The Redemptive Supremacy of Jesus Christ: Part 1
The Redemptive Supremacy of Jesus Christ, pt. 1
Christ the Revealer
Hebrews 1:1–3 1 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,
Preliminary Considerations in Hebrews
Throughout the history of the church, the book of Hebrews has both enjoyed a prominent place among the books of Scripture as one of the pillars of the NT, a magnificent contribution to divine revelation, the most significant book in Scripture bringing Old and New Testaments together, a treasure trove of truth encouraging and admonishing the church in the way of true endurance and faith; but Hebrews has also suffered massive skepticism with regards to inspiration, authorship, and theological consistency. Beginning with the author, the early church, especially the first three centuries of the church questioned the divine authorship of Hebrews not knowing the human authorship of Hebrews and thus bringing into question the apostolic authority of the letter. The reality is, no one knows who the author is and though many positions and theories have come forth, the letter lacks a customary identification such as is present in rest of the NT letters (e.g. Rom. 1.1-7). People have suggested Paul, Luke, Barnabas, Apollos and possibly an unknown associate of Paul who would have known Timothy since he is mentioned in the letter (13.23). Although these speculations are interesting to weigh through and ponder, in the end all plausible positions are mere speculations (see, Peter O’Brien, The Letter to the Hebrews, The Pillar New Testament Commentary (Michigan/Cambridge: Eerdmans, 2010) 2-9).
Whoever the author was, many scholars have pointed out that the content of the letter should leave us with a good idea of what kind of man he was— theologically brilliant, apostolically connected, pastorally concerned and possibly above all, thoroughly Christ-centered.
Like the author, little is known about the identity of the audience. The real controversy surrounding the book today is whether the book was written to Jews or to Gentiles. The Gentile view has little to commend it. It is argued that the repeated phrase, “dead works” (6.1) and falling away from the “living God” (9.14) implies that the audience maybe reverting to paganism especially since Judaism believed in the living God. Also the teaching on marriage may lend itself to a more Hellenistic audience than a Hebrew audience (13.4). But the book is identified in all early manuscripts as “to the Hebrews” (cf. Peter O’Brien, Hebrews, 9). The content of the book is so densely Jewish, especially given all of the OT quotations and illustrations to support the author’s arguments would resound best with a predominantly Jewish audience.
More importantly than the precise identity of the audience and their precise geographical location, is the theology, exhortations and the counsel that was written to them. Two themes in the letter give rise to its various parts; they can be summarized as apostasy and endurance Hebrews 10 details the extent of the audience’s persecution and the need for endurance:
Hebrews 10:32–34 32 But remember the former days, when, after being enlightened, you endured a great conflict of sufferings, 33 partly by being made a public spectacle through reproaches and tribulations, and partly by becoming sharers with those who were so treated. 34 For you showed sympathy to the prisoners and accepted joyfully the seizure of your property, knowing that you have for yourselves a better possession and a lasting one.
This form of opposition, probably from the Romans, results in the many exhortations for endurance (e.g. 10.36; 11.25, 27; 12.1-3; 12.7). Also, the threat of apostasy via a return to Old Covenant practices results in the call to maturity of doctrine (5.11-14) and a right understanding of the person and work of Jesus Christ in particular:
Hebrews 6:1–3 1 Therefore leaving the elementary teaching about the Christ, let us press on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, 2 of instruction about washings and laying on of hands, and the resurrection of the dead and eternal judgment. 3 And this we will do, if God permits.
Christ the Revealer
Aside from all of the preliminaries, we should begin the exposition of Hebrews in the spirit of the letter, straightforward, direct, and engaged with massive theological content from the very outset. Above all, Hebrews is about the redemptive supremacy of Jesus Christ. That is to say, that in Jesus God’s redemptive purposes reach a climax so that Jesus is better than angels, better than Moses, better than Aaron, and better than OT sacrifices. The author captures the scope of Scripture’s Christological focus with the simple phrase, “better than… Abel” (κρεῖττον... παρὰ τὸν Ἅβελ) (12.24b). Hebrews opens up with Christ’s redemptive supremacy by magnifying three critical aspects of the person and work of Jesus Christ. He is presented here in (1.1-3) as Revealer, Creator, and Redeemer. We begin by looking at Christ’s revelatory work.
Essential to who Jesus is comes the doctrine of revelation. God reveals himself supremely through Jesus Christ. There are various ways that God has revealed himself to the world; through creation (Rom. 1.20), through Scripture (2 Pet. 1.20-21), and ultimately through the incarnation of His Son (John 1.18). What Hebrews helps us to see is that Jesus is the final and ultimate or climactic revelation of God (Heb. 1.2). Scripture gives us both the nature of Christ as revealer, as the divine Word himself as the Logos and as God’s ultimate messenger— God’s Apostle (John 1.18; Heb. 3.1); and the nature of Christ’s revelation, in a redemptive historical fashion as fulfiller, the fullness and substance of all of God’s revelation (John 1.45; Col. 2.16-17; Heb. 10.7).
We should also be careful to point out that there is both a comparison and a continuity that is being spoken of here with respect to the prophets. He is in line with the “prophets” but speaks in a way that is even more final than the prophets, “in these last days” (1.2a). Christ is all fulfillment (Lk. 1.1; 24.27, 44) whereas the prophets were all future (1 Pet. 1.10-12). The author’s point here is that God is behind all of it as a seamless strain of divine revelation and truth. We will see these points more clearly as we consider the following observations, namely the divine initiative of Christ’s revelation, the redemptive-historical nature of Christ’s revelation, and the supremacy of Christ’s revelation.
The Divine Initiative of Christ’s Revelation
The word “God” is the subject of the opening statement of the book of Hebrews showing that the author is grounding everything he is about to say about Jesus’ supremacy over angels (1.4-14), over Moses (3.1-4.13), over the Aaronic priesthood (4.14-7.28), over the OT sacrifices (8.1-10.39), as well as his call to endurance (10.36; 11.1-12.29) in the prophetic vein of Divine revelation. This is all about what God has done in redemptive history. “God… has spoken to us.” That is the point of the opening statement of Hebrews. When we want to know what God is doing in human history— look to the Son for there we find God speaking loud and clear.
This was the problem of the Pharisees, the Jews, the Romans, the Greeks, they failed to discern that the God was speaking through His Son by virtue of His life, teachings, and crucifixion:
1 Corinthians 2:6–8 6 Yet we do speak wisdom among those who are mature; a wisdom, however, not of this age nor of the rulers of this age, who are passing away; 7 but we speak God’s wisdom in a mystery, the hidden wisdom which God predestined before the ages to our glory; 8 the wisdom which none of the rulers of this age has understood; for if they had understood it they would not have crucified the Lord of glory;
The central challenge of Islam is that God has no Son. This is at the very core of their creed. It is not only absurd for Muslims to think that God has a Son but they also consider it blasphemy and in so doing they cut themselves off from divine revelation itself and from the only true source of salvation in the sacrifice of the Son for our sins. But this is the central challenge of all world religions and even in our present day culture it is the refusal to believe that God has definitively spoken to us through Jesus Christ. They don’t believe as John says that He was sent to speak God’s words (John 12.48) and to do God’s works (John 5.36) and God’s will— the will of His Father (John 4.34; 5.30; 6.38). But God vindicated the words of Jesus by the deeds of Jesus:
Acts 2:22 22 “Men of Israel, listen to these words: Jesus the Nazarene, a man attested to you by God with miracles and wonders and signs which God performed through Him in your midst, just as you yourselves know—
The Redemptive-Historical Nature of Christ’s Revelation
But the words of Jesus like the deeds of Jesus were not spoken in a vacuum. They stemmed from a long line of prophets who prepared the way for Jesus. This too was God’s initiative, “He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways” (1.1). The first thing we need to stress is the continuity of the message. It is the same God, the same level of inspiration, the same basic message of salvation. The difference of course is one of clarity or quantity not quality. The same quality exists in all that God reveals but that does not take away from the fact that God has revealed more in His Son than in previous times. This is why the author makes a reference to the temporal aspect of God’s revelatory work, “long ago.” The NT was written hundreds of years after a period of revelatory silence known as the inter-testamental period between Malachi and Matthew. In Christ, God breaks His silence once again for a final time (cf. Mk. 1.15).
The reference to the “fathers” has been defined by some commentators as referring to all of the OT people not simply the Patriarchs (cf. 1 Cor. 10.1; Mt. 23.32; Lk. 1.55). The “prophets” are also a general way of referring to those who were sent by God to convey His message oral or written. Elijah was a prophet, but to our knowledge did not write any of the Old Testament. The word of the Lord given to “the fathers in the prophets” was revealed through piecemeal, that is, through bits and pieces of revelation without revealing the fullness of God’s purpose which in large measure was in ages past hidden in God (Eph. 3.9). What the “fathers” received was promise. What Jesus revealed to the apostles and the early church was fulfillment (2 Cor. 1.20). Thus, when the author refers to the “long ago” period of time he is thinking eschatologically so that the comparison is one of two periods of time, “long ago” and “in these last days” (1.2a). This is the nature of redemptive-historical revelation. God is progressively revealing more and more, “in many portions” (Lit. in many parts) and “in many ways” until the final picture is given through Jesus Christ in the last days. O’Brien says:
“… it [OT revelation] would presumably include God’s address in mighty works of mercy and judgment, the meaning and purpose of which he made known through his prophets; his word in storm and thunder to Moses (Exod. 19:17–25; Deut. 5:22–27; to which allusion is made in Heb. 12:18–24); the still small voice to Elijah (1 Kings 19:12); along with his speaking through priest and prophet, sage and singer.” (O’Brien, Hebrews; 49).
We should not conclude from this that this was the first time God spoke through His Son. There are many Christophonies and appearances of Christ in the OT, which were of a revelatory nature (e.g. Gen. 18.17-19). Furthermore, Peter also helps us to think about the Trinitarian nature of OT revelation and inspiration. In a parallel passage Peter points out that it was actually the Spirit of Jesus who was revealing things to the prophets:
1 Peter 1:10–11 10 As to this salvation, the prophets who prophesied of the grace that would come to you made careful searches and inquiries, 11 seeking to know what person or time the Spirit of Christ within them was indicating as He predicted the sufferings of Christ and the glories to follow.
As much revelation as was given to the “fathers” through the “prophets” God’s revelation was not exhausted. This was by design of course, another evidence that Scripture has a Christological focus. From the very beginning of time it was God’s aim to foreshadow and predict Jesus’ sufferings and subsequent glories (1 Pet. 1.10-11), to hold us under a tutor until the promised Seed would come (cf. Gal. 3.19), to point His people to types and shadows until the reality and the substance of those things would materialize (Col. 2.16-17), and to predict the suffering of Christ until all was fulfilled (Lk. 24.27). Scripture moves upward to the cross until at last we can see the shadow of the cross spanning all of redemptive history all the way back to first gospel promise in Genesis (e.g. Gen. 3.15). The partial nature of what the “fathers” had in the OT opens the way for the fullness that Jesus brings in the NT.
The Supremacy of Christ’s Revelation
Once again, the reference to “the last days” is referring to a time of realized eschatology. It is the same thing of which Paul spoke in 1 Corinthians as he refers to believers as those upon whom “the ends of the ages have come” (1 Cor. 10.12). The point of Hebrews is to show the consummate glory of Jesus Christ, His sacrifice, and its effects upon His people, namely that things have come to a head in redemptive history altering the very age in which we live:
Hebrews 9:24–26 24 For Christ did not enter a holy place made with hands, a mere copy of the true one, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us; 25 nor was it that He would offer Himself often, as the high priest enters the holy place year by year with blood that is not his own. 26 Otherwise, He would have needed to suffer often since the foundation of the world; but now once at the consummation of the ages He has been manifested to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself.
These “last days” is a direct allusion to countless places where the prophets spoke of a time of fulfillment and consummation as “the last days”:
Isaiah 2:2 2 Now it will come about that In the last days The mountain of the house of the Lord Will be established as the chief of the mountains, And will be raised above the hills; And all the nations will stream to it.
Daniel 10:14 14 “Now I have come to give you an understanding of what will happen to your people in the latter days, for the vision pertains to the days yet future.”
Hosea 3:5 5 Afterward the sons of Israel will return and seek the Lord their God and David their king; and they will come trembling to the Lord and to His goodness in the last days.
Micah 4:1 1 And it will come about in the last days That the mountain of the house of the Lord Will be established as the chief of the mountains. It will be raised above the hills, And the peoples will stream to it.
The author of Hebrews, like Paul (Gal. 4.4; cf. 2 Tim. 3.1), Jesus and the apostles (Acts 2.17), believed that he and his audience were living in the last days. God’s final act of redemptive revelation was to speak to us through His Son, “God…has spoken to us in His Son” (1.1, 2). The perfect tense, “has spoken” also points to the finality of God’s speech in Jesus. The phrase, “has spoken” means several important things. First, that Jesus is the apex of God’s revelatory work in redemptive history. This means no more prophets to come, no more chapters to be added to Scripture, no more new doctrine, no more fresh revelation, no more prophecies inspired by God, no more revelation at all after the NT. Second, it speaks of the finality of what God did through Jesus Christ and the New Covenant age. God’s people have no where else to turn for divine revelation since God is done speaking to man. Third, it means that God’s speech which began “long ago” has reached its ultimate fulfillment and purpose. Jesus himself is that purpose. Fourth, it finally means that we are called to live in the reality of God’s climactic revelation of Jesus Christ. Just as the OT prophets look forward to Christ we look back to Christ— His finished work and His exalted position “at the right hand of the Majesty on high” (1.3b).
The supremacy of Christ’s revelation is also seen by the fact that unlike, previous spokesmen and epoch of revelation, Jesus has been “appointed heir of all things” (1.2). This of course is part of His Sonship. By virtue of the fact that Jesus is God’s Son He is also the supreme revealer of God’s Word and the supreme beneficiary of God’s world. The world is His by right. The Greek word “Son” is anarthrous and does not have the definite article. O’Brien points out that the author is places stress on the quality of Jesus as the unique Son and not simply ‘a son’ among many (see, O’Brien, Hebrews; 50 n.40). In other words, what the author of Hebrews is trying to stress is the quality of the one through whom God has now spoken. The Greek does not even say, “His Son” but simply “He has spoken to us in Son.” The Son is meant to reverberate throughout all of the cosmos so that we esteem the Son (John 5.23), listen to the Son (Mt. 17.5), believe in the Son (John 5.24), obey the Son (John 3.36), and ultimately “kiss” the Son lest we perish in the way (Ps. 2.12).
Continuing in the vein of Ps. 2, this is the first of seven descriptions in vv.1-4 of Jesus the Son as the “heir of all things.” This is a messianic description of the Davidic King who will be “installed” upon Zion which of course corresponds to Jesus here being “appointed heir of all things”:
Psalm 2:6–8 6 “But as for Me, I have installed My King Upon Zion, My holy mountain.” 7 “I will surely tell of the decree of the Lord: He said to Me, ‘You are My Son, Today I have begotten You. 8 ‘Ask of Me, and I will surely give the nations as Your inheritance, And the very ends of the earth as Your possession.
Already, Hebrews is tying all of Scripture together in Christ. He is the fulfillment of the Davidic Covenant as the perpetual occupier of the throne of David (1 Ki. 2.45). Also, with this allusion back to Ps. 2, the gift of the nations also speaks to the fact that the convent to Abraham is fulfilled in Christ (12.1-3; 17.5). The reality is that this is the way it was always intended to be (cf. Lk. 24.27ff.). Christ is the goal of the Law (Rom. 10.4). The glorious truth attached to Jesus’ redemptive supremacy as the Heir of all things is that He intends to share this great bounty redemptive glory with us (cf. Is. 53.11-12). We are fellow heirs with Christ if we have believed:
Romans 8:16–17 16 The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God, 7 and if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him so that we may also be glorified with Him.