Category Archives: Hebrews

The Humanity of the Son

 

As Hebrews chapter 2 unfolds, the author returns to his polemic discussion of Christ by transitioning out of his exhortation to pay attention to what has been said and to avoid drifting brought about from neglect. This transition occurs in verse 5 as is made evident from the conjunction, “For”. Likewise, we see that angels again come into view picking right up where he left off at the end of chapter 1 verse 14. The two verses are below; observe how the thought in the author’s mind is continuous, only interrupted by the brief warning of exhortation.

For it was not to angels that God subjected the world to come, of which we are speaking.” Hebrews 2:5

“Are they [angels] not all ministering spirits sent out to serve for the sake of those who are to inherit salvation?” Hebrews 1:14

The point that the author wishes to address in this section is, “To whom has the ‘world to come’ been subjected?”  Though he will define it more fully in the verses to follow, perhaps at this point we may ask, “What or When is this world to come?”  By implication, it obviously is a future world.  However, the language of the passage indicates that God has already made a determinative action in subjecting this future world to Someone.   Summarizing: this future world has already been made subject to Someone, but it has not yet come into its fullness in time, hence the already/not yet theological concept utilized by the author of Hebrews.

As we read in the verse above, this future world has clearly not been made subject to angels. It has already been established for us in chapter 1 what their role was under the Old Covenant and what their role is now as ministers to those who are to inherit salvation under the New Covenant. To answer the question of “To Whom has it been subjected to” the author again appeals to the authority of Scripture and once again to the Psalms.

In introducing the passage, it’s interesting to note how he calls the reader’s attention, not by writing David said, or in the Psalms we read, instead he leaves the citation with a vague reference, “It has been testified somewhere.” It isn’t that he’s ignorant about the location of the passage, rather his intention is to highlight the Scriptures and allow them to be authoritative on the basis of their divine revelation alone (perhaps this is insight into why the book of Hebrews has an unnamed author?). He then proceeds to cite Psalm 8:4-6 (From the Septuagint – Greek OT). Psalm 8 (from the MT – ESV tradition) has been included below:

O Lord, our Lord,
    how majestic is your name in all the earth!
You have set your glory above the heavens.
    Out of the mouth of babies and infants,
you have established strength because of your foes,
    to still the enemy and the avenger.

When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,
    the moon and the stars, which you have set in place,
what is man that you are mindful of him,
    and the son of man that you care for him?

Yet you have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings
    and crowned him with glory and honor.
You have given him dominion over the works of your hands;
    you have put all things under his feet,
all sheep and oxen,
    and also the beasts of the field,
the birds of the heavens, and the fish of the sea,
    whatever passes along the paths of the seas.

O Lord, our Lord,
    how majestic is your name in all the earth! Psalm 8:1-9

In reading the original context of this Psalm we find David extolling the majesty of God above all His creation. As he enters into verse 3 we read, “When I look at your heavens, the work of you fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place.” This puts the passages that follow specifically in the context of creation. After meditating on the wonder of God’s creation and comparatively seeing man as a speck in the universe, the psalmist then poses the God-ward question, “What is man that you are mindful of him, or the son of man that you care for him?”.

To answer this question, he again turns to creation and finds man created in the image of God, given dominion and power from His Creator (Psalm 8:5-6). Note the background that the Psalmist is likely drawing from, Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” Genesis 1:26

In the created order, as earthly beings, mankind is lower than the heavenly beings, yet nevertheless it is man that has been created in the image of God, not angels. It is man that has been crowned with glory and honor and given dominion over creation, not angels.  The dignity of man is inextricably linked to being made in the image of God.

This is the context on which the author of Hebrews is drawing as he steps outside the Old Testament citation to offer commentary in verse 8, “Now in putting everything in subjection to him, he left nothing outside his control.” We are still in the context of the dignity of man, who was originally created to be a vice-regent of God, exercising dominion over creation on His behalf. As we look around our world today, does that seem to be the case? Does man currently have dominion over all things? Over disease, or death, or demons, or dominion over the animal world? Hardly. It would seem that man’s dominion is not quite what it once was, or at least what it was intended to be at creation.

This is precisely the point the author of Hebrews draws upon in the latter part of verse 8, “At present, we do not yet see everything in subjection to him.” At present is both contrasted with the future, i.e. “the world to come” from verse 5 and the past, i.e. the implication of the psalmist as he meditates on creation in its Edenic state. The answer to the implied question of why we do not presently see man with the dominion that he was created with is based solely on the presence of sin. Both the psalmist and the author of Hebrews recognize that the disturbance in the created order has been caused by the in-breaking of sin in the world from Genesis 3. The fall of man in Adam has caused man’s dominion to be absent in the present. Though still created in the Imago Dei, this image is now distorted, corrupted as the product of sin, and longing for all that is wrong to be made right. The glimmer of hope offered for us in verse 5 of our Hebrews passage, the anticipation of a future world, comes into full view in verse 9, “But we see him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus.” This brings Christ humanity into view as the last Adam; the God-Man through whom a New Creation will come; the one through whom reconciliation of the world will happen.

Summing up the author’s intention here, we see him use an Old Testament reference, Psalm 8, in order to establish the humanity of Christ and to allude to the restoration of all things in Him that have been distorted and destroyed because of sin.  Man regains his dignity and dominion on the basis of Christ, the last Adam. Created order regains its intended purpose through the reconciliation and redemption that has come through the work of Jesus Christin fulfilling God’s law and being obedient unto death on the cross. The intentions of God were that man would have dignity because only man was created in the image of God.

  • Man’s created dignity finds its origin in the Imago Dei.
  • Man’s present dignity is tarnished through the corrupting influence of sin.
  • Man’s future dignity can only be restored on the basis of Jesus Christ and it is only through union with Him by faith that this can occur.

As we saw in chapter 1 of Hebrews, the supremacy and superiority of the Son of God was put clearly on display. The great condescension of this Supreme Christ is made evident in these verses from chapter 2, where we see the anticipated restoration of created order and the vindication of fallen man by way of the incarnation of the Son and most notably through His death. While man received his crown and glory via life at creation, Christ received His crown and glory via death at the cross. It is therefore only through union with Christ by faith that man can regain life and recapture the former glory that once was, being crowned again with glory as co-heirs with Christ.

The Danger of Drifting

 

After extolling the supremacy of Christ in the first chapter of Hebrews, the author enters into an interlude of exhortation in verses 1-4 of chapter 2 on the dangers of drifting and neglect of the message which they (we) have heard. The practical nature of this exhortation cannot be limited to the original audience of Hebrews, but must by necessity extend to us, as believers, today just as his message concerning Christ must by necessity stir our hearts towards affections for Him.

Beginning in 2:1, we see the warning that follows on the heels of the majesty of Christ

1Therefore we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it. For since the message declared by angels proved to be reliable, and every transgression or disobedience received a just retribution, how shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation? It was declared at first by the Lord, and it was attested to us by those who heard, while God also bore witness by signs and wonders and various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will.”  

In the passage quoted above we have what is often referred to as an imperative statement. Biblically, the imperative most often follows the indicative. This simply means that Scripture often indicates for us a truth, here concerning Christ, His person, and work and then proceeds to give a command based on that truth. In Hebrews 2:1 the command is to “pay much closer attention to what we have heard”. In the immediate context, what has been heard refers to all that has just been said in Hebrews chapter 1. In the broader context of Scripture, it refers to the entirety of the Gospel message that holds Christ the center. The truths about who Christ is, namely that He is the eternal Son of God, the Exalted King, His supremacy over the angels (vs. 1:5-14), His purification for sins and His sitting down at the right hand of the majesty on high. That Christ, the exclusive message about Him and His work, along with all that follows in the remainder of chapter 2, requires us to pay much closer attention. A similar warning is also given in Luke 8:18 as Jesus concludes the parable of the soils whose primary focus is on rightly hearing the word of God, Take care then how you hear, for to the one who has, more will be given, and from the one who has not, even what he thinks that he has will be taken away.”

Interestingly, the exhortations of Hebrews have often been controversial as to whom they may be speaking, believers or unbelievers.  In this case, it is clear that the author includes himself in the warning as he states “we” three times in the first verse, two more times in verse 3 and uses us in that verse as well.  It’s clear that his intention is to arouse those true believers who may be sleeping for the purpose of motivating them.  Those found with disingenuous faith will succumb to the results of the warning and drift.

This term carries with the idea of a ship that has sailed past its port and it is emblematic of the Christian life. Our lives are not to be thought of as a pontoon on a placid lake, instead we are actively engaged in a faith-based, Spirit-fueled effort to row in the swift stream of life. Drifting therefore does not take us closer to our destination, but instead leaves us further away. In fact, the argument could be made that the one who drifts is not even aware of the incremental movement, until he or she has drifted quite some distance away.

How then can we avoid drifting and ensure that we are paying closer attention to the message of Christ that we have heard? John Owen offers 5 practical solutions centered around diligent attention to the word of the gospel:

  1. Esteem the Gospel in your thoughts. “Constant high thoughts then of the necessity, worth, glory, and excellency of the gospel, as on other accounts, so especially on account of the author of it, and the grace dispensed in it, is the first step in that diligent heeding of it, which is required of us. Want of this was that which ruined many of the Hebrews to whom the apostle wrote. And without it we shall never keep our faith firm unto the end.”
  2. Diligent study of the Word. “Silver and treasure are not gathered by every lazy passenger on the surface of the earth; they must dig, seek, and search who intend to be made partakers of them, and they do so accordingly; and so must we do for these treasures of heavenly wisdom.”
  3. Mix the Word with faith. “To hear and not believe, is in spiritual life, what to see meat, and not to eat, is in the natural; it will please the fancy, but will never nourish the soul.”
  4. Labor to conform your heart and life to the express Word. “When the heart of the hearer is quickened, enlivened, spirited with gospel truths, and by them is molded and fashioned into their likeness, and expresseth that likeness in its fruits, or in a conversation becoming the gospel, then is the word attended unto in a right manner. This will secure the word a station in our hearts, and give it a permanent abode in us.”
  5. Be watchful. “Watchfulness against all opposition that is made either against the truth or power of the word in us, belongs also unto this duty. And as these oppositions are many, so ought this watchfulness to be great and diligent.”

May it never be said of us that “For this people’s heart has grown dull, and with their ears they can barely hear” but instead may Christ count us among his mother and brothers, “But he answered them, “My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and do it.”

As the argument progresses to verse 2, the intensity picks up as the author reinforces the statement he has just made by providing an argument from lesser to greater using the judgment for disobedience of the angels message (the lesser) and the judgment for those who neglect the Gospel (the greater coming up in verse 3), “For since the message declared by angels proved to be reliable, and every transgression or disobedience received a just retribution”.

The reference to angels here serves to reflect back to the entirety of chapter 1 where the superiority of Christ over the angels was established. Additionally, we gain a little insight into why the questions of Christ’s authority over the angels came up to begin with. Given Acts 7:53 and Galatians 3:19, it would appear that the role of angels in the establishment of the Old Covenant at Mt. Sinai was at least a belief held by some. Within our context of Hebrews, it becomes apparent that this is the case as the author will unfold his collective argument of the superiority of Christ over the entirety of the Old Covenant.

The fact that the message declared by angels was reliable, was transgressed, and warranted a just retribution cannot be overlooked. As the argument from lesser to greater progresses the message declared by the Lord is even more reliable (this doesn’t mean the old was untruthful; this is simply an added degree; greater validity if you will) and the punishment for transgression of His message will be more severe. “How shall we escape” then becomes rhetorical because none can escape the punishment handed out by neglecting the message of Christ.

This message of salvation, i.e. the Gospel, has been attested to by 1) The Lord Himself 2) Those who heard, believed, and subsequently proclaimed and by 3) God through various signs, wonders, miracles, and gifts distributed by the Holy Spirit.  The message therefore carries with it Trinitarian validation.  Can there be any wonder then why the author of Hebrews exhorts his listeners/readers and us on the dangers of drifting?  How can we hear such a message about Christ, testified to by the 3 Persons of the Trinity, given to men who proclaimed it and had their message validated by divine works, and expect to escape a great and just retribution for neglecting it?  Answer: There is no escape, therefore don’t neglect what you’ve heard.

The call is clear and the message should not be muted for Christians.  Yes, there is perseverance/preservation of the saints, but the warning here is very real.  There is a danger in drifting, a just retribution, therefore, don’t neglect the message of Christ that you have heard.

*Image Credit – www.dallasnews.com

Christ as Son is King

 

Hebrews 1:5-9

As I’ve studied through Hebrews chapter 1, it has struck me that in all my readings I’ve possibly been looking at it the wrong way.  Isn’t it fascinating how God can continually reveal new things about Himself through His Word when we give ourselves to diligent study and allow for more than just a passing glance.

Previously when I arrived at verse 1:5 and read, “You are my Son, today I have begotten you” my mind immediately went to the incarnation of Christ, i.e. John 3:16 “only begotten Son”. Skipping over the second half of verse 5 and landing on verse 6, I gathered confirmation for my interpretation by the phrase, “he brings the first born into the world”. Finally, in further support of reading this passage as speaking of the humanity of Christ in His incarnation the second half of verse 6 reads, “Let all God’s angels worship him,” clearly in reference to the angels at Christ’s birth right?  Together then, chapter 1 of Hebrews is simply a declaration of Christ’s incarnation, literally His first advent in human flesh, or so I’d concluded.

Not so fast.

Two particular resources helped open my eyes to the reality of what is actually being described in this passage: William Lane and Tom Schreiner, both of whom have written excellent commentaries on Hebrews with the former’s being a classic effort and the latter a new, helpful arrival.  They pair together nicely especially when a more succinct answer is desired over say, John Owen, whose commentary is magnificent, but may take days to read his exposition on just one verse.

Let’s work through the passage verse by verse and see what it is that they caught and I missed originally.

5 For to which of the angels did God ever say, “You are my Son, today I have begotten you”? Or again, “I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son”?

In this verse, the author picks up on his “hook-word” from verse 4, namely angels, and begins to develop more the idea set forth that Christ has been given a name far superior to angels. The argument begins with a quotation from Psalm 2:7, “You are my Son, today I have begotten you.” Is this then a reference to the incarnation? Not according to its Old Testament context. Turning there we find a messianic Psalm in which David, the king of Israel, is waxing eloquent under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit concerning his own enthronement by the very word of God, “The LORD said to me.” In context, God then refers to David as “son”. This is keeping with the concept of Israel as God’s “son”, but in our passage from Hebrews we see that the reference to son finds its ultimate fulfillment in The Son, Jesus Christ. It is this Sonship of Christ that gives Him superiority over the angels, grants Him the name that is greater than theirs, and forms the basis for His Kingship.

Schreiner points out that this Psalm refers to the installation of the Davidic king who fulfills the “promise made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob that the entire world be blessed through one of their offspring.”[1] It is with that context in mind that the author of Hebrews quotes the passage, only in reference to Christ, THE King of Israel and the ultimate fulfillment of all the promises of God. Christ is enthroned as the King par excellence, the King of Kings.

Following on in the passage from Psalm 2, we find that the theme shifts from enthronement and inheritance to vindication of the kingship, “you shall break them with a rod of iron.” It would be difficult to assert that the incarnation is in view from the Hebrews citation, given the contextual background of Psalm 2:7. Some have concluded that the incarnation is not in view here, rather a doctrine known as the eternal generation of the Son. Schreiner comments,

“The reference is not to the eternal begetting of the Son by the Father, though this reading is rather common in the history of interpretation. Nor is the reference to the virgin birth. The author of Hebrews actually interprets the verse in light of the entire message of Psalm 2. In context, the verse refers to the reign of the messianic king, which Hebrews sees as commencing at Jesus’ resurrection and ascension. Jesus is greater than the angels because he now reigns as the messianic king.”[2]

Further evidence of the use of Psalm 2 in reference to the resurrection and subsequent ascension of Christ to assume His throne may be found in Acts 13:32-34a where we read Peter stating boldly, “And we bring to you the good news that what God promised to the fathers, this he has fulfilled to us their children by raising Jesus, as also it is written in the second Psalm, ‘You are my Son, today I have begotten you.’ And as for the fact that he raised him from the dead, no more to return to corruption….” Again we see the connection between Christ’s resurrection, ascension, and enthronement with Psalm 2 as the backdrop of the promise.

In the second half of verse 5 we read, “I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son.” Again the theme of Father to Son, but as in the first half of this verse, the incarnation or eternal begetting of the son is not in view. This time the author of Hebrews chooses 2 Samuel 7:14 to buttress his thesis. Here we find ourselves in the middle of the Davidic Covenant given to King David, so once again our attention is drawn to kingship. In its Old Testament context, God is promising an eternal dynasty to David. By quoting this passage, Hebrews not only brings our attention to the relationship of Father and Son, but again to the relationship of Jesus’ Sonship to His Kingship. Lane writes, “Although Jesus was the preexistent Son of God…,he entered into a new experience of sonship by virtue of his incarnation, his sacrificial death, and his subsequent exaltation.”[3] In this citation it is again clear that the latter, namely Christ’s exaltation, is in view here.

That said, the next verse in the passage from Hebrews would seem to counter everything written above regarding the Kingship of Christ and would instead seem to support the concept of Christ’s incarnation from this passage. In other words, it would appear to be talking about Sonship-Incarnation rather than Sonship-Kingship. However, we need to be reminded of our context thus far in Hebrews 1) The Superiority of Christ over the Angels by way of His Sonship 2) The Kingship of Christ is specifically related to His Sonship. With that in mind, note verse 6 below:

6 And again, when he brings the firstborn into the world, he says, “Let all God’s angels worship him.”

Again Sonship is brought to the forefront of the passage by way of the phrase, “when he brings the firstborn into the world”. It would appear at first glance to support the incarnation perspective, and as most translations have pointed out this is not a clear quotation of an Old Testament passage, but is instead an allusion. The only explicit quotation occurs in the second part of the verse and it comes from Deuteronomy 32:43, but that doesn’t mean that the first part of the verse has no Old Testament basis. In Hebrews, and much of the New Testament for that matter, the authors are not only fond of using direct citations of the Old Testament, but allusions to it as well, as is the case in this verse. A dictionary definition of allusion is helpful here, “a passing or casual reference; an incidental mention of something, either directly or by implication.”[4]

In the example allusion from our verse we find correspondence in Psalm 89:26-27

26 He shall cry to me, ‘You are my Father, my God, and the Rock of my salvation.’ 27 And I will make him the firstborn,the highest of the kings of the earth.

Again in this passage we find our corresponding filial relationship (Father-Son) speaking of God to David and a reference to the firstborn, not in terms of begetting or being born, but in terms of kingship. Firstborn in Psalm 89 carries with it the idea of rank or authority. It is a term of preeminence. Similar usage of the word firstborn is found in Colossians 1:15, “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.” If we were to default to a view of Jesus’ incarnation in this passage, we’d have all sorts of exegetical difficulties because Adam was actually the firstborn of all creation. The Apostle Paul is using firstborn here to speak of Christ’s rank or authority, as in our verse from Hebrews. We may also note that in Colossians 1:16 immediately following this declaration is the assertion of Christ as Creator (pre-incarnate), supporting our conclusions thus far.

Returning to Hebrews 1:6 we can safely conclude that firstborn, in keeping with our context, is another reference Sonship-Kingship; but what are we to make of bringing the first born “into the world”? Wouldn’t this be the little baby laid in a manger? No, because again we must remember our context. There’s been nothing to change that so far and to change it here would make nonsense of the passage.

Instead, the author of Hebrews likely has a heavenly world in mind, as he does in Hebrews 2:5, “For it was not to angels that God subjected the world to come, of which we are speaking.” This is not indicative of the present material world that would’ve corresponded to Christ’s incarnation, but has the heavenly “world” in view; Christ’s session at the right of the Father which will be brought to earth in the New Heavens and New Earth (2:5). “Of which we are speaking” clues us into the prior usage of “world” from 1:6 and its intended meaning.

This brings in the objection that perhaps Christ’s second coming is in view here. The possibility for this exists, but it would seem to contradict the author’s flow of thought that Christ is NOW superior to angels. To argue for the future supremacy of Christ would negate the entirety of this section and thus undercut the basis for the exhortation coming in chapter 2 to continue believing in what has been heard concerning Christ. It seems more fitting to conclude that the “world” being mentioned here refers to Christ’s exaltation at His ascension (post-resurrection) where He is seated at the right hand of the Father. Lane agrees with this conclusion writing, “The context requires that [world] be understood as the heavenly world of eschatological salvation into which the Son entered at his ascension.”[5]

Turning our attention to the second half of verse 1:6 above, we find an Old Testament reference either to Psalm 97:7 or to Deuteronomy 32:43, or perhaps even a conflation of the two verses. Deuteronomy, which is within the context of the Hymn of Moses, reads this way:

“Rejoice with him, O heavens; bow down to him, all gods, for he avenges the blood of his children and takes vengeance on his adversaries. He repays those who hate him and cleanses his people’s land.”

Our English translations miss the connection here because of the phrase, “bow down to him, all gods.” Remember that the author of Hebrews is familiar with the Greek Old Testament (Septuagint or LXX) and sometimes there are words and nuances that are different, this being one example. The LXX translates the phrase “Rejoice, ye heavens, with him, and let all the angels of God worship him”

Similarly, Psalm 97:7 reads, “All worshipers of images are put to shame, who make their boast in worthless idols; worship him, all you gods!”

Again, keep in mind the connection between the Greek OT and our English OT and realize that the author of Hebrews is drawing on the former, which is a reference to angels (gods). Regardless of which Old Testament reference might be in view here, two conclusions may be drawn: 1) OT passages that refer to Yahweh are often made reference to Christ in the NT; this affirms the equal status as deity yet maintains the separateness as persons of the Trinity 2) Angels are commanded to worship Christ, i.e. the created beings are to worship their Creator. An additional reference to the worship of Christ by angels may be found in Revelation 4 and 5.

Moving on to verse 7 from our passage in Hebrews we read, “

7 Of the angels he says, “He makes his angels winds, and his ministers a flame of fire.”

Here the focus shifts to the angels and their qualities in order to set up the contrast that will come in the verses that follow. The citation from Psalm 104:4 highlights for us the mutability or changeableness of the angels. Likewise, it establishes their subordinate role as ministers and servants, the former being the source of our word liturgy or worship.

Verse 8 introduces for us the contrast in roles that the angels have and that of Christ by saying,

8 But of the Son he says, “Your throne, O God, is forever and ever, the scepter of uprightness is the scepter of your kingdom. 9 You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness; therefore God, your God, has anointed you with the oil of gladness beyond your companions.”

If there had been any doubt thus far that the Kingship of Christ was being established on the foundation of His Sonship, verses 8-9 firmly clarifies any lingering questions. In referencing Psalm 45:6-7 the author of Hebrews sets forth fully the enthronement and heavenly reign of Christ. In contrast to the angels who are seen as mutable servants, the Son is seen as an eternal King, unchangeable as verse 12 will assert. It is evident in this passage, which contains such themes as throne, scepter, kingdom, and anointing, that the author of Hebrews has chosen this specific Psalm for the purpose of heightening the awareness of his subject, namely the Sonship-Kingship of Jesus Christ.

For some odd reason, certain theologians refuse to recognize the current ruling and reigning of King Jesus as He sits at His Father’s right hand. Instead they prefer to defer Christ being seated on the throne until His second advent and the establishment of a millennial kingdom. That does not appear to be the majority report of the New Testament witness, as we have seen in Hebrews 1 and in the use of related Old Testament quotations such as those from Psalm 2 and 110. Jesus is King now. He will consummate His kingdom when He returns and establishes His throne on earth for eternity, nevertheless the inauguration of His Kingship has begun.

[1] Schreiner pg 64

[2] Ibid pg 65

[3] Lane pg. 26

[4] http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/allusion

[5] Lane Pg 27

*Image credit – www.brojerome.com