His Supremacy

Through a series of comparisons, the letter to the Hebrews demonstrates the supremacy of the Son over his predecessors.

Matterhorn Photo by Samuel Ferrara on Unsplash
The letter to the 
Hebrews is addressed to a congregation facing pressure from outsiders and the possibility of persecution. Some members are contemplating withdrawing from the assembly, and possibly, a return to the local synagogue. The letter presents arguments for why doing so will have catastrophic consequences - [Photo by Samuel Ferrara on Unsplash].

The concern is pastoral, and the purpose is to prevent Christians from leaving the congregation and, ultimately, apostatizing. Repeatedly, the letter urges believers to remain faithful to the teachings of the apostolic tradition.

Faithfulness is the proper response to trials and persecution, and the letter warns of the dire consequences of faithlessness to Jesus - to abandon the church and return to the synagogue amounts to apostasy - (Hebrews 2:1-4, 6:1-12, 10:22-30).

COMPARISONS


The letter employs the rhetorical technique called synkrisis. It consists of comparisons that demonstrate the superiority of one thing over another.

For example, the letter highlights the superiority of the “Son” over what God did under the former and now “obsolete” covenant. The purpose is not to denigrate the past revelation, but to emphasize how much the glory of the new surpasses the old. Between each comparison, the letter presents dire warnings about apostasy.

The letter to the Hebrews compares the “word” of the Son to that of angels, Moses, and Joshua, his priesthood with the Levitical priests, his one-time sacrifice with the repeated sacrifices of the Tabernacle, and the former covenant with the New Covenant.

The previous “words” in the “prophets” were partial (“in many parts”), and delivered by various means (prophecy, visions, dreams). The “word” spoken in the “Son” differs in at least three ways. First, God spoke “of old,” but now, He has spoken, “upon these last days.” Second, He spoke to the “fathers,” but now, “to us.” And third, He spoke “in the prophets,” but now, “in a Son.”

As true and gracious as His past disclosures were, they were promissory and incomplete. Thus, a fuller word was needed. The past “word” was not incorrect, but partial. In contrast, His complete “word” is now “spoken in a Son.”

Upon the last of these days” provides the time element. With the death and resurrection of Jesus, God’s people have entered a new era, and in him, the time of fulfillment has commenced, and the “shadows” of the old system have been eclipsed by the “son” - (Acts 2:17, Galatians 4:4, Ephesians 1:10).

SON, HEIR, PRIEST


God has appointed the Son “the heir of all things.”  This clause alludes to the second Psalm when Yahweh promised to give His “son” the “nations as an inheritance.” It is one of two messianic Psalms that figure prominently in the epistle:

  • (Psalm 2:8) – “Ask of me and LET ME GIVE NATIONS AS YOUR INHERITANCE, and as your possession, the ends of the earth.
  • (Psalm 110:1-4) – “Yahweh said to my Lord, Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies your footstool… Yahweh has sworn and will not repent, YOU WILL BE A PRIEST TO TIMES EVERLASTING AFTER THE ORDER OF MELCHIZEDEK.

But Hebrews expands the original promise. The Son became the “heir of all things,” not just the “nations” or the “earth.” And the mention of his “inheritance” echoes the covenant promises made to Abraham since Jesus is the true heir of the patriarch.

And the “Son” is the “eradiated brightness of the glory and the exact impress of His very essence.” Jesus reflects the very glory and likeness of his Father. The point is not metaphysical speculation about his nature, but the surpassing greatness of the position he now holds.

He gained this exalted status as the “high priest forever” by his past accomplishment - “having achieved the purification of sins, he was appointed heir of all things.” And this last clause anticipates the letter’s later discussions on his priesthood, covenant, and sacrifice.

Jesus “sat down on the right hand of majesty.”  While this applies to his royal reign, more importantly, it refers to his priestly activities, especially his entrance into the “Holy of Holies” on behalf of his people.

And “sitting down” contrasts his priestly act with that of the Levitical high priest who also entered the “Holy of Holies” but only on the annual Day of Atonement, and only for a very brief time. The Aaronic high priest never “sat down” in the inner sanctum, but the Son did exactly that, only in the greater and true Tabernacle. His act demonstrated the completion of his sacrifice - (Hebrews 7:26-27, 10:11-12).


Matterhorn - Photo by Tim Stroeve on Unsplash
[Matterhorn - Photo by Tim Stroeve on Unsplash]


Jesus entered the heavenly sanctuary “once for all” through his one-time sacrifice, thereby obtaining everlasting redemption for his people. And stressing that he “sat down” indicates the permanence of his elevated position.

MORE EXCELLENT NAME


And he “became so much better than the angels,” having advanced beyond them by inheriting “a more excellent name.” And in this context, the “more excellent name” is “Son.”

In two ways, the “word spoken in a son” is superior to all past revelations. First, it is the last word in a long sequence of revelations (“Upon these last days”). Second, it is the culmination of all that preceded the Son - who has “perfected our faith” - (Hebrews 12:1-2).

The letter argues from lesser to greater. Angels are God’s ministers. Moses was His anointed servant. But the sonly word is vastly superior to any previous message whether mediated by angels, prophets, or the great Lawgiver himself. Rejecting it results in even greater punishment than disobedience to the Mosaic law.

Thus, for the persecuted believer, returning to the earlier but partial revelation is not an option, and doing so will result in disaster.

In summary, the epistle compares the “word spoken in a son” with the past but partial revelations made through prophets, angels, priests, and even the Great Lawgiver, Moses. In this way, it demonstrates the surpassing greatness of the final revelation given by God in His Son, Jesus Christ.



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