- What was once a time to celebrate the birth of God's gracious rescue of this world has become a frantic few months of consumerism, depression, conflict and stress. Sadly, we're often so busy with what Christmas has become that we've forgotten what it truly is. We've forgotten the story. The book of Hebrews points its readers, both in the 1st century as well as in the 21st century, towards Jesus. He is the reason for the season. He truly is greater than anything we imagine!
- Since God's Son is chief over all, we must bow before Him as the Sovereign Lord.
- Importance - What are the central ideas of this text?
- God has revealed Himself in many ways (Hebrews 1:1)
- God has revealed Himself most fully in Jesus, His Son, the Messiah; in Jesus who is fully God Himself. (Hebrews 1:2 & 3)
- Jesus is greater in every way than anything, as He is the One, fully God, who brought salvation. (Hebrews 1:2-4)
- Implications - What questions should the listener be asking?
- How has God revealed Himself from your perspective?
- How is Jesus fully God?
- Why is Jesus greater in every way?
Talk it Over Discussion Guide
- Interpretation - What is the text telling/showing us?
- How has God spoken?
- In what ways does the text indicate that God has revealed Himself?
- What are the “last days?”
- How has God “spoken” through His Son?
- What does it mean that Jesus was “appointed” as “the heir of all things?”
- What does it mean that Jesus has “sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high?”
- Why is Jesus superior to the angels? What is the “name” that Jesus has inherited?
- Implementation - What should the listeners response be?
- What is the implication that God has “spoken” many times and in many ways? What does it mean to you?
- Are we in the “last days” and if so, when do the “last days” end?
- List the descriptions, characteristics and qualities of Jesus as set forth in the text. What do these say to us and to you?
- What is the implication of the assertion that Jesus is the “exact imprint of His (i.e., God’s) nature?”
- What does it mean to you that Jesus “upholds the universe by the word of his power?”
- What has Jesus accomplished with respect to sin? How has He dealt with it? How has He dealt with your sin?
- What do you understand about angels? Are they powerful? How is Jesus superior to angels and what does that mean to you?
Sermon Teaching Notes (as prepared by Pastor Dick Murphy)
- Investigation - What's generally going on in this area of scripture?
These Notes mark the beginning of a new Series covering the New Testament book of Hebrews. The name of the Series is “He Is Greater” and the focus is on Jesus Christ – that He is greater than anything else (because He is fully God), that He is our great high priest, and that because of His greatness He must reign in every way in our lives, in heart, mind and action. It is a book that either quotes or references the Old Testament numerous times, and in so doing, teaches that the old covenant of law has been fulfilled, or completed, in the new covenant of Jesus' sacrifice on the cross and His resurrection to glory; the old covenant is in that sense obsolete, having been replaced by the new covenant; the old covenant was that which pointed to Christ, a shadow or a copy of the real thing that was to come in Christ. And now that He has come, Christ is God's final word, and indeed, He truly is greater than anything we imagine!
By way of background before diving into the text, the book of Hebrews, while called a “letter” by many translations, is more accurately a sermon, also termed a homily, sent to a particular audience. The only elements of the typical ancient letter format appear at the end of the book, since the sermon was sent to this audience. (See Hebrews 13:22-25). The author of the book did not have the opportunity to deliver the sermon orally; hence the sermon was written out. The audience is not specifically identified in the text, but textual clues seem to indicate that the audience is Jewish Christians in Rome (cf. Hebrews 13:24b) who were known by the author (cf. Hebrews 13:19, 23 & 24). These Jewish Christians were under some degree of affliction or persecution which came after the years when Jews and Christians were expelled from Rome by Claudius, and after the reign of terror under Nero during which many Christians, including apparently some from the church in Rome (cf. Hebrews 13:7) were martyred, and after Peter and Paul themselves had been executed. Thus, the book was likely written in the later 60s AD, before the destruction of Jerusalem by Rome in 70AD. Many Jews and Jewish Christians had returned to Rome by that time, but they were a minority and the Jewish Christians were under social and official pressure as by then, Christianity was no longer a religion protected by Rome. In fact, The Roman government treated the Christian religion as a threat to order. Consequently, the author was writing, at least in part, to exhort these Jewish Christians to continue on with Jesus, who was greater than anyone or anything, and not to fall away either to Judaism or to no faith, under the pressure of their circumstances.
Who was the author of the book? No one knows. The book itself does not name its author, unlike what is the case for most of the New Testament writings. Moreover, there is no consistent proof from history as to the author. Some in the early church ascribed the book to Paul the apostle; others pointed to no author in particular. Since those early days of the church, theories have been propounded in favor of the author being Paul the apostle, Barnabas, Silas, Priscilla, Clement of Rome, Luke, or Apollos. Whether or not any of the foregoing is the author, it is generally agreed that the actual author was part of the “Pauline circle.” It seems to this writer that there is a strong case to be made for Apollos as the author. Apollos was a Jewish man from Alexandria (Alexandria was a famous city in northern Egypt, known as the intellectual and cultural center of the ancient world, famous for its library and museum, and second in influence to Rome. The city and its museum attracted many of the greatest scholars of the known world.). He was known to Paul (see I Corinthians 1-4) and, likely, to Timothy (see Acts 18 & 19). He was learned in the Scriptures which to him would have meant the Greek translation known as the Septuagint which was created in Alexandria (Acts 18:24-28), and was not only well-educated but a powerful speaker (Acts 18:24-28), ministering principally to Jews and pointing to Jesus as the Messiah. He had some authority within the church in general (I Corinthians 1:12; 3:22), and most certainly knew of Rome and the situation of Jewish Christians there from Aquila and Priscilla (Acts 18:1 & 2, 26). All of these factors, when put together with the thrust of the book of Hebrews, including its many references to the Old Testament using the Septuagint translation, the author’s intimate knowledge of the traditions and foci of Judaism, and the eloquent Greek and powerful rhetorical devices of the sermon text, all suggest Apollos as the most likely author (We will have to wait for the identity of the true author when we get to heaven!).
As noted above, the central focus of the book is Jesus the Messiah, and the central message is “stay true to Jesus, as He is true to you!” (cf. Hebrews 3:6). And in reading the book as if it were being delivered orally as a sermon, this central message comes through loud and clear as the author pulls, pushes, admonishes, exhorts and encourages his audience to keep on following Jesus and living for Him. To this end, the author begins his sermon with what is perhaps one of the strongest statements in Scripture of who Jesus is. To the readers of this book, then, the first four verses of Hebrews 1 set up the message to come in this sermon; they state the case for Jesus being superior and the last word, for being far beyond even what God revealed before Jesus through the prophets and in other ways, for being worthy of their devotion, and for being the One they should from whom they should not fall away. The author states clearly that it is God who spoke in the past and who has spoken in His Son, Jesus, concerning God’s program of salvation to all who believe. In short, the author in effect says to his readers, “Listen up! Remember who you have believed and put your trust in. He is greater than anything, and He is the most important thing.” As a method of rhetoric, then, these verses are the invitation to the audience of readers to what is to come in the sermon, and a direction to once again lift up and praise Jesus the Messiah (see Hebrews 12:1-3 as the essence of where the sermon will end up.). But what are the specifics of these verses?
Verse 1 looks back to the fact that God has already spoken to humans, and specifically to the Jews. How and when did God speak? He spoke to the people (“our fathers”) through the prophets (A prophet is one who speaks forth the word of God. The readers would be familiar with the prophets of old as they knew the Old Testament Scriptures.), He spoke many times in this way and by many different means. In other words, God has not been silent; His revelation of Himself and His purposes is frequent, varied and continuous; His revelation is known, often involves humans (the prophets) as the vehicle for His message, and is documented; His word is important and dynamic. And we know, as did the readers of this book, that God’s message through the prophets pointed to the Savior, the Messiah, who is worthy and to be exalted. But now, writes the author in verse 2, we have received God’s final, meaning His most complete, word, the word that puts the most awesome exclamation to His revelation. And that word is God’s Son. There is no need for further revelation; Jesus is the fulfillment of the prior revelation, and in Him alone is salvation; there is no turning back. But who is this Jesus, the One who is greater?
What a start to the book of Hebrews! Jesus the Messiah is greater in every way because of who He is and what He has done. He is superior in everything and calls for the worship and response of all, leastwise the original readers of the book, but certainly of all who follow as well who bow the knee to Jesus. He is greater than the universe because, quite simply, He is God and He is outside the universe; He is the great eternal One, the One who has bought and paid for our salvation. To the Jews in Rome who were afflicted and tempted to back-track on their faith, the author is saying, “Don’t back-track; why would you do that, as you serve the One who is greater than the universe. Bow down to Him.” To each of us today, the book of Hebrews is saying the same thing – no matter your situation or circumstances, if you know Jesus as your Savior, don’t lose heart; keep following Him to the end in these last days until He returns. He is worth it because He is greater than the universe; He is Jesus, Lord of lords and King of kings, exalted Savior and Redeemer. Worship Him! Amen