , Hebrews 10:3 the Holy Spirit has, briefly, set forth the three great offices of the Mediator. First, His prophetic: He is the final Spokesman of God. Second, His kingly: His royal majesty-upholding all things, and that, by the word of His power, which affirms His absolute sovereignty. Third, His priestly: the two parts of which are expiation of His people's sins and intercession at God's right hand.
In conclusion, it should be pointed out how that everything in these opening verses of Hebrews is in striking contrast from what Israel enjoyed under the old economy. They had prophets; Christ is the final Spokesman of Diety. They were His people; He, God's "Son." Abraham was constituted "heir of the world" (Romans 4:13 ); Christ is the "Heir" of the universe. Moses made the tabernacle; Christ, "the worlds." The law furnished "a shadow of good things to come"; Christ is the Brightness of God's glory. In Old Testament times Israel enjoyed theophanic manifestations of Christ; now, He is revealed as the Image of God's person. Moses bore the burden of Israel (Numbers 11:11 , Numbers 11:12 ); Christ, "upholds all things." The sacrifices of old took not sins away; Christ's sacrifice did. Israel's high priests never sat down; Christ has.
Christ Superior to Angels.
(Hebrews 1:4-14 )
One of the first prerequisites for a spiritual workman who is approved of God, is that he must prayerfully and constantly aim at a "rightly dividing" of the Word of Truth (2 Timothy 2:15 ). Preeminently is this the case when he takes up those passages treating of the person of the Lord Jesus Christ. Unless we "rightly divide" or definitely distinguish between what is said of Him in His essential Being, and what is predicated of Him in His official character, we are certain to err, and err grievously. By His "essential Being" is meant what He always was and must ever remain as God the Son. By His "official character" reference is made to what may be postulated of Him as Mediator, that is, as God incarnate, the God-man. It is the same blessed person in each case, but looked at in different relationships.
It is failure to thus rightly divide what is said in the Word of Truth concerning the Lord Jesus which has caused unregenerate men to entertain most dishonoring and degrading views of Him, and has led some regenerate men to err in their interpretation of many passages. As illustrations of the former we may cite some of the more devout unitarians, who, appealing to such statements as "My Father is greater than I" (John 14:28 ), "when all things shall be subdued unto Him, then shall the Son also Himself be subject unto Him that put all things under Him" (1 Corinthians 15:28 ), etc., have argued that though the Son be superior to all creatures, yet is He inferior to the Father. But the passages cited do not relate to the "essential Being" of Christ, but speak of Him in His Mediatorial character. As an example of the latter we may mention how that such an able exegete as Dr. John Brown interprets the second half of Hebrews 1:4 as referring to the essential Being of the Savior.
Thus it will be seen that that to which we have drawn attention above is something more than an arbitrary theological distinction; it vitally affects the forming of right views of Christ's person and a sound interpretation of many passages of Holy Writ. Now in His Word God has not drawn the artificial lines which man is fond of making. That is to say, the essential and the official glories of Christ are often found intermingling, rather than being separately classified. A case in point occurs in the first three verses of Hebrews 1:0 . First we are told that, at the close of the Mosaic dispensation, God spoke to the Hebrews by (in) His Son. Obviously this was upon earth, alter the Word had become flesh. Thus the reference is to Christ in His Mediatorial character. Second, "whom He hath appointed Heir of all things" manifestly views Him in the same character, for, in His essential Being no such "appointment" was needed-as God the Son "all things" are His. But when we come to the third clause, "by whom also He made the worlds" there is clearly a change of viewpoint. The worlds were made long before the Son became incarnate, therefore this postulate must be understood of Him in His eternal and essential Being.
The inquiring mind will naturally ask, Why this change of viewpoint? Why introduce this higher glory of the Son in the midst of a list of His Mediatorial honors?-for it is clear that the Holy Spirit returns to these in the clauses which follow in verse 3. The answer is not far to seek: it is to exalt the Mediator in our esteem; it is to show us that the One who appeared on earth in Servant form was possessed of a dignity and majesty which should bow our hearts in worship before Him. He who "by Himself purged our sins" is the same that "made the worlds." The crucified was the Creator! But this is not the wonder set forth in this passage. In order to be crucified it was needful for the Creator to become man. The Son of God (though never ceasing to be such) became the Son of man, and this Man has been exalted to the right hand of the Majesty on high. So beautifully has the late Mr. Saphir written on this point we transcribe from him at length:-
"Is it more wonderful to see the Son of God in Bethlehem as a little babe, or to see the Son of man at the right hand of the Father? Is it more marvelous to see the Counselor, the Wonderful, the Mighty God, the Prince of Peace, the Everlasting Father, a child born unto us, and a Son given unto us-or to see the Son of man, and in Him the dust of earth, seated at the right hand of God? The high priest entered once a year into the holy of holies, but who would have ventured to abide there, or take up his position next to the cherubim, where the glory of the Most High was revealed? But Jesus, the Son of man, ascended, and by His own power, and in His own right, as well as by the appointment of the Father, He is enthroned, crowned with glory and majesty. On the wings of omnipotent love He came down from heaven, but to return to heaven, omnipotence and love were not sufficient. It was comparatively easy (if I may use this expression of the most stupendous miracle) for the Son of God to humble Himself, and to come down to this earth; but to return to heaven, it was necessary for Him to be baptized with the baptism of suffering, and to die the death upon the accursed tree. Not as He came down did He ascend again; for it was necessary that He who in infinite grace had taken our position should bow and remove our burden and overcome our enemies. Therefore was His soul straightened to be baptized with His baptism; and therefore, from the first moment that He appeared in Jerusalem, He knew that the temple of His sacred body was to be broken, and He looked forward to the decease which He should accomplish on that mount. Not as He came did He ascend again; for He came as the Son of God; but He returned not merely as the Son of God, but as the Son of God incarnate, the Son of David, our brother and our Lord. Not as He came did He ascend again; for He came alone, the Good Shepherd, moved with boundless compassion, when He thought of the lost and perishing sheep in the wilderness; but He returned with the saved sheep upon His shoulders, rejoicing, and bringing it to a heavenly and eternal home. He went back again, not merely triumphing, but He who had gone forth weeping, bearing precious seed, who Himself had been sown, by His sacrifice unto death, returned, bringing His sheaves with Him.... It was when He had by Himself purged our sins that He sat down at the right hand of God; by the power of His blood He entered into the holy of holies; as the Lamb slain God exalted Him, and gave Him a name which is above every name."
Thus that which is prominent, yea dominant, in this opening chapter in Hebrews is the Mediatorial glories of the Son. True, His essential glory is referred to in verse 2: "By whom also He made the worlds," but, as already stated, this is introduced for the purpose of exalting the Mediator in our esteem, to prevent us forming an unworthy and erroneous conception of His person. The One who "by Himself purged our sins" is the same person as made the worlds, it is He who is "the Brightness of God's glory, and the express Image of His substance." What ground, what cause have we for exclaiming, "Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power and riches, and wisdom and strength, and honor and glory, and blessing" (Revelation 5:12 )? To this the God-man is entitled. Because of this, God exalted Him to His own right hand. Having shown His infinite elevation above the prophets we have next revealed His immeasurable superiority over the angels.
"Being made so much better than the angels, as He hath by inheritance obtained a more excellent name than they" (verse 4). Before attempting to expound the details of this verse, it may be well for us first to inquire, Why does the Holy Spirit here introduce the "angels?" What was His particular purpose in showing Christ's superiority over them? To these questions a threefold answer, at least, may be returned:-
First , because the chief design of the Holy Spirit in this Epistle is to exalt the Lord Jesus, as the God-man, far above every name and dignity. In the next section (chapter 3) He shows the superiority of Christ over Moses. But to have commenced with Moses, would not have gone back far enough, for Moses the mediator, received the law by "the disposition of angels" (Acts 7:53 ). Inasmuch as angels are described in Holy Writ as "excelling in strength," and thus as far raised in the scale of being above man, it was necessary, in order to establish Christ's superiority over all created beings, to show that He was much better than they. To prove that God the Son was superior to angels were superfluous, but to show that the Son of man has been exalted high above them was essential if the Hebrews were to ascribe to Him the glory which is His due.
Second , the object before the Holy Spirit in this Epistle in presenting the supreme dignity and dominion of the Mediator was to demonstrate the immeasurable superiority of Christianity over Judaism. The method He has followed here is very striking and convincing. The old order or economy was given by "the disposition of angels" (Acts 7:53 ). Exactly what this means perhaps we cannot be quite sure, though there are several scriptures which throw light thereon, for in Deuteronomy 33:2 we read: "The Lord came from Sinai, and rose up from Seir unto them; He shined forth from Mount Paran, and He came with ten thousand of saints"-"holy ones," i.e., "angels." Again, Psalms 68:17 tells us, "The chariots of God are twenty thousand, even thousands of angels: the Lord is among them, as in Sinai." Finally, Galatians 3:19 says, "Wherefore then serveth the law? It was added because of transgressions, till the Seed would come to whom the promise was made; and it was ordained by angels in the hand of a mediator." Thus, the glory of Jehovah at Sinai (the beginning of the Mosaic economy) was an angelic one, and the employment of angels in the giving of the law stamped a dignity and importance upon it. But the legal dispensation has been set aside by a new and higher glory revealed in "the Son," and Hebrews 1:0 shows us the angels subservient to Him, and not only so, closes with the statement that they are now the servants of the present "heirs of salvation!"
Third , it is necessary to show the superiority of Christ (the Center and Life of Christianity) over the angels, because the Jews regarded them as the most exalted of all God's creatures. And rightly so. It was as "the Angel of the covenant" (Malachi 3:1 ), the "Angel of the Lord" (Exodus 3:2 ), that Jehovah had appeared most frequently unto them. From earliest times angelic ministration had been a chief instrument of Divine power and medium of communication. It was "the Angel of the Lord" who delivered Hagar (Genesis 16:7 ), and who appeared to Abraham. Angels delivered Lot (Genesis 19:1 ). It was the Lord's "angel" who protected Israel on the pass-over-night (Numbers 20:16 ). Thus the Jews esteemed angels more highly than man. To be told that the Messiah Himself, God the Son incarnate, had become man made Him, in their eyes, inferior to the angels. Therefore, was it necessary to show them from their own Scriptures that the Mediator, God manifest in flesh, possessed a dignity and glory as far excelling that of the angels as the heavens are higher than the earth.
"Being made so much better than the angels." This verse may be termed the text, and the remainder of the chapter, the sermon-the exposition and application of it. The first key to its meaning and scope lies in its first two words (which are but one in the Greek), "being made." Grammatically it seems almost a blemish to open a new paragraph with a participle; in truth, it demonstrates the perfection of the Spirit's handiwork. It illustrates a noticeable difference which ever distinguishes the living works of God from the lifeless productions of man-contrast the several parts of a chair or table with the various members of the human body: in the one the several sections of it are so put together that its pieces are quite distinct, and the joints between them clearly perceptible; in the other, the ending of one member is lost in the beginning of the next. Our analogy may be commonplace, but it serves to illustrate one of the great differences between the writings of men and the Scriptures of God. The latter is a living organism, a body of truth, vitalized by the breath of God!
Though verse 4 begins a distinct section of the Epistle it is closely and inseparably united to the introductory verses which precede, and more especially to the final clauses of verse 3. Unless this be kept in mind we are certain to err in our interpretation of it. At the close of verse 3, Christ is presented as the One who has purged the sins of His people, in other words, as the Son of man, God incarnate, and it was as such He has been exalted to the right hand of the Majesty on high. There is now a Man in the glory. And it is this Man, the "second Man (1 Corinthians 15:47 ) who has been made better than the angels," and who has obtained "a more excellent name than they." It is this which the opening participle makes clear, being designed to carry our thoughts back to what has been said at the close of verse 3.
"Being made so much better than the angels." To appreciate the force of this we must, briefly, consider the excellency of the "angels." Angels are the highest of all God's creatures: heaven is their native home (Matthew 24:36 ). They "excel in strength" (Psalms 103:20 ). They are God's "ministers" (Psalms 104:4 ). Like a king's gentlemen-in-waiting, they are said to "minister unto the Ancient of days" (Daniel 7:10 ). They are "holy" (Matthew 25:31 ). Their countenances are like "lightning," and their raiment is as white as snow (Matthew 28:3 ). They surround God's throne (Revelation 5:11 ). They carry on every development of nature. "God does not move and rule the world merely by laws and principles, by unconscious and inanimate powers, but by living beings full of light and love. His angels are like flames of fire; they have charge over the winds, and the earth, and the trees, and the sea (the book of Revelation shows this-A.W.P.). Through the angels He carries on the government of the world" (Saphir).
But glorious as the angels are, elevated as is their station, great as is their work, they are, nevertheless, in subjection to the Lord Jesus as Man; for in His human nature God has enthroned Him high above all. "The apostle in the former verses proves Christ to be more excellent than the excellentest of men; even such as God extraordinarily inspired with his holy Spirit, and to whom he immediately revealed his will that they might make it known to others. Such were the priests, prophets, and heads of the people. But these, as well as all other men, notwithstanding their excellencies, were on earth mortal. Therefore he ascendeth higher, and calleth out the celestial and immortal spirits, which are called angels. Angels are of all mere creatures the most excellent. If Christ then be more excellent than the most excellent, He must needs be the most excellent of all. This excellency of Christ is so set out, as thereby the glory and royalty of His kingly office is magnified. For this is the first of Christ's offices which the apostle doth in particular exemplify: in which exemplification He giveth many proofs of Christ's divine nature, and showeth Him to be man as He is God also; and in the next chapter, so to be God as He is man also: 'like to his brethren' (Hebrews 2:17 )" (Dr. Gouge).
"Being made so much better than the angels." Through Isaiah God had promised that the "Man of sorrows" who was to be "cut off out of the land of the living" for the transgression of His people, should be richly rewarded for His travail: "Therefore, will I divide Him a portion with the great and He shall divide the spoil with the strong" (Isaiah 53:12 ). In Psalms 68:18 , He is represented as ascending "on high," and that, as a mighty conqueror leading captives in His train and receiving gifts for men. In Philippians 2:0 we learn that He who took upon Him the form of a servant and was made in the likeness of men, who became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross, "God also hath highly exalted Him and given Him a name which is above every name, that at (in) the name of Jesus (given to Him at His incarnation) every knee should bow, of things in heaven and in earth, and under the earth" (verses 9-11). He has been "made so much better than the angels" first of all, by the position accorded Him-He is seated on the right hand of the Majesty on High: angels are "round about the throne" (Revelation 5:11 ), the Lamb is on the Throne!
"As He hath by inheritance obtained a more excellent name than they" (verse 4). "We who live in the West think a name of slight importance: but God always taught His people to attach great importance to names. The first petition in the Lord's prayer is, 'Hallowed be Thy name;' and all the blessings and privileges which God bestowed upon Israel are summed up in this, that God revealed unto them His name. The name is the outward expression and the pledge and seal of all that a person really and substantially is; and when it says that the Son of God has received a higher name than angels, it means that, not only in dignity, but in kind, He is high above them" (A. Saphir). "The descriptive designation given to Christ Jesus, when contrasted to that given to angels, marks Him as belonging to a higher order of beings. Their name is created spirits; His name is the only-begotten Son of God" (Dr. J. Brown).
"As He hath by inheritance obtained a more excellent name than they" (verse 4). When commenting on the first part of this verse we endeavored to show that the reference is to the Father rewarding the Mediator for His sacrificial work, and attention was directed to the parallel supplied in Philippians 2:9-11 . That passage begins by saying: "Wherefore God also hath highly exalted Him," and this finds its counterpart here in "being made so much better than the angels." Then follows the statement "and hath given Him a name which is above every name," the parallel being found in "a more excellent name than they," i.e., the highest of all created beings. Finally, His right to this exalted name is to be owned by every knee bowing before it; so also the last clause of Hebrews 1:4 affirms Christ's right to His more excellent name. Is it not more than a coincidence that the corresponding passage to Hebrews 1:4 is found in one of the apostle Paul's Epistles!
"He hath by inheritance obtained a more excellent name than they." This affirms the right of Christ to His more excellent name. The English rendering here seems slightly misleading. The Greek for "He hath by inheritance obtained" is a single word. It is a technical term relating to legal title, secure tenure. The right of inheritance which Sarah would not that the son of the bondwoman should have, is expressed by this word: "shall not the heir" (Galatians 4:30 ) "Shall not by inheritance obtain," or, "shall not inherit." Christ's right to His supreme dignity is twofold: first, because of the union between His humanity and essential Deity; Second, as a reward for His mediatorial sufferings and unparalleled obedience to His Father.
"For unto which of the angels said He at any time, Thou art My Son?" (verse 5). Having affirmed the superiority of Christ over angels, the Holy Spirit now supplies proof of this, drawing His evidence from the Old Testament Scriptures. The first passage appealed to is found in the second Psalm, and the manner in which it is introduced should be noted. It is put in the form of a question. This was to stir up the minds of those who read the Epistle. It is worthy of remark that this interrogative form of instruction is found quite frequently in the Pauline Epistles e.g., 1 Corinthians 9:4-10 , Galatians 3:1-5 -and much more so than any other New Testament writer. This method of teaching was often employed by the Lord Jesus, as a glance at the Gospels will show. Observe, too, how the question asked in our text assumes that the Hebrews were familiar with the entire contents of Scripture. The interrogative way of presenting this quotation was tantamount to saying: Judge for yourselves whether what I say be true- where in the Sacred Writings is there any record of God's addressing an angel as His "Son"? They could not thus judge unless they were well versed in the Word.
"Unto which of the angels said He at any time, Thou art My Son"? The answer is, To none of them. Nowhere in the Old Testament Scriptures is there a single instance of God's addressing an angel as "My Son." It is true that in Job 38:7 the angels are termed "sons of God," but this simply has reference to their creation. Adam is termed a "son of God" (Luke 3:38 ) in the same sense. So, regenerated saints are "sons of God" by virtue of new creation. But no individual angel was ever addressed by the Father as "My Son." The Lord Jesus was, both at His baptism and His transfiguration. Herein we perceive not only His pre-eminence, but His uniqueness.
"Unto which of the angels said He at any time, Thou art My Son, this day have I begotten Thee" (verse 5)? This latter expression has occasioned not a little difficulty to some of the commentators, and, in the past, has been made the battleground of fierce theological fights. The issue raised was "the eternal Son-ship of Christ." Those affirming understood "this day (or "today") the Greek is the same as in Luke 23:43 -to be timeless, and "this day have I begotten Thee" to refer to the eternal generation of the Son by the Father. Much of the fighting was merely a strife "about words," which was to no profit. Though Scripture clearly teaches the Godhead and absolute Deity of the Son (Hebrews 1:8 , etc.) and affirms His eternality (John 1:1 , etc.), it nowhere speaks of His eternal "son-ship," and where Scripture is silent it behooves us to be silent too. Certainly this verse does not teach the eternal son-ship of Christ, for if we allow the apostle to define his own terms, we read in Hebrews 4:7 , "He limiteth a certain day, saying in David, Today," etc. This, it appears to us, illustrates the Spirit's foresight in thus preventing "today" in Hebrews 1:5 being understood as a timeless, limitless "day"-eternity.
Further proof that the Spirit is not here treating of the essential Deity or eternal son-ship of Christ is seen by a glance at the passage from which these words are taken. Hebrews 1:5 contains far more than the mere quotation of a detached sentence from the Old Testament. The reference is to the second Psalm, and if the reader will turn to and read through it, he should at once see the striking propriety in the apostle's reference to it here. This is the first Old Testament passage quoted in Hebrews, and like the first of anything in Scripture claims special attention because of its prime importance. Coming as it does right after what has been said in verse 4, namely, that He who, positionally, had been made lower than the angels, is now exalted above them, an appeal to the 2 nd Psalm was most appropriate. That has two divisions and treats of the humiliation and exaltation of the Messiah! In verse 3 counsel is taken against Him; in verses 10-12, kings and judges are bidden to pay homage to Him.
Now it is in this 2 nd Psalm that the Father is heard saying to the Messiah, "Thou art My Son, this day have I begotten Thee" (verse 7). The whole context shows that it is the Father addressing the Son in time, not eternity; on earth, not in heaven; in His mediatorial character, not His essential Being. Nor is there any difficulty in the "today have I begotten Thee," the Holy Spirit having explained its force in Acts 13:33 . There the apostle declared to the Jews that God had fulfilled the promise made unto the fathers, namely, that He had "raised up Jesus," i.e. had sent the Messiah unto them. Acts 13:33 has no reference to Christ's resurrection, but relates to His incarnation and manifestation to Israel-cf. Deuteronomy 18:18 , "I will raise them up a Prophet"; also Acts 3:26 . It was not until Acts 13:34 , Acts 13:35 that the apostle brought in His resurrection "raised Him up from the dead." Thus in Acts 13:0 Psalms 2:0 is cited to prove the Father had sent the Savior to Israel and His promise so to do had been fulfilled in the Divine incarnation. We may add that the word "again" in Acts 13:33 is not found in the Greek and is omitted in the Revised Version! If further proof be needed that the "This day have I begotten Thee" refers to the incarnation of Christ, Luke 2:11 supplies it, "unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord"-could so much be said of any but the only-begotten Son of God? Thus "this day" is here, by an angel's voice expressly referred to the day of the Savior's birth.
"This day have I begotten Thee." This, then, is another verse which teaches the virgin-birth of Christ! His humanity was "begotten" by God the Father. Though the Son of man, He was not begotten by a man. Because His very humanity was begotten by the Father it was said unto His mother, "That holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God" (Luke 1:35 ).
"And again, I will be to Him a Father, and He shall be to Me a Son" (verse 5). The opening "and" connects this second quotation with the first; what follows clearly and conclusively fixes the scope of the first part of this verse. Here is indubitable proof that the Holy Spirit is speaking of Christ not according to His essential glory, but in His mediatorial character, as incarnate. Had the first part of verse 5 referred to the eternal relationship of the Son of the Father as practically all of the older (Calvinistic) commentators insist, it would surely be meaningless to add the quotation which follows, "I will be" does not take us back into the timeless past! Nor was there any occasion for the first Person of the Trinity to assure the Second that He would be "a Father unto Him." Clearly, it is the Father accepting and owning as His Son the One whom the world had cast out.
"And again, I will be to Him a Father and He shall be to Me a Son." This second quotation is from 2 Samuel 7:12-17 , which forms part of one of the great Messianic predictions of the Old Testament. Like all prophecy it had a minor and major scope and receives a partial and ultimate fulfillment. Its first reference was to Solomon, who, in many respects, was a remarkable type of the Lord Jesus. But its chief application was to Christ Himself. That Solomon did not exhaust its fulfillment is clear enough from the language of verse 13 itself, for, as Dr. Brown has pointed out, "It refers to a son to be raised up after David had gone to be with his fathers, whereas Solomon was not only born but crowned before David's death; and the person to be raised up, whosoever he is, was to be settled 'in God's house and kingdom,' and his throne was to be 'established forevermore',-words certainly not applicable, in their full extent, to Solomon." Doubtless none would have argued for an exclusive reference to Solomon had it not been for the words which follow in 2 Samuel 7:14 . But competent Hebrew scholars tell us that "if he commit iniquity" may fairly be rendered "whosoever shall commit iniquity" and find their parallel in Psalms 89:30-33 .
"I will be to Him a Father, and He shall be to Me a Son." This was God's promise concerning the Messiah, David's Son a thousand years before He appeared on earth. "I will be to Him a Father." I will own Him as My Son, I will treat Him accordingly. This He did. In death He would not suffer Him to see corruption. He raised Him from the dead. He exalted Him to His own right hand. "And He shall be to Me a Son": He shall act as such. And He did. He ever spake of Him as "Father," He obeyed Him even unto death. He committed His spirit into His hands.
"And again, when He bringeth in the First-begotten into the world, He saith, 'And let all the angels of God worship Him'" (verse 6). This is a quotation from Psalms 97:7 , which in the Sept. reads, "Worship Him, all ye His angels." What a proof was this that the Son had been "made so much better than the angels": so far were these celestial creatures from approaching the glory of the incarnate Son, they are commanded to worship Him! But before we enlarge upon this, let us mark attentively the special character in which Christ is here viewed. Many are His titles, and none of them is without its distinctive significance. It is as "First-begotten" or "Firstborn" that the angels are bidden to render Him homage. As many are far from clear as to the precise value and meaning of this name, let us look at it the more closely. The Greek word, "pro-tokokos," is found nine times in the New Testament, eight of them referring to the Lord Jesus. It is manifestly a title of great dignity.
This New Testament title of Christ, like many another, has its roots in the Old Testament. Its force may be clearly perceived in Genesis 49:3 , where Jacob says of Reuben, "Thou art my firstborn, my might, and the beginning of my strength, the excellency of dignity, and the excellency of power." Thus, the primary thought in it is not primogeniture, but dignity, honor, dominion. Note in Exodus 4:22 , God calls Israel His "firstborn" because to them belonged the high honor of being His favored people. In the great Messianic prediction of Psalms 89:0 , after promising to put down His foes and plague them that hate Him (verse 23), and after the perfect Servant says "Thou art My Father, My God, and the Rock of My salvation" (verse 26), the Father declares, "I will make Him My Firstborn, higher than the kings of the earth" (verse 27). Clearly, then, this title has no reference whatever to the eternal origin of His Being, i.e. His "eternal Son-ship," still less does it intimate His creation in time as Russellites and others blasphemously affirm; but relates to the high position of honor and glory which has been conferred upon the Son of man because of His obedience and suffering.
The first occurrence of this term in the New Testament is in Matthew 1:25 , "she brought forth her firstborn Son," and the second is parallel-Luke 2:7 . That Mary had other sons is clear from Matthew 13:55 . The Lord Jesus was not only the first in time, but the Chief, not only among but over them. In Romans 8:29 we read, that God has predestinated His elect to be conformed to the image of His Son in order that He might be the Firstborn among many brethren, i.e. their Chief and most excellent Ruler. In Colossians 1:15 , He is designated the "Firstborn of every creature," which most certainly does not mean that He was Himself the first to be created, as many today wickedly teach, for never does Scripture speak of Him as "the Firstborn of God," but affirms that He is the Head and Lord of every creature. In Colossians 1:18 , He is spoken of as "the Firstborn from the dead," which does not signify that He was the first to rise again, but the One to whom the bodies of His saints shall be conformed-see Philippians 3:21 . In Hebrews 11:28 , this term is applied to the flower and might of Egypt. In Hebrews 12:23 , the Church in glory is termed "the Church of the Firstborn." This title then is synonymous with the "appointed Heir of all things." It is, however, to be distinguished from "Only-begotten" in John 1:18 , John 3:16 . This latter is a term of endearment, as a reference to Hebrews 11:17 shows-Isaac was not Abraham's only "begotten," for Ishmael was begotten by him too; but Isaac was his darling: so Christ is God's "Darling"-see Psalms 22:20 , Psalms 35:17 .
"Under the law the 'firstborn' had authority over his brethren (cf. Romans 8:29 , A.W.P.), and to them belonged a double portion, as well as the honor of acting as priests; the firstborn in Israel being holy; that is to say, consecrated to the Lord. Reuben, forfeiting his right of primogeniture by his sin, his privileges were divided, so that the dominion belonging to it was transferred to Judah and the double portion to Joseph, who had two tribes and two portions in Canaan by Ephraim and Manasseh (1 Chronicles 5:1 , 1 Chronicles 5:2 ); while the priesthood and the right of sacrifice was transferred to Levi. The word 'firstborn' also signifies what surpasses anything as of the same kind, as 'the firstborn of the poor'" (Isaiah 14:30 ); that is to say, the most miserable of all; and 'firstborn of death' (Job 18:13 ), signifying a very terrible death, surpassing in grief and violence. The term 'firstborn' is also applied to those who were most beloved, as Ephraim is called 'the firstborn of the Lord' (Jeremiah 31:9 ), that is, His 'dear son.' In all these respects the application of 'firstborn' belongs to the Lord Jesus, both as to the superiority of His nature, of His office, and of His glory" (Robert Haldane).
"And again when He bringeth in the First-begotten into the world," etc. Commentators are divided as to the meaning and placing of the word "again," many contending it should be rendered, "When He shall bring in again into the habitable earth the Firstborn." There is not a little to be said in favor of this view. First, the Greek warrants it. In the second part of verse 5 the translators have observed the order of the original-"and again, I will be unto Him," etc. But here in verse 6 they have departed from it-"And again, when He bringeth in" instead of "when He shall bring in again." Secondly, we know of nothing in Scripture which intimates that the angels worshipped the infant Savior. Luke 2:13 , Luke 2:14 refers to them adoring God in heaven, and not His incarnate Son on earth. But Revelation 5:11-14 shows us all heaven worshipping the Lamb on the eve of His return to the earth, when He comes with power and glory. Scriptures which mention the angels in connection with Christ's second advent are Matthew 13:41 ; Matthew 16:27 ; Matthew 24:31 ; Matthew 25:31 ; 2 Thessalonians 1:7 .
That verse 6 has reference to the second advent of Christ receives further confirmation in the expression "when He bringeth in the First-begotten into the world." This language clearly looks back to Jehovah putting Israel into possession of the land of Canaan, their promised inheritance. "Thou shalt bring them in, and plant them in the mountain of Thine inheritance" (Exodus 15:17 ). "To drive out the nations from before thee, greater and mightier than thou art, to bring thee in, to give thee their land for an inheritance" (Deuteronomy 4:38 ). In like manner, when Christ returns to the earth, the Father will say to Him, "Ask of Me, and I shall give Thee the heathen for Thine inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for Thy possession" (Psalms 2:8 ).
In addition to what has just been said on "when He bringeth in the firstborn" into the world we would call attention to what we doubt not, is a latent contrast here. It is set over against His expulsion from the world, at His first advent. Men, as it were, drove Him ignominiously from the world. But He will re-enter it in majesty, in the manifested power of God. He will be "brought into it" in solemn pomp, and the same world which before witnessed His reproach, shall then behold His Divine dominion. Then shall He come, "in the glory of His Father" (Matthew 16:27 ), and then shall the angels render gladsome homage to that One whose honor is the Father's chief delight. Then shall the word go forth from the Father's lips, "Let all the angels of God worship Him."
Our minds naturally turn back to the first advent and what is recorded in Luke 2:0 . But there the angels praised the Sender, not the Sent: God in the highest was the object of their worship though the moving cause of it was the lowly Babe. But when Christ comes back to earth it is the Firstborn Himself who shall be worshipped by them. It was to this He referred when He said, "When He shall come in His own glory, and in His Father's and of the holy angels." The "glory of the angels," i.e. the glory they will bring to Him, namely, their worship of Him. Then shall be seen "the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man" (John 1:51 ). May we who have been sought out and saved by Him "worship" Him now in the time of His rejection.
Christ Superior to Angels.
(Hebrews 1:7-9 )
The verses which are now to be before us continue the passage begun in our last article. As a distinctive section of the Epistle this second division commences at 1:4 and runs to the end of the second chapter. Its theme is the immeasurable superiority of Christ over the angels. But though the boundaries of this section are clearly defined, yet is it intimately related to the one that precedes. The first three verses of chapter one contain a summary of that which is afterwards developed at length in the Epistle, and, really, Hebrews 1:4-14 is a setting forth of the proofs for the various affirmations made in verses 2, 3. First, in verse 2, the One whom the Jewish nation had despised and rejected is said to be "Son," and in verse 5 we are shown that He against whom the kings of the earth did set themselves and the rulers take counsel together, is addressed by Jehovah Himself as "Thou art My Son." Second, in verse 2 the One who had been crucified by wicked hands is said to be "the Heir of all things," and in verse 6 proof of this is given: God affirmed that He is the "Firstborn" the two titles being practically synonymous in their force.
Thus is will be seen that the method followed here by the Holy Spirit, was in moving the apostle to first make seven affirmations concerning the exalted dignity and dominion of Christ, and then to confirm them from the Scriptures. The proofs are all drawn from the Old Testament. From it He proceeds to show that the Messiah was to be a person superior to the angels. Psalms 2:0 should have led the Jews to expect "the Son" and Psalms 97:7 ought to have taught them that the promised Messiah was to receive the adoration of all the celestial hierarchies. In verses 5, 6 the Spirit has established the superiority of Christ both in name and dignity; in the verses which follow He shows the inferiority of the angels in nature and rank.
"And of the angels He saith, Who maketh His angels spirits" (verse 7). This is a quotation from Psalms 104:0 , the opening verses of which ascribe praise unto Jehovah as Creator and Governor of the universe. Its second and third verses apparently relate to the intermediary heavens, and the fourth verse to their inhabitants; verse five and onwards treats of the earth and its earliest history. The fact that the earth is mentioned right after the angels suggests that they are there viewed as connected with mundane affairs, as the servants God employs in regulating its concerns.
The Spirit’s purpose in quoting this verse in Hebrews 1:0 is evident: it was to point a contrast between the natures of the angels and the Son: they were "made" created; He is uncreated. Not only were the angels created, but they were created by Christ Himself "Who maketh" which looks back to the last clause of verse 2, "He (The Son) made the worlds:" it is the making of the worlds that Psalms 104:0 speaks of. Moreover, they are here termed not merely "the angels," but "His angels!" They are but "spirits," He is "God;" they are "His ministers," He is their Head (Colossians 2:10 ).
"Who maketh His angels spirits." The Hebrew word for "spirits" in Psalms 104:4 and the Greek word rendered "spirits" in Hebrews 1:7 has both a primary and secondary meaning, namely, spirits and "winds." It would seem from the words which follow "and His ministers a flame of fire" that God is not only defining the nature of these celestial creatures, but is also describing their qualities and activities. Thus we are inclined to regard the words before us as having a double force. A threefold reason may be suggested why the angels are likened unto "winds." First, their power to render themselves invisible. The wind is one of the very few things in the natural world which is unseen by the eyes of man; so the angels are one of the very few classes of God’s creatures that are capable of passing beyond the purview of man’s senses. Second, because of their great power. Like as the wind when commissioned by God, so the angels are able to sweep everything before them (2 Kings 19:35 ). Third, because of the rapid speed at which they travel. If the reader will ponder carefully Daniel 9:21 , Daniel 9:23 , he will find that during the brief moments the prophet was engaged in prayer, an angel from the highest heaven reached him here on earth! Other analogies will be suggested by prayerful meditation.
"And His ministers a flame of fire" (verse 7). Here, as always in Scripture, "fire" speaks of Divine judgment, and the sentence as a whole informs us that the angels are the executioners of God’s wrath. A number of passages supply us with solemn illustrations of this fact. In Genesis 19:13 we read that the two angels said to Lot concerning Sodom, "We will destroy this place, because the cry of them is waxen great before the face of the Lord: and the Lord hath sent us to destroy it." Referring to God’s judgments which fell upon Egypt we are told, "He cast upon them the fierceness of His anger, wrath and indignation, and trouble, by sending evil angels" (Psalms 78:49 ), by which we do not understand fallen angels but "angels of evil," i.e. angels of judgment compare the word "evil" in Isaiah 45:7 , where it is contrasted not with "good" but "peace." Again, in Matthew 13:41 , Matthew 13:42 we read, "The Son of man shall send forth His angels, and they shall gather out of His kingdom all things that offend, and them which do iniquity; and shall cast them into a furnace of fire; there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth." Does not this passage throw light on Revelation 20:15 ? "And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire" by whom, if not the angels, the executioners of God’s wrath!
"And His ministers a flame of fire." Doubtless these words refer also to the brilliant brightness and terrifying appearance of the angels, when manifested in their native form to mortal eyes. A number of scriptures confirm this. Note how when Baalam saw the angel of the Lord that he "fell flat on his face" (Numbers 22:31 ). Note how it is said of the angel who rolled back the stone of the Savior’s sepulcher that "his countenance was like lightning," and that "for fear of him the keepers did shake and become as dead men" (Matthew 28:3 , Matthew 28:4 ). This accounts for the "fear not" with which angels so frequently addressed different ones before whom they appeared on an errand of mercy: see Matthew 28:5 ; Luke 1:30 ; Luke 2:10 . Note how in proof the angels are "a flame of fire," we are told that when the angel of the Lord came to Peter, "a light shined in the prison" (Acts 12:7 )! Yea, so resplendent is an angel’s brightness when manifested to men, that the apostle John fell at the feet of one to worship (Revelation 19:10 ) evidently mistaking him for the Lord Himself, as lie had appeared on the mount of transfiguration.
"But unto the Son lie saith, Thy throne, O God, is forever and ever" (verse 8). Here the Holy Spirit quotes from still another Psalm, the 45 th , to prove the superiority of Israel’s Messiah over the angels. How blessed and marked is the contrast presented! Here we listen to the Father addressing His incarnate Son, owning Him as "God." "Unto the Son He saith," that others might hear and know it. "Thy throne, O God." How sharp is the antithesis! How immeasurable the gulf which separates between creature and Creator! The angels are but "spirits," the Son is "God." They are but "ministers," His is the "throne." They are but "a flame of fire," the executioners of judgment, He the One who commands and commissions them.
"But unto the Son He saith, Thy throne, O God." This supplies us with one of the most emphatic and unequivocal proofs of the Deity of Christ to be found in the Scriptures. It is the Father Himself testifying to the Godhead of Him who was despised and rejected of men. And how fittingly is this quotation from Psalms 45:0 introduced at the point it is in Hebrews 1:0 . In verse 6 we are told that all the angels of God have received command to "worship" the Mediator, now we are shown the propriety of them so doing He is "God!" They must render Divine honors to Him because of His very nature. Thus we may admire, once more, the perfect order of Scripture.
"But unto the Son, He saith, Thy throne, O God, is forever and ever." Difficulty has been experienced by some concerning the identity of the "throne" here mentioned. It is clear from what precedes and also from what follows in verse 9. "Thy God," that the Son is here addressed in His mediatorial character. But is it not also clear from 1 Corinthians 15:24-28 that there will be a time when His mediatorial kingdom will come to an end? Certainly not. Whatever the passage in 1 Corinthians 15:0 may or may not teach, it certainly does not contradict other portions of God’s Word. Again and again the Scriptures affirm the endlessness of Christ’s mediatorial kingdom: see Isaiah 9:7 ; Daniel 7:13 , Daniel 7:14 ; Luke 1:33 ; etc. Even on the new earth we read of "The throne of God and of the Lamb" (Revelation 22:1 )!
If then it is not the mediatorial kingdom which Christ shall deliver up to the Father, what is it? We answer, His Messianic one, His kingdom on this earth. In Luke 19:12 , (the Gospel which, distinctively, sets forth His perfect humanity) Christ speaks of Himself as a "Nobleman" going into a far country to "receive for Himself a kingdom and to return," after which He added, "when He was returned, having received the kingdom," etc. (verse 15). It is to this Matthew 25:31 refers, "When the Son of man shall come in His glory, and all the holy angels with Him, then shall He sit upon the throne of His glory." As in the days of His first advent, the second Person of the Trinity (incarnate) was more dishonored than the Father or the Spirit, so, following His second advent He shall. for a season, be more honored than They. Following this, then He shall, still in His character as "Son of man" (see John 5:27 ) "execute judgment," i.e., on His enemies. Then, having put down (by power, not having reconciled by grace) all opposing forces, He shall "deliver up the kingdom to God" (1 Corinthians 15:24 ) observe that it is not "taken from" Him!
That it is not the mediatorial kingdom which Christ shall deliver up to the Father is clear from 1 Corinthians 15:28 , where we are expressly told "then shall the Son also Himself be subject unto Him." As the Godman, the Mediator, He will be officially subservient to the Father. This should be evident. Throughout eternity the mediation of Christ will be needed to preserve fellowship between the Creator and the creature, the Infinite and the finite, hence five times over (the number of grace) in Holy Writ occur the words, "Thou art a Priest forever after the order of Melchisedek." But in His essential Being the Son will not be in subjection to His Father, as is clear from John 17:5 .
Thus we trust it has been made clear that whereas the Messianic kingdom of the Son will be but temporal, His Mediatorial kingdom will be eternal. His kingdom on this earth will continue only for a limited time, but His kingdom on the new earth will last forever. Blessed is it to observe that, even as Mediator, Christ is thus owned by the Father "Thy throne, O God, is forever and ever." How far above the angels that puts Him!
"A scepter of righteousness is the scepter of Thy kingdom" (verse 8). The apostle is still quoting from the 45 th Psalm, and continuing to advance proofs of the proposition laid down in Hebrews 1:4 . There is no difficulty in perceiving how the sentence here cited contributes to his argument. The "scepter" is the badge of royalty and the emblem of authority. An illustration of this is furnished in the book of Esther. When Ahasuerns would give evidence of his authoritative favor unto Esther, he held out his scepter to her (see Esther 5:2 ; Esther 8:4 ). So here the "scepter" is the emblem of royal power. "The Son is the King; the highest dignity belonging to the angels is that they hold the first rank among His subjects" (Dr. J. Brown). The suffering Savior is now the supreme Sovereign; the mighty angels are His servants.
"A scepter of righteousness is the scepter of Thy kingdom." This is very blessed. The scepter of Christ’s kingdom then is one not merely of power, arbitrarily exercised, but a "righteous" one. "The Greek word joined by the apostle to the scepter signifieth rectitude, straightness, evenness; it is opposed to wickedness, roughness, unevenness. So doth the Hebrew word also signify; it is fitly applied to a scepter, which useth to be straight and upright, not crooked, not inclining this way or that way; so as that which is set out by a scepter, namely, government, is hereby implied to be right and upright, just and equal, not partially inclining to either side" (Dr. Gouge).
Of old the Triune God declared, "He that ruleth over men must be just, ruling in the fear of God" (2 Samuel 23:3 ). This has never yet been perfectly exemplified on earth, but ere long it will be. When the Lord Jesus shall return to Jerusalem and there establish His throne, He will order all the affairs of His kingdom with impartial equity, favoring neither the classes nor the masses. As the Anti-type of Melchizedek, He will be both "King of righteousness" and "King of peace" (Hebrews 7:2 ). These are the two qualities which will characterize His reign. "Of the increase of His government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David and upon His Kingdom, to order it and to establish it with judgment and with justice from henceforth even forever" (Isaiah 9:7 ). Then will be fulfilled that ancient oracle. "Behold the days come, saith the Lord, that I will raise unto David a righteous Branch, and a king shall reign and prosper, and shall execute judgment and justice in the earth." (Jeremiah 23:5 ). The rewards He will bestow, the judgments He will execute, will be administered impartially. But let it not be forgotten that this is equally true of His government even now, though faith alone perceives it; in all dispensations it remains that "justice and judgment are the habitation of Thy Throne" (Psalms 89:14 ).
"Thou hast loved righteousness, and hated iniquity" (verse 9). The past tense of the verbs is to be carefully observed. It is still the Father addressing His Son, owning on high the moral perfections He had manifested here upon earth. The reference is to the Lord Jesus in the days of His humiliation. The words before us furnish a brief but blessed description both of His character and conduct. First, He loved righteousness. "Righteousness" signifies the doing of that which is right. The unerring standard is the revealed will of God. From that standard the incarnate Son never deviated. As a Boy of twelve He said, "Wist ye not that I must be about My Father’s business?" (Luke 2:49 ) perform His pleasure, respond to His wishes. When replying to John’s demur against baptizing Him, He replied, "Suffer it to be so now: for thus it becometh us to fulfill all righteousness" (Matthew 3:15 ). When tempted by the Devil to follow a course of self-will, He answered, "It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God" (Matthew 4:4 ). So it was all through: He "became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross" (Philippians 2:8 ).
"Thou hast loved righteousness." This is much more than doing righteousness. These words reveal to us the spring of all Christ’s actions, even devotedness and affection unto the Father. "I delight to do Thy will, O God" (Psalms 40:8 ), was the confession of the perfect One. "O how love I Thy law! it is My meditation all the day" (Psalms 119:97 ), revealed His attitude toward the precepts and commandments of Holy Writ. Herein we perceive His uniqueness. How often our obedience is a reluctant one! How often God’s will crosses ours; and when our response is an obedient one, frequently it is joyless and unwilling. Different far was it with the Lord Jesus. He not only performed righteousness, but "loved" it. He could say, "Thy law is within My heart!" (Psalms 40:8 ) the seat of the affections. When a sinful creature is said to have God’s law in his heart it is because He has written it there (see Hebrews 8:10 ).
Because He loved righteousness, Christ "hated iniquity." The two things are inseparable: the one cannot exist without the other (Amos 5:15 ). Where there is true love for God, there is also abhorrence of sin. Illustrations of the Savior’s hatred of iniquity are found in His action at the close of the Temptation and in His cleansing of the Temple. Observe how, after meeting the vile solicitations of the Devil with the repeated "it is written," He, with holy abhorrence said, "Get thee hence, Satan" (Matthew 4:10 ). See Him, as the Vindicator of His Father’s house, driving before Him its profane traffickers and crying, "Make not My Father’s house an house of merchandise" (John 2:16 ). What must it have meant for One who thus loved righteousness and hated iniquity to tabernacle for thirty-three years in such a world as this! And what must it have meant for such an One to be "numbered with the transgressors" and "made sin" for His people!
"Thou hast loved righteousness and hated iniquity." This is true of Him still, for He changes not. "He that hath My commandments, he it is that loveth Me: and he that loveth Me shall be loved of My Father, and I will love him, and will manifest Myself to him" (John 14:21 ). So He still "hates": "So hast thou also them that hold the doctrine of the Nicolaitans which thing I hate" (Revelation 2:15 ). To what extent do these two things characterize you and me, dear reader? To the extent that we are really walking with Christ: no more, no less. The more we enjoy fellowship with Him, the more we are conformed to His image, the more shall we love the things He loves, and hate the things He hates.
"Therefore, God, Thy God, hath anointed Thee with the oil of gladness" (verse 9). The Spirit is still quoting from the 45 th Psalm. The enemies of God’s truth would discover here a "flat contradiction." In verse 8 the One spoken to is hailed as "God," on the throne. But here in verse 9 He is addressed as an inferior, "Thy God hath anointed Thee." How could the same person be both supreme and subordinate? If He Himself had a God, how could He at the same time be God? No wonder Divine things are "foolishness to the natural man!" Yet is the enigma easily explained, the seeming contradiction readily harmonized. The Mediator was, in His own person, both Creator and creature, God and man. Once we see it is as Mediator, as the God-man, that Christ is here spoken to, all difficulty vanishes. It is this which supplies the key to the whole passage. Much in Hebrews 1:0 cannot be understood unless it be seen that the Holy Spirit is there speaking not of the essential glories of Christ, but of His mediatorial dignities and honors.
"Therefore, God, Thy God, hath anointed Thee." Concerning this Dr. Gouge has well said, "Christ is God-man, God may be said to be His God three ways: 1. As Christ’s human nature was created of God, and preserved by Him like other creatures. 2. As Christ is mediator, he is deputed and sent of God (John 3:34 ), and he subjected himself to God and set himself to do the will of God, and such works as God appointed him to do (John 4:34 ; John 9:4 ). In these respects also God is his God. 3. As Christ, God-man, was given by God to be a head to a mystical body, which is the church (Ephesians 1:22 , Ephesians 1:23 ); God, therefore, entered into covenant with him in the behalf of that body (Isaiah 42:6 ; Isaiah 49:8 ). Thus he is called the messenger (Malachi 3:1 ) and the mediator of the covenant (Hebrews 8:6 ). Now, God is in an especial manner their God, with whom he doth enter into covenant; as he said unto Abraham, ‘I will establish my covenant between me and thee,’ etc., ‘to be a God unto thee’ (Genesis 17:7 ). As God made a covenant with Abraham and his seed, so also with Christ and His seed, which are all the elect of God. This is the ‘seed’ mentioned in Isaiah 53:10 . So by special relation between God and Christ, God is his God in covenant with him. God also is, in especial manner, the God of the elect through Christ."
"Therefore, God, Thy God, hath anointed Thee." While here on earth the Mediator owned that God was His God. He lived by His Word, He was subject to His will, He was entirely dependent on Him. "I will put My trust in Him" was His avowal (Hebrews 2:13 ); yea, did He not declare, "I was cast upon Thee from the womb: Thou art My God from My mother’s belly" (Psalms 22:10 )! Many similar utterances of His are recorded in the Psalms. On the cross He owned His subjection, crying, "My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?" Even after His resurrection we hear Him saying, "I ascend unto My Father and to your Father; and My God, and your God" (John 20:17 ). So now, though seated at the right hand of the Majesty on high, He is there making "intercession." So when He returns to this earth in glory, He will "ask" for the inheritance (Psalms 2:8 ). How this brings out the truth of His humanity, real Man, though true God. Mysterious, wondrous, blessed Person; upholding all things by the Word of His own power, yet in the place of intercession; Himself the "Mighty God" (Isaiah 9:6 ), yet owning God as His God!
"Thy God hath anointed Thee with the oil of gladness." There is a plain reference here to the ancient method, instituted by God, whereby the kings of Israel were established in their office. Their coronation was denoted by the pouring of oil upon their heads: see 1 Samuel 10:1 ; 1 Samuel 16:13 ; 1 Kings 1:39 , etc. It was in allusion to this the kings were styled "anointed" (2 Samuel 19:21 ) and "the anointed of the Lord" (Lamentations 4:20 ). "The apostle and Psalmist are both speaking of the Messiah as a prince, and their sentiment is ‘God, even Thy God, hath raised Thee to a kingdom far more replete with enjoyment than that ever conferred on any other ruler. He has given Thee a kingdom which, for extent and duration, and multitude and magnitude of blessings as far exceeds any kingdom ever bestowed on man or angels as the heaven is above the earth’" (J. Brown).
Though we are assured that this anointing of Christ with the "oil of gladness" (following the mention of His "scepter" and "kingdom" in verse 8) is a reference to His investiture on High with royal honors the "blessing of the Lord" which the King of glory received at the time of His ascension (Psalms 24:5 , and note carefully the whole Psalm) yet we do not think this exhausts its scope. In addition, we believe there is also a reference to His being honored as our great High Priest, for it is written, "He shall be a Priest upon His throne" (Zechariah 6:13 ). Thus there is also a manifest allusion in our verse to what is recorded in Psalms 133:0 . There we read. "Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity! It is like the precious ointment upon the head, that ran down upon the beard, Aaron’s beard: that went down to the skirts of his garments cf. Exodus 30:25 , Exodus 30:30 . This is most precious, though its beauty is rarely perceived. How few see in these verses of Psalms 133:0 anything more than a word expressing the desirability and blessedness of saints on earth dwelling together in concord. But is this all the Psalm teaches? We trow not. What then is the analogy pointed between what is said in verse 1 and verse 2? What is the meaning of "how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity. It is like the precious ointment upon the head," etc?
What resemblance is there between brethren dwelling together in unity and the precious anointing-ointment which ran down from Aaron’s head to the skirts of his garments? It seems strange that so many should have missed this point. As the high priest of Israel, Aaron foreshadowed our great High Priest. The anointing of his "head" prefigured the anointing of our exalted Head. The running down of the fragrant unguent even to the skirts of Aaron’s garments, adumbrated the glorious fact that those who are members of the body of Christ partake of His sweet savor before God. The analogy drawn in Psalms 133:0 is obvious: the dwelling together of brethren in unity is "good and pleasant" not simply for the mere sake of preserving peace among them, but because it illustrates the spiritual and mystical union existing between Christ and His people. Our dwelling together in unity is "good and pleasant" not only, nor primarily, for our own well-being, but because it gives an outward manifestation, a concrete example of that invisible and Divine oneness which exists between the Head and the members of His body.
"Anointed Thee with the oil of gladness." As ever in the Old Testament, the "oil" was an emblem of the Spirit, and the anointing both of Aaron and of David were typifications of the enduement of Christ with the Holy Spirit. But the reference here is not (as some of the commentators suppose) to the coming of the Spirit upon Christ at the time of His baptism. This should be apparent from the structure of verse 9. The words "Thou hast loved righteousness and hated iniquity" look back to the earthly life of the Lord Jesus, as the past tense of the verbs intimate; the "therefore, God, even Thy God, hath anointed Thee," shows that this was the reward for His perfect work, the honoring of the humbled One. It is closely parallel with what we are told in Acts 2:36 , "God hath made that same Jesus, whom ye have crucified, both Lord and Christ;" and Acts 5:31 , "Him hath God exalted with His right hand to be a Prince and a Savior."
"Anointed Thee with the oil of gladness" refers, we believe, to the Holy Spirit’s being made officially subordinate to the Mediator. Just as the incarnate Son was subject to the Father, so is the Spirit now subject to Christ. Just as the Savior when here glorified not Himself, but the Father, so the Spirit is here to glorify Christ (John 16:14 ). There are several scriptures which plainly teach the present official subordination of the Spirit to Christ: "But when the Comforter is come, whom I will send unto you from the Father" (John 15:26 ). That which took place on the day of Pentecost manifested the same fact: as His forerunner announced, "I indeed baptize with water, but He (Christ) shall baptize you with the Holy Spirit" (Mark 1:8 ). In Revelation 3:1 the Lord Jesus is referred to as "He that hath the seven Spirits of God," i.e. the Holy Spirit in the fullness of His perfections and the plentitude of His operations; "hath" to minister the Spirit unto His people. It is further proof that the suffering Savior has been exalted to the place of supreme Sovereignty.
"Above Thy fellows." Opinion is divided among the commentators as to whether the reference be to angels or to Christians. Both the Hebrew word in Psalms 45:7 and the Greek word here signify "such as partake of one and the same condition." If it be borne in mind that the Holy Spirit is speaking here of Christ in His Mediatorial character, we are less likely to be stumbled by the thought of angels being termed His "fellows."
"They are styled His fellows in regard of that low degree whereunto the Son of God, Creator of all things, humbled Himself by assuming a creature nature; so that as He was a creature (Man), angels are His fellows" (Dr. Gouge). Nor must we overlook the fact that the chief design of the whole of this passage is to evidence the Mediator’s superiority over the angels.
As already pointed out, the central thought of verse 9 is the investiture of Christ with royal honors, following right after the mention of His "scepter" and "kingdom" in verse 8. Angels are also rulers; great powers are delegated to them; much of the administration of God’s government is committed into their hands. But the Man Christ Jesus has been exalted high above them in this respect too. A close parallel is found in Colossians 1:18 , where it is said of the Lord Jesus, "that in all things He might have the pre-eminence." It is Important to note that in the immediate context there, angels are mentioned in connection with "thrones, dominions, principalities and powers" (verse 16)! But Christ has been given a "scepter" and royal honors which exalt Him high above them all.
But what has been said above does not exhaust the scope of these closing words of Hebrews 1:9 . As is so often the case in Scripture (evidencing the exhaustless fullness of its words) there is at least a double reference in the term "fellows:" first to the angels, second to Christians thus supplying a link with verse 14, where the "heirs of salvation" are more directly in view. That the term "fellows" applies also to believers is clear from Hebrews 3:14 where "metochos" is specifically used of them: "For we are made partakers (fellows) of Christ," if we hold the beginning of our confidence steadfast unto the end.
Though the wondrous grace of God has so united His people to His beloved Son that "he that is joined unto the Lord is one spirit" (1 Corinthians 6:17 ), yet we must carefully bear in mind that He is "the Firstborn (Chief) among many brethren" (Romans 8:29 ). Though members of His body, He is nevertheless the Head. Though joint-heirs with Him, He is our Lord! So, too, though Christians have been "anointed" with the Spirit (1 John 2:20 , 1 John 2:27 ), yet our blessed Redeemer has been "anointed with the oil of gladness above His fellows." The Spirit is now subject to His administration; not so to ours. Christ is the one who is "glorified," the Spirit is the Agent, we the vessels through which He works. Thus in all things Christ has "the pre-eminence."
It is indeed striking to see how much was included in the ancient oracle concerning the Messiah which the Spirit here quoted from Psalms 45:0 . Let us attempt to summarize the content of that remarkable prophecy. First, it establishes His Deity, for the Father Himself owns Him as "God." Second, it shows us the exalted position He now occupies: He is on the throne, and there for ever. Third, it makes mention of His Kingship, the royal "scepter" being wielded by Him. Fourth, it tells of the impartiality of His government and the excellency of His rule: His scepter is a "righteous" one. Fifth, it takes us back to the days of His flesh and makes known the perfections of His character and conduct here on earth: He "loved righteousness and hated iniquity." Sixth, it reveals the place which He took when He made Himself of no reputation, as Man in subjection to God: "Thy God." Seventh, it announces the reward He received for such condescension and grace: "Therefore . . . God hath anointed Thee." Eighth, it affirms He has the pre-eminence in all things, for He has been anointed with the oil of gladness "above His fellows." May the Spirit of God stir us up to search more prayerfully and diligently the volume of that Book in which it is written of Him.
Christ Superior to Angels.
(Hebrews 1:10-13 )
The closing verses of Hebrews 1:0 present a striking climax to the apostle’s argument. They contain the most touching and also the most thrilling references to be found in this wondrous chapter. In it the Holy Spirit completes His proof for the superiority of the Mediator over the angels, proof which was all drawn from Israel’s own Scriptures. Five times He had cited passages from the Old Testament which set forth the exalted dignities and glories of the Messiah. A sixth and a seventh is now quoted from the 102nd and the 110th Psalms, to show that He who had passed through such unparalleled humiliation and suffering, had been greeted and treated by God as One who was worthy of supremest honor and reward. The details of this will come before us in the course of our exposition.
It is very striking to observe how that the character of these seven quotations made by the Holy Spirit from the Old Testament agree perfectly with the numerical position of each of them. One is the number of supremacy: see Zechariah 14:9 there will be none other in that day to dispute the Lord’s rule for Satan will be in the Pit. So the first quotation in Hebrews 1:0 brings out the supremacy of Christ over the angels as "Son" (verse 5). Two is the number of witness: see Revelation 11:3 , etc. So the force of the second quotation in Hebrews 1:0 is the unique relation of the Son to the Father borne witness to. Three is the number of manifestation, and in the third quotation we see the superiority of the Mediator manifested by the angels "worshipping" Him (verse 6). Four is the number of the creature, and in the fourth quotation the Holy Spirit significantly turns from Christ, who is more than creature, and dwells upon the inferiority of the angels (verse 7) who are "made." Five is the number of grace, and the fifth quotation brings before us the "throne" of the Savior (verse 8), which is "the throne of Grace" (Hebrews 4:16 ). Six is the number of man, and the sixth quotation (verses 10-12) contains God’s response to the plaint of the Son of Man’s being taken away "in the midst of His days." Seven is the number of completion and of rest after a finished work: see Genesis 2:3 ; and so the seventh quotation views Christ as now seated at God’s right hand (verse 13), as the reward of His finished work. How perfect is every detail of Holy Writ!
The final verse of Hebrews 1:0 furnishes the fullest demonstration of the superiority of Christianity over Judaism and the exaltation of Christ above the celestial hierarchies. So far are the angels below the Savior, they are sent forth by Him to minister unto His people. The fact of this ministry, as well as the nature and value of it, are known to but few today. The subject is a most interesting as well as important one, and will well repay much fuller study than our limited space here permits us to indulge in. May the bare outline we attempt stimulate our readers to fill it in for themselves.
"And Thou, Lord, in the beginning, hast laid the foundation of the earth" (verse 10). The opening "and" shows that the apostle is continuing to advance proof of the proposition laid down in verse 4. This proof of Christ’s excellency is taken from a work peculiar to God, creation. The argument is based upon a Divine testimony found in the Old Testament. The argument may be stated thus: The Creator is more excellent than creatures; Christ is the Creator, angels are creatures; therefore Christ is more excellent than angels. That Christ is Creator is here proved; that angels are creatures, has been shown in verse 7. This verse also completes the answer to a question which verse 4 may have raised in the minds of some, namely, what is the "more excellent name" which the Mediator has obtained? The reply is "Son" (verse 5), "God" (verse 8), "Lord" (verse 10).
"And Thou, Lord, in the beginning, hast laid the foundation of the earth." The Psalm from which this is quoted is a truly wondrous one; in some respects it is, perhaps, the most remarkable of the whole series. It lays bare before us the Savior’s very soul. Few, if any, of us would have thought of applying it to Christ, or even dared to, had not the Spirit of God done so here in Hebrews 1:0 . This Psalm brings before us the true and perfect humanity of Christ, and depicts Him as the despised and rejected One. It reveals Him as One who felt, and felt deeply, the experiences through which He passed. It might well be termed the Psalm of the Man of Sorrows. In it He is seen opening His heart and pouring out His grief before God. We lose much if we fail to attend carefully to the context of that portion which the Spirit here quotes. Let us go back to its opening verses:
"Hear My prayer, O Lord, and let My cry come unto Thee. Hide not Thy face from Me, in the day when I am in trouble; incline Thine ear unto Me: in the day when I call answer Me speedily. For My days are consumed like smoke, and My bones are burned as an hearth. My heart is smitten, and withered like grass; so that I forget to eat My bread. By reason of the voice of My groaning My bones cleave to my skin. I am like a pelican of the wilderness; I am like an owl of the desert. I watch, and am as a sparrow alone upon the housetop, Mine enemies reproach Me all the day, and they that are mad against Me are sworn against Me. For I have eaten ashes like bread, and mingled My drink with weeping. Because of Thine indignation and Thy wrath: for Thou hast lifted Me up, and cast Me down. My days are like a shadow that declineth; and I am withered like grass" (verses 1-11).
The above quotation is a longer one than we are accustomed to make, but it seemed impossible to abbreviate without losing its pathos and its moving effects upon us. There we are permitted to behold something of the Savior’s "travail of soul." How it should bow our hearts before Him! These plaintive sentences were uttered by our blessed Redeemer either amid the dark shadows of Gethsemane, or under the more awful darkness of Calvary. But notwithstanding His awful anguish, mark the perfect confidence in God of this suffering One:
"But Thou, O Lord, shalt endure forever, and Thy remembrance unto all generations. Thou shalt arise and have mercy upon Zion: for the time to favor her, yea, the set time, is come. For Thy servants take pleasure in her stones, and favor the dust thereof. So the heathen shall fear the name of the Lord, and all the kings of the earth Thy glory. When the Lord shall build up Zion, He shall appear in His glory. He will regard the prayer of the destitute, and not despise their prayer. This shall be written for the generation to come: and the people which shall be created shall praise the Lord. For He hath looked down from the height of His sanctuary; from heaven did the Lord behold the earth; to hear the groaning of the prisoner, to loose those that are appointed to death; to declare the name of the Lord in Zion and His praise in Jerusalem; when the people are gathered together, and the kingdoms to serve the Lord" (verses 12-22). Blessed is it to behold here the Savior looking away from the things seen to the things unseen: from the dark present to the bright future.
"He weakened My strength in the way; He shortened My days. I said O My God, take Me not away in the midst of My days" (verses 23, 24). Here again we are permitted to hear the "strong crying" (verse 7) of Him who was "acquainted with grief" as none other ever was. Few things recorded in the Word are more affecting than this: that the Lord Jesus, the perfect Man, should, at the age of thirty-three, be deemed by men as unfit to live any longer. He had hardly entered upon man’s estate when they crucified Him. Do you think that was nothing to Christ? Ah, brethren, He felt it deeply. Who can doubt it in the light of this awful plaint: "He weakened My strength in the way; He shortened My days. I said, O My God, take Me not away in the midst of My days." As Man He felt acutely this "cutting off" in His very prime.
Those words of the Savior make manifest what He suffered in His soul. He was perfect Man, with all the sinless sensibilities of human nature. A very touching type of Christ’s being cut off in the early prime of manhood is found in Leviticus 2:14 . Each grade of the meal-offering described in Leviticus 2:0 pointed to the humanity of the Redeemer. Here in verse 14 Israel was bidden to take "green ears of corn dried by the fire" and offer it to the Lord as an offering. The "green ears of corn" (compare John 12:24 where Christ speaks of Himself under this figure) had not fully ripened, and so, were "dried by the fire" symbol of being subjected to God’s judgment. So it was with Christ. Man’s sickle went over the field of corn and He was "cut off" in the midst of His days: when He was barely half of the "three score years and ten" (Psalms 90:10 ).
And what was Heaven’s response to this anguished cry of the Savior? The remainder of the Psalm records God’s answer: "Thy years are throughout all generations. Of old hast Thou laid the foundation of the earth. And the heavens are the work of Thy hands. They shall perish, but Thou shalt endure, yea, all of them shall wax old like a garment; as a vesture shalt Thou change them, and they shall be changed: But Thou art the same, and Thy years shall have no end" (verses 24-27).
"How marvelous is this! How incomprehensible this union of divine and human, of eternity and time, sadness and omnipotence! Do not wonder that such language of anguish, faintness and sorrow, of agonizing faith, is attributed by the Holy Spirit to Jesus. Remember the life of Jesus was a life of faith, a real, true, and earnest conflict; and that, although He constantly took firm hold of the promises of God, yet His feelings of sorrow, His sense of utter dependence on God, His anxious looking forward to His last suffering, all this was a reality. He gained the victory by faith; He knew that He was, through suffering, returning to the Father. He knew that as Son of Man and Redeemer of His people He would be glorified with the glory which He had with the Father before the foundations of the world were laid" (Saphir).
Let us examine closely the blessed reply of the Father to the plaintive petition of His suffering Son. "And, Thou, Lord." Before His incarnation, David, by the Spirit, called Him "Lord" (Matthew 22:43 ). At His birth, the angels who brought the first glad tidings of His advent to this earth, hailed Him as "Christ the Lord" (Luke 2:11 ). During His earthly ministry the disciples owned Him as "Lord" (John 13:13 ). So, too, is He often referred to in the Epistles (Romans 1:3 , etc.). But here, it is none other than the Father Himself who directly addresses as "Lord" that suffering Man, as He lay on His face in the Garden, sweating as it were great drops of blood. Thus may, and thus should, every believer also say of Him, "My Lord, and my God" (John 20:28 ), and worship Him as such.
"Thou, Lord, in the beginning." This phrase sets forth the eternity of the being of Him who became the Mediator. If Christ "in the beginning" laid the foundation of the earth, then He must be without beginning, and thus, eternal; compare (Proverbs 8:22 , Proverbs 8:23 ).
"Hast laid the foundation of the earth." We have been deeply impressed with the fact that God has some good reason for referring in His Word to "the foundation" and "foundations" of the earth or world more than twenty-five times. We believe it is to safeguard His people from the popular delusion of the day, namely, that the earth revolves on its axis, and that the heavenly bodies are stationary, only appearing to our sight to move, as the banks and trees seem to be doing to one seated in a rowing-boat or sailing ship. This theory was first advanced (so far as the writer is aware) by Grecian heathen philosophers, echoed by Copernicus in the fifteenth century, and re-echoed by science "falsely so called" (see 1 Timothy 6:20 ) today. Alas, that so many of God’s servants and people have accepted it. Such a conceit cannot be harmonized with "a foundation" so often predicated of the earth; which, necessarily, implies its fixity! Nor can such a theory be squared with the repeated statements of Holy Writ that the "sun moves" (Joshua 10:12 ), etc. The writer is well aware that this paragraph may evoke a pitying smile from some. But that will not move him. Let God be true and every man a liar. We are content to believe what He has said. Paul was willing to be a fool for Christ’s sake (1 Corinthians 4:10 ), and we are willing to be thought a fool for the Scripture’s sake.
"And the heavens are the work of Thine hand" (verse 10). This seems to bring in an additional thought. In the preceding clause creation is ascribed to Christ; here the greatness of His power. The heavens being of so far vaster dimensions than the earth, suggests the omnipotency of their Maker.
"They shall perish, but Thou remainest" (verse 11). This verse makes mention of still another perfection of Christ, namely, His immutability. The earth and the heavens shall perish. The apostle John, in prophetic vision, saw "a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away" (Revelation 21:1 ). But Christ "remaineth." He is "the same yesterday, and today, and forever."
"And they all shall wax old as doth a garment, and as a vesture shalt Thou fold them up, and they shall be changed" (verses 11:12). This emphasizes the mutability of the creature. Two resemblances are employed: first the earth may be said to "wax old as doth a garment" in that it is not to last forever, but is appointed to an end: see 2 Peter 3:10 . The longer, therefore, it has continued, the nearer it approaches to that end; as a garment, the longer it is worn, the nearer it is to its end. May not the increasing number of earthquakes evidence that "old age" is fast coming upon it? Second, the heavens may be said to be "folded up as a vesture," inasmuch as Scripture declares "the heavens shall be rolled together as a scroll" (Isaiah 34:4 ).
"Thou shall fold them up." This intimates Christ’s absolute control over all creation. He that made all hath an absolute power to preserve, alter, and destroy all, as it pleaseth Him. He is the Potter, we are but the clay, to be molded as He will. Our Lord Jesus Christ, being true God, is the Most High and supreme Sovereign over all, and He doeth all "that man may know that Thou, whose name is Jehovah, art the Most High over all the earth" (Psalms 83:18 ). "By the word of the Lord were the heavens made" (Psalms 33:6 ); by the same word shall they be folded up. The practical value of this for our hearts is plain; such a Lord may be safely trusted; such a Lord should be revered and worshipped. In what holy awe should He be held!
"But Thou art the same, and Thy years shall not fail" (verse 12). "The mutability of creatures being distinctly set out, the apostle returneth to the main point intended, which is Christ’s immutability. It was before generally set down in the phrase, ‘Thou remaineth.’ Here it is illustrated in two other branches. Though all these three phrases in general intend one and the same thing, namely, immutability, yet, to show that there is no tautology, no vain repetition, of one and the same thing, they may be distinguished one from another:
"‘Thou remaineth,’ pointeth at Christ’s eternity before all times; for it implieth his being before, in which he still abides. ‘Thou art the same’ declares Christ’s constancy. There is no variableness with him; thus, therefore, he says of himself, ‘I am the Lord, I change not’ (Malachi 3:6 ). ‘Thy years shall not fail’ intendeth Christ’s everlastingness; that he was before all times, and continueth in all ages, and will beyond all times so continue" (Dr. Gouge).
"But Thou art the same, and Thy years shall not fail." This was God’s answer to the plaint of Christ’s being "cut off" in the midst of His days. As man, His "years" should have no end! As God the Son He is eternal in His being; but as Man, in resurrection, He received "life for evermore" (cf. Hebrews 7:14-17 ). Do we really grasp this? For nineteen hundred years since the Cross, men have been born, have lived, and then died. Statesmen, emperors, kings have appeared on the scene and then passed away. But there is one glorious Man who spans the centuries, who in His own humanity bridges those nineteen hundred years. He has not died, nor even grown old; He is "the same yesterday, and today, and forever!"
"But Thou art the same, and Thy years shall not fail." What assurance was this for the believing of Israel who had been sorely perplexed at the "cutting off" of the Messiah, in the midst of His days! Humbled as He had been, yet was He the Creator. In servant form had He appeared among them, but He was and is the sovereign Disposer of all things. Died he had on the cross, but He was now "alive for evermore." Their own Scriptures bore witness to it: God Himself affirmed it!
And what is the practical application of this wondrous passage for us today! Surely this: first, such a Savior, who is none other than Him who made heaven and earth, is a mighty Redeemer, "Able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by Him." Second, such an One, who is immutable and eternal, may be safely and confidently trusted; none can pluck out of His hand! Third, such an One, who is "Lord" over all, is to be held in holy awe and given the worship, submission, and service which are His due.
"But to which of the angels said He at any time, Sit on My right hand until I make Thine enemies Thy footstool?" (verse 13). This completes the proof of what the apostle had said in verses 2, 3. The Old Testament itself witnessed to the fact that the rejected Messiah is now seated at God’s right hand, and this by the word of the Father Himself. The quotation is from the 110th Psalm, a Psalm quoted more frequently in the New Testament than any other.
Verses 13 and 14 belong together. In them another contrast is pointed between Christ and the angels. As an argument it may be stated thus: He that sitteth at God’s right hand is far more excellent than ministers: Christ sitteth at God’s right hand, and angels are "ministers;" therefore, Christ is far more excellent than they. The former part is proved in verse 13, the latter is shown in verse 14.
As D.V. the subject of verse 13 will come before us again in our studies in this Epistle, we will now offer only the briefest comment. The Speaker here is the Father; the One addressed is the Son, but in His mediatorial character, for it was as the Son of Man that God exalted Him. Further proof of this is supplied by "until I make Thine enemies Thy footstool." As mediatorial King and Priest, Christ is subservient to the Father; He is subject to Him who has "put all things under Him;’ (1 Corinthians 15:27 ).
"Until I make." Christ is not to sit at God’s right hand forever. 1 Thessalonians 4:16 says, "The Lord Himself shall descend from heaven with a shout," etc. He remains there throughout this present Day of Grace. Then, following a brief interval, His enemies shall be made His footstool. This will be at His return to the earth: see Revelation 19:11-21 ; Isaiah 63:1-3 , etc. Then Christ Himself will subdue His enemies: note the "He" in 1 Corinthians 15:25 ; but it will be by the Father’s decree, see Psalms 2:6-9 .
"Are they not all ministering spirits, sent forth to minister for them who shall be heirs of salvation?" (verse 14). This verse presents a fact which should awaken in every Christian varied and deep emotions. Alas that, through lack of diligence in searching the Word, so many of the Lord’s people are largely in ignorance of much that is said therein, and here referred to.
It should awaken within us a sense of wonderment. The angels are portrayed as our attendants! When we remember who and what they are their exalted rank in the scale of being, their sinlessness, their wondrous capacities, knowledge and powers it is surely an astonishing thing to learn that they should minister unto us. Think of it, the unfallen angels waiting upon the fallen descendants of Adam! The courtiers of Heaven ministering to worms of the earth! The mighty angels, who "excel in strength," taking notice of and serving those so far beneath them! Could you imagine the princes of the royal family seeking out dwellers in the slums and ministering to them, not once or occasionally, but constantly? But the analogy, altogether fails. The angels of God are sent forth to minister unto redeemed sinners! Marvel at it.
It should awaken within us fervent praise to God. What an evidence of His grace, what a proof of His love that He sends forth His angels to "minister" unto us! This is another of the wondrous provisions of His mercy, which none of us begin to appreciate as we should. It is another of the blessed consequences of our union with Christ. In Matthew 4:11 we read, "angels came and ministered unto Him." Therefore, because Divine grace has made us one with Him, they do so to us too. What a proof is this of our oneness with Him! Angels of God are sent forth to minister unto redeemed sinners! Bow in worship and praise.
It should deepen within us a sense of security. True, it may be abused, but rightly appropriated, how it is calculated to quiet our fears, counteract our sense of feebleness, calm our hearts in time of danger! Is it not written, "The angel of the Lord encampeth round about them that fear Him, and delivereth them;" then why be afraid? We doubt not that every Christian has been "delivered" many more times from the jaws of death by angelic interposition, than any of us imagine. The angels of God are sent forth to minister unto redeemed sinners. Then let the realization of this deepen within us a sense of the Lord’s protecting care for entrusting us to His mighty angels.
"Are they not all ministering spirits sent forth to minister for them who shall be the heirs of salvation?" (verse 14). Three things are to be considered: those to whom the angels minister, why they thus minister and the form their ministry takes.
Those to whom the angels minister are here termed "heirs of salvation," an expression denoting at least four things. There is an Estate unto which God has predestined His people, an inheritance willed to them by God. This Estate is designated "salvation," see 1 Thessalonians 5:9 , where our appointment unto it is mentioned. It is the consummation of our salvation which is in view, Hebrews 9:28 ; 1 Peter 1:3 ,1 Peter 1:4 . Well may this estate or inheritance be called "Salvation," for those who enter it are forever delivered from all danger, freed from all enemies, secured from all evils. This expression "heirs of salvation" also denotes our legal rights to the inheritance: our title is an indefeasable one. Further, it presupposes the coming in of death, Christ’s death. Finally, it implies the perpetuity of it "to him and his heirs forever."
It is to these "heirs of salvation" that the angels minister. To enable us the better to grasp the relation of angels to Christians, let us employ an illustration. Take the present household of the Duke of York. In it are many servants, honored, trusted, loved. There are titled "ladies" and "lords" of the realm, yet they are serving, "ministering," to the infant Princess Elizabeth. At present, she is inferior to them in age, strength, wisdom and attainments; yet is she superior in rank and station. She is of the royal stock, a princess, possibly heir to the throne. In like manner, the heirs of salvation are now in the stage of their infancy; they are but babes in Christ; this is the period of their minority. The angels far excel us in strength, wisdom, attainments; yet are they our servants, they "minister" unto us. Why? Because we are high above them in birth, rank, station. We are children of God, we are joint-heirs with Christ, we have been redeemed with royal blood, yea, we have been made "kings and priests unto God" (Revelation 1:6 ). O how wonderful is our rank members of the Royal family of Heaven, therefore are we "ministered" unto by the holy angels. What a calling is ours! What provision has Divine love made for us!
Let us now inquire, Why do they thus "minister" unto us? For what reason or reasons has God ordained that the angels should be our attendants? All His ways are ordered by perfect wisdom. Let us then reverently inquire as to His purpose in this arrangement.
First, is it not to exercise the graces of obedience and benevolence in the angels themselves? Such a task being assigned them constitutes a real test of their fidelity to their Maker. They are bidden to leave the glories of Heaven and come down to this poor sin-cursed earth; yes, oftentimes to seek out children of God in hovels and workhouses. What a test of their loyalty to God! Not only so, but what an opportunity is thus afforded for the exercise in them of the spirit of benevolence! As the frail and suffering children of God, how their sympathies must be drawn out. There are no such objects in Heaven, there is no distress or suffering there; and me-thinks, that were the angels to be confined to that realm of unclouded bliss, they would be stoics unable to sympathize with us poor afflicted creatures. Therefore, to cultivate both the spirit of obedience and of benevolence, God has commissioned them to "minister for them who shall be heirs of salvation."
Second, has not God assigned to them this ministry in order to give them a closer acquaintance with His own wondrous grace and matchless love for poor sinners? The angels are not simply far-distant spectators of the out-working of God’s wondrous purpose of mercy, but have been made, in part, the actual administrators of it! Thus, by virtue of this commission which they have received from Him, they learn in a practical way how much He cares for us.
Third, has not God assigned to them this ministry in order that there might be a closer bond between the different sections of His family? That word in Ephesians 3:15 , refers, we believe, not only to the redeemed of Christ, but to all of Heaven’s inhabitants "of whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named." Yes, the angels are members of God’s "family" too. Note how in Hebrews 12:22 , Hebrews 12:23 the two great sections of it are placed side by side: "to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and Church of the Firstborn." Thus, the angels are commissioned to minister for those who shall be heirs of salvation in order that there may be formed a closer bond of intercourse and sympathy between the two great sections of God’s family.
Fourth, has not God assigned them this ministry in order to magnify the work of the Lord Jesus? The angels are not only subject to Christ as their Lord, are not only called on to worship Him as God, but they are also employed in watching over the safety and promoting the temporal interests of His redeemed. No doubt this fourth named reason is both the primary and ultimate one. How this magnifies the Savior! Commissioning them to "minister for those who shall be heirs of salvation" is God’s putting His imprimature upon the cross-work of Christ.
Let us now consider how the angels "minister" to us. First, in protecting from temporal dangers. A striking example of this is found in 2 Kings 6:15-17 . Elisha and his servant were menaced by the king of Syria. His forces were sent out to capture them. An host compassed the city where they were. The servant was terrified; then the prophet prayed unto the Lord to open his eyes, "and the Lord opened the eyes of the young man; and he saw: and, behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire round about Elisha," which, in the light of Psalms 68:17 and Hebrews 1:7 , we know were the protecting angels of God. In the sequel we learn that the enemy was smitten with blindness, and thus the servants of God escaped. This was a concrete illustration of Psalms 34:7 , "The angel of the Lord encampeth round about them that fear Him, and delivereth them."
Second, in delivering from temporal dangers. A case in point is that which is recorded of Lot: "And when the morning arose, then the angels hastened Lot, saying, Arise, take thy wife and thy two daughters which are here; lest thou be consumed in the iniquity of the city. And while he fingered, the men laid hold upon his hand, and upon the hand of his wife, and upon the hand of his two daughters; the Lord being merciful unto him, and they brought him forth, and set him without the city." How often angels have "hastened" us when in the place of danger, and "laid hold" of us while we lingered, perhaps the Day will reveal.
Another example is found in the case of Daniel. We refer to the time when he was cast into the lions’ den. All Bible readers are aware that the prophet was miraculously preserved from these wild beasts, but what is not generally known is the particular instrumentality which God employed on that occasion. This is made known in Daniel 6:22 : "My God hath sent His angel, and hath shut the lions’ mouths, that they have not hurt me." What an illustration is this of Psalms 34:7 , "The angel of the Lord encampeth round about them that fear Him, and delivereth them!"
Nor is angelic deliverance of God’s people confined to Old Testament times. In Acts 5:17-19 we read, "Then the high priest rose up, and all they that were with him (which is the sect of the Sadducees) and were filled with indignation, and laid their hands on the apostles, and put them in the common prison, But the angel of the Lord by night opened the prison doors, and brought them forth." Again, in Acts 12:6-9 we read, "The same night Peter was sleeping between two soldiers, bound with two chains; and the keepers before the door kept the prison. And, behold, the angel of the Lord came upon him, and a light shined in the prison: and he smote Peter on the side, and raised him up, saying, Arise up quickly. And his chains fell off from his hands . . . And he went out, and followed him."
One other form which the ministry of angels takes in connection with their custody of God’s children is brought before us in Luke 16:22 : "And it came to pass, that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels into Abraham’s bosom." To our natural feelings, a death-bed scene is often a most painful and distressing experience. There we behold a helpless creature, emaciated by disease, convulsed with pain, panting for breath; his countenance pallid, his lips quivering, his brow bedewed with a cold sweat. But were not the spiritual world hidden from us by a veil of God’s appointing we should also see there the glorious inhabitants of Heaven surrounding the bed, waiting for God’s summons, to convoy that soul from earth, through the territory of Satan, up to the Father’s House. There they are, ready to perform their last office in ministering for those who shall be heirs of salvation. Then, Christian, why fear death?
It should be carefully noted that angels are mentioned in the plural number in Luke 16:22 , so also are they in Psalms 91:11 , Psalms 91:12 : "For He shall give His angels charge over thee, to keep thee in all thy ways. They shall bear thee up in their hands, lest thou dash thy foot against a stone." There is nothing whatever in Scripture to support the Romish tradition of a single guardian angel for each person or Christian: the plural number in the above passages make directly against it.
"Are they not all ministering spirits, sent forth to minister for them who shall be heirs of salvation?" (verse 14). "This text wears an interrogative form; but it is just equivalent to a strong affirmation. It is certain that no angel sits on the throne of God; it is certain that they are all ministering spirits. A minister is a servant a person who occupies an inferior place, who acts a subordinate part, subject to the authority and regulated by the will of another. The angels are ‘ministering spirits,’ they are not governing spirits. Service, not dominion, is their province. In the first phrase there is an expression of their being God’s ministers or servants; in the second, that He sends forth, commissions these servants of His to minister to those who shall be heirs of salvation. They are His servants, and He uses their instrumentality for promoting the happiness of His peculiar people. There is a double contrast. The Son is the co-ruler they are servants; the Son sits- they are sent forth" (Dr. J. Brown).
Finally, it should be observed that "ministering spirits" is a title or designation. Not only do the angels render service to God’s saints, but they have an office so to do. It is not simply that they "go forth" to minister for them, but they are "sent forth." They do not take this work upon themselves, but have received a definite charge or commission from their Maker. How this evidences, once more, the preciousness to Christ of those whom He purchased with His blood! O that our hearts may be bowed in wonderment and worship for this blessed provision of His love toward us while we are left in this wilderness scene. O that our fears may be removed, and our hearts strengthened by the realization that, amid the dangers and perils with which we are now surrounded, the angels of God are guarding and ministering both for and to us.