By Ken Yates
[Chapter 1 of the forthcoming commentary on Hebrews]
Christ Is the King
The first four verses of Hebrews are often called the prologue. In it, the author introduces the readers to the two offices of Jesus Christ discussed in detail in the book: King and High Priest.
Jesus is both.
This sets the stage for the book. Because of the greatness of Christ, if His people listen to His words, they can expect great rewards. If they disobey Him, they can expect severe negative consequences.
The Prologue (1:1-4)
1 God, who at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets,
2 has in these last days spoken to us by His Son, whom He has appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the worlds;
3 who being the brightness of His glory and the express image of His person, and upholding all things by the word of His power, when He had by Himself purged our sins, sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high,
4 having become so much better than the angels, as He has by inheritance obtained a more excellent name than they.
God has revealed Himself to His people. To the Jews, God spoke to the fathers by the prophets (v 1). This is a reference to the OT and strongly indicates that the original readers, though now Christians, were Jewish.
To the Jews in the OT, God spoke in various times and various ways. The words include the idea that God spoke by revealing Himself in parts. That is, the revelation of Himself in the past was in fragments and not complete.He did this in many ways—we can think about how God did this through the prophets. He spoke to them through things like dreams, visions, thunder, a burning bush, angels, and even a still small voice (1 Kgs 19:12).
As wonderful as these revelations were, things have changed. God has now spoken in the last days (v 2). This indicates that He has now given His final revelation of Himself. There won’t be any more revelation.
Contrary to popular opinion, the last days did not begin in 1948 or 1967. The last days began with Jesus’ ascension into heaven. The ministry of the Apostles took place during the last days (cf. Jas 5:9; 2 Pet 3:3; 1 John 2:18; Jude 18; Rev 22:12, 20).
The reason there won’t be any more revelation is that now God has spoken to us in His Son. This means that God’s revelation of Himself is no longer in fragments. It is complete. There will be no more because He has given the perfect revelation. In His Son, God has said His final word.
The OT was given through prophets and angels (Acts 7:53; Heb 2:2). The original readers rightfully held the OT in high esteem. If this is the case for what was only in fragments, how much more should they hold the words of Jesus Christ in high esteem? As the author will shortly say—and it is obvious—the Son is much greater than the OT prophets and angels.
Here the author introduces another idea that will be important in the book. As mentioned in the introduction, the readers were Jewish Christians who were thinking about abandoning Christianity and going back to Judaism. The author says that the revelation found in Christianity in the NT, as given by Jesus Christ, is much greater than what God has said in the past in the OT. Christianity is far superior to Judaism.
The description of Jesus Christ in the rest of the prologue shows why He is the perfect and final revelation of God. In the OT there was the office of the prophet. Jesus Christ is God’s perfect prophet.
First of all, Jesus is the heir of all things. The idea behind these words is found in Psalm 2, from which the author of Hebrews will quote in v 5. In this Psalm, the Son is the King. What the Son will inherit are the nations of the earth. This points to a future day when Christ will own and rule the world to come. A seven-year Tribulation will follow the rapture of the church. After the Tribulation, Christ will return and rule upon the earth for one thousand years. Afterward, He will create a new heaven and earth and will rule forever.
It is only right that He would be the King of the world to come and that this kingdom would belong to Him. After all, He made the worlds. The word for worlds is literally “ages.” This could refer to the fact that Christ made all the worlds—all the planets, the earth, the stars, etc. Or it could refer to both the seen and unseen worlds, including the spiritual world. If the Jews saw angels as being very important, they are reminded here that Christ created them, since they are a part of the spiritual world.
The idea that Christ created the ages could also signify that He is the One who is carrying all of history—all the ages of time—to their conclusion. He will bring in His kingdom, over which He will rule. His word will bring all this about.
Whatever the meaning of the word “worlds” is, one thing is clear— Christ created all things. One day He will inherit all that He made. It will belong to Him.
The greatness of Jesus Christ is also seen in His description in v 3. He is the brightness of His glory. The glory of God shines forth in Jesus Christ. The idea of glory probably relates to God’s power. The power of God was seen in Jesus. We saw this in the miracles He performed, including raising the dead. It was also seen on the Mount of Transfiguration where the disciples observed His glory.
Jesus is also the express image of His person. The idea in the Greek is that Jesus is the exact representation of God. If we want to know what God is like in essence and character, we only have to look at the Son. Everything that God is, Jesus is. Jesus specifically taught that the one who sees Him had seen the Father (John 14:9).
This is why Jesus is the perfect and final revelation of God. He is God. Many have commented that this description of Jesus Christ is one of the clearest statements in the Bible that Jesus Christ is God. There could be no better revelation. The prophets and angels of the OT could not even hope to be on par with Him.
The power of Christ’s words is also seen in that He upholds all things by the word of His power. The whole universe is held together by what He says. He is bringing all of history to its goal—His kingdom. When One like that speaks, He should be obeyed! To abandon His teaching and publicly renounce Him to return to Judaism would be the height of foolishness.
But Jesus is even more than the King who will inherit everything. The author of Hebrews introduces the idea of the other office that Jesus holds—that of High Priest. He states that He had by Himself purged our sins. Associated with this idea is the fact that Jesus sat down at the right hand of God. The author of Hebrews will spend a great deal of time discussing in chaps. 5–10 that Jesus is our High Priest. Our High Priest sacrificed Himself for His people. This sacrifice paid for the sins of His people once for all.
Also, this sacrifice was perfect. It was so complete there is no need for any more sacrifices. That is why He has “sat down.” His work is finished. There is no more that needs to be done for the sins of His people.
The fact that He is at the right hand of God shows that He occupies the most exalted position in the universe. He has supreme authority. Jesus said that He would occupy that position (Luke 22:69; Matt 22:43-44). It anticipates the authority He will have forever.
The amazing thing is that He had to die to bring this about. The One Who is described in the prologue, the One Who is the Creator and the all-powerful King of the world to come, did that for His people.
This One is so much better than the angels, and He has a more excellent name than they do. No angel is seated at the right hand of God. No angel has made purification for the sins of God’s people. No angel has His name.
The name that Christ has inherited is Son. The author will discuss that name in vv 5-14. As will be seen, this name means He will be the King of the eternal kingdom to come. That is not true of any angel.
The phrase much better is a favorite in the Book of Hebrews. It is used thirteen times in the book. The basic argument is that Christianity is much better than Judaism. Judaism, including sects of Judaism like the one found at Qumran, placed a great deal of importance on the angels. But here the author already indicates how much greater Christianity is than Judaism, and Christ is than the angels. He is God. As such, His sacrifice is greater than any OT sacrifice. He is greater than any king or high priest found in Judaism. He is greater than any revelation found in Judaism. Listen to Him!
In the following verses, the author of Hebrews expounds on the name Jesus Christ has inherited—the Son. This title will drive the discussion throughout the first chapters of the book.
Jesus Christ, the Son, Is Greater than the Angels (1:5-14)
For to which of the angels did
He ever say:
“You are My Son,
Today I have begotten You”?
“I will be to Him a Father,
And He shall be to Me a Son”?
But when He again brings the firstborn into the world, He says:
“Let all the angels of God worship Him.”
And of the angels He says:
“Who makes His angels spirits
And His ministers a flame of fire.”
But to the Son He says:
“Your throne, O God, is forever and ever;
A scepter of righteousness is the scepter of Your kingdom.
You have loved righteousness and hated lawlessness;
Therefore God, Your God, has anointed
You With the oil of gladness more than Your companions.”
“You, Lord, in the beginning laid the foundation of the earth,
And the heavens are the work of Your hands.
They will perish, but You remain;
And they will all grow old like a garment;
Like a cloak You will fold them up,
And they will be changed.
But You are the same,
And Your years will not fail.”
But to which of the angels has He ever said:
“Sit at My right hand,
Till I make Your enemies Your footstool”?
Are they not all ministering spirits sent forth to minister for those who will inherit salvation? (Heb 1:5-14)
To make his case that Jesus is greater than the angels, the author appeals to the OT. This would make sense if he were writing to people who had high regard for those Scriptures. The revelation found in the writings of Judaism makes a case for the supremacy of God’s Son.
The Son is King (Psalm 2 and 2 Samuel 7)
In the prologue, the author stated that Jesus has a name greater than any angel. That name is here identified. In v 5 it is given. Jesus is the Son. But it is also obvious here that Jesus is compared to the angels. God has never called an angel by that name.
The prologue has just stated that Jesus is God. Since God is eternal, Jesus has always been God. However, we see here that Jesus inherited the name of Son in a special sense at a specific point in time. This special sense is understood by the way the author of Hebrews quotes from the OT. He uses two passages. One is from Psalm 2. The other is from 2 Sam 7:14.
First, he quotes from Psalm 2 which is an example of an “Enthronement Psalm.” In these Psalms, a man in the OT becomes King of Israel. On the day he becomes king of the nation, he inherits the title of “son.” As the King of Israel, He becomes the son of God upon earth.
The title Son, then, carries with it the idea of King. The idea of the King being the Son of God on earth was part of the promise that God gave to David in 2 Sam 7:14, which the author of Hebrews quotes in the second part of v 5. The descendants of David who sat on the throne of the nation would be the “sons” of God. They were the representatives of God. God said these kings would be His sons and He would be their Father.
Of course, these earthly kings of Israel only foreshadowed the real King who was to come. They pointed to Him. Christ is the ultimate fulfillment of Psalm 2, just as He is the ultimate fulfillment of the promise God gave to David in 2 Samuel.
But what is the meaning of the phrase from Psalm 2, “today I have begotten you”? It is easy to see how this applies to the kings in the OT. On the day they were crowned king, they became a son of God in a special way. But if Jesus was always God and is eternal, how does it relate to Him? How can it be said that He was begotten on a certain day?
It seems highly likely that what the author has in mind is the day that Christ ascended to the right hand of the Father (1:3). On that day He had done everything necessary to be the King of the world to come. He had purged His people’s sins. He had done all that was needed to ensure that men and women would reign with Him in His coming kingdom, an idea that will be discussed in detail in chap. 2. Because of His completed work, Christ entered a new relationship with His Father and His people. On the day of His exaltation to the right hand of His Father, all the prerogatives of being King were His. He was declared the Son of God in this special sense at that time. This is the same point made in Rom 1:4 in which Paul states that Christ was “declared to be the Son of God with power according to the Spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead.”
In the rest of the OT quotes that follow in this chapter, the author will continue to discuss the idea that Jesus is the King. A major point in this section is that no angel will rule the world to come. Jesus, since He is the King, will.
But in these quotes from the OT, there is also the idea that the King will defeat His enemies. This idea is present in Psalm 2 which the author uses here in v 5 (see Ps 2:1-3, 9-12). This is important because the original readers of Hebrews were being persecuted by the enemies of the King.
Jesus is the Firstborn Son (Psalm 97)
In v 6 the author says that God will bring His firstborn son into the world. This most likely refers to the time when Christ returns to rule over the world to come (see 2:5). In the OT the firstborn son had authority over all other sons. Christ will have that authority. Christ will inherit all things on that day (1:2).
In the second half of this verse, he quotes from Psalm 97. This Psalm also speaks of the time the Messiah sets up His kingdom, that is when Jesus returns (see Ps 97:1-6). As with Psalm 2, Psalm 97 also states that when Christ returns, He will defeat all His enemies (Ps 97:3, 10-11).
The main point the author makes here, however, is that the Son, Jesus Christ, will be the King. The angels will not be kings. In fact, the angels will worship Him! If the readers were thinking about turning away from Christ and going back to a religion that emphasized the role of angels in the kingdom of God, they might want to think again! In the following verses, the author compares the role of Jesus and the role of angels in that kingdom.
The Role of Angels (Psalm 104)
Here in v 7 the author quotes from Psalm 104 in which we see that God’s angels are spirits. The word for spirit can also be translated “wind.” That may be preferable here. The reason this is the case is that angels are also called a flame of fire.
The point here is that angels are a part of God’s creation, just as wind and fire are. Jesus Christ is God, and therefore He created everything, including angels. That is why they worship Him.
As part of creation, they can be changed. In the following verses, we will see that Jesus the Son is not part of creation. He does not change.
Another aspect here is that God can change the works of His hands to do His will. God makes the angels do His bidding.
Taking all these things together, we see that angels will serve the King. The King creates them. They, like all of creation, can be changed. The King, who is the Son, is infinitely greater.
The Son Is God and Has Companions (Psalm 45)
In comparing the role of Jesus Christ to the angels in the world to come, the author turns to Psalm 45 here in vv 8-9. As with Psalms 2 and 97, this Psalm also says that the King will defeat all His enemies (Ps 45:3-5). Since all of His enemies will be defeated, His throne will be established forever and ever. He will have no opposition.
In this Psalm Jesus the Messiah is specifically called God. He is the One Who created the angels. The Son in Psalm 2, the Son of the promise made to David in 2 Samuel 7, and the King of Psalm 45 all point to the same Person. As King, since He is the eternal God, He will reign forever.
His kingdom will be one of righteousness. The Son is worthy to rule that kingdom because He loved righteousness and hated lawlessness.
It needs to be noted that unlike Psalm 2, Psalm 45 is not an Enthronement Psalm. It does not speak about when the King is crowned. Instead, it is a marriage Psalm. It talks about the wedding of the King. At that wedding, in particular, at the wedding feast, the King is anointed with the oil of gladness.
The feast will be a time of gladness. The King will be glad because as a righteous King, He has inherited a righteous kingdom. But the Psalm states that the King will not be alone in this celebration. Others will share in His joy.
Those who share this joy with the King are called companions. The picture here is the King who is having a feast. There are those who are at the head table with Him. The Greek word for companion (metachoi) signifies a close friend. Perhaps an equivalent in our time would be the President’s cabinet. Those in his cabinet are close to the President. (So, too, are governors, senators, congressmen, and even mayors.)
An example of the meaning of this word is seen in Luke 5:7. Peter is fishing with his business “partners.” This is the same word as companions used here in Hebrews. These were his close friends, those with whom he spent his time.
This is an important concept in the Book of Hebrews. When the King returns and sets up His kingdom, He will be particularly close to His companions, His close friends.
And who will these close friends be? It will be those who are like Him—those who loved righteousness and hated lawlessness. It will be those who have been faithful to Him.
The author will later use the same word in Heb 3:14 in which He says that believers will be the companions of Christ, “if we hold the beginning of our confidence steadfast to the end” (emphasis added).
One can easily see how this applies to the first readers. They were thinking of renouncing Christ and going back to Judaism. If they did that and did not hold steadfast to the end, they would not be the companions or partners of the King when He returned. They would be in the kingdom, but they would not be in those positions of honor.
Once again we can see how this applies to the President in our day. He has those who are particularly close to him. There are many people who are citizens of the United States and live in this country who are not his “companions.” Only those who have faithfully served the President fit this description.
In the Book of Hebrews, this is the first indication of rewards. Jesus will inherit all things (1:2). But He will share His inheritance with His partners—those who have been faithful to Him. They will be great in His kingdom. They will have an inheritance in that kingdom. But unfaithfulness will result in the loss of that reward.
The Son Never Changes (Psalm 102)
In vv 10-12, the author quotes from Ps 102:25-27. Like the previous Psalms quoted in this section, Psalm 102 also mentions the enemies of the King (Ps 102:8). But the major point here is that the King will never change. Psalm 45 said that His throne will be forever. If He is to rule forever, He must be eternal and not subject to change.
It is interesting that God is speaking in this Psalm. He is speaking about the Son, and He calls the Son Lord. Whom would God call Lord? This is another statement that Jesus is God. The earth and the heavens are the work of Jesus.
The Psalm goes on to say that the present creation will perish (cf. Matt 5:18; 24:35; Mark 13:31; Luke 21:33; 2 Pet 3:10-12; Rev 20:1-3). But Christ will remain. The day will come when Christ will roll up the universe like an old coat, that is, like a garment that no longer has a use. It will be replaced by another one. This will happen after Jesus rules for one thousand years when He creates a new heaven and earth.
The universe itself will be changed, but Christ will remain the same. The point is that Christ’s kingdom will survive even the universe. His kingdom will include the millennial kingdom and then will go on into the eternal state.
Of course, this had tremendous application to the original readers. Their present world was persecuting them. They were tempted to give up. The author is telling them that the troubles of this present world are temporary because the present world itself is temporary. They should keep their eyes on the coming eternal kingdom of Christ.
The Son Will Defeat His Enemies (Psalm 110)
In vv 13-14, the author concludes his OT quotes which compare Jesus with the angels. In all the Psalms quoted, it was implied that the King would defeat all of His enemies.
In v 13, the author quotes from Psalm 110. The day will come when all the enemies of the King are placed under His feet—they will become His footstool. If God’s people, like the original readers, were being oppressed by the enemies of the King, they should find comfort in knowing that one day their King will defeat their persecutors.
Psalm 110 is crucial to the Book of Hebrews. It was alluded to in 1:3, is quoted here, and will be quoted again in 5:6. The Jews believed that the Psalm predicted the coming Messiah. Hebrews is written to Jewish Christians. The author is saying that Jesus is the fulfillment of this Psalm.
The main point here is that when Jesus comes and defeats His enemies, His people will share in that victory. Angels will not, as some Jews felt, rule the world to come. Instead, angels are simply those who minister to those who will inherit salvation.
This raises a couple of questions. First, what is the salvation here? And second, who are those who will inherit that salvation?
The salvation here must be understood in this context. In all these Psalms quoted in 1:5-14, salvation means deliverance from the enemies of the people of God. The King will deliver His people. His people will share in the benefits of that victory.
The salvation here is not salvation from hell. Notice that the author talks about a salvation in the future—those who will inherit salvation (contra present salvation, John 3:16-17; Eph 2:8-9). Throughout the book, as we will see, the author understands that his readers are believers. A believer already has eternal life and salvation from hell. Jesus made this clear in verses like John 5:24. To the woman at the well, Jesus said that if she believed in Him, she would have eternal life within her, and she would retain it forever (John 4:10-14). Here, in this verse, the author of Hebrews is talking about something the readers do not yet have. He cannot be talking about salvation from eternal condemnation because the believer already has that (John 3:18, 36; 5:24).
The word salvation has the basic meaning of “deliverance.” The salvation here refers to the deliverance Jesus will bring His people when He returns—in the future. His people will share in His victory when He defeats His enemies.
Christ’s inheritance is to rule the world to come (1:2). It will belong to Him. But He will share that inheritance with His companions. They will rule with Him. Not all believers will rule with Christ. While all believers will experience salvation from hell, not all believers will rule with Christ.
The author of Hebrews is telling his readers to hold on. The King is coming. He will deliver you—save you—from all your enemies. In that victory, He will reward those who have been faithful to Him. We might say they will share in the spoils of His victory. What a great salvation that will be!
Even though many believe that all Christians will be equal in the kingdom, the NT does not teach that. In His parables, the Lord taught that some believers will rule over ten cities, some five cities, and some will not rule over any. Paul taught that only those believers who are faithful to the Lord and suffer with Him will reign 2:11-13). These are the “companions” of the Lord. They are faithful to the Lord in the midst of persecution by His enemies. Christ promises to “save” them from that persecution. They are to hold firm to the end. They are the ones that wait for the righteous kingdom He will bring, in spite of the difficulties the enemies of the King throw at them.
All believers are offered this “salvation,” but not all will obtain it. Those that obtain it are those that will experience deliverance from their troubles when the King returns. That is the point of the Book of Hebrews. Only those who remain faithful to the King will share in His rule. The warning passages in the book are directed toward those believers who are contemplating being unfaithful to Him and throwing all that away.
Angels serve those who are called to reign with Christ. Angels will not rule the world to come; faithful men and women will. Because men and women will rule the world to come, the Son had to become one of them. That is the subject of the second chapter of Hebrews.
It may be difficult for the modern-day reader to put himself in the shoes of the original readers of Hebrews. Many of us have not experienced persecution for our faith. We have never been faced with the temptation to reject Christianity for our safety.
However, the message here in chap. 1 is timeless. In Christ, we see the coming eternal King. When we believe in Jesus Christ for eternal life, we receive it as a free gift. However, Christ offers His people even more. He calls every believer to be one of His intimate companions in His kingdom. Christ will own the kingdom over which He rules, and He wants to give His followers a share in that inheritance. There is a difference between being in a place and inheriting that place. There is a difference between being in the kingdom and being great in the kingdom.
Imagine if, when the King returns, He made you a partner with Him in ruling His kingdom. Imagine being in the cabinet of the King. Being faithful to Him in this life is difficult, whatever age in which we live. But He promises to come and deliver us from these things and reward faithfulness towards Him. Not all believers will receive this “salvation” from Him. All believers will be in the kingdom, but as the Book of Hebrews will spell out, including in the warning passages, some believers will experience the loss of eternal rewards.
Ken Yates is Editor of The Journal of the Grace Evangelical Society and GES’s East Coast and International speaker. He is the pastor of Little River Baptist Church in Jenkinsville, SC.