STUDIES IN HEBREWS

© Rosemary Bardsley, 2002

STUDY ONE: A POWERFUL INTRODUCTION TO GOD'S SON

A. THE SON IS GOD'S FINAL WORD (1:1-2a)

'In the past ... but in these last days' ='then ... now'

Up till the coming of Jesus Christ 'God spoke', that is, God revealed himself, 'through the prophets at many times and in various ways'. The prophets were human middle-men bearing the message of God to other men. All that they spoke was in anticipation, in expectation, in hope. They themselves were not the message, they were merely bearers of the message, sometimes not even understanding what their messages meant. [Read: 1 Peter 1:10-12 and Matthew 13:16-17]. Even Abraham walked by faith and not by sight, knowing that there was more to God's call and God's promise than was physically visible [read Hebrews 11:8-10].

' ... but in these last days'

The coming of Jesus Christ initiated the 'last days'. We who live A.D. live in the 'last days'. All that God had anticipated in the messages of the prophets, all that was there hidden in mystery form (1 Corinthians 2:6-10) is now revealed, is now out in the open. In these last days 'he has spoken to us by his Son'. The Son is not a mere bearer of God's message, he is God's message. He is the Word [John 1:1-4]. He is the Truth (John 14:6). He is the Light (John 8:12). To see him is to see the Father [John 12:45; 14:9]; to know him is to know the Father (John 14:7-9). There is no dichotomy, no difference, between himself and his word: both are truth, both are life.

The phrase 'in these last days' expresses finality. This revelation, this speaking of God in his Son, is God's last Word. There is no further revelation. There can be no further revelation. This is what Paul speaks of in Colossians when he states that 'God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him' (1:19) and 'in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form' (2:9). This is what John speaks of when he writes: 'we know also that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true. And we are in him who is true - even in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life. Dear children, keep yourselves from idols' (1 John 5:19-21).

We are not here listening to yet another prophetic message, borne by a human messenger, to be followed by further revelation from yet other human messengers. Here God himself comes to us and speaks to us his final word. If we reject God here in his ultimate self-revelation, if we do not receive this Word, then we have expressed our final and ultimate rejection of God.

' ... he has spoken ... '

We need to pause here and meditate on these three words. Here, as in his act of creation, as in his act of incarnation, as in his act of salvation, is the evidence and expression of God's grace. From these three words we can learn:

[1] that God is there and he is personal,

[2] that God is there and he is for us,

[3] that God is there and is moving towards us with love,

[4] that God is there and is moving towards with love, despite the fact that we have rejected him,

[5] that God is there and shining his light into the darkness and ignorance which we have chosen, and

[6] that God, in this act of speaking, has willed not to leave us alone in our sin and lostness, but to call us back to himself.

We can also learn:

[7] that we ourselves have individuality and personality; that is, that pantheism and monism are wrong; all is not one: we are each distinct persons to whom God speaks, and to whom is given the individual choice to accept or reject what we hear. This fact that God has spoken to us gives meaning and integrity to individual human existence.

[For extensive material on points [1] and [2] above read Francis Schaeffer's books The God Who Is There and He Is There and He Is Not Silent.]

B. THE SON ... (1:2b-3)

Who is this Son whom the Hebrews are on the brink of deserting? Who is he in whom they have professed faith but are now being being pressured to deny and reject? To encourage them to persevere in faith, the writer of this letter draws their attention to the essential, unique, unparalleled identity of the Son:

' ... whom he appointed heir of all things'.

This speaks of the rank and authority of the Son in the Father's household. Paul uses the phrase 'firstborn over all creation' (Colossians 1:15) to convey the same meaning. The writer speaks here of the cosmic/universal role/rule of the Son. He is not 'heir' of just the Jews, but 'of all things'. This concept of the supremacy of the Son is expressed also in:

John 13:3 : 'Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God ... '

Acts 2:36 : 'Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.'

Ephesians 1:22 : 'God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church ... '

Philippians 2:9-11 : 'Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father.'

Colossians 2:10 : ' ... Christ, who is the head over every power and authority.'

Revelation 1:5 : 'Jesus Christ ... the ruler of the kings of the earth.'

Revelation 1:18 : 'I hold the keys of death and Hades.'

Revelation 3:7 : 'These are the words of him who is holy and true, who holds the key of David. What he opens no one can shut, and what he shuts no one can open.'

Revelation 3:14 : 'These are the words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God's creation.'

Revelation 19:12,16 : ' ... and on this head are many crowns ... On his robe and on his thigh he has this name written: "KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS".'

All of this is included in this description of the Son 'whom he appointed heir of all things.' It is this person, this Son of God who stands in the position of authority and power over all that exists, whom the original readers of this letter were contemplating deserting.

' ... and through whom he made the universe'

Not only is the Son in the position of supreme authority, the Son is also the Creator of all things. Consider:

John 1:1-4: 'In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of men.'

1 Corinthians 8:6: ' ... there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things came and through whom we live.'

Colossians 1:16: 'For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him.'

Here again the attention of the readers is drawn to the greatness of Jesus Christ: he is the creator of all things that exist.

'The Son is the radiance of God's glory and the exact representation of his being'

Lest we should think that the Son is less than God, or not fully God, we are here taught that the Son is the outshining of God's glory and is precisely what God is. Here we have the truth to which the 'he has spoken to us by his Son' alluded. It is not just that Jesus came and spoke the words of God to us. He did indeed do that; but also this: he is the Word of God (John 1:1-4; 1John 1:1-3). Here in the Son God communicates himself. Here in the Son he makes himself known, so that, as we have already seen, when we see Jesus we see God, when we know Jesus, we know God (John 14:5-10). Paul spoke of this in 2 Corinthians 4:4-6 and Colossians 1:15, 19; 2:9.

For your study: study the verses listed in the previous paragraph. Meditate on the significance of these verses both for understanding who Jesus is, and in terms of their making any further revelation of God impossible.

No one who has met Jesus Christ need ever again, can ever again, ask the question 'Who is God? What is God like?' Whoever asks this question does not know Jesus Christ, and has not yet met him. Whoever believes that there is some knowledge of God beyond or beside Jesus Christ, has not yet understood what it is that Hebrews is telling us here. The Son is 'the exact representation of his being.' Nothing more. Nothing less. Anything extra is not true knowledge of God. Anything less is not true knowledge of God. At best it is diminished and diluted, and therefore not true truth. At worst it is distorted and disfigured, and not true truth. To step beyond or beside this 'exact representation' is to step into error and heresy.

For deeper study:

Here we need to acknowledge that absolute truth does exist: that there is such a thing as truth that is true, and the same, for every person, at every time, in every place. The concept of relativity of truth, or of relative and subjective truth, which changes with time, place and individual, is totally foreign to the message of the Christian Gospel which proclaims that there is only one God, and that Jesus Christ is the one place where the truth about that one God can be known. [While elements of truth about God can be found in many places, because they exist in association with corruptions of truth and/or error they are not pure truth; in addition, because of the sinfulness and blindness of the human heart/mind, they are wrongly perceived and interpreted. Indeed, without the ministry of the Holy Spirit of God, even the pure revelation of God in the Son, Jesus Christ, is misconstrued and misinterpreted.]

' ... sustaining all things by his powerful word'

These words teach us that not only is the Son the heir, and therefore in charge, of all things, not only is the Son the Creator of all things, but he also sustains all things. Without his word, his 'powerful' word, all things would disintegrate and cease to exist. All things, all creatures, all people, are dependent on him for their existence, whether they know or acknowledge it or not. (See also Colossians 1:17: ' ... in him all things hold together'.) In the New Testament we see Jesus demonstrating the authority of his word over people, nature, evil spirits, sin and sickness. All submit to the power of his word. It is this same authoritative word by which he holds together all that exists. To him we owe not only our creation but our continued existence.

'after he had provided purification for sins'

In these few words the entire work of Christ is encompassed. Later in the letter it will be spoken of at length and in detail, but here it is briefly and effectively summarised:

'After he had provided purification for sins' : The verb is 'do' or 'made'. It is in the Aorist tense, which indicates a once-for-all, one-off action in the past. This once-for-all-ness is one of the major themes of the writer when he speaks of the work of Christ, contrasting it to the repetitiveness of the Jewish sacrifices. Here, right at the beginning of the letter, we are succinctly informed of this important fact: the death of Jesus Christ for sin was once-for-all: it cannot be repeated; it need not be repeated; it cannot be supplemented by anything we ourselves do or have done on our behalf by someone else; nor is it repeated over and again each time the Holy Communion is celebrated.

'After he had provided purification of sins' : Here is the object of the action of the Son, this is what he did, made, achieved, provided, once-for-all: 'purification of sins'. These words acknowledge:

  1. that we are sinners,
  2. that purification is necessary,
  3. that purification is possible, and
  4. that purification will achieve a desirable outcome.

Just what this purification of sins means is not here described.

'After he had provided purification for sins': This tells us that this work of the Son was completed. When he died on the cross and rose again he did all that was necessary for our salvation. There is nothing more that he has to do; there is nothing more to be done. As he said on the cross: 'It is finished': in his death all of God's saving purposes are brought to their final goal. Tetelestai.

' ... he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.'

This speaks of two things already mentioned:

  1. 'he sat down' means that his work is finished. There is nothing more to be done to obtain or maintain our salvation.
  2. 'he sat down at the right hand ... ' is the position of rank and authority.

Thus the Son has been identified as the ultimate Prophet (revealing God to us), the ultimate Priest (permanently and effectively dealing with sin); and the ultimate King (in the highest position of power and authority in the universe.)

Who, having known and believed in this Saviour, would dare to deny and desert him!

For your personal revision: Make a list of all the information we have been given in Hebrews 1:1-3 about the Son of God. Rewrite each statement in your own words.