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Hebrews

In These Last Days

Hebrews  1

There is, in my time, a great decline in the sense of awe with which Christians approach God. The hymns of old often declared the majesty of God in a majestic way. Contemporary music is not capable of majesty. I see it in the youth, who run through the halls of the church karate kicking each other. Had I done such in my youth, my father would have let out with, “Young man, this is a church, not a gymnasium.” Now there is no sense of reverence in the church.

It is a pity. I miss the awesome, sovereign God of my youth. That God had real power; when he granted prayer, it was indeed a privilege. You knew that you had best be careful in asking, for he is capable of delivering. Perhaps this loss of reverence is the source of our weakness in prayer.

Whatever it is, it was certainly not shared by the ancient Christians. See the tone with which the author of Hebrews approaches the subject.

Hebrews 1

Hebrews 1:1-14 NASB God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, (2) in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world. (3) And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power. When He had made purification of sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, (4) having become as much better than the angels, as He has inherited a more excellent name than they. (5) For to which of the angels did He ever say, "YOU ARE MY SON, TODAY I HAVE BEGOTTEN YOU"? And again, "I WILL BE A FATHER TO HIM AND HE SHALL BE A SON TO ME"? (6) And when He again brings the firstborn into the world, He says, "AND LET ALL THE ANGELS OF GOD WORSHIP HIM." (7) And of the angels He says, "WHO MAKES HIS ANGELS WINDS, AND HIS MINISTERS A FLAME OF FIRE." (8) But of the Son He says, "YOUR THRONE, O GOD, IS FOREVER AND EVER, AND THE RIGHTEOUS SCEPTER IS THE SCEPTER OF HIS KINGDOM. (9) "YOU HAVE LOVED RIGHTEOUSNESS AND HATED LAWLESSNESS; THEREFORE GOD, YOUR GOD, HAS ANOINTED YOU WITH THE OIL OF GLADNESS ABOVE YOUR COMPANIONS." (10) And, "YOU, LORD, IN THE BEGINNING LAID THE FOUNDATION OF THE EARTH, AND THE HEAVENS ARE THE WORKS OF YOUR HANDS; (11) THEY WILL PERISH, BUT YOU REMAIN; AND THEY ALL WILL BECOME OLD LIKE A GARMENT, (12) AND LIKE A MANTLE YOU WILL ROLL THEM UP; LIKE A GARMENT THEY WILL ALSO BE CHANGED. BUT YOU ARE THE SAME, AND YOUR YEARS WILL NOT COME TO AN END." (13) But to which of the angels has He ever said, "SIT AT MY RIGHT HAND, UNTIL I MAKE YOUR ENEMIES A FOOTSTOOL FOR YOUR FEET"? (14) Are they not all ministering spirits, sent out to render service for the sake of those who will inherit salvation?

 

The problem of the Jewish Christian

In its earliest days, the church faced a serious difficulty: just how much of the Jewish Law was to be imposed upon the Gentile converts? This difficulty conceals within another difficulty: how does the Jewish Christian reconcile his knowledge of the Old Testament with his knowing of the Savior? To understand this book, we must first examine this problem.

Requirements

The Jewish Christian might have summarized the problem this way. Many things he could change – but the core of what he knew from Moses must still be true with Christ. Three things stand out:

  1. He must be faithful to the Law, and hence faithful to God. Ceremony might be trifled with, but not the commandments.
  2. He must also keep himself pure. This no longer would mean no contact with the Gentiles – but surely purity itself would not cease.
  3. Above all else, the Lord your God is One.
Violation

It appears, at first glance, that Christianity violates these requirements. Christ explicitly tells us that He is superior to the Law. Healing on the Sabbath, for example, can be seen as a violation of the Law of Moses. Worse, the church is told by the Holy Spirit to associate with Gentiles. What of purity now?

But most of all, God now appears to be three, not one. It appears very much like the church has added two gods to the list – and there’s only room for one.

What to do with such a problem?

The “book of transition”

That’s why the book of Hebrews was written. It is to assure the Jewish Christian that his understanding of the Law is not in vain, but rather has been completed. In this book, and in particular in this chapter, we shall see these things:

  • The connection between the Old Testament and the New Testament. We shall see how the New Testament completes the Old Testament.
  • In so doing, we shall see the superiority of Christ over the prophets and angels. In the process, we shall learn much about Christ as divine.
  • While this is going on, the book also speaks to modern Christians – for if you will not know the power of God (and thus revere Him) then how can you expect to become his child?
Continuity of Christ

The author of the book is unknown to us, though the early church assumed that Paul wrote it. It is clearly addressed to Hebrew Christians, meant to solve their difficulties. It is fitting, therefore, that the author begins by stressing the continuity of God’s message to man.

Continuity of prophecy

There are prophets in plenty in the Old Testament. The New Testament mentions (in Acts) some as well, but the bulk of our attention is focused on the Christ – who is prophet, priest and king. See the continuity:

  • The coming of Christ was foretold by many of the prophets. In that sense, he is the culmination of prophecy.
  • Christ himself is a prophet, often speaking of the end times; also, he speaks of the fate of Jerusalem.
  • Most of all, notice the sanctity which Jesus himself gives to the Scripture. As the old King James put it:

18For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled. (Matthew 5:18)

Theme: purification of sins

Both the old and the new seem to spend amount of time with the problem of sin. In particular, both show us that sin must be atoned for. In the Old Testament, this was done with animal sacrifices. In the New Testament, Christ is our Passover lamb.

This becomes extremely important to the Jewish Christian when, in AD 70, the temple in Jerusalem is sacked and destroyed. Animal sacrifices for sin ceased.

God the source of all things

In both revelations, God is shown to be the source of all things. Since God is eternal, his word takes on that same everlasting character. Indeed, his Word – Jesus – also has that attribute. So it is that from the same source flows the same living water. This, then, must have been great comfort to the Jews.

Supremacy of Christ


We have examined the continuity, let us examine the supremacy. Christ is supreme over all – including the prophets of the Old Testament. We see this here in four ways.

The Son

We see Him proclaimed to be the Son of God. What does that mean?

  • First, it means that he is not just another human being (like the prophets were) nor is he an angel. He was made like us to walk among us – but that is a great humbling for him.
  • Understand that He is God’s only begotten Son. To understand the difference, remember that we make toys but we beget children. The toys reflect our creating nature; the children reflect who we really are.
  • He carries the Father’s authority. If He forgives you, you are indeed forgiven. If He says He doesn’t know you, then you can never meet Him.
  • He is said here to be the heir of all things – meaning, that all the universe will be under his rule.
Creation

His mighty power is shown by his relationship to all creation:

  • He is the agent of creation – the “by whom” God created all things. He is, if you will, the pen with which God wrote the universe according to his word.
  • He is also the sustainer of all things. He is the answer to the question, “why do things work today the same way they did yesterday?” His almighty power sustains all things.
The image of God

This passage is difficult to translate – because the concept behind it is difficult to grasp. There are two ideas:

  1. That Christ is the “radiance” of God’s glory. Other translations say words like “effulgence,” “reflection,” “brightness,” “perfectly mirrors.” God the Father is the source of glory; Christ is the “going out” of it. To use a poor analogy, if God be compared to the sun, then Christ is the light from it. What we can see of God is best shown in Christ.
  2. That Christ is the “exact representation” of God. If you’ve seen Jesus, you know what God the Father is like. Other translations say he is the “very image,” “expression (of his substance),” “exact likeness,” “express image (of his person),” “stamped with God’s nature,” “exact imprint of God’s being,” and “impress of his subsistence.”

Perhaps the translators find it so difficult because the concept is beyond our minds. But we can put is simply: He who has seen Jesus, has seen the Father.

True Purification

Christ provided purification for our sins – but he did so in accordance with the law given in the Old Testament. He dies just like the Passover lamb does. The Old Testament foreshadowed this.

How then, should we live?

This lesson began with the concept of reverence for God. If we are to revere him, we should do so for good reason. I submit to you that the good reasons are shown here. Christ is the one spoken of by the prophets – and is prophet himself. He is the one who transforms animal sacrifices into purification for our sins. He is the agent of creation, the image of the Father, the only begotten Son of God. If that is not reason for reverence, then the word has no meaning.

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