Before we get started, one should note that all verses are quoted from the New King James Version. We will do a lot of tracing back to the Greek language to pull out amplified, accurate definitions of words, so any version will do. When we run across an interesting word or some perceived discrepancy, we can deal with these on a case-to-case basis. I hope you can read along in your Bible on your own, formulate some questions and some meditations, and have that special time with God one-on-one. There is no substitute for alone-time with the Lord, but we necessarily and gladly join together in fellowship to shout from the rooftops what has been told to us in secret. Also note, this necessarily is not an exhaustive treatise of Hebrews. I implore all who would join in these Bible studies to really take the time to not only study the book and chapter but also search through commentaries and websites that can aid in studying these sometimes complex pieces of wisdom.
Before we start, please read the following case for using commentaries and Christian literature. If you don’t have time to read about or already are using these tools, please scroll down to the beginning. The following is a Special Note:
God has never stopped speaking, nor will He ever stop. The small, still voice actively leads all people called by His name if we are willing to listen. God speaks through men and women of God by His Holy Spirit. Understand that the foundation of knowledge, insight, revelation, and truth continues to be built even to this very moment in time. The new covenant is all about “building up”, edification, and the push for the Kingdom. To read Thomas Merton, Charles Spurgeon, or Aquinas is to read the Holy Spirit speaking through them; I would hope and pray that every time you hear a sermon, that it is the Holy Spirit speaking through your pastor. The canon of Scripture is sacred and is our foundation; anything that agrees with canonized writ is fair game and can ‘build up’, and likewise, anything that disagrees with holy writ is off limits (for a Christian) when discussing, meditating, and writing concerning the one and only true God. God invites us deeper, but the written word is the anchor of all godly, spiritual journeys.
So understand that reading commentaries (however boring the word “commentary” is) can be an incredible adventure; researching and diving deeply into the Word with the Holy Spirit at your side is a journey not to be missed! Like looking at a brochure of Hawaii but never actually going to Hawaii, so is reading another’s thoughts but never having your own. This is the nature of Christian literature. It is paramount that you visit Hawaii to enter a true discussion concerning Hawaii. What am I saying? I am saying that you must take your own trip through the Scriptures as a frame of reference to fully appreciate another’s impression of it. They noticed the vista-view from the top of the volcano; you noticed the wildflowers growing in the hard to reach places. Another experienced surfing on the majestic waves, and yet another could tell you of white-water canoeing the mountain streams. The best part is that you can read of the breathtaking vista-views and go back to Hawaii to see and explore them yourself! One cannot take in all of Hawaii and all that it has to offer in one go-around; you can revisit the deep well of Scripture and see it with new eyes and another’s “travel tip”! And to say that the wildflowers are the most important part of Hawaii is to be obtuse and short-sighted. If you never went back to at least look at the view from the volcano, what do you really know about it? The beauty is in the “building up”; this process starts within you. And it continues outward to others. Sharing is the mortar that holds the whole of it together. So please do read and meditate and listen to the Spirit as he guides you in the study of the sacred texts, and if you have time, maybe you could pick up a travel tip from one of our ever growing “cloud of witnesses” that urge us from the sidelines to always stand in awe and wonder.
HEBREWS CHAPTER ONE
1 God, who at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, 2 has in these last days spoken to us by His Son, whom He has appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the worlds;
The first point the writer makes is that God has spoken to men throughout time by evidence of the prophets and now has spoken in and through the Son. One person in class said, “Prophets spoke and foretold of the message; Jesus was and is the Message.” One simply cannot overstate the power and theology in these first two verses; you could set up shop here awhile…and many have! Thank God for all the men that gave their lives to defending the truths contained in the gospel. Today, we can access information that could easily take a lifetime (and did) to discover. Many men of God have been defined by their faithful work in academia; much to the chagrin of the enemy, “studying to show yourself approved” pays off in spades! Through the process of painstakingly combing through ancient language, philosophy, theology, history, and the like, they lay a foundation upon which we can stand! All that to say: the first two verses plunge us headfirst into theology and apologetics.
The unbelievable statement that the “worlds” were created through Christ is not only breathtaking but also supported in Scripture. Let us look at similar verses recorded in the sacred text:
15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 16 For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. All things were created through Him and for Him. Colossians 1:15-16
1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made. John 1:1-3
There is a very special treasure hidden in plain sight here. If you go back to the Greek word dia (translated “through”), you see an incredible truth. The Father created the universe through Christ…not by Christ. Is that an important distinction? I know for me it is a glimpse into a stunning meditation. The practical value of this differentiation between “through” and “by” is in the understanding of how this then relates to us and the Holy Spirit. If you take careful note and access the Greek, you will find that without exception, all relationship is through Christ and by the Spirit. All things created (visible, tangible, measureable, natural) necessarily had to be created through Christ, for He is the visible, tangible, touchable, and human representation of God. Christ is “God, very God” and most assuredly the only heavenly being that we could recognize in the natural if we were to visit heaven. If we could journey to heaven for a visit, all heavenly beings would be unrecognizable to us with one exception: Jesus. He is one of us!
Please note: if you are reading along and you see the word “by” in your translation, don’t be confused. Prepositions are tricky. If you research the word “by” where it seems out of place, you will find it is indeed the Greek word dia. For an action to originate or to be the antecedent to an action, it must be the transliterated Greek enj. And even in the case of finding enj, in many occasions this preposition is used in context as our understanding of the word ‘through’. The relationship, no matter how difficult the logic and no matter how theologically challenging, is defined over and over again as by the Father and through the Son. And again, through the Son and by the Holy Spirit!
Do you see the ramifications? In like manner, in the Christian walk, God works through us AND by His Spirit! This seems simple, but meditating and seeking a deeper understanding of the divine relationship brings a contrast and unparalleled beauty to light. Part of humility is understanding that it is NEVER by you or by your strength that kingdom work is done. Pride marches right out the door when you realize that you are only as effective and victorious as you are yielded as an instrument to be worked through! It is not from you, by you, or originating from you; it is only by the active work of the Spirit that we walk as a “new creature”. The Spirit comes through Christ, almost like a conduit for lack of a better example; faith connects us to Christ, grace flows, the Spirit flows through Christ into us, and our job is to let the outpouring continue on and complete the circuit if you will. That circuit is complete when we obey and walk in the Spirit. And so it is, walking forward from glory to glory, ever ascending into a closer walk with Thee! Sanctification sounds tough, but I can assure you that once you get adjusted to the process, it is life on steroids, life more abundantly, peace that surpasses all understanding, walking in grace as your best friend, and truly beginning to fathom what it means to abide in Him and He in you. That is why understanding the difference between “through” and “by” is so very important.
In the Hebrews commentary by Donald Guthrie, Dr. Guthrie himself seems to be quite overwhelmed by his own discovery of a stunning truth. And if you have read Guthrie, you know he is not apt to become noticeably excited; his Bible scholarship is deep and he writes very methodically and with purpose. But notice this excerpt:
The statement that God created the world through the Son is staggering. There is no denying that God could have made the universe apart from his Son, but the New Testament is at pains to show that he did not do so. The Christians were convinced that the same person who had lived among men was the one who created men. (Tyndale New Testament Commentaries: Hebrews by Donald Guthrie)
Back to the text:
3 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, 4 having become so much better than the angels, as He has by inheritance obtained a more excellent name than they.
Whew!!! I know that is a mouthful, and a gigantic bite in an economy of words. We just have to unpack this a bit, because our English language simply cannot convey the magnitude of the above statement. The writer is saying that the Son is the ‘brightness’ (Strong’s #541) of God’s ‘glory’ (Strong’s #1391). By combining the definitions together, the writer is stating that the Son is ‘the reflected brightness, like a light coming forth from a luminous body’ of God’s ‘splendor, brightness, magnificence, excellence, and majesty.’ So in essence, Jesus is all that God is, the brightness of His brightness, and yet there is more! He is the exact image of God. One of the ladies in our class did a marvelous job explaining this “express image”:
Like the way a seal is made by pressing a stamp into wax, it leaves an exact imprint of the stamp. The transliterated Greek word for ‘image’ here is ‘charakter’ (Strong’s #5481), where we get our English word character. It is defined as the instrument used for engraving or carving; the mark stamped upon that instrument or wrought on it; a mark or figure burned in; and the exact expression (the image) of any person or thing. The writer is saying that the Son is not only the brightness of God’s glory, but also is a perfect likeness of Him.
Think of it this way. No matter how many children I have, I will never father a child that is an exact duplicate of my physical appearance let alone my personality. So this goes way beyond thinking of Jesus as the Father’s Son! We must understand that this relationship is beyond our comprehension, but the closest earthly model we can understand is the Father/Son relationship. It goes way deeper than that! This verse is telling us as much: Jesus was begotten, not created the way we think of being created, and certainly not the earthly notion of birth. The Son is the visible God of the invisible God. OK, my circuits are heating up and I must turn and run, not walk, from this rabbit hole…
Let us look at one last diamond (and trust me, there are many more for the mining) found in verse 4. The statement that the Son “upholds all things by the word of His power” is the frosting on the theological cake. Let us put it all together: the universe and all that is in it was created through Christ, and now even at this very moment, the entire universe is held together by Christ, by His word and power. Seriously!?
Yes, seriously. Read this excerpt from Guthrie:
The word for ‘upholding’ (pheron) has the sense of bearing up or sustaining, which shows that Jesus Christ is seen at the centre of the continuing stability of the universe. There is no place here for the deist’s idea of God as a watchmaker who, having made a watch, leaves it to run on its own mechanism. The New Testament view is that God as creator and the Son as agent in creation are dynamically active in the created order…In the same way as the Word created, the Word sustains. The amazing stability of the created order is witness to the ‘power’ behind it.
For time and length purposes, I have to brushstroke here, but do revisit this at a later time. The next section (verses 5 through 13) is the writer proving through citing Septuagint references that the Son is superior to angels. We take this for granted; we think, “Well yeah, we know Christ is above the angels…duh!” But we must take the original audience into consideration here. For a Jew, angels were the highest heavenly order of creatures; whatever an angel said was taken as if directly from God. Angels were highly revered, obeyed, and sometimes actually worshiped (this tends to aggravate angels…so if you ever encounter one, please, don’t fall down and worship it…you will just make the angel irritable!). So the writer makes a case for Jesus being “greater than” by using the language of comparison from the Old Testament. There are many interesting studies concerning the particular use of Scripture by the writer of Hebrews, and I encourage you to seek these studies out. I enjoyed the Messianic red thread that courses through scripture I hadn’t considered; not only because the writer points it out but also because it gives us license to seek Jesus from front to back in all of scripture! Just as Cleopas and the other disciple on the road to Emmaus discovered, Christ is everywhere in Spirit-inspired writ.
The last little nugget:
14 Are they not all ministering spirits sent forth to minister for those who will inherit salvation?
Did you realize that the writer is assuming you should know that angels are sent forth to us to minister to us? To those who will inherit salvation, angels are ‘ministering spirits’. This is astounding and humbling as well. It is astounding that the writer not only bumps the angels down a notch so to speak by placing Christ above them in the order of things, but then bumps them down again to say that they are in essence our ministers and sent to help us out. The humbling part is that I know very little and should know more, the humility comes rushing in when you contemplate how much power God has given us and how little we use it! We are not only blessed beyond comprehension to have the Holy Spirit of God literally living inside of us, but we have angels from heaven watching our back…astounding! Take some time and let that soak in a while, bask in the immeasurable grace poured out for you because God loves you, yes you, THAT much.