Supremacy of the Son

SYNOPSIS - The “word” spoken by God in "a Son" is His full disclosure that takes precedence over the older partial "words"Hebrews 1:1-2:4.

Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash
By Aaron Burden on Unsplash
The 
Epistle to the Hebrews was sent to a Christian congregation located in or near the city of Rome. Previously, the church had experienced pressure from outsiders and now was facing the possibility of renewed pressure, perhaps, even persecution by governing authorities (Hebrews 2:1510:32-3413:24-25).

Consequently, some members of the congregation began to withdraw from the assembly and, possibly, were contemplating a return to the local Jewish synagogue to escape persecution. This background and the Author’s extensive use of the Old Testament point to a church that included many Jewish believers  in Jesus (Hebrews 2:1510:25-3413:24-25).

Unlike Christianity, Judaism had legal standing in the Roman Empire. The government exempted Jews from certain requirements imposed on other groups, including participation in the imperial cult.  In its early years, the Roman authorities perceived Christianity as a Jewish sect, and as such, it was afforded the same legal protections.

By the late first century, Rome began to see Christianity as a new religion distinct from Judaism, and perhaps a subversive one at that. Therefore, it began to lose any legal protections the church may once have enjoyed. Following the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70, the divide between "church and synagogue" became pronounced - Increasingly, Christians found themselves under the scrutiny of the Roman government.

The concern in the letter to the Hebrews is not so much theological as it is pastoral. The goal is to prevent Christians from leaving the faith. Repeatedly, it urges the church to remain faithful to the teachings received from Jesus and his apostles rather than return to the synagogue. Faithfulness is the proper response to persecution. The letter warns of the dire consequences of faithlessness to Jesus (Hebrews 2:1-46:1-1210:22-30).

To accomplish this, the author of Hebrews employs a rhetorical strategy called synkrisis, a series of comparisons designed to demonstrate the superiority of one thing over another.  This includes several comparisons that highlight the superiority of the Son, his word, ministry, priesthood, covenant, and sacrifice over what God did previously under the old and now "obsolete" Covenant - (Hebrews 8:13).

The purpose is not to denigrate the past revelations of God but to emphasize how much the glory of the new revelation has surpassed it. In between comparisons, the author presents dire warnings about the failure to heed the Word spoken in the Son. The letter compares the superiority of the Son to:
  • Angels (Hebrews 1:5-14).
  • Moses (3:1-6).
  • Joshua (4:8).
  • Aaron (5:1-10).
  • The Son’s priesthood to the Levitical priesthood (7:1-25).
  • The Son’s single sacrifice to the repeated sacrifices of the Tabernacle (7:279:26).
  • The Old Covenant to the New Covenant (8:4-10:18).

Proposition - The Word was Spoken in a Son
  • (Hebrews 1:1-4) - "Whereas, In many parts and in many ways of old God spake unto the fathers |in the prophets|, ||At the last of these days|| He hath spoken to us |in a Son|, Whom he appointed heir of all things, Through whom also he made the ages; Who being an eradiated brightness of the glory And an exact impress of his essence, Also bearing up all things by the utterance of his power, ||Purification of sins|| having achieved, Sat down on the right hand of the majesty in high places; By |so| much becoming superior |to the messengers|, By |as| much as, going beyond them, he hath inherited a more distinguished name." - (The Emphasized Bible).
The book of Hebrews opens by presenting its main proposition - The final and superior Word of God has been spoken in the Son at the start of History’s final phase.

The opening paragraph is one long sentence in the Greek text and paves the way for the first comparison - The word of the Son is superior to the word spoken by angels. In turn, this comparison leads to the first warning of the letter against failure to heed the word of the Son (Hebrews 1:5-2:4).

The Greek sentence begins with two adverbs, polumerōs (Strong’s - #G4181) and polutropōs (#G4187), both compounded with the adjective polus (“much, many”). Polumerōs is a combination of polus and meros, the latter meaning, “part, portion, fragment.” Polutropōs is formed with polus and tropos, meaning, “mode, manner, way, fashion.”

The author selected two like-sounding words to gain the attention of his audience, a technique known as assonance. The two adverbs stress two aspects of God’s past revelation.  First, it was partial (“in many parts”). Second, it was given in different “ways” or “manners,” presumably, by different methods of delivery (e.g., prophecy, visions, dreams).

The first two stanzas contain three contrasts:
  1. God spoke “of old,” whereas now, He has spoken, “upon these last days.”
  2. Previously, God spoke to “the fathers,” ancient Israel, but now, He speaks “to us.”
  3. In the past, God spoke “in the prophets,” but now, He speaks “in a Son.”
The first point is that God did speak in the past, however, only partially. As true and gracious as His past disclosures were, they were promissory, preparatory, and incomplete. Thus, a fuller word of revelation was needed. The past Word was not incorrect, but it was partial. In contrast, His complete Word has been expressed in His Son.

Upon the last of these days.” This clause provides the time element for the new Word “in a Son.” As elsewhere, the period known as the “last days began with the Death and Resurrection of Jesus. His exaltation ushered in a new era, the time of fulfillment (Acts 2:17Galatians 4:4Ephesians 1:10).

With the turning of the ages, God has spoken, “in a Son.”  In the Greek clause, there is no definite article or “the” with the word “son.” Clearly, the “son” in view is Jesus; however, by omitting a definite article the stress falls on the class or status of “son,” not his individual identity.  That is, the word God now speaks is by means of one who is a son. A son is in the closest relationship to a father - The category stresses the elevated status of Jesus and the superiority of the Word expressed in him. The focus is the superiority of the Son over all that preceded him.

The Son in whom God now speaks is the same one He “appointed the heir of all things.”  This clause alludes to the second Psalm, a passage in which Yahweh promised to give the Son the “nations as an inheritance.” It is one of two messianic Psalms that figure prominently in the letter:
  • (Psalm 2:8) – “Ask of me and let me give nations as thine inheritance, and, as thy possession, the ends of the earth.” - (The Emphasized Bible).
  • (Psalm 110:1-4) – “Yahweh saith unto my Lord, Sit thou at my right hand, Until I make thine enemies thy footstool…Yahweh hath sworn—and will not repent, Thou [shalt be] a priest unto times age-abiding, after the manner of Melchizedek.
The letter to the Hebrews has expanded the original promise so that the Son becomes the “heir of all things,” not just the “nations” or the “earth.” Likewise, in Hebrews 2:5-10, the Son is declared the heir and Lord of the “coming world.” The mention of his inheritance also alludes to the covenant promises made to Abraham - The "Son" is the true heir and seed of Abraham.

Sunrise Photo by Terry Tan De Hao on Unsplash
Photo by Terry Tan De Hao on Unsplash

The Son is the “
eradiated brightness of the glory and the exact impress of God’s very essence.” The clause designates Jesus as the one who reflects the very glory and image of God. The point is not metaphysical speculation about the nature of the Son but the unchallenged and surpassing greatness of the position the "Son" now holds. He gained this exalted position in the past by his accomplishment - “Having achieved the purification of sins, he was appointed heir of all things” - The clause “purification of sins” anticipates the later discussion of his priesthood and sacrifice.

The Son “sat down on the right hand of majesty.”  This statement also looks forward to the discussion of his priestly activities, especially his entry into the “Holy of Holies.” His act of sitting down sets him apart from the priests of the old and now outdated Levitical system, under which only the high priest could enter the Holy of Holies and only on the Day of Atonement.  The high priest entered only briefly to sprinkle the blood of the sacrifice, and he never “sat down” or otherwise remained before the altar. The act of “sitting down” demonstrated the completion of the sacrificial ministry of the "Son" - He applied the blood of his sacrifice “one-for-all”:
  • (Hebrews 7:26-27) – “For such a high-priest as this, for us, was [even] suited: Loving, noble, undefiled, set apart from sinners, and become higher than the heavens; Who hath no daily necessity like the high-priests beforehand over his own sins to be offering sacrifices, after that, over those of the people,—for this he did once for all when, himself, he offered up.” – (The Emphasized Bible).
  • (Hebrews 10:11-12) – “And every priest, indeed, standeth daily publicly ministering, and the same sacrifices ofttimes offering, the which never can clear away sins; But this priest, having offered one sacrifice for sins evermore, sat down on the right hand of God.” – (The Emphasized Bible).
Jesus entered the heavenly sanctuary “once for all” by means of his one-time sacrifice and obtained everlasting redemption. “Sat down” stresses the permanence of his new position. Jesus “became so much better than the angels,” having advanced beyond them by inheriting “more excellent name.” In this context, the “more excellent name” is “Son.” His “word” is vastly superior to past revelations in two key ways:
  1. It is the last and the final word in a long sequence of Divine revelations (“Upon the last of these days”).
  2. The Son himself is the culmination of all that has preceded him, the “perfecter of our faith” - (Hebrews 12:1-2).

Scriptural Proof - The Son is Superior to Angels
  • (Hebrews 1:5-14) - "For |unto which of the messengers| said he at any time--||My Son|| art |Thou|||I|| this day have begotten |thee|And again, ||I|| will become |his father|, And ||he|| shall become |my Son|? But whensoever he again introduceth the first-begotten into the habitable earth he saith--And let all God’s messengers worship him! ||Even as to the messengers|| indeed, he saith--Who maketh his messengers |winds|, And his ministers of state |a fiery flame|; But ||as to the Son||--Thy throne, O God, is to times age-abidingand, ||A scepter of equity|| is the scepter of his kingdomThou hast loved righteousness and hated lawlessness,--|For this cause| hath God, thy God, anointed thee with the oil of exultation |beyond thy partners|; And, ||Thou|| |by way of beginning|, Lord, the earth didst foundAnd |the works of thy hands| are the heavens,--They shall perish, But thou abidest still, And ||all|| |as a mantle| shall be worn out, And |as if a robe| wilt thou fold them up,--As a mantle, they shall be changed; But ||thou|| art |the same|And |thy years| shall |not fail|But |to which of the messengers| hath he said, at any time,--Sit thou at my right hand, Until I make thy foes thy footstool? Are they not all spirits |doing public service|,--|for ministry| sent forth, for the sake of them who are going to inherit salvation?" - (The Emphasized Bible).
This first comparison is a series of citations that prove the superiority of the Son over angels. The Author is not concerned with questions about the origin or nature of angels, nor is he explaining his Christology. He presents evidence by citing seven Old Testament passages to substantiate his proposition - The Son is superior to angels. He is not disparaging angels. Rather, if the angels are glorious and holy, how much more so is the Son?
The literary structure of this section is built around a rhetorical question stated at the beginning and the end of the paragraph - “To which of the angels said He at any time?” Between the two statements are the seven scriptural citations that demonstrate the superior status of the "Son."
The first six citations are divided into three pairs.  The first concerns the status of the Son (verse 5), the second, the functions of angels (verses 6-7), and the third, his exalted reign (verses 8-12). The seventh quotation links back to the first verse of the paragraph and responds to the rhetorical question - To no angel did God ever say, “Sit at my right hand until I make your foes your footstool” - Clearly, the implied answer is, “None!” The two words that link this paragraph to the opening proposition and to the exhortation that follows in the next paragraph are “angels” and “son” (Hebrews 2:1-4).

Jesus is inherently superior to angels by the very fact that he is the "Son." Not only so, but God commanded all His angels “to render homage” to him. The comparison of Jesus to the angels flows naturally into the first exhortation of the Letter - DO NOT NEGLECT THE WORD OF THE SON.

Exhortation - Do not Neglect to heed the Son’s Word
  • (Hebrews 2:1-4) - "|For this cause| it behooveth us with |unwonted firmness| to be holding fast unto the things that have been heard, lest, at any time, we drift away. For if the word through the messengers spoken became firm and |every transgression and disobedience| received a just recompense, how shall ||we|| escape, if |so great a salvation as this| we have neglected,--|which| indeed, having received |a beginning| of being spoken through the Lord, |by them who heard| unto us was confirmed, God |jointly witnessing also| both with signs and wonders and manifold mighty works, and with distributions of Holy Spirit |according to his own will}?" -  (The Emphasized Bible).
This paragraph is the summary, exhortation, and warning to which the preceding argument has been moving. The warning not to neglecting the "Son" will be reiterated several times in the Letter. Two exhortations that will be repeated several more times are now presented:
  • The need to “hear” and respond to the Word spoken in the Son.
  • Dire warnings concerning the danger of failing to heed him - (Hebrews 4:1-116:4-810:26-3112:25-26).
For this cause.” The clause connects this next paragraph to the preceding one. Because of the surpassing excellence of the Word spoken in the "Son," it is vital for believers to hold fast to it. If disregarding the word delivered by angels had dire consequences, how much more so neglecting the word spoken in Jesus?

The word spoken through angels.” In view is a Jewish tradition that the Law was given to Moses by angels.  This is not to disparage angels or Moses. Angels are glorious ministers of Yahweh, and Moses was his faithful servant. Whether angels mediated the Law, God was its source - (Deuteronomy 33:2Acts 7:53Galatians 3:19).
The Law or Torah was God’s revelatory word, regardless of His use of intermediaries. Therefore, the word spoken through angels became firm and every transgression received a just recompense. This being so, how shall we escape far greater punishment if we now abandon the vastly superior word spoken in one who is a "son"? As dangerous as it was to disobey the Word delivered through angels, how much more serious will the punishment be for ignoring the word of the Son?
The Author is arguing from lesser to greater. Angels are God’s ministers and serve His will. Moses was God’s anointed servant and the Great Lawgiver, yet the word spoken in the Son is vastly superior to the older one mediated by angels and given through Moses. Rejecting it will result in even greater punishment than disobedience to the Torah. Even returning to the earlier but partial Word is not an option.

Concluding Remarks

Some Christians were contemplating a return to the synagogue to escape persecution.  The goal of Hebrews was to encourage believers to hold fast to the superior revelation they have received in the Son, Jesus.

The author's strategy is to compare the word of the Son with the past but partial revelations of God, thereby demonstrating the surpassing greatness of His final revelation in the "Son." This is accomplished by presenting comparisons that demonstrate how the New Covenant has surpassed and superseded the former one.

Of immediate relevance to the contemporary church are the warnings about apostasy.  Whether one “drifts away” from Jesus into non-Christian Judaism, another religion entirely, or an irreligious life, one can expect to receive a “much sorer punishment” for abandoning the Son.  To whom much light is given much is required.

The word that God "spoke" in Jesus is His supreme and final Word.  As such, it surpasses all previous “words.” The supremacy of the Sonly Word takes precedence over even His past prophetic words.

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