Hebrews – Week 2: The supremacy of Christ

Hebrews 1:1-4

Historical context

As we have seen in the introduction, the letter is anonymous. We know virtually nothing of the author except what we can glean from the contents of the letter. Most of this will border on speculation and assumption.

It seems rather obvious that the letter is introduced to Jewish Christians, i.e. Jews who came to faith in Christ. It seems as if the author was of the same pedigree as he talks about “our ancestors”.

When referring to the prophets, he is of course referring to the whole Old Testament (as we know it) or the Hebrew Scriptures. Moses was the first prophet and after him came the others who were God’s voice to the people.

The first century Jews (and of course earlier, and to this day) had an expectation of the Messiah (God’s anointed) who will come to free the Jewish nation. The letter to the Hebrews goes a long way to explain that Jesus is the expected Messiah.

Especially in the beginning of this letter, there is an emphasis on Jesus’ superiority over angels. While we as modern Christians may wonder why this is so significant, NT Christians seem to have thought more highly of angels. Paul warned the Colossians not to worship angels (Col 2:18)  and twice an angel warns John not to worship him in Revelation.

Literary context

Many Biblical writings state a summary of what follows in the opening paragraphs. Hebrews is no exception.

A great theme of the letter is the supremacy of Christ: as prophet, priest and king. These titles are introduced in the first couple of verses.

Prophet: And now in these final days, he has spoken to us through his Son (1:2)

King: The Son radiates God’s own glory and expresses the very character of God, and he sustains everything by the mighty power of his command (1:3a, c)

Priest: When he had cleansed us from our sins (1:3b)

The supremacy of Christ is also introduced in these opening passages. He is supreme to the prophets of old (1:1-2) and also supreme to the angels (1:4). Later in the letter we will see that he is greater than Moses and the Jewish priesthood, and providing a better rest than Joshua.

What is important to note here that his message is not greater than that of the prophets – that still stands and is still relevant. It is the person (the messenger so to speak) that is greater.

The beginning of Hebrews is reminiscent of John. Everything was created through the Son, and is sustained by the Son.

Analysis

This passage is not a narrative, but rather the start of a teaching. In the larger context of the letter (or sermon), the author is stating his main point up front (as is often the case in a discourse/teaching). However, within this main theme a few other points are also made.

Firstly, we can see that Jesus is introduced as prophet, king and priest. This is already significant in terms of the work of Christ and laying a foundation for the rest of the letter.

However, here is one other significant point not raised yet – the name given to Jesus in the last verse: “… just as the name God gave him is greater than their names.”

We must firstly established what is meant by the term “name”, as this could be either “Jesus”, “Messiah” (Christ), or something else.

The Greek word is ὄνομα (onoma – on’-om-ah), a name (literally or figuratively), (authority, character).

The range of meanings for this word therefore refers to a name as we would refer to it in modern day English, or it could also refer to a title (authority) or to the character of someone.

From the larger context, it seems that the word refers more to the title or authority and character of Jesus rather than his actual name.

As the “Son”, Jesus has been given the character and authority of God the Father. This is the greatest name that can be given.

But there is also a quality to this name. The word translated as “character” is verse 3 is the very similar Greek χαρακτήρ (charaktēr – khar-ak-tar’) a graver (the tool or the person), that is, (by implication) engraving ([character], the figure stamped, that is, an exact copy or [figuratively] representation): – express image.

The idea here is that Jesus is the exact, precise and perfect representation of God the Father. Of course, from a theological perspective, this must lead us to believe that Jesus is God (his divinity) which is one of the major themes of the letter.

This takes on additional meaning when one thinks of the audience being Jewish Christians, but still firmly rooted in Jewish tradition. Everything pales in comparison to the greatness of Jesus – the prophets of old, the Jewish priesthood, the kings and the angels.

Reflection

While all these witnesses are relevant in terms of message (the Word of God), Jesus is the perfect expression of the Word of God.

Application

When we consider that our application should be either believing something and/or doing something, we might be tempted to stop at believing in the superiority of Christ.

However, there is also a practical implication for us. A friend of mine said recently, “If you believe in Jesus and not live it, you’re living a lie.”

Our belief in Jesus Christ can never stop at simply an intellectual assent to His superiority. The Bible asks much more of us. The Bible teaches us not to only believe in the divinity of Christ, but also to imitate him. As Jesus is the Son of God the Father, we are also sons and daughters of the Father:

Galatians 4:4 But when the right time came, God sent his Son, born of a woman, subject to the law. 5 God sent him to buy freedom for us who were slaves to the law, so that he could adopt us as his very own children. 6 And because we are his children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, prompting us to call out, “Abba, Father.” 7 Now you are no longer a slave but God’s own child. And since you are his child, God has made you his heir.

1 Corinthians 11:1 And you should imitate me, just as I imitate Christ.

Living in the Light

Ephesians 5:1 Imitate God, therefore, in everything you do, because you are his dear children. 2 Live a life filled with love, following the example of Christ. He loved us and offered himself as a sacrifice for us, a pleasing aroma to God.

Humanity was created in the image of God. However, this image was distorted with the disobedience of Adam and Eve and because of our sin, there came separation between humanity and God. However, Jesus Christ came to restore our relationship with God.

All of this is summarised in the first chapter of the letter to the Colossians:

Christ Is Supreme

15 Christ is the visible image of the invisible God. He existed before anything was created and is supreme over all creation,

16 for through him God created everything in the heavenly realms and on earth. He made the things we can see and the things we can’t see— such as thrones, kingdoms, rulers, and authorities in the unseen world. Everything was created through him and for him.

17 He existed before anything else, and he holds all creation together.

18 Christ is also the head of the church, which is his body. He is the beginning, supreme over all who rise from the dead. So he is first in everything.

19 For God in all his fullness was pleased to live in Christ,

20 and through him God reconciled everything to himself. He made peace with everything in heaven and on earth by means of Christ’s blood on the cross.

Reconciliation in Christ

21 This includes you who were once far away from God. You were his enemies, separated from him by your evil thoughts and actions. 22 Yet now he has reconciled you to himself through the death of Christ in his physical body. As a result, he has brought you into his own presence, and you are holy and blameless as you stand before him without a single fault.

23 But you must continue to believe this truth and stand firmly in it. Don’t drift away from the assurance you received when you heard the Good News. The Good News has been preached all over the world, and I, Paul, have been appointed as God’s servant to proclaim it.

(Scripture quotes from NLT)

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