Hebrews 1-2

The audience of Hebrews was tempted to set themselves again under the umbrella of the synagogue—a religious community accepted by the Roman Empire. Such a move would provide these believers the benefits of their earthly citizenship and allow them to live in peace with their neighbors. The author argued that, as Christians, his audience enjoyed a better priest than any that existed in Israel (Heb 5:1-8:6), a better covenant than the old (Heb 8:7-9:10), and a better sacrifice than any offered since the inception of the law (Heb 9:11-10:18). The Epistle of Hebrews is thus a call to maintain a distinctly Christian posture, and—in light of future security (Heb 12:25-29; 13:10-15)—endure whatever consequences might arise. These believers needed to live as a tightly knit community if they were to endure the trials that had come upon them (Heb 3:12-14; 10:19-35; 13:1-7). The author wanted his readers to know of their special place as the people of Christ and thus explained the Old Testament in light of Jesus.

(1) In Heb 1:5-6, the author applied Ps 2:7; 2 Sam 7:14; and Ps 97:7 to portray Jesus’ superiority over angels. In Psalm 2, the author reflected on the powerful position of Israel’s king. God established the king as His Son to rule in the midst of His enemies. Though the leaders of the earth would conspire against God and the Son He anointed as king, they would fail. When David wanted to build a temple for the Lord, the Lord told David that his son would build the temple. God said, “I will be a father to him, and he will be a son to me” (2 Sam 7:14). In Psalm 97, the psalmist described the Lord as the King of His people and the ruler of creation. All the idols and all the nations were thus to worship Israel’s God (Ps 97:7). The author of Hebrews quoted Ps 97:7 to describe the angels worshipping Jesus at His incarnation.

(2) In Heb 1:7, the author described angels as transient ministering spirits, in light of Ps 104:4. In Psalm 104, the psalmist noted God’s greatness as the Creator of the universe. And God created winds as His messengers and flames of fire as His servants. Angels, the author of Hebrews noted, were like that. God sent them to serve those who would be saved (Heb 1:14) but they were not saviors.

(3) In Heb 1:8-13, the author quoted Pss 45:6-7; 102:25-27; and 110:1 to reinforce Jesus’ superiority over angels. In Psalm 45, the psalmist described the glory of Israel’s king on his wedding day. The psalmist noted God’s special covenant with the king, reminding those in attendance at the wedding that God rules forever and anointed the king because the king loved righteousness and justice (Ps 45:6-7). The author of Hebrews quoted all of Ps 45:6-7 as a reference to Jesus, placing Jesus not only in the place of Israel’s king but also in the place of God, the One ruling His kingdom forever and ever. In Heb 1:10-12, the author again took a psalm that described the greatness of Israel’s God and cited it as a reference to Jesus. In the midst of suffering, the psalmist that wrote Psalm 102 cried out to God and reminded his readers that God created the world and would never change. The author of Hebrews read Ps 102:25-27 as a description of Jesus’ superiority over transient angels. And Ps 110:1 concluded the author’s portrayal of Jesus’ greatness over angels (Heb 1:13). God never invited an angel to sit at His right hand.

(4) In Heb 2:6-9, the author quoted Ps 8:4-6 to portray Jesus’ humanity and deity. Psalm 8 begins and ends with the same line: “LORD, our Lord, how magnificent is Your name throughout the earth!” The psalmist praised God for His creative acts and the place the Lord gave to humanity as those who would rule creation. The psalmist knew God’s supremacy and rejoiced that God made humanity a little lower than the angels, crowning mankind with glory and honor (Ps 8:4-6). The author of Hebrews saw in Ps 8:4-6 themes that would help his audience understand Jesus’ lowliness as a man and His exaltation as God’s Son. Jesus took up human flesh, lowering Himself in comparison with angels, so that through death He would be exalted above them, having accomplished redemption that angelic mediators could never secure.

(5) In Heb 2:12-13, the author cited Ps 22:22 and Isa 8:17-18 as statements Jesus spoke in His incarnation. In Psalm 22, the psalmist endured physical, spiritual, and social hardships. He began the psalm saying, “My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?” (Ps 22:1). While previous generations had cried out to God and received help in times of trouble, the psalmist felt that God had turned from him (Ps 22:4-5). Despite the psalmist’s present moment of grief, he committed himself to trust God and praise Him among His people when the deliverance came (Ps 22:22-31). The author of Hebrews noted that Jesus was lower than the angels in one aspect: He took up human flesh. The author of Hebrews explained Jesus’ incarnation as His confession of Ps 22:22. Jesus was not ashamed to call humanity His kin and thus effectively said, “I will proclaim Your name to My brothers; I will sing hymns to You in the congregation” (Heb 2:12). In Isaiah 7, King Ahaz rebuffed the Lord’s offer of aid when Israel and Syria tried to overtake Judah so as to form a united front against the Assyrians. Instead of trusting God, Ahaz made an alliance with the king of Assyria (2 Kgs 16:1-9). The Lord told Isaiah to endure the king’s foolishness and Isaiah replied that he would gather the prophets he was leading, and they would trust God’s care for them (Isa 8:17-18). The author of Hebrews saw Isaiah’s bold identification with the prophets under his care as a foreshadowing of Jesus’ identification with God and humanity in His incarnation. Jesus boldly sang His identification with the human race. The author of Hebrews wrote, “He had to be like His brothers in every way, so that He could become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God to make propitiation for the sins of the people” (Heb 2:17).