Lecture 02: Purpose
Let’s talk about what the author was trying to accomplish based on what we have seen in terms of the recipients. It was to encourage those who were faltering spiritually to endure in the faith. The way that the author is going to do this is by the inner working of theology and exhortation. Especially, his Christological material about Christ and his exhortation in what to do about it; one question has always been whether this exhortation is primary or not. The theology and Christology serve the exhortation, a foundation for the exhortation material. So, the author uses this theology as a foundation for practical Christian life. This is my depiction of the structure of the book. You have exposition which develops in a step by step logical process. You also have exhortation where the author gives a point of exposition and then insert a section of exhortation. Historically in dealing with this structure, people have taken various kinds of approaches; the most common is a thematic approach that centers on the greater than theme: Christ is greater than the prophets, greater than the angels, and greater than Moses. The problem with this theme is that it ignores the fact that we have two different kinds of literature in Hebrews. We have expositional material and then a clear shift to exhortation. The author preaches about Christ and then he tells us what we need to do about it. For instance, if I am teaching about faith, then I turn and say to you that you and I need to walk by faith in this world. We need to trust God. So point two; not only did Abraham have the foundations of faith, he lived by faith and then I return to the same themes of exhortation. This is what the author of Hebrews does; this is a step by step sequence of his Christological material. You notice that you have the position of the Son in relation to the angels and you have Jesus as superior to the angels, but he had to come down lower than the angels to suffer and die. As you move to the section on the High Priest of Christ, he was taken from among us and made high priest and appointed as a superior high priest. On the basis of that appointment, he was able to make a superior offering for our sins. On the basis of his incarnation and suffering, he was appointed to become that high priest and offer himself.
B. Structure – Theology and Exhortation:
The exhortation developed differently, by reiteration coming back to the same themes over and over again. God has spoken and if you are not obedient to his word, you are in deep trouble. This is the heart of the exhortation material. This is harsh and severe and it is right in your face. Yet, it develops very differently than the expositional material. It develops by sharing promises and punishment if you don’t listen. This development happens through reiterating the same themes over and over again. The other main approach to the structure of the book has to do with more of a literary approach that has been dealt with by Vanhoye. His work in the early sixties on the structure has had an influence on a number of people. There are still some who follow Vanhoye’s general approach, but Vanhoye missed some key factors which I will mention later. My approach is more eclectic; I used modern linguistic theory as well as ancient literary devices that I will also cover later. Our endurance in the Christian life is going to be in direct proportion to the clarity with which we see Jesus as the author of Hebrews would say. Our perseverance in the Christian life is going to be directly proportional to the clarity by which we see Jesus and what he has accomplished on our behalf. That is both theological and relational. We need to be doing good exegesis and sound theology. We need to teach people how to think theologically and biblically. In our own church we have classes on biblical survey and theology to help people to do this exactly.
So, we need to be grounding people biblically and theologically. There is a very small minority of people who get their world view from the Bible. Only nine percent of Christians has a biblical world view that affects the way they live and think. We need to have that strong theological biblical foundation if people
are going to endure and live well in terms of the Christian life. But it is also relational; it must be in the context of Christian community that these things are lived out. It is important to live in context with other believers in Christian and walking with them on a day by day basis and struggling together with them and celebrating with them. That is where I experience the life of Christ; it is in Christian community. We grapple with theological issues and the implications of theology for specific issues in life; whether it is dealing with a teen or a person in the church. You don’t want theology detached from Christian community and you don’t want community detached from theology. This creates post-modern churches which we have now. People need something to base their experience on other than themselves. So the author is laying a theological foundation to help persevere in the Christian life.
I date the Book of Hebrews sometime in the early to mid-sixties. These people had been Christians for a while; they seem to have also faced persecution sometime in the past, yet it seems that they are facing an increasing intensive in persecution at the present but had not faced martyrdom as of yet (chapter 12:4). The author says that they had not yet shed blood for the faith. He says that they are striving against sin. It is a time before the persecution of Nero in Rome. It would fit the Roman community in that AD 49 which was a time when Claudius had expelled the Jews from Rome as in reading about Aquila and Priscilla who were described as coming out of Rome under the expulsion. Suetonius tells us that Claudius expelled the Jews from Rome because of one Crustose. This was a common name of a slave at that time. Some think that he was confusing it with Christos or with the name of Christ. That time of expulsion would have explained perhaps the imprisonment and seizing of property and things that are described in chapter 10:32. This may have been brought about because of conflict between Jews and Jewish Christians in the city of Rome at that time. We can’t be dogmatic about the date, but a best guess would be the early to mid-sixties.
D. Background of Thought:
Up until the 1950’s, the most prominent idea is that Hebrews was influenced by a world view of Philo of Alexandria. Philo was influenced by Platonic type of thought; he uses allegorical method in his commentary. I do think that Hebrews was influenced in terms of vocabulary. There are places where the author uses common terms in Philo, but since the 1950’s there have been a number of important works that have been done by people like Ronal Williamson. He did a comparison of Philo and Hebrews and found that they were very different in terms of their world view and their way of thinking about reality. Lincoln Hurst with his book, Hebrews: Background of Thought published by Cambridge University Press. It seems that the pendulum has swung to think of Hebrews in terms of Jewish apocalyptic thought. One of the main reasons for this shift is to consider Hebrews in terms of the past, the present and the future. That is more of an apocalyptic idea. In this, you do have earth and also heaven with an emphasis on a heavenly Jerusalem, like in the Book of Revelation. It is as if it is moving along with us in time and at the end this heavenly Jerusalem will come down to earth. So, you have the heavenly holy of holies that Jesus goes to and we are looking to Jesus being there even as we continue here on earth. This is all moving to a combination to the end of time. The more dominate thought now is that Hebrews is dealing with Jewish apocalyptic thought. It is influenced more by that kind of thought. The idea of inaugurated eschatology; this is the tension between the present realities that God has brought about and the not yet; those realities being consummated at the end of the age. It is very important for us to understand this inaugurated eschatology as having some real implications for ministry as we see people living in this tension between the present realities that God has brought about and the fact that we are not there yet.
E. Hebrews – Chapter 1:1-4
1. The Purpose of the Introduction:
We will first deal with the purpose of the introduction and the process in terms of what the author wants to accomplish. We will talk about how the author accomplishes that purpose. So, In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven. So he became as much superior to the angels as the name he has inherited is superior to theirs. These first four verses are in periodic style; it is a period in Greek. This is stringing together clauses, one right after another, like in Ephesians 1. It was a rhetorical kind of device that was meant to be a powerful and beautiful type of construction. Note that with every unit, I will cover purpose and process. We will cover each verse as we work through the text. So, the purpose of this unit is to introduce the book in both Jewish and Greco-Roman context. There was a great deal of emphasis on an address, a powerful and appropriate introduction. This was often called a proem or the exordium. The introduction was supposed to sum up the primary topic or topics to be discussed in the book or speech. For instance, Aristotle whose work on rhetoric was used in rhetorical training in the 1 st century likened the introduction to a prelude to a performance on a flute. Hebrews does this very well. The author introduces God, God’s Word, the Son, the Son’s superiority and the concept of Sacrifice. These are the most important themes of the whole book. It was also supposed to capture the attention of the audience.
Philo of Alexandria when writing about the introduction of Moses in the Book of Genesis says that the introduction excites our admiration in the highest degree. He said that Moses did a great job in writing the first chapter of Genesis. This can also be applied to Hebrews. Spick said in his commentary that the first four verses of Hebrews are probably the most beautiful sentences in all of Greek literature. The author uses all kinds of rhetorical techniques in it. There are things like parallelism, literation and others within the four verses. The sound from Greek brings out the literation within the sentences.
2. The Structure of the Introduction:
Parts of the texts falls into too main movements: you have 1:1 – 2a which addresses divine revelation. From 1:2b – 4 specifically focusses on the person and work and status of the Son. God’s revelation is lined out in parallelism. You have the older revelation before the Messiah against the new revelation in God’s Son. There is the era, the recipients of each revelation and the agents of the revelation and then there are the ways in which the revelation was communicated. The era of the older revelation; it is in times past or the way Greek puts it, formerly. The era of the new revelation is in these last days. So, the recipients of the older revelation are the forefathers and we are the recipients of the new revelation. The agents of the older revelation include the prophets and for the new revelation it is the Son. The way in which the revelation was given was through various ways, little by little in different times and ways. He is really saying that there is one main way, through the ministry of Jesus. God spoke to our fathers through the prophets. We see the context, ‘God having spoken.’ This participle relates to the verb in verse; so, having spoken, through the prophets, God spoke to us in the Son. God laid the foundation of all of his revelation up until that time, and then gave us the revelation through the Son. This isn’t disconnected from the former revelation, the foundation for the revelation given through Christ was laid by the revelation that God had given in the Old Testament. Thus, there is continuity between the Old Testament and the New Testament. So, you have God speaking. God speaks through the Old Testament Scriptures and that combines with the revelation given in the incarnation in Christ.
The word, forefathers, is a generic description meaning our ancestors. It isn’t only speaking of the prophets but he is speaking also about people like Abraham and Moses and even David can be referred to as a prophet. He was one through who God gave divine revelation. This revelation came at various times and ways.
3. God Spoke:
Examples of the ways in which God spoke included direct speech, visions, dreams, and even drama. God also spoke through the use of animals, angelic messengers and theophanies. God appears on Mount Sinai with a booming voice with lightening and storms. These all combinate in the revelation that was given in the Son; the time frame here of the last days is very important. The phrase in Greek explaining this is from the Septuagint meaning these final days. The idea of the last days is an important theological concept in the Bible; both in Jewish thought and theology, the last days were a time after the coming of the Messiah. You have the former times and then you have the last days. These last days are initiated with the coming of the Messiah. In Christian thought and this would include Hebrews, you don’t just have this dualistic temporal thing, you have another era called the coming world. If the last days are initiated with the coming of the Messiah, what initiates the coming world theologically? This is the second coming of the Messiah. In the Christian concept, you have the two comings of the Messiah. A lot of our Jewish friends are still waiting for the coming of the Messiah to put everything right. It is in Christian theology that you have this two-phase coming. It is an important time between the cross and the coming. It is the time for God to build up his church and to give people a chance for people to build up a new covenant with him. So we have God’s revelation that was in past and the revelation that was given pre-imminently in the person of Christ.
4. Characteristics of the Son:
In verse 2b, the Son was made heir of all things; the scripter that he gives of Jesus here in that he is heir of all things. This is an allusion to Psalm 2:8 which he is going to quote in 1:5. There he talks about, ‘here you are my son, today I have begotten you.’ If you go back to that broader context of the Psalm, it is about God making the Son the heir of the nations. He is going to put down the nations. We will say more about that when we get to the quotation itself in chapter 1:5. ‘Ask me and I will make the nations your inheritance, the ends of the earth, your possession.’ The author of Hebrews is expanding this to all things. Secondly, he also made the ages with some translations saying the world. So, the author is talking about the role that Christ plays in the creation of the world. You have many other passages in the New Testament that talk about this as well, such as John 1 and Colossians 1 where Christ is said to be the agent in creation. You have references in the Old Testament to God being the creator of the world. So you have both God spoken of as being the creator of the World and Christ spoken of as the creator of the world. You have the Son here as the agent who is building the world and all that exist. A third point about the Son; not only is he the heir of all things and he has made the created order; he is also the radiance of the glory. Some translations may have ‘reflection’ but I don’t think this is the best translation. The word glory is very important here because it speaks of the radiant manifestation of God’s presence in places like Exodus 16:7 and Isaiah 40:5. To see the glory of God is to witness the presence of God. This term means radiance or intense brightness or splendor. In the Wisdom of Solomon 7:26 divine wisdom is praised. It is the radiance of eternal life, a spotless mirror of the working of God and an image of his goodness.
The emphasis of this word as used in Hebrews is that of close association. You can’t separate the brightness of a light from the light itself. In the same way, you can’t separate seeing the Son from witnessing the presence of God the Father. The Son manifests the person of God. You have this in John 1:14, Romans 8:17 and also in Philippians 3:21. When you see Jesus, you experience the presence of God. He is also the exact representation of God’s being; this is chapter 1 verse 3. The Greek word was used in the ancient world to refer to a stamp or image, a representation of something. It was also used of an engraving tool, and eventually of the image made by a stamp or engraving tool. This image that is impressed on a coin in the ancient world is referred to with this word. It is referring to the form of God or likeness of God or the image of the Father that you have in John 1:2 and Philippians 2:6 and other places like that. So, what does it mean when we say that the Son is the exact representation of the Father? I would like to think of this in terms of human relationships. Just like my own son; the image of the Father is stamped on the Son as with Jesus Christ and his Father in heaven. Of course, with Jesus, it isn’t a physically distinctive mark, but the author is using this language to speak about the close relationship between the Father and the Son. The language he is using means that the Son is the exact representation; the Son is giving a clear picture of the nature of God. That is what the author is saying.
Notice that he is using images that show close association. He is the radiance of the Glory and the image of the Father’s nature.
The next point is that he sustains all things by his powerful Word. This is not the image of Atlas holding up the world, but it is more an idea of governance. The Son who holds all things together as Colossians says, the Son is the one who is governing the world through his Word. You have this, for instance, in
Psalm 33 where God is carrying on the governance of the world, moving the world forward by his powerful Word. He works out his plans among nations and people. The Son is the agent in working these things out. Having made purification of sin, he says; he sat down. Notice that the exhortation, he sat down at the right hand is associated with the suffering and humiliation right from the beginning. We are going to see this throughout the book. You have the exhortation associated with the humiliation; he made purification of sins. So, having made purification of sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Father. This allusion here is from Psalm 110:1; the Lord said to my Lord, sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet. This image of sitting at the right hand has a rich background in both pagan and extra-Jewish literature. This Psalm is the Psalm that is used more times in the New Testament than any other Old Testament quotation. It is the most often quoted Old Testament passage in the New Testament. The early Christians understood it to speak of exhortation of Jesus to the right hand of the Father. This is a verb here; the author has strung along these clauses and all of a sudden he comes to this very firm verb; having done this, he sat down. The author’s focus is on the exhortation; he brings that to a focus here. It is the result of his suffering that he is put to the right hand; the place of pre-eminent authority and power in the universe.
His final point about the son here; he has become greater than the angels. Well, I thought Jesus was always greater than everybody. The author isn’t dealing with the nature of Christ here. He was dealing with his close relationship with the father there. Instead, he is talking about his status, his position. He is saying that the Son for a time in his incarnation on earth as a human being. In that sense, he was lower than the angels during his incarnation. We will see this in chapter 2 in relation to Psalm 8, what is man that you are mindful of him? You have made him for a little while lower than the angels. The idea here is that the Son was lower than the angels for a while in the incarnation and then exalted to the place of highest position of authority and power. He is shown to be who he really was. So when he says having become much better than the angels, he is talking about that exhortation to the right hand. This is a positional issue because he has inherited a name which is superior to theirs. Some commentators say that this name refers to Son because that is what the author is dealing with. I think the word itself was used in Judaism of the day as a title. It could be used to mean rank or position. You could translate this as the rank he has inherited.
5. Practical Implications:
So what are the practical implications of this introduction in terms of Christian life and ministry? How is what the author is doing relevant as we preach this or teach it? It is all about the Son and he has to be the center of our thinking. It is radically focused on Jesus. So, the way you think about Jesus is going to be really important. This affects us in how we think, preach and live our lives as a believer. The fact that God has spoken, he has revealed truth to us; this is powerful and amazing to think about. The church needs grass-root training and reading and I am passionate about this. We have the Center for Biblical Studies here at Union which promotes Bible reading and study in the church. The fact that God has spoken in this world means that we need to be people living as people of the Word. We need to be living in the Word in light of the revelation that God has given in his Word. That theological Biblical foundation needs to the foundation for everything else, especially as to how we think and live in the Christian life. As you are confronted with the Bible in a class like this; as we are preaching it and hearing it being read, are we responding to the voice of God in terms of practical application in your lives? Are you adjusting your life on the basis of the Word of God? It is hard to consider the specific implications of this for your own life? If you have a vague idealistic gas, something that is not measureable and something that you can walk away from and never put into practice. I think we need to challenge people that in being confronting with the Word of God, we need to ask, how I need to adjust my life. Do I need to stop and worship God? Do I need to change a belief that I have. Do I need to write down and consider the things that I need to do, even for people?
When we get to the point in adjusting our lives based on what we are confronted with in the Word of God; that is when transformation takes place. That is where Christianity becomes exciting. This is because we see God changing us. This powerful introduction in Hebrews is not simply meant to be considered intellectually. The author presents this as a foundation for them to adjust their lives; to become more radically committed to a public stand with Jesus in the church. This is what Christianity is about and that is what studying the Word of God is about in seminary and PhD work. Consider what it means to be doing all of this technical study. What are the implications in regards to how I live? Anytime you get separated from that idea, you are walking into some dangerous waters. These books were meant for life change.