In chapter one our author seems to have two points in mind. First, by showing Christ’s superior position to angels, he sets forth also the superiority of the new covenant which Christ mediates and certifies over the old covenant which was mediated by angels. Second, he prepares the way for chapter two, in which he explains how and why the Son became lower than the angels for a brief period of time. A third consideration not specified by the writer of Hebrews but in accord with his epistle and perhaps also in his mind is that any revelation which claims angelic origin or authority must be measured in terms of that revelation which God has given through the Son – the Son who is better and higher than all angels.
1:1. The basic sentence in this verse and the next is “God hath spoken.” At sundry times is from a single adverb in the original which meant “in many portions.” Because God revealed His will in segments, revelation came from time to time as needed. It was the nature of the prophet that he spoke what God gave him to speak, and that was always “in part.” In divers manners is also from a single adverb meaning “in many varied ways.”
The adverbs modify the verb. God spoke (by prophets) to the fathers in many portions and in various ways. Amos gave God’s message by oracles and direct statements from God; Hosea by “typical” experiences in his own life; Habakkuk by arguments and discussion. Malachi spoke God’s word by questions and answers; Ezekiel by strange and symbolic acts; Haggai by sermons and Zechariah by mystical signs.
God addressed His people in parables and in illustrations; by warnings and exhortations; by encouragements and promises. By every possible method He spoke through the prophets to the fathers. Yet the word was always fragmentary and usually soon forgotten. When the Old Testament closed, revelation was still incomplete. God was to speak again, more fully and more effectively than He ever had spoken in the prophets.
In time past is literally “of old,” and refers to previous ages of the world. The fathers were the Jewish forefathers of the Hebrew Christians. The prophets included both the writing prophets (such as those whose work Scripture preserves) and the non-writing prophets (such as Nathan, Elijah, Elisha and others). The prophets were “mouths” for God (Exodus 4:16; 7:1). They spoke His word, though at times even they did not understand it (I Peter 1:10-12; see Daniel 7:28; 12:8-10).
1:2. The phrase these last days refers to the Messianic era, the age of fulfillment, and is literally “the last of these days.” The Jews divided time into the Present Age, of anticipation, and the Coming Age, of the Messiah. They expected the Messiah to come at the end of their Present Age. When Christ came, however, the Coming Age crashed into history and the Messianic era of fulfillment became a reality (Hebrews 9:26-28). Peter’s sermon on Pentecost formally announced the beginning of these “last days” (Acts 2:14-36).
Here was one of the more puzzling elements of the apostolic preaching for the Jews (and for people in general, then and now). The Messianic era of fulfillment has now begun with the resurrection of Christ and His ascension into heaven, yet the temporal world continues even as it decays. Men might expect the Present Age and the Coming Age to meet at a given point, but certainly they do not expect them to overlap! Yet this is exactly what the New Testament declares, and it is this overlapping of Ages which creates the spiritual war for the Christian.
But while the “last days” have begun – one Man is already in heaven! – the consummation remains in the future and the old order continues to exist (II Peter 3:3-10). It is God’s plan that the church use this interim to announce to the world that history has been given significance in Jesus of Nazareth, and that man can now ask God for reconciliation and have the assurance that He will give it through Christ. (On this age of the world in God’s plan see also the Introduction to chapters 9-11 in my Helps on Romans.)
God has spoken unto us, that is, to those living in this age, “to whom has come the very anticipated goal of the ages” (I Corinthians 10:11, my translation; see Mark 1:15; Luke 1:68-79; Luke 4:19/II Corinthians 6:2; Acts 3:24). By His son is literally “in a son” or “in one who is a son.” Here is no mere prophet, but one who is Himself a Son and by nature the same as the Father.
Christ’s very life and person expressed God (John 1:18). God has now revealed Himself fully, not partially. He has spoken grace and truth, a revelation superior to any given before (John 1:17). In Christ, God has spoken salvation, not only spoken it but accomplished it – in the unique life and sacrifice of the Son. The rest of chapter one exalts the Son of God, Jesus Christ our Lord, by showing His many-faceted ministry and position or “name.”
God the Father has appointed or set or ordained Christ as heir of all things. Heir speaks of an inheritance and brings to mind the words of Psalm two, where the Son is given the nations for an inheritance. The same imagery occurs In Psalm 110, and our author will discuss that psalm several times, though usually with emphasis on Christ’s priestly ministry.
By Christ God made the worlds. Christ is both originator and heir of all things. He is the Alpha and the Omega, the author and finisher of creation as well as of faith. The worlds might mean the created universe (as in 11:3; see also John 1:3; Colossians 1:16-17) or literally “the ages” of time in which God’s saving purpose is worked out. Both interpretations state what Scripture elsewhere affirms.
1:3. Christ is the brightness of the Father’s glory. Literally “effulgence,” this word means either that which radiates out from a light or the reflection which comes back. The former meaning is probably intended here. If we speak of God’s glory, Christ is its very emanation and radiance. He is to the Father what rays are to a light, or flames to a fire, or beams to the sun. Without this Son, man is in the dark concerning God and salvation. God’s magnificence as deity is fully seen in Jesus Christ who was God in human flesh (see John 14:9).
Christ is the express image of the Father’s person. The word here translated image originally meant a stamp or seal, then the impression left by it. In the early centuries, the church engaged in great debates over the precise philosophical meanings of some of these terms. It is enough for us to know that Christ is an exact and complete representation of God because He is the Son, and that in that capacity He is perfectly sufficient to reveal God and to save man.
Christ is upholding all things; by Him all things consist or hold together (Colossians 1:17). All things may be translated “the universe.” Christ’s protectorate is all-inclusive. The word of His power is specifically a “spoken word,” and the phrase might be translated “by His powerful spoken word.” This is an active and powerful word which upholds the universe.
Christ accomplished man’s redemption by Himself, through His own work of obedience. Our author elaborates on this statement in chapters eight through ten (see also Romans 5:12, 15-21). That Jesus purged our sins means that He “made a cleansing” or “accomplished a purification.” The form of the verb indicates the words by Himself, and suggests a one-time action (see Hebrews 9:12-14, 26-28).
Because His work of redemption had been completed (2:9; 6:20; 7:26-27; 9:24-28; 10:12-14; 12:2), Christ sat down. Unlike the Levitical priests who stood daily in an imperfect and temporary service, Christ made atonement for all men and then took His seat forever (10:11-12). The right hand signifies authority; see notes on verse 13. The Majesty refers to God the Father. Our author follows a Jewish custom of referring to Jehovah by a euphemism, out of respect for the sacred name.
The writer has introduced his first point: Christ is a spokesman superior to prophets or angels – because He is the Son. He was active in creation. He is God’s very substance and image. He has accomplished a perfect work of complete redemption, and He has now taken His inherited seat as universal heir and Lord at God’s right hand in heaven. He is Prophet (verse two), Priest (verse three) and King (verse three).
Christ’s name is far higher than those of the heavenly emissaries, but why would our author need to make this point? It has already been mentioned that many in the ancient world thought of angels as lords over the present world system. Others worshipped angels. Still others regarded Christ as simply one in an ascending order of angels. The former overrated angels by giving them what belongs to the Son; the latter underrated the Son by considering Him an angel (an error propagated today by the so-called Jehovah’s Witness cult). The following verses put angels and the Son in proper perspective.
1:5a. To no angel did God ever say, Thou are my son, this day have I begotten thee; but He said it to the Son in Psalm 2:7. This Messianic psalm describes man’s rejection of Christ and God (verses 1-3; see Acts 4:25-28). It also foretells God’s triumph through His Christ (“Anointed,” verses 4-9; see Revelation 12:5; 19:15). And it gives a double pronouncement in view of the Messianic judgment to come (verses 10-12). The same psalm is quoted also at Acts 13:33 of the resurrection of Christ, and at Hebrews 5:5 of Christ’s divine installment as high priest. It seems to underlie the heavenly voice at Christ’s baptism (along with Isaiah 42:1) and at His transfiguration (with Isaiah 42:1 and possibly Deuteronomy 18:15ff ).
Emphasis here is on Son, stressing Christ’s nature and position, and on the first person pronoun “I,” emphasizing the divine origin of His appointment. Christ is God’s own Son in essence by eternal nature. He was God in the flesh through a miraculous conception. He is ranking Son and Man in glory through His resurrection and a divine decree.
Of course the psalmist did not understand all of this, and his words may have been partially appreciated through a lesser fulfillment in his own day. But their full meaning is seen only in the light of the resurrection and ascension of Christ. The same Holy Spirit which guided the prophets (II Peter 1:21) also led the apostles into the meaning of their writings (I Peter 1:10-12), as well as the significance of the gospel events involving Jesus the Christ (John 14:26; 15:26; 16:12-14; see also John 2:19-22; 12:12-16; 13:6-7; Luke 24:31-32, 44-45).
1:5b. I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son. These words are quoted from II Samuel 7:14, an oracle of Nathan concerning David’s royal son. The promise referred partially to Solomon (I Kings 2:23-24; I Chronicles 28:5-7) but, as many other Old Testament statements, found perfect fulfillment only in Christ. Both “I” and “He” are emphatic, stressing the personal relationship between the speaker and the one of whom He speaks. To him and to me reflect Hebrew style; the statement means simply “I shall be his father; he shall be my son.” The Son of God was the prophetic son of David (Matthew’s gospel emphasizes this: see 1:1, 20; 9:27; 12:23; 15:22; 20:30-31; 21:9; 21:15; also 12:3; 22:41ff). The statements quoted in verse five describe a Son, not mere angels.
1:6. Again could be placed at the beginning this verse, as In the King James and Revised Standard versions, introducing another Old Testament citation; or with the verb, as in the American Standard and New American Standard versions. The phrase has been regarded as referring to the incarnation, the resurrection and the second advent. Angels are associated with all three events in Scripture. The point is that they worship Him. All the angels of God, of every rank and order, are commanded to worship him, a fact which points to His superiority over them. The quotation might be from a Greek version of Deuteronomy 32:43 or of Psalm 97:7. No doubt the first readers of the epistle recognized it.
1:7. In this verse and the next, two words are used which together mean “on the one hand” and “on the other hand.” A contrast is intended here between angels, who are ministers or servants, and the Son who is so much more. The quotation is from Psalm 104:4.
1:8. Psalm 45:6-7 is applied to Christ, identifying Him as eternal God whose throne is forever and ever, and as righteous King. His kingdom is one of righteousness (Hebrews 7:2-3; Isaiah 9:7; 11:4-5).
1:9. In the flesh, Christ loved righteousness and hated iniquity (see 10:5-10; Isaiah 53:11-12). Because of His perfect obedience, Jesus was anointed (“Christ-ed”) by God and exalted above every creature (see Philippians 2:8-11). The oil of gladness probably represents an occasion of festivity as well as that of coronation. Psalm 45 seems to have originally celebrated the marriage of the king, though again its deepest meaning is understood only in the light of the Son. Along this line, compare Hebrews 12:22-24 (see notes on “general assembly”) with Revelation 19:1-10. The chief point of the verse ought not to be overlooked in the midst of details.
1:10-12. These three verses are quoted from Psalm 102:25-27. In the passage the psalmist calls on Jehovah to come to his rescue, and appeals to God’s eternal nature in pleading for the deliverance of his own life. This is only one of many passages addressed to or regarding Jehovah in the Old Testament which are applied to Christ in the New Testament.
Because Christ is creator, He is also eternal – though all His creation will change with age and finally pass away. He laid the foundation of the earth and His hands arranged the heavens, but when these things perish (see 12:26-28) His years will not fail (7:24-25). When they are all changed He will remain the same (13:8).
Again the contrast is between the Son and the angels (verse seven), who have no such traits or legitimate claims. They are rather part of that creation which He has made and have life only through His will.
1:13. This is a quotation of Psalm 110:1, the Old Testament passage most quoted or referred to in the New Testament Scriptures. It is quoted in Acts 2:34-35; Mark 12:36; Hebrews 1:13, and seems to be in mind in Mark 14:62; Acts 7:55; Romans 8:34; Ephesians 1:20; Colossians 3:1; Hebrews 1:3; 8:1; 10:12; 12:2 and I Peter 3:22. As noted already at verse five, many psalms which had partial fulfillment or significance in their original historical settings are fully understood in the New Testament writings through the life, death, resurrection and coronation of Christ.
The figure of the right hand is common in the Psalms, sometimes referring to a place of honor as here (see Psalm 16:11; 45:9; 80:17). Most of the time the term refers to strength or security from God given to the one of whom it is used. The resurrected Jesus, now made Christ, was given a position equaled only by that of God Himself (I Corinthians 15:27). He is God’s Right-Hand Man.
In the Old Testament we see the custom of the conquered king prostrating himself to kiss the conqueror’s feet (Psalm 2:12), or the victor putting his feet on his captive’s neck (Joshua 10:24) so that the captive is made his footstool. One day every knee will bow before Christ and every tongue will confess His lordship (Philippians 2:10-11; I Corinthians 15:24-25). The angels will be in that number; the Son is made so much better than them all (verse four).
1:14. This question is worded in the Greek to indicate that the author expects an affirmative answer. Angels all, regardless of rank, are ministering spirits. But Christ is so much more. They are sent forth by a higher authority, perhaps even by the Son at God’s right hand. Their work is to serve, to minister for Christians, who shall be heirs of salvation. Our writer says literally that they are “sent for service on behalf of those who are about to receive salvation as an inheritance.” If angels serve the saints, how much more do they serve the Son! And how greatly superior is His position and name to theirs.
Christ is Prophet of prophets – God has spoken in Him for these last days. He is Priest of priests – by Himself He made atonement for sins. He is King of kings – seated at God’s right hand, reigning over a kingdom of righteousness. Old Testament Scripture shows Him to be God’s divine Son, David’s prophetic descendant, and worthy of worship. Whereas angels are messengers, Christ is eternally Lord and divine King. As everlasting Creator of all things, He is also now victorious Vicegerent at God’s right hand. The voice from heaven at Christ’s transfiguration aptly sums up our author’s argument in this first chapter: “Hear ye Him!”