The Hebrews have a special relationship with God which began with a particular fondness for Abraham. Since then, He has communicated with them in extraordinary ways. There were the angels, the magnificent miracles and His word spoken through the prophets –especially Moses.
God had a single purpose planned when He chose to set them apart from everyone else. The Hebrews, as a nation, would preach His message of salvation through their interactions with Him.
Please keep in mind that there are two related, but very distinct concepts here. First, there’s salvation: believers receiving God’s gift of eternal life (being saved). And second, there’s being priests: preaching about that salvation.
It was after they left Egypt and were camped at the foot of Mount Sinai that God made His promise to them alone. “If you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be My own possession among all the peoples, for all the earth is Mine; and you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” ( ).
Although we think of that covenant as a set of rules for them to have safe, productive, godly lives, that’s not the primary objective. The intent of the Old Covenant is clearly stated in that Exodus 19 passage. It was an agreement appointing the Hebrews as His “kingdom of priests” to the world. God made them holy –not meaning “sinless,” but instead meaning “separated from the rest.” (A term that I like to mentally substitute for priest is “ambassador” –it’s from .)
As priests (ambassadors), the Hebrews sometimes exhibited trust in God; but more often, they displayed a rebellious nature. In the times that they followed Him, they enjoyed peace and comfort. When they deviated, calamity loomed –and He sent prophets to warn them. When His warnings were ignored, the calamity materialized. Yet, each time they were restored –eventually.
God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world. And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power. (Hebrews 1:1-3)
Malachi was their last prophet before Jesus’ birth and that was about 400 years prior. He and the prophets before him wrote about the Messiah’s coming –when God was going to do something new in His relationship with mankind. He was going to clearly show how far we were from Him by pointing out our rebellious ways (sins) and also show a single way back. It was how righteousness would be restored –on an individual basis– making us perfect in His eyes.
This book, A Letter to the Hebrews, begins with an epic announcement to those children of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob who lived after the cross. The Son of God –their Messiah, the Creator of the universe– had already been there. He came in plain sight and all the while, everything He did and said lined up with what they were told would happen.
Although the angels are powerful and holy and have roles as messengers, God’s Son is greater –supreme in every way. The Old Testament is filled with prophecies about Him so that when He came to live among the Hebrews those two thousand years ago, they would welcome and respect Him above all others.
When He had made purification of sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much better than the angels, as He has inherited a more excellent name than they.
For to which of the angels did He ever say, “You are My Son, Today I have begotten You”? And again, “I will be a Father to Him And He shall be a Son to Me”?
And when He again brings the firstborn into the world, He says, “And let all the angels of God worship Him.” And of the angels He says, “Who makes His angels winds, And His ministers a flame of fire.” (Hebrews 1:3-7)
Verse three sets the dominant theme of the book: Jesus is the final High Priest –He took His own blood into heaven. “When He had made purification of sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high.” The context here is the Day of Atonement when the Levitical High Priest took the blood of two sacrifices into the Holy of Holies and sprinkled it on the mercy seat. (One was for himself; the other was for the people he represented.)
I noted in the introduction that each quote found in the New Testament serves as a bookmark to an Old Testament passage. The bookmarked passages in this letter outline the Hebrews’ history –and in turn provide the foundation for understanding the letter.
There’s an especially significant phrase preceding the quotes in this Hebrews passage. It declares that God the Father is the speaker –not of just the one sentence quotes, but of each of the whole Old Testament passages referenced.
The quote “You are My Son, Today I have begotten You” is an excerpt from which points to His Son’s birth and their Father-Son relationship. When read in its entirety, the psalm prophesies even more. It tells that the world leaders are constrained with “cords” (leashes) to limit their reach and “fetters” (tying their feet together) to slow them down. They can only accomplish what God the Father determined in advance. It also says that His Son would be the anointed One. He would be installed as King on Mount Zion. And He would be the Owner, Ruler and Judge of the earth and all that is in it. Lastly, there’s a warning. Each person will either join with His Son (“take refuge in Him”) or perish.
Next, “I will be a father to him and he shall be a son to Me,” is from . This quote, as it is presented here in Hebrews, reiterates their Father-Son relationship. By reading more from that 2 Samuel chapter, we see Jesus’ purpose. Just as Solomon oversaw the building of the temple that his father King David planned, so Jesus is overseeing the building of the eternal temple that His Father planned. Additionally, the passage foretells that God’s Son would have an eternal kingdom. He would be a descendant of David. He would be punished for sin by God –using men as instruments. And His Father’s love for Him would never end.
The last quote in this section, “and let all the angels of God worship him” leads to . We’ve read that God the Father is describing His Son here. The Deuteronomy passage says that He –the Son– is God. He’s the Rock, the Life Giver, the Healer, the Deliverer and the Avenger. He’s the One who will make atonement for the land. And He’s the One that the angels worship.
At the end, there is the mention of angels being wind and fire. It’s fromand continues the Father’s description of His Son. It pictures the angels assisting Him –adorned in His glory– creating the universe. The significance here is that the angels –whether winged creatures or elements of the creation– are subordinate to the Son.
This next Hebrews section begins with “But of the Son He says.” Once again we see God’s declaration –this one is emphatic– that the Old Testament passages, from which these quotes come, are about His Son!
But of the Son He says,
“Your throne, O God, is forever and ever, And the righteous scepter is the scepter of His kingdom. “You have loved righteousness and hated lawlessness; Therefore God, Your God, has anointed You With the oil of gladness above Your companions.”
And, “You, Lord, in the beginning laid the foundation of the earth, And the heavens are the works of Your hands; They will perish, but You remain; And they all will become old like a garment, And like a mantle You will roll them up; Like a garment they will also be changed. But You are the same, And Your years will not come to an end.” (Hebrews 1:8-12)
The first quote comes from the. In it, God proclaims that His Son is God –with an eternal throne –ruling His kingdom. The psalm continues the prediction. His Son is a man. He demonstrates the godly characteristics of truth, humility and righteousness. He will judge the nations. And He is King over all mankind.
The remainder of this section of Hebrews echoes , stating that the Son has power and authority over His creation. Just as simply as we put on a clean set of clothes, He will restore the heavens and earth to their pristine state –never to be corrupted again. And describes the new earth’s inhabitants. They are His people who were formerly held prisoner and doomed to death –but then brought together and set free to eternally praise and serve Him.
The Hebrews knew their Scriptures when Jesus lived among them. At least their religious leaders did. Those prophetic Scriptures –of which we’ve read only a few– contain a multitude of insights to the fact that God was going to send His Son in human form to bring His plan to fruition.
But to which of the angels has He ever said, “Sit at My right hand, Until I make Your enemies A footstool for Your feet”? Are they not all ministering spirits, sent out to render service for the sake of those who will inherit salvation? (Hebrews 1:13-14)
“Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet” is the first verse of . In the psalm, the Father expresses His Son’s authority –specifically, on the Day of the Lord’s wrath –at the Battle of Armageddon. The Son’s kingdom will be centered in Jerusalem (Zion). He will be an eternal Priest. And He will lead His army to crush all of His enemies and rule over those who remain. God didn’t give any of His angels this authority. It was reserved exclusively for His Son.
The Son and the angels have separate roles in God’s plan. His Son is the way to salvation –to the kingdom of God –to eternal life. The angels’ role is to watch over those who follow the Son. In the next chapter, we’ll look at some messages that those “ministers” proclaimed.