Summary of the Text
While Hebrews is an anonymous letter, it is interesting to note that the KJV’s first verse is, “God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets,” almost as if the translators were trying to mimic the format of other New Testament letters (i.e.- author first) by naming God as the author. The NASB does this as well, but the Greek actually starts with Polumenws (“many”). So, while that’s a quirk of some translations, the Greek isn’t quite that bold.
The author of Hebrews—we’ll stick with “anonymous,” but I like the idea of Priscilla and Aquila since they were friends of Paul and would have done some of the fleshing out of his theology with Apollos (Acts 18:24-26)—begins the letter in an intriguing way. In fact, the introduction almost sounds like the overture to John (John 1:1-18) because it identifies Jesus as being over and above all other sources of knowledge about God and talks about Jesus in the cosmic sense. Jesus has been “appointed heir of all things” and God “made the universe” through him. Moreover, the Son “is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being.” That’s high Christology right off the bat.
Even though the book weaves together Hebrew and Greek philosophy and could be “Christology 101” for someone from either background, the statement in 1:1-4 addresses the specific understandings of those with Jewish backgrounds. Without going into the whole of Jewish history, the author makes a bit of an “e pluribus unum” statement, acknowledging that God did indeed speak in many valid ways but that now He has spoken sufficiently in, through, and as Jesus. In Acts 18, Apollos is perhaps representative of the many unnamed early Jews who were interested and even enthusiastic about Jesus, but were not quite ready to accept his lordship.
Still, one does not have to be a hesitant Jew to be in that position of, “I love Jesus, but I’m not in love with him.” One does not even have to know the whole of Jewish history to be confronted by the assertion that God has spoken in lots of ways, but now God has spoken fully and decisively in this one way. While the “Hebrews” receiving the letter would have had that background and baggage, the point is that Jesus is now the starting point for properly understanding it. As such, this introduction to Hebrews is also a convenient challenge to our modern-day agnostics and “spiritual but not religious” neighbors who may acknowledge that God exists and is at work, but who are non-committal about the specific ways God has spoken.
While 1:1-4 only affirms the ways presented in Scripture, rather than any perceived and supposed ways God has acted outside of Scripture, following Jesus would turn the listener to the proper understanding, regardless of the listener’s presuppositions. The challenge in our day, as it was 2,000 years ago, is to compel someone to start with Jesus and then learn or re-learn how Jesus, by being that “radiance of God’s glory,” elucidates all the ways that God has chosen to work and will choose to work.
After proclaiming the divinity of Jesus, the author of Hebrews moves quickly into the importance of Jesus’s humanity. Again, while this may be Christology 101, it was part of a methodical and compelling argument for its initial hearers and readers. In weaving together Hebrew and Greek thought, the author quotes Psalm 8, which reminds Jews of the Hebrew understanding of the cosmos while explaining to Greeks the very real, physical connection between heaven and earth.
The theological implications are vast throughout the book of Hebrews, and the place of Jesus above angels, his condescension to unite himself with humankind, and his—and by extension, our—exaltation in his resurrection and ascension over and above other heavenly beings are important to mention. Still, in our present context, the multi-cultural and multi-philosophical nuances in Hebrews provide great preaching opportunities for us to address issues of worldview. We must of course proclaim Jesus in our preaching, but here the author of Hebrews provides an opportunity to consider the opportunity of that proclamation amidst many messages.
In other words, Jesus is an exaltation of creation (as he designed), of humanity (perfected in him), of suffering (completed for us in him), and of vindication (due to him and offered to us). Hebrews articulates proper theology of Jesus’s dual nature—fully human and fully divine—but it also answers the questions of differing understandings of the cosmos. From the introduction’s “e pluibus unum” statement to the second chapter’s use of a cosmic psalm to connect God’s majesty in the identical opening and closing verses—verses any discerning Jew of the time would recall—to the very fact of the Son enduring suffering, these two pericopes from Hebrews funnel the mysteries of the world and the problem of suffering into the person of Jesus. Then, they present Jesus as the answer to questions and the deliverance from that suffering.
Even among a group of believers, these passages provide an excellent opportunity to address the common post-Enlightenment predilection toward dualism (i.e.- the Greek metaphysic that was growing at the time in the form of Neoplatonism). As Neoplatonism was recovered through the course of Western philosophy, we are prone to accept a division of holy and secular, of divine and human, of things that can be known and things that cannot, and of heaven and earth. These errors are refuted throughout Scripture, but Hebrews provides a succinct and brilliant exposition of Jesus being the contradiction (in Hebraic thought) and the reconciliation (in Greek thought), to each of them.
In other words, God is not far-off, the Son is eternal, he has truly appeared, and that appearance is consistent with God’s cosmic design. Moreover, Jesus has corporately undertaken our sufferings and our death, and we are thus invited into his life eternal. This is a mere reminder for the “Hebrews” to whom the letter is written, and it is an invitation to the Greeks, whose metaphysics still dominate our own.
Allen Thompson is senior pastor at Fairview Presbyterian Church in North Augusta, South Carolina. Allen attended Pittsburgh Seminary (M.Div.) and Fuller Seminary (D.Min.) His wife, Kelsey, is a Marriage and Family Therapist, and they have two children.
Allen enjoys golf, hiking, camping, cooking pigs, ice climbing, and live music. He loves to imagine being in the story and culture of the Bible, wondering how we might have responded to God then and how we can follow Jesus now. As an “ideas” person, Allen is passionate about working with others to find out how God is calling us to use the many gifts and resources the Holy Spirit provides.
Allen holds a Doctor of Ministry (Fuller Theological Seminary) and a Master of Divinity (Pittsburgh Theological Seminary).
“There is thus no God behind the back of Jesus Christ” – Thomas F. Torrence
In other words, God is no other than who Jesus is. He’s not secretly waiting in judgment. He’s not waiting to spring something else on us. God has fully revealed Himself to us in Jesus, the “exact representation” of His being.
Seinfeld: “Worlds are colliding”
Granted, this is a bit crude, but in terms of Hebrews, there are philosophical worlds colliding, metaphysical worlds colliding, etc. As followers of Jesus, we should celebrate that these worlds collide and that we are not left alone but are instead offered a true world that Jesus both created and entered on our behalf.