Supremacy of the Son

SYNOPSIS - The “word” spoken in the Son is the full revelation of God that takes precedence over all preceding and partial “words” – Hebrews 1:1-2:4

Bible - Photo 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, it had experienced pressure from outsiders and was facing the possibility of renewed pressure, perhaps even persecution by governing authorities - (Hebrews 2:15, 10:32-34, 13:24-25). - [Bible - Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash].

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

Unlike Christianity, Judaism had legal standing in the Roman Empire. The government exempted Jews from many requirements imposed on other groups, including participation in the imperial cult.  In its early years, the Roman government perceived Christianity as a Jewish sect - 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 - Perhaps even a subversive sect - Therefore, it began to lose the legal protections it previously enjoyed. Following the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70, the divide between the “church and synagogue” became pronounced - Increasingly, Christians found themselves under the scrutiny of Roman officials.

The concern in Hebrews is pastoral - The goal is to prevent Christians from leaving the faith. Repeatedly, it urges believers to remain faithful to the teachings received from Jesus and his apostles rather than returning to the synagogue. Faithfulness is the proper response to persecution. And also repeatedly, it warns of the dire consequences of faithlessness to Jesus - (Hebrews 2:1-46:1-1210:22-30).

To achieve this, Hebrews employs a rhetorical strategy called synkrisis, a series of comparisons designed to demonstrate the superiority of one thing over another; in the letter, comparisons that highlight the superiority of the “Son” over what God did under the older 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 each comparison, the letter presents dire warnings about the failure to heed the “word spoken in the Son.” It 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 - Word 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 letter opens by presenting its main proposition – The superior Word of God has been spoken in the Son at the start of History’s final phase – The “last days.”

The opening paragraph is one long sentence that 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 terms 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.”

Thus, the letter employs two like-sounding words to gain the attention of the audience, a technique known as assonance. The 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:
  • God spoke, “of old.” Now, He has spoken, “upon these last days.”
  • Previously, He spoke to the “fathers” but now “to us.”
  • In the past, He spoke “in the prophets” but now “in a Son.”
God did speak in the past “in the prophets” but only partially. As true and gracious as His past disclosures were - They were promissory, preparatory, incomplete. Thus, a fuller word of revelation was needed. The past “word” was not incorrect but partial. In contrast, His complete “word” has been “spoken in a Son.”

Upon the last of these days.” This 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 - (Compare - 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 “son.” Clearly, the “son” in view is Jesus; however, by omitting the definite article the stress falls on the class or status of one who is a “son,” not on his individual identity - The “word” that God now speaks is by means of one who is a son, a person is in the closest relationship to a father. The sonly category stresses the elevated status of Jesus and, thus, the superiority of his “word.”

The Son in whom God now speaks is the same one that He “appointed the heir of all things.”  This alludes to the second Psalm 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 expands the original promise - The Son has become 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 to Abraham - The "Son" is the true heir and seed of Abraham.

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

The Son “sat down on the right hand of majesty.”  This alludes to his priestly activities discussed in later chapters, especially his entry into the “Holy of Holies.” “Sitting down” contrasts his act from that of the Levitical high priest who also entered the “Holy of Holies” but only on the annual Day of Atonement and very briefly.  The latter never “sat down” or otherwise remained in the inner sanctuary. 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, thereby, obtained everlasting redemption for his people. “Sat down” stresses the permanence of his new and elevated position. He “became so much better than the angels,” having advanced beyond them by inheriting “more excellent name.” In this literary context, the “more excellent name” is “Son.”

His “word” is vastly superior to the past revelations “spoken in the prophets” in two ways:
  • First, it is the last and the final word in a long sequence of Divine revelations - (“Upon the last of these days”).
  • Second, the Son is the culmination of all that has preceded him, the “perfecter of our faith” - (Hebrews 12:1-2).

Scriptural Proof - Son 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-abiding, and, A scepter of equity is the scepter of his kingdom, Thou 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 found, And 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).
The series of scriptural citations demonstrate the superiority of the Son over angels. The letter is not concerned with the origin or nature of angels, nor is he explaining his Christology. The seven Old Testament passages 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 is built around the rhetorical question stated at the beginning and end of the paragraph - “To which of the angels said He at any time?” Between them are found the scriptural citations that demonstrate the superior status of the “Son.”

The first six citations are divided into three pairs.  The first pair 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 is a link 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.” The two words that link this paragraph to the opening proposition and to the exhortation that follows in chapter 2 are “angels” and “son” - (Hebrews 2:1-4).

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

Exhortation – Do not neglect the Son
  • (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 is the summary and exhortation to which the preceding argument has been moving. 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 about the danger of failing to heed him - (Hebrews 4:1-116:4-810:26-3112:25-26).
For this cause.” Logically, this clause connects this next paragraph to the preceding one. Because of the surpassing excellence of the “word spoken in a Son,” it is vital for believers to hold fast to it and him. 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 section does not disparage angels or Moses. Angels are glorious ministers of Yahweh, and Moses was his faithful servant. Whether angels or Moses mediated the Law, God was its source - (Deuteronomy 33:2Acts 7:53Galatians 3:19).
The Law was the revelatory word of Yahweh, regardless of any intermediaries. Therefore, the word spoken through angels became firm and every transgression received a just recompense. That being so, how shall we escape far greater punishment if we now abandon the vastly superior word spoken in one who is a “son”?
The letter argues from lesser to greater. Angels are God’s ministers; Moses was His anointed servant and lawgiver. But the word “spoken in the Son” is vastly superior to the older one whether mediated by angels, prophets, or Moses. Rejecting it results in even greater punishment than disobedience to the Torah. Returning to the earlier but partial “word” is not an option for persecuted believers.

Concluding Remarks

The goal of Hebrews is to encourage believers to hold fast to the superior revelation they have in Jesus. It compares the “word spoken in the Son” with the past but partial revelations given through prophets, angels, and even Moses, thus demonstrating the surpassing greatness of the final revelation of Yahweh provided in Jesus.

Of immediate relevance to all believers are the warnings against 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 is given much is required.

The word that God “spoke” in Jesus is His supreme and full revelation.  As such, it surpasses and takes precedence over all previous “words.”


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