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David Guzik :: Study Guide for Hebrews 1

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A Superior Savior

A. Introduction to the book of Hebrews.

1. This is an essay or a sermon or a letter to the Hebrews - and everyone.

a. The structure of Hebrews is a different from other New Testament books; it begins like an essay, continues as a sermon and ends like a letter.

b. Obviously, the writer was trying to reach Jewish Christians; but it is also written to a Greek frame of mind with its analysis of Jesus as the ultimate reality. That approach to the nature of Jesus spoke to the thinking found in Greek philosophy.

2. Who wrote Hebrews? The human author is unknown, but the inspiration of the Holy Spirit is evident.

a. The earliest statement on the authorship of Hebrews comes from Clement of Alexandria, who said that Paul wrote it in Hebrew and Luke translated into Greek (Eusebius, History 6.14.2). But many commentators agree that it is unlikely that Paul wrote this book.

i. Dods quotes Farrar: "The writer cites differently from St. Paul; he writes differently; he argues differently; he declaims differently; he constructs and connects his sentences differently; he builds up his paragraphs on a wholly different model … His style is the style of a man who thinks as well as writes in Greek; whereas St. Paul wrote in Greek but thought in Syriac."

ii. Bruce quotes Calvin: "The manner of teaching and the style sufficiently show that Paul was not the author, and the writer himself confesses in the second chapter (Hebrews 2:3) that he was one of the disciples of the apostles, which is wholly different from the way in which Paul spoke of himself."

b. The early commentator Tertullian (who wrote in the early 200s) said Barnabas wrote Hebrews, but no support is offered other than that Barnabas was a Levite (Acts 4:36) and an man of encouragement (Acts 4:36).

c. Martin Luther believed that Apollos wrote the book of Hebrews, because Acts said that Apollos was eloquent and had a strong command of the Old Testament (Acts 18:24).

d. Adolf Harnack thought Priscilla (with her husband Aquilla) wrote Hebrews, and it remained anonymous so it would hide its controversial female authorship. But when the writer to the Hebrews speaks of himself in Hebrews 11:32, the masculine grammar of the passage argues against the idea that a woman wrote the letter.

3. When was Hebrews written? Probably somewhere around 67 to 69 A.D.

a. The reference to Timothy (Hebrews 13:23) places it fairly early.

b. The present lack of physical persecution (Hebrews 12:4) puts it fairly early.

c. The lack of any reference to the destruction of the temple probably puts it before 70 A.D., when Jerusalem and the second temple were destroyed. Since the writer to the Hebrews is so concerned with the passing of the Old Covenant, it seems unlikely that he would have ignored the destruction of the temple if it had happened before he wrote.

4. Hebrews is a book deeply rooted in the Old Testament.

a. Hebrews has 29 quotations and 53 allusions to the Old Testament, for a total of 82 references. Significantly, Hebrews does not refer even once to the books of the Apocrypha.

5. Hebrews is basically a book that exhorts discouraged Christians to continue on strong with Jesus in light of the complete superiority of who He is and what He has done for us.

B. The superior Savior.

1. (1-2a) Jesus brings a revelation superior to that of the prophets of old.

God, who at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, has in these last days spoken to us by His Son,

a. God: This is how the book begins. There is no attempt to prove God's existence; it is simply a self-evident given. Hebrews begins with an idea basic to the Bible: God exists, and He speaks to man; or as the title of a Francis Schaeffer book put it: He Is There And He Is Not Silent.

b. Who at various times and in different ways spoke: The revelation given through the prophets was brought in various ways - sometimes through parables, historical narrative, prophetic confrontation, dramatic presentation, psalms, proverbs, and the like.

i. The idea is that the prophets spoke to the fathers in various ways; not that God spoke to the prophets in various ways (though that is true also).

ii. God spoke to Moses by a burning bush (Exodus 2), to Elijah by a still, small voice (1 Kings 19), to Isaiah by a heavenly vision (Isaiah 6), to Hosea by his family crisis (Hosea 1:2) and to Amos by a basket of fruit (Amos 8:1).

iii. God spoke in a spectrum in the Old Testament; Jesus is a prism that which collects all those bands of light and focuses them into one pure beam.

c. These last days refers to the age of Messiah. It may be a long period, but it is the last period.

d. Spoken to us by His Son: It isn't so much that Jesus brought a message from the Father; He is a message from the Father.

i. The revelation from Jesus Himself was unique, because not only was it purely God's message (as was the case with every other inspired writer) but it was also God's personality through which the message came.

ii. "If men cannot learn about God from the Son, no amount of prophetic voices or actions would convince them." (Guthrie)

e. The Son does not speak in Hebrews; the Father speaks concerning the Son. The book of Hebrews is the Father telling us what the Son is all about.

2. (2b-3) A sevenfold description of the glorious Son.

Whom He has appointed heir of all things, through 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 at the right hand of the Majesty on high,

a. He is heir of all things - befitting His status as firstborn over all creation (Colossians 1:15).

b. He made the worlds (the very ages).

c. He is the brightness of His (the Father's) glory. Brightness is apaugasma, which "denotes the radiance shining forth from the source of light"; Philo also used the term of the Logos.

i. Jesus is the "beam" of God's glory; we have never seen the sun, only the rays of its light as they come to us. Even so, we have never seen the Father, but we have seen Him through the "rays" of the Son.

d. He is the express image of His person: The idea is of an exact likeness as made by a stamp.

e. He is the One upholding all things by the word of His power, but upholding is better thought of as "maintaining." The word does not have the idea of passively holding something up (like the mythical Atlas held the earth), but of actively sustaining.

i. In His earthly ministry, Jesus constantly demonstrated the power of His word. He could heal, forgive, cast out demons, calm nature's fury all at the expression of one word.

f. He Himself purged our sins: Here, the important idea of an external purification for sins is introduced. This is far apart from the idea that we can purify ourselves (as the Pharisees thought).

g. He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high: His position alone is enough to set Him above all angels.

3. (Heb 1:4) Therefore, Jesus is so much better than the angels.

Having become so much better than the angels, as He has by inheritance obtained a more excellent name than they.

a. Having become so much better than the angels: In what sense did Jesus become better than the angels? Isn't He eternally better than the angels?

i. Jesus certainly is eternally better than the angels. But He became better in the sense that He was made perfect (complete as our redeemer) through sufferings (Hebrews 2:10) - something no angel has ever done.

b. A more excellent name than they: Jesus' superior status is demonstrated by a superior name (which isn't merely a title, but a description of nature and character).

4. The rest of Hebrews 1 will prove from the Scriptures that Jesus is better than the angels, but why is it important to understand that Jesus is better?

a. Because we often best understand things when they are set in contrast to other things.

b. Because the Old Covenant came by the hands of angels to Moses, but a better covenant came by a better being, Jesus. It might have been easy for first century Jews to dismiss the gospel thinking it came at the hands of mere men - the apostles. But here we see the Divine (superior to angelic) coming of the gospel.

c. Because there was a dangerous tendency to worship angels developing in the early Church (Colossians 2:18, Galatians 1:8), and Hebrews shows that Jesus is high above any angel.

d. Because there was the heretical idea that Jesus Himself was an angel, a concept which degrades His glory and majesty.

e. Because understanding how Jesus is better than the angels helps us to understand how He is better than any of the "competitors" to Him in our lives.

i. In this sense, the purpose of Hebrews is like the purpose of the Transfiguration. Each of them cry out and say, This is My beloved Son. Hear Him! (Mark 9:7)

C. The Scriptures prove Jesus is superior to the angels.

1. (Heb 1:5) Jesus is superior to the angels because He is the Son of God, as shown in Psalm 2:7 and 2 Samuel 7:14.

For to which of the angels did He ever say: "You are My Son, Today I have begotten You"? And again: "I will be to Him a Father, and He shall be to Me a Son"?

a. The more excellent name of Hebrews 1:4 is the name Son; though the angels may collectively be called "sons of God" (Job 1:6), but no angel is ever given that title individually.

b. Today I have begotten You: Begotten speaks of the equality of substance and essential nature between the Father and Son; it means that the Father and the Son share the same being.

c. We must avoid the tendency to promote Jesus' deity at the expense of His humanity. The incarnation means that He is fully God and fully man; no single book stresses both themes more than the book of Hebrews.

2. (Heb 1:6-7) Jesus is superior to the angels because angels worship and serve Jesus, who is their God, as shown in Deuteronomy 32:43 (in the Septuagint and the Dead Sea Scrolls) and Psalm 104:4.

But when He again brings the firstborn into the world, He says: "Let all the angels of God worship Him." And of the angels He says: "Who makes His angels spirits and His ministers a flame of fire."

a. Firstborn was as much a concept as it was a designation for the one born first; since the firstborn son was "first in line" and received the position of favor and honor, the title "firstborn" could be given to indicate that someone was of the highest position and honor.

i. Many of those not born first in the Bible are given the title "firstborn." David is an example of this (Psalm 89:27) and so is Ephraim (Jeremiah 31:9).

ii. According to Rabbi Bechai, quoted in Lightfoot, the ancient Rabbis called Yahweh Himself "Firstborn of the World." It was a title, not a description of origin.

iii. Rabbis used firstborn as specifically a Messianic title. One ancient Rabbi wrote, "God said, As I made Jacob a first-born (Exodus 4:22), so also will I make king Messiah a first-born (Psalm 89:28)."

b. Let all the angels of God worship Him: Jesus is superior because He is the object of angelic worship, not an angelic worshipper. They worship Him; He does not worship among them.

i. Revelation 5 gives a glimpse of the angelic worship of Jesus.

c. Furthermore, Jesus is Lord of the angels. They are His angels and His ministers. The angels belong to Jesus, and He is not among them.

3. (Heb 1:8-12) Jesus is superior to the angels because the Father Himself calls Him (and not any angel) God and Lord (Yahweh), as shown in Psalm 45:6-7 and 102:25-27 from the Septuagint.

But to the Son He says: "Your throne, O God, is forever and ever; A scepter of righteousness is the scepter of Your Kingdom. You have loved righteousness and hated lawlessness; Therefore God, Your God, has anointed You With the oil of gladness more than Your companions." And: "You, LORD, in the beginning laid the foundation of the earth, and the heavens are the work of Your hands. They will perish, but You remain; And they will all grow old like a garment; like a cloak You will fold them up, and they will be changed. But You are the same, and Your years will not fail."

a. Your throne, O God: The mere address is enough; the Father calls the Son God.

i. Some argue that there are many beings called "gods" in the Bible, like Satan (2 Corinthians 4:4), and earthly judges (Psalm 82:1 and 6). So they say, "So what if Jesus is called a 'god'?"

ii. But these others are supposed gods, pretenders to their throne. If Jesus is not the true God, He is a false god, like Satan and the wicked judges of Psalm 82.

iii. But Jesus is the True and Living God, called so here by God the Father; and also by John in John 1:1, by Thomas in John 20:28, and by Paul in Titus 2:13 and 3:4.

b. Therefore God, Your God, has anointed You: This passage shows striking interaction between the Persons of the Trinity. God, Your God speaks of the Father, and His position of authority over the Second Person of the Trinity; You speaks of the Son; anointed has in mind the ministry and presence of the Holy Spirit, the Third Person of the Trinity.

c. The Son is not only called God, but Lord (Yahweh) as well (Hebrews 1:10), and the Son is described with attributes that God alone has.

i. Jesus Christ, the Second Person of the Trinity, is the Creator (You, LORD, in the beginning laid the foundation of the earth).

ii. Jesus Christ, the Second Person of the Trinity is self-existent (They will perish, but You will remain).

iii. Jesus Christ, the Second Person of the Trinity is sovereign (Like a cloak You will fold them up, and they will be changed).

iv. Jesus Christ, the Second Person of the Trinity is immutable, unchanging (You are the same), and eternal (Your years will not fail).

4. (Heb 1:13-14) Jesus is superior to the angels because He has sat down, having completed His work, while the angels work on continually, as shown in Psalm 110:1.

But to which of the angels has He ever said: "Sit at My right hand, till I make Your enemies Your footstool"? Are they not all ministering spirits sent forth to minister for those who will inherit salvation?

a. Sit at My right hand: Anyone who sits in the divine presence shows that they have the perfect right to be there; there are no seats for the angels around the throne of God, because they are constantly busy praising God and serving Him.

b. It isn't good to be too comfortable in the presence of majesty. There is a story about a man named Lear who was hired to give Queen Victoria art lessons. Things were going well, and Lear started to feel quite at home in the palace. He enjoyed standing in front of the fire, leaning on the hearth and warming himself in a relaxed manner, but every time he did, one of the Queen's attendants would invite him to look at something on the other side of the room, making him move. No one explained it to him, but after a while, he got the idea: good manners said it was wrong for a subject to have such a relaxed attitude in the presence of their Queen.

c. But to which of the angels has He ever said: "Sit at My right hand." In the same way, the angels don't "relax" before God. They "stand" before the Father, but the Son sits down - because He isn't a subject, He is the Sovereign.

i. The angels are ministering spirits, not governing spirits; service, not dominion is their calling.

ii. Angels, in that respect, are like a toy that won't quit; they have to keep working, while the Son can take a posture of rest, because He is the Son.

iii. Jesus is also called a servant and a minister, but this is part of His voluntary humiliation, not his essential nature-as is the case with the angels.

d. An interesting concept: angels work for us (those who will inherit salvation).

© 2001 David Guzik - No distribution beyond personal use without permission

Philemon ← Prior Book
Study Guide for James 1 Next Book →
Study Guide for Hebrews 2 Next Chapter →

The Blue Letter Bible ministry and the BLB Institute hold to the historical, conservative Christian faith, which includes a firm belief in the inerrancy of Scripture. Since the text and audio content provided by BLB represent a range of evangelical traditions, all of the ideas and principles conveyed in the resource materials are not necessarily affirmed, in total, by this ministry.


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