Portraits of the Christ
Some of the New Testament documents resemble others to a degree—and that by design. For example, there are similarities in the Gospel accounts—especially in the synoptics (Matthew, Mark, and Luke); Ephesians and Colossians contain some parallels, as do 2 Peter and Jude.
But the book of Hebrews is unique. It is almost the “holy of holies” of the New Testament record. There is no book more distinctive in highlighting some of the differences between the Law of Moses and the Law of Christ.
The purpose of this book is to demonstrate the superiority of the New Covenant over that of the Mosaic dispensation. It was not that the Law of Moses was fundamentally flawed. That arrangement was from God, hence, ideal in view of the purpose for which it was produced (preparation for the coming Messiah).
The First Covenant was national (for the Hebrew people; cf. Deuteronomy 5:2-3), and temporary (until “the faith,” i.e., the Christian system, arrived—Galatians 3:23-25). No less than a dozen times in Hebrews the term “better” is employed to emphasize the exceeding greatness of the latter regime over the former (cf. 8:6ff).
One of the key arguments in establishing this premise is the exaltation of Christ (the author of the New Covenant) over Moses (through whom the Old Covenant was given). For an illustration of this read the first half-dozen verses of Hebrews 3.
The careful student is not surprised, therefore, that the book should begin with a characterization of the Lord Jesus that provides him with an incomparable status. In this study piece, we will emphasize several qualities pertaining to the Lord that are breathtaking in scope.
Christ the Spokesman
The text begins like this:
God, having of old time spoken to the fathers by the prophets, in different portions and in different ways, has in these last days spoken to us by his Son (1:1-2a).
Jehovah revealed himself to humanity in varying ways throughout the entirety of the Old Testament period (which embraces both the Patriarchal and Mosaic ages). He spoke in dreams (Genesis 20:1-7; 28:12-15) and by means of visions (Genesis 15:1; Isaiah 1:1). At times Jehovah spoke directly to people (as in the case of Adam and Eve—Genesis 3:8ff), while on other occasions he temporarily appeared in a visible form (Exodus 33:23).
But with the incarnation of Christ there was a significantly new mode of revelation. Jesus came to “declare” the Father in a more dramatic way (John 1:18). The Lord Jesus could say, “He who has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:7ff); not that Father and Son were the same person, as the United Pentecostal sect alleges. Rather, Christ, being deity himself (John 1:1; 10:30), was the perfect image of the invisible God (Colossians 1:15); in him the fullness of the Godhead was resident bodily (Colossians 2:9).
One must not overlook the fact that Christ was in the Old Testament as well. He was there in prophecy (Genesis 3:15; Isaiah 7:14; Micah 5:2) and in type (a pictorial preview), as in the case of the Passover lamb (Exodus 12:1ff; cf. 1 Corinthians 5:7). Moreover, he was present as that mysterious “Messenger” who occasionally communicated with the patriarchs and prophets (Genesis 22:15-16; Exodus 3:2-6). In the most astounding way of all, though, he made his appearance as the child of Mary. He eventually would revolutionize the world.
Christ the Conqueror
In Hebrews 1:2b, the inspired writer affirms that Christ was “appointed heir of all things.” While it certainly is true that his redeemed people are a part of this inheritance (cf. Mark 12:7; Romans 8:17), there is even more involved.
In Psalm 2 (which is exclusively messianic), Jehovah says to him who is to become his Son:
Ask of me and I will give you the nations for your inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for your possession. You shall break them with a rod of iron; you shall dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel (vv. 8-9).
He is the “ruler of the kings of the earth” (Revelation 1:5).
The fulfillment of this ultimately will be the glorious triumph of Christ at the time of Judgment. When the Faithful and True Word comes riding on his white horse (a symbol of victory), “out of his mouth” will be a sharp sword, and with it he will “smite the nations; and he shall rule them with a rod of iron: and he treads the winepress of the fierceness of the wrath of God, the Almighty” (Revelation 19:15; cf. 2:26ff).
Those who fancy that they can rebuff the Son of God and suffer no consequence, have a horrible and eternal destiny awaiting them.
Christ as Creator and Sustainer
The Lord’s relationship to the material creation is expressed in two ways. First, it is affirmed that “through” Christ God “made the worlds” (Hebrews 1:1-2c). Later in this chapter, quoting from Psalm 102, the writer will acknowledge: “You, Lord, in the beginning laid the foundation of the earth, and the heavens are the works of your hands” (1:10). This affirmation of Christ’s role in the creation process is not unique to Hebrews; there are manifold testimonies to this historical reality elsewhere in the biblical record (cf. John 1:1-3; 1 Corinthians 8:6; Colossians 1:16).
But this is not all. The author of this treatise also points to Christ’s role as “Preserver” of the universe (Thayer 1958, 650). The Savior is “upholding all things by the word of his power” (1:3b). “Upholding” is from the Greek phero, “to bear up,” and grammatically is a present participle, indicating an ongoing process.
The various parts of the physical universe are not held together and regulated merely by laws of nature; these very laws are His laws, and operate by His appointed decree (Vine 1952, 13).
Can there be “law” without a “law-giver”?
Paul complements this in his letter to the Colossians when he observes that by Christ’s power “all things consist” (1:17). The term translated “consist” is better rendered “hold together” (see ASV fn; ESV). Jesus “is the principle of cohesion in the universe. He impresses upon creation that unity and solidarity which makes it a cosmos instead of chaos” (Lightfoot 1892, 154).
The universe is not a mere mechanistic machine, self-created and self-regulated. Those who so view it have exchanged the truth of God for a lie, exalting the creation to the status of Creator (cf. Romans 1:25).
Christ as Deity
With strobe flashes of brilliance, the sacred writer emphasizes the deity of Jehovah’s Son. Jesus is in the “effulgence” (apaugasma—“brightness” [KJV]) of the Father: he reflects and “radiates” the splendor of Heaven’s glory (Danker et al. 2000, 99), because he is deity as to his very nature (cf. John 1:1). (Not “a god,” as the Watchtower Witnesses allege; but truly God, the Son of his heavenly Father.)
Additionally, the Son is said to be “the very image” (charakter), i.e., “an exact representation of (God’s) real being” (Danker et al., 1078). The language suggests that Jesus is “distinct from” the Father as to his Person (contra United Pentecostalism), yet he possesses the identical essence of deity (contra Watchtowerism).
Professor Liddon of Oxford once noted that while the book of Hebrews stresses the humanity of Jesus more than any other book in the New Testament, “it is nevertheless certain that no other book more explicitly asserts the reality of His Divine prerogatives” (n.d., 170).
Christ the Priest
In this hallowed introduction to the book, the writer of Hebrews mentions that the Son “made purification for sins” (1:3c). Christ’s atoning work is the major theme of the Scriptures. From Genesis 3:15 (the bruising of the woman’s seed), through the last book of the New Testament, is the message of redemption through the sacrifice of the slain Lamb (cf. Revelation 5:6; cf. 12:11).
The death of an innocent victim (1 Peter 1:18-19; 2:22), who died for our sins (1 Corinthians 15:3), that the justice of God might be satisfied (Romans 3:26), is the very heart of the gospel.
Christ as Redeemer is a central theme in the book of Hebrews. No fewer than seventeen times Jesus is characterized as our “high priest.” Passing through the “veil” of his flesh, bearing his own sacrificial blood, our high priest entered into the heavenly “holy of holies,” dedicating the way for those who surrender to his will (Hebrews 10:19ff; cf. 6:19-20).
It is interesting to observe that after Christ “made purification” for sins, he “sat down” at God’s right hand. No Old Testament priest ever sat down in the holy of holies; for his work of offering sacrifices was never ended. By way of contrast, Christ’s sacrifice was a “once for all time” offering (Hebrews 9:24-28). In view of this, how insulting is the sectarian practice of the alleged “sacrifice of the mass,” in which, supposedly, Jesus is sacrificed every day!
Christ the King
After making purification for sins at Calvary, the Lord “sat down” at the right hand of God (1:3d). It is important that the Bible student realize that the reign of Christ began when he ascended into heaven following his resurrection. Daniel’s vision revealed the Son of Man ascending to the “ancient of days” (God) to receive dominion, glory, and a kingdom (Daniel 7:13-14).
In one of his parables, the Lord spoke of a nobleman (Christ himself) “going into a far country” (heaven) to “receive for himself a kingdom,” and then, ultimately, to “return” (Luke 19:11ff). Christ’s kingdom was received when he entered heaven, not when he returns for judgment. On Pentecost Peter spoke of Jesus being raised from the dead to occupy David’s throne (Acts 2:30ff; cf. 1 Peter 3:21-22).
These texts (and numerous others) clearly indicate that the Lord has been enthroned since his ascension. The premillennial view—that the Savior’s coronation was postponed until the time of the Second Coming, at which point an earthly reign from Jerusalem will commence—is entirely without substance.
The references picturing Jesus upon the throne as King underscore the fact that he is the Law-giver to whom we are subject, and those who reject him in that role will have a high price to pay for treating him as an enemy (see Luke 19:14, 27).
Christ the Worshipped
A prevailing theme in Hebrews 1 is the Lord’s prominence over the angels. No angel was ever honored as was the Son (v. 5). All the angels worship him (v. 6). Angels are but servants; he is King (vv. 8, 13-14).
Surely this ought to emphatically rebuke and refute the fallacious Watchtower dogma—that Christ was but an angel (specifically, Michael).
But more to the point of this context, the preeminence of the Son establishes the fact that inasmuch as the Mosaic law came through angels, and yet the New Covenant was given directly by Christ, the New Covenant thus is superior to the old (Hebrews 2:1-4; cf. John 1:17; Galatians 3:23-25). The Old Covenant, having fulfilled its temporary purpose, has been replaced by an entirely new system (Hebrews 7:12; 8:1-13).
The opening affirmation of Hebrews is inexhaustibly sublime, a marvelous foundation for the grand theme that follows in the balance of the book. Be thrilled by it.
- Danker, F. W., et al. 2000. Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago.
- Liddon, H. P. n.d. The Divinity of Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. London, England: Pickering & Inglis.
- Lightfoot, J. B. 1892. St. Paul’s Epistles to the Colossians and to Philemon. London, England: Macmillan.
- Thayer, J. H. 1958. Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament. Edinburgh, Scotland: T. & T. Clark.
- Vine, W. E. 1952. The Epistle to the Hebrews. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.