“God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son, whom he hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the worlds; who being the brightness of his glory, and the express image of his person, and upholding all things by the word of his power, when he had by himself purged our sins, sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high; being made so much better than the angels, as he hath by inheritance obtained 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? [Psalm 2:7] And again, when he bringeth in the firstbegotten into the world, he saith, And let all the angels of God worship him. And of the angels he saith, Who maketh his angels spirits, and his ministers a flame of fire. But unto the Son he saith, Thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever: a scepter of righteousness is the scepter of thy kingdom. Thou hast loved righteousness, and hated iniquity; therefore God, even thy God, hath anointed thee with the oil of gladness above thy fellows. And, Thou, Lord, in the beginning hast laid the foundation of the earth; and the heavens are the works of thine hands: they shall perish; but thou remainest; and they all shall wax old as doth a garment; and as a vesture shalt thou fold them up, and they shall be changed: but thou art the same, and thy years shall not fail. But to which of the angels said he at any time, Sit on my right hand, until I make thine enemies thy footstool? [Psalm 110:1] Are they not all ministering spirits, sent forth to minister for them who shall be heirs of salvation?”
Introduction: Who Wrote the Book of Hebrews?
“OK, tonight as I mentioned, we’re going into the Book of Hebrews, and I won’t take a lot of time with the background, because you can pull out some commentaries and read a lot of those kinds of things yourself. But I thought it would be helpful to at least talk about a couple of things that we should have in the back of our minds as we go through the book itself---things that I think are vital at least. One thing you should know as we start out with the book of Hebrews, it’s written by the author, Paul. The apostle Paul wrote the Book of Hebrews. Now, can I say that 100 percent? No I can’t. Actually, it’s probably one of the most disputed authorships in the New Testament. So, many claim that it wasn’t Paul who wrote the Book of Hebrews. Now why would they say Paul didn’t write the Book of Hebrews? I’m just going to talk about two major things that seem to indicate that Paul did not write the Book of Hebrews. One of the things that most scholars will come up with for a reason why he didn’t write the book is because of the Greek itself. Of course the letter was originally written in Greek, and because of the style of that Greek, it’s very eloquent, it’s what we call “fancy” writing, it’s more of a formal writing than the other letters that Paul has written. And so often times scholars will point to the fact that this seems to be different than the Greek that he used as he wrote the other letters [in koinonia, or common Greek]. So, that’s one of the main reasons. It’s kind of interesting, there’s a quote from the Expositors Bible Commentary about the type of Greek that Paul or whoever wrote the letter wrote in. And they say this, they describe this letter to the Hebrews as “Excellent Greek.” But they describe his other letters as “Rugged though vigorous.” I like the way that’s described. So they say his other letters are “rugged though vigorous.” So there’s a little bit of a difference in the style in this particular letter. So that’s one of the things pointed out. Now a second aspect of why some scholars feel that Paul did not write the letter to the Hebrews is because of the quotes that are used in this letter. And these are quotes from the Old Testament. The quotes that he used here, I probably should write here, the LXX, which is standing for the Septuagint. The Septuagint is the Old Testament written in Greek. And so scholars will point to that and say, ‘The quotes in the Book of Hebrews are from the Septuagint.’ Now why is that important? Why would that point to the fact that maybe Paul didn’t write the book? Well because in his other letters he used the Masoretic text, or the Hebrew text. So in all the other letters he either uses the Hebrew text, or paraphrases the Hebrew text. So why would he use the Septuagint, the Greek Old Testament to quote in the Book of Hebrews? Well because of that, the scholars say ‘Well, he probably didn’t write the letter.’ So those are the Big Two of why scholars feel that Paul did not write the letter to the Hebrews. All right, lets think for a moment ‘Why did he?’ Why do we think that Paul did write that letter to the Hebrews? Well there’s a couple amazing things when you think about the evidence as to why Paul wrote this letter. Even among churches, you go to Eastern Orthodox Church, they feel that Paul absolutely did write that letter. But it’s the Western Church that feels that ‘Well, maybe he didn’t, maybe he didn’t.’ Now let’s think for a second, why did he? Well is it a problem that the Greek is different in the style that it’s written in? Even though the other letters are said to be rugged and vigorous, and this letter to the Hebrews is said to be eloquent, very stylized and formal. Is that a problem for the apostle Paul? You think of why that wouldn’t be a problem for the apostle Paul. Well, one of the reasons is he was educated. There’s no doubt he was an educated man, he was trained in Judaism. How do we know that? Anyone know why we can say we know Paul was educated, we know he was trained? He studied at the feet of Gamalial, that’s right, so if you go to Acts, chapter, what is it, 22. Acts 22, verse 3 points right to the fact that he studied with the best, he studied with the best. So would that help him to be versed in the kind of Greek that the letter of Hebrews would be written in? I think that does point to the fact, yes, Paul could very well have done that, because he was certainly very versed in all the technical aspects of the Old Testament Law. There would have been no doubt about it. And so that points to the fact, I think Paul did write that letter. All right, now, there are other things that point to the fact that Paul wrote this letter. Think about, for just a moment, where was Paul commissioned to preach? Or could we say, to whom was Paul commissioned to preach? To the Gentiles. We know that Peter was given a commission to preach to the Hebrews, the Jews, and Paul to the Gentiles. Now this letter is to the Jews, the Hebrews, which becomes synonymous at this point. So why would Paul be writing to them? See that we probably could put on the side of maybe he didn’t. But, when you think about it a little bit, there’s an interesting passage that’s over in the book of 2nd Peter. Turn there with me, 2nd Peter chapter 3, and verse 15, gives us an interesting insight into one of the reasons why I feel that Paul did write this letter to the Hebrews. 2nd Peter chapter 3, verse 15, we’re going to pick it up there, here Peter wrote, as he’s writing to the Jews, he says, “As also our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given to him, has written to you.” So here’s Peter, writing to Jews, says ‘Our brother Paul also wrote to you.’ So that seems to be an interesting indication that, whether it’s talking about the Book of Hebrews or not, we’re not really sure, but it wouldn’t be out of the ordinary for Paul to have written to the Hebrews, or to the Jews. So that certainly seems to fall under that category that Paul could easily have written the Book of Hebrews. Now here’s also an interesting little reason why it seems to be an indication that he did. Does anyone know where the Book of Hebrews falls in your Bible? OK, it’s in the New Testament, we got that, very good. Yes, we’re sharp tonight. OK, it’s in the New Testament, and in the inspired order, when you look at the inspired order of the New Testament in Paul’s writings, guess where this letter falls? Actually, it’s right in the middle, right in the middle. And so it’s the seventh book out of fourteen. And in the inspired order, it’s right in the center. Now, does that prove anything? No, not really. But, when you think of the number seven. Does God inspire the number seven? Absolutely, it’s the number of completion, there’s no doubt. And so to put that book dead smack in the middle of the number of writings by the apostle Paul, what does that tell you? Well he didn’t write it? If he didn’t write the book, why put it in the middle of the others? I think it’s an important point. You may laugh about it, but I think there is some significance to that fact. All right, any other reasons? We could go on with fourteen, sixteen, eighteen various reasons of why that. But as you look at it, right in the middle of the inspired order, we find the letter to the Hebrews. And so I think that is an aspect that we do have to take into consideration. And just this, we’ll put the order as one of those reasons, and this concept of seventh out of fourteen of the letters that Paul wrote, and it seems to fall right in that order. OK, is there proof that he did or didn’t, I don’t think so. I ran across an interesting study that was just done this year, and they took the letters of Paul and they analyzed them, they analyzed them, ran them through computers and all kinds of things, to look at what the Greek, and the way that it was written, how it all flowed together, to try to see if there was any connection to other letters that Paul wrote. They did that with Peter as well. And so when they ran these things through like say 1st Peter, 2nd Peter, [it came out] something like a ninety-nine percent chance that Peter wrote these things [i.e. 1st and 2nd Peter]. All right, we’d expect that sort of thing. But when they did the same thing with Paul’s writings, and what was really interesting about it, the letter to the Hebrews, in comparing those to other letters of Paul, that aren’t disputed the way Hebrews is, do you know what it came up with? It was over ninety percent of an indication that Paul could have written the book. So, is that proof? No, it’s not proof. But, I think when you look even at the analysis of the text itself, as you run it through a computer, seems to point to the direction that the apostle Paul certainly could have written it. Some of the early Church fathers or some of these individuals (maybe we wouldn’t consider them fathers, but other scholars do) point to the tradition that they feel that Paul certainly did write the Book of Hebrews. So that’s a place that we can begin with. Alright, so let’s go on from there. So I feel we’re in pretty safe territory to say that the apostle Paul was the author of the book. Now some traditions are kind of humorous when you think of some of the possibilities, some say Apollos wrote it, some even think that Priscilla might have been the author of the book. But when you start comparing some of the reasons why they feel that way, it’s pretty sparse with any proof of those kinds of things.
The Temple of God Was Still There, In Existence, When the Book of Hebrews Was Written
OK, let’s go on, as we continue thinking about the background of the Book of Hebrews. Think about the dating of this book. When was this book written? When would have this been penned by the author? Well there’s a few interesting things as we think about that. Because some of the indications as we read through the Book of Hebrews point to the fact that the Temple was still there. The Temple was still there. Expositors Bible Commentary says this, “A date before 70 A.D. is indicated, but how much before we can’t say. Some passages in the Epistle gain in force if we think of a time not long before.” So not long before 70AD. What are some of the indications that that would be the case? Well if you turn over to Hebrews chapter 8, look at Hebrews chapter 8. Right at the very beginning we see the apostle Paul points to an interesting aspect. He says here, “Now of the things which we have spoken this is the sum: We have such an high priest, who is set on the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens…” (verse 1) So, if the Temple were gone, why make a reference to the high priest? Now if the Temple is there, it’s still in operation, it still has the sacrificial system in place, he’s making a comparison in contrasting the difference between the physical high priest and Jesus Christ, our spiritual High Priest. And so I think that’s part of what Paul uses to make the point that he’s trying to bring home to God’s people, the difference between the physical and the spiritual. In fact, in the Book of Hebrews, he’s going to spend a lot of time doing this. In fact, just a couple of pages later in chapter 13, around verse 10 or so, he talks about the Temple itself. He talks about the altar. And this is pointing to the fact that the destruction of the Temple hadn’t occurred. And so that destruction would have occurred about 70AD. And so this seems to show, “And so, this hadn’t happened yet.” And it brings up part of the issue why the book would have been written as well. There were Christians at the time, who had been converted, and yet were still hanging on to some of the old rituals, they were still into the ritualistic system even after conversion. So here Paul is trying to get those converted Jews to understand the connection between their old way of worship and the sacrificial system under the Old Covenant, and what the New Covenant was all about. What is true worship all about? And so that seems to be an indication that some were still hanging onto that. In fact, in chapter 5, look at chapter 5, verse 11, in chapter 5, verse 11 all the way through to the beginning of the next chapter we see that Paul is encouraging them to really understand what’s going on. He says, first of all, verse 11, ‘There’s much to say, it’s hard to explain, because you’ve become dull of hearing.’ He says, ‘You ought to be teachers, but you’ve got to be taught again the first principles of the oracles of God.’ He says in verse 13, “For every one that useth milk is unskilful in the word of righteousness: for he is a babe.” So he’s pointing to the fact that they’re still stuck in an old perspective, they don’t understand it. So by the time we get to chapter 6 he says, ‘Leave the elementary behind,’ which I think connects to this Old Covenant sacrificial system, and he says, ‘and let’s go on to perfection,’ I think in this section of Scripture it points once again to the fact that the Temple was still there. It had not been destroyed yet. And even though the destruction of Jerusalem was imminent, it was going to happen, it hadn’t happened yet, it hadn’t happened yet. Now, we know that Paul was killed in Rome. We know that the Emperor Nero would have been the man responsible. And of course if you look up your history of Rome and Nero, of course Nero was the guy who was fiddling while Rome burned, right. Well Nero committed suicide, he committed suicide in 68AD. Now Paul was killed under the rule of Nero, which seems then to indicate it had to be before 68AD. And so when you put all of these things together, before the destruction of the Temple in 70AD, under Nero was when he was beheaded, then it seems to indicate it was pre-68AD, which many of the scholars will say it would be around 67AD or so, maybe in the spring. Well you can read all kinds of books and things like that, that kind of point in that direction, because of the way that Paul was imprisoned and then released, and then put back in prison again. I just don’t have the time to get into it all tonight, but I appreciate the question. But I can give you some information on that, that you can look up and maybe read some more about it as well…Alright, so that’s pointing us to about when it was written. And of course, if you think, where does that place the book after the crucifixion of Christ? We’re more than 35 years after the crucifixion of Christ. So we keep that in mind as well, as we go along. OK, we talked about, let’s see, who wrote the book, we talked about when the book was written.
Who Was The Book of Hebrews Written To?
And we could think just for a moment, who was it written to, who were the recipients of this letter that Paul had written? Well it seems that, of course it says, “To the Hebrews” is the official title of the book. And of course we realize these are people that are in God’s Church, you could say. They’re converted [Holy Spirit indwelt] members of the Church. And as we begin to think about that, they certainly would have been people that had a background in the Old Testament. They would have understood the sacrificial system, they would have understood the practices of that form of worship. And so it certainly points in that direction. But where exactly were they, who was it written to? Well we know it was converted people. It seems traditionally it points to Palestine, in the area of the Mid East there, rather than a specific congregation, like Philippi, rather than Ephesus, rather than a specific congregation, it seems to point to a general group. [See http://www.unityinchrist.com/history2/earlychurch1a.htm] A general group, in Palestine, seems to be who the letter was intended for. And isn’t it interesting, as we get toward the end of the book we’ll see that Paul knew these people. He knew them, it wasn’t like he had never met them before or was not familiar with them. We’ll see the way that he addresses them in a very personal way, as we get through the letter. So we can say, probably, pretty confidently that the letter would have been written to God’s people who are in the area of Palestine [Judea].
Why Was This Letter Written?
OK, let’s think for a moment as well, I think an important aspect of not only who, and where, and when this letter was written, but I think maybe even more importantly---I think to have a good concept as we get into this letter, of what is being written in the context of the writing itself, is to try to answer the question, ‘Why?’. Why was this letter written? What was the purpose in writing this general letter to the Hebrews, what would be the purpose for writing the letter? If we look to the book itself, look to what was actually written here, I think it would give us a pretty good indication of the purpose of why it was written. Of course, if we put ourselves in this timeframe, we talked about 70AD being an important date. Because what was happening? The pressure on Judea from Rome was mounting, more and more and more. The destruction of not only the Temple but Jerusalem was coming. The Jews had been revolting. This idea of a nationalism, and this patriotism for the Jews in that area of Judea was gaining. I mean, they were strong, and they were going to oppose Rome. But Rome was an overwhelming, tremendous military force. They were going to come in there and just crush them. And that was basically just on the horizon. And so before these Roman armies come and just wipe them out, they were very strong, very patriotic. And yet at the same time, those that were converted, those Christians, had to be encouraged, because Paul saw this coming. Maybe that was part of the inspiration for the writing itself, is that Paul realized this could not continue. Certainly under the inspiration of God he realized that this Levitical system was not going to last. [i.e. the Levitical system functioned around the Temple and needed the Temple in order to function, and that Temple was about to be destroyed.] Whether he realized that the Romans were on their way, and that was going to be the ultimate end, you know, it’s very possible, very possible. The way the handwriting was on the wall even at this time. [i.e. being under Roman guard, and probably being the evangelical Christian he was, he’d probably befriended quite a few of those guarding him, and became privy to what they knew was going on within the Roman garrisons preparing to invade Judea. It is recorded I believe in Acts or one of the Epistles that even some of Nero’s household servants had become Christians. Thus the knowledge of the inner workings of the Roman Empire would have been available to Paul.] And so, as he warns them, he tells them, one of the things that’s important here, is in Hebrews chapter 2, right at the very beginning of the chapter, chapter 2, we’ll see I think one of the reasons why Paul did write this letter. So notice Hebrews chapter 2, at the very beginning of the chapter here, he says, “Therefore we ought to give the more earnest heed to the things which we have heard, lest at any time we should let them slip” [or as another translation says, “lest we drift away.”]. I want to come back to this in a moment. But Hebrews 2 is encouraging. So part of the purpose here, he’s going to encourage them, ‘Don’t give up, don’t abandon the faith. We can’t abandon it, we can’t give up. We can’t give up no matter what’s going to happen, we can’t abandon the faith.’ [i.e. he’s showing them in Hebrews where their High Priest is, as the physical high priesthood is about to be destroyed.]
So he’s encouraging them. He’s helping to support them, ‘Keep the faith.’ Keep the faith is what he’s reminding them to do. Now a couple chapters later, I think we’ll see another example of why he wrote this book. Look at Hebrews chapter 6, we touched on it just a moment ago. Hebrews chapter 6 at the beginning of that chapter, what did he tell them? He encouraged them, to what? We just read it, right, ‘To go on, go on to perfection, or maturity. Go on to spiritual maturity, don’t give up, keep going, no matter what the political scene is like, go on to perfection. Don’t abandon the faith, keep going.’ (cf. paraphrase Hebrews 6:1) Those are notions that will keep coming up over and over again throughout the book.
Third and Central Theme of the Book, The Supremacy of Christ
Now another aspect that we actually will get into quite a bit, if I can make it through the first chapter here, is the fact that he points to Jesus Christ, over and over and over again, and he makes special note of this, especially the supremacy of Christ. Christ is supreme. Look at chapter 8, beginning of chapter 8 in Hebrews, we’ll see just one quick example, and then we’ll notice it coming up throughout chapter 1 as we get started here, ok. So let’s just notice chapter 8, at the very beginning here. Chapter 8, this is the main point, we were in a little bit of this earlier, “We have such an high priest, who is set on the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens…” (verse 1) How does this show his supremacy? He’s a minister of the sanctuary, verse 2. He goes on to show, verse 6, “he obtained a more excellent ministry,” and then he goes on to show how awesome a Saviour we have. And so the apostle Paul continues to point this out over and over again throughout the Book of Hebrews, the supremacy of Christ, Christ is supreme. Now, if you put yourself in the position of a converted Jew of the day, and they’re still clinging on to the sacrificial system, we can see why that would be important to point out, that Christ is supreme.
Fourth Point: The Old Covenant verses The New Covenant
Christ and the New Covenant overrides that old sacrificial system. And so, in order to show that more clearly, he keeps pointing to this fact about the work of Jesus Christ. So, those three things I think lead to the fourth aspect that’s important, and Paul continues to point to it, in fact just a couple verses later, if you look at Hebrews 8:7, it points to the old covenant verses the new covenant. I’ll just abbreviate it here. Because throughout the book what Paul’s going to do is compare the old covenant to the new covenant. [What is the New Covenant, anyway? See http://www.unityinchrist.com/newcovenant/TheNEWCOVENANT.htm] He’ll keep bringing this concept up over and over, comparing and contrasting, and really pointing out, through the supremacy of Christ, he’s going to point out the whole spiritual intent of the Law, and how spiritual, how meaningful in a spiritual way, the New Covenant is. And so that’s going to keep coming up throughout the Book of Hebrews. So these are just a couple of quick reasons why he would have written the book. He wanted to continue to encourage them, because what was coming on the horizon was tough, difficult things, ‘go on to maturity, keep growing, keep building, rely on the supremacy of Christ,’ and of course, to direct them to the more important aspects of the spiritual covenant that we have with God as his people. So those are a couple of thoughts as to why Paul would have written the Book of Hebrews.
Taking The Book As A Whole, Two Warnings, “The Seven D’s”
Now before we actually get into the text, I thought it might be helpful to just look at two things to kind of frame our thinking as we get into what was actually written in the book. There’s two things that kind of stand out in my mind, that we should note, and sometimes when you just read through it you might miss it if you don’t take it as a whole. So thinking of the book as a whole, there’s a couple of things that are written as warnings. There are several warnings that are given in the Book of Hebrews. In fact I’ve, you probably can come up with more than just this, but I have just labeled them for my own thinking ‘the seven D’s throughout the Book of Hebrews.’ And I just put them in order so we can flip through them as we write them. We already read one of those passages of the “seven D’s”, and that’s in Hebrews chapter 2, and it’s right in the beginning of the chapter. Remember what I talked about, it talked about “drifting.” Don’t drift. Make your calling and election sure. Don’t drift. That was one of those things he points to, one of “the seven D’s.” Now if you turn over to Hebrews chapter 3, we’ll just go right down the line here. In verse 12, see if we can pick that up, Hebrews chapter 3, and in verse 12 he warns, “Take heed, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief, in departing from the living God.” So here he ties the warning into ‘Stay close to God, don’t depart from the faith.’ And so he makes that point as a warning for all of us. Now you turn the page over to Hebrews 4 we’ll see a third example, over in verse 11. And in Hebrews chapter 4, verse 11, he makes the point very clear here, that we have to be very careful, because we don’t want to fall into disobedience. So he reminds us to hold onto the faith, don’t drift, don’t depart, don’t disobey, continue to follow God no matter what. And so he’s urging them, warning them through these various “D’s” as he writes this, at least in English they’re in “D’s”, as he writes to us through the Hebrews. Now, we can go on to chapter 5. Hebrews 5, and verse 11, you can continue on reading from there, what does he write about in Hebrews chapter 5, and going on from verse 11. We’ll see very clearly, he says, “Of whom we have many things to say, and hard to be uttered, seeing ye are dull of hearing.” And so, Hebrews chapter 5 reminds us, we’ve got to stay sharp. We’ve got to stay focused. We can’t let ourselves have an outlook where we can become apathetic, that is unacceptable. So throughout this section of the letter he writes about that (cf. verses 11-14), and warns us to keep a focus, keep a focus on God’s way. OK, we skip over to Hebrews chapter 10, we’ll pick up our next warning, that is also a “D” word, in verse 26, we can get an idea here Hebrews chapter 10, verse 26, a familiar section of Scripture here. It reminds us “For if we sin wilfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins, but a certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation, which shall devour the adversaries.” (verses 26-27) So as we read through this, we see that people are despising the truth. Anyone who has rejected the Law, without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses, he says ‘How much worse punishment do you suppose will be thought worthy of those who have trampled the Son of God underfoot, by which he was sacrificed a common thing, and insulted the Spirit of grace?’ And so in a way this whole section (verses 26-32) is talking about those that despise the truth. So I just kind of summarized that one in that regards. So Paul warns us to maintain the honor and the love and the respect of God the Father and Jesus Christ, and of course the Word of God as well. AS se go onto Hebrews 12, we’ll see a sixth warning, and in Hebrews chapter 12, also down in that area of verse 25, we’ll see his encouragement to us to do the right thing. So let’s notice Hebrews chapter 12 and in verse 25, “See that ye refuse not him that speaketh. For if they escaped not who refused him that spake on earth, much more shall not we escape, if we turn away from him that speaketh from heaven: whose voice then shook the earth: but now he hath promised, saying, Yet once more I shake not the earth only, but also heaven.” (verses 25-26) And so, as we continue to read, he says, verse 28, “Wherefore we receiving a kingdom which cannot be moved, let us have grace, whereby we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear: for our God is a consuming fire.” (verse 28-29) And so he’s pointing to the fact that we can’t disobey, and that the disobedience that comes from this, and neglect, is something that we have to be careful of. And so he points out that fact that we don’t want to depart from the truth in that way. So, through this section we see continuing warning, that is written in order to counteract these things. What if we bump back just a little bit, go back to Hebrews 11, verse 6, Hebrews 11, verse 6 we see the example that Paul gives there in Hebrews chapter 11. And in chapter 11 he says, “But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.” And then he goes into the other aspects of faith. So we see here that he’s warning us and reminding us that we should be diligent, that we have to continue to obey God, exercise faith, and be diligent in that faith that God gives us. So, these are some of the warnings that Paul gives us throughout the Book of Hebrews. And I think it’s important to note those are encouraging things, even though those are negative things if you think about them in the context of what he writes about. But he’s encouraging us to understand and have that motivation to continue to follow God no matter what. So those are a couple things I think to keep in mind as an overview.
The Word “Better” Keeps Popping Up In The Book of Hebrews
One of the things maybe we could quickly talk about, I don’t know if I’ll write them all down, but there is a word that keeps popping up throughout the Book of Hebrews that I think is an important word to keep in mind as we read through it. You may not notice it, because it keeps coming up throughout the whole book, but if you were to look at it as an overview, the word that keeps coming up throughout the Book of Hebrews is “better.” “Better” keeps coming up over and over and over again, related to the supremacy of Christ. We have Christ is better than the angels, we’re going to read a little about that in this first chapter. We as God’s people have better hope, Hebrews talks about that as well. Christ is a mediator of a better covenant, also, established on ‘better promises.’ ‘Christ’s sacrifice is a better sacrifice than the animals.’ ‘We have a better possession,’ and of course that’s eternal life. ‘We have a better country,’ than just a physical land, we have the Kingdom of God. And of course that reminds us, that we also have ‘a better resurrection.’ And so as we read through the Book of Hebrews, let’s try to keep that in mind, that the word “better” is going to continue to keep coming up over and over and over again. So we’ll notice that as we go.
God Is Not Limited In The Way He Reveals Himself
“God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son, whom he hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the worlds.” (verses 1-2) OK, with that let’s see if we can go ahead and in the few minutes we have left let’s see if we can get into the first chapter of the Book of Hebrews. The first chapter in the Book of Hebrews, let’s see if we can pick it up right in chapter 1, verse 1, it starts out, “God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets,” It’s hard to tell here, but this is part of this beautiful, powerful very intricate Greek that was written that is just very, very expressive. So he says ‘There are various times, various ways,’ in other words, he’s saying ‘There’s many, many ways.’ Did God reveal everything to us all at once? No, of course not. And so here we have the Word of God, written over a thousand years or more it took to put all of this together. The revelation [of God] wasn’t given all at once. And so Paul makes this point, and that he’s done it in various ways. You think of the different ways that God’s Word has been revealed. Well we’ve got the Prophets [i.e. see http://www.unityinchrist.com/Prophets_Prophecy.html], Laws, we have Psalms (songs), we have parables, we have Proverbs, we have fingers writing in stone, we have visions, we have angels. We have all kinds of different ways, various ways that God has revealed himself. And so Paul’s pointing that out. Why would he say that? Why would he say ‘the various times, various ways’? Well if you remember our audience, it’s a Jewish audience again, right to the Hebrews. The Hebrews had a feeling that after Ezra and Nehemiah, God no longer revealed things, God’s revelation was complete, it was done. But see, Paul is saying, ‘Wait a second, no that’s not the case, that’s not the case.’ Because the Jews would say, ‘Well, if it didn’t come through a Prophet, then forget it, it must not be inspired.’ But see Paul is reminding them that God has revealed things, his plan, his will, in many ways, at many different times, and it wasn’t limited to just one thing, just one way, not one method. And so, regardless of the way, God was still the source of the revealing. It didn’t just have to come through a prophet. God was not limited in the way that he reveals himself, how he reveals his plan. And so that is an important point as Paul begins writing. And so he said, why would that be important? Because to an average Jew, pre-conversion, was Christ a Prophet? Well he might have been a good rabbi, but he certainly wouldn’t have been seen as that. So now Paul’s going to make this connection. Alright, God talked in various ways, he revealed himself in so many different ways at different times, now, verse 2.
Paul Begins His Letter By Pointing Out The Supremacy of Christ
‘in these last days he’s spoken to us by his Son, whom he’s appointed heir of all things, through whom also he made the worlds.’ There’s another revealing in other words. God reveals through his Son, and it’s important because this Son, Jesus Christ, is superior to all of the other prophets, to all of the other prophets, Christ is supreme, he’s superior, he’s over all. And so Paul begins his letter by pointing out the supremacy of Christ. In a way he’s saying, ‘Well, the prophets might have known God, maybe they were kind of friends with God, but Jesus, he’s the Son of God. These prophets might have understood a little bit about God’s mind, but who is Jesus Christ? He embodied the mind of God, he embodied the mind of God.’ And so he’s making this connection between them, and how superior Christ is. The prophets may have expressed, you know, just a little bit, a fragment of the truth of God, but who is Christ? When you think about who Jesus Christ was, he was different than the prophets. He was the whole truth, he was the embodiment of the Truth of God, where God didn’t just display a part of himself, but all, all of himself [in the Person of Jesus Christ]. So I think that’s an important aspect, as we see the importance of the Son of God, and how that’s going to relate then to this concept of the sacrificial system. So that’s going to come a little bit later. We’ll see how that comes up in just a bit. OK, so we go back to verse 3 then. Oh, maybe we should talk just for a second, this world, where he also made the worlds. That doesn’t mean there are other worlds out here with other humans and all that sort of thing. But he’s talking about the times and the ages, the ages, the worlds, the ages, not just limited to the physical universe but the ages, he’s responsible for all of these things.
The Son Is The Express or Mirror Image Of God
Then he points back to Christ in verse 3, he says, “who being the brightness of his glory, and the express image of his person, and upholding all things by the word of his power, when he had by himself purged our sins, sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high;” So here’s Christ, the brightness of his glory, not sure whether that means radiating his glory, or a source of that glory. That word can actually mean both of those things. But either way, the glory of God was seen in Jesus Christ. And he points to how that happens. He says “the express image of his person.” How was Christ the express image of his person? What that points to is, what’s written in the Greek (so I’m really not misspelling this, the transliteration) is “the image”, or “the character.” So we have ‘the express “image” or in the Greek “character” of his person.’ And as you think about this Greek word for character, it was used as a seal. If you were to send a letter, they would put an image as they sealed that letter. And this is the word that they would use, a character. And so the seal would have certainly been part of that, as well as the impression that that seal would have made normally in the wax. And so if you’ve got the seal itself that’s stamping the letter, and you have the impression that it makes, how do they look? They look the same [mirror image], they look the same. And so Paul uses that analogy that the Son is the express image of God, and exact reproduction. He is God. So when you look at the impression, it looks exactly like the seal. And so that’s the aspect that he’s talking about, God’s glory, his image, his character is Jesus Christ. [Comment: And who is Jesus Christ? Look up and read John 1:1-14; John 8:58; Exodus 3:13-15. Jesus is Yahweh, none other than the God of the Old Testament. Jesus came to introduce God the Father, someone the Jews did not know, were totally unaware of.] Christ and God the Father are exactly alike. In fact, he kind of gives us a little more insight into it, where he says “upholding all things by the word of his power,” and then he says that he “sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high…”, with God. And so we have this image, and in fact he uses the word “person” in the New King James, “the express image of his person…” This is a fancy Greek word called hypostaseos, which really focuses on the foundation or really the essence of what God is. And so, can you say that Christ is not God? See, that’s what he’s pointing to here. The fact that Christ is God, he is the essence of God, he’s the substance of God. Christ is God. And one of the things he does, it says, he’s “upholding all things by the word of his power,” So he’s making a connection here, to how supreme is Christ? Well Christ is God, Christ is God, and he’s ‘upholding all things.” Of course, some of the gods in Greece would immediately think, ‘Who is upholding the world?’ in the pagan system of the Greek gods. Atlas was carrying the world on his back, right? But he’s not saying Christ is like Atlas. In fact he’s saying just the opposite here. When he says “upholding” it doesn’t mean just carrying it, or holding it in place, but it means “to move it from one place to another.” So “he’s upholding all things,” which carries the connotation of ‘bringing it along to the goal, carrying all things to the ultimate goal.’ So what is Christ carrying to the ultimate goal? The ultimate goal is the Kingdom of God, isn’t it?---the Kingdom of God where ultimately the Father will dwell with men. And Christ is shown here as carrying all things to that ultimate point, to that ultimate goal that God has established in his Plan. And so we see that is part of the essence of what he’s getting at in verse 2. That it’s not just sustaining things, but he’s bringing it for that very purpose, bringing it together for that purpose. “when he had by himself purged our sins,” (verse 3b) And so he says he not only upholds all things, but it says he purges our sins. He purges us, kind of a Passover kind of representation there, because sin needs to be cleansed, and Christ did that for us. And so even though other revelations have been partial, the prophets revealed some things about the way of God and his plan, but when we come to Jesus Christ, and what do we have in Christ? A partial representation? A partial revelation? No, we have the full revelation of the Father. And so Christ is supreme. And he goes through at least these three, four or five things right here in these first couple of verses, that the Father is fully revealed in Christ. He reveals the Father’s glory, we just read about that. We see the character [of the Father] is revealed. In other words Christ translated or represented the character of God, his expressed image in human form. And so he shows that. Jesus Christ, as well, sustains all things, he upholds all things, he carries them to the ultimate purpose. In fact it shows, he was the only one possible to do that, the only one capable to do that. And also, he paid the penalty for our sins. And now he’s ultimately seated at the right hand of the Father. And so he’s been given authority because of that. And so, in some perspective that the Hebrews would have had, we see how much more supreme Christ is. So no wonder he says that in verse 4, “Being made so much better than the angels, as he hath by inheritance obtained a more excellent name than they.” So here’s the first occurrence of that word “better.” What’s better? ‘Christ is so much better than the angels.’ And so by inheritance he’s obtained it. He had a right to it. It was his. And so it says, “he hath by inheritance obtained a more excellent name than they.” Name not just meaning the name of Jesus Christ, but meaning everything that he is, what sums him up in all that he is. That’s the name that he’s referring to here. An angel’s name is honorable, that’s an amazing thing. But the Son, Jesus Christ, more honorable, more glorious, a different name.
Seven Quotes From The Old Testament Showing Christ’s Supremacy
So I think that’s an important aspect of what Paul begins to show, how supreme Christ really is. In fact these next verses from here to the end of the first chapter, he’s going to focus in on seven quotes from the Old Testament. Seven quotes from the Old Testament that are going to be listed here. And as he goes through these various quotations, why would he use those quotations? Why bother quoting the Old Testament, why would you want to do that? Well he’s writing to Jews. He’s writing to those that know the Word, and he’s going to quote those things to show them the deeper spiritual meaning that they may have missed. And so Paul is going to quote these things seven times from here to the end of the chapter, and he’s going to point out how supreme Christ is by using the Old Testament and showing a deeper relationship for them. So notice here in verse 5, “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?” First quote there is from Psalm 2, verse 7, if you got a Bible that has a margin reference, that should be there. Psalm 2, verse 7, that’s where is says “You are my Son today.” So he’s not focusing on the idea of ‘I’ve begotten you.’ That’s not the point. He’s pointing to his position as Son, Jesus Christ was fully the Son of God, in a way that never applied to the angels (even though they might be called ‘the sons of God’). It refers to Christ in a way that never referred to angels. What is it pointing out? I think it points out something so very important here, in the fact that we have the chief relationship between God and Jesus. So how would you define that chief relationship? We have a family relationship. And he points that out to them clearly out of the Old Testament. It probably wouldn’t be the first thing on the Hebrew’s mind, that Jesus Christ is the Son, God is the Father [and they both make up what we know as God], and that’s the primary relationship that we have between them, and Paul’s going to focus on that. And so he says ‘You are my Son,’ and then he quotes from 2nd Samuel chapter 7, verse 14, this is the second passage quoted from the Old Testament, for he points out very clearly that Christ is the Son, God is the Father, defining that relationship, that family relationship of Son to a Father. Then in verse 6 he says, here’s our third quote, “And again, when he bringeth in the firstbegotten into the world, he saith, And let all the angels of God worship him.” Psalm 97:7. Psalm 97:7 in verse 6, he’s not just talking about the birth order, being firstborn, even though he was firstborn [of many brethren] spiritually speaking, the more important point he’s emphasizing, the legal rights and the leadership position that he has here. Because the angels worship God. They worship Jesus Christ. Christ is superior to the angels. If the angels worship him, he has to be superior to the angels. And so Paul draws that out very clearly here. Then in verse 7 he says, “And of the angels he saith, Who maketh his angels spirits, and his ministers a flame of fire.” That’s the fourth quote, from Psalm 104, verse 4. Some of the translations say ‘the winds are his messengers.’ The ministers, servants are the flames of fire. Some of the commentators say ‘the angels are like mighty winds, and his ministers are like flaming fire.’ It doesn’t really matter which way you want to take that particular quotation, they mean the same thing in the sense of what Paul’s pointing out. He’s pointing out that Jesus Christ as our Saviour, once again, superior to the angels. That’s so important. Because as he goes on, he points out this connection once again, this family relationship in how the Father and his Christ are both God. Notice verse 8, “But unto the Son he saith, Thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever, a scepter of righteousness is the scepter of thy kingdom.” [Wow, what a proof-text that Jesus is God, as well as the Father is God. I never noticed this verse before in that light.] That’s a quote from Psalm 45, verse 6 and verse 7. And like we said with this concept with the firstborn [firstbegotten], he’s emphasizing leadership, isn’t he? You notice the connection there?---and how it references leadership just in that one particular passage, it becomes really clear, because he focuses on how Christ is leader. Do you notice how he says this? He says “Your throne”, that’s one aspect, we have a throne of leadership. And he also refers to here in verse 8, we have “the scepter.” And then there’s the third aspect in leadership, is the Kingdom. And so we have a reference to all three of those in the leadership of Jesus Christ. He calls him God, first of all, he said ‘It’s your throne, O God,’ So Christ is clearly called God. Whose calling him God here? Not only Paul, but back in the Psalms, Psalms is referring to Christ as God. And that idea of rulership is emphasized over and over again. So we have the rod of authority, symbolizing that authority. We have the dignity, the power that is behind the throne, the royalty you might say. And then in the Kingdom we have the dominion, we have the territory, we have the rule. And so all of those things are pointed to Jesus Christ. And he’s saying, ‘Look at this, this was prophecied, this was recognized in the Old Testament.’ And so he continues to point that out at the end of the chapter. Notice verse 9, continuing that quote from Psalm 45 it says, “Thou hast loved righteousness, and hated iniquity; therefore God, even thy God, hath anointed thee with the oil of gladness above thy fellows.” ‘God, your God, the Father, has anointed you, Jesus Christ, with the oil of gladness more than your companions.’ And so we see that clearly pointing to Christ. Christ is the Anointed One, he is the Messiah. He’s the Anointed One, and this anointing is not one that is for healing, this anointing is connected to the anointing of a king. This is the anointing that a king would have, one of rulership, one of rejoicing, one of excitement, one of anticipation of a new king to rule over. And so of course he’s ruling over the Kingdom of God [which physically hasn’t come to earth yet, although it’s future co-rulers who will rule with Christ are currently being trained, and have been since 31/32AD]. So Paul is making that connection here to Christ. And then once again, verse 10, “And, Thou, Lord, in the beginning hast laid the foundation of the earth; and the heavens are the works of thine hands:” Whose that talking about? The Father? No. If you thought it was the Father before, Paul makes it very clear, this is Psalm 102, verse 25, it’s the sixth reference to the Old Testament, and in the Psalms, these words were addressed to God, the Father, in a sense [although in the Old Testament, the only God David and the prophets and the Israelites knew was Yahweh, the pre-Incarnate Christ.] Now we’re qualifying them to Christ. So the only logical connection here then that you can come to, is that the Son is the God that’s addressed here in the Psalms, it’s Jesus Christ. So Paul draws that connection, verse 11, “They all perish; but thou remainest; and they all shall wax old as doth a garment; and as a vesture shalt thou fold them up, and they shall be changed: but thou art the same, and thy years shall not fail.” (verses 11-12) So just like the earth, he says, ‘You laid the foundations, but you know what? It’s not going to last.’ You know, we know this earth to be solid, and you lay a foundation, you put down footers and secure your building. And yet, no matter how permanent that seems, we’re shown, that’s just a temporary thing. That’s going to grow old just like old clothing. And so, what is he pointing out then, should be our foundation? Now you trust in the earth? You trust in your foundation? You trust in whatever it may be? He says, ‘That’s not going to remain, that’s not going to stick around. What’s really going to stick around is God the Father, and Jesus Christ, and what their plans are all about.’ So, he’s saying ‘Our foundation has to be in God.’ Our foundation cannot be in any physical thing. So it points back to Christ as that foundation. So he says in verse 12, “And as a vesture [cloak] shalt thou fold them up, and they shall be changed: but thou art the same, and thy years shall not fail.” ‘Like a cloak, you’ll fold them up, like old clothes, they’ll be changed. But you’re the same, and your years will not fail.’ So just like we throw away old worn out clothing, and we give it away, it’s going to be folded up. That’s what’s going to happen to the universe. The universe is going to be folded up just like old clothes. And in fact he goes on in verse 13, “But to which of the angels said he at any time, Sit on my right hand, until I make thine enemies thy footstool?” That’s the seventh quote, as we get to the end of the chapter, from the Old Testament, Psalm 110, verse 1. Who does it apply to? Jesus Christ. And once again he draws in that family relationship, of a Father and a Son. In fact he uses the qualifier there, doesn’t he? “But to which of the angels”, to what angel, he qualifies it, in other words by saying, ‘There is no angel that rises to that level.’ He qualifies that. No angel could possibly fulfill that statement that was made in the Psalms. And so it can only apply to Jesus Christ. And then he kind of concludes this section by talking about angels, verse 14, “Are they all not ministering spirits, sent forth to minister for them who shall be heirs of salvation?” So the angels are called to be servants, they serve us, they’re ministering spirits. Yeah they have a lot of different duties, but whether they’re ministering protecting, serving, maybe delivering a message, whatever it may be, ultimately, their ultimate purpose is to assist God in carrying out his Plan for man. And so they are ministering spirits, saying ‘there’s no exceptions, there’s not exceptions, so Christ is all in all.’ And I know we’ve gone just a couple minutes overtime, but I want to maybe draw your attention to one other thing here, at the end of the chapter. He also points out in verse 13 and verse 14 here, this concept of inheritance, an inheritance. And that’s really important. You can read through almost all the commentaries, and they have a problem with that. They have a problem with an inheritance, because they want to only apply it to property, or possessions. But Paul has set this up so well that it’s hard to miss the point. When you talk about an inheritance, what do you find in this relationship? [What was the inheritance of the Levites? Yahweh, God was their only inheritance.] You see, the inheritance really isn’t a physical thing, it’s not a possession in that way, you can’t substitute the word “possession” for “inheritance”, which is the way most commentaries like to understand it. The only way you can understand this, after everything Paul has written in this first chapter, is he’s pointing to the fact that God has a Plan. And that plan is a family plan. And Christ as the Son, is the forerunner to that plan. And so when you realize the inheritance then, for you and I means, we have the opportunity to be children in the family of God. That makes sense. [Comment: Understand, we will never be very God, as Jesus and the Father are God. The angels are called ‘the sons of God’ in the Old Testament, but they are not God. We will be created children, through the resurrection to immortality. We in that sense, will never have the power or mind of God like God has, we will always be lower down as created beings in that sense.] That fits with this whole concept of an inheritance, not just being a possession, not just being a thing, but ultimately the possession of being a true child of God in his family, in the Kingdom forever. And that’s where Paul’s going to lead us as we go on from here…[transcript of a connective expository sermon on Hebrews 1:1-14, given by Pastor Steve Myers, United Church of God, Cincinnati, Ohio.]
The Churches of God in Judea, the ones Hebrews was written to, what were they like? See:
For the incomplete revelation of God through the Prophets, see:
What is the New Covenant, exactly? See: