We’ve seen so far that this New Testament book is a letter written specifically to Hebrews and is written to them in ‘these last days.’ We will now look at the introductory sentences and as we will see, the focus is on the Son of God: Jesus the Messiah.
- God speaks
The writer first indicates that God has communicated. There is no doubt that God communicates with the world in general through creation, Psalm 19 says: ‘1 The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. 2 Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they reveal knowledge.’ God’s work ‘speaks’ to every inhabitant of the world – only those who have wilfully closed their eyes to the truth cannot see this. This creation-communication is without words, but verse 1 relates to literal speaking (as opposed to the metaphor Psalm 19 uses). Over the centuries the means of God’s communication has been through the prophets – they have spoken in a variety of ways: the bible is composed of letters, history, law, psalms and prophecy. To whom has this spoken word been directed? Verse 1 ‘to our ancestors.’ Who are these ancestors? We often talk of the founding fathers of Israel: Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. It was to these men that God made Israel’s founding promises, but it seems that the reference to ancestors is wider than this and relates to all the Hebrew people who have come before. We’ve just completed an in-depth study of the book of Jeremiah and in that book, we see many and repeated messages from God to Judah – this is the sort of communication referred to in verse 1. Those who spoke on behalf of God spoke not according to their own imagination or their own invention. Peter describes the mechanism of the receipt of God’s word: ‘21 For prophecy never had its origin in the human will, but prophets, though human, spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit (2 Peter 1:21).’ The original Greek word translated as ‘carried along’ has the idea of people being transported or carried along in a ship or a boat. God prompted the minds of the prophets to speak his word.
The subject of this spoken communication is not directly mentioned but it would be obvious to any Jew that God’s word largely concerns themselves. We saw in the first part of this series that God chose to use Israel as a major player in his plan to defeat Satan and the forces of evil. The whole bible story is about the creation of a kingdom, a rebellion by Lucifer, a rebellion by mankind, the woman and the seed of the woman and the restoration of God’s kingdom on earth. It seems entirely reasonable to say (as one theologian put it) that the bible is ‘The book of the coming kingdom of God.’
The purpose of this repeated communication through the prophets seems to be to bring the people back into a right relationship with God. The history of Israel is replete with failure and disobedience. At the end of the Old Testament revelation we read these words: 5 ‘See, I will send the prophet Elijah to you before that great and dreadful day of the Lord comes. 6 He will turn the hearts of the parents to their children, and the hearts of the children to their parents; or else I will come and strike the land with total destruction.’ Elijah would be sent to bring about a reconciliation of the present generation of Israel with their parents. This refers to the founding fathers of Israel; Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. It was to these men that God made the great promises on which Israel was founded, promises that would secure their role in the defeat of Satan and the victory of the seed of the woman (Jesus the Messiah): Jesus would come to fulfil these great promises. For this to come about Israel needed to repent. John the Baptist came in the spirit of Elijah and encouraged the people to repent: his message was ‘repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ They rejected his message and beheaded him. Realising that John’s death caused a real impediment to God’s plans as described in Malachi, the disciples asked Jesus about the coming of Elijah. Jesus responded thus: ‘To be sure, Elijah comes and will restore all things. 12 But I tell you, Elijah has already come, and they did not recognise him, but have done to him everything they wished. In the same way the Son of Man is going to suffer at their hands (Matthew 17: 12).’ Just as John suffered so too would the Messiah suffer! There will be another visit of Elijah however and this time he will indeed turn the hearts of the children to their parents. Israel will eventually repent and create the conditions for the return of the king – this is specifically elaborated to Israel through the prophet Zechariah.
God had spoken to the Hebrew ancestors through the prophets in the past, but now he speaks to them ‘by his Son.’ The remarkable thing is that when Jesus came, he had little to do with non-Jews. When pressed for help by a Canaanite woman, Jesus told her ‘I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.’ Jesus’ ministry never extended beyond the borders of Israel. The apostle Paul, who described himself as the proud apostle to the Gentiles re-iterates Jesus’ Jew-centred ministry: ‘8 For I tell you that Christ has become a servant of the Jews on behalf of God’s truth, so that the promises made to the patriarchs might be confirmed.’ When God’s promises to Israel are realised when they finally repent, it will occasion the Gentiles to give glory to God for his mercy! In fact, the Gentiles will rejoice with Israel (Romans 15)!
- Jesus an appointed one
Most people have an opinion about Jesus: the Beatles reckoned they were more famous, Muslims think he was a prophet, Jehovah’s witnesses think he was God’s son but not God and Scientologists think he was below the level of ‘operating thetan’ (whatever that is!). Many Christians don’t really know what they believe! Here’s what the writer to the Hebrews says: (God has) ‘spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe. 3 The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word.’ Now I can see how strictly speaking many people would say that this verse does not declare Jesus to be God, but in a few verses we will see that God the Father says of Jesus: ‘Your throne, O God, will last for ever and ever; a sceptre of justice will be the sceptre of your kingdom.’ Jesus himself declared ‘I and the father are one (John 10:30).’ There can be no doubt that Jesus is God. Jesus adopted two titles that relate to this: son of man and son of God. In Jesus’ day it was not uncommon to use such titles to describe the character of people. Jesus described James and John as ‘sons of thunder!’ This seems to describe their personality; they did not take prisoners, and were not afraid of confrontation or controversy. On one occasion they asked for Jesus to call down fire on people who did not receive their message and on another asked if they could have the top places of honour in God’s kingdom – sons of thunder indeed! Jesus’ titles speak of his manhood – son of man and his character as God – son of God. Remember that God is both a singularity and a plurality – he is a single person and a trinity of persons. This is not easy to comprehend, but would we expect the eternal God to be a simple being?
God appointed Jesus to a position of ownership: he was ‘appointed heir of all things.’ As Lucifer was given an appointment in the heaven domain and rebelled against it (see part 1 to this series), and as Adam likewise rebelled against his appointed role in the earth domain, so Jesus is appointed to be heir of all of this. Jesus is more than qualified for this appointment as he is the one through whom the universe was made.
In our age dominated by atheism we take so much of our world for granted, but what is remarkable is that advances in the understanding of the physics of our universe demonstrate just how ridiculous some atheistic notions are. We’ve discussed before Stephen Hawking’s stupid statements (did I really say that about the great man!) that emerge from his atheism – well judge for yourselves. In “The Grand Design”, he and Leonard Mlodinow said, ‘Because there is a law such as gravity, the universe can and will create itself from nothing.’ Because there is a law (which is something!), the universe will create itself (has a law ever produced anything? Does the law of arithmetic create money?) from nothing (is that really the absence of anything? Including laws?). It’s a statement of confused minds – didn’t the apostle Paul state of those who reject the creator ‘although they claimed to be wise, they became fools.’ What physicists do show us however is that the laws that do govern the universe are so finely balanced that the likelihood of existence of human beings is so small as to be impossible. For an example, the electromagnetic force and the gravitational force must be incredibly well tuned to form the universe that we observe. If the ratio between the two was reduced by 1 in 1040 only small stars would form (not big enough to form stars like the sun on which we rely) and if the ratio was increased by 1 in 1040 a universe would ensue that again was incapable of supporting life -it would be a universe of only very large stars. Similar fine tuning has been observed for energy versus gravity, the ratio of the nuclear strong force and electromagnetic force and so on (for another example on this, see a 2 min video from Sir John Polkinghorne). Only a super intelligent creator could have worked things this way. It was through Jesus that the universe was made.
So, Jesus is appointed as heir of all things and he more than qualifies for this as he is the agency through whom the universe was created. He is moreover the brightness of God’s glory and the exact representation of God. Note that Jesus is not a reflection of God’s glory, he is the radiance of God’s glory! We sometimes speak of people who are ‘radiant’: their personality shines through clearly and their elevated mood cannot be hidden. Perhaps this is the sort of idea being presented – the glory of God and his radiant personality is seen in Jesus. The bible speaks of God’s glory being seen in Jesus. Remarkably we can participate in this glory in the most mundane things we do. The apostle Paul encouraged the Christians in Corinth thus: ‘31 So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10).’ Have you done anything to glorify God today? Or do your actions, demeanour and interactions with others get God a bad name?
Next we see that Jesus is ‘the exact representation of his (God’s) being.’ This statement becomes clear when we see Jesus in action. In a discussion about Jesus’ role in the relationship between mankind and God the father, one of the disciples, Philip said to Jesus, ‘show us the Father and that will be enough for us.’ He seemed to be saying, we don’t really recognise you Jesus, but if you introduce us to God-proper (the Father) that would satisfy us. Here’s Jesus’ reply: ‘Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, “Show us the Father”? 10 Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you I do not speak on my own authority. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work. 11 Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the works themselves.’
Jesus is not only the creator of the universe, but he is the upholder of the universe: he sustains it by his powerful word. Without the sustaining power of Jesus, there would be no universe! He holds it together. See the notes on Jeremiah 14 for more on this remarkable facet of the creation.
- Jesus’ mission
We sing a lot of hymns about Jesus as king. Rightly so. But in what sense is Jesus reigning in the present era? We’ve seen in part 1 of this series that this world is currently under the rule of Satan – according to Jesus, he (Satan) is the ruler of this world (John 12:31). This squares with our observations of the world in which we live – it is clearly not a world that is under a righteous rule of peace and justice. If this is the case, we must ask what Jesus is doing about it! The answer to this is provided in verse 3: ‘After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.’
We have in this verse what Jesus has done in the past, what he is doing in the present and later in the chapter we will learn what he will do in the future. First, in the past: he has provided purification for sins. The greatest need that men and women have is to be purified of sin. We cannot fulfil our potential as God’s created beings unless the sin problem within us is dealt with. When Jesus died on the cross, he provided the means for this to be accomplished in the lives of all. His blood provides an effective remedy that all may receive. All that is needed is faith! The remedy does not just provide forgiveness for sin, it elevates us to a remarkable new relationship with God – we become his children and he becomes our father. If you have not accepted the free gift of forgiveness of sin and the new life that this brings, do not wait another minute! The apostle John wrote: ‘12 But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name.’ Believe and receive: this is the good news that Jesus brings.
Having accomplished this work of rescue, Jesus ‘sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.’ He is in a seated position because his work of rescue is complete, but he is sat at the Father’s right hand as he awaits a final completion of his work, as he awaits the time when he will be king and he will receive the inheritance made for him.
In view of all of this, is Jesus just someone who is less famous than the Beatles, or is he just another prophet or a son of God but not God? No, in this work, in his inheritance, in his character as son of man and son of God ‘he became as much superior to the angels as the name he has inherited is superior to theirs (verse 4).’ What a great message of encouragement for Hebrews and what a great message for us too!