Five Minute Devotions: Hebrews 1
The book of Hebrews is unique among all the New Testament writings for the distinctly Jewish and priestly look it takes at Jesus. Hebrews 1 starts things off with the argument that Jesus is greater than the past covenants (Hebrews 1:1-3) and greater than the angels. First, Jesus is greater than the angels, because he is called the Son (Hebrews 1:4-5). Second, Jesus is greater because the angels are commanded to worship him (Hebrews 1:6-9). Third, Jesus is greater because he is the Creator of the cosmos (Hebrews 1:10-12). Angels are God’s servants, but Jesus is God’s son and heir (Hebrews 1:13-14).
Jesus > Angels
This is an argument that makes sense to us, but only because it’s an argument we would never feel the need to make. The difference between Jesus and the angels is pretty clear in our minds. What we have to understand is that the author of Hebrews is saying this New Covenant is heralded by a new messenger.
According to Jewish theology, the Old Covenant was handed down by God to Moses through the mediation of angels. Josephus writes this in Antiquities of the Jews:
We have learned from God the most excellent of our doctrines, and the most holy part of our law, by angels…
We see angels making announcements throughout Scripture, perhaps most notably the announcements to Mary, and later the shepherds, about Jesus. To the Jewish mind, the Old Covenant was handed down through angels. The author of Hebrews claims that this greater message requires a greater messenger: the very image of God, Jesus Christ.
From Messenger to Message
In the past, angels had been the messenger of God’s word, but now the very Word of God had come. Instead of a messenger, God had sent the message. In this short introduction, the author of Hebrews upends the Jewish concept of religion. In just a few short premises, he sets up the foundation of the rest of his argument: that while Old Covenant religion was good, it was not meant to last: it was only a foreshadowing of the fulfillment to come through Jesus.
I am writing this particular devotion on Christmas Eve. The air is thick with anticipation of Incarnation. Our advent studies and our candlelight services and our plays and programs all tend to engage the same familiar passages. Luke 2. Matthew 1. John 1, even. Hebrews 1 doesn’t get much playing time.
That’s unfortunate, because it contains some of the most eloquent imagery and concisely stated theology that Scripture has to offer: that this Jesus, the Son of God, entered into the mess of space and time and sin to redeem us to the status of heirs of God.
In truth, the Epistle to the Hebrews might be better termed the Gospel to the Hebrews. It is the systematic story of a Jesus who is greater than anything you’ve ever imagined.
Father, thank you for sending your Son as a better messenger of a greater covenant. Teach us to look upon Jesus as the pinnacle of your revelation—the Word made flesh.
Much of Hebrews 1 is the author quoting from the Old Testament. Why is there this emphasis?
How does Hebrews 1:1-2 set up the contrast between the Old Covenant and the New?
Today’s header image is God Inviting Christ to Sit on the Throne at His Right Hand by Pieter de Grebber. It currently hangs in Museum Catharijneconvent in the Netherlands.
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