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Life Application Bible Commentary
By Bruce B. Barton Dave Veerman Linda K. Taylor
TYNDALE HOUSE PUBLISHERS, INC.
Copyright © 1997
The Livingstone Corporation
All right reserved.
Chapter One HEBREWS 1
JESUS CHRIST IS GOD'S SON / 1:1-3
Hebrews tells us that God spoke through many prophets at many times and in various ways. But all the messages, through the variety of God's spokespersons, simply set the stage for the unveiling of God's Son, who is the "radiance of God's glory" (1:3 NIV).
The relationship between Christianity and Judaism became a critical issue in the early church. Hebrews 1:1-10:18 presents a series of sections showing how Christ is superior to key aspects of Judaism. The book of Hebrews carefully explains how Christ is superior to angels (who gave the Old Testament law), Moses, and high priests. The new covenant is shown to be far superior to the old. In chapter 1, Christ is presented as the ultimate and superior revelation of God. This can greatly encourage us and help us avoid drifting away from our faith in Christ.
1:1-2 In the 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. NIV The writer divides history into two segments or ages: before Christ and after Christ. He calls the time before Christ the past. During that time, God used prophets to reveal his message to the people. These messages are recorded in the Old Testament (because they were part of the "old covenant"). But Jesus initiated a new era (a "new covenant") between God and people. The author describes this new era as these last days. Translators of the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament) used this phrase, "last days," to describe the messianic era. The Jews of Jesus' day believed that the Messiah would usher in God's kingdom. They were hoping for political and military power that would free them from Roman rule and bring back the days of glory under David and Solomon. They believed that the Messiah would bring peace to the world. The writer of Hebrews reported that Jesus Christ, the Messiah, initiated this new, long-awaited age. But Jesus brought spiritual peace and a spiritual kingdom. Jesus, the Messiah, has already begun his kingdom on earth in the hearts of his followers.
In the past, God spoke through the forefathers-the readers' Jewish ancestors, the patriarchs, and all the people who lived before Christ who had put their faith in the one true God. The prophets include special spokespersons for God who wrote many Old Testament books, as well as key people who did not write (such as Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob). These prophets revealed what they learned about God. Second Peter 1:20-21 explains that believers today can trust the prophets' words: "First of all you must understand this, that no prophecy of scripture is a matter of one's own interpretation, because no prophecy ever came by human will, but men and women moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God" (NRSV). God used these prophets as his mouthpiece to deliver his message.
The original Jewish readers of the book would have remembered that God had used many approaches to send his messages at many times and in various ways to people during Old Testament times. God had spoken to Isaiah in visions (Isaiah 6), to Jacob in a dream (Genesis 28:10-22), and to Abraham and Moses personally (Genesis 18; Exodus 31:18). God had taught Jeremiah through object lessons (Jeremiah 13) and had taught the people through a prophet's marriage (Hosea 1-3). Elsewhere, God had revealed his direction to the people through a pillar of cloud and a pillar of fire (Exodus 13:21) and had guided them in decision making through the Urim and Thummim (see Exodus 28:30; Numbers 27:21).
The Jews who lived during the time of Christ would not find it difficult to believe that God was still revealing his will; however, many could not believe that God would speak by his Son. The same God who spoke through the forefathers had now spoken through Christ. Thus, there is continuity between old and new times. In the Old Testament, the revelation of God's nature was intermittent. It created an expectation that God was still going to reveal himself more fully. The prophets spoke of the coming Messiah and his kingdom; Jesus is that Messiah and he initiated God's kingdom. The Jews accepted the Old Testament, but most rejected Jesus as the long-awaited Messiah.
The recipients of this letter were Jewish Christians. They were well versed in Scripture and had professed faith in Christ. Through doubt, persecution, or false teaching, however, many were in danger of giving up their Christian faith and returning to Judaism. This letter to the Hebrews shows that going back to an inferior system would be foolish. Jesus Christ not only fulfills the promises and prophecies of the Old Testament, but he also is better than everything in the Jewish system. Jesus completed and fulfilled the message that was originally brought by the prophets and forefathers. When we know Christ, we have all we need to be saved from our sin and to have a perfect relationship with God. Jesus is not just another prophet; he is the perfect expression of God. God will never need to send another divine messenger because Jesus faithfully revealed everything about God that we need to know for salvation.
THE ULTIMATE AUTHORITY
God revealed himself by speaking through his Son. In our day, when tolerance is the cry from every corner, any claim for religious authority meets stubborn resistance. Hebrews claims that God spoke through his Son as the complete revelation of himself. When Jesus was revealed in his true glory at the Transfiguration (see Matthew 17:1-13), Moses and Elijah appeared with him. Jews regarded Moses and Elijah as the two greatest prophets. Moses represented the law, and Elijah represented the prophets. These two men had performed many miracles and were great leaders. Yet, God's voice from heaven said, "You are My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased" (Mark 1:11 NKJV). Jesus Christ should be your highest authority for faith and daily living. Don't allow any religious leader or teaching to diminish the words of Christ.
God promised everything to the Son as an inheritance, and through the Son he made the universe and everything in it. NLT The phrase "God promised everything to the Son as an inheritance" (literally, "heir of all things") refers to Jesus as an heir who will take his position as ruler of the new kingdom. Referring to Christ as the heir gives him the highest honor and position. This passage alludes to the royal Son of Psalm 2:8. In Psalm 2, the Son asks God for the nations to be given to him as an inheritance. Here Christ receives not only the nations, but all creation. Although God controls the world, he allows Satan to work. Satan, called the ruler of this world (John 12:31; 2 Corinthians 4:4; Ephesians 2:2), will continue his evil until the final day when Christ will throw him into the lake of fire (Revelation 20:10).
The poetical descriptions of the Son in 1:2 and 1:3 may have come from an early church hymn. The hymn celebrates Christ as our mediator who speaks to us from God and about God. In these two verses, Hebrews presents seven affirmations of Christ's deity:
1. Christ as heir of all things (1:2)
2. Christ as creator of the world (1:2)
3. Christ as the radiance of God's glory (1:3)
4. Christ as the representation of God's being (1:3)
5. Christ as the sustainer of the world (1:3)
6. Christ as the purifier of people's sins (1:3)
7. Christ as King over all (1:3)
Jesus worked with God to create the world: through the Son he made the universe and everything in it (see also John 1:2; 1 Corinthians 8:6; Colossians 1:15-16). Early Jewish Christians interpreted the role of Wisdom in Proverbs 8:22-31 as referring to Jesus' work. Jesus was active at the beginning of time as the agent of creation, and he will act at the end of time as the heir (see Psalm 2:8; Romans 8:17; Galatians 4:7). In the end, the world will be made perfect. Jesus will destroy all the works of evil and will reign over the world that he created.
Jesus was God's agent in creating the world: "For by Him all things were created" (Colossians 1:16 NKJV). As followers of Christ, we may give easy assent to this truth but deny it in practice. We may believe that Christ knows and controls the laws of heaven (pertaining to salvation and spiritual growth), but we may act each day as though our financial, family, or medical problems are beyond his reach. If Jesus could create the universe, then no part of life is out of his control. Do not exclude Jesus' wisdom and the Bible's guidance in your complex problems of life. No expert, professor, doctor, lawyer, or financial adviser knows more about your ultimate security and well-being than Jesus does. Go first to God for advice. Talk to him in prayer and listen to him in his Word. He can sustain you in times of stress. From that perspective you can evaluate all the other wisdom and help made available to you.
1:3 The Son is the radiance of God's glory and the exact representation of his being. NIV The writer describes Jesus (the Son) as the radiance of God's glory. In Greek, the word "radiance" (apaugasma) can describe a reflection of what is external or of what is internal. With Jesus, both are true, for his radiance perfectly reveals God's glory. Underneath Jesus' human appearance as a Jewish carpenter-turned-preacher was the glory of God. Jesus had said to one of his disciples, "Don't you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, 'Show us the Father'? Don't you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you are not just my own. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work" (John 14:9-10 NIV). Jesus does more than merely reflect God, he is God. Therefore, he makes God's essence and nature clear to us (John 1:18). Furthermore, Christ radiates divine glory (2 Corinthians 4:4). He is not a copy, but the very embodiment of God's nature. He gives us "the light of the knowledge of the glory of God" (2 Corinthians 4:6).
Not only is Jesus the radiance of God's glory, but he is also the exact representation of his being. Jesus is God himself-the very God who spoke in Old Testament times. The Greek word for "being" (hypostasis) means the very substance of God; the Greek word for "exact representation" (character) was used in ancient times to express an imprint, an image. Thus, Jesus is the visible expression of God's invisible being. We get a perfect picture of God when we look at Christ (John 1:18). In other words, Jesus explains God; he came to the world and portrayed God to people by his words and actions. No one can know God apart from Christ because we know God by knowing Christ. God reveals himself through Jesus (see John 1:1; 2 Corinthians 4:4; Philippians 2:6; Colossians 1:15). The prophets could only tell God's people what they saw and heard. Jesus was God himself-his message was firsthand.
He sustains the universe by the mighty power of his command. NLT Christ not only created the universe, he also sustains it (Colossians 1:17). He does this by preserving and delivering the universe until he will inherit it (see commentary on 1:1-2). Christ spoke the world into existence (Genesis 1-2), and he supports the world with his omnipotent word (see 11:3). Christ does not physically hold up the world, as was said of the mythical Atlas, but he guides the world toward its appointed future-the time when he will receive it as his inheritance (1:2). Because Christ sustains everything, nothing in creation is independent from him. All things are held together in a coherent or logical way, sustained and upheld, prevented from dissolving into chaos. In him alone and by his word, we find the unifying principle of all life. He is transcendent over all other powers.
After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven. NIV This phrase capsulizes the author's two main themes about Christ-his sacrifice and his exaltation. Jesus cleansed his people from the ugly stain of sin. Sin destroys our ability to know or approach God, but when God purifies us from our sins, he cleanses our record. He regards us as though we had never sinned and clothes us in the righteousness of Christ himself (2 Corinthians 5:21). Jesus provided purification for sins. This statement reveals the central theme of the letter: Christ's superior sacrifice for sins. No sacrifice for sin could be greater than the sacrifice offered by the Creator-his death on a cross. Jesus cleansed the world from the domination of sin and took the penalty for our individual sins by dying in our place. No other penalty needs to be paid. We can be completely clean because of what Jesus has done.
After paying that penalty with his death on the cross, Christ sat down. This signifies that the work was complete and portrays his exalted position. Earthly priests would stand and keep offering sacrifices. Their work was never finished. Christ's sacrifice was final and complete. Quoting from Psalm 110:1, the writer combined two Old Testament thoughts expressing God's greatness (the Majesty in heaven) and Christ's position (at the right hand). To be seated at the "right hand" of a monarch was to be "second in command"-the literal "right-hand man." This gives a picture of Christ's power and authority over heaven and earth (see also Mark 16:19; Romans 8:34). Psalm 110:1 is a crucial text and provides a guiding force in this book. Psalm 110:1 is the only place in the Bible where anyone else besides God is described as enthroned in power. This verse became a main text for the early church to be used as an argument for the deity of Christ. To Jews, the description of Christ at God's right hand would be more persuasive as a symbol of Christ's authority and power than even the Resurrection. This is why Jesus spoke these words to Caiaphas just prior to his death and resurrection: "You will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven" (Matthew 26:64 NIV).
The book of Hebrews links God's saving power with his creative power. In other words, the power that brought the universe into being and that keeps it operating is the very power that removes (provides purification for) our sins. God created us, maintains us, and can forgive us. No sin is too big for the Ruler of the universe to forgive. He can and will forgive us when we come to him through his Son. Be honest with God; confess your sins to him. He will forgive and cleanse (see 1 John 1:9).
GOD'S SON COMPARED TO THE ANGELS / 1:4-14
Angels, likened to the wind or flames of fire, are servants of Christ. They play a vital role in today's world as ministering spirits sent to serve those who have accepted God's salvation. God the Father calls Jesus Christ his one and only Son, and he orders angels to worship his Son. If God, who is above all, gives such praise to Jesus Christ, how can we praise him any less?
Christ is highly exalted. His throne will last for ever and ever (1:8); the earth and heaven will perish, but he will remain (1:11); he will sit highly honored at God's right hand with his many enemies serving as his footstool (1:13).
Since Christ is far superior to all the angels who worship him, we should also give him first place in our lives.
1:4 This shows that God's Son is far greater than the angels, just as the name God gave him is far greater than their names. NLT The writer here begins a series of arguments proving Jesus' superiority over angels. Angels are spiritual beings created by God and are under his authority (Colossians 1:16). They help carry out God's work on earth by bringing God's messages to people (Luke 1:26; Revelation 14:6-12), protecting God's people (Daniel 6:22; Matthew 18:10), offering encouragement (Genesis 16:7ff.), giving guidance (Exodus 14:19), carrying out punishment (2 Samuel 24:16), patrolling the earth (Zechariah 1:9-14), and fighting the forces of evil (2 Kings 6:16-18; Revelation 20:1-2). Other popular Jewish teachings during New Testament times said that angels brought people's requests to God and interceded for them. Because of all these beliefs about angels, the Jews honored them highly. However, Hebrews emphasizes that Christ and his work far surpass angels and their work. Jesus created the world, sustains the world, reveals God's glory, makes God known, and provides the perfect sacrifice for sins. No angel can accomplish any of these things.
Excerpted from HEBREWS by Bruce B. Barton Dave Veerman Linda K. Taylor Copyright © 1997 by The Livingstone Corporation. Excerpted by permission.
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