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Bible Commentaries

Expositor's Bible Commentary
Hebrews 1



Other Authors
Verses 1-3



"God, having of old time spoken unto the fathers in the prophets by divers portions and in divers manners, hath at the end of these days spoken unto us in His Son, Whom He appointed Heir of all things, through Whom also He made the worlds; Who being the effulgence of His glory, and the very image of His substance, and upholding all things by the word of His power, when He had made purification of sins, sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high."-- Hebrews 1:1-3 (R.V.).

"God hath spoken." The eternal silence has been broken. We have a revelation. That God has spoken unto men is the ground of all religion. Theologians often distinguish between natural religion and revealed. We may fairly question if all worship is not based on some revelation of God. Prayer is the echo in man's spirit of God's own voice. Men learn to speak to the Father Who is in heaven as children come to utter words: by hearing their parent speak. It is the deaf who are also dumb. God speaks first, and prayer answers as well as asks. Men reveal themselves to the God Who has revealed Himself to them.

The Apostle is, however, silent about the revelations of God in nature and in conscience. He passes them by because we, sinful men, have lost the key to the language of creation and of our own moral nature. We know that He speaks through them, but we do not know what He says. If we were holy, it would be otherwise. All nature would be vocal, "like some sweet beguiling melody." But to us the universe is a hieroglyphic which we cannot decipher, until we discover in another revelation the key that will make all plain.

More strange than this is the Apostle's omission to speak of the Mosaic dispensation as a revelation of God. We should have expected the verse to run on this wise: "God, having spoken unto the fathers in the sacrifices and in the prophets, institutions, and inspired words," etc. But the author says nothing about rites, institutions, dispensations, and laws. The reason apparently is that he wishes to compare with the revelation in Christ the highest, purest, and fullest revelation given before; and the most complete revelation vouchsafed to men, before the Son came to declare the Father, is to be found, not in sacrifices, but in the words of promise, not in the institutions, but in holy men, who were sent, time after time, to quicken the institutions into new life or to preach new truths. The prophets were seers and poets. Nature's highest gift is imagination, whether it "makes" a world that transcends nature or "sees" what in nature is hidden from the eyes of ordinary men. This faculty of the true poet, elevated, purified, taken possession of by God's Holy Spirit, became the best instrument of revelation, until the word of prophecy was made more sure through the still better gift of the Son.

But it would appear from the Apostle's language that even the lamp of prophecy, shining in a dark place, was in two respects defective. "God spake in the prophets by divers portions and in divers manners." He spake in divers portions; that is, the revelation was broken, as the light was scattered before it was gathered into one source. Again, He spake in divers manners. Not only the revelation was fragmentary, but the separate portions were not of the same kind. The two defects were that the revelation lacked unity and was not homogeneous.

In contrast to the fragmentary character of the revelation, the Apostle speaks of the Son, in the second verse, as the centre of unity. He is the Heir and the Creator of all things. With the heterogeneous revelation in the prophets he contrasts, in the third verse, the revelation that takes its form from the peculiar nature of Christ's Sonship. He is the effulgence of God's glory, the very image of His substance; He upholds all things by the word of His power; and, having made purification of sins, He took His seat on the right hand of the Majesty on high.

Let us examine a little more closely the double comparison made by the Apostle between the revelation given to the fathers and that which we have received.

First, the previous revelation was in portions. The Old Testament has no centre, from which all its wonderful and varied lights radiate, till we find its unity in the New Testament and read Jesus Christ into it. God scattered the revelations over many centuries, line upon line, precept after precept, here a little and there a little. He spread the knowledge of Himself over the ages of a nation's history, and made the development of one people the medium whereby to communicate truth. This of itself, if nothing more had been told us, is a magnificent conception. A nation's early struggles, bitter failures, ultimate triumph, the appearance within it of warriors, prophets, poets, saints, used by the Spirit of God to reveal the invisible! Sometimes revelation would make but one advance in an age. We might almost imagine that God's truth from the lips of His prophets was found at times too overpowering. It was crushing frail humanity. The Revealer must withdraw into silence behind the thick veil, to give human nature time to breathe and recover self-possession. The occasional message of prophecy resembles the suddenness of Elijah's appearances and departures, and forms a strange contrast to the ceaseless stream of preaching in the Christian Church.

Still more strikingly does it contrast with the New Testament, the greater book, yea the greatest of all books. Only two classes of men deny its supremacy. They are those who do not know what real greatness is, and those who disparage it as a literature that they may be the better able to seduce foolish and shallow youths to reject it as a revelation. But honest and profound thinkers, even when they do not admit that it is the word of God, acknowledge it to be the greatest among the books of men.

Yet the New Testament was all produced--if we are forbidden to say "given"--in one age, not fifteen centuries. Neither was this one of the great ages of history, when genius seems to be almost contagious. Even Greece had at this time no original thinkers. Its two centuries of intellectual supremacy had passed away. It was the age of literary imitations and counterfeits. Yet it is in this age that the book which has most profoundly influenced the thought of all subsequent times made its appearance. How shall we account for the fact? The explanation is not that its writers were great men. However insignificant the writers, the mysterious greatness of the book pervades it all, and their lips are touched as with a live coal from the altar. Nothing will account for the New Testament but the other fact that Jesus of Nazareth had appeared among men, and that He was so great, so universal, so human, so Divine, that He contained in His own person all the truth that will ever be discovered in the book. Deny the incarnation of the Son of God, and you make the New Testament an insoluble enigma. Admit that Jesus is the Word, and that the Word is God, and the book becomes nothing more, nothing less, than the natural and befitting outcome of what He said and did and suffered. The mystery of the book is lost in the greater mystery of His person.

Here the second verse comes in, to tell us of this great Person, and how He unites in Himself the whole of God's revelation. He is appointed Heir of all things, and through Him God made the ages. He is the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, He which is, and which was, and which is to come,--the spring from which all the streams of time have risen and the sea into which they flow. But these are the two sides of all real knowledge; and revelation is nothing else than knowledge given by God. All the infinite variety of questions with which men interrogate nature may be reduced to two: Whence? and whither? As to the latter question, the investigation has not been in vain. We do know that, whatever the end will be, the whole universe rises from lower to higher forms. If one life perishes, it reappears in a higher life. It is the ultimate purpose of all which still remains unknown. But the Apostles declare that this interrogation is answered in Jesus Christ. Only that they speak, not of "ultimate purpose," but of "the appointed Heir." He is more than the goal of a development. He is the Son of the living God, and therefore the Heir of all the works and purposes of His Father. He holds His position by right of sonship, and has it confirmed to Him as the reward of filial service.

The word "Heir" is an allusion to the promise made to Abraham. The reference, therefore, is not to the eternal relation between the Son and God, not to any lordship which the Son acquires apart from His assumption of humanity and atoning death. The idea conveyed by the word "Heir" will come again to the surface, more than once, in the Epistle. But everywhere the reference is to the Son's final glory as Redeemer. At the same time, the act of appointing Him Heir may have taken place before the world was. We must, accordingly, understand the revelation here spoken of to mean more especially the manifestation of God in the work of redemption. Of this work also Christ is the ultimate purpose. He is the Heir, to Whom the promised inheritance originally and ultimately belongs. It is this that befits Him to become the full and complete Revealer of God. He is the answer to the question, Whither? in reference to the entire range of redemptive thought and action.

Again, He, too, is the Creator. Many seek to discover the origin of all things by analysis. They trace the more complex to the less complex, the compound to its elements, and the higher developments of life to lower types. But to the theologian the real difficulty does not lie here. What matter whence, if we are still the same? We know what we are. We are men. We are capable of thinking, of sinning, of hating or loving God. The problem is to account for these facts of our spirit. What is the evolution of holiness? Whence came prayer, repentance, and faith? But even these questions Christianity professes to answer. It answers them by solving still harder problems than these. Do we ask who created the human spirit? The Gospel tells us who can sanctify man's inmost being. Do we seek to know who made conscience? The New Testament proclaims One Who can purify conscience and forgive the sin. To create is but a small matter to Him Who can save. Jesus Christ is that Saviour. He, therefore, is that Creator. In being these things, He is the complete and final revelation of God.

Second, previous revelations were given in divers manners. God used many different means to reveal Himself, as if He found them one after another inadequate. And how can a visible, material creation sufficiently reveal the spiritual? How can institutions and systems reveal the personal, living God? How can human language even express spiritual ideas? Sometimes the means adopted appear utterly incongruous. Will the great Spirit, the holy and good God, speak to a prophet in the dreams of night? Shall we say that the man of God sees real visions when he dreams an unreal dream? Or will an apparition of the day more befittingly reveal God? Has every substance been possessed by the spirit of falsehood, so that the Being of beings can only reveal His presence in unsubstantial phantoms? Has the waking life of intellect become so entirely false to its glorious mission of discovering truth that the God of truth cannot reveal Himself to man, except in dreams and spectres? Yet there was a time when it might be well for us to recall our dreams, and wise to believe in spiritualism. For a dream might bring a real message from God, and ecstasy might be the birth-throes of a new revelation. Some of the good words of Scripture were at first a dream. In the midst of the confused fancies of the brain, when reason is for a time dethroned, a truth descends from heaven upon the prophet's spirit. This has been, but will never again take place. The oracles are dumb, and we shall not regret them. We consult no interpreter of dreams. We seek not the seances of necromancers. Let the peaceful spirits of the dead rest in God! They had their trials and sorrows on earth. Rest, hallowed souls! We do not ask you to break the deep silence of heaven. For God has spoken unto us in a Son, Who has been made higher than the heavens, and is as great as God. Even the Son need not, must not, come to earth a second time to reveal the Father in mighty deeds and a mightier self-sacrifice. The revelation given is enough. "We will not say in our hearts, Who shall ascend into heaven? (that is, to bring Christ down:) or, Who shall descend into the abyss? (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead.) The word is nigh us, in our mouth, and in our heart: that is, the word of faith, which we preach."(1)

The final form of God's revelation of Himself is, therefore, perfectly homogeneous. The third verse explains that it is a revelation, not only in a Son, but in His Sonship. We learn what kind of Sonship is His, and how its glorious attributes qualify Him to be the perfect Revealer of God. Nevermore will a message be sent to men except in Jesus Christ. God, Who spake unto the fathers in divers manners, speaks to us in Him, Whose Sonship constitutes Him the effulgence of God's glory, the image of His substance, the Upholder of the universe, and, lastly, the eternal Redeemer and King.

1. He is the effulgence of God's glory. Many expositors prefer another rendering: "the reflection of His glory." This would mean that God's self-manifestation, shining on an external substance, is reflected, as from a mirror, and that this reflection is the Son of God. But such an expression does not convey a consistent idea. For the Son must be the substance from which the light is reflected. What truth there is in this rendering is more correctly expressed in the next clause: "the image of His substance." It is, therefore, much better to accept the rendering adopted in the Revised Version: "the effulgence of His glory." God's glory is the self-manifestation of His attributes, or, in other words, the consciousness which God has of His own infinite perfections. This implies the triune personality of God. But it does not imply a revelation of God to His creatures. The Son participates in that consciousness of the Divine perfections. But He also reveals God to men, not merely in deeds and in words, but in His person. He is the revelation. To declare this seems to be the Apostle's purpose in using the word "effulgence." It expresses "the essentially ministrative character of the person of the Son."(2) If a revelation will be given at all, His Sonship points Him out as the Interpreter of God's nature and purposes, inasmuch as He is essentially, because He is Son, the emanation or radiance of His glory.

2. He is the image of His substance. A solar ray reveals the light, but not completely, unless indeed it guides the eye back along its penciled line to the orb of day. If the Son of God were only an effulgence, Christ could still say that He Himself is the way to the Father, but He could not add, "He that hath seen Me hath seen the Father."(3) That the revelation may be complete, the Son must be, in one sense, distinct from God, as well as one with Him. Apparently this is the notion conveyed in the metaphor of the "image." Both truths are stated together in the words of Christ: "As the Father hath life in Himself, so hath He given to the Son to have life in Himself."(4) If the Son is more than an effulgence, if He is "the very image" of God's essence, nothing in God will remain unrevealed. Every feature of His moral nature will be delineated in the Son. If the Son is the exact likeness of God and has a distinct mode of subsisting He is capable of all the modifications in His form of subsisting which may be necessary, in order to make a complete revelation of God intelligible to men. It is possible for Him to become man Himself. He is capable of obedience, even of learning obedience by suffering, and of acquiring power to succour by being tempted. He can taste death. We might add, if we were studying one of St. Paul's Epistles (which we are not at present doing), that this distinction from God, involved in His very Sonship, made Him capable of emptying Himself of the Divine form of subsisting and taking upon Him instead of it the form of a servant. This power of meeting man's actual condition confers upon the Son the prerogative of being the complete and final revelation of God.

3. He upholds all things by the word of His power. This must be closely connected with the previous statement. If the Son is the effulgence of God's glory and the express image of His essence, He is not a creature, but is the Creator. The Son is so from God that He is God. He so emanates from Him that He is a perfect and complete representation of His being. He is not in such a manner an effulgence as to be only a manifestation of God, nor in such a manner an image as to be a creature of God. But, in fellowship of nature, the essence of God is communicated to the Son in the distinctness of His mode of subsisting. The Apostle's words fully justify--perhaps they suggested--the expressions in the Nicene and still earlier creeds, "God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God." If this is His relation to God, it determines His relation to the universe, and the relation of the universe to God. Philo had described the Word as an effulgence, and spoken also of Him as distinct from God. But in Philo these two statements are inconsistent. For the former means that the Word is an attribute of God, and the latter means that He is a creature. The writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews says that the Word is not an attribute, but a perfect representation of God's essence. He says also that He is not a creature, but the Sustainer of all things. These statements are consistent. The one, in fact, implies the other; and both together express the same conception which we find in St. John's Gospel: "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. All things were made by Him; and without Him was not anything made that hath been made."(5) It is also the teaching of St. Paul: "In Him were all things created, in the heavens and upon the earth, things visible and things invisible, whether thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things have been created through Him, and unto Him; and in Him all things consist."(6)

But the Apostle has a further motive in referring to the Son as Upholder of all things. As Creator and Sustainer He reveals God. He upholds all things by the word of His power. "The invisible things of God are perceived through the things which are made, even His everlasting power and Divinity."(7) There is a revelation of God prior even to that given in the prophets.

4. Having made purification of sins, He took His seat on the right hand of the Majesty on high. We come now, at last, to the special revelation of God which forms the subject of the Epistle. The Apostle here states his central truth on its two sides. The one side is Christ's priestly offering; the other is His kingly exaltation. We shall see as we proceed that the entire structure of the Epistle rests on this great conception,--the Son of God, the eternal Priest-King. By introducing it at this early stage, the author gives his readers the clue to what will very soon prove a labyrinth. We must hold the thread firmly, if we wish not to be lost in the maze. The subject of the treatise is here given us. It is "The Son as Priest-King the Revealer of God." The revelation is not in words only, nor in external acts only, but in love, in redemption, in opening heaven to all believers. It is well termed a revelation. For the Priest-King has rent the thick veil and opened the way to men to enter into the true holiest place, so that they know God by prayer and communion.


Verses 4-14



Hebrews 1:4 - Hebrews 2:18

The most dangerous and persistent error against which the theologians of the New Testament had to contend was the doctrine of emanations. The persistence of this error lay in its affinity with the Christian conception of mediation between God and men; its danger sprang from its complete inconsistency with the Christian idea of the person and work of the Mediator. For the Hebrew conception of God, as the "I AM," tended more and more in the lapse of ages to sever Him from all immediate contact with created beings. It would be the natural boast of the Jews that Jehovah dwelt in unapproachable light. They would point to the contrast between Him and the human gods of the Greeks. An ever-deepening consciousness of sin and spiritual gloom would strengthen the conviction that the Lord abode behind the veil, and their conception of God would of necessity react on their consciousness of sin. If, therefore, God is the absolute Being--so argued the Gnostics of the day--He cannot be the actual Creator of the world. We must suppose the existence of an emanation or a series of emanations from God, every additional link in the chain being less Divine, until we arrive at the material universe, where the element of Divinity is entirely lost. These emanations are the angels, the only possible mediators between God and men. Some theories came to a stand at this point; others took a further step, and worshipped the angels, as the mediators also between men and God. Thus the angels were regarded as messengers or apostles from God and reconcilers or priests for men. St. Paul has already rejected these notions in his Epistle to the Colossians. He teaches that the Son of God's love is the visible image of the invisible God, prior to all creation and by right of primogeniture Heir of all, Creator of the highest angels, Himself being before they came into existence. Such He is before His assumption of humanity. But it pleased God that in Him, also as God-Man, all the plenitude of the Divine attributes should dwell; so that the Mediator is not an emanation, neither human nor Divine, but is Himself God and Man.(8)

Recent expositors have sufficiently proved that there was a Judaic element in the Colossian heresy. We need not, therefore, hesitate to admit that the Epistle to the Hebrews contains references to the same error. Our author acknowledges the existence of angels. He declares that the Law was given through angels, which is a point not touched upon more than once in the Old Testament, but seemingly taken for granted, rather than expressly announced, in the New. Stephen reproaches the Jews, who had received the Law as the ordinances of angels, with having betrayed and murdered the Righteous One, of Whom the Law and the prophets spake.(9) St. Paul, like the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews, argues that the Law differs from the promise in having been ordained through angels, as mediators between the Lord and His people Israel, whereas the promise was given by God, not as a compact between two parties, but as the free act of Him Who is one.(10) The main purpose of the first and second chapters of our Epistle is to maintain the superiority of the Son to the angels, of Him in Whom God has spoken unto us to the mediators through whom He gave the Law.

The defect of the doctrine of emanations was twofold. They are supposed to consist of a long chain of intermediate beings. But the chain does not connect at either end. God is still absolutely unapproachable by man; man is still inaccessible to God. It is in vain new links are forged. The chain does not, and never will, bring man and God together. The only solution of the problem must be found in One Who is God and Man; and this is precisely the doctrine of our author, on the one hand, that the Revealer of God is Son of God; and, on the other hand, that the Son of God is our brother-man. The former statement is proved, and a practical warning based upon it, in the section that extends from Hebrews 1:4 to Hebrews 2:4. The latter is the subject of the section from Hebrews 2:5 to Hebrews 2:18.


"Having become by so much better than the angels, as He hath inherited a more excellent name than they. For unto which of the angels said He at any time,

Thou art my Son, This day have I begotten Thee?

and again,

I will be to Him a Father, And He shall be to Me a Son?

And when He again bringeth in the Firstborn into the world He saith,

And let all the angels of God worship Him.

And of the angels He saith,

Who maketh His angels winds, And His ministers a flame of fire:

but of the Son He saith,

Thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever; And the sceptre of uprightness is the sceptre of Thy kingdom. Thou hast loved righteousness, and hated iniquity; Therefore God, Thy God, hath anointed Thee With the oil of gladness about Thy fellows.


Thou, Lord, in the beginning hast laid the foundation of the earth, And the heavens are the works of Thy hands: They shall perish; but Thou continuest: And they all shall wax old as doth a garment; And as a mantle shall Thou roll them up, As a garment, and they shall be changed: But Thou art the same, And Thy years shall not fail.

But of which of the angels hath He said at any time,

Sit Thou on My right hand, Till I make Thine enemies the footstool of Thy feet?

Are they not all ministering spirits, sent forth to do service for the sake of them that shall inherit salvation?

Therefore we ought to give the more earnest heed to the things that were heard, lest haply we drift away from them. For if the word spoken through angels proved steadfast, and every transgression and disobedience received a just recompense of reward; how shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation? which having at the first been spoken through the Lord, was confirmed unto us by them that heard; God also bearing witness with them, both by signs and wonders, and by manifold powers, and by gifts of the Holy Ghost according to His own will" (Hebrews 1:4-14; Hebrews 2:1-4, R.V.).

Christ is Son of God, not in the sense in which angels, as a class of beings, are designated by this name, but as He Who has taken His seat on the right hand of the Majesty on high. The greatness of His position is proportionate to the excellency of the name of Son. This name He has not obtained by favour nor attained by effort, but inherited by indefeasible right. Josephus says that the Essenes forbade their disciples to divulge the names of the angels. But He Who has revealed God has been revealed Himself. He is Son. Which of the angels was ever so addressed? To speak of the angels as sons and yet say that not one of them individually is a son may be self-contradictory in words, but the thought is consistent and true.

From the pre-existent Son, regarded as the idealised theocratic King, the Apostle passes to the incarnate Christ, returning to the world which He has redeemed, and out of which He brings(11) many sons of God unto glory. God brings Him also in as the First-begotten among these many brethren. But our Lord Himself describes His coming. "The Son of man shall come in His glory, and all the angels with Him."(12) In allusion to this saying of Christ, the Apostle applies to His second advent the words which in the Septuagint Version of the Old Testament are a summons to all the angels to worship Jehovah. They are the Son's ministers. Like swift winds, they convey His messages; or they carry destruction at His bidding, like a flame of fire. But the Son is enthroned God for ever. The sceptre of righteousness, by whomsoever borne, is the sceptre of His kingdom; all thrones and powers, human and angelic, hold sway under Him. They are His fellows, and participate only in His royal gladness, Whose joy surpasses theirs.

The author reverts to the Son's pre-incarnate existence. The Son created earth and heaven, and, for that reason, He remains when the works of His hand wax old, as a garment. Creation is the vesture of the Son. In all the changes of nature the Son puts off a garment, while He remains unchanged Himself.

Finally, our author glances at the triumphant consummation, when God will do for His Son what He will not do for the angels. For He will make His enemies the footstool of His feet, as the reward of His redemptive work. The angels have no enemy to conquer. Neither are they the authors of our redemption. Yea, they are not even the redeemed. The Son is the Heir of the throne. Men are the heirs of salvation. Must we, then, quite exclude the angels from all present activity in the kingdom of the Son? Do they altogether belong to a past epoch in the development of God's revelation? Must we say of them, as astronomers speak of the moon, that they are dead worlds? Shall we not rather find a place for them in the spirit-world corresponding to the office filled in the sphere of nature by the works of God's hands? God has His earthly ministers. Are not the angels ministering spirits? The Apostle puts the question tentatively. But the pious instinct of the Church and of good men has answered, Yes. For salvation has created a new form of service for which nature is not fitted. The narrative of the Son's own life on earth suggests the same reply. For an angel appeared unto Him in Gethsemane and strengthened Him.(13) It is true that the Son Himself is the Minister of the sanctuary. He alone serves in the holiest place. But may not the angels be sent forth to minister? Salvation is the work of the Son. But shall we not say that the angels perform a service for the Son, which is possible only because of men who are now on the eve of inheriting that salvation?

We must beware of minimising the significance of the Apostle's words. If he means by "Son" merely an official designation, where is the difference between the Son and the angels? The only definition of "Son" that will satisfy the argument is "God the Revealer of God." Sabellius said, "The Word is not the Son." The contrary doctrine is necessary to give any value to the reasoning of our Epistle. The Revealer is Son; and the Son, in order to be the full Revealer, must be "of the essence of the Father," inasmuch as God only can perfectly reveal God. This is so vital to the Apostle's argument that he need not hesitate to use a term in reference to the Son which in another connection might be liable to be misunderstood, as if it expressed the theory of emanation. The Son is "the effulgence" of the Father's glory, or, in the words of the Nicene Creed, He is "Light out of Light." It is safe to use such words when our very argument demands that He should also be "the distinct impress of His substance,"--"very God out of very God."

The Apostle has now laid the foundation of his great argument. He has shown us the Son as the Revealer of God. This done, he at once introduces his first practical warning. It is his manner. He does not, like St. Paul, first conclude the argumentative portion of his Epistle, and afterwards heap precept on precept in words of warning, sympathy, or encouragement. Our author alternates argument with exhortation. The Epistle wears to a superficial reader the appearance of a mosaic. The truth is that no book in the New Testament is more thoroughly or more skilfully welded into one piece from beginning to end. But the danger was imminent, and urgent warning was needed at every step. One truth was better fitted to drive home one lesson, and another argument to enforce another.

The first danger of the Hebrew Christians would arise from indifference. The first warning of the Apostle is, Take care that you do not drift.(14) In the Son as the Revealer of God we have a sure anchorage. Let us fasten the vessel to its moorings. That the Son has revealed God is beyond question. The fact is well assured. For the message of salvation has been proclaimed by the Lord Jesus Himself. It has run its course down to the writer of the Epistle and his readers through the testimony of eye-witnesses and ear-witnesses. God Himself has borne witness with these faithful men by signs and wonders and divers manifestations of power, yea by giving the Holy Ghost to each one severally according to His own will. The last words are not to be neglected. The apparent arbitrariness of His sovereign will in the distribution of the Spirit lends force to the proof, by pointing to the direct, personal action of God in this great concern.

But the warning is based, not simply on the fact of a revelation, but on the greatness of the Revealer. The Law was given through angels, and the Law was not transgressed with impunity. How, then, shall we escape God's anger if we contemptuously neglect a salvation so great that no one less than the Son could have wrought or revealed it?

Observe the emphatic notions. Salvation is contrasted with law. It is a greater sin to despise God's free, merciful offer of eternal life than to transgress the commandments of His justice. There may be emphasis also on the certainty of the proof. The word spoken by angels was firmly assured, and, because no man could shelter under the plea that the heavenly authority of the message was doubtful, disobedience met with unsparing retribution. But the Gospel is proved to be of God by still more abundant evidence,--the personal testimony of the Lord Jesus, the witness of those who heard Him, and the cumulative argument of gifts and miracles. While these truths are emphatic, more important than all is the fact that the Son is the Giver of this salvation. The thought seems to be that God is jealous for the honour of His Son. Our Lord Himself teaches this, and the form which it assumes in His parable implies that He speaks, not as a speculative moralist, but as One Who knows God's heart: "Last of all he sent unto them his son, saying, They will reverence my son." But when Christ asks His hearers what the lord of the vineyard will do unto those wicked husbandmen, the manner of their reply shows that they only half understand His meaning or else pretend not to see the point of His question. They acknowledge the husbandmen's wickedness, but profess that it consists largely in not rendering to the owner the fruits in their season, as if, forsooth, their wickedness in killing their master's son had not thrust their dishonesty quite out of sight.(15) The Apostle, too, appeals to his readers,(16) evidently in the belief that they would at once feel the force of his argument, whether trampling under foot the Son of God did not deserve sorer punishment than despising the law of Moses. Christ and the Apostle speak in the spirit of the second Psalm: "Thou art My Son. Ask of Me, and I shall give Thee the heathen for Thine inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for Thy possession.... Kiss the Son!" Now, if Christ adopts this language, it is not mere metaphor, but is a truth concerning God's moral nature. Resentment must, in some sense or other, belong to God's Fatherhood. The doctrine of the Trinity implies the necessary and eternal altruism of the Divine nature. It would not be true to say that the God of the Christians was less jealous than the God of the Hebrews. He is still the living God. It is a fearful thing to fall into His hands. He will still vindicate the majesty of His law. But now He has spoken unto us in One Who is Son. The Judge of all is not a mere official Administrator, but a Father. The place occupied in the Old Testament by the Law is now filled by the Son.


"For not unto angels did He subject the world to come, whereof we speak. But one hath somewhere testified, saying,

What is man, that Thou art mindful of him? Or the son of man, that Thou visitest him? Thou madest him a little lower than the angels; Thou crownedst him with glory and honour, And didst set him over the works of Thy hands: Thou didst put all things in subjection under his feet.

For in that He subjected all things unto him, He left nothing that is not subject to him. But now we see not yet all things subjected to him. But we behold Him Who hath been made a little lower than the angels, even Jesus, because of the suffering of death crowned with glory and honour, that by the grace of God He should taste death for every man. For it became Him, for Whom are all things, and through Whom are all things, in bringing many sons unto glory, to make the Author of their salvation perfect through sufferings. For both He that sanctifieth and they that are sanctified are all of one: for which cause He is not ashamed to call them brethren, saying,

I will declare Thy name unto My brethren, In the midst of the congregation will I sing Thy praise.

And again,

I will put My trust in Him.

And again,

Behold, I and the children which God hath given Me.

Since then the children are sharers in flesh and blood, He also Himself in like manner partook of the same; that through death He might bring to nought him that had the power of death, that is, the devil; and might deliver all them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage. For verily not of angels doth He take hold, but He taketh hold of the seed of Abraham. Wherefore it behoved Him in all things to be made like unto His brethren, that He might be a merciful and faithful High-priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For in that He Himself hath suffered being tempted, He is able to succour them that are tempted" (Hebrews 2:5-18, R.V.).

The Son is better than the angels, not only because He is the Revealer of God, but also because He represents man. We have to do with more than spoken promises. The salvation through Christ raises man to a new dignity, and bestows upon him a new authority. God calls into existence a "world to come," and puts that world in subjection, not to angels, but to man.

The passage on the consideration of which we now enter is difficult, because the interpretation offered by some of the best expositors, though at first sight it has the appearance of simplicity, really introduces confusion into the argument. They think the words of the Psalmist,(17) as applied by the Apostle, refer to Christ only. But the Psalmist evidently contrasts the frailty of man with the authority bestowed upon him by Jehovah. Mortal man has been set over the works of God's hand. Man is for a little inferior to the angels; yet he is crowned with glory and honour. The very contrast between his frailty and his dignity exalts the name of his Creator, Who judges not as we judge. For He confronts His blasphemers with the lisping of children, and weak man He crowns king of creation, in order to put to shame the wisdom of the world.(18)

We cannot suppose that this is said of Christ, the Son of God. But there are two expressions in the Psalm that suggested to St. Paul(19) and the author of this Epistle a Messianic reference. The one is the name "Son of man;" the other is the action ascribed to God: "Thou hast made him lower than the angels." The word(20) used by the Seventy, whose translation the Apostle here and elsewhere adopts, means, not, as the Hebrew, "to create lower," but "to bring from a more exalted to a humbler condition." Christ appropriated to Himself the title of "Son of man;" and "to lower from a higher to a less exalted position" applies only to the Son of God, Whose pre-existence is taught by the Apostle in Hebrews 1:1-14 : The point of the Apostle's application of the Psalm must, therefore, be that in Christ alone have the Psalmist's words been fulfilled. The Psalmist was a prophet, and testified.(21) In addition to the witnesses previously mentioned,(22) the Apostle cites the evidence from prophecy. An inspired seer, "seeing this beforehand, spake of Christ," not primarily, but in a mystery now explained in the New Testament. The distinction also between crowning with glory and putting all things under his feet holds true only of Christ. The Psalmist, we admit, appears to identify them. But the relevancy of the Apostle's use of the Psalm lies in the distinction between these two things. The creature man may be said to be crowned with glory and honour by receiving universal dominion and by the subjection of all things under his feet. "But we see not yet all things put under him;" and, consequently, we see not man crowned with glory and honour. The words of the Psalmist have apparently failed of fulfilment or were at best only poetical exaggeration. But Him Who was actually translated from a higher to a lower place than that of angels, from heaven to earth--that is to say, Jesus, the meek and lowly Man of Nazareth--we see crowned with glory and honour. He has ascended to heaven and sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high. So far the prophecy has come true, but only so far. All things have not yet been put under Him. He is still waiting till He has put all enemies, even the last enemy, which is death, under His feet. As, then, the glory and honour are bestowed on man through his Representative, Jesus, so also dominion is given him only through Jesus; and the glory comes only with the dominion. Every honour that falls to man's share is won for him by the victory of Christ over an enemy. This is the nearest approach in our Epistle to the Pauline conception of Christ as the second Adam.

But is there any connection between Christ's victory and His being made lower than the angels? When the Psalmist describes the great dignity conferred on frail man, he sees only the contrast between the dignity and the frailty. He can only wonder and worship in observing the incomprehensible paradox of God's dealings with man. The Apostle, on the other hand, fathoms this mystery. He gives the reasons for the strange connection of power and feebleness, not indeed in reference to man as a creature, but in reference to the Man Christ Jesus. Apart from Christ the problem that struck the Psalmist with awe remains unsolved. But in Christ's incarnation we see why man's glory and dominion rest on humiliation.

1. Christ's humiliation involved a propitiatory death for every man, and He is crowned with glory and honour that His propitiation may prove effectual: "that He may have tasted(23) death for every man." By His glory we must mean the self-manifestation of His person. Honour is the authority bestowed upon Him by God. Both are the result of His suffering death, or rather the suffering of His death. He is glorified, not simply because He suffered, but because His suffering was of a certain kind and quality. It was a propitiatory suffering. Christ Himself prayed His Father to glorify Him with His own self with the glory He had with the Father before the world was.(24) This glory was His by right of Sonship. But He receives from His Father another glory, not by right, but by God's grace.(25) It consists in having His death accepted and acknowledged as an adequate propitiation for the sins of men. In this verse the great conception of atonement, which hereafter will fill so large a place in the Epistle, is introduced, not at present for its own sake, but in order to show the superiority of Christ to the angels. He is greater than they because He is the representative Man, to Whom, and not to the angels, the world to come has been put in subjection. But the Psalmist has taught us that man's greatness is connected with humiliation. This connection is realised in Christ, Whose exaltation is the Divine acceptance of the propitiation wrought in the days of His humiliation, and the means of giving it effect.

2. Christ's glory consists in being Leader(26) of His people, and for such leadership He was fitted by the discipline of humiliation. There is no incongruity in the works of God because He is Himself the ground of their being(27) and the instrument of His own action.(28) Every adaptation of means to an end would not become God, though it might befit man. But this became Him for Whom and through Whom are all things. When He crowns man with glory and honour, He does this, not by an external ordinance merely, but by an inward fitness. He deals, not with an abstraction, but with individual men, whom He makes His sons and prepares for their glory and honour by the discipline of sons. "For what son is there whom his father does not discipline?"(29) Thus it is more true to say that God leads His sons to glory than to say that He bestows glory upon them. It follows that the representative Man, through Whom these many sons are glorified, must Himself pass through like discipline, that, on behalf of God, He may become their Leader and the Captain of their salvation. It became God to endow the Son, in Whose Sonship men are adopted as sons of God, with inward fitness, through sufferings, to lead them on to their destined glory. Perhaps the verse contains an allusion to Moses or Joshua, the leaders of the Lord's redeemed to the rich land and large. If so, the author is preparing his readers for what he has yet to say.

3. Christ's glory consists in power to consecrate(30) men to God, and this power springs from His consciousness of brotherhood with them. But, first of all, the author thinks it necessary to prove that Christ has a deep consciousness of brotherhood with men. He cites Christ's own words from prophetic Scripture.(31) For Christ has vowed unto the Lord, Who has delivered Him, that He will declare God's name unto His brethren. Here the pith of the argument is quite as much in the vow to reveal God to them as in His giving them the name of brethren. He is so drawn in love to them that He is impelled to speak to them about the Father. Yea, in the midst of the Church, as if He were one of the congregation, He will praise God. They praise God for His Son; the Son joins in the praise, as being thankful for the privilege of being their Saviour, while they offer their thanks for the joy of being saved. That is not all. Christ puts His trust in God. So human is He that, conscious of utter weakness, He leans on God, as the feeblest of His brethren. Finally, His triumphant joy at the safety of His redeemed ones arises from this consciousness of brotherhood. "Behold, I and the children" (of God) "which God hath given Me."(32) The Apostle does not fear to apply to Christ what Isaiah(33) spoke in reference to himself and his disciples, the children of the prophet. Christ's brotherhood with men assumes the form of identifying Himself with His prophetic servants. Evidently He is not ashamed of His brethren, though, like Joseph, He has reason to be ashamed of them for their sin. The expression means that He glories in them, because His assumption of humanity has consecrated them. For this consecration springs from union. We do not, for our part, understand this as a general proposition, of which the sanctifying power of Christ is an illustration. No other instance of such a thing exists. Yet the Apostle does not prove the statement. He appeals to the intelligence and conscience of his readers to acknowledge its truth. Whether we understand the word "sanctification" in the sense of moral consecration through an atonement or in the sense of holy character, it springs from union. Christ cannot sanctify by a creative word or by an act of power. Neither can His power to sanctify be transmitted by God to the Son externally, in the same way in which the Creator bestows on nature its vital, fertilising energy. Christ must derive His power to sanctify through His Sonship, and men must become sons of God that they may be sanctified through the Son. Our passage adds Christ's brotherhood. He that consecrates, therefore, and they that are consecrated are united together, first, by being born of the same Divine Father, and, second, by having the same human nature. Here, again, the chain connects at both ends: on the side of God and on the side of man. Now to have dwelling in Him the power of consecrating men to God is so great an endowment that Christ may dare even to glory in the brotherhood that brings with it such a gift.

4. Christ's glory manifests itself in the destruction of Satan, who had the power of death, and his destruction is accomplished through death.(34) The children of God have every one his share of blood and flesh, which means vital, mortal humanity. Blood signifies life, and flesh the mortality of that life. They are, therefore, subject to disease and death. But to the Hebrews disease and death involved vastly more than physical suffering and the termination of man's earthly existence. They had their angel, by which is meant that they had a moral significance. They were spiritual forces, wielded by a messenger of God. This angel was Satan. But, following the lead of the later Jewish theology, our author explains who Satan really is. He identifies him with the evil spirit, who from envy, says the Book of Wisdom, brought death into the world. To make clear this identification, he adds the words, "that is, the devil." The reference to Satan is sufficient to show that the writer of the Epistle means by "the power of death" power to inflict it and keep men in its terrible grasp. But the difficulty is to understand how the devil is destroyed through death. Evidently the death of Christ is meant; we may paraphrase the Apostle's expression by rendering, "through His death." At first glance, the words, taken in connection with the reference to Christ's humanity, seem to favour the doctrine, propounded by many writers in the early ages of the Church, that God delivered His Son to Satan as the price of man's release from his rightful possession. Such a notion is utterly inconsistent with the dominant idea of the Epistle: the priestly character of Christ's death. A Hebrew Christian could not conceive the high-priest entering the holiest place to offer a redemptive sacrifice to the spirit of evil. Indeed, the advocates of this strange theory of the Atonement admitted as much when they described Christ as outwitting the devil or escaping from his hands by persuasion. But the doctrine is quite as inconsistent with the passage before us, which represents the death of Christ as the destruction of the Evil One. Power faces power. Christ is the Captain of salvation. His leadership of men implies conflict with their enemy and ultimate victory. Death was a spiritual conception. Here lay its power. Deliverance from the crushing bondage of its fear could come only through the great High-priest. Priesthood was the basis of Christ's power. We shall soon see that Christ is the Priest-King. The Apostle even now anticipates what he has hereafter to say on the relation of the priesthood to the kingly power. For as Priest Christ delivers men from guilt of conscience and, by so doing, delivers them from their fear of death; as King He destroys him who had the power to destroy. He is "death of death and hell's destruction." It has been well said that the two terrors from which none but Christ can deliver men are guilt of sin and fear of death. The latter is the offspring of the former. When the conscience of sin is no more, dread of death yields to peace and joy.

In these four ways is the glory of Christ connected with humiliation, and thus will the prophecy of the Psalmist find its fulfilment in the representative Man, Jesus. His humiliation implied propitiation, moral discipline, conscious brotherhood, and subjection to him who had the power of death. His glory consisted in the effectiveness of the propitiation, in leadership of His people, in consecration of His brethren, in the destruction of the devil.

But an interesting view of the passage has been proposed by Hofmann, and accepted by at least one thoughtful theologian of our country. They consider that the Apostle identifies the humiliation and the glory. In the words of Dr. Bruce,(35) "Christ's whole state of examination was not only worthy to be rewarded by a subsequent state of exaltation, but was in itself invested with moral sublimity and dignity." The idea has considerable fascination. We cannot set it aside by saying that it is modern, seeing that the Apostle himself speaks of the office of high-priest as an honour and a glory.(36) Yet we are compelled to reject it as an explanation of the passage. The Apostle is showing that the Psalmist's statement respecting man is realised only in the Man Christ Jesus. The difficulty was to connect man's low estate and man's glory and dominion. But if the Apostle means that voluntary humiliation for the sake of others is the glory, some men besides Jesus Christ might have been mentioned in whom the words of the Psalm find their accomplishment. The difference between Jesus and other good men would only be a difference of degree. Such a conclusion would very seriously weaken the force of the Apostle's reasoning.

In bringing his most skilful and original argument to a close, the Apostle recapitulates. He has said that the world to come,--the world of conscience and of spirit,--has been put in subjection to man, not to angels, and that this implies the incarnation of the Son of God. This thought the Apostle repeats in another, but very striking, form: "For verily He taketh not hold of angels, but He taketh hold of the seed of Abraham." Though the old versions were incorrect in so rendering the words as to make them express the fact of the Incarnation, the verse is a reference to the Incarnation, described, however, as Christ's strong grasp(37) of man. By becoming man He takes hold of humanity, as with a mighty hand, and that part by which He grasps humanity is the seed of Abraham, to whom the promise was made.

Four points of connection between the glory of Christ and His humiliation have been mentioned. In his recapitulation, the Apostle sums all up in two. The one is that Christ is Priest; the other is that He succours them that are tempted. His propitiatory death and His bringing to nought the power of Satan are included in the notion of priesthood. The moral discipline that made Him our Leader and the sense of brotherhood that made Him Sanctifier render Him able to succour the tempted. Even this also, as will be fully shown by the Apostle in a subsequent chapter, is contained in His priesthood. For He only can make propitiation, Whose heart is full of tender pity and steeled only against pity for Himself by reason of His dauntless fidelity to others.

Thus is the Son better than the angels.



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Bibliography Information
Nicoll, William R. "Commentary on Hebrews 1:4". "Expositor's Bible Commentary".

Lectionary Calendar
Monday, January 22nd, 2018
the Third Week after Epiphany
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