The Superiority of Christ
The first chapter of Hebrews contains a wealth of information as to the identity of Jesus Christ, and his unique position in all creation. This is what sets him apart from all other so-called "prophets" and would-be "saviors." There are no others that can match his credentials. Neither Joseph Smith, Muhammad, Zoroaster, Buddha, Mary Baker Eddy, Ron Hubbard, Vishnu, Charles Taze Russell, nor Ellen G. White, to name a few. Indeed the whole Hebrews epistle confirms the fact that God's New Covenant with all mankind is superior to the Old Covenant made with Israel. But the beginning focuses on Jesus Christ, the Son of the Living God.
There are seven characteristics in the chapter that are worth considering, as well as a few other noteworthy statements.
Christ is God's Spokesman
"God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son" (Hebrews 1:1-2).
While God revealed himself through various means in the Old Testament, he unfolded the mystery that had been hidden from eternity through Jesus Christ. Paul, in contrasting the wisdom of the world with God's wisdom, said, "Yet we do speak wisdom among those who are mature; a wisdom, however, not of this age nor of the rulers of this age, who are passing away; but we speak God's wisdom in a mystery, the hidden wisdom which God predestined before the ages to our glory" (I Corinthians 2:6-7).
Furthermore, we are told that there will be no further revelations, no more so-called prophets, for Christ told the apostles that he was soon leaving them, "But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth; for He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak; and He will disclose to you what is to come" (John 16:13). If that promise was fulfilled, then no one today has any new truth to reveal. He said the Spirit would guide them into all the truth! Joseph Smith, the Mormon "prophet," Ellen G. White, the Seventh Day Adventist "prophet," and all such are false prophets. If Christ's promise to the apostles did not come to pass, then Christ is a false prophet, and we are all without hope.
Christ is Conqueror
The fact that he was "appointed heir of all things" (Hebrews 1:2) indicates that he is living, and thus conquered death through his resurrection. Those who are dead do not inherit. My wife and I have a will for the disposition of our earthly goods when we leave this world. But if any of our children, our heirs, had preceded us in death, that one would not be considered an heir.
Revelation 1:5 indicates that Christ is "the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth." That's present tense, not past tense. He is the ruler, and thus is living, having conquered death.
Christ referred to his conquering of Satan and death in his message to the church at Laodicea: "He who overcomes, I will grant to him to sit down with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne" (Revelation 3:21). As one of our hymns states, "We serve a risen Savior."
Josh McDowell was speaking to a group of college students in Uruguay on the topic of evidences. He said a Muslim student spoke to him, and expressed sympathy in these words. "I feel sorry for you Christians. We know where the tomb of our prophet Muhammad is, but all you Christians have is…," and he hesitated. McDowell said a strange look came over the young man's face as he realized the implication of what he was saying. The "empty tomb" means that our prophet is alive, while the Muslim's prophet is dead. Josh said he wished he had a camera to capture the look on the student's face.
While it is not the purpose of this writing to consider the evidence for the resurrection, let it be known that the evidence is overwhelming. I can say that the evidence for the resurrection is as strong as, or even stronger, than that of any event in ancient history. Muhammad is dead; Joseph Smith is dead; Ron Hubbard is dead; Christ is alive!
Christ is Creator and Sustainer
The writer of Hebrews goes on to state that Christ is the one "through whom also He made the world. And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power" (Hebrews 1:2-3). Hebrews 1:10 continues the thought: "You, Lord, in the beginning laid the foundation of the earth, and the heavens are the works of your hands."
The familiar statement in John 1:1-3 reads: "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being." Then John goes on in John 1:14 to identify this being: "And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth." "He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together ("consist" ASV)." (Colossians 1:17) "The meaning is, that they are kept in the present state; their existence, order, and arrangement are continued by his power" [Albert Barnes Commentary].
What other prophet has ever claimed to have created the universe, or to have the power to keep the universe humming along smoothly?
Christ is Deity
He is referred as "Son" in Hebrews 1:2,5 and 8, and "firstborn" in Hebrews 1:6. Note Hebrews 1:4-5: "having become as much better than the angels, as He has inherited a more excellent name than they. For to which of the angels did He ever say, "YOU ARE MY SON, TODAY I HAVE BEGOTTEN YOU"? And again, "I WILL BE A FATHER TO HIM AND HE SHALL BE A SON TO ME"?"
This presents a particular problem for various groups, including Muslims and Jehovah's Witnesses. The Jehovah's Witnesses claim Christ is really Michael the archangel. "Previous to the Son's coming to earth as a man he was not known in heaven as Jesus Christ, but as Michael; when we read in Jude 9 about Michael the archangel, we are to understand this expression as a designation of Jesus Christ in his prehuman state." [New Heavens and a New Earth, pages 28-30, Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society, Brooklyn, NY].
Muslims are incredulous at the thought of God having a Son. "They say: '(God) Most Gracious has begotten a son!' Indeed ye have put forth a thing most monstrous! At it the skies are ready to burst, the earth to split asunder, and the mountains fall down in utter ruin, that they should invoke a son for (God) Most Gracious. For it is not consonant with the majesty of (God) Most Gracious that He should beget a son" (Qur'an, Sura 19:88-92). Evidently they equate having a son with God having a sexual relationship with Mary, not considering that the God who created the universe could implant the seed in Mary's womb.
Hebrews 1:3 claims that Christ "is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power" (NASB). Other renderings read: "who being the brightness of his glory and the express image of his person" (KJV); "He brightly reflects God's glory and is the true image of his substance" (Weymouth's New Testament).
"Radiance" or "brightness" is from the Greek "apaugasma," "an off-flash, i.e. effulgence: --brightness" (Strong's). "The word augasma is that which has splendour in itself apaugasma is the splendour emitted from it; but the inherent splendour and the exhibited splendour are radically and essentially the same." [Adam Clarke's Commentary]. The idea is that if you look at the sun in a mirror, you see the exact brilliance and image.
This is further emphasized with the phrase "exact representation," or express image." "The very image of his substance (charaktêr tês hupostaseôs). Charaktêr is an old word from charassô, to cut, to scratch, to mark. It first was the agent (note ending =têr) or tool that did the marking, then the mark or impress made, the exact reproduction" [Robertson's NT Word Pictures].
How could an angel or any other created being be an "exact reproduction" or be the "splendour in itself" that emanates from God? The truth is, Christ is divine, as the apostle John declared in John 1:1-2, 14: "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. … And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth."
Christ is Priest
"… when he had made purification of sins, sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high" (Hebrews 1:3). The function of the priests in the Old Testament was to intercede with God on behalf of the people. They did this through the multitude of sacrifices and offerings. The problem was that the blood of bulls and goats would not suffice to take away sin.
"For the Law, since it has only a shadow of the good things to come and not the very form of things, can never, by the same sacrifices which they offer continually year by year, make perfect those who draw near. Otherwise, would they not have ceased to be offered, because the worshipers, having once been cleansed, would no longer have had consciousness of sins? But in those sacrifices there is a reminder of sins year by year. For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins" (Hebrews 10:1-4).
It took something much greater to be efficacious in making provision for our sins—the perfect sacrifice, i.e., the sinless Son of God.
There is something significant in the statement in Hebrews 1:3: "When He had made purification of sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high." In Hebrews 10:11-12, the writer contrasts the actions of the Old Testament priests with Christ. "Every priest stands daily ministering and offering time after time the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins; but He, having offered one sacrifice for sins for all time, SAT DOWN AT THE RIGHT HAND OF GOD." The priests, in a sense, could never "sit down," for their work was never finished. They had to make sacrifices day after day, week after week, year after year. Why? Because their sacrifices were not perfect. But when Christ made the perfect sacrifice, he "sat down," because the work was finished. What a beautiful illustration of the superiority of Christ.
Christ is King
In Hebrews 1:8, the writer claims: "But of the Son He says, "YOUR THRONE, O GOD, IS FOREVER AND EVER, AND THE RIGHTEOUS SCEPTER IS THE SCEPTER OF HIS KINGDOM."
This presents another problem for the Jehovah's Witnesses, Muslims and others who deny the deity of Christ. Why would we think that any created being would be made the spiritual ruler over the creation? Consider Paul's declaration in I Timothy 1:14-15, as he writes about the "Lord Jesus Christ, which He will bring about at the proper time -- He who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone possesses immortality and dwells in unapproachable light."
Note that this Sovereign King and Lord "possesses immortality." Adam Clarke notes in his Commentary that "All beings that are not eternal must be mutable; but there can be only one eternal Being, that is God; and he only can have immortality." If Jesus Christ is immortal, then he is not a created being.
Another note of significance is that our writer states that Christ is both priest and king. In one of Zechariah's prophecies about the Messiah, he says, "Yes, it is He who will build the temple of the LORD, and He who will bear the honor and sit and rule on His throne. Thus, He will be a priest on His throne, and the counsel of peace will be between the two offices" (Zechariah 6:13). What is the point? At the same time Christ is priest, he is also ruling on his throne.
This presents a problem for the premillennialists, for while they may accept Christ as our High Priest now, they do not believe he is King, for the kingdom will not be established until he returns for the 1,000-year reign. But in both Hebrews and Zechariah, Christ is presented as being both High Priest and King at the same time, not at separate times. This, and other Scriptures show that the premillennial theory of a future 1,000 year reign on earth is not true.
Christ is Worshipped
"And when He again brings the firstborn into the world, He says, "AND LET ALL THE ANGELS OF GOD WORSHIP HIM" (Hebrews 1:6). It is forbidden for us to worship angels. When an angel appeared and spoke to John, we are told what transpired in Revelation 22:8-9: "I, John, am the one who heard and saw these things. And when I heard and saw, I fell down to worship at the feet of the angel who showed me these things. But he said to me, "Do not do that. I am a fellow servant of yours and of your brethren the prophets and of those who heed the words of this book. Worship God."
So this presents another dilemma for those who insist that Christ is not divine, but merely an angel, a prophet, or some extra-special human. Such beings are not to be worshiped. Only God is to be worshiped, and the Father told the angels to worship the Son, who is Jesus Christ.
Furthermore, in Hebrews 1:5,13, a distinction is made between Christ and the angels. "For to which of the angels did He ever say, "YOU ARE MY SON" (Hebrews 1:5); "But to which of the angels has He ever said, "SIT AT MY RIGHT HAND" (Hebrews 1:13). It is clear that God never said those words to an angel, nor to any human being. Only the Son occupies that exalted position and thus is worthy of worship.
We remember the occasion when Peter came to the house of Cornelius. "When Peter entered, Cornelius met him, and fell at his feet and worshiped him. But Peter raised him up, saying, "Stand up; I too am just a man"" (Acts 10:25-26). And when the one called "Doubting Thomas" saw the resurrected Christ in person, his doubts fled. Christ "said to Thomas, "Reach here with your finger, and see My hands; and reach here your hand and put it into My side; and do not be unbelieving, but believing.' Thomas answered and said to Him, 'My Lord and my God.'" (John 20:27-28). It is worth noting that Christ did not correct him as Peter corrected Cornelius. Why? Because Christ is deity, and worthy of worship.
In truth, it is as the song says, "There is none like him, none can compare." Thus we can understand the significance of Christ's response to Thomas in John 14:6: "Jesus said to him, 'I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.'" Christ is truly superior. He is God. He is eternal. He is the only way through whom we can have hope of salvation and eternal life. May we ever serve and honor him.
All Scripture quotations from the New American Standard, unless otherwise noted.