“In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, 2but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son…”
Open up a Bible and find the division between the two Testaments. Hold the Old Testament in your left hand and the New Testament in your right. Now understand this: this is how God speaks.
In your left hand are the pages describing how God spoke for centuries. For approximately 1,000 years the writers of the Old Testament diligently shared a message sent from heaven itself. Those pages describe the hopeless plight of mankind and the God who created them. They are the first act, effectively foreshadowing what God’s plan is in beautiful and diverse ways. God revealed this message to many authors in many ways. They are called prophets and God spoke to them directly, through visions and dreams, through smoldering branches and in still, small voices.
They point to one who is to come. He will be the fulfillment of what the prophets spoke about. One who will deliver God’s people from oppression and bondage.
This is the message that you hold in your left hand and this is also where the book of Hebrews starts.
Hebrews is not found in the Old Testament. It’s found in the New Testament that you hold in your right hand. Perhaps the best way to explain it’s significance is to explain the space between the Testaments.
Some 400 years before Christ was born, one of those Old Testament prophets named Malachi put down his pen. He would be the last of the prophets. God was finished speaking…for a while.
The silence was deafening. It screamed out a message to the Israelites that God had abandoned them. But God had not abandoned them. In fact, he was about to change the course of human history and lead us into the second act.
One fateful night, that silence was pierced with the shrill cry of a baby boy. He was the Christ. God in the flesh. God had come to earth as a human. His mission was clear, and his actions evidenced a clarity of purpose. He was headed for a cross, and there he would bleed and die for all mankind, effectively taking upon himself the punishment that we deserved. He boldly declared the message that whoever would believe in Him would not die in their sin, but have eternal life.
Then, he left. He ascended into heaven and left the work of spreading the message of this salvation to the small group of people who did believe. They were called the church, and they were the vehicle through whom God delivered the New Testament. He would no longer use prophets. Rather, His teaching would be spread throughout the church by the people He taught.
The early church leaders, or apostles, had their work cut out for them. Not only were they not recognized as prophets, but the message that they delivered was that of Jesus Christ being the fulfillment of what the Old Testament prophets spoke of. This message was not received well in many Jewish circles. He just didn’t fit the bill of what they were looking for. Hence the need for the book of Hebrews, where the author presents Jesus as one who is beyond equal by any qualitative measure. By affirming who Jesus is, Hebrews effectively affirms the authority of the early church leaders’ writings and, consequently, the authority of the New Testament.
This New Testament would have a purpose that would mirror that of the Old Testament. While the Old Testament always pointed forward toward future events and a Savior who was yet to come, the message of the New Testament does just the opposite, pointing backward to that baby crying in Bethlehem and declaring that He is the fulfillment of that prophecy.
That is the space between the Testaments; Jesus himself and Calvary’s cross. One volume pointing toward a Savior who was yet to come and the other to one who has already come.
It therefore makes sense that Hebrews starts out by summarizing all of that in one clear sentence: “In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, 2but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son.”
Hebrews is about Jesus. It is about who and what He is and why. If there is a central theme to the book, surely it is this…that Jesus is greater.
“…whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe. 3The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word.”
Spoiler alert: Jesus is God.
Sorry to ruin the plot for you, but that is what this chapter is about and you will get a lot more out of it when you know that beforehand. Hebrews 1 attempts to establish that Jesus is God by simply arguing that his position is equal with God. We get our first glimpse of Jesus in verse 2 when he is described as the “heir of all things” as well as the creator of the universe.
Now we need to establish some ground rules in order to fully understand the rest of this chapter. This has to do with our understanding of the word Trinity.
The word Trinity does not appear in the Scriptures. It is a term that the church has used to describe the great mystery of how God exists to us. We understand our relationship with everything else in the universe through a physical reality. However, God is spirit. He is not defined by nor can he be contained in the physical realm. So how do we relate to Him?
Fortunately God has determined that for us. He has chosen to relate himself to us as 3 persons, namely the Father, the Son (Jesus) and the Holy Spirit.
This is one of the most difficult and profound mysteries to understand and it is doubtful that a single person has ever lived who has truly understood the total complexity of how this works.
Having said that, it will be important to understand this: the Trinity is not a collection of 3 different beings. The Trinity is how we understand the nature of God, but make no mistake, it is one God…one being, or one essence. Whether we are talking about the Father and his provision for us, the Son and his sacrifice, or the Spirit and his power in us, we are talking about the same God.
True, these relationships generally fall into specific definitions. For example, the Father may be described as “God for us”, the Son as “God with us” and the Spirit as “God in us”. However, that is not always the case.
Consider the following passage which describe how the entire Trinity is actually at work in the relationship we traditionally assign to the Spirit…
But you are not controlled by your sinful nature. You are controlled by the Spirit if you have the Spirit of God living in you. (And remember that those who do not have the Spirit of Christ living in them do not belong to him at all.) 10And Christ lives within you, so even though your body will die because of sin, the Spirit gives you life because you have been made right with God. 11The Spirit of God, who raised Jesus from the dead, lives in you. And just as God raised Christ Jesus from the dead, he will give life to your mortal bodies by this same Spirit living within you. – Romans 8:9-11
There are many such passages that seem to effectively blur the lines between the responsibilities of the different persons of the Trinity. For example, the question of which person actually created the universe would be appropriate to point out since verse 2 seems to assign that task to the Son. John chapter 1 would also echo this thought in verse 3, saying “Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.”
However, Paul writes this to the Corinthian church…
But we know that there is only one God, the Father, who created everything, and we live for him. And there is only one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom God made everything and through whom we have been given life. – 1 Corinthians 8:6
Either the early church leaders didn’t really have a firm grasp on their theology, or their descriptions of God, whether Father, Son or Holy Spirit are all describing the same God…the same being. It almost seems like you can rightfully substitute one for the other without error.
This may not fit the rules of theology that our textbooks seem to follow, but it’s the way the Bible is written. Does it make sense? We can only assume right? Does not God have the right to define himself to us the way he wants? If the Bible is his revelation of who he is, then who are we to change the rules?
This much I know…God exists to me as three different people. Jesus died for me and I am his disciple. My Father in heaven loves me and gave his Son for me. I pray to him and I do so boldly in Jesus name. His Spirit lives inside of me and I allow him to control my life. Here is the problem though…if I keep talking I acknowledge that the Spirit does more than that. Whenever I am weak, this same Spirit gives me strength. When I feel inadequate, this Spirit whispers scriptures to me, saying “I can do all things through… (that’s right) Christ…who gives me strength.” (Philippians 4:13)
So it would seem at the very least that both Christ and the Holy Spirit are identified at different times as the person of God who lives in us. So which is it? Or is it that the Holy Spirit may be more aptly titled the Spirit of Christ? Perhaps…but then, didn’t David in a moment of anguish cry out to the Father in Psalm 53 and beg him not to take HIS spirit from him? Perhaps a stronger argument can be made further down in the Romans 8 passage…
So you have not received a spirit that makes you fearful slaves. Instead, you received God’s Spirit when he adopted you as his own children. Now we call him, “Abba, Father.” – Romans 8:15
Trinitarian theology is important. It is important to understand the distinctions that scripture presents about how God presents himself; as three persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. However, we cannot distinguish them from each other. Neither exists without the others. They are one. Not one in purpose, but one in essence.
With that as a backdrop, we can now read the rest of verse 3 which should flip the whole thing on its head…
After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.”
Okay, I get it…if Jesus and the Father are the same being, then how can Jesus sit down beside him right?
In order to understand this concept, we must come to realization that the author is arguing Jesus equality with God by way of his POSITION.
Think about it…he first describes Jesus as the heir to all things. Taken literally, that would mean that the Father is technically the owner of everything and his Son, Jesus, being the heir and by way of whatever laws govern the inheritance of property, will one day inherit it all. When the Father dies. See a problem there? I would suggest that Jesus, being identified as having created all things has already received his inheritance. In fact, I would suggest that he never had to actually receive it, he always had it.
So why is he described as the heir? Because the author here is talking to an audience who only knows Jesus as a man. Perhaps evidenced by his ascension to heaven, which was witnessed by many people, verse 3 says that his death, resurrection and ascension prove Jesus right to claim the title of the Son of God. He has ascended and assumed his rightful place now…seated at the right hand of the Father.
Just like the picture of inheritance, this image of where Jesus sits is not descriptive of an action, but rather his position.
Let me give you an example. Every year around the third week of January, the U.S. government gathers together to hear the annual State of the Union address. The whole government is in attendance and everyone has a specific place to sit. Republicans sit on one side, the Democrats on the other. The members of the Supreme Court are down front. The first lady is typically seated in the balcony to the president’s left.
Now, let me ask you a question…who is seated behind the President? Were you able to guess without looking? Of course, the two seats behind the President are occupied by the Vice President and the Speaker of the House.
Here’s another question though…are they actually sitting? Sometimes. Sometimes they’re standing though right? Sometimes they’re both standing and applauding. In fact, depending on what the President just said, sometimes only one is standing and applauding and the other is sitting and doing his best to look very displeased.
So when I ask you “who is sitting behind the President during the State of the Union” did you really stop to ask “at what point during the speech?” Of course not! You instinctively understood that I was not referring to the act of sitting, but rather their position.
When we watch the State of the Union, we get a visual picture of our presidential line of succession. The President is out front as the unequivocal leader. However, if something were to happen to him, then the Vice President would be sworn in as the acting President. If something then happened to him, the Speaker of the House would take over.
So now you can grasp the concept.
The author of Hebrews, speaking to a group who knows Jesus as a man who has recently lived among them, describes him as one who has ascended to heaven and taken his rightful place…not behind God, but at his right hand…on the same level…equal with God.
Jesus is God. He is God expressing himself in human form. As Paul says in Colossians… “For in Christ lives all the fullness of God in a human body.” – Colossians 2:9 He is not a part of God, rather he is the complete human expression of God.
The reason why He chose to do this is explained in later chapters, but for now, we realize that Jesus time here on earth as a man has not robbed him of his position. He willingly gave it up, and then ascended to reclaim it.
Paul wrote it best in Philippians…
Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. 7Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being. When he appeared in human form, 8he humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross. 9Therefore, God elevated him to the place of highest honor and gave him the name above all other names, 10that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. – Philippians 2:6-11
Now that we have established the main premise for this chapter, we approach the remaining verses which elevate Jesus above angels.
“4So he became as much superior to the angels as the name he has inherited is superior to theirs. 5For to which of the angels did God ever say, “You are my Son; today I have become your Father”? Or again, “I will be his Father, and he will be my Son”? 6And again, when God brings his firstborn into the world, he says, “Let all God’s angels worship him.” 7In speaking of the angels he says, “He makes his angels spirits, and his servants flames of fire.”
Again, this passage is speaking of position. The word superior here is often translated as “better” or “greater” in other versions. This does not refer to his character or other attributes, but rather his rank. He is above the angels in the same way that a son is above the servants in a home in terms of his place in the home, his rights and his inheritance.
This comparison to angels may seem like a step down compared to the grandeur of the first few verses, but in fact, this collection of verses is subtle in its reference to one of the great mysteries of existence. That of the dichotomy between a physical universe and a spiritual realm.
In the beginning…God.
What is God? “God is spirit” as his own Son pointed out in John 4:24. What are angels? While we don’t have an exhaustive library to describe them with, verses 7 and 14 of Hebrews 1 seems to suggest that they too are spirit, and potentially exist with God in a spiritual realm.
Then God creates the physical universe. He creates the stars, the planets, space and time. He creates the earth, the animals and the trees. Then he creates what he refers to as the crown of creation…you and me. He creates man in His image.
So there are 3 different beings that exist in two different realms. However, humans are not like angels. Humans are actually more like God in the sense that they have the potential to exist both physically and spiritually.
God who is spirit becomes a physical man in the person of Jesus Christ. He does this, so that he can make a way for us, who are human to be exalted and glorified and ascend into heaven just as Jesus did and become heirs to the same inheritance as Christ…
“The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. 17Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ.” – Romans 8:16-17
So in fact what we can learn from this passage, which seems to indicate Jesus’ rightful place as being higher than the angels, is that OUR position is the same as His, and we too will be exalted to a position above the angels.
8But about the Son he says, “Your throne, O God, will last for ever and ever; a scepter of justice will be the scepter of your kingdom.“ 9You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness; therefore God, your God, has set you above your companions by anointing you with the oil of joy.”
This passage is a direct quote from Psalm 45:6-7. It was foreshadowed in the choosing of David from among his brothers. When God spoke to the prophet Samuel and gave him the sign to choose David, he anointed his head with oil to signify that he had been chosen. Of course, the Messiah himself was to be chosen from the line of David and hence the visual imagery of the anointing.
10He also says, “In the beginning, Lord, you laid the foundations of the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands. 11They will perish, but you remain; they will all wear out like a garment. 12You 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.”
Here the author quotes Psalm 102:25-27. This passage furthers the discussion about the dichotomy between the physical and spiritual realms. In fact, scriptures don’t just distinguish between the two, but also speak of which one is greater.
In bold language, the scriptures describe the world as we know it as temporary. It will not last forever. Life as we know it – the physical universe – will eventually stop. What’s more, apparently this event will seem of little significance in the scope of the eternal, spiritual realm. The universe ceasing to exist is described as what happens when you pull an old shirt out of your closet and it’s so old and stained and holey that your wife won’t even let you give it to goodwill. You roll it up and throw it away and think nothing more about it. So it will be when this world fades away.
Ever have the feeling that there has to be something more…something of more importance, more significance? Guess what? There is! There’s something infinitely more grand than the universe as we know it. This is nothing when compared to the realm where God lives…where he waits for us.
I used to blow kids minds whenever I taught about heaven as a youth pastor. I would say, “think of it this way guys, God created the entire universe in 7 days and yet, he has been working on preparing heaven for us for the last 2000 years!”
But he has. One of the last things that Jesus said before ascending into heaven was that he was going “to prepare a place” for us. He says…
And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. – John 14:3
Wherever God is, you can be sure of one thing…it’s not like it is here! Is there more? Yes…infinitely more. So much more that this world pales in comparison to it. God has something completely different in mind for you and I…something completely new.
This concept however, is not new. It has been spoken of by the prophet Isaiah and confirmed by the revelation made to John…
See, I will create new heavens and a new earth. The former things will not be remembered, nor will they come to mind.18But be glad and rejoice forever in what I will create, for I will create Jerusalem to be a delight and its people a joy. – Isaiah 65:17-18
Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,”for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. 2I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God. – Revelation 21:1-2
So let’s recap…
Jesus is greater. He is greater than all of the prophets. He is greater than all of creation. He is greater than the angels and yes He is greater than the entire cosmos itself. He is greater and more infinite than the world as we know it.
And the best part about all of this is that through this Jesus, we have the hope of an eternal existence that is greater than anything we could ever imagine. And that longing in your heart that wants so desperately to connect with your existence and your Creator on a much deeper level will be fulfilled completely at that time. You will know who you truly are and why your life matters, because you will know the One who created you completely.
Paul explains it this way…
For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. – 1 Corinthians 13:12
Whoa. That is greater isn’t it? Yes greater even than wisest of men could ever comprehend, and dare I say the angels themselves.
13To which of the angels did God ever say, “Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet”? 14Are not all angels ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation?
Why is it that angels aren’t on the same level as we are anyway? Would you believe me if I told you it’s because they will never have the capacity to know God as we know Him?
Pop Quiz: what is the attribute of God that perhaps most defines him and yes he expresses it only to man? Is it his love? No, as he loves his own Son. His care and provision? No, as the scriptures remind us that even the birds know of his provision. Give up?
It’s his grace.
Think about it…can he show grace to those who haven’t sinned? How would that be possible? Grace defined is not getting the punishment we deserve for our sin. To what other part of creation did God give his law? We’re it. The ones charged with obeying his commands. But before you think we got the short stick, remember this…the very sin that has separated us from God has allowed us to experience his love and mercy and forgiveness more than all of creation.
Perhaps the old hymn says it best, “Grace, grace God’s grace…grace that will pardon and cleanse within….grace that is greater than all my sin.”
That is why you are set apart and you, who were made a little lower than the angels, can be called the sons and daughters of God and joint-heirs with Christ to his inheritance.
That is something, quite frankly, that even angels can only dream about. Or, as the apostle Peter aptly puts it…
“10Concerning this salvation, the prophets, who spoke of the grace that was to come to you, searched intently and with the greatest care, 11trying to find out the time and circumstances to which the Spirit of Christ in them was pointing when he predicted the sufferings of the Messiah and the glories that would follow. 12It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves but you, when they spoke of the things that have now been told you by those who have preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven. Even angels long to look into these things.” – 1 Peter 1:10-12
This is the message of Hebrews: God made him who was greater than all things to be a little lower than the angels so that you and I, being ourselves lower than the angels could be made greater.