Oct 11 2020

97. THE EPISTLE TO THE HEBREWS part 3

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The Epistle to the Hebrews

 (Part 3)

The epistle’s sub-sections

1.         Christ is greater than the prophets (1:1-3)

2.         Christ is greater than the angels (1:4-14)

3.         Warning against neglecting their salvation (2:1-4)

4.         Christ is greater than the angels – contd. (2:5-18)

5.         Christ is greater than Moses (3:1-6)

6.         Obeying the voice of God and His powerful word (3:7 – 4:13)

7.         Christ is High Priest greater than Aaron (4:14 – 5:10)

8.         Their need for instruction and growth (5:11 – 6:20)

9.         Concerning Christ’s priesthood (on the order of Melchizedek)            (Chapter 7)

10.      Concerning Christ’s priesthood (proclam_ation of the new covenant) (Chapter 8)

11.      Concerning Christ’s priesthood (the heavenly Most Holy Place,           and the one and only sacrifice) (Chapter 9)

12.      Concerning Christ’s priesthood (the perfect and greatest sacrifice) (10:1 – 21)

13.      Warning against apostasy (10:22 – 27)

14.      Conduct by faith following the forefathers’ example (10:28 – 11:16)

15.      The fathers of faith (11:17-39)

16.      Enduring suffering, while maintaining the focus on Christ, the             Head of Faith, and on the cloud of witnesses (11:40 – 12:29)

17.      Conclusion: spiritual counselling (Chapter 13)

Chapter One

1. Christ is greater than the prophets (1:1-3)

Contrary to his usual style in most of his epistles, the author, in this case, brings up the subject directly, without introductory remarks.

The primary theme of the epistle is the Person of Christ, Who is greater than anybody else.  St. Paul thus starts by comparing Christ with the prophets, through whom God spoke to the fathers in olden times.

Two thousand years prior to Christ’s incarnation, God started manifesting Himself to the fathers by a succession of prophets, preaching God’s (old) covenant through thirty-nine biblical books. However, in latter days, He spoke to us through His Son; although His Son was incarnate as a human in the form of a human body, He remained “God the Son” and “of the same essence as the Father.”  Because He is the “Son,” He inherits everything.  This was not, and will never be, possible with the prophets.  We must always remember the day of our Lord’s trans-figuration on Mount Tabor; the two great prophets Moses and Elijah appeared with Him – they “appeared in glory” (Luke 9:31), and the voice of the Father proclaimed that His Son was exalted above everyone: “This is My beloved Son, in Whom I am well pleased. Hear Him!” (Mat. 17:5)

Through the Son, God “made the worlds” (v. 2) or, as St. Paul told the Colossians: “For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. All things were created through Him and for Him.” (Col. 1:16)  We also have in St. John’s gospel: “All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made.” (John 1:3)

St. Paul goes on to say that Christ is “… the brightness of His glory [the glory of God] (v. 3).  This means that Christ is the ray of sunlight, which is one with the sun; “He is the image of the invisible God, …” (Col. 1:15)  He is one with His Father revealing the abundance of His glory.  He is “… the express image of His person …” (Heb. 1:3) – which means that He bears the image of God, Whom “No one has seen …” (John 1:18)  This also means that “The only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has declared Him.” (John 1:18)  Also, “… upholding all things by the word of His power …” (v. 3).   And, “He had by Himself purged our sins …” (the word “Himself” here assures us that He, Who is in all this glory, He Himself descended to us to wash us from the filth of our sins) through His death on the Cross, and “He became the author of eternal salvation (Heb. 5:9)  But death could not hold Him – rather, He rose on the third day, and He raised us with Him, “… and has become the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep.” (1 Cor. 15:20)  He ascended into heaven, and “… sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high,” (v. 3) having a stature that could never be held by anyone.

2. Christ is greater than the angels (1:4-14)(1)

Angels are spirits ministering around the Throne; God dispatches them on His assignments, bearing specific messages.  The Hebrews boasted over the Gentiles because, as Stephen had mentioned in his speech, they had “… received the law by the direction of angels.” (Acts 7:53)  St. Paul had also referred to this in his epistle to the Galatians: “and it was appointed through angels by the hand of a mediator.” (Gal. 3:19)  But Christ, having entered heaven in His body, glorified through His Passion, became “… so much better than the angels, as He has by inheritance obtained a more excellent name than they.” (v. 4)

St. Paul then draws on Old Testament passages to corroborate his statements; hence, from the Psalms, he reiterates the verse: “You are My Son, today I have begotten You.” (Psalm 2:7)  In this verse, God the Father was not referring to an angel, rather, to His Son (Who was born of the Father before all ages).  The word “today” means that the Son’s being begotten of the Father is a continuous action from eternity unto eternity – like “light from light.” Time, in its entirety, is condensed in God’s eyes to “today” because: the past is not hidden by the present, rather, it is in the present and all the future is not hidden either, “… all things are naked and open to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account.” (Heb. 4:13)  The future is not obscure or imaginary, rather, it is also present.

We then have this verse from the Second Book of Samuel: “I will be His Father, and He shall be My Son.” (2 Sam. 7:14)   Originally, it is a covenant made for king David.  He then uses (in v.6) the word “firstborn” which the apostle uses in other epistles: “He is … the firstborn over all creation … who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead …” (Col. 1:15-18) – which means the “origin” or the “beginning.”  This is in addition to the fact that, in Jewish thought, the stature and rights of the firstborn are exalted among his siblings.  Furthermore, he says, “Let all the angels of God worship Him.” (v. 6) which is taken from Deut. 32:43 (only in the Greek original, Septuagint translation).

Here is another comparison.  While Psalm 104 tells us, “Who makes His angels spirits, His ministers a flame of fire” (Psalm 104:4) – in other words, they were created to serve – He talks about the Son in another Psalm saying, “Your throne, O God, is forever and ever …”([2])(Psalm 45:6,7)  Thus, He is an eternal King, sitting on His Throne unto the ages of all ages, whereas the angels are not eternal and they do not sit on thrones but serve Him Who sits on the throne, rules uprightly and justly, is partial to righteous-ness, and condemns evil. And He is the Christ Who wrought salvation of such a magnitude, that He was crowned with glory, honor and exultation: “Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name …” (Phil. 2:9)

The epistle’s author also quotes from Psalm 102:25-27: since angels were part of creation, they must have all been established by a word from God.  And since, “All things were made through Him.” (John 1:3), and also, “For by Him all things were created … All things were created through Him and for Him.” (Col. 1:16) “They will perish, but You remain; And they will all grow old like a garment; like a cloak You will fold them up, And they will be changed. But You are the same, and Your years will not fail.” (v. 11,12)  So, He is eternal and immortal.  

Once more, the author points out that Christ was exalted above the angels, who are merely ministering spirits “… sent forth to minister for those who will inherit salvation …” (v. 14)  He also quotes Psalm 110:1, “Sit at My right hand, till I make Your enemies Your footstool.” (Mat. 22:43,44, Acts 2:34,35)

(To be contd.)

SMOF

urges you to study the Bible and Orthodoxy, and to encourage others to do the same. You may give us the names and addresses of whom you think may benefit from these studies and the Fellowship will send them this newsletter by the method they would like, mail or e-mail.

Foornotes:

  1. This Epistle was addressing the Hebrews who were considering their return to Judaism, reminding them of the greatness of Christianity, which was founded by the incarnate Son of God, as compared to the Law which was given to the Jews by the direction of angels.

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