Introduction to Hebrews and Chapter 1
Introduction to the Book of Hebrews
The translators preface to John Calvin's Commentary on the book of Hebrews says: "No doubt the Epistle next in importance to that to the Romans is this, to the Hebrews. And J.Vernon McGee begins his Commentary "The Epistle to the Hebrews is of such importance that I rank it beside the Epistle to the Romans (which is excelled by no other book)." Obviously we agree with them, and thus, having begun with a reading of the Gospel of Matthew, and adding to that the Doctrinal foundation which we obtained in the Book of Romans, this is the next logical step!
We may begin with a simple two point outline of the Book:
1. Christ's Superiority over the Old Covenant (Doctrinal)
Probably written around the year 70 AD - It is not clear whether it was written before or after the destruction of the temple. Also the authorship is not clear. Many believe that the likely origin is from Paul, but that cannot be verified. It does not bear the characteristic Greetings and concluding salutations of Paul, though much of the argumentative style and examples seem to be his.
The epistle was clearly written to Hebrew believers, who may have been frequently tempted to return to the familiarity and security of temple rituals and ineffective sacrifices. We should remember that these believers stood at the intersection of two great dispensations. Gods grace, flowing to His people through the Law (whose foundation was ultimately in Christ, who had not yet been revealed); and Gods grace dispensed through the sacrifice of Christ at Calvary and the indwelling leadership of the Holy Spirit came to a meeting point in history in the lives of these Hebrew believers. The challenge to them to live out that transition must have been extraordinary. For us, the Epistle adds an important perspective on the commonalities between the Old and New Covenant. Just as the Epistle to the Romans helped us see that God has always saved people of faith by grace, not by works... So the Epistle to the Hebrews helps us to see how the Covenants, the temple and the sacrificial law foreshadowed the Sacrifice and victory of Jesus Christ. The God of the past is the God of the future! ...the same, yesterday, today and forever. And that is exactly where the writer of Hebrews begins.
Christ is superior to the prophets
"In times past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son..." Immediately, the theme is established. In the past there were prophets, now there is Christ.
The format of this first 10 chapters will go like this:
- In the past there were prophets, now there is Christ.This Christ is superior to the prophets because:
1. He is the Son of GodWhat an enormous amount to squeeze into just 3 verses! Surely one with all of these qualifications cannot be rejected!
Next, the writer addresses the Jewish belief about angels: Seven Old Testament passages are quoted to make the point that Christ is "as much superior to the angels as the name he has inherited is superior to theirs." He is the Son, they are the messengers, the ministering servants. He is the Heir, they are the created. In this sense the "name" carries the meaning of all that he is, the full expression of his being. Let us take each of the 7 scriptures and examine them individually.
1. Psalm 2:7 - "You are my Son; today I have become your Father?"
2. 2 Samuel 7:14- "I will be his Father and he will be my Son?" The point is the same. There is only one who is ever called the Son of God, and that is Jesus Christ.
3. Deuteronomy 32:43(ESV)- "Let God's Angels worship him." Now if we look at our NIV translation of this verse which draws its translation from early Hebrew manuscripts, we do not find this phrase, rather we find: "Rejoice, O nations, with his people, for he will avenge the blood of his servants;"... But in the Jerusalem Bible which draws more heavily on the Septuagint for its translation we find this verse says: "Heavens, rejoice with him, let all the children of God pay him homage! Nations, rejoice with his people, let God's envoys tell of his power! For he will avenge the blood of his servants,"... This is the verse that the writer of Hebrews quotes.
The point here is that the Messiah is given honor equal to God the father. If Jesus is the Christ then, to him is given the very honor due to God Almighty. We are to worship him... though we are never to worship angels.
4. - "He makes his angels winds, his servants flames of
5. Psalm 45:6-7 - "Your throne, O God, will last for ever and ever..." This passage is written to David... verses recited for the king (Ps 45:1) - but in verse 6 there is the prophetic statement that the throne of David would last forever ruling in righteousness. The one who sits upon the throne of David eternally is the King of Israel... the King of the Jews as Pilot had written above his head as Christ was crucified. In this passage the Old testament writing has announced that God has set him above all humankind and anointed him. God has addressed the Son as God, "Your throne, O God, will last forever...." If God calls the Son God then surely we should do so as well.
6. Psalm 102:25-27 -
"You laid the foundations of the earth..."
7. Psalm 110:1 - "Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet" This announcement of the Son's victory as he sits at the right hand of God was never made to men or to angels, only to the Christ who is revealed to us in the Psalms, if we see these many allusions to him there. McGee says "The Psalms teach the deity of Christ, there is a more complete picture of Christ in the Psalms than in the Gospels."
The conclusion of these several quotes is that Christ is set above the angels in all of scriptures. The angels are "ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation" -- But Christ Jesus is God, the one who brings salvation. He is God whom angels worship and who was present at the creation of the world. He is God who sits at the right hand of the Father.
A powerful foundation is laid here for the truths which the writer of Hebrews wants to teach us. The first two parts are in place here. 1) Christ is superior to the Prophets in revelation of the truth, and 2) Christ is superior to the angels in position and honor. Tomorrow we will proceed to Chapter 2 God be with us all.
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© 1998 Susan Kliebenstein