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Bible Commentaries

Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible
Hebrews 1

 

 

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Introduction

Chapter 1 Jesus Is The Supreme Revelation of God And Greater Than, and Far Above, the Angels


Verse 1

‘By many portions and in many ways, God, having of old time spoken to the fathers in the prophets.’

God, says the writer, has spoken in the past ‘by many portions’ (polumerôs) --- ‘in many ways’ (polutropos).’ These words, which cover every aspect of Old Testament prophecy and teaching, emphasise, by their placement at the beginning of the sentence (and the letter) and by their emphasis on ‘many -- many’, the variety of God’s divine activity through the centuries, and the source from which the writer will draw in order to present his case.

For God, he says, has not in the past left Himself without a witness. He has spoken through many prophets, in many and varied ways, so that those who came after them had a growing source of material on which to draw. It was an enterprise worthy of God. And these were the Scriptures, deeply revered by men. Yet the very size and diversity of the material could only produce its own difficulties, as men sought to interpret their message and meaning.

But now, he writes, God has spoken in a greater and even more wonderful way, for He has spoken by sending to us One Who is, in relation to God, of the nature of Sonship, One Who is true ‘Son’, One Who is of the nature of God Himself. He is the One to Whom these Scriptures have been pointing.

And this Son, he will stress, is the fulfilment of all of which these prophets spoke. For it is now his intention to draw from those Scriptures in order to demonstrate that Who He is, and what He came to do, sums up the whole of their message. They were but the dawning. He is the sun. No longer need men seek to wrestle with what they say, puzzling over them, seeking to draw from them hidden meanings. No longer should they look to old institutions which were preparatory but have now been replaced. For they only provided a temporary measure, as they themselves revealed by their stress on what was coming. They looked ahead to what was to be, always in some way lacking, never finding total fulfilment.

But now here was their fulfilment in God’s true Son, Jesus Christ. The shadows had been replaced by the reality. And from now on those Scriptures must be read in that light. For He has come as the full revelation of God, the outshining of His glory, and those Scriptures therefore can no longer be read as though they stood by themselves. They must now be seen as heralds of His coming, and interpreted in those terms. They must be read in the light of Who He is. His very presence must illuminate every hidden message and explain every hidden thought, bringing to light their hidden depths and establishing that which is truly permanent.

Indeed now that He has come there is nowhere else to look. All else is but a pale reflection of the real thing. He alone is the fulfilment of their deepest meaning. For all must recognise that God has spoken through One Who is His Son, One for Whom those very Scriptures prepared. And as such He is the One Who has fulfilled, and has thus brought to final realisation, all to which those Scriptures point. And only in Him can they now have any meaning.

We must not, as he says this, overlook the pride that the Jews, and those who sought to their ancient Scriptures, had in those Scriptures. They saw them as containing ancient knowledge from the past which bore the stamp of God’s inspiration, and were a source of light in a dark world. They were treasured and carefully preserved and exalted to the heavens. When men were everywhere searching for truth, they were confident that here was that truth, if only one knew how to interpret it. And men had been, and still were, busy interpreting them, and were willing to die for them.

The writer does not deny this, as he indicates here. Indeed he too honours those Scriptures, and their diversity, and their wide coverage of divine wisdom. Through them ‘God has spoken’. But his emphasis is on the fact that they point to Someone even Greater than they Who has now come. They are truly God’s inspired revelation, but in the end their purpose has been to point to One Who was to come. And now He has come they must be interpreted in that light.

So this first verse is not intended to diminish those Scriptures in any way. Rather it is to give them due honour, as the vehicle which has prepared for the Coming One. But it is also to emphasise that a greater revelation than they are is here. In Him God’s final word to man has arrived.

And now he will go on to draw on those Scriptures in order to explain and amplify the one final way that God has now chosen to use, the manifestation of Himself through His Son! For He alone is the full manifestation of God and has brought His unique means of salvation. As he will reveal, the whole of Old Testament prophecy, including Moses and what we see as salvation history, is now to be seen as summed up in Christ. He is the whole of which all that was before revealed was a part.

So these words emphasise that God had built up through the centuries, in what we call ‘the Scriptures’, a multiplicity of different records, written at different times, and in various stages, and at distinct times in history, as a progressive revelation which had built up into a huge amount of different kinds and expressions of knowledge, but all pointing forward in the end to the One Who has now come, Who has summed it all up in Himself. They were God’s servants, He is ‘the Son’.

‘God has spoken to the fathers in the prophets.’ God, he stresses, has spoken through the prophets. He has no doubt that their words came from God. From Abraham (Genesis 20:7), through Moses (Deuteronomy 34:10), and David (Acts 2:30), and all the prophets, and on to Malachi, the prophets spoke from God to ‘the fathers’, bringing God’s word to men, to those who came before. He did not leave Himself without a witness, for through all of them God spoke in every age. The authority of the Old Testament Scriptures and of the Hebrew prophets is firmly asserted.

Mention of ‘the fathers’ does not necessarily mean that the recipients of the letter were Jews, (it does not say ‘our fathers’) for past faithful Israel could be seen as the fathers of the whole church, not just the Jews, for the church was very much seen as the new Israel, made one with them by integration through the covenant (Galatians 6:16; Ephesians 2:12-22; Romans 11:16-24), a part of the growth of the olive tree. But the content of the letter confirms his readers’ close connection with Judaism.

Indeed we should note that what came to be known as ‘Israel’ had never been limited to direct descendants of the patriarchs. It had always grown by accumulation, beginning with the servants and retainers of the patriarchs made up of a number of nationalities (Eliezer the Damascene, Hagar the Egyptian, etc.), moving on to the ‘mixed multitude’ of foreigners who had joined with them in the deliverance from Egypt (Exodus 12:38), followed by the command that they be ready to absorb ‘foreigners’ who willingly submitted to the covenant (Exodus 12:48-49), the continual influx of foreign names into Israel (e.g. Uriah the Hittite), and the absorption of Gentile proselytes, as the witness of the dispersed Israel, with their emphasis on the one God and their high moral basis, proved attractive among the Gentiles, and so on. The Jews were in fact a ‘gathering of God’ (the congregation of Israel) made up from many nations, all outwardly true to the covenant, and their true ancestry was a complicated one, and nothing like they themselves suggested.

‘Having of old time.’ As often in the New Testament time is split into ‘Then’ and ‘Now’; ‘of old time’ (in the completed past) and ‘at the end of these days’ (the final push towards the end, which results in the consummation, during which God is especially working) (Hebrews 1:2). The whole of the Old Testament period is covered by these words in Hebrews 1:1, ‘God has of old time spoken to the fathers in the prophets’. He spoke in Abraham, and indeed before Abraham (Luke 1:70; Acts 3:21), and on in the prophets to Malachi. Each was God’s spokesperson, God’s mouthpiece (Matthew 10:20; 2 Peter 1:21). But, he affirms, all that has been spoken and written through men of God over the past centuries, revealing truth only in part as man was able to receive it, has been preparatory to this time (compare 1 Peter 1:10-12). They have been laying the foundations for the One Who has now come.


Verses 1-3

The Heavenly Ministry of God’s Son, Our High Priest (Hebrews 8:1-3).

Hebrews 8:1 ‘Now in the things which we are saying the chief point is this: We have such a high priest, who has taken his seat on the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens,’

He first reiterates all that he has been saying by bringing out the chief point (or ‘the whole sum’), and that is that we have such a High Priest as has been described in Hebrews 7:26-28 and that He has sat down on the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens (compare Hebrews 1:3). He was thus in His perfect manhood invested with God’s full authority, and given permanent unfettered access, in order to perform His functions in Heaven. The idea is based on Psalms 110:1 where the priest after the order of Melchizedek Psalms 110:4) is to take his seat at God’s right hand to await the subjection of everything to himself.

‘Who has taken His seat.’ His taking His seat confirmed that His sacrificial offering of Himself has been accepted and that He had therefore now no need tostandto minister before God. But it also indicated that He had taken a position of unique and all-prevailing authority. For ‘the throne’ by which He sat down is emphasised here, in contrast with Hebrews 1:3 where no throne is mentioned, although a similar overall idea was in mind. That is because there the emphasis was more on the purification. Here it is on His receiving great authority. From this new position of authority He can now plead (legally speaking) our cause before God, having done all that was necessary for our salvation (Hebrews 1:3; Hebrews 2:9-11; Hebrews 2:17; Hebrews 7:27), having been fully prepared and fitted for the responsibility He now has (Hebrews 2:10; Hebrews 2:18; Hebrews 4:15; Hebrews 5:8-9; Hebrews 7:26), and being in Himself all-sufficient. He is the royal priest par excellence.

‘Such a High Priest.’ This probably indicates such a High Priest as is described in Hebrews 7:26-28 and in this verse, Who, in His perfect Manhood and High Priesthood, has now taken His place of final glory and honour as both Lord and Christ (Acts 2:36).


Verses 1-4

God’s Only Son (Hebrews 1:1-4)

The prime opening message is that ‘God has spoken’, and that having spoken through the ages through revered men, He has finally spoken and given His final word through One Who is uniquely ‘of the nature of a Son’. All that had gone before had been building up to Him. This can be compared with Mark 12:1-11 and parallels, ‘He had yet one, a beloved son. He sent him last to them saying, “They will reverence my son” ’.

It can also be compared with John 1:1-18, ‘in the beginning was the Word, -- what God was the Word was, --- the true light which lights every man was coming into the word -- the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us --- we beheld His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father --- no man has seen God at any time, the only begotten Son who is in the Father’s bosom, He has declared Him’. So having first sent His servants, who had each fulfilled their missions, He has now sent His only Son. This Son is to be seen as God’s supreme word to man, for He is the Greatest of all, the very exact representation of God in all His glory and Being.


Verse 2

‘Whom he appointed heir of all things, through whom also he made the worlds (ages).’

And Who is this One Who has come? He is not only ‘Son’, but both Son and Heir. Before time began He was ‘appointed heir of all things.’ Everything has been promised to Him, whether in heaven or earth. He is destined to receive ‘all things’, everything that exists, an assurance which will come to its climax at His final coming. Nothing will be excluded, except the One Who will subject all things to Him (1 Corinthians 15:27), the One Who is the Ultimate Being.

We note that this appointment seemingly comes before the creation of the world, otherwise we would expect the clauses to be the other way round. It was in the eternal reaches of heaven, before creation ever was, that in the counsel of God this appointment was made. For nothing that was to come would take God by surprise. It was all known and purposed beforehand. Just as Jesus was ‘delivered up by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God’ (Acts 2:23; 1 Peter 1:20), so did He first come in that counsel and foreknowledge in order to be delivered up, and so was His appointment as heir one that was from eternity (Ephesians 1:4; 2 Timothy 1:9).

We note here the use of the term ‘heir’. It must be interpreted correctly. It is a reminder that, when we are describing eternal things, earthly terminology has to be considered carefully. For God would not either die or retire. Just as with the term ‘son’, where we must not ask ‘when was he born’, for He ‘was’ in the beginning from all eternity (John 1:1-3), so when He is called ‘heir’ we must recognise what it is saying, that all will be His, but not that the Godhead as a whole will cease to be over all. (Whoever heard of an heir handing everything back? - 1 Corinthians 15:24).

‘Through whom also He made the worlds.’ The word for ‘worlds’ actually originally first meant ‘ages’. But it came to mean ‘that which contained the ages’, that is the physical world (compare Hebrews 11:3 where this is specific and crystal clear). Only the context in each can therefore tell us what is being indicated in that particular context.

So the One Who was appointed ‘heir of all things’ (of the whole universe in totality) was also the One through Whom God made the worlds. They were destined for Him and He then made them. It is telling us that it was through Jesus Christ, for Whom they were destined, that He created all things and all ages. He was the Word Who spoke and it was done, and He did so in the course of His appointment as heir of all things, to give Him the more of which He would be heir. He was to be heir of both Heaven and earth. We note then that His creative act was subsidiary to His Appointment over all things, for that included all heavenly worlds as well as creation.

But why should He be heir? Was not all His from the beginning? Yes, indeed it was, as Lord and as Creator. But by the rebellion of angels and of men it had in a sense been wrested from Him. His gift of freewill had resulted in the sin of angels and of men. The establishment of morality, the ‘making and willing with determination’ of the ‘right’ choice in all freewill decisions, necessary if beings were to be truly themselves, had resulted in immorality and rebellion, in ‘knowing (by experience) good and evil’, because angels and men deliberately chose wrongly. And therefore the position had now to be restored, by the deliverance wrought by Him, through sacrifice, of those whom God chose and effectually called from among those who sinned, of His ‘elect’ (1 Peter 1:1-2), and the destruction of those who had rebelled and who refused to yield.

He could, of course, have destroyed all who failed instantly. But then His purposes to establish a freewill ‘Universe’ would have failed, and there would be none to enjoy it. Thus it was necessary for the process to carry through so that that end might be achieved for the good of all who responded.


Verse 3

‘When he had himself made purification of sins, sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high.’

And this One Who was of the nature of an only Son, appointed the heir of all things, creator of the world, the outshining of God’s glory and the exact reproduction of what He is, ‘Himself made purification of sins’ (middle voice - He was intimately involved). We later discover that this was by the sacrifice and offering of Himself (Hebrews 10:10). He suffered, the righteous for the unrighteous, that He might bring us to God (1 Peter 3:18). He was indeed both priest and sacrifice.

In the words of the hymnwriter,

‘Tis mystery all, the immortal dies.

Who can explore this strange design?

In vain the firstborn seraph tries,

To sound the depths of grace divine.’

‘Purification for sins.’ (katharismon tôn hamartiôn). Katharismos is from katharizô, to cleanse (see Hebrews 9:14; 1 John 1:7; 1 John 1:9) and is also found in the same sense of cleansing from sins in 2 Peter 1:9; Job 7:21 LXX. He made possible, through His sacrifice of Himself, the total and complete cleansing and purifying, of all who responded to Him, by which He has perfected for ever those who are sanctified (Hebrews 9:14; Hebrews 10:10; Hebrews 10:14; Hebrews 10:17-18).

And having accomplished purification of sin He ‘sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high’. His work of atonement accomplished once for all, He took His seat of authority and power (compare Hebrews 10:12), receiving again the glory which He had had with the Father before the world was (John 17:5). He became the One Who sat on the throne, the Lamb ‘in the midst’ of the throne (Revelation 5:6). The ‘right hand’ simply indicates the hand of power, the ruling hand. The earthly language (there is neither physical throne nor physical right hand) represents the fact that having accomplished His saving work He rejoined His Father in exercising His absolute power and authority (Revelation 3:21). The fact that He sat down indicates that His work, including His priestly work, was now complete. He has returned to His rightful glory (John 17:5).

‘Of the Majesty on high.’ (tês megalosunês en hupsêlois). Coming from megas (great) megalosunês is found in Deuteronomy 32:3 LXX Psalms 79:11 LXX Psalms 145:3 LXX and often in LXX and in Hebrews 8:1; Jude 1:25. We could thus call God ‘His Supreme Greatness’. And having offered Himself Christ resumed his original greatness and glory (John 17:5). The phrase ‘on high’ (en hupsêlois) occurs in the Psalms (Psalms 93:4 LXX), but only here in the New Testament. Having fulfilled His ministry of Priesthood in the offering of Himself, Jesus is here portrayed as receiving His Kingship as both Lord and Christ in Heaven (Acts 2:34-36) and enjoying the restoration of His previously manifested glory (John 17:5).

Jesus is therefore Son, heavenly High Priest in an intercessory sense (His sacerdotal work having been completed as evidenced by the fact that He is now seated) and King.


Verse 4

‘Having become by so much better than the angels, as he has inherited a more excellent name than they.’

Furthermore in His exaltation He,as man, ‘has become’ (contrast ‘being’ - Hebrews 1:2) superior to the angelic realm (see Hebrews 2:6-9). He has received superiority (kreitton) in status and power above the angels as a result, being raised far above all (Ephesians 1:19-22), something which will now be shown from Scripture. This was important. The Jews saw the Law as having been ministered by angels (Hebrews 2:2; Galatians 3:19), and as therefore superior. They saw it as something which gave it its supernatural aura (see also Deuteronomy 33:2; Psalms 68:17; Acts 7:53).

This idea of Messiah’s exaltation above the angels is also found in the Rabbinical writings. For example, commenting on Isaiah 52:13, they wrote ‘he shall be exalted beyond Abraham, and extolled beyond Moses, and raised high above the ministering angels’. He was to be supreme.

Angels had an important place among both orthodox (e.g. the Pharisees) and unorthodox (the Essenes, etc.) Jews, as well as in the Gentile world (Colossians 2:18). They were seen as intermediaries and mediators, maintaining the separation of the awesome holiness of God from men. They were those through Whom God acted because He Himself was unapproachable. Others considered that there were hierarchies of them between God as pure spirit, and man as unworthy flesh, a descending order with a gradual lessening of deity as the lower ‘angels’ became less spirit-like. Through them men received ‘knowledge’ about God. Their mediation was seen as essential so that they had even been introduced into the idea of God’s dealings with Moses. In their view it had to be so. Thus the thought that Jesus as the Christ (Messiah) was in direct touch with God and reigned with Him as representative Man was awesome. It was a revelation of the fact that even in His Manhood He was superior to the angels. Who then, the writer will ask, could sensibly and rightly seek to come to God through angels, when a greater than the angels, Who is directly approachable, is here?

That Jesus Christ is already seen in His essential deity to be superior is first confirmed by the fact that the One Who came is called ‘Son’, that is, among other things, the One Who is over the house instead of just being in it (Hebrews 3:6), the One Who has unique rights of intimate relationship. However, the writer now describes Him as also ‘having become so’ in His manhood as a result of inheriting a ‘more excellent’ name. He will then go on to describe other indications of His superiority to the angels from Scripture.

‘Having become.’ Note the contrast with ‘being’ (Hebrews 1:3 a). What is described in Hebrews 1:3 is His essential being, what is described here is what He ‘became’ as man in the purposes of God, ‘so much better than the angels’.

‘As he has inherited (come into possession of) a more excellent name than they.’ And this is because He ‘has inherited’, perfect tense, ‘has inherited and still possesses’, ‘a more excellent name.’ In view of the following quotations where it is continually mentioned, it would appear that that more excellent name is the title ‘Son’. Although it may be that we should not lay the emphasis on a particular name, but on the significance of ‘name’ which indicates status. Thus the more excellent name also has in mind His exaltation in His manhood as ‘Lord and Christ’ (Yahweh and Messiah) which goes with the idea of His sonship (Acts 2:34-36; Philippians 2:9-11 compare Ephesians 2:20-22). For ‘the name’ refers to what a person actually is. As the appointed heir of all things (Hebrews 1:2) He Who was already the outshining of the glory of God has now ‘inherited’ in His manhood that exalted status as the Son, the anointed Christ, the receiving Heir. He receives in practise what was already His.

So in these verses the writer has laid bare the full truth about Jesus Christ; His eternal Being (Hebrews 1:2), His being able fully to reveal the Father (Hebrews 1:2), His being appointed before time began to bring the world to Himself (Hebrews 1:3), His creative and sustaining power and activity (Hebrews 1:3), His becoming man and dying for our sin (Hebrews 1:3), His rising and being exalted in His manhood by taking His seat at ‘at God’s right hand’ (Hebrews 1:3), and His receipt as man of the name of ‘Son’ as both ‘Lord’ (Yahweh) and ‘Christ’ (Messiah) (Hebrews 1:4).


Verse 5

‘And again, “I will be to him a Father, And he will be to me a Son?” ’

Or ‘And again, “I will be to him as a Father, And he will be to me as a Son.” ’ ‘And again’ (kai palin), signifies the introduction of a further witness from Scripture. This quotation is taken from 2 Samuel 7:14. Note the use of eis (unto) in the predicate with the sense of "as" like the Hebrew (an LXX idiom), not necessarily needing to be preserved in the English. See Matthew 19:5; Luke 2:34.

The same passage is applied to the relationship between God and His people see 2 Corinthians 6:18; Revelation 21:7, but not there with Messianic implications except in so far as they are spoken to the Messianic community.

These words were spoken after David had determined to build a Temple for Yahweh and God had come back with the reply that He did not want a temple, only a tent, but that in view of David’s faithfulness He would build for David an everlasting house, a living house of successive kings so that his throne would be established for ever. And this would begin with his son.

Yahweh then promised that He would be his father and would adopt him as His son (2 Samuel 7:5-16). And this relationship, along with the right to the throne, would then go on for ever in his descendants (2 Samuel 7:16). It would therefore also apply to the final everlasting king (Ezekiel 37:25). Intrinsic within the promises is potential for the kings who follow David to have a special relationship with God as appointed by Him, with a recognition of a greater Messianic fulfilment.

Again, once the Davidic house faded this became firmly attached to the necessary idea of a future coming king (which is intrinsic in the words) which eventually resulted in the words specifically being applied Messianically (as witnessed in the Dead Sea Scrolls). Thus, says the writer, God promised to the Messiah that He would be His Father, and He would be His Son.

So in both promises we have the assurance that the Messiah would be greater than the angels for He would be God’s Son, and God would be His Father. Such a relationship is never suggested of angels, and makes clear that the Sonship is no earthly expedient.


Verses 5-14

The Superiority of the Son to the Angels (Hebrews 1:5 to Hebrews 2:14)

He Is Now Contrasted With The Angels, the Heavenly Beings and Intermediaries between God and the world (Hebrews 1:5-14).

Having revealed the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ as ‘the Son’, the writer now goes on to contrast Him with all heavenly beings, although already having revealed Him as superior to the angels in His being stated by God to be ‘My Son’. He does this by means of seven quotations from the Scriptures.

There is a certain pattern to them. The first quotation affirms His crowning as God’s king and, in its context in the Psalm, also presents Him as God’s ‘Anointed’, and this leads on in the second quotation into a reign where God is His Father, and He is His Son. These two tie in with his opening statement in Hebrews 1:2 that He has spoken through One Who is a Son.

In parallel to this the fifth quotation emphasises His possession of His everlasting, durable throne and His further ‘anointing’ as Supreme Ruler over His ‘fellows’, and leads on in the sixth into His supremacy over creation from its beginning to its end (as in Hebrews 1:3) and His complete everlastingness and durability in all things.

The third affirms the homage of angels at His coming because He is God’s chosen and His heir (firstborn), and the seventh the submission of all His enemies at His coming. The fourth and central one defines the comparative status of the angels, as sandwiched on each side by three declarations of His authority and power (three being ever the number of completeness).

Thus we may picture this as follows:

1) He is God’s anointed, ‘begotten’ Son

5) He is God’s anointed Supreme Ruler

2) He is the Father’s appointed Son

6) As ‘Lord’ He is everlastingly supreme over creation

3) He receives homage from angels as God’s ‘firstborn’

7) All His enemies are subjected to Him.

Note how the first three relate to His appointment resulting in due honour, the second three to the manifestation of this in rulership and triumph. And these two ideas surround the description of angels as being closely connected with created things.


Verse 6

‘And when he again brings in the firstborn into the inhabited earth he says, “And let all the angels of God worship him.”

The idea of sonship (and heirship - Hebrews 1:2) continues under another title, the firstborn. ‘When He again brings in the firstborn into the inhabited earth ’. The firstborn is another title for the unique son. Israel had been His son, even His firstborn (Exodus 4:22), but had then come to be represented by the King whom they saw as ‘the breath of our nostrils, the anointed of Yahweh’ (Lamentations 4:20), so that the Davidic king is described as God’s ‘firstborn’ in Psalms 89:27. There the idea is of high favour and honour, which is very much in mind there. The idea behind the use of ‘firstborn’ (of a king) is of prestige and authority. Colossians links the title to creation indicating the One Who is the pre-existent non-created source Who has authority over creation (Colossians 1:15), ‘pre-born’ not created, and to the resurrection (the new creation) indicating the One Who as the initial Resurrected One, raised in honour and power, is the Giver of life to God’s people (Colossians 1:18), and thus He is the Firstborn twice over. All contain the thought of authority and power and relationship.

But the idea of the firstborn also contains within it that the firstborn is the heir. This ties it in here with Hebrews 1:2 where He is declared to be the heir of all things. So as the Firstborn He is the One Who was before all things, the One for Whom all things are destined, and the One Who was raised as the Source of all true life.

‘Again.’ The question here is as to whether we translate ‘again’ as indicating a second ‘bringing into the world’ of the Firstborn (‘again brings’), thus looking to His second coming, or whether ‘again’ is to refer back in contrast and conjunction with the previously quoted verses, as with ‘again’ in Hebrews 1:5. This latter is superficially attractive in the English rendering but the opening construction in Greek is very different. It is not kai palin as in Hebrews 1:5 but ‘otan de palin’, representing not a simple continuation but a specific break. The natural reading is to take it as ‘again brings’.

Such a reference to His second coming as the Firstborn to finalise His creative and life-giving purpose, following the description of His first coming as ‘Son’, gives added significance to the passage, indicating an advancement in idea rather than it being just a string of quotations all with the same point, and significantly it parallels the similar idea in the seventh. It also fits in with the use of firstborn in Colossians 1:18 as ‘the firstborn from the dead’. He Who was the firstborn from the dead, the first to arise and the Lord of resurrection, now comes again to the inhabited world for His own to raise them too, whether by resurrection or rapture (compare Hebrews 9:28). It also explains the emphasis on the ‘inhabited earth’. The idea then is that He is called Son or its equivalent, firstly at His anointing, and then on His return to bring all to its consummation.

‘He says.’ Compare the use of the present tense with ‘He said’ (aorist - Hebrews 1:5), thus giving a differing emphasis. Hebrews 1:5 was referring to a once for all event. This refers to something that is to be said continually. Thus God’s command comes over continually, ‘let all the angels of God worship Him’.

“And let all the angels of God worship him.” This could be a paraphrase of Psalms 97:7 where we read, ‘Worship Him all you heavenly beings (elohim - LXX ‘angels’)’, the Him referring to ‘the Lord’ Who ‘reigns’, and this would fit the quotation reasonably well.

But the almost (but not identical) exact phrase may be seen in Deuteronomy 32:43 LXX, where it is shown as an addition which is not found in the Hebrew text, (but is now actually confirmed as in a Hebrew text found at Qumran). The LXX version reads, ‘Rejoice, you heavens, with him, and let all the sons of God worship him; rejoice you Gentiles, with his people, and let all the angels of God strengthen themselves in him.’ This is spoken of the Lord Who comes to judge His people (Deuteronomy 32:36), and would therefore naturally be applied to Him Who is called Lord, and to Whom judgment has been committed (John 5:22; John 5:27).

But the important point here is that all angels will pay Him homage, confirming that He is to be superior to the angels at the second coming (Mark 13:26-27 and often in the Gospels) as He was at the first (compare Philippians 2:9-11; Ephesians 1:19-21).

This is now followed by a series of quotations which are clearly interpreted Messianically, and thus as referring to the Son, in line with previous verses. But first we have one which contrasts the transitory work of angels. Note that this one is placed in the middle of the seven. The angels in their anonymous tasks are sandwiched within the authority and power of the Son as He fulfils His destiny, in order to indicate the secondary and derived nature of their authority and power.


Verse 7

‘And of the angels he says,

“Who makes his angels winds,

And his ministers a flame of fire,” ’

Firstly he takes a quotation to demonstrate what the angels are. They are powerful. They are made winds and a flame of fire (Psalms 104:4 compare Psalms 148:8), but they do not represent God directly.

We note first of all that they are said to be ‘made’ not ‘begotten’. Then that they have specifically allocated functions and do God’s will. ‘Winds’ refers to invisible but powerful activity, ‘a flame of fire’ to glory and judgment.

It may also be that we are to see them as carrying on their ministry through natural forces which are transitory and not lasting, affecting the world but not permanently transforming it. (The movement between spiritual activity and physical activity is not always made plain. The two were seen as going closely together). Certainly when connected with their attendance on Yahweh these descriptions are often connected with storm phenomena. Thus they are described in terms of created things, not as creating.

Their tasks, however, are many and varied as required, but like wind and fire they reveal no permanence. Like winds and fiery flames they arise and then disappear. They are here today and gone tomorrow. They are servants who do God’s will.

And yet that does not indicate that they must be looked on lightly. While invisible they are effective, and even devastating. They can make an impact in the world. We must not underestimate or dismiss them as unimportant. Their activity is, for example, indicated in Daniel 10. And we can indeed compare all the Psalms where such phenomena signal the approach of God Himself accompanied by His attendants. But in the end, however great, that is all they are, servants of Yahweh. Compare in Jewish literature 2 Esdras 8:21-22, ‘before whom the hosts of angels stand with trembling, at whose bidding they are changed to wind and fire’ (probably also based on the Psalm). Then he moves on to show what the Son is, the One to Whom God has in contrast given a permanent and everlasting purpose over all universes.

We should note therefore that this verse does not stand by itself but is specifically contrasted with the idea of the Son’s permanent rule. They are set individual but temporary tasks as servants. He rules on an everlasting and permanent throne. Their tasks are physical. His go to the root of morality. They are many, but He is the Anointed one, anointed as over all. Thus he now makes this contrast.


Verse 8-9

‘But of the Son he says,

“Your throne, O God, is (or ‘your throne is God’) for ever and ever.

And the sceptre of uprightness is the sceptre of your kingdom.

You have loved righteousness, and hated iniquity.

Therefore God, your God, has anointed you

With the oil of gladness above your fellows.”

This fourth quotation parallels ideas in the first. There He was crowned, here He has his everlasting throne. There He became God’s Anointed. Here He is anointed as supreme ruler. And central to the idea is His perfect righteousness and uprightness.

‘But of the Son.’ There is a direct contrast here of ‘the Son’ with the angels.

His supreme greatness is emphasised in that He Who is the Son, the Messiah, is either called ‘God’, or has ‘God as His throne’ (Psalms 45:6-7). If we translate in the first way it was originally a courtesy title, flattering the Davidic king as being almost like one of the elohim (heavenly beings), or indicating his unique position as God’s prime representative and adopted son, and the description is kept in its rightful place by referring almost immediately to ‘your God’. In that case the writer has no hesitation in seeing it as an unconscious prophecy (compare John 11:51) concerning the greatest of the Davidic kings, and of the Messiah. The One Who is Son is described as ‘God’, as One Who will sit on an eternal throne. As such He will reign under the Heavenly Rule of God.

However the equally possible translation ‘your throne is God’ (compare ‘Yahweh is my rock’ (Psalms 18:2), ‘You are my rock’ (Psalms 31:3) so that they could equally well have said a parallel, ‘My rock is God’) would equally indicate the Son’s unique status. It could be seen as the equivalent of sitting at God’s right hand (Hebrews 1:13), but even more so, as sitting in God’s hand, so that God is giving full support to Him in his rule. He acts totally as God’s viceroy, and is seated in God as the one who is in God’s hand. In the initial Psalm it might indicate the divinity, the heavenly status, of the king’s throne as indicating that he is the favourite of Yahweh.

(It is in fact difficult to think of the Davidic king in the Psalm, who was originally an ordinary king, even though Davidic and therefore adopted by God, and in the Psalm in process of being married, being called ‘God (elohim)’. It is true that it could be seen as meaning ‘godlike’, or even ‘glorious representative of the true God’, but it is only used in this sense in the plural, and such a description in the singular would be unique in the Old Testament, and this is especially significant in the light of the fact that an alternative translation is equally possible. It is very different from the reference which Jesus does use, ‘I have said you are elohim’ (Psalms 82:6) for there the plural is referring to a plurality and the use is explained and defined. The use of Mighty God in Isaiah 9:6 is different because it refers to a unique, miraculously born person. Had Jesus interpreted the Psalm as describing the king as elohim would He not have used that against the charges of blasphemy that were brought against Him? It would have been the perfect riposte. That being so, however, many translators and interpreters do prefer the rendering ‘O God’, and it certainly ties in with the progression ‘Son’, ‘God’, ‘Lord’ in the quotations.).

‘And the sceptre of uprightness is the sceptre of your kingdom.’ The sign of His kingly office will be uprightness, which will be the symbol of what distinguishes His kingdom, for his throne is God. That would mean that we have the parallels, ‘his throne is God’ and ‘his sceptre is uprightness’. This in direct contrast to the winds and flames of fire, where they but act as servants and ministers.

‘You have loved righteousness, and hated iniquity. Therefore God, your God, has anointed you with the oil of gladness above your fellows.’ And it is because of His truly righteous rule, and especially because of His love for righteousness and hatred of iniquity, that ‘God His God’ (the equivalent of ‘Yahweh your God’), has anointed Him with the oil of gladness, the special anointing that makes glad the heart because it is the anointing of the supreme king. No joy is like the joy of being supreme.

‘Above your fellows.’ In the Psalm initially this probably signifies other kings. But it possibly has in mind here both the whole of mankind and of the angels as his ‘fellows’ over whom He is set. So again He is set above the angels. (For if the king is elohim, so can be the angels, who are also elsewhere called elohim, but the overall point is rather that He is the One chosen as supreme king on the everlasting throne and above all His ‘fellows’ of whatever kind). So His deep love and concern for righteousness is what has set Him apart from all others. It is seen to exceed that of all, even that of the angels, of kings and of his fellow-men. He is uniquely the King of Righteousness, the Righteous One (Hebrews 7:2; 1 Peter 3:18), the One Who is ‘apart from sin’ (Hebrews 9:28).


Verses 10-12

‘And,

“You, Lord, in the beginning laid the foundation of the earth,

And the heavens are the works of your hands.

They will perish, but you continue,

And they all will wax old as a garment does.

And as a mantle you will roll them up,

As a garment, and they will be changed.

But you are the same,

And your years will not fail.”

This next quotation is taken from Psalms 102:25-27. Having described His supremacy over all rulers and powers, the writer now stresses His supremacy over creation. If ‘God’ can be seen as a suitable address for ‘the One Who is Son’ (Hebrews 1:8), so certainly can ‘Lord’ (as found in the text of the Psalm in LXX), a regular ascription by the writer to Jesus Christ (Hebrews 2:3; Hebrews 7:14; Hebrews 13:20). The Psalm is here quoted as having in mind the Son’s upholding of all things by His powerful word (Hebrews 1:3). Once He withdraws His word they perish and He ‘rolls them up’. For He is here seen as Lord of creation, and controller of its destiny. Both heavens and earth will be taken off like a cloak and rolled up, or stripped off like used clothes and changed, while He remains the same and goes on for ever, never growing old, and having no beginning or end. As such He is superior to the angels, who while they could devastate the earth with wind and fire, were unable either to create the earth or to effect its final destiny. (And once the world ceased there would be no more wind and fire for them to control).

We note also that in the fifth quotation reference was made to His enduring throne. Here in the sixth reference is made to His own enduring. He is the Enduring One.

In the original Psalm the One addressed is Yahweh. But the writer has already made clear that Jesus is the outshining of Yahweh, and the express image of what He is. And Paul also makes clear that Jesus bears the name of Yahweh (Philippians 2:9-11). So that as Jesus is constantly called ‘Lord’ (Yahweh) regularly in the New Testament, and therefore in the early church, and is regularly depicted as the Creator in the New Testament (Hebrews 1:2; John 1:3; Colossians 1:16), this action with regard to creation can be assigned to the Son. The writer has no difficulty in applying the words to Him.


Verse 13

‘But of which of the angels has he said at any time,

“You, sit on my right hand,

Until I make your enemies the footstool of your feet?” ’

It will be noted that this is the seventh quotation, a number seen as the number of divine perfection in all nations from the time when numbering was first invented. The sevenfold witness is thus seen as divinely decisive. This quote is taken from Psalms 110:1 and refers to God’s king being told by God to take His seat at God’s right hand while God makes His enemies His footstool. The placing of the foot on a conquered king’s neck may well have been an evidence of his submission, but the thought may simply be to picture submission. To which of the angels, the writer asks, did God ever say that? So do we have the sevenfold witness to the superiority of Christ over the angels.

Tositin the presence of God was the Davidic king’s prerogative (2 Samuel 7:18; Ezekiel 44:3). It was in itself a clear indication that He enjoyed God’s favour and was God’s viceroy. To have all enemies ( here both of heaven and earth) His footstool is an indication of His guaranteed final triumph.

So we note here the advancement in thought of the quotations:

· 1). He is declared to be God’s Son and ‘begotten’ as His anointed (compare ‘in a Son’ - Hebrews 1:2).

· 2). He continually shares in a special relationship with God whereby God is His Father and He is God’s Son (compare again ‘in a Son’ - Hebrews 1:2).

· 3) As the Firstborn Who will come again into the world He receives homage and worship continually from God’s angels (compare ‘heir of all things - Hebrews 1:2).

· 4) His throne is God and therefore His rule is everlasting and perfectly righteous, with Him being anointed as Supreme Ruler, high above all (compare ‘heir of all things’ - Hebrews 1:2).

· 5) As ‘Lord’ He is the Creator, Sustainer and Culminator of Creation, so that all awaits His will, while He Himself is everlasting (compare ‘through whom also He made the worlds’ and ‘upholding all things by His word of power’ - Hebrews 1:2-3).

· 6) He has been called to sit at God’s right hand until all His enemies are subjected to Him (compare ‘sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high’ - Hebrews 1:3) .

And within it all is set the contrast with the angels. This contrast between the Son and the angels (Hebrews 1:4-9; Hebrews 1:13) is then brought to its conclusion by a positive declaration of what the position and responsibilities of the angels are.


Verse 14

‘Are they not all ministering spirits, sent forth to do service for the sake of those who will inherit salvation?’

What the angels are is now made clear. They are spirits who serve God, who are sent by Him to do service for those who are to inherit salvation, that is, for those who are His, and destined for final salvation, God’s elect, in order to keep them and help them as they walk in God’s ways. Rather than being Lord over God’s people the good angels are His servants and theirs. This is noble service indeed, but not enjoying the same dignity as the status of the Son, Who is made Lord of all.

We must beware of reading too much into the words in this verse. The task of angels has been defined in Hebrews 1:7 as to be that of being like winds and flames of fire, and it is as such that they serve the heirs of salvation. This would seem to point to invisible yet physical help, rather than to spiritual sustenance. Elsewhere specifically seeking to angels is frowned on (Colossians 2:18), and there is nowhere a suggestion that we look to the angels for help. They are not at man’s bidding, but at God’s. We may, however, draw lessons from past angelic activity which involves their going invisibly before God’s people as they obey God (Exodus 23:20; Exodus 23:23 compare Numbers 20:16), protection (Psalms 91:11; Daniel 6:22), deliverance (Acts 12:7), and strengthening (Luke 22:43), as well as occasional judgment (2 Samuel 24:16-17; Acts 12:23), and acting as God’s messengers (often). And Revelation makes clear the powerful background activity of angels. But all solely as God wills. We should be looking to the Son, not to angels.

 


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Bibliography Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Hebrews 1:4". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/pet/hebrews-1.html. 2013.

Lectionary Calendar
Sunday, November 17th, 2019
the Week of Proper 28 / Ordinary 33
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