Part I: Overview
Lesson Themes: Throughout human history, people have looked forward to the coming Redeemer. After the Fall, our first parents, Adam and Eve, thought that Cain, their firstborn son, would be the promised Deliverer. Abraham was given the promise that, through his son Isaac, all the nations on earth would be blessed. David was promised a son who, if faithful to God, would be established forever. However, none of these people thought that God Himself would be the promised Redeemer.
Prophets in the Old Testament sometimes made cryptic Messianic predictions by using the phrase “in the latter days” (see Num. 24:14–17), which is different from other Old Testament prophecies that use a phrase like “time of the end” (see Dan. 8:17, 19). With the coming of Christ, the “last days” arrived. After a long period of time, which is sometimes called the intertestamental period, God spoke once again. This time, however, He spoke most clearly, and qualitatively, in the most superior manner through Jesus Christ. Christ is equal to God because He is “the exact imprint of God’s very being” (Heb. 1:3, NRSV), and being divine, He also is the Creator, as well as the Sustainer of the universe.
Someone might ask, if Christ is equal to God, how can Paul, speaking in behalf of the Father, write of Jesus, “You are my Son; today I have begotten you” (Heb. 1:5, NRSV)? Does that imply that Jesus was somehow begotten and not eternal? Explain.
Part II: Commentary
The Nature of Christ: The question posed at the end of the introduction has sparked a history of various interpretations. The previous passage (Heb. 1:1–3) was concerned with proving Christ’s superiority over the prophets. In the following passage (Heb. 1:4–14), Paul is concerned with proving Christ’s superiority over the angels. The reason for emphasizing Christ’s superiority could be a keen interest on the part of the audience in angels or even in angel veneration, similar to what we see in the church in Colossae (Col. 2:18).
In service to his argument that Christ is superior to the angels, Paul, in Hebrews 1:5, quotes two verses from the Old Testament. Psalm 2:7 is the first. In its original context, Psalm 2 talks about kings and rulers of this earth who conspire against God. However, God laughs and terrifies them. Ultimately, God will enthrone His divine King on Mount Zion (Ps. 2:6) by saying: “You are my son; today I have begotten you” (Ps. 2:7, NRSV). In his sermon in Antioch in Pisidia, Paul applies this text to the resurrection of Christ (Acts 13:33). Throughout Christianity, this psalm has been interpreted as Christological. Does this interpretation mean that God fathered Jesus at His resurrection, a question we posed at the end of our introduction?
Not at all. God is simply calling forth His Son from the grave when He works through Gabriel, “the mightiest of the Lord’s host,” the one “who fills the position from which Satan fell,” to remove the stone from the tomb of Christ as if it were a pebble. The soldiers guarding the tomb “hear him cry, Son of God, come forth; Thy Father calls Thee.”—Ellen G. White, The Desire of Ages, p. 780. Thus, God the Father calls forth His Son. Similarly, in 1 Corinthians 4:15, Paul tells the Corinthians, “In Christ Jesus I fathered you through the gospel” (author’s translation). Does this act mean that Paul fathered the church? Of course not. Paul brought them to spiritual life; he fathered them in a spiritual sense (the same term is used for Onesimus [Philemon 10] and for Christians in 1 John 2:29; 1 John 3:9, etc.).
The second quote that Paul uses to show Christ’s superiority over the angels is from 2 Samuel 7:14. The original context speaks about David’s plans to build the temple; but Nathan informs the king that his son Solomon will construct God’s house. The Lord also promises, “I will be a father to him, and he shall be a son to me” (2 Sam. 7:14, NRSV). This quote in its original context cannot refer to Christ because of what follows in this verse: “When he commits iniquity, I will punish him with a rod such as mortals use” (2 Sam. 7:14, NRSV). For obvious reasons, this verse must refer to a sinful Solomon rather than the sinless Christ.
Both Psalm 2:7 and 2 Samuel 7:14 have one thing in common, however. They both stress the fact that the king of Israel and Solomon are sons of God: “You are my son; today I have begotten you” (NKJV), and “he shall be a son to me” (NRSV). The emphasis is not on the fathering but on the adoption of the Davidic king and on his son’s kingship, which is transferred, much later in Hebrews, to Christ. The introductory phrase in Hebrews 1:5 asks: “For to which of the angels did God ever say: ‘You are my Son?’ ” (Heb. 1:5, NRSV). The obvious answer is to none of the angels. Only Christ has “become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs” (Heb. 1:4, NRSV). That name is “my Son,” a title never ascribed to any angels. To none of them did God ever say, “ ‘Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet’ ” (Heb. 1:13, NRSV).
Someone, however, might object to the notion of fathering as adoption in this context, countering with Hebrews 1:6: “When he brings the firstborn into the world” (Heb. 1:6, NRSV). Does not this verse, the objector might argue, talk about Christ as being the Firstborn? Good question. The term “firstborn” does have the meaning of primogeniture in such texts as Genesis 25:13, Genesis 27:19, and Genesis 35:23. But in the Old Testament, the “firstborn” also is Israel (Exod. 4:22, 23), contrasted with the firstborn of Egypt. In Psalm 89:27, David is called God’s “firstborn” although he was the youngest of eight brothers, not the firstborn at all. In the New Testament, Jesus is the “firstborn” of Mary (Luke 2:7), the “firstborn” among many brothers (Rom. 8:29), the “firstborn” of all creation (Col. 1:15), and the “firstborn” from the dead (Col. 1:18, Rev. 1:5). These texts show that the title “firstborn” refers to Christ’s preeminence in the church, over the Creation, the cosmos, and the resurrected. Linking Hebrews 1:5 with verse 6 indicates that the Christ is this royal Davidic King whom God introduced into the world with the appeal, “Let all God’s angels worship him” (Heb. 1:6, NRSV). The rest of chapter 1, however, takes up these proofs from Scripture and makes four assertions: (1) only one Person is called “Son” by God (Heb. 1:5), and that is Christ. (2) Angels worship this Son (Heb. 1:6). (3) The Son is the unchanging, just, and anointed Monarch, who created the heavens and the earth (Heb. 1:8–10). (4) The Son reigns at God’s right hand, while angels, in contrast, are ministering spirits in behalf of those who will be saved (Heb. 1:11–14).
In summary, we can say that Christ was not fathered by God but, through His incarnation as the Son of God, the human race has been “adopted” and “accepted in the Beloved” (Eph. 1:6). Thus, Christ is given the title of “firstborn.” As such, His status is far above the angels and deserves even their worship. Ellen G. White, in advising the church on how best to reach out to other Christians, states the following about Christ’s preexisting nature: “Do not make prominent those features of the message which are a condemnation of the customs and practices of the people, until they have an opportunity to know that we are believers in Christ, that we believe in His divinity and in His pre-existence.”—Testimonies for the Church, vol. 6, p. 58. Ellen G. White helped the young Seventh-day Adventist Church to find biblical balance concerning the preexistent nature of Christ. In the context of Lazarus’s resurrection, she wrote of Christ’s nature: “In Christ is life, original, unborrowed, underived.”—The Desire of Ages, p. 530.
These Last Days and the End of Time: The early Christian writers believed that the last days had arrived, and they would culminate in the Second Coming. That is why Paul could say, “But in these last days [contrasted with the days of the prophets] he has spoken to us by a Son” (Heb. 1:2, NRSV). Similarly, when Peter and the other disciples are accused of being drunk at Pentecost, Peter claims that the miracle of speaking in tongues is a fulfillment of prophecy: “ ‘ “In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy” ’ ” (Acts 2:17, NRSV). The Joel 2 prophecy came to pass at the beginning of the last days. Also, when talking about Christ’s incarnation, Peter wrote: “But [Christ] was revealed at the end of the ages for your sake” (1 Pet. 1:20, NRSV). These last days are characterized by scoffers, who question the second coming of Christ (2 Pet. 3:3, 4) and exploit the poor for the sake of enriching themselves (James 5:3). The last days also are characterized by the appearance of antichrists (1 John 2:18).
While acknowledging the fact that the last days arrive with Christ’s incarnation, is there a difference between these “last days” and the “end of time,” as described by Daniel and Revelation? Consider the time prophecy of the 2,300 evenings and mornings in Daniel 8:14. This time prophecy stretches far beyond the days of Christ. And other prophecies still have several events outstanding, from our vantage point in time, such as the “seven last plagues” (Rev. 15:1, Rev. 21:9). Ultimately, the “last enemy” (1 Cor. 15:26) is not yet conquered, nor have we heard the “last trumpet” (1 Cor. 15:52, NRSV). In summary, we can say that the last days arrived with Christ, but the last great event in the time of the end is still outstanding. In between these two comings, unfulfilled prophetic events must still transpire.
Part III: Life Application
By looking at Hebrews 1, we realize that Paul packed a lot of theology into it. Warmhearted, devotional, application-oriented Christianity is necessary. However, our orthopraxy (practice) stems from our orthodoxy (beliefs). A solid theology will lay the foundation for a good Christian lifestyle.
Do you think that, today, we have to balance our theology with our Christian praxis? If so, how?
How can we discern, even today, between our religious and cultural “baggage” and the biblical truth?
In a time in which authority, both in culture and in the church, is in crisis, how does Hebrews 1 give us guidance?