Wednesday, March 31, 2010

rich foundation

Before leaving chapter 1 in the epistle to the Hebrews, I want to pause for a moment to consider the rich Christological foundation that the author has developed thus far. Though much more can be said of the Person and work of Jesus (indeed, even the apostle John writes that if all the things concerning Jesus "were written in detail...even the world itself would not contain the books that would be written" [John 21:25]), we have learned of Christ in Hebrews 1 that He:

1) is the final and authoritative person through whom God speaks (v2)
2) is appointed by God heir of all things (v2)
3) is the One through whom God made the world/ages (v2)
4) is the radiance of God's glory (v3)
5) is the exact representation of God's nature (v3)
6) is the One who upholds all things by the word of His power (v3)
7) is the One who made purification for the sins of humankind (v3)
8) is seated at the right hand of the Majesty on high (v3)
9) has become better better than the angels (v4):
a. as the only begotten Son (v5)
b. as being worthy of worship (v6)
c. as the righteous King (v8)
d. as Creator of the earth and the heavens (v10)
10) has inherited a name better than that of the angels (v4)
11) reigns forever (v8)
12) is omnipotent (vv. 3, 10, 12)
13) abides forever and is eternal (v12)
14) is immutable (v12)

Truly, as Paul writes to the Ephesians, these things are:

[I]n accordance with the working of the strength of [God's] might which He brought about in Christ, when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but the one to come. And He put all things under His feet and gave Him as head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all. (Ephesians 1:19-23)

In light of these things, how can we not respond in worship and adoration? How can we not, both out of pure volition and holy desire, offer our lives to Him who bought us with His very blood? I encourage you to read this first chapter of Hebrews again and again, and to let God write its meaning on your heart.
Perhaps too often it is easy to misconceive theology as too abstract or even irrelevant. Or, we wrongly consider doctrines of God (including Christ) to be dry and lifeless principles suitable for memorization but discarded from everyday thought and action. For this reason, I would like to end the commentary on chapter one with an exhortation from the great Dutch Reformed Pastor from South Africa, Andrew Murray. Here I quote him at length:

"And now let me once again urge my reader to mark well the lesson this chapter is teaching us and the object it has in view. Let no one think, as I myself long thought, that, because we firmly believe in the divinity of our Saviour, this chapter, with its proof-texts, has no special message for our spiritual life, and that we may therefore hasten on to what the Epistle has to teach farther on. No, let us remember that this is the foundation chapter. The divinity of Christ is the rock on which we rest. It is in virtue of His divinity that He effected a real cleansing and putting away of sin, that He can actually comunicate and maintain the divine life in us, that He can enter into our innermost being, and dwell there. If we open our hearts and give them time to receive the full impression of the truth, we shall see that all we are to learn of the person and work of Christ has its value and its power from this - that He is God." (Murray 61-62, emphasis added)

Murray, A. (n.d.). The Holiest of All. Old Tappan, NJ: Fleming H. Revell.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

omnipotent Creator (better than the angels, part 5 of 5)

...And, "You, Lord, in the beginning laid the foundation of the earth, and the heavens are the works of Your hands; they will perish, but You remain; and they all will become old like a garment, and like a mantle You will roll them up; like a garment they will also be changed. But You are the same, and Your years will not come to an end." But to which of the angels has He ever said, "Sit at My right hand, until I make Your enemies a footstool for Your feet"? Are they not all ministering spirits, sent out to render service for the sake of those who will inherit salvation? (Hebrews 1:10-14)

We come now to the final comparison between Christ and the angels in the first chapter of the epistle to the Hebrews. In this passage, the author returns to a previous theme, that of Christ as Creator (see this post for earlier discussion). However, here, the writer is much more explicit, citing Scriptural evidence, again from the book of Psalms (see Hebrews 1:5 [= Psalm 2:7] & 1:8-9 [= Psalm 45:6-7]), to authenticate the claim of Jesus' role as Creator of all things. In this we are assured yet again of the reality that Jesus is "better than the angels," who are "ministering spirits, sent out to render service for the sake of those who will inherit salvation" (Hebrews 1:4, 14). Furthermore, we see a contrast between Christ an His creation that illuminates the immutability of Jesus. Truly, as we will later read, "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever" (Hebrews 13:8).
This section builds onto previous thought and begins immediately with a quotation from Psalm 102, verses 25-27. In order to understand who the referent is in this citation of Psalms, we need to look at the treatment of the passage in the epistle itself as well as consider its original Scriptural context. In Hebrews, we see from verse eight that this is a continuation of the thought that begins with the interjection "But of the Son He says," thus continuing God's declarations concerning the Son, Jesus Christ (Hebrews 1:8). Consequently, it is evident that the writer of the epistle views this passage in Psalms as definitively referring to Jesus.
Nevertheless, the referent in the psalm itself is Yahweh, the God of all (see, for example, Psalm 102:12-23 where the psalmist refers to God as LORD, or Yahweh). Since, in the context of ancient Judaism, the type of creatorship spoken of here is a unique role that God alone operates in, the application of these verses to Christ is an explicit deification of Jesus, attributing to Him qualities that are singularly divine. In actuality, though, the author is not "deifying" Jesus in the sense of apotheosis (wherein one could make someone out to be a god). Rather, the author is agreeing with the nature of Christ and of the Godhead. Each part of the Triune God, in perfect unity, was active in the creation of the universe. So, the application of Psalm 102:25-27 concords with the reality of Christ, and of God.
Whether one believes that this creative event happened thousands of years ago or billions of years before now, all would agree that the universe has been around for quite some time. The duration of a single human life is but a fleeting moment in comparison to that of the earth, the moon, the stars, and even the galaxies. These latter entities seem to persist and endure, unlike members of humankind. We who are so frail often look at mountains and rocks as symbols of stability and unchangingness. Yet, the psalmist (and the author of Hebrews) testifies of these things in relation to Christ the omnipotent and eternal Creator by saying:

You, Lord, in the beginning laid the foundation of the earth, and the heavens are the works of Your hands; they will perish, but You remain; and they all will become old like a garment, and like a mantle You will roll them up; like a garment they will also be changed. But You are the same, and Your years will not come to an end. (Hebrews 1:10-12)

So, the writer here establishes the supremacy of Christ over the angels by exalting Him in His power, His immutability, and His eternality. That is, Jesus "laid the foundation of the earth" and "the heavens are the works of His hands." Though we may view these things as constant, established, and permanent, "they will perish." But Christ "will remain." He is firm, fixed, steadfast, abiding, and unchanging. The earth and the heavens "will become old," but Jesus Christ is "the same, and [His] years will not come to an end." Jesus is everlasting; when the light of all the trillions of stars fades, His True light will radiate brilliantly forever.
As a result, the Christology that Hebrews develops maintains a perfect balance between the complete humanity of Jesus and the complete divinity of Jesus. Though for our sake and the glory of God He became incarnate, His life extends far beyond thirty-three years. For, as we read in Hebrews, "[His] years will not come to an end" (Hebrews1:12). Not only does Jesus exist from eternity, but He also remains changeless and unchanged. For this reason He reveals of Himself to St. John: "I am the first and the last, and the Living One; and I was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore" (Revelation 1:17, 18). Knowing this of Christ, how could we ever reasonably consider Him to be a mere angel? To the angels God has never granted authority "to sit at [His] right hand;" this is a privilege that both inheres to and was earned by the Son alone (Hebrews 1:13; see also 1:3). And while He, by nature God, "emptied Himself" and took "the form of a bond-servant," the angels are by nature "ministering spirits" whom God has ordained to serve humankind (Philippians 2:7; Hebrews 1:14). Jesus, then, is rightly the source of our confidence and comfort forever. Who He is - our God, Creator, Savior, Brother, High Priest, and Sacrifice - He is eternally. He will not, nor can He ever, change. "He remains faithful, for He cannot deny Himself" (2 Timothy 2:13).

Friday, March 19, 2010

eternal King (better than the angels, part 4 of 5)

...And of the angels He says, "Who makes His angels winds, and His ministers a flame of fire." But of the Son, He says, "Your throne, O God, is forever and ever, and the righteous scepter is the scepter of His kingdom. You have loved righteousness and hated lawlessness; therefore God, Your God, has anointed You with the oil of gladness above Your companions" (Hebrews 1:7-9)

Before Mary, the mother of Jesus, conceived as a virgin, God sent the angel Gabriel, "who stands in the presence of God" (Luke 1:19), to proclaim this good news:

"Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you." But [Mary] was very perplexed at this statement, and kept pondering what kind of salutation this was. The angel said to her, "Do not be afraid, Mary; for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a Son, and you shall name Him Jesus. He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David; and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and His kingdom will have no end" (Luke 1:28-33, emphasis added)

While we may frequently speak of this passage in the context of the Advent/Christmas season, focusing on the humility and grace with which Mary submitted to God's holy will as well as the glorious Incarnation of Jesus, I would like to highlight here features of the circumstance as a whole. Specifically, in this event we see features that resemble the contrast in Hebrews 1:7-9 between Christ and the angels: angels are "ministers" whereas Jesus is the eternal King (see also Hebrews 1:14).
We get the impression in Scripture that angels are glorious and majestic beings that inspire awe and fear in humans. So, as in the Lucan passage above, we constantly read that the angels declare upon their appearance, "Do not fear." Moreover, these beings, at least some of which are "in the presence of God," arouse worship, though, not being worthy, they never receive it and explicitly encourage humanity to worship God alone (see, for example, Revelation 22:8-9). Yet despite the grandeur that angels display, the writer of Hebrews reminds us what God has revealed of them, in that God "makes His angels winds and His ministers a flame of fire" (Hebrews 1:7; Psalm 104:4, LXX). In our frailty, we are wont to exalt angels because of their apparent splendor. But God is gracious to remind us that His angels are created, temporal and fleeting beings, like "wind" and "fire," whose primary purpose is to worship and serve Him. What they have, they receive from God, the Creator of all things. What God has, He possesses eternally, being uncreated. Even the great angel Gabriel was but a messenger, a servant, sent from God to declare the True Majesty, God's Son, Jesus the eternal Savior King.
Though we must temper our attitude toward angels, it is always fitting to worship the divine Son. In contrast to the temporal angels, whose majesty is derived, we see Jesus, who is "better than the angels," as reigning forever, and His majesty inheres. So, as we read in Hebrews, the writer quotes again from Psalms, citing God as the author who declares Jesus' deity and eternal, righteous reign as King: "Your throne, O God, is forever and ever, and the righteous scepter is the scepter of His kingdom. You have loved righteousness and hated lawlessness; therefore God, Your God, has anointed You with the oil of gladness above Your companions" (Hebrews 1:8-9; Psalm 45:6-7).
When we speak of Jesus' reign and His kingdom, we should recall that it is intimately related to His person and work. Therefore, it relates to His nature as both fully divine and fully human, and it relates to His Incarnation, Crucifixion, and Resurrection. As divine, He possesses innate authority and sovereignty; as human, His obedience to God and love for righteousness has enabled Him to be "anointed...above [His] companions." Stemming from Jesus' work in His Incarnation and Crucifixion, we perceive attributes of Christ's Kingship and kingdom that are unique in comparison to any earthly king and kingdom. Jesus humbly condescends to the lowly estate of humanity in the midst of our fallen condition. Furthermore, He empties Himself to take on the form of a servant so that He might suffer on our behalf and become accustomed to our weaknesses. His reign and His kingdom are characterized by selfless acts of love towards others in need, and He was put to death because the world, for whom He died, would not receive Him. Yet, He rose from the dead, conquering death and hell and bestowing life upon those who will believe in Him, and He is now entered into the position of exaltation which He had from the beginning. He is King forever, and the principles of His kingdom originate from Himself. Consequently, greatness is measured in terms of lowliness and servitude; nobility is measured in terms of righteousness, uprightness, and a morality that continuously expresses love toward God and necessarily overflows with compassion toward all of humankind without partiality (see, for example Matthew 20:20-28; 23:11-12; Luke 22:24-36; John 12:24-26; 13:1-15; Matthew 22:36-40; 9:35-36).
Because of the singularity of Christ's Kingship and His pure righteousness, we must take care not to associate His righteous rule with kingdoms of this fallen world. The kingdoms of the world all too frequently display selfishness and an insatiable desire to oppress and destroy others for personal gain and protection of so-called "rights." The kingdom that Christ ushered in through His first coming is distinguished by love and service. In an already/not-yet tension, the Kingdom of God both has come (the Incarnation) and is to come (the Second Coming). Christ desires to rule and reign in us, His believers. And if we say that we believe in Him we ought to live as He lived, obeying and manifesting the principles of His kingdom. Furthermore, we wait anxiously for His return when He will inaugurate the age of His perfect, just, and righteous reign over all things. With such a King as we have, what amazing comfort we find to abide in Him and partake in His kingdom. He reigns forever, triumphing over all - even death and hell - rendering powerless all unrighteousness and evil. And though we still see so much of this (unrighteousness and evil) in the world, He will come again to bring the fulness of His sovereign reign to perfect fruition throughout all the earth.

While I know that I have already written a bit long (especially for a blog!), I invite you to consider and contemplate a small portion of the richness of Christian worship throughout various centuries that has sprung from the source of Christ the eternal and righteous King. In these hymns we are brought to a place of prostration and worship before Jesus, the humble King who gave Himself for His creation, and now lives forever to give us life in Him:

Crown Him with many crowns,
The Lamb upon His throne.
Hark! How the heavenly anthem drowns
All music but its own.
Awake, my soul, and sing of Him
Who died for thee,
And hail Him as thy matchless King
Throughout all eternity.
(Matthew Bridges: Crown Him with Many Crowns, v. 1)

Born Thy people to deliver,
Born a child and yet a King,
Born to reign in us forever,
Now Thy gracious kingdom bring.
By Thine own eternal Spirit
Rule in all our hearts alone;
By Thine own sufficient merit,
Raise us to Thy glorious throne.
(Charles Wesley: Come Thou Long Expected Jesus, v. 2)

O Christ, our King, Creator, Lord
Savior of all who trust Thy word
To them who seek Thee ever near
Now to our praises bend Thine ear

Now in the Father's glory high
Great Conqueror never more to die
Us by Thy mighty power defend
And reign through ages without end
(Gregory the Great: O Christ, Our King, Creator, Lord, vv. 1 & 5)

Lead on, O King eternal,
We follow, not with fears,
For gladness breaks like morning,
Where'er Thy face appears.
Thy cross is lifted over us,
We journey in its light;
The crown awaits its conquest;
Lead on, O God of might.
(Ernest Shurtleff: Lead on, O King Eternal, v. 3)

Rejoice, the Lord is King!
Your Lord and King adore
Rejoice, give thanks and sing,
And triumph evermore;

The Lord our Savior Reigns,
The God of truth and love;
When He had purged our stains
He took His seat above;

His kingdom cannot fail,
He rules over earth and heaven,
The keys of death and hell
Are to our Jesus given;

Rejoice in glorious hope!
Our Lord the Judge shall come,
And take His servants
Up to their eternal home.
(Charles Wesley: Rejoice, the Lord is King, vv. 1-4)

Lo! He comes with clouds descending,
Once for our salvation, slain;
Thousand thousand saints attending,
Swell the triumph of His train:
Hallelujah! Hallelujah!
God appears on earth to reign.

Yea, amen! Let all adore Thee,
High on Thine eternal throne;
Savior, take the power and glory,
Claim the kingdom for Thine own;
O come quickly! O come quickly!
Hallelujah! Come, Lord, come!
(Charles Wesley & Martin Madan: Lo, He Comes with Clouds Descending, vv. 1 & 5)

Friday, March 12, 2010

and unto the Lamb (better than the angels, part 3 of 5)

And when He again brings the firstborn into the world, He says, "And let all the angels of God worship Him" (Hebrews 1:6)

Why is worship so important to God, such that He commands worship for Himself alone? Unfortunately, many will never seek the answer to this question, since the question itself seems to provoke anger, giving rise to thoughts such as: What type of egotistical God commands anything for Himself?, or, Why is God so selfish that He needs our worship? These concerns are grounded in misunderstanding in that they anthropomorphize God. In other words, these questions ascribe to God attributes or qualities that are uniquely human, such as "need" and "selfishness." Yet, if we allow God to reveal to us the truth of the matter, we find that both God's glory and our ultimate good are tied to the importance of right worship. Moreover, understanding worship allows us to understand the nature of Christ more perfectly. For, being Himself God, Jesus is worthy of receiving worship. So, God declares Christ's superiority over the angels by saying "let all the angels of God worship Him" (Hebrews 1:6; Deuteronomy 32:43, LXX & DSS).

Perhaps it would be helpful to provide a basic definition of worship in the sense that I use it here. Although I'm sure the following is inadequate, we might say that worship is:

an act that admits or ascribes high(est) worth to the recipient of that action

The difference, then, between worship that is right and worship that is not arises from the nature of the one or thing that receives the action. So, if the action is in accordance with the nature of the one/thing worshiped (that is, the recipient indeed possess high[est] worth), then right worship is possible. When the action discords with the nature of the one/thing worshiped (that is, the recipient does not actually possess high[est] worth), the opposite is true, and we cannot worship rightly. With this basic, though I'm sure flawed, conceptualization of worship, we begin to see why right worship is both commanded by God and crucial for humanity.
God commands worship because in doing so 1) He agrees with His supreme reality, and 2) He seeks our well-being and satisfaction. God intrinsically possesses, or exists as, the highest value and is therefore the only object of worship that befits right worship. Furthermore, when we worship Him rightly, not only do we admit His worth and ascribe to Him the glory He already possesses, but we also experience the fulness of joy and satisfaction by being satisfied in and with Him. As a result, by necessity of there existing only a single Being who is worthy of worship, to worship anything else discords with reality and cannot give us any true pleasure.
With this in mind, we are now (somewhat) prepared to feel the weight of God's statement about Jesus in Deuteronomy and in Hebrews by declaring: "let all the angels of God worship Him" (Hebrews 1:6). How great and worthy must Jesus be if even the angels are to worship Him! In the context of what is discussed above, the unavoidable implication is that Jesus is worthy of worship because He is Himself God. By now, this should by no means surprise us, for we have already read that Jesus is the Creator and Sustainer of all that is (1:2-3), and that He is the radiance of God's glory and the exact representation of His nature (1:3). But, by revealing this attribute of Christ here, we see a stark contrast between Christ and the angels, since even the angels worship Him though they cannot receive worship themselves (see Revelation 22:8-9).
Again unsurprisingly, we find that people rightly worshiped Jesus, the God-man, in multiple instances recorded in the Scriptures. So, men from the east came to worship Jesus at His birth (Matthew 2:11). The disciples worshiped Jesus after He walked on water and calmed the stormy sea (14:33). Jesus was worshiped by a man whom He healed that had been blind from birth (John 9:38). He also received worship from His disciples after His resurrection (Matthew 28:9). Additionally, in the book of Revelation we gain a picturesque insight to the heavenly liturgy where God, including Jesus, is worshipped eternally. St. John faithfully records this as part of his vision:

I looked, and I heard the voice of many angels around the throne and the living creatures and the elders; and the number of them was myriads of myriads, and thousands of thousands, saying with a loud voice, "Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing." And every created thing which is in heaven and on the earth and on the sea, and all things in them, I heard saying, "To Him who sits on the throne, and unto the Lamb, be blessing and honor and glory and dominion forever and ever." And the four living creatures kept saying, "Amen." And the elders fell down and worshiped. (Revelation 5:11-14, emphasis added)

So we conclude that, not only is Jesus "better than the angels" as a Son, but He is superior in that He, being divine, is worthy of worship. This reality of Christ's nature as ontologically distinct from and better than angels gives immediate comfort and satisfaction to us as we worship Him. Since Jesus is intrinsically the highest Being, How can we not but delight in Him? How can we not but desire to be found in Him? How can we not but long to glorify Him, perfecting our own joy and satisfaction? And as we read on in Hebrews, we consider: How can we not but confide in Him as the eternal High Priest, the once-for-all sacrifice, the mediator of a better covenant, the captain of our salvation, the Apostle of our confession, and the author and perfecter of our faith?

Image courtesy of and copyright the Metropolitan Museum of Art (

Plaque with Agnus Dei and Four Evangelists [German or North Italian Ivory Plaque]. Retrieved March 12, 2020, from

Friday, March 5, 2010

the uniqueness of filiality

For to which of the angels did He ever say, "You are my Son..."? (Hebrews 1:5) many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name...(John 1:12)

Whenever we discuss the name "the Son of God," and perhaps especially in "Western" and/or postmodern culture(s), there is a subtle danger of generalizing the term in such a way that we fail to comprehend its uniqueness and singularity. If this is the case then, crucially, we will fail to understand who Jesus, the Son of God, really is (even in the limited capacity to which we can, by His grace and mercy, comprehend Him). Furthermore, we may mistakenly import our ideas about this concept by disregarding the original intent. As a result, we are left with a concept of filiality (that which pertains to daughters and sons) that is so broadly construed it can no longer capture the purposefully distinguishing nature of the term. Yet, God's desire is such that we know Him, for "we know that the Son of God has come, and has given us understanding so that we may know Him who is true" (1 John 5:20).
One way in which we commonly generalize the name "Son of God" is through the seemingly innocent claim "we're all God's children." Depending on what one means by this claim, we can inadvertently (attempt to) diminish the uniqueness of filiality as it applies directly to Christ as well as to humanity through Christ. If for example, by this phrase we mean that by virtue of being human, or by virtue of being created, we are "all God's children," then this mentality discords with a biblical conceptualization of filiality.
The problem with such a concept is that it operates on the assumption that filiality as it relates to God is universally automatic and inherent, and this does not resonate with the teaching of Scripture. Under the biblical framework, filiality entails a privileged relationship that is either possessed innately or entered into. Moreover, each of these aspects relates intimately to the Person and work of Jesus Christ.
Essentially, Jesus is the sole Person to whom sonship inheres, since He is eternally, and by necessity of His unchanging nature, the Son. God reveals to us the eternal, and thus inherent, nature of His Son throughout much of St. John's writings:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was 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 (John 1:1, 14)

By this the love of God was manifest in us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world that we might live through Him (1 John 4:9)

Moreover, we find that God directly and emphatically declares Christ's nature as Son, both at His baptism and on the Mount of Transfiguration:

being baptized, Jesus came up immediately from the water; and behold, the heavens were opened and he saw the Spirit of God descending as a dove and lighting on Him, and behold, a voice out of the heavens said, 'This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased' (Matthew 3:16-17)

Jesus took Peter and James and John his brother, and led them up to a high mountain by themselves. And He was transfigured before them; and His face shone like the sun, and His garments became white as light...a bright cloud overshadowed them, and behold, a voice came out of the cloud and said, 'This is My beloved Son, with whom I am well-pleased; listen to Him!' (Matthew 17:1-2, 5)

So, we see that Jesus alone is definitively the Son of God, and this name derives from His eternal nature in which He exists and has existed from the beginning. By claiming that "we are all God's children," we actually diminish Christ's nature (from the point of our perception) by falsely attributing inherent filiality to ourselves.
However, being a son or daughter of God is available to humanity, and it is available universally. God, having created us to experience intimate fellowship with Him and with His Son (see 1 John 1:3), enables us to become His daughters and His sons. We enter into this privilege; being "created" by God does not necessarily entail a filial relationship, though it does implicate a Creator-created relationship that inheres to us. Our filiality receives substance because of Christ's eternal nature as Son, and our subsequent being found in Him; our ability to enter into this unique relationship derives from Christ's Person and His work of offering Himself to God wherein "we become the righteousness of God in Him" (2 Corinthians 5:21). Again, claiming that "we are all God's children" assumes that this relationship is automatic, and ignores the fact that our being daughters and sons of God is a privilege that we enter into and derives entirely from Jesus.
If we can but stop to contemplate this magnificent truth, we can see how beautiful and humble is the manner in which a holy and infinite God condescends to our state in order to pursue a relationship with us. And, even more incredible, this is a relationship that we in no way deserve to possess. This latter point becomes readily apparent when we consider how we really treat Jesus, the True Son - before ascending into heaven He suffered and died on our behalf, taking the punishment of our sins, and He did this so that we might be called not only friends (see John 15:15), but brethren (see Hebrews 2:11), and children:

See how great a love the Father has bestowed on us, that we would be called children of God; and such we are (1 John 3:1)

God's love is so great toward us that He gave His only begotten Son so that we might become His daughters and sons, entering into a unique and special relationship with Him, and there is nothing higher or greater than can offer more satisfaction.
Though the ability to acquire filiality is universal - God offers this to all of humanity without partiality - it's application depends on our response. Though God wholly desires to give us the highest good, Himself, He knows that real love does not impose forcefully; instead God constantly pursues us - always extending His hand toward humanity - but in His sovereign wisdom He allows us the choice to believe, and,

as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name (John 1:12)

His hand is extended still.

God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life...And we know that the Son of God has come, and has given us understanding that we may know Him who is true; and we are in Him who is true, in His Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God and eternal life (1 John 5:11-12, 20, emphasis added).

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

as a Son (better than the angels, part 2 of 5)

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"? (Hebrews 1:5)

Earlier, we considered the possibility that Jesus, given the uniqueness of His Person, belongs to a category of beings that is intermediate between God and humanity. Specifically, we brought up the question of whether or not Jesus could be some sort of angel. Additionally, we alluded to the fact that, in the epistle to the Hebrews, the author clearly refutes such a proposal by appealing to the reality of Christ's nature. Jesus is not an angel, but is Himself both fully God and fully human; He is indeed God Incarnate.
In order to support such a declaration of Christ's Person, the author begins a series of comparisons between Jesus, as Son of God, and angels. The conclusion of all these comparisons is captured succinctly by a phrase in verse four: Christ is "better than the angels" (Hebrews 1:4). This is the burden of the author in the current passage, as it is the burden of the author throughout the epistle to convince the reader of Christ's supremacy over all. Of all the various attributes that are associated with either Jesus or the angels, the writer begins by affirming Christ's unique nature as a Son.
Importantly, this section (verses 5-14) gives rise to an interesting pattern and focus in the book of Hebrews:

1) The author heavily relies on the authority of the Old Testament
2) The author exclusively quotes the Septuagint, and
3) The author generally ignores the human writer, attributing Scripture to God directly

The second of these points will become relevant, for example, in our discussion of verse 6. With respect to the other two features, the author cites two passages, one from 2 Samuel 7 and the other from Psalm 2, by putting forth the following rhetorical question to consider,

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?"

Narrowing on the author's treatment of Holy Scripture in this question, we see that the mindset is similar to that of the Apostle Paul, who testifies that "All Scripture is inspired by God" (2 Timothy 3:16). So, God is in this verse the subject of "say," and what God said is a direct quotation from the Old Testament. Again, such a concept in Hebrews should now come as no surprise to us, for the writer opens the epistle with the proposition that in times past, God spoke in manifold ways, including through the words He revealed to be recorded in the Scriptures (Hebrews 1:1). Furthermore, God, in His faithfulness and mercy made known to us in these writings much about the One to whom they point(ed) with great anticipation.
With regard to semantic content of the question, the implication is plainly that Jesus is better than the angels as a Son. God never bestowed upon angels the filial relation that Jesus possesses eternally. So, this sonship is a unique relationship that no angel holds, and this is evidenced by God having spoken this beforehand exclusively to/of Jesus, revealing to humanity a crucial aspect of the Messiah and Savior of the world. Jesus, the eternal and only-begotten Son, who is not made, enables us to see the Father through Him as a result of the intimate communion He shares with the Father.
Another facet that is a key to understanding this passage and declaration of Christ's sonship is the notion of inheritance. We read that Christ, who is "heir of all things...has inherited a more excellent name than [the angels]," the name of God's Son (Hebrews 1:2, 4). Christ, the heir of all things has inherited all things by virtue of His sonship and His obedience. We, too, have an inheritance that we yearn to receive, and the Holy Spirit is our divinely-given pledge of promise for this, assuring us that our expectation and desire is not in vain (Ephesians 1:11, 13-14). However, our inheritance is entirely predicated upon Jesus; indeed, without the inheritance of the Son, ours has no foundation. Assuredly, we have "good news" preached to us, as Paul preached to many at Pisidian Antioch, that God has fulfilled the promise "made to the that He raised up Jesus, as it is also written in the second psalm, 'You are My Son, today I have begotten You'" (Acts 13:32-33; Psalm 2:7). Having been "raised up from the dead, no longer to return to decay," Jesus, "declared the Son of God with power by the resurrection from the dead," obtained His rightful inheritance (Acts 13:34; Romans 1:4). He wholeheartedly offers and invites us to enter in to His inheritance, that which He guarantees for us by the sacrifice of Himself. And we know that while the "way of life" that we "inherited from [our] forefathers" is "futile," Jesus has redeemed us by His "precious blood," and He has prepared for us "an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away" (1 Peter 1:18-19, 4). For this we wait, who have been caused by God "to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead," knowing that our inheritance is "reserved in heaven for [us]" (1:3-4). And we are "protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed at the last time" (1:5).