Teaching series from Hebrews

Jesus: God's Ultimate Revelation

Hebrews 1

Teaching t10572


This morning we begin a study of Hebrews.  Although your Bible probably calls Hebrews an “epistle” or “letter,” it is much more like a theological essay than a personal letter.

For one thing, it doesn’t begin (like most of the other New Testament letters) by the author identifying himself.  Rather, he just starts right in developing his case.  Because of this, we don’t know who the author was—though he is probably connected to Paul in some way.

Neither does the author specifically identify his audience—though by reading his booklet you can learn a lot about them.  They were ethnically Jewish (thus the title “Hebrews”) who had professed Jesus as their promised Messiah.  But they were under strong temptation to abandon Jesus and return to Judaism.  Why? 

For one thing, they had been (and were still being) persecuted.  Judaism was recognized by Rome as a legitimate religion, and in the early years of the Christian movement the (mainly Jewish) Christians enjoyed this protection because Rome viewed them as a sect of Judaism.  But by now the Christian movement was viewed as its own religion—and therefore both Rome and Judaism persecuted them (for different reasons).  So the temptation to go back to Judaism (and legal protection) would have been strong.

This temptation was strengthened by the fact that Old Testament Judaism had biblical warrant.  It was God, after all, who inspired the Old Testament and who instituted the Old Testament system of worship with its temple, priests and sacrifices.  How could it be wrong to return to a way of worshipping God that was biblical and that would make their lives easier?

The author (a respected Christian leader) argues that this is not a legitimate option.  He argues that because Jesus is God’s Messiah, he is better than Old Testament Judaism.  In fact, he uses word “better” 13 times in his booklet.  Jesus is better than the Old Testament prophets, angels, Moses, the tabernacle, the Levitical priesthood, the animal sacrifices, etc.  And he ushers in a better covenant (way of relating to God).   In other words, Jesus has fulfilled Old Testament Judaism and he has replaced it with a new way of worshiping God.  Therefore, to go back to Judaism is to reject God’s Messiah and the new phase of God’s kingdom that he inaugurated through his death and resurrection.  Instead of reverting to Judaism, they must go forward with Jesus and be willing to be persecuted—just as Jesus was (13:13).

So Hebrews is extremely relevant to us for many reasons.  For one thing, it teaches that Christianity should emphasize personal relating to God instead of religious ritual observance.  The elements of the Old Testament system (e.g., holy buildings, priests/clergy, liturgical services, holy days and seasons, etc.) were but pictures that foreshadowed God’s Messiah and his death on the cross.  Now that Jesus has come and fulfilled the pictures, we are to relate personally to God instead of relating to him through the pictures. 

If an adopted child had only pictures of his adoptive parents until they came to get him, it is good for him to relate to them through the pictures.  But what a tragedy if the child prefers the pictures once the parents arrive! 

And what a tragedy that most people think Christianity is about relating to God through Old Testament religious “pictures!”  Unfortunately, church history is littered with/dominated by this error.  Why do most people think of Christianity in terms of relating to God through holy buildings, priests/clergy, liturgical services, holy days and seasons, etc.?  I know that’s what I thought—and it turned me off to Christianity.  That’s what happens when the church incorporates Old Testament religion instead of showing people how to know and follow Jesus.  This obscures Christianity’s radical message that through Jesus we can know God personally and be confident of his unconditional love and acceptance.

With this brief introduction, let’s dive into the first part of the essay, which presents Jesus as God’s ultimate revelation...

Jesus is better than the Old Testament prophets (1:1-3)

Read 1:1-3.  This is like the introductory paragraph to the whole essay—everything else unpacks what the author says here.  The main thing I want you to notice is that he claims that Jesus is better than the Old Testament prophets

God spoke through them in various ways (direct voice, dreams, visions, etc.)—but through Jesus God has spoken in a definitive and ultimate way.  They were like the MOON, beautifully reflecting the SUN’S light.  But Jesus is like the SUN, the source of light itself, whose rising makes the MOON fade into the background.

They spoke about the time when God’s Messiah/King would come as the “end of the age”—but Jesus is the Messiah whose coming signifies the closing period of humanity’s fallen history and the beginning of God’s kingdom. 

They were created human beings, but Jesus is God’s unique Son—the creator and sustainer and heir of the whole universe, and the Savior whose death redeems humanity.

Jesus is better than the angels (1:4-14)

Now he changes subjects, and argues for the rest of chapter 1 that Jesus is better than the angels.  Specifically, he proves from the Old Testament that the Messiah is far greater than any angel.  The heart of his argument is that angels are God’s servants, but the Messiah is divine.  Let’s look briefly at his case:

Read 1:4,5.  God gave names to the angels which designated them as his “servants” (e.g., “Gabriel” means “person of God”; “Michael” means “who is like God?”), but he called the Messiah his “Son” (i.e., sharing his unique divine nature).

Read 1:6.  God insisted in the Old Testament that the angels must serve the Messiah by worshipping him.  This means not only that the Messiah is greater than angels—it also means that the Messiah is divine (because the Old Testament absolutely forbids worshipping any being other than God).Read 1:7-12.  God likens his angels to the created order (swift as the wind and radiant as fire)—but he calls Jesus “God” and claims that he has uniquely divine attributes (absolute righteousness and eternality).

Read 1:13,14.  God sends angels to serve his people by helping them in various ways (e.g., rescuing them from danger [Dan.6:22]; explaining prophetic visions [Dan.8:16]; bringing answers to their prayers [Dan.9:21ff; 10:5ff.]; protecting them from demonic powers [Dan.10:31])—but God says his Messiah will rule over all humanity.

So what?  Why is this so important?

For us, it is important because our culture tends to view Jesus as greater than a normal human being—but less than the unique and divine Messiah that the Bible (not only his own claims, but also the Old Testament prophets) claims he is.  Some groups (like Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormonism) teach that Jesus was an angelic being.  The New Age movement views Jesus as one of many spirit-guides.  Many people are fascinated with angels far more than with Jesus.  But although angels are real and important and powerful spirit-beings, when our interest in them obscures the uniqueness of Jesus we have missed the real point!

For his audience, it is important because God gave Israel the Old Testament Law through angels (2:2; Deut.33:2-4).  The appearance of thousands of majestic angelic beings on Mount Sinai emphasized the divine origin of the Law.  But Jesus is far greater than angels—so his instructions are more important than the Old Testament Law.  That’s what he says in the next paragraph—and he draws a very sobering conclusion from this fact...

 There are consequences for rejecting God’s revelation (2:1-4)

Read 2:1.  This is a shipping analogy.  If you are the ship’s captain and your reliable map shows you where the harbor is, you have to follow the map’s guidance and get the ship in—or you will drift away and be at the mercy of the ocean and its storms.  In other words, there are consequences for neglecting accurate information.

In the same way, there are consequences for rejecting God’s revelation.  When God reveals his truth and validates it, we are responsible for obeying it.  If we refuse to pay attention to what God has revealed, we come under God’s judgment for rejecting what he says.

This was certainly the case when God gave Israel the Old Testament Law (read 2:2).  He validated its divine origin by the appearance of thousands of angels.  And he told them that they had to follow his law in order to stay securely in the land he was giving them.  But they thought, “Can’t we worship God along with the other ANE gods to avoid ridicule—and still be OK with God?”  No, this constituted a rejection of God’s Law, and resulted in God’s judgment by exile.

God’s revelation through Jesus is even greater—and therefore there are even greater consequences for rejecting it.  Read 2:3,4.  God has revealed something greater than his Law—he has revealed his Son.  And he has gone to greater lengths to validate this revelation—the apostles’ eye-witness testimony of Jesus’ resurrection and the miracles that accompanied their preaching.  If we reject this revelation, God’s judgment will be worse than exile—it will be eternal alienation.

The original audience was saying, “Can’t we just revert to Judaism to avoid persecution—and still be OK with God?”  No—because this is really a rejection of God’s later and greater revelation through Jesus.

Their mentality is the contemporary mentality that says, “Can’t I just affirm a generic spirituality to avoid being called intolerant—and still be OK with God?”  No—because God has revealed something more specific than this.  God has said that Jesus is his unique Son and the sole Savior of humanity.  And he has shown you this is true in various ways (EXAMPLES).  To refuse to positively affirm this is to call him a liar and reject his ultimate gift of mercy.  That’s why the Bible doesn’t say: “As long as you don’t call Jesus a false teacher, you will be saved.”  It says: “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” (Rom.10:9)  Have you done this?