Supremacy of the Son

The “word” spoken in the Son is the full revelation of God that takes precedence over all preceding prophetic “words” – Hebrews 1:1-2:4

Bible Reading - Photo by Samantha Sophia on Unsplash
The epistle to the Hebrews was sent to a Christian congregation located in or near the city of Rome. Previously, it had experienced pressure from outsiders. Now, it was facing renewed pressure, perhaps even persecution by governing authorities. Consequently, some members began to withdraw from the assembly, perhaps even contemplating a return to the Jewish synagogue. This background suggests a congregation with many Jewish believers - [Photo by Samantha Sophia on Unsplash].

Unlike Christianity, Judaism had legal standing in the Roman Empire. The government exempted Jews from many requirements imposed on other groups, including participation in the imperial cult.  In its early years, the Roman government perceived Christianity as a Jewish sect, and as such, it was afforded the same legal protections.

By the late first century, Rome began to see Christianity as a sect distinct from Judaism, therefore, it began to lose any legal protections it previously enjoyed. Following the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70, the divide between the “church and synagogue” became pronounced, and increasingly, Christians found themselves under the scrutiny of Roman officials.

The concern in Hebrews is pastoral - The goal is to prevent Christians from leaving the faith. Repeatedly, it urges believers to remain faithful to the teachings received from Jesus and his apostles rather than return to the synagogue. Faithfulness is the proper response to persecution. And repeatedly, it warns of the dire consequences of faithlessness to Jesus - (Hebrews 2:1-46:1-1210:22-30).

To achieve this, Hebrews employs a rhetorical strategy called synkrisis, a series of comparisons designed to demonstrate the superiority of one thing over another; in this letter, comparisons that highlight the superiority of the “Son” over what God did under the older and now “obsolete” covenant - (Hebrews 8:13).

The purpose is not to denigrate the past revelations of God but to emphasize how much the glory of the new revelation has surpassed it. In between each comparison, the letter presents dire warnings about the failure to heed the “word spoken in the Son.” It compares the "word" of the Son to that of angels, Moses, Joshua, and Aaron, and it contrasts his priesthood to the Levitical priests, his one-time sacrifice to the repeated sacrifices in the Tabernacle, and the old covenant to the New Covenant.
  • (Hebrews 1:1-4) – “In many parts and in many ways of old God, spoke to the fathers in the prophets, at the last of these days, He spoke to us in a Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, through whom also he made the ages; Who being an eradiated brightness of the glory, and an exact impress of his essence, 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; by so much becoming superior to the angels, by as much as, going beyond them, he inherited a more distinguished name.”
The epistle opens with its main proposition – The superior Word of God has been spoken in the Son at the start of History’s final phase – The “last days.” In the Greek text, the first paragraph is a single sentence that prepares the reader for the first comparison - The word of the Son is superior to the word spoken by angels. In turn, this comparison leads to the first warning of the letter against failure to heed the Son - (Hebrews 1:5-2:4).

The Greek sentence begins with two adverbs – polumerōs (Strong’s - #G4181) and polutropōs (#G4187). Both terms compounded with the adjective polus - (“much, many”). Polumerōs is a combination of polus and meros, the latter meaning, “part, portion, fragment.” Polutropōs is formed with polus and tropos, meaning, “mode, manner, way, fashion.”

Thus, the letter employs two like-sounding words to gain the attention of the audience, a technique known as assonance. The adverbs stress two aspects of God’s past revelation.  First, it was partial (“in many parts”). Second, it was given in different “ways,” presumably, by different methods of delivery - (prophecy, visions, dreams). The first two stanzas contain three contrasts:
  1. God spoke “of old.” Now, He has spoken “upon these last days.”
  2. Previously, He spoke to the “fathers”; but now, “to us.”
  3. In the past, He spoke “in the prophets”; but now, “in a Son.”
God did speak in the past but only partially so. As true and gracious as His past disclosures were, they were promissory, preparatory, and incomplete. Thus, a fuller word of revelation was needed. The past “word” was not incorrect but partial. In contrast, His complete “word” has been “spoken in a Son.”

Upon the last of these days.” This provides the time element. As elsewhere, the period known as the “last days” began with the Death and Resurrection of Jesus. His exaltation ushered in a new era, the time of fulfillment - (Acts 2:17Galatians 4:4Ephesians 1:10).

With the turning of the ages, God has spoken “in a Son.”  In the Greek clause, there is no definite article or “the” with “son.” Clearly, in view is Jesus; however, by omitting the definite article the stress falls on his class or status as one who is a “son,” not on his individual identity. The God now speaks by means of one who is a son, a person is in the closest relationship to a father.

The Son in whom God speaks is also the one whom He “appointed the heir of all things.”  This alludes to the second Psalm in which Yahweh promised to give the Son the “nations as an inheritance.” It is one of two messianic Psalms that figure prominently in the letter:
  • (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 saith unto 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 unto times everlasting after the manner of Melchizedek.
Thus, the letter expands the original promise. The Son became the “heir of all things,” not just the “nations” or the “earth.” Likewise, in Hebrews 2:5-10, the Son is declared the heir and Lord of the “coming world.” The mention of his inheritance also alludes to the covenant promises to Abraham - The "Son" is the true heir and seed of Abraham.

Sun Burst - Photo by Huper by Joshua Earle on Unsplash
Photo by Huper by Joshua Earle on Unsplash

The Son is the “eradiated brightness of the glory and the exact impress of God’s very essence.” Jesus reflects the very glory and image 
of God. The point is not metaphysical speculation about his nature but the surpassing greatness of the position he holds. He gained this by his past accomplishment - “Having achieved the purification of sins, he was appointed heir of all things.” The clause anticipates the later discussions on his priesthood and sacrifice.

The Son “sat down on the right hand of majesty.”  This alludes to his priestly activities, especially his entry into the “Holy of Holies.” “Sitting down” contrasts his 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 brief time.  The latter never “sat down” or otherwise remained in the inner sanctuary. The act of “sitting down” demonstrated the completion of the sacrificial ministry of the “Son” - He applied the blood of his sacrifice “one-for-all”:
  • (Hebrews 7:26-27) – “For such a high-priest as this for us was even suited: Loving, noble, undefiled, set apart from sinners, and become higher than the heavens; who has no daily necessity like the high-priests beforehand over his own sins to be offering sacrifices, after that over those of the people, for this he did once for all when he offered up himself.
  • (Hebrews 10:11-12) – “And every priest, indeed, stands daily publicly ministering, and the same sacrifices often offering, the which never can clear away sins. But this priest, having offered one sacrifice for sins evermore, sat down on the right hand of God.”
Jesus entered the heavenly sanctuary “once for all” by means of his one-time sacrifice, thereby he obtained everlasting redemption for his people. “Sat down” stresses the permanence of his new and elevated position. He “became so much better than the angels,” having advanced beyond them by inheriting “more excellent name.” In this literary context, the “more excellent name” is “Son.”

In two ways, his “word” is vastly superior to the past revelations “spoken in the prophets” - First, it is the last and the final word in a long sequence of Divine revelations - (“Upon the last of these days”). Second, the Son is the culmination of all that has preceded him, the “perfecter of our faith” - (Hebrews 12:1-2).
  • (Hebrews 1:5-14) - "For to which of the angels said he at any time, My Son are you. I, this day, have begotten you? And again, I will become his father, And he shall become my Son? But whensoever he again introduces the first-begotten into the habitable earth, he saith, And let all God’s angels worship him! Even as to the angels, indeed, he says, Who makes his angels winds, and his ministers of state a fiery flame; But as to the Son, Your throne, O God, is to times everlasting, and, A scepter of equity is the scepter of his kingdom. You  loved righteousness and hated lawlessness, For this cause has God, your God anointed you with the oil of exultation beyond your partners; And You, by way of beginning, Lord, founded the earth. And the works of your hands are the heavens. They shall perish, but You abide still, and all as a mantle shall be worn out, and as if a robe will you fold them up, as a mantle, they shall be changed; But You are the same, And Your years shall not fail. But to which of the angels has he said at any time, Sit at my right hand until I make your foes your footstool? Are they not all spirits doing public service, for ministry sent forth for the sake of them who are going to inherit salvation?"
The scriptural citations demonstrate the superiority of the Son over angels. The letter is not concerned with the origin or nature of angels, nor is he explaining his Christology. The seven Old Testament passages substantiate his proposition - The Son is superior to angels. This is not to disparage angels. Rather, if angels are glorious and holy, how much more so is the Son?
The literary structure is built around the rhetorical question stated at the beginning and end of the paragraph - “To which of the angels said He at any time?” The scriptural citations demonstrate the superior status of the “Son.”
The first six quotations are divided into three pairs.  The first pair concerns the status of the Son (verse 5), the second, the functions of angels (verses 6-7), and the third, his exalted reign (verses 8-12). The seventh quotation is a link to the first verse of the paragraph and responds to the rhetorical question - To no angel did God ever say, “Sit at my right hand until I make your foes your footstool.” The two words that link this paragraph to the opening proposition, and to the exhortation that follows in chapter 2, are “angels” and “son” - (Hebrews 2:1-4).

 The comparison of him to the angels flows naturally into the first exhortation of the Letter - DO NOT NEGLECT THE WORD OF THE SON.
  • (Hebrews 2:1-4) - "For this cause, it behooves us with unwonted firmness to be holding fast to the things that have been heard, lest at any time we drift away. For if the word through the angels became firm, and every transgression and disobedience received a just recompense, how shall we escape if so great a salvation as this we have neglected, which, indeed, having received a beginning of being spoken through the Lord, by them who heard, unto us was confirmed, God jointly witnessing also both with signs and wonders and manifold mighty works, and with distributions of Holy Spirit according to his own will."
This paragraph summarizes the preceding arguments and provides the epistle’s first exhortation - To “hear” and respond to the “Word” spoken in the Son, plus dire warnings about the failure to heed him.

For this cause.” Logically, this connects the clause  to the preceding paragraph. Because of the surpassing excellence of the “word spoken in a Son,” it is vital for believers to hold fast to him. If disregarding the “word” delivered by angels had dire consequences, how much more so disregarding the “word of the Son”?

The word spoken through angels.” The Jewish tradition at the time was that the Law was given through angels. But the Law was the revelatory word of Yahweh, regardless of any intermediary; therefore, the word spoken through angels became firm and every transgression received a just recompense. That being so, how shall we escape far greater punishment if we now abandon the vastly superior word spoken in one who is a “son”?

The letter argues from lesser to greater. Angels are God’s ministers. Moses was His anointed servant and lawgiver. But the word “spoken” in Jesus is vastly superior to any older “word,” whether mediated by angels, prophets, or Moses. Rejecting it results in even greater punishment than disobedience to the Torah. Returning to the earlier but partial “word” is not an option for persecuted believers.

Thus, the epistle compares the “word in the Son” with the past but partial revelations made through prophets, angels, and even Moses, demonstrating the surpassing greatness of the final revelation in Jesus. Of immediate relevance to believers are the warnings against apostasy.  Whether one “drifts away” into non-Christian Judaism, another religion entirely, or an irreligious life, one can expect to receive a “much sorer punishment” for abandoning the “Son.”  To whom much is given much is required.


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