based on Hebrews 1:1-4; 2:5-12
It was recently one of my sons 40th birthday, and my daughter-in-law booked a family boat ride on the Thames River in Oxfordshire as our surprise gift to him.
It was a pleasant day but overcast and a little bit of sun here and there and about 18°C, which was very comfortable. We were provided with a lovely picnic lunch, and we had the boat all to ourselves because nobody else had booked a ride on our particular boat, although the other boats were all full of people.
We saw three Kingfishers, Egrets, and many other birds on the water for our three-hour journey up the Thames River. The scenery was utterly different along each section of the bank, which made it fascinating. Also, what made it enjoyable was that the helmsman informed us of the river’s history in detail. We passed the town centre, saw houses built right on the riverbank and went through a lock which my son and granddaughter opened, so all in all, we enjoyed a pleasant family day. I enjoyed the stories the helmsman who shared with us about the history of the area because, and I like history because to a certain extent, history defines who we are.
You may not realise it, but the traditions you hold dear, the expressions you use, and the ideas you have originate from a time and place in history. When we realise this, we can change things and create our own traditions: expressions, ideas, etc. The given passage in Hebrews which I encourage you to read is about history. The writer is encouraging the Hebrew Christians about the value of their history in relationship to Christ. The history he is teaching occurred before time and space. So, in this article, I will take a couple of verses at a time and briefly explain them.
The opening affirmation in verse 1 that God spoke through the prophets is essential. While Hebrews as a whole is written to establish Christ’s superiority to the old covenant, which is a foundational belief. Thus, the old-new contrast presented in Hebrews is not arguing what is the finest, but between what is most excellent and the incomparable. It was no easy thing for God’s revelation in Christ to surpass the old ways — but it is terrific that it does!
SO, LET’S JUMP INTO THIS
Verses 2-4 present a series of assertions about Christ that establish this exceptional quality. Each describes aspects of Christ’s status as God’s Son, distinguishing Christ from the prophets.
New Revised Standard Version readers may be surprised that Christ is referred to as “a” Son of God in verse 2, rather than “the” Son (most other translations add “his,” though there is no such word in Greek).
The first point that the verse makes is about the superiority of sonship to being a prophet as a method of disclosure; it is not making a direct trinitarian assertion even if we suggest that the verse ultimately does point to the idea of the Trinity.
The second point is that the prophets were spokespersons for God; we would not claim that any of the prophets were “heir of all things” or involved in the act of creation.
These two points together establish Christ’s presence at the beginning and at the end, or as revelation puts it, the Alpha and Omega (Revelation 22:13).
Verse 3 adds the third point of Christ’s role in sustaining all things by his powerful word.”
So, all three points combine to make a powerful statement about the son’s role and activity in creation throughout time from genesis to revelation. In other words, Christ always existed.
Such a claim of extensive pre-eminences makes no sense apart from understanding the son’s relationship to God, and verse 3 supplies this understanding.
The meaning of Jesus being “the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being.” The emphasis on the unity of Christ and God is also seen in Colossians 1:16-20 and 2 Corinthians 4:6, “the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.”
It is worth reflecting on the whole meaning of such phrases is to fully understand the concept. The latter part of verse 3 adds that Christ “made purification for sins” and “sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high.”
The previous claims focus on who Christ points out the chief elements for the Hebrew believers of the purpose of Christ.
Christ’s exalted status at God’s right-hand connects into the first claim in verse 2 that he is the “heir of all things.” It is an image from Psalm 110:1, mentioned here and there throughout Hebrews and the New Testament as a messianic prophecy.
It also provides the primary basis for the claim here in verse 4 that Christ is superior to the angels. In fact, the rest of chapter one is occupied with demonstrating Christ’s superiority to angels. This theme is continued in 2:5, which points out that God “did not give the coming world…to angels, but to Christ. This idea picks up again on Christ being the “heir of all things” and is seated at God’s right hand, and in the new world, which is the coming kingdom of God, and Christ will be overall.
So, how can Christ’s humanity be reconciled with this superior status? The basic answer provided by Hebrews is that for Christ to atone for the sins of humans, he had to share in their humanity. Therefore, Christ’s humanity does not detract from his superiority but makes him relatable to us.
Hebrews 2:6b-8a quotes Psalm 8, as I have read, and the first part of the quote is translated in the RSV as, “What is a man that the Father be mindful of him, or the Son of man, that YOU care for him? the Father made him for a little while lower than the angels. “
Jesus, the Son of Man, referred to in the psalm, was temporarily made lower than the angels when he became human to fulfil this psalm’s prophecy. But, as the rest of chapter 2 explains, he had to become human to save humankind.
Christians today often stumble over the idea of Jesus having to be made perfect, but the claim here is merely about Jesus’ being fitted to his task. Perfection here is not about sin or morals or anything else regarding his character — it is about Jesus perfectly fulfilling his role in salvation. This role requires him to enter the whole human experience. In that sense, Jesus’ experience of suffering and death indeed was a matter of achieving perfection. Verses 11-12 affirms Jesus’ solidarity with humankind – he calls us his brothers and sisters.
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Paula Rose Parish
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