Hebrews Bible Study Week 2: Chapter 1

By | January 19, 2021
This entry is part 2 of 16 in the series Hebrews Bible Study

{Updated to add: This post and many of the following posts were part of an online Bible study over the book of Hebrews that I hosted in the past on my previous blog. I am reposting here to make the resource available to anyone interested.}

Hopefully you were able to read through the entire book of Hebrews for our overview at least once last week—if not you can still do this at any time!

What were your initial thoughts after reading through the book? Hebrews can be a challenging book to understand at times, but I already feel I have a bit better understanding just by seeing the book as a whole.

One of the things that struck me was the love of the author for the people to whom he wrote and the passion with which he pleaded with them. In 13:22 he calls this book a “word of exhortation,” and the book is certainly full of both warnings and exhortations/encouragements. It seems like the warnings and the encouragements are two sides of the same coin. He warns them what will happen if they don’t strive and endure, and yet he hopes better things for them—that they will endure and encourages them to do so.

This actually reminded me of my high school science teacher. He often told us two things (which I have frequently told my own kids!): “If you don’t learn to work hard, you are going to live in a cardboard box under an overpass in Phoenix” and “Work is work; that’s why they call it work.” These were warnings of what would happen if we didn’t strive to work hard at our biology, chemistry, and anatomy. Yet these warnings were also paired with sacrificial hours spent after school to help us understand some of these challenging subjects and encouragement to persist. Warnings paired with encouragement.

The other thing that struck me is that all of these warnings, these encouragements, these exhortations to obedience (i.e., all the “do” this and “do not do” that passages) are grounded in various truths about Jesus Christ. To tear away the warnings and the commands apart from the truths about Christ could push us towards fear and legalism. To only study the truths about Christ without a resulting action on our part would make the warnings in this book very applicable to our souls.

Let’s move on, though, to chapter 1. . .

When I ask myself questions of the text, the questions I ask are very basic questions based on the 6 “question words”: Who, What, Where, When, Why, and How. You can go through the text yourself and come up with these questions. Then, simply go back and answer your own questions. I will list my questions below shortly.

One of the other big things to note is connecting words. Conjuctions like and, but, or, and for can help you understand the text better. And joins words, phrases, or two sentences together. But shows contrast (this is an important one in Hebrews!). Or can show options or opposing ideas. For (or similar words like therefore) can show a reason—why? When you see for or therefore ask yourself, “What is it there for?”

So here are my initial questions straight from the text. We may ask more questions later as these simple questions and answers lead to more questions, but this will be a good start. Here is the pdf of the questions: Hebrews 1 Questions

Introduction (vv 1-4)

How did God formerly speak to the audience’s Jewish ancestors (“fathers”) long ago?

More recently (to the author/audience) how has God spoken to them?

How is God’s Son described?

  • What did God appoint his Son to be?
  • What did God do through his Son?
  • How is the Son described in comparison to God (v 3)?
  • What does the Son currently do?
  • What did the Son do in the past?
  • After he had made purification for sins, what did the Son do?
  • To whom is the Son much superior and more excellent?

These first four verses serve as the introduction to the whole letter. What does the author establish about the Son of God in these introductory verses?

As you may remember from your overview reading of the book, the rest of this chapter focuses on the Son’s being better than angels—already hinted at in the end of his introduction. Angels is a key word in this chapter, and there is a lot of comparison between the Son and angels. I circled every reference (including pronouns—him/he/you) to the Son and I underlined references to angels to help me visualize the comparisons here being made.

Support with OT proof texts that the Son is more excellent and superior to angels (vv 5-14)

{If you have a Bible with cross-references, you can look up these OT passages and read through them.}

What did God say of the Son which he never said of angels? (v 5)

What were angels to do to the Son? (v 6)

What does God say of angels? (v 7)

In contrast, what does God say of the Son? (vv 8-12)

What has God said to the Son, which he has never said to angels? (v 13)

Who is the they of v 14? How are they described?

These are the very basic, initial questions I first ask of the text. I know I myself have a lot more questions to ask, especially of all the Old Testament (OT) references. I will likely update my post a couple times throughout the week with more questions of my own or comments (or to fix typos!). Check back for those if you are interested.

Even asking and answering these basic questions, however, can help you grasp the basic meaning of the text. It is clear that the Son is superior to angels. Chapter 2 will help us understand how we should respond. But we can at least respond this week with the same response that the angels have: worship of the Son!

1.29.20 Updated to add: Here are some more questions that I’ve asked myself as I’ve dug deeper into the chapter. I’ve also included how to do a word/phrase study on a word that you come across that you’d like to understand better. Again, here’s a pdf of the questions (Page 1 is the same as the basic questions; pages 2-5 are the additional ones and word study): Hebrews Week 1 Overview with answers

Questions that dig a little deeper. . .

  1. In the first four verses, we have a lot of words and phrases that describe the Son. Make sure you understand at least to some degree what these mean. Some phrases might be easily understood at face value, but you may not understand the significance of what it means.

One example might be the description in verse 3 that the Son “sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high.” I will give one example of how you could do a word/phrase study.

    • First, see how the author uses the phrase in the book you are studying—in this case, Hebrews, of course. Sometimes you might have a cross-reference in your Bible that gives other references. Or you might remember (and have already marked it like I did) that the author uses a similar phrase a few of other times in the book. I like to write it down/copy & paste to see them all.
      • “After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs” (1:3b-4).
      • “And to which of the angels has he ever said, ‘Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet’?” (1:13, quoting Psalm 110:1).
      • “Now the point in what we are saying is this: we have such a high priest, one who is seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven a minister in the holy places, in the true tent that the Lord set up, not man (8:1-2).
      • “And every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet. For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified (10:11-14).
      • “Looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God (12:2).
    • Secondly, see how the author uses the word/phrase in other books he has written. In this case, we do not know for sure the authorship. I think it is likely not Paul, and neither Barnabas nor Apollos wrote any books in the Bible.
    • Third, see how other biblical authors used the phrase, especially in the NT in our case (although OT is important too, seeing the author quotes the OT). Here a concordance is really helpful. You can use a physical commentary or an online source like E-sword, Logos, etc. I’ve even used the search feature on my ESV Bible app, and that works great if you’re just looking for the same English word/phrase. (If you want to find the same Greek word, you’d have to use a Strong’s Concordance, E-Sword, etc. I just downloaded E-Sword for free and downloaded the ESV Bible on it. Then I highlighted right hand and right clicked. This allows me to see other verses with that phrase.) Here’s what I found (concerning something similar to right hand of the throne of God):
      • Although many of the verses I saw did not reference exactly the “right hand of the throne of God,” there were many references to “right hand,” many of which implied a place of honor and prestige (which the disciples argued over, for example)
      • “The Lord says to my Lord: ‘Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool’” (Psa 110:1).
      • Matt 22:44—Jesus quotes Psa 110:1 when asking the Pharisees a question.
      • “And the high priest said to him, ‘I adjure you by the living God, tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God.’ 64 Jesus said to him, ‘You have said so. But I tell you, from now on you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power and coming on the clouds of heaven.’ Then the high priest tore his robes and said, “He has uttered blasphemy (Matt 26:63b-65a).
      • In Mark 12:36 Jesus again quotes Psa 110:1 when teaching (cf. Lk 20:42).
      • “Again the high priest asked him, ‘Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?’And Jesus said, ‘I am, and you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven’” (Mark 14:61-62).
      • “So then the Lord Jesus, after he had spoken to them, was taken up into heaven and sat down at the right hand of God” (Mark 16:19).
      • “’But from now on the Son of Man shall be seated at the right hand of the power of God’” (Lk 22:69).
      • “’This Jesus God raised up, and of that we all are witnesses. Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you yourselves are seeing and hearing.  For David did not ascend into the heavens, but he himself says, ‘ “The Lord said to my Lord, “Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool.’ ” Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified’” (Acts 2:32-36)
      • “The God of our fathers raised Jesus, whom you killed by hanging him on a tree. God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins” (Acts 5:30-31).
      • “But he, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. And he said, “Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God’” (Acts 7:55-56).
      • “Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us” (Rom 8:34).
      • “That he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all” (Eph 1:20-23).
      • “If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God” (Col 3:1).
      • “Jesus Christ,who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to him” (1 Peter 3:21-22).
    • Fourth, make some observations about what you just read, giving more weight to how the author used the word or phrase in the particular book you are studying and in other books he wrote.
      • In Hebrews, Jesus’ sitting down at the right hand of the throne of God was done after he had sacrificed himself/made purification for sins. This sacrifice is contrasted with the priests’ repetitive, daily sacrifices. Jesus offered a single sacrifice, and then sat down. This sitting down implies completion of sacrifice. It was something Jesus looked forward to; it is an honor and a symbol of his victory over his enemies.
      • In the Gospels, Jesus told those who were condemning them that they would see Jesus at the right hand of the throne of God. The Jews rightly took this as an assertion of Jesus’ deity, calling him a blasphemer. It also seems to connect with Jesus using his enemies as his footstool—perhaps this was the means by which his accusers would seem him there—from “under his feet.” In Acts, Jesus was seated at the right hand after he went to heaven after his resurrection, often connected with God’s exultation of him. The epistles also connect Jesus’ being seated at God’s right hand with his resurrection—his victory over death as well as his victory over his enemies.

2. The bulk of Hebrews chapter 1 is quotations from the Old Testament. Use a cross-reference Bible to find the OT sources for each quotation, and read both the verses and the context.

    • Heb 1:5a quotes what Psalm? Read the whole psalm. What is sonship to the LORD (Jehovah) linked with?
    • Heb 1:5b quotes what OT passage? Read the entire section in which the verse lies. In the original verse, who is speaking to whom about whom? What is said of him? Since the author of Hebrews applies this verse to the Son of God, what is implied about the Son here then?
    • What does it mean in Heb 1:6 when “he brings the firstborn into the world”? What OT passage is quoted in the second part of that verse? What do you think this quotation intends to communicate?
    • In Heb 1:7, God says something else about angels, quoting what Psalm? Read the whole psalm. How does this verse fit into the whole psalm? How does this verse communicate an inferiority to the Son?
    • The superiority of the Son is contrasted in Heb 1:8-9 in the quotation of what Psalm? Again, read the whole psalm. What is true about the Son?
    • Heb 1:10-12 quote another psalm; what is it? Read that psalm. What is the purpose of the psalm? What truths does the psalmist communicate about God? What truths are thus true about the Son, showing his superiority to angels?
    • In Heb 1:13, the author quotes what psalm? Read that whole psalm. What is communicated about the Son that shows his superiority to angels?
    • Angels are not without good use, however. Heb 1:14 says they have what responsibility?
  1. Almost all the claims made about the Son in the introduction (Heb 1:1-4) are proven throughout this chapter. Look back at the descriptions of the Son you already noted and write down/mark how the OT texts quoted here support these claims.

**Don’t be overwhelmed if these additional questions and word study seem like too much. Figure out what you can. Do what you have time for. All of these OT quotes make all the background work a little heftier in this first chapter. But if you do have time, it is worth the work!!

1.30.20 SPOILER ALERT! Updated to add: Here are my answers to the questions I asked. For the most part, these are mostly my observations and conclusions from my study. After I formed my answers I consulted a couple of commentaries to help me figure out a couple questions I had and to verify my conclusions.

Truths about the Son (vv 1-4):

  • Spokesman: He is the means by which God has spoken.
  • Owner: God appointed him to be heir of all things; everything is his.
  • Creator: God created the world through the Son.
  • Divine: He is the radiance of God’s glory and exact imprint of his nature
  • Powerful Sovereign: He upholds the universe with his powerful word.
  • Savior: He made purification for sins.
  • Finisher of Salvation/Exulted one: He sat down at God’s right hand
  • Superior: He is superior to/more excellent than angels

Reasons that the Son is superior to angels from the OT:

  • Reason 1: Verse 5a quotes Psa 2:7. In Psalm 2 God established the Son to be King—owner of the earth and nations, the ruler who can devastate those who spurn his rule or bless those who take refuge in him. Verse 5b quotes 2 Sam 7:14In 2 Sam 7:4-17 God told Nathan the prophet to speak to David of His covenant with him. He promised to establish David’s kingdom through his offspring. Speaking of Solomon, but here applied to the Son of God, God said that He would be his father and Solomon/Jesus would be his son and have an eternal throne. Both of these passages link sonship with being the king. The Son is the King who takes the throne. These are claims not made of angels.

 

  • Reason 2: Verse 6 says that when God “brings the firstborn into the world”. . .  “He is called ‘the firstborn’ because he exists before all creation and because all creation is his heritage.”[1] The timing “is not so much a question of his being brought into the world as of his being introduced to it as the Son of God, and we may think rather of his exaltation and enthronement as sovereign over the inhabited universe.” [2] This verse quotes the Septuagint (Greek translation of the Hebrew) form of Deut 32:43 which says
 ‘Rejoice, O heavens, along with him,
And let the sons of God worship him;
Rejoice, O nations, with his people,
And let all the angels of God ascribe strength to him;
For he avenges the blood of his sons, and will avenge it,
And will recompense punishment to his adversaries;
Even to those who hate him will he recompense it,
And the Lord will cleanse his people’s land.’”[3]

Angels are to worship God; here angels are to worship the Son as well.

  • Reason 3: Verse 7 quotes Psa 104:4. Psalm 104 praises God for his greatness and for his many great works, one of which is to make his angels (messengers) winds and his ministers a flaming fire. This is poetical language (like the line above in the psalm “he makes the clouds his chariot”) used to show that God’s creation (including angels) is at his disposal to do his bidding. Angels are created beings. Contrast this with verses 8-9 which quote Psalm 45:6-7. “Ps. 45:6–7, which celebrates a royal wedding, is used with reference to Christ, the king of Israel, who supremely fulfils the ideal of sharing in the righteousness and joy of God’s eternal kingdom.”[4] Verses 10-12 go on to contrast with created angels by quoting Psa 102:25-27In Psa 102 the psalmist is in distress and cries to the LORD. In the first part, he describes his afflicted, withering state. He contrasts his transient state to the everlasting, unchanging existence and rule of the One who created the passing-away heavens and earth. Angels are created beings who do God’s bidding; the Son is the unchanging and eternal Creator.

 

  • Reason 4: God never said of angels that which he said of the Son in verse 13, quoting Psa 110:1In Psalm 110, David speaks of the LORD (Jehovah) speaking these words to David’s Lord, here identified as the Son who shares the throne with his Father and triumphs over his enemies. Angels serve God by ministering to and serving those who will inherit salvation—believers (v 14).

Almost all of the claims made about the Son in the intro are proven in this chapter:

  • God used to speak by the prophets—the author cites various psalms, including prophetic ones, as well as Nathan the prophet.
  • God appointed his Son to be heir of all thingsPsa 2 established him as the owner of the earth and nations
  • God created the world through his Son—Psa 102 established the Son as Creator
  • The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and exact imprint of his nature—the quotation from Deut 32 established the Son as the God to be worshiped; Psa 45 declares him to be God.
  • The Son upholds the universe by the word of his powerPsa 102 establishes his sovereignty over creation.
  • The Son sat down at the right hand of the throne of GodPsa 110 established this.

[1] Bruce, F. F. (1990). The Epistle to the Hebrews (Rev. ed., p. 56). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.

[2] Ibid, pp 57-58.

[3] Ibid, pp 56-57.

[4] Peterson, D. G. (1994). Hebrews. In D. A. Carson, R. T. France, J. A. Motyer, & G. J. Wenham (Eds.), New Bible commentary: 21st century edition (4th ed., pp. 1326). Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press.

He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs” Hebrews 1:3-4 (ESV).

 

 

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