Just who is Jesus? This seems to be the primary question being addressed in this first chapter of the book. Is he another representative of God sent to this world? Is he one of the angles? Is he the meek and mild representative of God, avoiding political power and rather building a spiritual kingdom?
The writer to the Hebrews selects seven Old Testament passages to demonstrate who Jesus is and what his present and future role will encompass.
- Son of God
Verse 4 makes it clear that Jesus is superior to angels – he is not an angel and is not in the category of angels. In the seven Old Testament references contained in verses 5-14 of this first chapter, the writer introduces each using a specific phrase; ‘God says,’ (or something similar). These are God’s words and are not to be taken lightly. Since the theme is Jesus’ superiority to angels, the first two references are introduced with the intent to demonstrate difference between Jesus and angels: ‘to which of the angels did God ever say…’ The first quote relating to this is ‘You are my Son; today I have become your Father (Psalm 2:7)’ In order to understand the force of this statement we need to go back to Psalm 2 and observe the context. The Psalm is unambiguously about Jesus and his kingship. The Psalm speaks of a rebellion of earthly kings towards God and God’s power to rule. Interestingly there are two positions of authority mentioned: one in heaven (Psalm 2: 4) and one in Zion (Zion is a name for Jerusalem). God’s universal throne is in heaven and he rules over all the creation – but as God delegated authority to mankind in the earth domain, and as Adam rebelled and gave up that authority to Satan, so we currently observe a world under the control of the evil one. Psalm 2, however, looks to a day when a new authority will govern the earth domain; there will be a king installed in Zion; the Messiah. It is in this context that the Lord declares, ‘You are my son; today I have become your father.’ Why does the writer to the Hebrews quote this part of Psalm 2? I think the answer lies in the verse that follows the quote: ’ 8 Ask me, and I will make the nations your inheritance, the ends of the earth your possession.’ This speaks of Jesus in his coming role as king over the earth. Thus, the key idea the writer to the Hebrews wants to put over from the phrase ,’you are my son, today I have become your father’ is the commissioning of Jesus to the role of ruler in the earth domain. This is a great promise of a righteous reign and of a return to Eden-like conditions. Such a role and commission could not be applied to angels!
The second quote comes from 2 Samuel 7: ‘I will be his Father, and he will be my Son.’ The context is that King David wants to build a house (Temple) for the Lord, but the Lord tells David that he will build a house for him! This will encompass a house (or dynasty), a throne and a kingdom all of which will last for ever. The original message in 2 Samuel 7, speaks of David’s son Solomon, but it looks forward to an eternal king. A king will indeed come from David’s line and that king is Jesus! We have celebrated the coming of this king recently at Christmas, but the inauguration of the kingdom on earth remains a future prospect.
We have thus two similar statements of Jesus as becoming or being commissioned as a son but each statement speaks to a different feature of Jesus’ coming rule, one to his earthly rule over the nations and the second to the mechanism for his coming to this role as a son of David.
- Jesus, not an angel
Some Christian traditions contend that Jesus is an angel, as I understand it for example, the Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that Jesus is one and the same as the archangel Michael. The apostle John was afforded a remarkable revelation of God’s judgment on this earth and the return of Jesus to set up his eternal kingdom. In the course of his revelation, John was given a commentary and guide by an angel. So overcome by the experience, John bowed down to worship the angel! The angel would have none of this and said: ‘Don’t do that! I am a fellow servant with you and with your brothers and sisters who hold to the testimony of Jesus. Worship God! (Revelation 19:8).’ Later, when John was shown the coming new heaven and earth, he again positioned himself to worship his angel guide – he got the same response! ‘Don’t do that! I am a fellow servant with you and with your fellow prophets and with all who keep the words of this scroll. Worship God! (revelation 22: 9).’ The lesson is clear: angels are not to be worshipped. We can also see (and we’ll come back to this later) angels are servants, rather than beings worthy of worship.
The writer to the Hebrews now refers to Jesus’ entrance to this world, what did the Father say at that time? ‘Let all God’s angels worship him (verse 6).’ This third quotation comes from Deuteronomy 32: 43. The source text (Masoretic text) for this verse doesn’t contain the quotation, but the exact same phrase adopted in Hebrews 1: 6b is contained in a Greek translation (the Septuagint) of the Old Testament. Interestingly the passage in Deuteronomy 32 is Moses’ song before he hands on his leadership to Joshua. The final verse of the song relates to a day when Israel and the nations would rejoice, because (he will) ‘make atonement for his land and people.’ It is this one whom all God’s angels will worship: this is Jesus! He is not in the category of the angels; he is to be worshipped by the angels. One wonders when the announcement of Jesus’ birth was made to the shepherds, if all the faithful angels did indeed join together to say, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.’
The fourth quotation comes from Psalm 104 and states, ‘He makes his angels spirits, and his servants flames of fire (verse 7).’ Psalm 104 speaks of the glory of God and his majesty and in this context gives us some additional information about angels. They are created – he made them. They are spirits, and they are servants characterised by flames and fire! I guess that the shepherds would attest to that as they met the angel and as the ‘glory of the Lord shone around them.’
We can say that in contrast to Jesus, the angels are not to be worshipped and are created spirits with a specific role to serve.
- About the son
The fifth Old Testament quotation comes from Psalm 45: 6-7. The quotation first speaks of the enduring nature of the throne of David to be occupied by Jesus; it will last ‘forever and ever.’ We have just elected a new government in the UK, its term will be for a maximum of 5 years. Contrast this with the coming kingdom of Jesus! Note that the throne is that of Jesus, but is God’s throne: ‘your throne, O God, will last forever and ever.’ Jesus is God. This enduring kingdom will be characterised by justice; ‘a sceptre of justice will be the sceptre of your kingdom.’ A sceptre is a staff which denotes the sovereignty of the monarch. At the coronation of Queen Elizabeth the second, as the crown was placed on her head, the queen held two sceptres, one was the Sovereign’s Sceptre with Cross, which signifies her temporal power and a second sceptre, the Rod of Equity and Mercy. Jesus’ sceptre will be one of righteousness. This righteousness will be uncompromising, the rod will be a rod of iron (Psalm 2)! The coming king will love righteousness and hate wickedness (verse 9). What a great relief this will bring. A retired couple who recently started attending our church in East Grinstead gave me a book to read, it’s written by their son in law, Stephen Fulcher and it tells the gripping account of his experience as the Senior Investigating Officer in the Wiltshire police as he sought to catch a serial killer. I couldn’t put the book down! The story is not however a happy one. Justice was shockingly and inadequately administered on a scale that is beyond words. There was and is institutional injustice built into our system . You will need to read the book to fully understand! A day will come when complete and fair justice will be done. There will be no escape through legal loopholes, no relief from technicalities, justice will be completely realised. Perhaps such uncompromising justice brings fear, but the remarkable thing is that through the cross, God’s righteousness was fully satisfied for the sin of the world, we may now receive the gift of forgiveness that this has enabled. As we observe the current injustices of our world, as believers we have the certain knowledge that one day justice will be fully realised. Jesus loves righteousness and hates wickedness. The fifth quotation ends with a mention of Jesus’ anointing with the ‘oil of joy.’ This seems to refer to Jesus’ anointing with the Holy Spirit. Although this anointing lead to testing in the wilderness as well as an anointing that lead to the cross, the ultimate destination is one of joy, or exultation, in which we participate too.
The sixth quotation relates to Jesus’ work in creation and his place above creation. The world we observe, and the immensity of the universe came about because of the creative work of Jesus. The product of this creation will however not last indefinitely; ‘They will perish, but you will remain.’ This is a remarkable statement of the difference between created things and Jesus who is eternal. The outspoken atheist, Richard Dawkins rejects the idea of a creator (although he seems to acknowledge that this is a good explanation for the complexity of biological systems) because, he says this does not solve the problem as it poses the question, who created the creator? Jesus is not however in the category of the created, he is eternal. It seems that Richard Dawkins knows this but deliberately prohibits this explanation from his thinking. Jesus is eternal, but the world he has created is not: ‘They will perish, but you remain; they will all wear out like a garment. 12 You will roll them up like a robe; like a garment they will be changed. But you remain the same, and your years will never end.’ There is a real sense in which the created world is wearing out. Scientists speak of the inevitable increase in ‘entropy’, and state, ‘An increase in entropy implies, (i) decrease in the ability of energy to do useful work, (ii) depreciation of energy, and (iii) increase in disorder.’* Yes, the created world is wearing out, but Jesus ‘years will never end.’
The final quotation about Jesus comes from Psalm 110:1: ‘Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet.’ Many Christians are frustrated by the social evils in our world, they observe poverty, disease and injustice. It is right and proper that Christians should work to bring relief from these things, but we surely often wonder why the world continues to be this way? Shouldn’t the world be a better place? Why does God allow these conditions to prevail? Does the present injustice in some way mark a failure on the part of Jesus and Christians? Some believers contend that if we continue to ‘Christianise’ the world that perfect conditions will ultimately be realised, others say that God’s kingdom has already come but that it is a spiritual kingdom and not concerned with physical matters. The answer is much simpler! Jesus is waiting for the time when his kingdom will fully come on earth. He currently sits at the right hand of the father and waits ‘until I (the Father) make your enemies a footstool for your feet.’ This makes perfect sense. We await a better day, we await the day when Jesus will come to this world in power to set up his eternal kingdom of justice, righteousness and peace. That is worth waiting for and working towards!
Before we leave chapter 1, there is an intriguing final statement in verse 14. The writer closes his discussion on the contrast between Jesus and the angels by stating: 14 Are not all angels ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation? The role of angels is to serve and it is to serve those who will inherit salvation. Since this is directed towards the Hebrews we should define salvation in Hebrew terms. You may recall that when Mary and Joseph presented Jesus in the Temple, Simeon praised God and stated, ‘now my eyes have seen your salvation.’ This salvation is not only rescue, restoration and forgiveness for sin, it is nothing less than the return of a righteous rule by Jesus on this earth and the crushing of Satan’s head. Both the church and Israel are heirs of this salvation. (see Romans 8: 17: ‘17 Now if we are children, then we are heirs – heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory’). The role of angels is to be servants and to minister to those who will inherit this salvation.
I have no doubt that these words in this first chapter, have and will be of great comfort and strength to Hebrews who seek to serve Jesus and they should be for us too!
*Review of the First and Second Laws of Thermodynamics by Ismail Tosun, in The Thermodynamics of Phase and Reaction Equilibria, 2013