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13 September 2019

Exaltation of Jesus in the book of Hebrews

SYNOPSIS The book of Hebrews presents the exaltation of the Son - the transition of Jesus to sovereignty over the Cosmos because of his Death and Resurrection. 

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Threaded through the epistle to the Hebrews is the transition of the Son from one status to a higher one, his elevation the result of his death and resurrection. The purpose of demonstrating the superiority of the Son over all his predecessors is to encourage Christians to hold tightly to their confession and not apostatize by regressing to outdated revelations. The theme is integral to the Author’s doctrinal proposition:

The “Word” spoken in the Son is vastly superior to all preceding revelations from God, whether “spoken” in angels, Moses, Aaron, or in the rituals of the Levitical system. The goal is to encourage Christians to hold tight to their confession and not to regress to an outdated system and risk apostasy (Hebrews 2:1-46:1-3).

The “perfection” of Jesus is the result of his faithful obedience unto death. God vindicated him when he raised His Son from among 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 literary strategy is to present a series of comparisons between the revelations of God in His Son and in the prophets, angels, Moses, and the Levitical priesthood. The intent is not to denigrate the past revelations or their agents but to stress the far greater majesty of the Son, who was “appointed” heir of all things because he “achieved the purification of sin.”  His installation as ruler and high priest was based on his sacrificial death.  The verb tenses in the opening passage point to specific events that occurred in the past.

Becoming Superior to Angels – (1:4–2:4)

As a result of his exaltation, the Son “became superior to the angels, having inherited a more distinguished name,” that is, “Son.” To inherit means to receive something that results in a change in condition or status (Hebrews 1:4).

The Author begins to validate his 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?” (Psalm2:72 Samuel 7:14).

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This day” translates the emphatic adverb sémeron (Strong’s #G4594). It points to a specific time when the Son was appointed king. At no point did God ever say such a thing to an angel but, instead, only to one designated “son.” Because the Son “loved righteousness and hated lawlessness,” God, therefore, “anointed him with the oil of exultation beyond his partners.” 

The Author finishes his opening paragraph with another comparison of the Son to the angels, this time citing 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 the mightiest and highest of the angels. The Author concludes the first comparison with an exhortation not to drift away from the things that Christians have received 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).

Here, the argument refers to a Jewish tradition that Moses received the Torah from the hands of angels. This does not disparage the Law but, instead, serves to stress the superiority of the word spoken in the “Son.” If the word given by angels includes severe penalties for disobedience, how much more so does the word of the Son?  This argument also prepares for the next comparison with Moses (Acts 7:53Galatians 3:19).

The Perfection of the Son – (2:5-18)

All things have been subjected beneath the Son’s feet, God “left to him nothing un-subjected.”  But not yet do we see all things subjected to him, however:

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.”

As before (Hebrews 1:1-4), the key verbs are in the past tense, and we are told when this marvelous transition occurred - When the Son “tasted death,” the point when he was “crowned with glory and honor” because of the “sufferings of death.”

In the next verse, we are informed that 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, one achieved through “suffering.”

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Elsewhere, the letter makes clear that the sufferings of Jesus occurred in his trial and execution. In other words, in his death.  Likewise, at a specific point in time, the Son was able “to paralyze him who held the dominion of death, the Devil,” by means of his death. This released all those men and women who, “by fear of death, were all their lives liable to bondage” ( Hebrews 2:14-15).

The Son “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 has the basic force of “become” (ginomai), a change in rank, a becoming.

Becoming Superior to Moses – (3:1-6)

(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.”

The Author now compares Jesus to Moses to demonstrate the superiority of the former to the latter. Implicit is the superior status of the Son and his word.

This comparison is appropriate.  In the opening paragraph of Hebrews, the Author compared the Word spoken in the Son to the earlier revelations given in the prophets. Although Moses was the chief representative of the Old Testament prophets, he was also more honored than all the others; God spoke to him face-to-face, not through visions and riddles. This greater rank of Moses emphasizes the superiority of the Son over all men 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,—Wherefore then, were ye not afraid to speak against my servant—against Moses?” - (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” allude to the passage from the book of Numbers (the Greek Septuagint version - “My servant Moses is not so; he is faithful in all my house”).

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Moses was the only man in Israel to whom Yahweh spoke “mouth-to-mouth,” not via intermediaries, symbols, or visions.  Hence, initially, Jesus is set on a par with Moses, arguably the most pivotal and honored figure in the history of Israel. Likewise, God spoke face-to-face with the Son.

In Jewish tradition, the passage from Numbers demonstrated that Moses received greater honor and rank than the angels.  Since the first argument presented the Son as superior to the angels, and since it concluded that disobedience to the Son requires a greater degree of punishment than disobedience to angels, logically, it is necessary now to prove the superiority of the Son over Moses.

The three keywords “faithful,” “priest,” and “house” allude to a prophecy from 1 Samuel 2:35 where God promised to one day “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” (compare - Hebrews 10:1-14).
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 God’s house, but Moses was a servant IN it.
The Greek verb kataskeuazō in Verse 3 more correctly reads, “prepared,” not “builder.” The term was used for supplying vessels and furnishings to prepare a household for habitation (Strong’s #G2680). The description is not of Jesus as the builder or architect, but of the one who equips the household for occupation.

Moses was an “attendant” in the house “for a testimony” of the word that “would be spoken.”  As the faithful attendant of Yahweh, Moses served as a witness to the word that would come later.  Put another way, this portrays the preparatory function of the Old Covenant revelation, including the Mosaic Law.

In this paragraph, “house” refers, not to the Tabernacle or Temple, but, metaphorically, to the living community of God’s people.  Jesus is “over His house whose house are we” (Verse 6). Believers “are” (present tense) his household as long as they hold fast their “confidence and boast of hope.” A key warning of the book is repeated; the necessity to hold firmly to our confession (Hebrews 2:1-4).

Learning Obedience – (5:5-9)

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 Author 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.

Becoming a Priest Forever – (6:18–8:6)

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 through the veil.  This same Jesus, thus, “became a high priest forever according to the rank of Melchizedek” (Hebrews 6:18-20Psalm 110:4).

As his people’s everlasting high priest, Jesus “became a surety of a better covenant” than that of the Levitical priesthood.  This appointment occurred when Jesus “sat down on the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens” because of his resurrection and exaltation.  As high priest, “according to the rank of Melchizedek,” the Son attained “a more distinguished public ministry” then the Levitical priesthood. This was because he had become the “mediator of a better covenant” based upon “better promises.” Threaded through this section is 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)

A Better Tabernacle and Sacrifice – (9:1–10:14)

Jesus “approached as high–priest…through the greater and more perfect tabernacle,” one not made-by-hand. Moreover, he, “through his own blood entered once for allhaving discovered everlasting redemption.” The reference to “blood” does not indicate that his death was especially bloody but, instead, 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.
The Author claims that, 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. A direct result was the entry of Jesus “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, Jesus, “once for all, upon a conjunction of the ages, for a setting aside of sin through means of his sacrifice,” offered himself once. Thus, Christ, “having been offered once for all for the bearing of the sins of many,” 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 priests 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 the “one offering” of his 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.” This is often cited as evidence of the unchanging eternal nature of Jesus. But this reading misses a central point of the letter, and it disconnects the clause from its context. Central to its theology is his exaltation AS A CONSEQUENCE of his faithful obedience and suffering, not the eternal reign or status of the Son. That is, a fundamental change occurred in his status due to his Death and Resurrection. 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 holdeth the priesthood”).

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The Author instructs his readers to “be mindful of those who are guiding you, who, indeed, have spoken to you the word of God.”  His point is the constancy and reliability of Jesus Christ.

Christians can 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 Christ 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.  God has spoken to his people fully in “these last of the days” in this Son, the one who “achieved the purification of sins” and, thus, sat down on the right hand of the Majesty in heaven (Hebrews 1:3).

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, God delivered him “out of death” via resurrection; thereafter, Jesus “passed through the heavens” to be appointed a perfect high priest for the sake of his people.

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

The Letter to the Hebrews bases the exalted status of the Son on the historical events of the obedience, death, resurrection, and exaltation of Jesus, not on metaphysical speculations about his eternal nature.

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