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13 September 2019

Exaltation of Jesus in the book of Hebrews

SYNOPSIS - The book of Hebrews presents the exaltation of Jesus - His transition from suffering to sovereignty over the Cosmos

Starry Sky Photo by Mindaugas Vitkus on Unsplash
Threaded through the epistle to the Hebrews is the transition of the Son from one status to a higher one - His elevation as the result of his death and resurrection. The letter presents the superiority of the Son over all his predecessors to encourage his disciples to hold tightly to their confession and not to apostatize by regressing to outdated revelations. The “word spoken in the Son” is vastly superior to all preceding revelations from God, whether “spoken” in prophets, angels, Moses, Aaron, or in the rituals of the Levitical system. - [Photo by Mindaugas Vitkus on Unsplash].

The “perfection” of the Son is the result of his faithful obedience unto death on behalf of his “brethren.” God vindicated him when he raised him from the dead and exalted him to sit at the “right hand of the throne of majesty.”
  • (Hebrews 1:1-3) - “Whereas in many parts and in many ways of old, God spake unto the fathers in the prophets, at the end of these days He hath spoken unto us in his Son – whom he hath appointed heir of all things, through whom also he hath made the ages; Who being an eradiated brightness of his glory and an exact representation of his very being, 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” - (The Emphasized Bible).
The letter provides a series of comparisons between the past revelations of God and his final “word spoken in a Son.” Hebrews does not denigrate the previous “words” of God but stresses the superiority of the final “word” in His Son.

Becoming Superior to Angels

As a result of his exaltation, the Son “became superior to the angels, having inherited a more distinguished name” - “Son.” To “inherit” means to acquire something that results in a change in condition or status. The letter validates this proposition by citing two Old Testament passages:
  • (Hebrews 1:5) - “For to which of the angels said he at any time, You are my Son, I, this day, have begotten you, and again, I will become his father, and he shall become my Son?” - (From - Psalm 2:72 Samuel 7:14).
This day” translates the emphatic Greek adverb sémeron - (Strong’s #G4594), which points to a specific time when the Son was appointed king. At no point did God ever say such a thing to any angel. Instead, He declared this only to the one designated “son.” Because Jesus “loved righteousness and hated lawlessness,” God “anointed him with the oil of exultation beyond his partners.”

The opening paragraph concludes by comparing the Son to the angels using a passage from the Psalms and one of the main Old Testament texts used in the letter:
  • (Psalm 110:1) - “But to which of the angels has he said at any time, Sit at my right hand until I make your foes your footstool?”
Since Jesus was appointed to rule, a position no angel ever received, he is superior to even the highest angel. The first comparison concludes with an exhortation not to drift away from the things that believers received already from the Son:
  • If the word spoken through angels proved steadfast, and every transgression and disobedience received a just recompense of reward, how shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation?” - (Hebrews 2:1-4).
The statement refers to the Jewish tradition that Moses received the Torah from the hands of angels. This does not disparage the Law but stresses the superiority of the word “spoken in the Son.” If the word mediated by angels included severe penalties for disobedience, how much more so does the “word spoken in the Son”? - (Acts 7:53Galatians 3:19).

The Perfecting of the Son

All things have been subjected beneath the feet of the Son - God “left to him nothing un-subjected.” While not yet do we see all things subjected to him--:
  • We do see Jesus made some little less than angels; by reason of the suffering of death crowned with glory and honor, to the end that by the grace of God in behalf of every one he should taste of death.”
The key verbs are in the past tense, and we are told when this marvelous transition occurred - When the Son “tasted death” - He was “crowned with glory and honor” because of the “sufferings of death.” God determined to perfect or “complete” the Son “through suffering.”  The need for him to attain “perfection” points to a change or transition in his status; in this case, one achieved through “suffering.”

Church graveyard - Photo by Einar Storsul on Unsplash
Graveyard - Photo by Einar Storsul on Unsplash

In the letter, the “sufferings” refer to his death. The Son “paralyzed him who held the dominion of death, the Devil,” by means of his own death. This released all those men and women who “by fear of death, were all their lives liable to bondage.” He “was obliged in every way to be made like unto the brethren so that he might become a merciful and faithful high–priest.”  The Greek verb rendered “become” has the basic force of “becoming” something different (ginomai) - A change in rank or status - (Hebrews 2:14-18).

Becoming Superior to Moses
  • (Hebrews 3:1-6) - “Wherefore, holy brethren, partners in a heavenly calling, attentively consider the Apostle and High Priest of our confession, Jesus, as one faithful to him who made him: as Moses also in all his house. For of more glory than Moses has this one been counted worthy, by as much as more honor than the house has he that prepared it. For every house is prepared by someone, yet God prepared all things. Even Moses, indeed, was faithful in all his house as an attendant, for testimony of the things which would be spoken; but Christ as a Son over his house, whose house are we if the confidence and boast of the hope we hold fast throughout firm.”
Next, the letter compares Jesus to Moses to demonstrate his superiority. In the opening paragraph, it compared the “word spoken in the Son” to the earlier “word spoken in the prophets.” Moses was more honored than all the other prophets of the old era. Unlike others, God spoke to him face-to-face. The greater rank of Moses serves to emphasize the superiority of the Son over all those who preceded him, including Moses:
  • (Numbers 12:7-8) – “Not so, my servant Moses, — In all my house, trusty is he: Mouth to mouth do I speak with him, And plainly — not in dark sayings, And the form of Yahweh doth he discern” - (The Emphasized Bible).
As our “apostle,” Jesus is the one sent from God to deliver His final revelatory Word.  As our “high priest,” he represents us to His Father and makes intercession on our behalf. The description of him as “one faithful” and the reference to Moses as “also in all his house” together allude to the passage from the book of Numbers cited above - (“My servant Moses is not so; he is faithful in all my house”).

In Jewish tradition, the passage from Numbers demonstrated that Moses received greater honor and rank than the angels.  Since the Son is superior to the angels, and since disobedience to his “word” incurs an even greater degree of punishment than disobedience to the “word” mediated by angels, logically, the Son is superior even to Moses.

The three keywords - “faithful,” “priest,” “house” – All allude to a prophecy from 1 Samuel 2:35 where God promised to “raise me up a faithful priest; according to that which is in my heart and in my soul will he do. Therefore, will I build for him an assured house.” Jesus is that same promised “faithful priest” set over God’s “house.”

But there is a difference.  Jesus is worthy of far more honor than Moses, just as the one who “prepares” a house is worthy of more honor than the house. The Son is closely associated with the builder, God. Christ has been set over the “house,” but Moses was a servant in it.

Moses was an “attendant” in the house “for a testimony” of the word that “will be spoken.”  As the faithful attendant of Yahweh, Moses was a witness to the word that would come later. The Law given to him by angels was preparatory for the later and superior “word spoken in the Son.”

Metaphorically, “house” refers to the living community of God’s people.  Jesus is “over His house whose house are we.” Believers remain his “household” as long as they hold fast their “confidence and boast of hope.”

Learning Obedience

In the “days of his flesh,” the Son offered up supplications to the one who was able to save him out of death.  Most likely, this refers to the prayers of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane - (Matthew 26:36-46).

Though he was hearkened to by reason of his devoutness, yet still, “even though a son, he learned obedience from what things he suffered.” In this way, he was “made perfect” or “complete.”

Once again, the letter presents a Son who was “made perfect” in his sufferings.  Because of this, he also “became to all those who obey him Author of everlasting salvation.” His present exalted status is based on his past obedience unto death. Implicit in this language is his change of status to a higher position than he previously held.

Becoming a Priest Forever

Christians are reassured that they have “a mighty consolation…an anchor of the soul, both secure and firm” because their forerunner – Jesus - entered the interior of the sanctuary through the “veil.”  Thus, this same Jesus “became a high priest forever according to the rank of Melchizedek” - (Hebrews 6:18-20, Psalm 110:4).

As our everlasting “high priest,” Jesus “became a surety of a better covenant” than anything in the Levitical legislation. His appointment as “high priest” occurred when he “sat down on the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens” because of his resurrection and exaltation.

As the “high priest according to the rank of Melchizedek,” the Son has attained “a more distinguished public ministry” than any of the Levitical priests – He became the “mediator of a better covenant” based upon “better promises.” These statements convey the idea of the Son “becoming” something “better” than what was provided under the Levitical system, for example:
  • (Hebrews 8:1-6) – “A crowning point on the things being spoken: — such a one as this have we as high-priest, who hath sat down on the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens, — Of the Holy place a public minister, and of the Real Tent, which the Lord, pitched and not man. For every high-priest for the offering of both gifts and sacrifices is constituted; whence it was necessary for this one also to have something which he might offer. If, indeed, therefore, he had been on earth he had not, in that case, even been a priest, since there are those who are offering the gifts, according to the law: — Who, indeed, are rendering divine service with a glimpse and shadow of the heavenly things; even as Moses hath received intimation, when about to complete the tent, — For see! saith he — Thou shalt make all things according to the model which hath been pointed out to thee in the mount. But now hath he attained unto a more distinguished public ministry, — by as much as of a better covenant, also he is mediator, which, indeed, upon better promises hath been legislated.” – (The Emphasized Bible).

Better Tabernacle and Sacrifice

Jesus “approached as high–priest…through the greater and more perfect tabernacle,” one not made-by-hand; moreover, “through his own blood he entered once for all, having discovered everlasting redemption.” The reference to “blood” stresses the actuality of his death - The pouring out of his lifeblood.  That is, Jesus died a very genuine human death.

This “new covenant” is vastly superior to the old one because through the “blood of the Christ, who offered himself unspotted unto God through an everlasting spirit” it purifies our conscience from dead works so we can render divine service to God.  The “blood of Christ” indicates that Jesus was able to enter the greater Tabernacle “once for all” because of his obedient and very real death.

In contrast to the “first covenant” with its animal sacrifices, it was necessary for the heavenly counterpart of the Tabernacle to be established “with better sacrifices than these,” namely, the death of the Son.  The direct result of his death was his entry “into heaven itself,” to be “manifested before the face of God on our behalf.”

Because of the superiority of his sacrifice, Jesus has no need to “offer himself often,” unlike the Levitical priests and their repeated animal sacrifices. Instead, “once for all, upon a conjunction of the ages, for a setting aside of sin through means of his sacrifice,” he offered himself. Thus, “having been offered once for all for the bearing of the sins of many,” he will appear a second time “apart from sin” to those who ardently wait for him.

Believers have been made holy “through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.”  Unlike every other priest who must “stand daily publicly ministering and continually offering the same sacrifices,” Jesus “offered one sacrifice for sins evermore,” after which he “sat down on the right hand of God” to wait until his foes are made his footstool.  By his “one offering” in death, the Son “perfected for evermore those who are being made holy.”

What About Hebrews 13:8?

Jesus Christ, yesterday and today, is the same even unto the ages.” Central to the theology of the letter is the exaltation of the Son AS A CONSEQUENCE of his faithful obedience and suffering; that is, a fundamental change occurred in his status due to his sacrificial death. It is his resurrection life that enables him to be a “priest forever,” unlike all his predecessors - (Hebrews 7:24 – “But he, by reason of his remaining age-abidingly, untransmissible holds the priesthood”).
The letter instructs its readers to “be mindful of those who are guiding you, who, indeed, have spoken to you the word of God.”  The point here is the constancy and reliability of Jesus Christ.
Christians have confidence because he is the same Jesus that was sacrificed for the “purification of their sins” and proclaimed by the Apostles. It is a testament to his character that the exalted Son is the same person as the one who endured suffering and thereby learned obedience. He is the same Jesus who—
  • Received a fellowship of blood and flesh…in order that through death he might paralyze him that held the dominion of death...Whence he was obliged, in every way to be made like unto the brethren” - (Hebrews 2:14-17).

Summary

The epistle to the Hebrews presents a consistent picture of a Son who was exalted to the right hand of God because of his faithful obedience unto death. Yahweh has spoken to his people fully in “these last of the days” in this same Son, the one who “achieved the purification of sins” and sat down on the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.

By his exaltation, Jesus BECAME our “high priest” from that day forward. He accomplished this “in the days of his flesh” when God “perfected” him through suffering. Because of his obedience, He delivered the Son “out of death” via resurrection; thereafter, Jesus “passed through the heavens” to be appointed a perfect and “faithful high priest” who intercedes continually for his people.

In Hebrews, the “perfection” and the exaltation of Jesus were accomplished through his faithful obedience unto death.  God vindicated his sacrifice when he raised him from the dead and exalted him to “the right hand of the throne of majesty.”

Thus, the letter to the Hebrews bases the exalted status of the Son on the historical events of his obedience, death, resurrection, and exaltation.




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