Daily Thoughts from Hebrews: Where Angels Fear to Tread

Of the angels he says,

“He makes his angels winds, and his ministers a flame of fire.”

But of the Son he says,

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

And,

“You, Lord, laid the foundation of the earth in the beginning, and the heavens are the work of your hands; they will perish, but you remain; they will all wear out like a garment, like a robe you will roll them up, like a garment they will be changed.  But you are the same, and your years will have no end.”

And to which of the angels has he ever said,

“Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet”?

Are they not all ministering spirits sent out to serve for the sake of those who are to inherit salvation? (Hebrews 1:7-14, ESV)

Jesus is the Son, and angels are required to worship him.  This is the author of Hebrews’ first salvo in refuting any arguments that would say the gospel of Christ is inferior to the practice of Judaism his readers are being tempted to return to.  Now he contrasts how the angels are described in Scripture with how the Son of God is described.

Angels are described as ministers or servants, called to serve believers, in fact.  This is how they serve God.  Jesus, on the other hand, is described as “God” whose throne is forever and whose kingdom is ruled by uprightness, as the Lord who created all things and never changes.  He is the one who sits at God’s right hand, the highest possible position of honor.

Interestingly, the first two quotes from Psalm 45 are addressed, in the original setting, to an Israelite king upon his wedding.  But the consciousness of Israel was such that they expected their kings to prefigure the Messiah, and what was nominally true of their king would be phenomenally true of Messiah.   So, though the human king might be addressed as “God” because of the position of authority he has under God, the Messiah will indeed be the Almighty God.

The quote from Psalm 110, however, is different in that it seems to be addressed directly to the Messiah rather than to any existing Israelite king.  This psalm will be further expounded throughout the letter.  It is a key passage the author goes to over and over to demonstrate Jesus’ superiority, not only to angels, but to the Aaronic priesthood and its ritual.  Jesus used this passage to confound the Pharisees and Sadducees after they tried to trip him up with their favorite problem issues (Matthew 22).

Were you to argue in your own context why Christianity is superior to the beliefs of your former life, the beliefs you used to make sense of the world, what would you argue?

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Daily Thoughts from Hebrews: Worship the Son

…having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs.

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”?

And again, when he brings the firstborn into the world, he says,

“Let all God’s angels worship him.” (Hebrews 1:4-6, ESV)

From our perspective this part of Hebrews seems a bit odd.  The author is comparing what Scripture says about angels versus what it says about the Son.  Why?  If you were a first century Jew you would know.  There was biblical evidence that angelic beings were involved in the giving of the Law, though the evidence points more toward the Angel of Yahweh being the one involved, and evidence that he is indeed the Son of God.  There was also abundant speculation about angels and some heretical Jewish beliefs gave angels near divine status.  If this congregation of Jewish believers in Messiah are considering going back to status quo Judaism it is likely that some of their relatives, rabbis and others are arguing with them that Jesus may just be one of these angels, or at least they may be arguing that divine beings were involved in the revealing of their faith and therefore it was divinely sanctioned in contrast to Christianity.

So the author of Hebrews begins disposing with the arguments of unbelieving Jews as to the superiority of status quo Judaism versus Christianity.  The first argument is that Jesus has inherited a more excellent name than the angels, the name ‘Son’.  To demonstrate this he quotes Psalm 2:7.  Psalm 2 is a psalm about God’s establishment of His king over Israel as the ruler of all the nations.  The psalm pictures the Gentile nations that are currently under Israel’s dominion plotting how to overthrow God’s anointed (‘messiah’ means ‘anointed one’).  Yahweh laughs in derision of their hapless plot, reminding them that He declared this king of Israel His “Son,” a common expression used in other cultures of gods adopting the king of their people as their leader, begetting this king, treating him as the god’s own offspring.  Other cultures used this as a reason for viewing their king as a god, but not Israel.

Yahweh is the only God, and His king is responsive to Him and He grants the king victory over his enemies.  To come, as the psalm says, and “kiss the Son” is to acknowledge the king’s sovereignty and Yahweh’s sovereignty.  So for Israel this psalm was a picture of the ideal king, the offspring of David, who would rule the nations with a rod of iron.  And they could not help but anticipate that this would be ultimately fulfilled in that supreme king, the Messiah, when he came.  He would fulfill all the promises God gave to David of a perpetual kingdom (see 2 Samuel 7).  What not all of them may have understood was that Messiah would fulfill this psalm in a greater way than previous Davidic kings would.  He would be the “Son” in a literal way that human kings were not.  And this is the same concept in the quote from 2 Samuel 7:14 and Psalm 89:26,27, which the author of Hebrews quotes next, saying “I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son”.

In contrast to the Messiah being designated the Son of God, the firstborn, that is, the one who has received the inheritance upon his ascension to the throne, the angels are commanded to worship him.  This obviously shows their inferiority to the Son.   There is, admittedly, a problem finding this quotation in Deuteronomy 32 in its form made here in Hebrews.  Perhaps the quote is more from Psalm 97:7 in which the Greek translation of it uses the term “angels” instead of “gods”.  The point, however, is that the author of Hebrews sees Jesus’ designation as Son of God to mean Jesus is equal to God and thus deserving of worship.

All prophetic history has pointed to Jesus being the Son of God, the fulfillment of Israel’s expectations that a son of David who was also Son of God would rule forever over all the nations.  How can we see that come to pass and face each day as if it is just another day of humdrum life.  We know this Son of God and have been redeemed by him.  To live must be Christ.

Daily Thoughts from Hebrews: Jesus Sits so We Can Ride

After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs. (Hebrews 1:3-4, ESV)

This writer is still introducing his topic for this letter/tractate and admonishment of this congregation tempted to return to their former understanding of how Jews should live in covenant with God before Jesus’ claim to have come as the expected bridegroom for his bride, his people.  He has introduced the theme of Jesus’ supreme character as revealer, suggesting that Jesus’ revelation supersedes all others and therefore must be listened to and obeyed.

Now he mentions Jesus’ purification for sins accomplished by his sacrificial death on the Roman cross of execution.  But he emphasizes what happened after Jesus made purification, that he sat down at God’s right hand.  This suggests two things that should startle the readers and us, if we are tempted to return to our former way of life.  One, his authority is equal to God’s.  He is God’s right hand ruler.  His word is God the Father’s word.  None supersede him, so he must be obeyed.  Two, sitting suggests a finished work.  He’ll later highlight the fact that there was no chair in the Tabernacle, no rest for the priest, who could never finally finish offering sacrifices because those sacrifices never really purified sin like Jesus’ sacrifice has.  He gets to sit because his work is finished.  You can’t go back to that which was incomplete.

We probably have already is some ways found ourselves “going back” from our faith in Christ.  I find myself slipping into life as routine over and over.  I forget there has been a battle raging and that I’m a participant in it on God’s side and nothing is routine about that.  I forget that every situation in my life is an opportunity to experience God’s leadership in my life and to bear witness to His presence in my life.  I want to take a break, go back, so to speak, from the adventure of living the new reality created for me by my Savior.  It doesn’t always feel like an adventure because I’m too often depending on my own resources to accomplish it.

Strangely, Jesus’ sitting down is the basis for his increased activity in expanding his kingdom and the basis for my enjoying his energy at work in and through me in that same endeavor.  Stephen Curtis Chapman’s wonderful song, The Great Adventure, should become more and more autobiographical for us:

Saddle up your horses, we’ve got a trail to blaze, Through the wild blue yonder of God’s amazing grace.  Let’s follow our leader into the glorious unknown.  This is a life like no other, whoa, whoa, this is the great adventure.  We’ll travel long, over mountains so high, We’ll go through valleys so low.  Still through it all we’ll find that This is the greatest journey that the human heart will ever see.  The love of God will take us far beyond our wildest dreams

If you want to, you can listen to the whole thing here.  Get back on that horse, that steed of magnificent beauty and power.  Why walk when you can ride?

Daily Thoughts on Hebrews: The Son as Creator and Upholder

Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power… (Hebrews 1:1-3, ESV)

As Son of God Jesus is also the direct agent or cause for the creation of the world (literally, ‘the ages’).  As creator of the ages he is the author of all time-bound history, indeed the creation of time itself and the physical universe that had a beginning and awaits renewal.  This is part of his inheritance from the Father and shows us that within the Trinity there are distinctions of function.  The Father made the specs and the Son did the building.

The only way this is possible is if the Son is indeed God, the sovereign of the universe.  No created being can be the Creator.  It requires infinite wisdom and power to accomplish this feat.  And that is exactly what the author of Hebrews tells us, that Jesus is the radiance of God’s glory, that is, the radiance that emanates from the glory of the Father, a radiance that is in every sense a perfect representation of the Father’s glory.  To use another metaphor, Jesus is the charakter (Greek word for precise imprint on a coin, for example) or exact imprint of God the Father’s nature.  Realize, of course, that if he is that ‘imprint’ he must, in every way, accurately duplicate the Father, reinforcing that he is God in every sense.

And it is in this capacity as God that he is also the one who “upholds the universe” (literally ‘all things’) by the word that expresses his power.  He created it and he keeps it going.  Though scientific explanation would properly describe the laws of the universe, gravity and others, as in effect, Hebrews helps us think more accurately to see that Jesus is behind the constant functioning of these laws and processes.  He is the sustainer of our worlds, the one who exercises providence over creation, seeing to its care and directing its functioning, managing it with utmost care and exactitude.

Fascinatingly, the tool Jesus uses to accomplish all this is his spoken word.  We saw this in Genesis when God “says” and it becomes “so”.  If this is the One who has granted us this new age in which the shadows of the Old Testament are fulfilled, how much more should we listen to Him, the ultimate prophet!

And yet today we are in the habit of listening to all others besides Him.  Perhaps we think what he has to say is not relevant to what our field of endeavor is.  But just because he hasn’t spoken to the prophets about all things doesn’t mean he cannot do so.  It would benefit us to bring all we are thinking about or working on to him for any insights he might want to give us.  Isn’t it likely that the germination of ideas previously unthought-of come from Him?  That is likely part of his work of upholding the universe.

Daily Thoughts from Hebrews: This Is My Beloved Son

Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things… (Hebrews 1:1-2, ESV)

What does it mean to be God’s Son?  Why is it so important to know?  If I were to say that I know the president of the United States, but did not know what his full name was, or where he was born, or how many children he has, or his wife’s name, you might question whether I really know him.  As Christians, it is incumbent upon us to know as much as possible about our Lord and Savior to make sure that we truly know Him.  And the only infallible source for such information is Scripture, what God has revealed about Himself.

This is not to say that having a personal relationship with Him in prayer and listening to Him does not give us knowledge about Him.  On the contrary, it is possible to know numerous facts about Jesus and not know Him personally.  And that is a tragedy.  But if I know Him personally I will also want to know Him factually.  And here the author of Hebrews says He is God’s Son.

If a man had more than one son he would normally, in Jewish culture, make the firstborn the one who was given the double portion of the father’s inheritance and the position of patriarch of the family, once the father died, that is.  This was to enable the firstborn to make sure that all the family was kept secure, if, in fact, he was an effective leader who carried on his father’s legacy.  But Jesus is God’s only Son and, though God never dies, He appointed Jesus heir of all things.  His entire “inheritance” belongs to Jesus.  This in itself should tell us that Jesus is not a created being.  Only the true God can manage to handle “all things”.

Son of God describes Jesus’ original and continuing phase of existence, with an additional phase added on when he became, as well, the son of man. He mentions this first phase in John 17 when He says, “And now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began” (verse 5).  Before Jesus took on human nature (that is before he took the name Jesus) He had a glorious presence with the Father.  He always was and always will be the Son of God the Father.

We need to be careful when we talk about this so as not to suggest that Jesus was somehow less than the Father by being His Son.  We know from Hebrews 1:3 that “the Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being.”  Philippians 2:6 tells us that he was “in very nature God” and “did not consider equality with God something to be grasped.”  To be the Son is to be the most elevated person in the universe.

Nevertheless, as a Son of the Father He owed His existence to the Father and owed submission to the Father.  Though the Scriptures don’t clearly or explicitly tell us this, we may suppose that Jesus’ existence as the Son was something that was continually generated by the Father from all eternity, so that there was never a time that Jesus did not exist or was not dependent on the Father for his personage.  The same may be said about the Holy Spirit, though we might suggest that the Holy Spirit was dependent for His personage on both the Father and the Son.  Nevertheless, in every sense, all three are equal in terms of possessing the divine essence and attributes.

I bring this up because this is a fact about Jesus that we must ponder and because it is important for us to know that Jesus is quite familiar with the experience all of us have had of being generated by our parents.  He understands and relates to our experience of being dependent on our parents and submissive to them.  Of course, it is not that Jesus has to “grow up” and become independent of His Father in the same way we become independent of our parents.  Rather we might say He came already “grown up” and is delighted with the relationship He has and has had with the Father from all eternity.

He prays for a return to this aspect of the relationship in John 17, a return to the glory of God’s presence and the experience of His own glorious existence as the recognized Son of the Father.  This prayer was answered at the resurrection and ascension to heaven.  This also gives us a clue to what the second phase of His existence was like.  When He took on human nature He of necessity gave up the experience of being recognized as the glorious Son of the Father and gave up the direct experience of the Father’s glory.  He did it to live a life we needed to see and to die a death we should have died.  We have already seen Jesus’ sacrificial love for us and how far He is willing to let it take Him.

Daily Thoughts from Hebrews: Needing a Prophet

Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son… (Hebrews 1:1-2, ESV)

One of the most amazing and gratifying facts of God’s dealing with humans is that He has spoken to us.  He is not the Deity of Thomas Jefferson’s Deism who makes the world and then leaves it to itself.  He has not left us to figure out from what is created the truth of who He is or what He wants for us, though indeed His creation shouts that eloquently (Psalm 19, the first half).  Instead He has spoken to us at many times and in many ways.  It hasn’t been a once or twice kind of thing saying, “Here, get it now because I’m not going to say it again.”  And it hasn’t been through one format alone.

He came in the form of a human and talked to Adam and Eve in the garden.  He spoke directly to the ear of Abraham.  He met Moses in the tent of meeting and made Moses’ face glow with His glory.  He gave us laws, He gave us songs, He gave us history, He gave us wisdom, all through men and women whom He had gifted to be able to receive His message.  All these people could be termed “prophets” in that they were navi (Hebrew, ‘spokesmen, announcers’) or prophetes (Greek, ‘those who speak, interpret’) for Him.  They were sometimes called “seers” as those who could see or perceive what He wanted communicated.  He wanted to communicate to us so He equipped chosen humans to be His voice.

What these people said had God’s authority so He gave His people tests for determining who was truly His prophet with His authority.  Moses taught us in Deuteronomy 13 and 18 that a true prophet would always speak in line with the message of the 10 Commandments that there is only one God, the God who delivered Israel from Egypt, whose name is Yahweh.  The true prophet, if he or she made a prediction, would always be vindicated by that prediction coming true.  And so we would know.

But in these last days, the days that have seen the fulfillment of all those prophecies regarding God’s coming in His Messiah to establish His kingdom on earth and await only the return of the Messiah to finish all, God has chosen to speak through His Son.  The human prophets were authoritative and special, but none could be more authoritative or special than the Son.  If we were required to obey the message of human prophets, how much more the divine prophet or spokesman for God!

This is the beginning of the author of Hebrews’ message to a congregation of Jewish believers who have been toying with returning to the unbelieving Jewish system of sacrifices, Sabbaths, and stipulations that carried on as if the Messiah had not made his grand entrance into history and brought to completion what these practices only foreshadowed.  He is needing  to remind them of the truth and warn them against sliding back away from that truth, because such a step back would be disastrous in the way it defamed God’s Son and what He accomplished.

Do we toy with going back to the way things were before we met Jesus?  Do we need a reminder and warning?  How tempting is it to “hang it up” or just let our Christian life run on automatic, without any real feeling for or commitment to it?  What is it that tempts us to take such a backward step?  Is it the same thing that tempted these believers?  We will see.

Daily Thoughts from Exodus: The Glory of God in Us

The LORD spoke to Moses, saying, “On the first day of the first month you shall erect the tabernacle of the tent of meeting…Then you shall take the anointing oil and anoint the tabernacle and all that is in it, and consecrate it and all its furniture, so that it may become holy…Then you shall bring Aaron and his sons to the entrance of the tent of meeting and shall wash them with water and put on Aaron the holy garments. And you shall anoint him and consecrate him, that he may serve me as priest.

This Moses did; according to all that the LORD commanded him, so he did. In the first month in the second year, on the first day of the month, the tabernacle was erected…Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle. And Moses was not able to enter the tent of meeting because the cloud settled on it, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle. Throughout all their journeys, whenever the cloud was taken up from over the tabernacle, the people of Israel would set out. But if the cloud was not taken up, then they did not set out till the day that it was taken up. For the cloud of the LORD was on the tabernacle by day, and fire was in it by night, in the sight of all the house of Israel throughout all their journeys. (Exodus 40, ESV)

Can you imagine getting up in the middle of the night in your encampment in the wilderness, walking outside your tent and seeing a burning fire in and around the Tabernacle, or during the day seeing a cloud emanating from it?  From the first day that the glory of Yahweh filled the Tabernacle there was powerful evidence that God was with His people in demonstrative form.  If the cloud was lifted off of the Tabernacle it was the signal that it was time to move and you packed up all your belongings and your tent, while the Levites attended to dismantling the Tabernacle and preparing it for transport.  Perhaps you hoped you could stay longer rather than shorter.

God showed in the way He displayed His glory in the Tabernacle that He really did want to dwell with His people and that His dwelling with them was not going to be a passive one.  He is always about pursuing the purpose of restoring His kingdom in this fallen world.  He went after a nation that He would use to be a witness to all nations of His greatness.  He is leading this nation through the wilderness after having judged Egypt for its wickedness and with a judgment for the nations of Canaan who have filled up their iniquity to the fullest (Genesis 15:16).

We are to pray daily for His kingdom to come (Matthew 6:10).  We are to move when He moves and stay when He stays as we look for opportunities to redeem the time because the days are evil (Ephesians 5:16).  We are the Tabernacle of God on earth today, His temple, His people, from whom He wants to demonstrate His glory.  People ought to see an evidence of His glory permeating our lives, fire and cloud.  The most obvious evidence of that glory, according to Jesus, will be our love for one another and for our neighbors (John 13:35).

How are we doing?