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Themes in Hebrews 2. The Superior Christ

29/10/2011

It’s the last Saturday of November, and I promised that on the last Saturday of each month I would publish my talk on Hebrews, presented to the people at Ballynahinch Congregational Church’s ‘School of the Prophets.’ So, here’s the full text of the lecture (more or less!)

Themes in Hebrews

The Superiority of Christ

Text: Hebrews 1:5-2:

Let me remind you of my intention. Basically I want, at the end of this series, for you and I both to appreciate two simple things:-

  • That Jesus is far better than anything else! If, at the end of this series of studies, we just grasp the fact more clearly, – that Jesus is the best, and that nothing can take His place, we will have achieved something.
  • That because he is the best for us, we must press on, whatever the obstacles, to the final goal, of eternal rest in Him.

In our last study, we seen:

1. Who Wrote It. And came to the obvious conclusion that the answer to the question of who wrote the book is a question we simply cannot answer.

2. Who was Hebrews written for? They were of a Jewish Background. They spoke Greek. They had heard the gospel from the apostles, not directly from Jesus. They had already suffered for their faith. And in fact were presently suffering from persecution. Because of this… They are in danger of drifting away from the faith – their Christian experience is weak. Although, so far in this persecution, no-one has yet died for their faith. There may have been a pending change in the leadership of the church. They receive a greeting through the author, from Italy. So, with all of that in mind, some suggestions have been made about the recipients? Possibly to Christians in Italy?

3. Why was Hebrews written? To focus on the uniqueness of Christ. Jesus is our Great High Priest, and as such He is better than anything else that went before. It is a word of exhortation! We must therefore persevere. To demand a response

-oOOo-

The Theme of Superiority of one of the major themes in the book. In fact ‘superiority’ is crucial to the theology of the book of Hebrews. The word BETTER occurs 13 times, twice as often as in the whole of the rest of the NT. Its root, is used in the LXX to translate a similar Hebrew word…

Prov 21:9 Better to dwell in a corner of a housetop, than in a house shared with a contentious woman. Proverbs 21:19 Better to dwell in the wilderness, Than with a contentious and angry woman.

In Hebrews, the word ‘better’ is used as an adjective, so we have a better hope, and a better covenant, and Christ is better than the angels, better than Moses and better than Aaron. Let’s briefly explore some of the usages:-

  • Superiority of Christ: Heb 1:4 having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs. Heb 7:7 It is beyond dispute that the inferior is blessed by the superior.
  • Salvation is better. Heb 6:9 Though we speak in this way, yet in your case, beloved, we feel sure of better things–things that belong to salvation.
  • Better hope. Heb 7:19 (for the law made nothing perfect); but on the other hand, a better hope is introduced, through which we draw near to God.
  • Better covenant. Heb 7:22 This makes Jesus the guarantor of a better covenant. Heb 8:6 But as it is, Christ has obtained a ministry that is as much more excellent than the old as the covenant he mediates is better, since it is enacted on better promises.
  • Better promises. Heb 8:6 But as it is, Christ has obtained a ministry that is as much more excellent than the old as the covenant he mediates is better, since it is enacted on better promises.
  • Better sacrifice. Heb 9:23 Thus it was necessary for the copies of the heavenly things to be purified with these rites, but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these.
  • Better possession. Heb 10:34 For you had compassion on those in prison, and you joyfully accepted the plundering of your property, since you knew that you yourselves had a better possession and an abiding one.
  • Better homeland. Heb 11:14 For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. Heb 11:16 But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city.
  • Better resurrection. Heb 11:35 Women received back their dead by resurrection. Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life.

So, Hebrews shows us right throughout the book, that everything about Christ, and the Christian Way is superior to anything that went before, – that ‘quality of betterness’ is ALL FOR US! Heb 11:40 since God had provided something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect. All of these things are available to the believer through the work of Christ, their Great High Priest, upon the Cross.

Let’s make some observations about Hebrews Chapter 1&2.

1. In Christ, God Has FINALLY SPOKEN. Hebrews 1:1-4, demonstrated in his superiority over angels in 1:5-14.

a) God’s Ordained Methods of Communication.

  • God’s spokesmen in times past. Before Jesus came, God spoke and revealed his will to the prophets – persons chosen by him, and qualified by for that particular office. He spoke TO ‘the fathers’ – to the OT Saints – the ancestors of the Israelites. God favoured them and honoured them with much clearer light than any man would ever have by natural revelation.
  • God’s spokesman today. In ‘these last days’ God has spoken to us through the Son. God has sent his own Son to speak for him, and as wonderful as the prophets were, how can they compare to Christ, God’s own Son?

Now, this is really important today, for in this modern world, where so many Christians claim some kind of charismatic experience, you will meet people who will tell you that God has spoken to them by some kind of direct revelation. In doing so they are doing a disservice to the superiority of Christ! For in Christ, God has finally spoken. Consider:-

b) The EXCELLENCE of God’s Final Spokesman:- (Heb 1:1-4)

“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; 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.”

  • He is God’s Appointed Heir.
  • He is the Creator of the worlds.
  • He is the Epitome of Divine Splendour.
  • He is the Sustainer of all things.
  • He is the Saviour of sinners.
  • He is Enthroned at God’s right hand.

Having so stated the excellence of the person and work of Christ, the writer now gives us an example.

c) Jesus is superior to the Angels. This is obviously so, and Hebs expands is reasons in 1:5-14.

  • God has created the angels, but never was one of them designated as His SON! V5, For to which of the angels did He ever say: “You are My Son, Today I have begotten You”? And again: “ I will be to Him a Father, And He shall be to Me a Son”? Angels are just Angels – Jesus is THE SON!
  • He designated the angels as worshipping beings, then they fulfil that role, as they worship Christ! But when He again brings the firstborn into the world, He says: “ Let all the angels of God worship Him” Angels are just Worshippers – Jesus is the one who is worshipped!
  • He makes the angels like winds, but He does not MAKE Christ for in V8 He declares Christ’s Eternal Sonship. And of the angels He says: “ Who makes His angels spirits And His ministers a flame of fire.” 8 But to the Son He says: “ Your throne, O God, is forever and ever; A scepter of righteousness is the scepter of Your kingdom. 9 You have loved righteousness and hated lawlessness; Therefore God, Your God, has anointed You With the oil of gladness more than Your companions. Angels are just Created Beings, – Jesus is the Creator!
  • Christ is the Creator, therefore He is greater than any created being, for everything that is created will one day perish, but Christ will never change. And: “You, LORD, in the beginning laid the foundation of the earth, And the heavens are the work of Your hands. 11They will perish, but You remain; And they will all grow old like a garment; 12 Like a cloak You will fold them up, And they will be changed. But You are the same, And Your years will not fail.”13 But to which of the angels has He ever said: “Sit at My right hand, Till I make Your enemies Your footstool”? Angels are just Servants – Jesus is the King!

Now, you will have noticed that in this passage we have an apparent contradiction, for Jesus is said to be BEGOTTEN, V5, and then he is said to be ETERNAL, V8! Which is correct? Well, both are! We think of ‘begotten’ in terms of birth. So, before we are begotten, we did not exist. But that is not so with Jesus. There never was a time when He did not exist. At creation, He was here, creating the world. Now, there were (and still are) some people within the visible church who believe that there was a time when Christ was not, that there was a point in eternal history when God created the Son. In fact that is a very ancient error indeed. It was the heresy of Arius, the Heresiarch, from Alexandria, who had beliefs just like that. Arius was an elder (a presbyter) in Alexandria, who taught that Jesus was inferior to the Father, and that the Father and Son did not exist together eternally. Rather, the pre-incarnate Christ was a divine being, created by God at some point in eternity past, and therefore subordinate to Him. So, there was a time when Christ, the Logos, did not exist.

To counter the errors of Arius, which were spreading rapidly throughout the church at the end of the third century AD, the Council of Nicea was convened in 325AD. The Nicene Creed (not necessarily written at Nicea) declares the Biblical, Trinitarian formula…

We believe in one God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible.

And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds, God of God, Light of Light, Very God of Very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father by whom all things were made; who for us men, and for our salvation, came down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary, and was made man, and was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate. He suffered and was buried, and the third day he rose again according to the Scriptures, and ascended into heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of the Father. And he shall come again with glory to judge both the quick and the dead, whose kingdom shall have no end.

And we believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord and Giver of Life, who proceedeth from the Father and the Son, who with the Father and the Son together is worshipped and glorified, who spoke by the prophets. And we believe one holy catholic and apostolic Church. We acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins. And we look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. Amen.

The debate at Nicea was over the use of the words ‘of one substance’ Gk: homoousios. Arius was condemned by the Council and expelled. The language of the Trinity was finally defined, in accordance with what we are taught in the Bible. Jesus, God’s Son, the second person of the trinity is said to be ETERNALLY BEGOTTEN OF THE FATHER. The doctrine of the Eternal Generation of the Son. There never was a day when Jesus did not exist, – everything he has or is he owes to the Father, although he is Son in his own right. This happened in eternity past, and has always been happening and is happening now and always will happen! Yet he is called FIRSTBORN in V6. But in the sense of INERITOR rather than order of birth.

Why does Hebrews start his defence of the excellence of Christ, by introducing a comparison with angels? For the Jewish people of that day, Angels are very important. Angels are everywhere! According to Jewish traditions, angels were present at the giving of the law to Moses; angels surround the Jew at birth, throughout life, at the point of death. Angels were sent by God and were trustworthy. There’s a great temptation to drift here, for what if in embracing Christianity they had displeased God and he had withdrawn the protecting presence of the angels? Perhaps they would be better returning to Judaism in these dangerous times, for at least then, they’d have the protection of the angels. No! Hebrews warns them sternly… Jesus is much superior to the angels.

Beware of Drifting!

2. Because Jesus is Better, Beware of Neglecting Salvation. Hebrews 2:1-4.

So, Hebrews begins with this passage that TEACHES US ABOUT JESUS, now he moves on to a passage that WARNS US ABOUT OURSELVES!

Therefore we must give the more earnest heed to the things we have heard, lest we drift away. 2 For if the word spoken through angels proved steadfast, and every transgression and disobedience received a just reward, 3 how shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation, which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed to us by those who heard Him, 4 God also bearing witness both with signs and wonders, with various miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit, according to His own will?

We must be careful not to drift! (And we must be careful too… for there is a danger that we might think that this passage, and other passages in Hebrews can mean that a Christian can drift away from his/her faith and be lost. You can’t. Once a person has been saved by God’s grace, they are saved for all of eternity.)

This passage is about making sure that your soul is anchored in Jesus! The message brought by the angels was reliable, and people who rejected that message were subjected to eternal punishment. Christ is more reliable still. So how awful and terrible must be the punishment reserved for those who reject him, so you really want to make sure that your soul is anchored in Jesus, so that you are not drifting…

The reference to ‘drifting away’ is a nautical term, according to nearly all the respectable commentators. It refers to a ship in the harbour which has not been properly moored. The knot begins to slip, and slowly, almost imperceptibly, the ship begins to drift away from the quay, and no-one will notice its movement until its too late! In the case of these ships, the drift is not intentional. It just happens because the knots binding them to the harbour have not been properly fastened.

Calvin (in his commentary on chapter 6) remarks that the warnings against drift in Hebrews are not so much about Christians falling away and being lost, but about PROFESSING CHRISTIANS who may not actually and truly be saved, the knot binding them to Christ is slack and loose, and will slacken further still, and will eventually let go and they will drift away forever and be eternally lost.

Maybe the ‘Drifting Away’ passages in Hebrews are a warning against modern evangelistic methods? Against ‘easy-believism? Against semi-Pelagianism? Against decisional regeneration?

So we must examine ourselves. Are we truly anchored in Christ? Are we trusting fully in Him, or is there something of ourselves in our salvation? Let us make sure that we are secure in Christ, for if we should ever drift away, how shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation?

3. In Christ, our True Purpose and Destiny are Restored. Hebrews 2:5-9

For He has not put the world to come, of which we speak, in subjection to angels. 6 But one testified in a certain place, saying: “What is man that You are mindful of him, Or the son of man that You take care of him? 7 You have made him a little lower than the angels; You have crowned him with glory and honour,And set him over the works of Your hands. 8 You have put all things in subjection under his feet.” For in that He put all in subjection under him, He left nothing that is not put under him. But now we do not yet see all things put under him. 9 But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, for the suffering of death crowned with glory and honour, that He, by the grace of God, might taste death for everyone.

Jesus has done something that we couldn’t do. This passage quotes from Psalm 8, which some people see as a messianic Psalm. In fact it is not. It is a psalm about the intended relationship between God and Mankind, the very pinnacle of God’s created world.

Sometimes the phrase Son of Man is what confuses us, and we must clear this confusion up, for this phrase is the key to understanding Ps 8, and this passage also. When we think of this phrase, we often identify it with Christ, who often referred to himself as the Son of Man, and so He was, for He sums up Human nature in his person. But in Israel, this was a common feature of speech, and although Jesus invested it with more meaning, any man would commonly use it in reference to himself. In Ezekiel, for example, the prophet refers to himself as ‘son of man’ Ezek 21:2, 30:2.

So, when Ps 8 uses the phrase ‘son of man’ it is referring to mankind. “What is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him…”. It’s about the human race, about US. It is a poem about the glory of mankind, as God in creation intended him to be.

God created us a little lower than the angels, (AV) or, in the Hebrew a little lower than Elohim, a little lower than Himself or the spiritual realm, and he did so for a purpose, so that we would have dominin over this world, and govern and rule it wisely and subdue it. Here’s how it was so decreed… Genesis 1:28 Then God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it; have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”

So, at Creation, mankind is CROWNED with glory and honour, – at least that is the intention, we were made to rule the world and we do not! Why not? Because of Genesis 3 – because of sin! Mankind is frustrated by sin, defeated by temptation bound when he should be free, enslaved by sin when he should be a king, ruling over the earth.

So, mankind is not what he was meant to be. But then into this mess of a sin-cursed world comes Jesus. He suffered and died and rose again and lives for ever and ever. He died to restore our friendship with God, to make us what God meant us to be. We are RECREATED IN CHRIST, we are NEW CREATURES! We are restored to be what God intended us to be.

So, here’s the conclusion…

CHRIST IS FAR BETTER THAN ANYTHING ELSE!

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