Hebrews 1:1-14

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Long ago or in times past, God spoke to the “fathers” or ancestors of the Israelites or Hebrews “in the prophets,” doing so on “many occasions” (or, in many parts) and in “many ways.” The Greek word polymerós can relate to many times, many occasions, or many parts (suggestive of fragmentary, not complete, revelation). “Many ways” (polytrópos) can signify many different kinds of ways or a multitude of ways or manners. (1:1; see the Notes section.) Translators have variously rendered the Greek terms. “Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets.” (NRSV) “In times past, God spoke in partial and various ways to our ancestors through the prophets.” (NAB) “In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets many times and in many different ways.” (NCV) “When in times past God spoke to our forefathers, he spoke in many and varied ways through the prophets.” (REB) “At many moments in the past and by many means, God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets.” (NJB)

During the course of Israelite history, God did often and on many occasions reveal his will and purpose “in” (en) the prophets or by using them as his agents to make known his message. The revelation of his purpose, particularly in relation to the coming of the Messiah, came part by part or in a fragmentary manner. Prophets received God’s word or message in dreams, visions, through angels, or the operation of God’s spirit upon them in a way that left no uncertainty about its divine origin. Accordingly, the messages the prophets conveyed were from God and so he spoke “in” them or by means of them to the people. So any of the various meanings assigned to the Greek expressions polymerós and polytrópos could fit the context. (1:1)

From the standpoint of the Hebrews, God’s speaking repeatedly through the prophets occurred in the past, with the last of the prophets being active in the fifth century BCE until John the Baptist appeared on the scene in the first century CE. Appropriately, therefore, the writer of the book of Hebrews referred to God’s speaking “in” the prophets as having occurred “long ago.” (1:1)

With the coming of God’s Son to the earth, a new era dawned. Rightly, then, the writer of the book of Hebrews referred to God’s speaking at the “last of these days” as being “in” (en) his Son or through the agency of his Son. Jesus himself declared that he made known his Father’s teaching, indicating that his Father was speaking “in” him. (John 7:16, 17) The former arrangement relating to worship at the temple was coming to an end, about to be replaced by divinely approved worship based on faith in Christ and which worship did not depend on any physical place or geographical location. (Compare John 4:21-24; 14:6.) The vital role of the Son is evident from his having been appointed by his Father as the “heir of everything.” Moreover, the Father made the “ages” through him. As heir, the Son has been granted all authority in heaven and on earth, making him the King of kings and the Lord of lords of all the living and the dead. (Matthew 28:18; Philippians 2:9-11) The “ages” do not designate time but everything that is associated with these ages, that is, the whole created universe. From the “last” of the “ages” to the very beginning of the “ages,” the Son has been involved as the agent through whom his Father, as the Creator, brought everything into existence. This assures that the divine will and purpose will not fail to be fulfilled. (1:2)

In verse 3, the Greek word apaúgasma is applied to the Son. This could mean that he is the “reflection” or the “radiance,” “beaming forth,” or “flashing forth” of God’s glory. The Son does reflect the glory, magnificence, or splendor of his Father flawlessly. He also possesses “glory” or “splendor” of his own, and so the meaning could be that he radiates the divine glory. (Compare John 1:14; 17:24.) The Son is so much like his Father that he can be called the “impress of his very being.” He is the perfect representation of his Father, being like him in every way or in his essential nature. (1:3)

The Son bears up or sustains everything by his “word of power” or his powerful word. Through him, the Father brought everything into existence, and the creative works are represented in Genesis chapter 1 as the expression of God’s word or saying. In view of the Son’s being involved in the creative works, everything came into being through his word and continues to exist. From this standpoint, his powerful word sustains everything. (1:3)

Whereas all creation came into being through the word or expression of the divine will and is thus also sustained, the Son accomplished the cleansing of humans from sins in his own person, surrendering his life for them. After having effected the purification, he sat at the right hand of the Majesty in the heights. Upon being raised from the dead and returning to his Father in the “heights,” the highest heavens, the Son is portrayed as seated at his Father’s right hand or in the most favored position as the one exalted above the whole creation, animate, inanimate, human, and angelic. (1:3; see the Notes section.)

The Son has become “much better” or far superior to the angels, having inherited a name uniquely different from theirs. This name includes his intimate relationship with his Father and his authority as Lord of the living, the dead, and all the angels. (1:4; Philippians 2:9-11)

Emphasizing that the Son’s “name,” or his complete identity as a person and all the authority associated therewith, is greater than that of the angels, the writer of Hebrews, raised questions incorporating quotations from the sacred scriptures. “To which one of the angels did he [God] ever say [Psalm 2:7, LXX],‘You are my son; today I have begotten you?’ And again [2 Samuel 7:14; 1 Chronicles 17:13, LXX], ‘I will be a father to him, and he will be a son to me’? [1:5] But when he again brings his firstborn into the world [oikouméne], he says [Deuteronomy 32:43; Psalm 96[97]:7, LXX], ‘Let all God’s angels do obeisance [proskynéo] to him.’” (1:6; see the Notes section.)

Angels are called “sons of God,” but no angel is specifically singled out as “the Son of God.” The quotation from Psalm 2:7 is identical to the reading of the extant Septuagint text. First-century believers attributed Psalm 2 to David and recognized it as pointing to the Messiah or Christ. (Acts 4:24-28) In the case of David, he came to be in a special relationship with God on the basis of the covenant promise conveyed to him through the prophet Nathan. That promise assured the anointed one, the king, of being God’s son. (2 Samuel 7:12-16; 1 Chronicles 17:13) Upon raising Jesus, the Anointed One in the royal line of David, from the dead, God declared him to be his Son, the one whom he had begotten. (1:6; Acts 13:33; Romans 1:4)

God’s covenant promise to David specifically indicated that God would be a father to a man in the royal line and that he would be a son to God. The extant text of the Septuagint is the same as the quotation. (2 Samuel 7:14; 1 Chronicles 17:13) Uniquely, the words apply to Jesus Christ as the promised Messiah in the royal line of David. (1:6)

In verse 6, “again” (pálin) appears to relate to the Father’s bringing his “firstborn” or preeminent Son back into the world or the realm of humankind. This would be when Jesus Christ returns in glory as Judge and King of kings and Lord of lords. At that time especially, all the angels will acknowledge him as Lord, for angels will be accompanying him. (2 Thessalonians 1:6-10) The Greek term proskynéo basically means to prostrate oneself before someone. It can express a high degree of respect (as when Abraham prostrated himself before the “sons of Heth” [Genesis 23:7, LXX] and Ruth did so before Boaz [Ruth 2:10, LXX]). At times, however, doing obeisance or prostrating oneself constituted an act of worship. (Revelation 19:10) As expressed in Philippians 2:10, 11, all in heaven or all the angels will bend the knee, acknowledging Jesus Christ as Lord “to the glory of God the Father.” (1:6)

The quotation about “all the angels of God” is not found in the Masoretic Text. In Deuteronomy 32:43, a scroll found in the Dead Sea area contains the words, “Bow down to him all you gods.” (The Dead Sea Scrolls Bible). Instead of “all you gods,” the Septuagint says “all [you] sons of God” and otherwise reads like the quotation in Hebrews 1:6. In the Septuagint, Psalm 96[97]:7 uses the expression “his angels. In the Dead Sea Scrolls, verse 7 has only been partially preserved, but the missing part is thought to have read, “worship him, all you gods.” (The Dead Sea Scrolls Bible) Both Deuteronomy 32:43 and Psalm 96[97]:7 apply to God. The Son, however, in his exalted role as King of kings and Lord of lords is rightly revered like his Father, whose very impress he is. Moreover, he is the “firstborn,” making him the preeminent one. (1:6)

To the angels are applied the words of Psalm 103[104]:4 (LXX), “He makes his angels winds, and his servants flaming fire.” The Hebrew and Greek words for “angels” and “winds” can also mean “messengers” and “spirits.” Contextually, “angels” fits best, and “winds” appears to be the preferable choice as a parallel to “flaming fire,” probably meaning “lightning.” To emphasize the greatness of the Son of God, the writer used the words of the psalmist to show that angels are merely servants of the Most High, functioning in various ways for the accomplishment of his will. (1:7)

Possibly the writer of Hebrews had in mind events at Mount Sinai when the law was transmitted through angels. (Acts 7:53; Galatians 3:19; Hebrews 2:2) On that occasion, the phenomena included thunder and lightning and, therefore, also wind. (Exodus 19:16; compare Hebrews 12:18.) This aspect may have been one reason the writer quoted from Psalm 104:4 and associated wind and fire with the angels. It is of note that the Targum paraphrases the psalmist’s words to mean that God makes his messengers “swift” like winds and “strong” like flaming fire. The Son, who is greater than the angels, always remains unchangeable (the same yesterday, today, and forever) and thus also differs from the angels who are represented in the application of Psalm 104:4 (103:4, LXX) as variable — like “wind” and like “fire.” (1:7)

In the quotation from Psalm 44(45):6(7), which is applied to the Son, both the Masoretic Text and the Septuagint read “god” after “your throne.” In Psalm 82, corrupt judges are called “gods,” and so it is possible that the king who occupied a position superior to such judges may, in Psalm 44(45), be addressed as one representing God or as being like God in having authority over the life and death of his subjects. Numerous translations do render the passage in the book of Psalms to refer to the monarch as god and the quotation in the book of Hebrews to designate the Son as being addressed as God. (1:8)

Elsewhere in the Scriptures, however, no Israelite king is ever directly addressed as “god.” This is apparently a major factor in the choice of renderings of Psalm 44(45):6(7) that point to the king’s authority as coming from God. Examples are: “Thy throne given of God is for ever and ever.” (Margolis) “Your divine throne is everlasting.” (Tanakh) “Your throne is a throne of God.” (NRSV, footnote) “God has made you king, and you will rule forever.” (CEV, footnote) Although involving supplied words, such renderings could be defended on the basis that King Solomon is spoken of as sitting on the “throne of YHWH” or ruling for him in a representative sense. (1 Chronicles 29:23; 2 Chronicles 9:8) Moreover, Israelite kings were called the “anointed of YHWH” or the “anointed of God” (2 Samuel 1:14, 16; 23:1), indicating that God was the source of their royal authority or their throne. (1:8; see the Notes section.)

The scepter, the emblem of royal authority, is a “scepter of uprightness.” This indicates that the authority itself and the use thereof are based on justice. As applied to the Son, “the scepter of [his] kingdom” is one that reflects justice and impartiality. (1:8)

The words of the psalmist (Psalm 45:7[8]; 44:8, LXX), as quoted in the book of Hebrews, provide the assurance that Christ will treat his subjects fairly and that he will impose appropriate penalties for lawless actions, for he loves righteousness and hates wickedness or lawlessness. On account of his having the proper view of righteousness or justice and lawlessness, God, his God, anointed him with the “oil of exultation,” suggesting that the anointing proved to be a source of joy. The anointing is described as being “more than” or “beyond” his companions. When God anointed his Son with the holy spirit at his baptism, he elevated him above all his angelic sons, declaring him to be his beloved Son. (1:9; Matthew 3:16, 17)

The quotation from Psalm 101(102):25-27(26-28) basically corresponds to the reading of the extant Septuagint text, with certain manuscript readings of Hebrews 1:10-12 varying in ways that do not affect the meaning. To show that the Son of God was greater than the angels, the writer of Hebrews applied the words of the psalmist to him. This use of Psalm 101(102) harmonized with the Son’s role in the creation. Through him, the Father created everything.

“At [the] beginning,” the Son, as his Father’s agent, founded the earth (as if it were a building with a foundation), and the “heavens” are the “work” of his “hands.” Although the creative works would perish, the Son would continue to exist for all eternity. The creative works would grow old or wear out like a garment. The Son would roll up the creative works like a cloak, like a garment, and they would be changed. He, however, would remain the same, eternally immutable. His years would have no end. (1:10-12)

Quoting from Psalm 110:1 (109:1, LXX), the writer of Hebrews raised the question, “But to which one of the angels did he ever say, ‘Sit at my right hand until I place your enemies [like] a footstool for your feet’?” No angel ever had these words directed to him, but they came to apply uniquely to the Son. Upon his resurrection from the dead, he was exalted as Lord of lords and King of kings, occupying the position of his Father’s intimate, as if seated at his right hand. All his “enemies” must be reduced to nothingness, death being the last enemy to be thus deprived of power as if made a footstool for the Son’s feet. (1:13; 1 Corinthians 15:25-27)

The role of the angels is quite different. They are servants, ministering spirits sent to serve believers, those who are to inherit salvation. Believers will inherit salvation upon being completely delivered from their sinful state. They will then be able to reflect the image of God flawlessly as members of his beloved family of children. (1:14)

Notes:

In verse 1, number of manuscripts say “our fathers” or ancestors, not just “fathers.”

Certain manuscripts, in verse 3, add “our” after “sins.”

The Greek word oikouméne (in verse 6) designates the regions of the earth that humans inhabit.

The writer of Hebrews quoted from Psalm 45 in order to show that Jesus Christ is greater than the angels but provided no explanatory comments. In the book of Hebrews (1:8, 9), the quotation from Psalm 45:6, 7 (7, 8; 44:7, 8, LXX) is basically the same as the reading of the Septuagint. Jesus is the Christ or the Anointed One, the royal descendant in the line of David. Therefore, the writer of the letter to the Hebrews could apply the psalmist’s words to the King who is greater than David. As the unique Son of God, he can rightly be addressed in the lofty language of the psalmist. It should be noted, however, that Psalm 45 and the quotation in the book of Hebrews reflect strict monotheism, as God is the One who does the anointing. The reference to “your God” is in full agreement with Jesus’ words after his resurrection, “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, and to my God and your God.” (John 20:17) Similarly, the apostle Paul, in his first letter to the Corinthians (8:6), wrote that there is “one God, the Father,...and one Lord, Jesus Christ.”