The Supremacy of Jesus

The nature and position of Jesus according to Hebrews 1

Sam Shamoun

As promised, here we present an analysis of the first chapter of Hebrews in order to provide additional support that Jesus is not only superior to Melchizedek but that he is God’s eternal Son in the flesh.

It should be stated that the purpose of the book of Hebrews is to demonstrate Christ’s supremacy over the entire Old Testament. The writer’s intention is to make a convincing and irrefutable case for his belief that Jesus and the New Covenant which he inaugurated are superior to everything found in the OT dispensation, whether the Levitical priesthood, the sacrificial system, the sanctuary etc.

He begins his presentation by highlighting all the various ways in which Jesus is vastly greater to God’s angelic host. He does this by quoting a litany of OT passages which makes a marked contrast between God’s unique Son and the angels:

"In the past God spoke to our forefathers 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 he made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God's glory and THE EXACT REPRESENTATION (charakter) 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. For to which of the angels did God ever say, ‘You are my Son; today I have become your Father’? Or again, ‘I will be his Father, and he will be my Son’? And again, when God brings his firstborn into the world, he says, ‘Let all God's angels worship him.’ In speaking of the angels he says, ‘He makes his angels winds, his servants flames of fire.’ But about the Son he says, ‘Your throne, O God, will last for ever and ever, and righteousness will be the scepter of your kingdom. You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness; therefore God, your God, has set you above your companions by anointing you with the oil of joy.’ He also says, ‘In the beginning, O Lord [the Son], you laid the foundations of the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands. They will perish, but you remain; they will all wear out like a garment. You will roll them up like a robe; like a garment they will be changed. But you remain the same, and your years will never end.’ To which of the angels did God ever say, ‘Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet’? Are not all angels ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation?" Hebrews 1:1-14

Here is what we learn from the above chapter.

1. Jesus is the Agent of Creation, the very One who brought all things into existence, and therefore is Almighty. (1:2, 10-12).

Hebrews is not alone here since there are several NT passages that affirm that the Lord Jesus is the One by whom the Father created everything: (cf. John 1:3, 10; 1 Corinthians 8:6; Colossians 1:16; Revelation 3:14).

2. Jesus sustains all creation by his powerful word, again establishing that he is the Almighty (1:3).

This too is repeated in other places:

"But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body." Philippians 3:20-21

"He is before all things, and in him all things hold together." Colossians 1:17

3. Jesus is the exact imprint of God's substance, which means that he is fully God in essence (1:3).

The word charakter initially referred to the exact imprint left by a signet ring after having been placed in wax. Hebrews is making the emphatic assertion that Christ perfectly and exactly reflects God’s very own eternal essence, being the perfect imprint of the Father’s nature, which means that the Lord Jesus is the eternal and infinite God. After all, a finite creature cannot perfectly duplicate the essence of One who is infinite and incomprehensible. Only one who is fully God can be the imprint of an infinite and eternal Being since only God is infinite and incomprehensible. As noted NT Scholar Murray J. Harris states:

"When the Son is said to be ‘the radiant light of God’s glory (on apaugasma te doxes)’ (v.3 JB) and to bear ‘the imprint of God's nature (charakter tes hupostaseos autou)’ (v. 3), he is being described as the intrinsic possessor of the nature of God without actually being given the generic title of ‘God.’" (Harris, Jesus as God - The New Testament Use of Theos in Reference to Jesus [Grand Rapids; Baker Book House, 1992], p. 222; bold emphasis ours)

What’s more, the Scriptures expressly proclaim the utter uniqueness of Yahweh, that there is nothing in creation which resembles him:

"Among the gods there is none like you, O Lord; no deeds can compare with yours. All the nations you have made will come and worship before you, O Lord; they will bring glory to your name. For you are great and do marvelous deeds; you alone are God." Psalm 86:8-10

"For who in the skies above can compare with the LORD? Who is like the LORD among the heavenly beings? In the council of the holy ones God is greatly feared; he is more awesome than all who surround him. O LORD God Almighty, who is like you? You are mighty, O LORD, and your faithfulness surrounds you." Psalm 89:6-8

"Who is like the LORD our God, the One who sits enthroned on high, who stoops down to look on the heavens and the earth?" Psalm 113:5-6

"To whom, then, will you compare God? What image will you compare him to?" Isaiah 40:18

"‘To whom will you compare me? Or who is my equal?’ says the Holy One. ‘Lift your eyes and look to the heavens: Who created all these? He who brings out the starry host one by one, and calls them each by name. Because of his great power and mighty strength, not one of them is missing.’" Isaiah 40:25-26

Yet Christ perfectly resembles God in every way, and performs the very works that God alone can perform, clearly showing that Jesus is not merely a creature but the eternal Creator!

4. Jesus is the Radiance and Reflection of God’s Glory (1:3).

This is simply another way of saying that Christ, although distinct from God [the Father], is actually identical to him in essence and nature. The word for "radiance" (apaugasma) refers to the light or rays emitted by a shining object, more specifically by the sun. The point the inspired author is making is that just as the sun at no time existed without its radiance, its rays, the Father likewise never existed without his Son. Moreover, just as the radiance and rays of the sun are both distinct from and an extension of it, being made of the same substance, the Son also is distinct from the Father while also sharing in the same essence since he is an extension of (yet inseparable from) the Father’s own eternal Being.

As one online Bible commentary masterfully puts it:

The Son is superior to the prophets because He is the radiance of God’s glory. "He is" is more literally "who being" this participle denoting what the Son is continually (present tense) in Himself essentially and independently of His manifestation in time. This transcendent (meaning being beyond our ability to comprehend) idea is conveyed by two metaphorical expressions…

The Pulpit Commentary writes that apaugasma

is, so to speak, begotten of the source, and of one substance with it, and yet distinguishable from it; being that through which its glory is made manifest, and through which it enlightens all things. The Person of the Son is thus represented, not as of one apart from God, irradiated by His glory, but as Himself the sheen of his glory." (The Pulpit Commentary: New Testament; Old Testament; Ages Software or Logos)

Wuest adds that

The word apaugasma is not preceded by the definite article, which fact makes the term highly descriptive of character or nature." (Wuest, K. S. Wuest's Word Studies from the Greek New Testament: Eerdmans or Logos)

Expositor's comments on radiance that

"In the Arian controversy (Ed note: Arius taught that the Son was a created being, inferior to God the father in nature and dignity though the first and noblest of all created beings) this designation of the Son was appealed to as proving that He is eternally generated and exists not by an act of the Father’s will but essentiallyAs the sun cannot exist or a lamp burn without radiating light, so God is essentially Father and Son." (Gaebelein, F, Editor: Expositor's Bible Commentary 6-Volume New Testament. Zondervan Publishing) …

Let's give an analogy realizing that it will be imperfect and can even distort the truth of the radiance of His glory if pressed too far. Jesus relates to God the way the rays of sunlight relate to the sun. There is no time that the sun exists without the beams of radiance. They cannot be separated. If you put a solar-activated calculator in the sunlight, numbers appear on the face of the calculator. These are energized by the sun's radiance, but they are not what the sun is. The rays of the sun however are an extension of the sun. We see the sun by means of seeing the rays of the sun. So too we see God the Father by seeing Jesus for they are one God. (Precept Austin; source; underline emphasis ours)

5. Jesus is the Son of God even before the creation of the universe (1:2).

Again, many NT citations affirm this point (cf. Mark 12:6-8; John 1:1-18; 3:16-17; 11:27; 17:1-5; Galatians 4:4).

6. Jesus is the Author of salvation by providing purification for sins (1:3b).

This presupposes Jesus’ humanity and death, that the Lord Jesus truly became human and died in order to make purification for sins (cf. Hebrews 2:9-17; 9:11-15; 13:20).

7. Jesus rules forever as God at the Father’s right hand, in contrast to angels who are mutable creatures serving God’s elect and accomplishing his will (1:3b, 8-9, 13).

The NT teaches that, after his resurrection, the Lord Jesus ascended into heaven to sit enthroned at his Father’s right hand (cf. Mark 14:61-62; Acts 2:33-34; 7:55-56; Colossians 3:1-2; 1 Peter 3:18-22).

The author of Hebrews doesn’t merely say that Christ rules forever but goes so far as to claim that Jesus rules as God! He even applies the Greek noun Theos to Christ in order to communicate this point to his readers. Here is what the notes to the NET Bible state in reference to Hebrews 1:8 applying Theos to Christ:

24tn Or possibly, "Your throne is God forever and ever." This translation is quite doubtful, however, since (1) in the context the Son is being contrasted to the angels and is presented as far better than they. The imagery of God being the Son's throne would seem to be of God being his authority. If so, in what sense could this not be said of the angels? In what sense is the Son thus contrasted with the angels? (2) The µe? ( construction that connects v. 7 with v. 8 clearly lays out this contrast: "On the one hand, he says of the angels… on the other hand, he says of the Son." Thus, although it is grammatically possible that ?e?? (qeos) in v. 8 should be taken as a predicate nominative, the context and the correlative conjunctions are decidedly against it. Hebrews 1:8 is thus a strong affirmation of the deity of Christ. (Source; underline emphasis ours)

There are other Old and New Testament passages which directly call Jesus God, such as the following: Isaiah 9:6; John 1:1, 18; 20:28; Romans 9:5; Titus 2:13; 2 Peter 1:1.

The writer to the Hebrews also quotes Psalm 110 to establish his case that Jesus sits enthroned on God’s right hand. Interestingly, this particular Psalm provides further support for the Deity of Christ:

"The LORD says to my Lord (Adoni): Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet.’ The LORD will extend your mighty scepter from Zion; you will rule in the midst of your enemies. Your troops will be willing on your day of battle. Arrayed in holy majesty, from the womb of the dawn you will receive the dew of your youth. The LORD has sworn and will not change his mind: You are a priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek.’ The Lord (Adonai) is at your right hand; he will crush kings on the day of his wrath. He will judge the nations, heaping up the dead and crushing the rulers of the whole earth. He will drink from a brook beside the way; therefore he will lift up his head." Psalm 110:1-7

The One who is at God’s right is identified as both Adoni and Adonai, the latter being an exclusive title of God. Thus, Hebrews is identifying Jesus as that very Adonai who sits enthroned at God’s right hand!

The next two points present additional evidence that the inspired author believed that Jesus is God Almighty.

8. Jesus is worshiped by angels (1:6).

What makes this statement rather astonishing is that God not only commands all of his angels to worship his Son, even though worship of this kind is to be given solely to the true God:

"I, John, am the one who heard and saw these things. And when I had heard and seen them, I fell down to worship at the feet of the angel who had been showing them to me. But he said to me, ‘Do not do it! I am a fellow servant with you and with your brothers the prophets and of all who keep the words of this book. Worship God!’" Revelation 22:8-9; cf. 19:10

The inspired writer actually quotes OT texts where angels are commanded to worship Yahweh and applies them to Christ!

Rejoice, you heavens, with Him, and let all the angels of God worship Him; rejoice you Gentiles, with His people, and let all the sons of God strengthen themselves in Him; for He shall avenge the blood of His sons, and He shall render vengeance, and recompense justice to His enemies, and He will repay them that hate Him; and the Lord shall purge the land of His people. Deuteronomy 32:43 LXX (Source)

Let all that worship graven images be ashamed, who boast of their idols; worship Him, all you His angels… For You are Lord Most High over all the earth; You are greatly exalted above all gods. Psalm 97:7, 9 LXX (Source)

The only way for the author to do this, namely, apply to the Person of Christ specific OT texts which refer to Yahweh being worshiped, is if he were convinced that Jesus is Yahweh God!

This isn’t the only time the author dared to do such a thing.

9. Jesus is Yahweh. (1:10-12).

To establish his case that Jesus is the Creator of the cosmos the writer quotes the following OT citation:

"So I said: ‘Do not take me away, O my God, in the midst of my days; your years go on through all generations. In the beginning you laid the foundations of the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands. They will perish, but you remain; they will all wear out like a garment. Like clothing you will change them and they will be discarded. But you remain the same, and your years will never end." Psalm 102:24-27

In the context David was referring to Yahweh as the Creator of the universe, and yet Hebrews has taken this very Psalm and applied it to Jesus! Again, the only way that the writer could do this is if he truly believed that Christ is Yahweh Almighty. As the translators of the NET Bible put it in reference to Hebrews 1:10:

28sn You founded the earth...your years will never run out. In its original setting Ps 102:25-27 refers to the work of God in creation, but here in Hebrews 1:10-12 the writer employs it in reference to Christ, the Lord, making a strong argument for the essential deity of the Son. (Source; underline emphasis ours)

10. Jesus is immutable in contrast to the creation which is changing. (1:10-12).

In light of Hebrews having gone out of its way to portray Jesus as Yahweh God it shouldn’t come as a surprise that it would also claim that Christ is unchangeable, something which the book repeats elsewhere:

"Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever." Hebrews 13:8

The foregoing makes it abundantly clear that the last thing that the inspired writer to the Hebrews had in mind was to present the risen and immortal Lord Jesus as a creature who was inferior to Melchizedek. To this author, Christ is infinitely greater than all created things, including Melchizedek, by virtue of his being the beloved and eternal Son of God who became flesh. Jesus, according to Hebrews, is none other than the very Creator, Sustainer, Heir and Redeemer of all creation.

Articles by Sam Shamoun
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