Christ’s message is superior to that of the Old Testament prophets because He—the Son of God and Creator of all—is superior to them.
Throughout the letter, the writer contrasts the old with the new and elevates the new above the old. . In the first three verses the writer argues that Christ is superior to the Old Testament prophets, for He is God’s Son and God’s spoken word—the exact representation of God’s nature—through whom God made everything and through whom God still holds everything together. “He who has seen Me has seen the Father”.
But the writer’s real purpose is to show that Christ’s message is superior to that of the Old Testament prophets. God’s love and mercy for weak sinners are made visible in the person of Christ. He also revealed how man may be reconciled to God, the resurrection of the body and the certainty of the future judgment of all mankind. The purest and most extensive body of moral principles on earth are found in Christ’s teachings.
1:1 God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways 1:2 in these last days has spoken to us in His Son
whom He appointed heir of all things,
through whom also He made the world.
3 And He is the radiance of His glory and
the exact representation of His nature,
and upholds all things by the word of His power.
When He had made purification of sins,
He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high,
This letter to the Hebrews does not have an introduction like we would normally find in other letters. These first three verses serve as introduction, but also immediately confront the reader with the main theme of this epistle, which is the superiority of Christ. In these verses the writer argues that Christ is superior to the Old Testament prophets, but his purpose is to show that Christ’s message is superior to the messages of the Old Testament prophets. (Compare 2:1-4)
The Old and the New
Throughout the letter, the writer contrasts the old and the new and he elevates the new over the old. In the current verses the old is how God revealed Himself through the apostles, and the new is how He revealed Himself through His Son.
God exists outside of our physical limitations of space, matter and time. He cannot be seen by our eyes or measured in our laboratories. He said,
“My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways, … For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:8-9).
We are not equipped to know anything about God. If God had not spoken, we would have been without knowledge or hope. But we do have hope, for God has spoken. He has spoken through prophets and through His written word. Most importantly, He has spoken through His Son.
Long ago to the fathers in the prophets … in many ways (1:1)
The fathers include Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, but perhaps also other important figures in Israel’s history. The prophets Include Moses, who refer to himself as a prophet (Deut. 18:15). The ways in which God revealed Himself includes visions, dreams, physical appearance, historical events, prophecy, poetry, proverbs, direct communication and impressions. Elijah once stood upon the mountain before Yahweh, and there was a great and strong wind which rent the mountains, and broke the rocks into in pieces; but Yahweh was not in the wind. Then there was an earthquake; but Yahweh was not in the earthquake. The earthquake was followed by a fire; but Yahweh was not in the fire. Yahweh then spoke to Elijah is a “still small voice” (1 Kings 19:11-12).
In these last days (1:2)
This phrase is most often interpreted as meaning ‘recently’. However, Jesus said, His disciples believed and the entire New Testament teaches that the Lord is coming soon. The author of the letter to the Hebrews similarly wrote:
“all the more as you see the Day approaching. … For in just a very little while, He who is coming will come and will not delay” (10:25, 36-37).
It is therefore also possible that the writer’s intention was to say that his generation was the last generation before Christ’s return. The phrase “last days” is also found elsewhere in the New Testament, where it also implies the last days before Christ’s return:
“Know this first of all, that in the last days mockers will come with their mocking” (2 Peter 3:3)
“’and it shall be in the last days,’ God says, ‘that I will pour forth of My spirit on all mankind’” (Acts 2:17)
“But realize this, that in the last days difficult times will come. For men will be lovers of self” (2 Timothy 3:1-2)
Spoken to us in His Son (1:2)
What the writer implies is that, when the Son of God speaks, we better listen, for there is no higher authority.
The title “Son of God” was understood by the Jews to denote equality with God:
Jesus said, “My Father is working until now” (John 5:17). “For this reason the Jews were seeking all the more to kill Him, because He not only was breaking the Sabbath, but also was calling God His own Father, making Himself equal with God.” (v18)
John 10 records Jesus saying “I am the Son of God” (v36). Therefore the Jews wanted to stone Him, saying, “because You, being a man, make Yourself out to be God” (v33).
Revelation is gradual.
At first we discern only the existence of some object – obscure and undefined; then we can trace its outline; then its color, its size, its proportions, its drapery – until it stands before us fully revealed. So it has been with revelation. There is a great variety of subjects which we now, with the benefit of Christ’s teachings, see clearly, which were very imperfectly understood by the teaching of only the Old Testament prophets. Among them are the following:
(a) The character of God:
“No one has seen God at any time; the only begotten God who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him.” (John 1:18)
“Nor does anyone know the Father except the Son, and anyone to whom the Son wills to reveal Him” (Mt. 11:27)
(b) How man may be reconciled to God.
(c) Christ’s moral precepts are superior to those that had gone before him. Prophets had delivered many moral precepts of great importance, but the purest and most extensive body of moral principles on earth are found in Christ’s teachings.
(d) He has given to us the clearest view of the future state. He disclosed many truths of the deepest interest to mankind, which were before only partially revealed. This includes the certainty of a state of future existence – which the Sadducees previously were able to dispute. He also revealed the doctrine of the resurrection of the body. The Saviour raised up more than one to show that it was possible; and He was himself raised, to put the whole matter beyond debate. He revealed the certainty of future judgment – the judgment of all mankind.
Hebrews 1:2-3 presents us with seven facts concerning Jesus the Son, to emphasize His superiority. He:
- Is Heir of all things;
- Made the universe;
- Is the radiance of God’s glory;
- Is the exact representation of God’s being;
- Sustains all things by his powerful word;
- Provided purification for sin; and
- Sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven;
Whom He appointed heir of all things (1:2)
God foretold, through Daniel, of a coming world-wide and everlasting kingdom over which a certain human being would rule:
… with the clouds of heaven one like the Son of Man was coming, and He came up to the Ancient of Days and was presented before Him. And to Him was given dominion … that all the peoples … might serve Him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion … (Daniel 7:13-14).
Jesus often used the title in this passage—”Son of Man“—for Himself. It is He that will inherit that everlasting dominion.
Through whom also He made the world (1:2)
He not only made the world; He is the creator of the entire universe.
All things have been created through Him and for Him. (Col. 1:16, cf. John 1:3, 10; 1 Cor. 8:6.)
Genesis 1 teaches that God created by speaking; “God said … and it was so” (Gen. 1:9). “By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God” (Heb. 11:3). Therefore John refers to Jesus as “the Word”, that is, He is God’s spoken word:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being. (John 1:1-3)
This is not something which humans are able to understand, simply because we are unable to understand God.
The word translated “world” is aiōn, and properly means “age” – an indefinitely long period of time. But it can also mean the world – the material universe. The only clear use of the word is in Hebrews 11:3, where it means “worlds”: “By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things which are visible.” In this verse “the worlds” parallels “what is seen”.
He is the radiance of His glory (1:3)
When Moses prayed, “show me Your glory“ (Ex. 33:18), the LORD passed by in front of him and proclaimed,
“The LORD, the LORD God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness and truth” (Ex. 34:6-7)
Moses had gone up on Mount Sinai and had stood in God’s presence. When he came back down, his face shown with the brightness of reflected glory. Jesus did not have a physical type of radiance, but He is “the light of the world” (John 8:12); God’s love and mercy for weak sinners is made visible in the person of Christ:
“This is the message we have heard from Him and announce to you, that God is Light, and in Him there is no darkness at all“ (1 John 1:5).
He is … the exact representation of His (God’s) nature (1:3)
God the Father is all Spirit (John 4:24), meaning He exists beyond the limits of this physical universe. We human beings therefore cannot experience the Father as He truly is. But Jesus—the Word of God—reveals God. The Son of God bears the exact image of God on himself. He is the “image of the invisible God” (Col. 1:15). Do you want to know what God is like? Look at Jesus. Do you want to know how God thinks? Listen to Jesus. He said:
“If you had known Me, you would have known My Father also; from now on you know Him, and have seen Him.” (John 14:7)
But Philip said to Him,
“Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.” (v8)
“Have I been so long with you, and yet you have not come to know Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father; how can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?” (v9)
We can begin to understand this by drawing an analogy to how we communicate or reveal our thoughts in the physical word.
When we conceive an idea in our mind, nobody can see our thoughts. They are invisible, yet they certainly exist.
If we want to reveal our invisible thoughts to the world, we must transfer our thoughts into the physical realm for others to receive and understand. The brain communicates our thoughts to our mouth where it becomes logos: spoken words. The spoken word leaves our mouth and enters the physical world as sound waves.
The spoken word reveals our thoughts. When someone hears our spoken word, they come to know something that was previously invisible and unknowable.
Still, the world’s knowledge of our invisible thoughts will be partial at best. But what if our mind could take on a physical form for all to see? Then the world could come to a complete and full understand of our invisible nature. Our entire nature – our thoughts and character and personality – would be on display in a physical form. We could be fully known.
Likewise, God the Father reveals Himself to the world via His Son (i.e., the Word). “’They shall call his name Immanuel,’ which translated means, ‘God with us’” (Mt. 1:23).
The Fathers of the Christian church held that the Son of God, as to his divine as well as his human nature, was “derived” from the Father. Hence, the Nicene creed speaks of him as “begotten of the Father before all worlds; God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten not made”. But modern theologians find this is incredible and impossible. They hold that a derived being cannot in any proper sense be “God”. If there is any attribute which the Scriptures have ascribed to Christ with clearness, it is that He always existed;
“When I saw Him, I fell at His feet like a dead man. And He placed His right hand on me, saying, ‘Do not be afraid; I am the first and the last’” (Rev. 1:17)
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (John 1:1).
The Bible maintains a clear distinction between God and Jesus, but also says that all the fullness of Deity dwells in Jesus. How do we reconcile these facts? For a more detail discussion, see Jesus, Son of God.
He … upholds all things by the word of His power (1:3)
Paul similarly wrote, “In Him all things hold together“ (Col. 1:17). The Lord Jesus commanded the waves and the winds, and they were still (Mt. 8:26-27). He spoke to diseases and they departed, and to the dead, and they arose. “Upholds” is present active and means continual action “to carry”. Jesus carries all things continually. The universe is maintained and held together by this same Word that brought it into existence. It is not merely the earth with its rocks, mountains, seas, animals and human beings, but it is the universe – all distant worlds. He holds up this vast universe so that it does not sink into anarchy or into nothing. There can be no higher idea of omnipotence than to say that he upholds all things by his word.
This is an astounding truth; that all things are held together by somebody who became a human being and still is a human being. It is difficult to imagine that one human being could say such things of a fellow human being (Jesus). The Holy Spirit influenced on them must have been strong.
When He had made purification of sins (1:3)
This is a key thought in the New Testament. Also in Hebrews it is repeatedly stated that “we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all” (10:10). “Through His own blood” He obtained “eternal redemption” (9:12). God sacrificed His Son (the Lamb of God – John 1:29) for the sins of the world.
However, probably most the important principle in Hebrews is that His death is part of a bigger process required for human salvation. His death enabled Jesus to “become a merciful and faithful high priest … to make propitiation for the sins of the people” (2:17). “The blood of Christ, who … offered Himself without blemish to God, (will) cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God” (9:14) through Christ’s work as high priest in “the greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands” (9:11). We also see this principle typified in the old Jewish sacrificial system; the priest not only killed the animals; they always had to do something afterwards with the blood.
When we say that the blood of Jesus cleanses us from all sin, we should not think of this literally. There is no literal container in heaven with His literal blood. His blood is a symbol for His death. Neither are we simply saved by His death; we are saved by His death because he “offered Himself without blemish to God” (9:14). If He sinned before He died, He would not have been “without blemish”. We are therefore saved by His perfect life, even when suffering the highest levels of temptation; even unto death. For a further discussion, see Why Jesus had to die.
He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high (1:3)
This is a quotation from Psalm 110. The concept of “right hand” of God is not a physical location as much as it referred to a position of exaltation and supremacy. The person that sits at the right hand of a sovereign is the most important person after the sovereign himself.
”He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name” (Philippians 2:8-9).