Commentary on Important Words and Relationships from Hebrews 1:1 – 4 (with extended commentary of competency/power hierarchies)

Commentary on Hebrews 1:1 – 2:4

Words (incl. verse #) Type Ask Questions Answer Questions Apply Answers
at many times and in many ways (vs. 1) Significant How did God speak? Πολυμερῶς and πολυτρόπως (Heb 1:1 BGT) – occur only once in the GNT – in this passage. God spoke using a variety of methods and at many different times through the means of the prophets. . This should probably be understood to mean all the prophets through whom God spoke, not just the canonical prophets.
to our fathers (vs. 1) Significant When did the “age of the prophets” start? To Adam, Noah, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, God seems to have spoken directly – or at least by means of visions and angels. The ministry of prophets seems to have developed fully after the Exodus. By speaking of “our fathers” I think the author betrays his Jewish descent. A gentile could not have claimed the same by means of physical bloodline (although we can legitimately declare Abraham, Isaac and Jacob to be our fathers, for we are sons through faith).
last days (vs. 2) Difficult What are the last days? The end, final times, the farthest boundary of an area (BDAG). A situation in which there is nothing else to follow (BDAG). Therefore there is a sense of finality in the message that the Son spoke. There is nothing else beyond that. And there is nothing else for this present world beyond this present time. The last days began with the birth of Christ and will end with his return.
appointed (vs 2) Significant What does it mean that Jesus was appointed? To place, lay, to set, to make. Jesus did not become the heir of all things through violently ursuping the throne but he is given it by the Father because he proved worthy of it.
radiance (vs. 3) Difficult, unusal How does Jesus radiate the glory of God? Wis. 7:26 – a reflection of eternal light, a spotless mirror of the working of God, and an image of his goodness. Jesus is described as a reflection that shines back the full brightness of the glorious nature of God. To know and to see God, one must first see Jesus. Though we physically do not see him now, we know him by the testimony of scripture. And we have seen the father for we have believed in the son by faith.
the exact imprint of his nature (vs. 3) Significant In what way is Jesus the “imprint” of God’s nature. Lev. 13:28; 2 Maccabees 4:10; 4 Maccabees 15:4; Hebrews 1:3 – a scar, a way of life, to impress as in branding or tattooing. Jesus is qualitatively the same as the Father. As the radiant reflection of God, to see Jesus is to see God himself. When Jesus speaks, it is God himself who is speaking. One cannot say the same of angels or prophets – they were only vessels whereas Jesus is himself the source of the message.
universe (vs. 3) Significant How far does Jesus’s power extend? Only the ESV and RSV translates it universe, while CSB, NAS, NET, NIV, NLT use “everything” or “all things”. There is nothing that exists or is not sustained by the power of Jesus Christ. Jesus, being the unqualified Lord of all things without exception, rules over the hearts of all men, let alone the rest of creation. Even unbelievers, though for now they are either blinded or rebel against him and therefore do not willfully submit to him, are in fact subject to him as vessels of dishonour (Romans 9:22). Therefore even their defiant actions are ultimately subject to Him. There is perhaps a tendency among believers to “explain away” God by limiting his power to just the positive, good things of life (healing, prosperity, salvation) and excusing him from the seemingly negative aspects of life (suffering, pain, wars, disasters, destruction, damnation). Perhaps the desire is to somehow protect his image but in doing so, we inadvertently rob him of his glory and majesty as Lord of all things. In our attempt to portray our God as only being good, which he is regardless of the circumstance (good or bad), we must take care not to diminish his power as the Lord of all things.
right hand of the Majesty on high (vs. 3) Unusual What does it signifiy to ‘sit at the right hand’? A symbol of honor and might. God delivered the Israelites from Egypt with his right hand (Ex 15:6) and the right thigh of a sacrifice was meant for the priests (Lev 7:33). Jesus has been exalted by the Father to occupy the place of greatest honour and power in all the universe. But, the question is not so much about the extent of his glory and power – it is absolute – but about the means through which he attained that power. Was it through brute force or through excellence in his achivements? (see comment on Hebrews 1:4).
superior (vs. 4) Significant How did Jesus attain his superiority? Jesus’s name is superior to that of angels meaning that he has attained the highest standard of worth that is possible. For him to acquire that honor, he had to first make purification for sins. Philippians 2:9 tells us that his ascension was through humility not power. He first descended into the lowliest of creation, becoming a man and then suffering for the sins of those whom he would save, a process which culminated with his shameful death on the cross (it was shameful both in that he was humiliated by the very people he came to save and in that it was a travesty of justice for an innocent man was put to death for sins he did not commit). A debate that has been raging in broader society, especially in the west, has been the issue of hierarchies and how it is that those who ascend to the top of those hierarchies get there. There are those who contend that all or at least most hierarchies exist solely/primarily because of power (this is the case made by the feminist movement, read this article by Charlotte Higgins ). However, the problem with this theory is that power hierarchies either do not last very long or are ultimately disfunctional, which eventually causes them to topple (this is the case made by philosopher and clinical psychologist Jordan Peterson). This, I believe, is the reason why so many African nations, like Zimbabwe, have long experience socio-political and economic crises as opposed to successful western societies which for centuries have experienced some of the most incredible prosperity known to man. The reason is because the former are power hierarchies while the latter are competency hierarchies. In the former, the person who ascends to the top of that hierarchy is the one with the most power (usually of the gun, like Robert Mugabe and the henchmen who propped him up and succeeded him). In the latter, it is usually the most competent person who ascends the hierarchy – the richest men and women in successful western societies tend to be those who have created products and services that offer the most value to the broader society to the end that everyone desires to have a piece of whatever they are offering and willingly pay for it (Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Diane Hendricks, Oprah Winfrey etc). Their ascension to their respective hierarchies is because they prove themselves to be the most competent at whatever it is they do and therefore are rewarded for it. Just as Jesus ascended the universal hierarchy through competence (he did what no other man nor angel was able to do, attain the forgiveness of sins for the salvation of the souls of fallen men), so is usually the case with those who typically ascend successful hierarchies. Earthly hierarchies however, are not pure, but do contain a mix of both power and competency but those which are most successful are not primarily based on power but on competency. Even in America, slavery was not the main reason for its prosperity – even at the height of the horrors of slavery, the South was never the economic powerhouse of America; in fact, slavery harmed the Southern economy in the long-run. This is further evidenced by the fact that America’s Gilded Age came after abolishment of slavery (at the end of the Civil War) and before the atrocities of the Jim Crow era. For those who wish to build great nations, great companies, great families and great names for themselves, the route is through competency not power. For those who wish to ascend into eternal glory and sit with Christ at the right hand of the father, they must necessarily follow the path that Christ took, picking up their cross, dying to themselves daily, having the same mind as he did, attaining the utmost glory by subjecting himself to a life of humility in the service of God and fellow man.

Key Relationships from Hebrews 1:1 – 2:4

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