Good evening. I’m so glad you’ve come. As you know, I hope, this is a bible study for the sake of the saints in exile on one level or another from your church. Maybe you still attend, and maybe you are no longer able to because of various restrictions they have placed on the people.
For this first week, I promise we will get into the text of Scripture, but I want to be very forthright with you about what to expect if you choose to come back.
First, I want to commit to you that, having looked at the data on the virus currently being used by the elites around the world to try to scare people into submission, and having looked at the Scriptures, I don’t believe there is warrant for elders and church leadership to continue to impose any restrictions to your behavior, for the sake of health, other than what would have been considered common sense prior to this year. If you show up covered in red spots, we might say come back when you’re healthy. Otherwise, I trust everyone here to be responsible for yourself and if you are unwell and contagious with anything, you’ll choose to stay home and come back when you’re better. If you come and you’re sick or just getting sick and don’t know it, and we come down with something, oh well. That’s the risk we’ve all taken our whole lives. So here we will have hugging. Here we will never ask you to wear a mask or register for the sake of contact tracing, nor will there be any social distancing requirements. And I want to be clear that this comes from a conviction that we are not to add to the requirements of the Word of God in worship. It isn’t because of the weakness of the virus. If the black plague were sweeping across the land, I would advise that we should wash our hands regularly, but we would have the same meeting with the same lack of guidelines. The church has survived plagues before, even if some of the people didn’t.
Second, I know that there are likely here today and may be in the future people with whom I have serious disagreements when it comes to theology. The crisis of fellowship caused by virus hysteria has certainly cut across theological lines and brought together unusual friends and allies. What I want you to know is that you are certainly welcome as our guests, whatever your beliefs, and this is a place to find friends who want to stop living the insanity of virus hysteria. However, this is not going to be a place for watered-down, ecumenical, weak teaching or theology. If you just want a place and time to get together with freedom-loving people to relax and not think too deeply, you are welcome to schedule something and I hope you invite me. I have loved those times this year. They have been a refuge from the isolation and pain of losing friends and family who have decided to be part of the hysteria as well, and I hope to attend many more.
This time, however, is for meeting a different need. That need is to have fellowship around the Word, and worship, and the Lord’s table, and prayer. As I bring the Word, I can do no other but to be as faithful an expositor as God has made me able to be, and that will mean taking sides on theological issues that I see the Scriptures taking a side on. So I cannot promise not to step on your toes theologically, because I have had conversations with some of you, or know the church you’re from, and I know there are going to be things I bring out of the Scriptures that we disagree on. I pray that you love the Scriptures like I do and that you are thus convinced by them, but I also pray that I love the Scriptures enough to admit when I’m wrong as well. Teaching from the Scriptures always carries that grave risk that what I am imparting is really just my own theory and not the Word of God, but it is a risk worth taking at this time when fear has gripped the church and the shepherds are letting that fear conform their leading to the patterns of this world.
That isn’t to say that there aren’t any faithful pastors out there. There are. But sadly there aren’t enough, and even those who are faithful in their preaching are not loud enough about their opposition to the sins of the governing authorities to let us know where to find them. So here we are. I pray if you are offended at any point that it is the Scriptures offending the sins in your thinking that want to hang onto you, and not my own errors or personality.
Third, having established that you will likely find fault with me at many points, please allow me to beg of you that you pray for us in this. I’ve never done anything quite like this. My wife has never done anything quite like this. We know that we are opening ourselves up to criticism on many levels, and that has been a topic of conversation. I know that I will fail. Nikki will fail. We will mess up and offend you in ways that are completely culpable. I pray for your forgiveness from the start. I pray for your patience. If this fizzles out into nothing, with no one coming, I will be sad, but relieved at the same time. I am here because I do believe God has called me to do this, to provide this place and time, and I hope it is a blessing for everyone. But I’ll tell you, I prayed and prayed and gave God lots of opportunities to show me something different. To show me another way. Don’t get me wrong, I am looking forward to this gathering and getting into the Word and all of it. I really am excited for it. But I am also terrified. My ministry so far has always been less personal, more academic. I go online and tackle a subject and when the hour is up, I’m done and I’m back to my life. People make comments, but it isn’t like this. It isn’t your eyeballs and your ears and your lives.
So I come into this with fear and trembling and a strong sense that, while I do feel equipped to teach from the Scriptures, I know there is so much more I don’t know, and I just ask that, if this gathering is a blessing to you, please be patient with me. At the same time, please do not hesitate, if you see me messing up, to say something.
There’s so much more I want to say, but then this wouldn’t be a Bible Study, but an Andrew-telling-you-what-he-thinks study. So I’ll stop there. I think the rest will come as the Scriptures come.
So please open your Bibles to the book of Hebrews, chapter 1. We will read the entire first chapter.
These are the words of God.
Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, 2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. 3 He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, 4 having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs.
5 For to which of the angels did God ever say,
“You are my Son,
today I have begotten you”?
“I will be to him a father,
and he shall be to me a son”?
6 And again, when he brings the firstborn into the world, he says,
“Let all God’s angels worship him.”
7 Of the angels he says,
“He makes his angels winds,
and his ministers a flame of fire.”
8 But of the Son he says,
“Your throne, O God, is forever and ever,
the scepter of uprightness is the scepter of your kingdom.
You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness;
therefore God, your God, has anointed you
with the oil of gladness beyond your companions.”
“You, Lord, laid the foundation of the earth in the beginning,
and the heavens are the work of your hands;
they will perish, but you remain;
they will all wear out like a garment,
like a robe you will roll them up,
like a garment they will be changed.
But you are the same,
and your years will have no end.”
13 And to which of the angels has he ever said,
“Sit at my right hand
until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet”?
14 Are they not all ministering spirits sent out to serve for the sake of those who are to inherit salvation?
Let’s pray. God, we thank you for your Son, and all you’ve revealed about Him in your Word. We ask that you teach us what you would have us know of Him today. Amen.
If you’ve been a Christian for a while, you’ve likely heard an introduction to the book of Hebrews. I will not disappoint, but I am going to hold off on that for this week. You’ve heard enough background information for one week. Today, we are just going to dive into the text of chapter 1. We read the whole chapter because the whole chapter is meant to be read at once. I don’t believe Scripture is meant only to be read one tiny piece at a time, from which we extract all the nutrients we can before moving on. I believe there is definitely a place for that, as you are about to find out, but that is not how we should be introduced to the Scriptures. We should be reading large sections all at once, and frequently, in order to understand the bigger picture and how everything fits together. If you’re worried about missing something, remember that you will read it again. That’s kind of the point.
Tonight we will probably only get through a handful of verses before we come to the end of our time, so tonight we did both. Before we go back to verse 1, let me just say one thing about the chapter as a whole. What did you notice as we read through it? Who is this about? Clearly, it is about Jesus, and it feels as if the author is breathless as he lists the many ways in which Christ is supreme. He starts right at the highest sort of praise, involving Him in creation itself, which is the primary way in which Yahweh distinguishes Himself from the gods of the nations throughout the Old Testament. Yes, I hear you like your gods, but Yahweh laid the foundations of the earth. He made the heavens. What is your god compared to that? And the passages of the Old Testament applied to Christ come at you rapid-fire.
This turns out to be the point of the whole book. Jesus Christ is supreme. Nothing you might wish to leave Christ in pursuit of even comes close, and this is all steeped in comparisons to the trappings and details of a Jewish believer, hence the name Hebrews.
But let’s go right back to the beginning and see the details.
Verses 1 and 2 set the stage.
Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, 2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world.
The author begins by drawing a contrast, the first of many. This time, it is between the prophets of old and the Son. We see the truth of the first phrase, “at many times and in many ways”, when we simply reflect on what we know of the Old Testament. Sometimes, God spoke in visions, as with Daniel. Sometimes, as a man speaks to another, as with Moses. Sometimes, He appears in some visible form, as when He walked with Adam and Eve in the garden, or when He appeared as one of the three men who came to Abraham by the Oaks of Mamre. He told prophets what to write, or even wrote on stone Himself. The ways are certainly varied.
Then we have that contrasted with speaking to us by His Son. And this speaking is described with the phrase “in these last days”. There may be two ways to understand this, and I think both are intended in a sense. One way is to see the phrase as referring to the eschaton, the last things of the world. The other is to see it as speaking of the unique time in which this book was written, in that generation of overlap between the last generation of the old Mosaic covenant and the first generation of the church. Does the phrase refer to the last of all things or just the last things of the whole Jewish system? I think there is good reason to believe the latter, especially as we progress through the book. The entire book contrasts the truths of the Gospel of Jesus Christ with the details of the old covenant. I think that is definitely in view. However, I don’t think it is wrong to speak of the entire time of the church as “the last days”, especially when considering what this verse is talking about, which is God’s revelation. In the old days, God spoke through the prophets. Now, to finish His revelation, He has spoken through His Son. These things revealed through the New Testament are the last things to be revealed until Jesus comes at the end of history to defeat death. In terms of Scriptural revelation, these are the last days. There is nothing else on that front.
The important thing, either way, is to notice that Jesus coming marks the end of an old way, and the rest of the book brings this out over and over again.
The other theme, so powerfully expressed in this first chapter, is the absolute supremacy of Christ, and to this we now turn.
Interestingly, the Greek for the Son here does not contain an article, and so there are some translations that even say “he has spoken by a Son”. However, it is not as though this Son is just one among many, because this Son is appointed heir of all things, and God created the world through Him. I believe it is useful to understand this because you have “sons of God” mentioned throughout the Old Testament, but we are here told that this Son is unique. This isn’t just any heavenly being, nor is this just another prophet.
This Son is Creator of the world. As mentioned, this is the primary distinguishing factor between God and everything else. God created everything. Everything that isn’t God was created by Him. This is affirmed in the Old Testament clearly in Isaiah 44:24, which reads:
Thus says the Lord, your Redeemer,
who formed you from the womb:
“I am the Lord, who made all things,
who alone stretched out the heavens,
who spread out the earth by myself,
Only Yahweh, the Lord, was there to make all things, who stretched out the heavens alone, and who spread out the earth by Himself. We also see this in John 1, in the way it speaks of Jesus.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.
Do you hear the same exclusivity? This is also speaking of Jesus, as our text in Hebrews does, and it says that everything that was made was made by Jesus. That means Jesus wasn’t made. Only God is creator, and Jesus made everything that has been made. But notice how our text in Hebrews puts it: through whom also He created the world. The one doing the creating here is the Father, through the Son. There is a clear distinction here between Father and Son.
If you’ve ever wondered where Trinitarian thinking comes from, it is right here in front of You. The sole creator is established as God, but Jesus is right there. Jesus cannot be some second god, or other exalted, created being, because God created “alone”. But Jesus cannot be confused with the Father, either, because the Father created the world “through” the Son. As biblical Trinitarians, we hold these two truths at the same time, that God is one, in one sense, and that God is multiple, in a different sense. The Father and the Son are the same God, but they are not the same Person.
Another pair of Trinitarian truths are found here in verse two, namely that Jesus is a man, and Jesus is God. Notice that God has spoken through his Son, “whom He appointed the heir of all things” God, properly speaking, made everything and owns everything. He isn’t set to inherit anything. He already owns it all. But Jesus, having taken on flesh and truly become a man, or as Hebrews puts it, became “for a little while lower than the angels”, is in the position to be lifted up. God has made Him heir of everything, who created everything. Jesus was always God, yes. But that isn’t the amazing part. The amazing part is that the Lord of the universe, who has taken all authority in heaven and earth, is a flesh and bone human being. And so we find the twin truths expressed that Jesus is truly God and truly man.
I want to exhort you as you look at these texts not to try to solve the puzzle. At least not the way you may want to. Human beings have a strong desire to make sense of our world. We want it all to fit nicely into a box or onto a greeting card or social media post. We want to meme it. I want you to consider for a moment that maybe God doesn’t fit into your meme. God doesn’t fit into your head. But the desire to make Him do so is so powerful that it has birthed countless false religions.
If you want to protect yourself from wandering from the simple truths of Scripture, here’s a good place to start. Embrace philosophical difficulties before you embrace biblical difficulties. This goes against our nature. We don’t like philosophical difficulties. We want to be able to explain stuff easily. The problem is that the easy explanation of anything that Scripture hasn’t made easy is likely to have to ignore some of the Scriptures to achieve that ease. Just look here at verse 2. Jesus created the World, which is something only God can do, but He is also appointed heir, which is something odd for God, but natural for man to do. This presents a difficulty. How is Jesus both God and man? That is a difficult question, and I don’t know the answer. For many, this is intolerable, and so they say that Jesus isn’t really God, or that He isn’t really man, or that He is some sort of powerful being God used in creation, but He isn’t really God. These all resolve the philosophical problem, but they create biblical problems. The Bible doesn’t allow for this third category of non-God creators. The Bible doesn’t allow you to pretend Jesus’ humanity wasn’t real, or that His deity isn’t real. They are all there, in the text.
But let me ask you this, would you rather have a question you can’t give a detailed answer to, or passages of Scripture screaming against your conclusions? Do you really want to tussle with the words of the Almighty, all-wise creator of all things, when you could just have a philosophical conundrum and no problem passages? If you ask me about Jesus, I show you the text, and say that He is human and divine, praise be to God. You ask me to explain that, and I say I can’t fully explain God, are you mad? Praise be to God. You won’t find a single text of Scripture that presents any challenge to the Trinity, because the Trinity is the doctrine you get when you take all of the texts into account. And isn’t it glorious?
Do you realize that Jesus said where two or three are gathered in His name, he is there? This Jesus. The God-man, the infinitely powerful and wise Jesus. The one who knows our pain, but who overcame it with infinite power and authority. He is here. Are you trembling yet? Maybe you will when we look at the next two verses.
3 He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, 4 having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs.
In verse three, two words are used to describe Jesus, “radiance” and “exact imprint”. The Greek terms are apaugasma and charaktēr . If you were to do a word study on these words in the New Testament, it would be a short one. Both terms are unique to this verse in the New Testament. That makes for interesting study for Bible geeks like me, but I would draw your attention to what they are describing. Jesus is the radiance of God’s Glory. Jesus, the God-man. It doesn’t say He radiates God’s glory. He is the radiance. And He is the exact imprint of God’s nature. He isn’t just an imperfect copy of what God is like. It is God’s very nature. That which makes God to be God. Jesus is the exact imprint or representation of that. How does one exactly represent a nature? I know what it’s like to exactly represent a fallen and redeemed human nature, because that is what I am. It’s the only thing I could represent. I can’t exactly represent any other kind of nature, like an animal or plant. Certainly not God. Only that which shares that nature can be a perfect image of it. And that is what Jesus is. Again, He is truly God.
And these things describe Jesus, who upholds the universe by the word of His power. This is starting to pile too high to see over. Not only did Jesus create the world. He also upholds it by His Word. It is common to hear Jesus referred to as the Word, as that is how He is described in John. But here we see that Jesus also has His own word of power, by which He upholds the whole universe. This man isn’t just a man. And He isn’t just an exalted man. No man upholds the universe by His word. That is the behavior of Deity.
But the author of Hebrews doesn’t want us to forget the dual nature of Christ for a second, because the very next statement comes back to His work on the cross making purification of sins. You know, when He died? That’s what men do. This is followed by the exaltation of that man to the right hand of the Majesty on high. And notice these things both held at the same time. Jesus upholds the universe, which makes Him God, but He also sits at the right hand of God, the Majesty on high. We are never allowed to do what our brain wants to and attempt to collapse Jesus into just God or just a man. And we are never, in our description of Him as God allowed for a second to collapse Him and the Father. He sits on the throne, yes, but at the right hand of the Father, not alone.
And this is His enthronement. He is exalted to the right hand. Next week, we will begin working through verse 5, in which enthronement continues to be the focus.
But first, and for the last verse we will look at tonight, we finish this section with verse 4, that Jesus has become superior to the angels. Time does not permit tonight to discuss the angels in detail, but notice here, in the first mention of angels, that Jesus has “become” superior to the angels. And it compares this to the name He inherited. What name is that? Well, I think later verses in this chapter make it clear that the name is Yahweh. And we again have this tension, that Jesus, who always was Yahweh, becomes human and now, as a man, inherits that name. The name of God is infinitely greater than the angels, and notice that that is how much superior to the angels He has become.
He has become. This isn’t about His eternal status as God. This is about the man being enthroned with God. Jesus doesn’t simply represent the infinite nature of the eternal and almighty God. He certainly represents that. But in addition to that, Jesus is the supreme man, humbled to our level, but without sin, and then has traveled up the impossibly great magnitude of going from finite human being to infinitely powerful and sovereign king of the universe.
Try, as unsuccessful as you will be, to wrap your head around that. Try harder. Try to understand the unfathomable distance between the infinite God and finite man, and try to understand that Jesus has traveled that distance twice. Once down to us, and once up to the throne of God.
Now let me ask you, is there something better you’ve got going than to cling to Him? Are there works you’re doing that can do more to make you clean before God than the work He has done? Are you, God forbid, contemplating infidelity to Him? Are you going soft against the demands of this Godless culture? Are you giving in to temptation to sin? Are you, God forbid, trying to make Him just a little more understandable? Just a little nicer than He really is? Just a little more palatable to your family? Just a little more like you? God forbid!
The first four verses of Hebrews presents us with a picture of Christ that cannot be matched by anything you think you have going on. You have no troubles He cannot handle. You are promised trouble. Do you think this sovereign Lord is unequal to the task of walking with you through them? Of course He can and He will. But not in unbelief. He is all-sufficient. He has inherited all things, including you. Preachers often ask what you will do with Jesus. I ask, what will Jesus do with you? He already owns you. Come, and treat Him like you believe it.
Lord Jesus, we beseech you to walk with us this week in all your power. Please fight our battles. Please have mercy on us for our sins. Please let us never forget you, sitting right beside us, sitting on the throne of the universe. Amen.