Jesus Is Better
© 12/6/2016 C. O. Bishop THCF 12/18/2016
Hebrews 1: 1-3
Today we will begin a study through the book of Hebrews. This epistle has endured controversy over the years regarding the identity of the writer. The consensus over the centuries has mostly been that the writer was the Apostle Paul, and most Bibles have that printed as part of the title.
However, unlike every other Pauline Epistle, there is no introductory line stating that Paul is the writer, and greeting the recipients with “Grace be unto you, and Peace…” etc. Some have therefore attributed this epistle to Apollos, or some other writer. I tend to think it is Paul, anyway, because of some internal evidence: comments that seem to uniquely fit Paul’s life. There is no clear proof either way, so I will drop that issue, and leave it for others to haggle over. The book was clearly written before AD 70, as a good deal of it regards the temple in Jerusalem, and its service, and there is no mention made of the temple’s destruction (which happened in AD 70). So, most historians tentatively place it at about AD 64, but we can’t be certain.
The general theme is the idea that “Jesus is Better”. The writer shows the infinite superiority of Christ, over seven key aspects of Judaism. He also issues seven warnings to “dabblers” who seem to be believers, but who evidently are just “along for the ride”, and not actually “entering in” by faith. The warnings grow more and more serious, throughout the book. There are forty exhortations of one sort or another, and a great deal of teaching. It is not an easy book to study because there are passages that can be easily misunderstood, if not carefully compared with the rest of the Bible. We will try to address those problematic passages as they arise.
It is interesting, to me, however, that there is almost no teaching in the book of Hebrews on how to be saved, only multiple warnings and exhortations to not miss out on it. Evidently the writer knew his audience, and knew they were aware that salvation was offered as a gift, and of how it must be received. There is also very little teaching on “what the Church is”, or “how it is to function;” only on who Christ is, compared to the Earthly or Heavenly “star-players” of the Old Testament. So, Jesus is better than:
- The Prophets (Hebrews 1:1-3)
- The Angels (1:4-14; 2:5-18)
- The Prophet and Lawgiver, Moses (3:2-6)
- The Sabbath (4:1-16; 5:1-10)
- The Priesthood (7:4-28; 8:1-6; 9:11)
- The Old Covenant (“He is the mediator of a better covenant.”) (8:6-13; 9:1-28)
- The Old Testament Sacrifices (He is a better sacrifice) (9:11-14, 23, 28; 10:1-12)
In every case, Jesus was demonstrated to be far superior to whomever or whatever he was to be compared…hence, the thematic choice, “Jesus is better.”
An Abrupt Beginning
The opening lines of the Epistle to the Hebrews actually form one of the problems that make people wonder who the author is: All of Paul’s other epistles begin with a fairly consistent greeting; blessing the recipients and identifying the writer.
The Epistle to the Hebrews dispenses with formalities, so to speak; it makes no “introduction” as to the writer or the recipients, nor even to the theme, but simply slams right into the theme itself. It is interesting to me that the Old Testament Hebrew writings sometimes do the same thing. (Genesis 1:1, for example.) Possibly the reason this book is so different in style is specifically because it is the only epistle Paul wrote for a non-Gentile audience. In Romans 11:13 Paul cheerfully identifies himself as “the apostle to the Gentiles”. So, all of his writings to the Gentiles followed Gentile formats. We have another example by an unbelieving Roman centurion, (Acts 23:35, ff,) and it follows a similar form. So, I am comfortable with the differences between this epistle and the others written by Paul. Most, if not all, of the differences can be attributed to the difference in the intended recipients.
By verse two we can see that a comparison is being made between the Old Testament Prophets and Jesus, with Jesus being shown to be so far superior that no further comment is made. No argument is offered: He is simply shown to be God, while the prophets were simply the mouthpieces or spokesmen for God. In the same short chapter, the angelic hosts are shown to be a servant-class creation, while Jesus is shown to be their Creator and Master; but we will pursue that subject at a later date.
Though the majority of the epistle is written to genuine believers, there are seven warnings to professing believers (sometimes intermingled with exhortations to believers), scattered throughout the whole book:
- Don’t neglect the salvation that is being offered. (2:1-4)
- Don’t harden your heart. (3:7-4:1)
- Don’t fail, through unbelief, to enter in. (4:1)
- Don’t fall away, despising the sacrifice of Christ (6:1-9)
- Don’t attempt to fall back on the sacrifices…they no longer work. (10:26-31; 35-39)
- Don’t opt out for temporal gain. (12:16)
- Don’t refuse to hear (respond to) Him. (12:25-29)
There are also about 40 exhortations to believers, which we will address as they arise.
I will be quoting from the KJV. You are welcome to read along in any translation you like.
Hebrews Chapter One: God Speaks to Man
The writer begins with the “Author of all things”—God. Both Genesis and John begin with the same individual. I think it is an effective approach, especially in dealing with an audience of professing Hebrew believers, to begin with the central person of all Eternity: God.
1 God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets,
2 Hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son, whom he hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the worlds;
In various ways and at various times, God has approached Man. We cannot approach Him unless He first reaches out to us. Think about it: He is invisible, so that we don’t know where to look; and He’s absolutely Holy, so as to be completely separate from the fallen race of Man. We can only see the effects of His power, and marvel from a distance at His obvious wisdom and splendor. We have no real way to approach God: God had to approach Man.
Even in the Garden of Eden, God called to Adam, “Where art thou?” not the other way around. All through the Old Testament, God reached out to Mankind, meeting us where we lived. And it has continued so today. God says in Psalm 14, and reiterates in Romans 3, that “…there is no one who seeks after God.” We have a hard time with that idea: we insist, “Oh, yes we do!” But the fact is that we only seek after that “missing something”, in each of our lives; perhaps motivated by a longing for meaning and direction and Peace; but, most certainly not seeking the Creator and Judge of all the Universe. We fear Him; we flee from Him, and we reject him at every turn, until He comes and confronts us. (E.g. John 1:11, 12; Acts 9:1-6)
God had sent prophets, many times, throughout the centuries, but they were usually rejected, and were frequently murdered. So, God himself changed the game. After thousands of years of sending prophets, judges, and deliverers at various levels; speaking unto the Fathers (the patriarchs) by the prophets, He finally sent “God in the Flesh:” God the Son. He spoke to the prophets in a variety of ways: out of the air, from a burning bush, from the glory in the tabernacle, and from a towering column of thundering smoke at Mount Sinai… but the prophets were sent to speak to the patriarchs. Who did He send to us? Jesus!
Jesus is Better Than the Prophets
He says that, “in these last days”, he has spoken to us by His Son. But not just any son… the only begotten Son—the heir, “whom He hath appointed heir of all things”. And, lest we forget just who that Son really is (not just a Jewish Carpenter), he reminds us that it is Jesus who carried out the creation of the universe. (Greek “aeonas”—the ages…this is not the Greek word “kosmos”, which can mean a world or a world system. But we see in Genesis that the “time-pieces” (Sun, moon, and stars) were created after the creation of the earth that we inhabit. So, if Jesus is the creator of the ages…all time as well as the whole earth, as we will see, then he is truly the Creator of the universe.) Also; though we see things from the perspective of those locked in time and space, God sees from Eternity, the eternal “Now,” and He decreed before the foundation of the Earth that the Only Begotten Son was to be the means of our salvation. Jesus is “Plan A”—and there is no “Plan B.” (Ephesians 1:4; 3:8-11; 1st Peter 1:20)
He goes on to describe the person and work of Jesus Christ in astonishing ways, so that any reader can see the unquestionable superiority of the Son, but in ways that are especially tailored for Jewish readers:
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 on the right hand of the Majesty on high:
What Does He Say?
- He says that Jesus is the brightness of the Glory of God. (Think about the tabernacle! Remember how the Glory of God shone out from the Tabernacle so brightly that no one could go in? That was Jesus, personally showing up to bless the new structure, though it was just a tent at that point! Later, in the great Temple of Solomon, the same thing happened: The “Shekinah” Glory shone out. Jesus is the Brightness of God’s Glory!)
- He says that Jesus is the exact manifestation of the Father. (Compare John 14:8-11) We have a hard time with this, because it exceeds our imagination, but the Jews had an even harder time, as they denied that it was possible for a man to be God, or for God to become a man. And yet, had they thought it over, they would have realized that God had many times appeared in the form of a man in their history. He had eaten with them, fought for them, and wrestled with one of the patriarchs! If they read Zechariah 12:1-10, they should have even seen that the one that was pierced was Jesus…and Jehovah!
- He says that the Word of Jesus is what is “upholding all things”…maintaining the Universe… (Compare Colossians 1:15-17: “holding everything together”.)
- The Greek word for “Power”, here, is “dunamis”, not the word for authority—“exousia”. This refers to the sheer magnitude of His ability. And yet, he does it by His Word.
- He says that Jesus himself purged the sins of the human race…he alone did it. There is no other work to be done. The sinner can add nothing to the completed work of Jesus at the Cross. His blood stands for eternity as the full payment for the sins of the Human race. His work is finished!
- He further says that when Jesus had accomplished that task, he sat down at the right hand of the majesty on high. (Note—in the tabernacle, or the temple (our only glimpses into the “arrangement” of the throne room of God) the Ark of the Covenant was the only piece of furniture in the inner sanctum, the Holy of Holies. If Jesus completed his High-priestly duties, where could he sit? Especially, how could he sit down “at the right hand of God?” The answer is that he is God, and has the right to sit between the cherubim, on the Mercy Seat, in the place of God. Consider John 5:22) Further, the Old Testament high priests could never sit down. Their work could never be completed, even had there been a place to sit.
To me, these are mind-boggling premises. And the writer did not ease up on the ideas, or even try to “build a case,” culminating in the explanation of these facts. He simply, bluntly stated them, and allowed the Jewish readers to draw their own conclusions. The Jewish believers, then and now, were pretty awed by the prophets…and rightfully so. But the writer of the book of Hebrews immediately points out that Jesus surpasses the Prophets in every way.
If we haven’t already caught on to the identity of Jesus Christ, we need to open our eyes and see it! Paul spoke to a mixed audience: not all of them really knew the enormity of who Jesus is/was. Some still had the idea that he was just the most recent in a long line of Jewish Prophets. Some may have thought that he was some sort of exalted spiritual being, along the lines of an angel. The writer gives no room for such thoughts.
Who do you say that he is? Jesus asked that question of the disciples, and Peter responded, “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” That turned out to be a great answer.
But there are those who are uncomfortable with it. John 1:1-14 reveals that Jesus is God in the Flesh, and Hebrews 1:1-14 reveals the same truth in more stark terms. We cannot relegate Jesus to a lesser status than who he really is. He has to be one of the following:
- The Almighty God, the Creator, who became a Man, so that He could die in our place,
- A lesser god of some sort, or
- Not a god at all.
Some people diminish Jesus to the state of a demi-god…a great spiritual being of some sort. This means he was not truly Man (which would disqualify Him as Savior) nor was He truly God (which would also disqualify Him as Savior.) So the religions and philosophies that deny His deity also have to deny him as Savior. (By the way, one of these groups, which lifts its name from Isaiah 43:10, where it says “I am Jehovah and you are my witnesses” in their Bible, ignore the next few verses, which say that there has never been another God before or after Him, and that apart from Him there is no savior!
Others go further and declare him to be only a man, possibly a good man, but deluded, at best. Some even go a step further and deny that he ever existed at all, as though he were simply a creature of mythology and wishful thinking…perhaps like Santa Claus. Not only would both of these accusations completely disqualify him as savior, they fly in the face of history.
The secular historians of Jesus’ time knew who he was. They denied his deity, but they surely knew of his existence. And the many thousands who believed on him in the first century were martyred because they knew who and what Jesus was, and because they believed in Him. Theirs was not a faith built on hearsay. They had known him personally, and had personally witnessed the crucifixion and the resurrection. People don’t willingly sacrifice their lives for something they know to be a lie. They knew the truth.
The fact is, we know the truth too! So we need to live as those who know the truth, and who, by that truth, have been set free to serve the Living God. As we study through Hebrews, we can be set free by the sure knowledge of the Person of Christ. It seems especially appropriate to think on these truths, at this season of Christmas, when we commemorate His birth. The following song by Mark Lowry, addresses this question:
Mary, Did you Know?
Mary, did you know that your baby boy would some day walk on water?
Mary did you know that your baby boy would save our sons and daughters?
Did you know that your baby boy has come to make you new?
This child that you’ve delivered, will soon deliver you.
Mary did you know that your baby boy will give sight to a blind man?
Mary did you know that your baby boy will calm a storm with his hand?
Did you know that your baby boy has walked where angels trod?
And when your kiss your little baby, you have kissed the face of God.
Oh Mary did you know
The blind will see, the deaf will hear, the dead will live again.
The lame will leap, the dumb will speak the praises of the lamb?
Mary did you know that your baby boy is Lord of all creation?
Mary did you know that your baby boy would one day rule the nations?
Did you know that your baby boy is heaven’s perfect Lamb?
This sleeping child you’re holding is the great “I AM!”
Personally, I find that concept absolutely beyond comprehension! But that is the Truth! The One whom we have come to know, and trust as our Savior.
Lord Jesus, lift up our eyes to see your face. Help us to see you in your humanity, but just barely cloaking your full deity. It is hard, perhaps impossible, for us to understand your deity, Help us to accept that truth, and see your face in the Scriptures as well as in the Creation.