In Lesson 1, we learned how the Hebrews author wanted to make sure the Christians that came from Judaism were aware of Christ’s qualifications. They were falling away and returning to the old ways because they either were not comfortable, or they were subject to the increasing persecutions of Christians. He described Christ with seven credentials that would have carried a lot of weight within the context of the Jewish culture.
If you haven’t yet. Read the full Lesson 1 text.
To summarize, the credentials of Christ can be found in Hebrews 1:1-3. In order of appearance:
- He is the heir of all things
- He is the creator of all things
- He radiates excellence
- He is the image of God
- He is the sustaining force
- He purchased our sins
- He sits at God’s right hand
The Jews of the day would have understood these legal and logical arguments. Even traditional laws then and now can be used to prove Christ’s authority. As if these reasons are not enough, the writer continues by showing how Christ is better than the things the Jews held sacred. He walks the reader through all of the devices that God gave to the children of Israel and shows how they were just shadows of the real things to come (Hebrews 8:5) – That is to say Christ, his church, and our reward.
One of the keywords of Hebrews is “Better.” The writer draws a number of parallels throughout Hebrews between Old and New Testament doctrine. In fact, Hebrews shows us why we need to study the Old Testament even though we are no longer subject to its laws. Many of the commands, events, and explanations of the New Testament make no sense without a full understanding of the old Law.
For the Hebrews reader contemplating lapsing back into Judaism, a list of reasons why Christianity is better is presented as an overarching theme. In order of how they are presented in the text, Christ is:
- … better than angels (Hebrews 1:4-14, Hebrews 2:5-18)
- … greater than Moses (Hebrews 3:1-6)
- … the greatest high priest (Hebrews 4:14-5:10) – Covered in part 2
- … a better sacrifice (Hebrews 9:1-10:39) – Covered in part 2
- … a priest like Melchizedek (better than the Levites) – Lesson 3
- … a better testator and delivered a better covenant – Lesson 4
It is difficult to tell someone that something they have studied and believed all of their life is flawed. The Hebrews writer was quite bold to have made a statement about the flaws of the first covenant and the better promises of Christ. (Hebrews 8:6-7) People are no different now. Pointing out what is flawed in the doctrines they grew up with is sensitive business. When we take on the task, we should be as prepared as the Hebrew writer was when he laid out these arguments.
Better Than Angels
Hebrews 1:4-16 introduces the argument that the angels where intended to be servants. Since angels were considered by the Jews as beings to be worshiped, this is a great place to start. The writer compares what Scripture says about angels vs. the Son of God and his deity:
- He is the Son of God (Hebrews 1:5) – Attributes Psalm 2:7 as referring to Christ and is backed up by Peter in Acts 4:25 and Paul in Acts 13:33 applying Psalm 2 to Christ.
- The angels were to worship him (Hebrews 1:6) – This was a reference to Psalm 97:7
- The angels are servants (Hebrews 1:7) – Not only were the angels not sons, they are referred to as servants. (Psalm 104:4) The angels were once thought by the Jews to be the managers of the wind and fire.
- Christ is God (Hebrews 1:8-9) – The writer quotes Psalm 45:6-7 and attributes it to God calling the Son God. Other passages that do the same: John 1:1, Act 20:28, Philippians 2:6, 2 Peter 1:1 and so on.
- Christ is God and Creator (Hebrews 1:10-12) – and he will outlast all he created. Quoted from Psalm 102:25-27.
- Christ was assigned to defeat our enemies (Hebrews 1:13) – Quoted from Psalm 110:1. Christ told us he sits at the right hand of power (Mark 14:62) and Paul said he is reigning until he hands the kingdom over to God (1 Corinthians 15:25)
While we do not hear much about angel worshiping today, it is good to see the arguments of just how heavenly and glorious Jesus’ presence was on earth. As glorious as angels are made out to be, Hebrews 1:14 reminds us that they serve those who are eligible to inherit salvation.
For the sake of continuing the discussion of angels, we will skim Hebrews 2:1-4 for now and come back to it in a later lesson. It is considered by some writers to be a deviation from the main topic. I prefer to refer to it as a warning. In the context of angels, the warning reminded the Jews to be careful about focusing on the angels at the expense of understanding the salvation Christ offers.
Hebrews 2:5-9 begins bringing the discussion of the angels to a head by quoting Psalm 8:4-6. At first glance, it feels a little like a contradiction. The writer has just contrasted Christ’s superiority to angels and then quotes these verses from Psalm 8:4-5 that appear to say he was a little lower than angels.
There is no contradiction. The verse is about man. “Man” refers to Adam and “Son of Man” refers to people after the fall(1). Our first inclination is to read that as referring Christ, but it is simply a poetic way to refer to man. Man, originally perfect in God’s image, was to be in control of all of creation. Sadly, with Adam’s sin, man lost that position and we cannot see creation in subjection to man. (v8)
Likewise, Hebrews 2:9, the writer says that Christ was brought a little lower than the angels for a little while. Even if this is considered an exception or even a little contradictory, it was for a sacrificial purpose so important that it “crowned the Lord with honor and glory.”
Jesus came in the form of a man who can exercise dominion over creation and then lowered himself to point that he could experience death for all man’s sake. This completed the perfection intended for man before his fall and laid the foundation for his salvation.
And the foundation he laid was perfection!
Through Christ’s suffering, he perfected salvation to the point that he can call us brothers. (v10-14) That suffering made Jesus real and proved he was of the same flesh and blood as we are. He not only suffered for us, but a lot like us. (v14ff) (Remember that the Christians were backsliding partially because of persecution)
Imagine that! If we are in a saved state, we are so closely related to Christ that he will speak of us as his family.
And he did it for us, not the angels. (v16) The angels have no concept of the suffering, the challenges and the temptations that people have to go through. Christ went through his suffering and humiliation so he would know. Now that he knows, he knows how to help us through all of the challenges of life.
Greater than Moses
Moses brought the Law down from God, so it makes sense that the Hebrews writer would take some time to cover him. Moses and Jesus compare and contrast so well, the writer is able to use common knowledge about Moses to help his audience have a better understanding of who Jesus was.
Speaking of using the Old Testament to study the Gospel, this is a good place to remind ourselves that the Hebrews writer (and for that matter, all the New Testament writers and apostles) possessed only the Old Testament in written form at the time this letter was written. They might have had access to some of the other letters in circulation, but I doubt they were given the same weight by the Jews as the church began to give them. Since every chapter of Hebrews has a reference to the Old Testament, we get a great sense of how Christ and the Gospel can be taught from within its pages.
Take a few minutes to consider these comparisons of Moses and Christ:
- Both were Israelites – The prophesies of the Messiah said he was coming from their countrymen. (Deuteronomy 18:15)
- Both were rejected (Exodus 2:14)
- Both left better circumstances to serve: Moses from Pharaoh’s palace and Jesus from heaven
- Both performed signs and wonders (Their first: water to blood/water to wine)
And then contrast them:
- Moses a servant, Christ the Son
- Moses was sinful, Christ is sinless (Deuteronomy 32:51,52; Hebrews 4:15)
- Moses delivered God’s people from physical bondage, Christ delivered us from the spiritual bondage of sin
- Moses’ mission pertained only to Israel, Christ’s, ultimately, to the “whole creation” (Mark 16:15)
In looking at our text, (Hebrews 3:1-6) we see the writer appeal to the Jew’s heritage and reasoning to prove that Christ was the one appointed from God and was faithful to God’s house, just like Moses. (v2)
Notice also how the writer refers back to Hebrews 1:2 and compares Christ the creator to Moses the creation:
- The Carpenter deserves greater glory than the house he builds (v3-4)
- Christ was the Son of God, his faithfulness is better and better qualified since he is the creator.
- Christians are a part of God’s house as long as they persevere. (Hebrews 3:6)
The significance of these two statements is that we are no longer subject to a servant, but to the creator himself!
Since there are no more first century Christians struggling with falling back to Judaism, we might want to take a bit to consider how this applies to us. Our struggle is not in trying to hold onto the teachings of Moses, but in trying to hold on to the teachings of the world.
It seems like every year, worldly people are shaming Christians into going along with a new version of what is “good.”
Every year, what was once rightly considered shameful is celebrated.
I would even say that we have forgotten a lot of what we are supposed to be ashamed of! (Jeremiah 6:15) To prove what I am talking about, ask someone that was a young adult in the 1950’s what people thought about those who were divorced. I promise you they carried a stigma and even more so for women.
Again, we can look at the warning of Hebrews 2:1-4 to pay attention. We are at risk of letting the world pull us back into its sinful ways rather than remembering and practicing what we have been taught in God’s word.
Lesson two is broken into multiple parts so we can give proper attention to the some of the more challenging points it covers. Just like the Hebrews writer had to be ready to completely argue his point, so should we be ready. Not completely understanding the Scriptures and not putting in the time to understand them is another one of the themes of Hebrews.