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Thursday, June 13th, 2024
the Week of Proper 5 / Ordinary 10
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Bible Commentaries
Hebrews 1

Layman's Bible CommentaryLayman's Bible Commentary

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Verses 1-4


Hebrews 1:1 to Hebrews 2:18

Manifesto Regarding the Son of God (Hebrews 1:1-4)

Hebrews begins not as a letter but as an essay or address. There is no salutation or indication of any kind relating to the identity of the readers (see Introduction). Two points stand out in these first four verses: (1) the author’s desire to indicate genuine continuity between the revelations given during the old and new periods, and (2) the superior character of the revealing medium in the new period.

The God who reveals himself and his will "of old" is the same God who speaks to us in his Son. The men and women chosen as the vehicle of the old revelation are called "prophets." A prophet is by definition one who has a message from God and a commission to declare it to his generation. The older revelation was piecemeal, fragmentary, lacking in unity. It was given, too, in "various ways" — in dreams and visions, through a burning bush, by the "angel of the covenant," in a "still small voice," and in other ways.

In direct line with this prophetic revelation, and yet in noteworthy contrast to it, God has now spoken to his people through "a Son." As God’s medium of revelation to man this Son is in direct line with the prophets; in his essential nature or being, however, he is quite different from them. This Son is described in two ways: first, as to his essential being, and second, as to his functions. Fundamentally he is Son of God and so bears the stamp of the "glory of God" — a phrase which in both Hebrew and Greek stands for the showing forth of God’s real nature. This Son is, so to speak, as closely related to the Father as are the rays which stream forth from a source of light to the light itself, as sunbeams to their central sun. Moreover, he is the "very stamp" or impressed seal bearing the name of God in his human nature — the signature of God, so to speak, impressed as in wax on the universe.

And because the Son is these things in himself, he has functions which are far above those of all other beings. He is the agent of creation and so is at the beginning of history; he is also the "heir" and so is at its end (vs. 2). And as he is at the beginning and at the end of history, so also he is in its middle, providentially "upholding the universe." But this Son has a relation not only to the whole of God’s created universe, but more particularly to man. In this connection Hebrews conceives of him as man’s Sin-purifier and Lord (vs. 3). This twofold function is one upon which the author will dwell at great length throughout the letter. In saying that the Son has "sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high," the author quotes from Psalms 110:1, a Psalm which takes us to the heart of the message of Hebrews (see 5:6; 6:20; 7:11).

These opening verses introduce us to a unique conception of sonship which is to carry through the epistle and throw light upon much of its teaching. The Son of God is an eternal figure. But the author is interested in what he does in both time and eternity, and he begins with the Son’s function in time. Christians are already living "in these last days" (vs. 2), that is, in the period in which the Son serves as the Mediator of God’s word to man. The exact phrase occurs only here. But a like phrase appears in 9:26; 1 Corinthians 10:11; and 1 Peter 1:20; 1 Peter 4:7. Other passages, too, such as 1 John 2:18, mean that the end- time has come. The Christian Church, therefore, is already living in the end-time, and Christ is God’s final and definitive revelation of himself to man. He has already made a cleansing for man’s sins and has sat down in eternity "at the right hand of the Majesty on high." The name "Son" is accordingly the greatest to be "obtained" by any being — greater than "angels," a word which in both the Hebrew and the Greek simply means "messengers" and which may be applied to every vehicle of God’s revelation to man (vs. 4).

Verses 5-14

Proof of the Manifesto from Scripture (1:5-14)

The author of Hebrews is concerned to show that the name of "Son" places Jesus Christ "above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in that which is to come" (Ephesians 1:21). In making this demonstration he calls upon a series of texts from the Old Testament in the Greek translation (the Septuagint). The first of these, in verse 5, is from Psalms 2:7. The first part of the quotation was used by the voice which addressed Jesus at his baptism (Mark 1:11). But neither here nor in 5:5 does the author show any knowledge of this baptismal experience of Jesus. However, he does conceive of the Psalm as giving us the Father’s voice speaking to his eternal Son. Psalms 2 is a Messianic or "royal" Psalm in which the reigning king or contemporary "anointed one" (messiah) prefigures the coming great One who, in a final sense, will fulfill the role of Messiah. It is in the same way that the author understands the second quotation (from 2 Samuel 7:14). Actually the words were originally spoken by the prophet Nathan to David in the name of the Lord. There can be no doubt that the author knows this, but as before he conceives of Jesus Christ as fulfilling the promise in a far richer and deeper sense than originally intended. The same is to be said of the third quotation (from the Greek version of Deuteronomy 32:43). All three quotations are words of God concerning his eternal Son, either at the beginning of his ministry or even at the Incarnation (note in verse 6: "when he brings the first-born into the world").

By way of contrast with the above description of the eternal Son’s exalted function as God’s Messiah in the world, the author now calls upon Psalms 104:4 to illustrate the transitory nature of the angelic host. In the Hebrew the psalmist had spoken of God as One "who makest the winds thy messengers, fire and flame thy ministers." Every created thing, then, may serve as a minister of God’s purpose. The Greek translation, which is followed in Hebrews, reversed the order of the words to read as they are quoted in verse 7. This change suited the purpose of the author admirably, for it lays emphasis upon the transitory nature of all of God’s created messengers. Angels, together with all of his servants, are transient by nature, as are winds and flames of fire. All depend upon God for their existence at every moment.

Hebrews employs another royal Psalm (Psalms 45:6-7) in verses 8-9. In the Psalm the reigning "messiah" or "anointed one" is addressed in language that stresses the exalted function of God’s emissary as he rules among men. The righteous or saving nature of the king’s function as "messiah" is stressed, a function corresponding to the view of Christ which appears throughout the epistle.

With a yet bolder stroke the author now calls into service Psalms 102:25-27 (vss. 10-12). These verses were originally intended by the psalmist to refer to the Lord as the Creator of the universe. Hebrews unhesitatingly applies them to Christ, the eternal Son. This is in accord with the author’s previous remark that the Son was the medium through whom God had made the world (vs. 2). Once again it is his purpose to show the eternal character of this Son. Finally (vs. 13), to conclude his description of the exalted nature of the Son he again quotes Psalms 110:1, as at verse 3 above. And again, by contrast, all others of God’s messengers are described as "ministering spirits sent forth to serve, for the sake of those who are to obtain salvation" (vs. 14).

It is clear from this chapter that the author knows only two categories of existence — God (with whom and in whom he includes his eternal Son), and creatures (all created beings, "angels," prophets, mankind generally, and all of nature). One senses the fact that there was a type of teaching to which the Christian readers of this essay had been subjected and whose tendency was to dispute the clear-cut nature of this division, or at any rate the inclusion of the Messiah with God as his eternal Son (see Introduction).

Bibliographical Information
"Commentary on Hebrews 1". "Layman's Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/lbc/hebrews-1.html.
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