What God Says About Jesus
After participating in this lesson, each student will be able to:
1. List ways that Jesus is superior to angels.
Predict how the church could be damaged if the natures of Jesus and angels are
Write a testimony that
articulates how his or her faith in Christ is stronger because of today’s lesson.
How to Say It
Moses. MO-zes or MO-zez.
Pharaoh. FAIR-o or FAY-roe.
Theophanos (Greek). The-AH-fan-us.
Daily Bible Readings
Monday, Dec. 4—Jesus, the Promised One (Matthew 12:15–21)
Tuesday, Dec. 5—You Will Name Him Jesus (Luke 1:26–33)
Wednesday, Dec. 6—Jesus, Son of God (Luke 1:34–38)
Thursday, Dec. 7—Mary Sings Her Joy (Luke 1:46–55)
Friday, Dec. 8—Listen to Him! (Matthew 17:1–5)
Saturday, Dec. 9—God’s Anointed Son (Hebrews 1:1–9)
Sunday, Dec. 10—More Than the Angels (Hebrews 1:10–14)
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.
—Hebrews 1:1, 2
Why Teach this Lesson?
Modern culture seems to have an insatiable appetite to know the details of the lives of celebrities. The tabloids and talk shows feed this voracious desire. Are we as hungry to know about Jesus?
Today’s lesson offers a clear portrait of the Son of God. It is a portrait painted by the loving hand of a Father who wants the world to know what his Son “looks like.” God says, in effect, “See my Son, learn from him, come and grow closer to him. As you do, you will prepare yourself to live eternally with him.”
A. The Self-Revealing God
Have you ever been part of a “secret sisters” program (or the men’s counterpart)? In this type of program, each participating member is assigned secretly the name of another woman. The secret sister then sends notes and gifts to her counterpart during a set period of time. When time is up a party is held in which the secret sisters are revealed. It can be a fun way to get to know another person and to practice spiritual disciplines such as generosity and encouragement.
Revelation is based on the idea that something hidden has been uncovered and can now be known. In the case of God, we should remember that we know nothing about him except that which he has chosen to reveal to us. God is sovereign even with regard to our knowledge about him. There is much about God that we do not know but might like to know. We can speculate on such things, but we know with certainty only what God has graciously chosen to reveal to us.
Reliable knowledge about God is not discovered by accident or chance. It has come to humanity through the process of revelation. We know about God because he is the God who reveals himself. Our knowledge of God is not due to our brilliance or our worthiness.
In this sense human knowledge about God is progressive. This means that God reveals himself in stages. There are some striking examples of this in the Old Testament. In his experience with the near-sacrifice of his son, Abraham learned that God is both demanding of faithful obedience and ultimately merciful (Genesis 22). At the burning bush God revealed to Moses that his name is I Am. This places God outside human existence controlled by time (Exodus 3). In his vision of God on his throne in Heaven, Isaiah learned that God seeks those who will speak for him, delivering even difficult messages (Isaiah 6). In his sufferings Job learned that God is great and that he (Job) had no right to challenge God’s actions (Job 38). Through his experience of adultery and the death of a son, David learned that only God can truly cleanse a person’s heart and renew the human spirit (Psalm 51).
To speak of revelation as progressive or ongoing has certain dangers, however. Christians who are faithful to the Bible need not look to modern “prophets” to reveal more and more about God. Historically the church has believed that the Old Testament serves to prepare for God’s ultimate revelation in Jesus. The New Testament is the testimony of this revelation in Christ.
Today’s Scripture text teaches us that God has revealed himself in his Son, Jesus Christ. In other words, God has told us everything about himself that we need to know for our earthly existence. We can assume that we will understand God even more fully when we join him in Heaven. But for now we have no need to know more than that which has been revealed in the Old and New Testaments.
B. Lesson Background
While there is some early tradition that concludes that the book of Hebrews was written by the apostle Paul, many scholars today do not accept this conclusion. The book does not begin with Paul’s personal name, as all his other letters do. Furthermore, the author of the book seems to place himself in the second generation of Christian believers, not as an apostle (see Hebrews 2:3). It is doubtful that Paul would do this, since elsewhere he defends his apostleship vigorously. For these reasons and others, the great scholar Origen (a.d. 185–254) concluded, “Who wrote Hebrews, only God knows.”
The anonymous nature of this book in no way lessens its importance or authority as a major source for our understanding of Christ. The author appears to have been writing to a community of Jewish Christians who were in danger of abandoning their faith in Jesus in order to return to the community of the Jewish synagogue. The author addresses this potential apostasy by carefully laying out the roles of Jesus in relationship to the Old Testament Scriptures. Hebrews is a uniquely significant New Testament book, for it delves into explanations about Jesus that are not found anywhere else in the Bible.
Hebrews has two primary functions overall. First, it defends the church’s teachings about Jesus from outside attacks. Hebrews in particular shows that Jesus is superior to the older system of the Jews.
Second, Hebrews shows that Jesus and the Old Testament system are not in conflict with each other. Rather, the Christian system grows out of and is a fulfillment of the Jewish system. Hebrews does this by using many Old Testament texts and allusions to show that Christians should understand themselves as heirs to a faith that began long before the first century ad.
I. Jesus: God’s Self-Expression (Hebrews 1:1–3)
Hebrews begins with no preliminary material. Instead it plunges immediately into its main topic: a doctrinal presentation of the nature and role of Christ in relationship to previous revelations of God.
Visual for Lesson 2
As a background sketch point to this poster and ask for names of prophets who came before Christ.
A. Revelation Before Jesus (v. 1)
1. In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways,
The author begins by describing the partial nature of revelation before Christ. Two rare and unusual Greek adverbs, translated at many times and in various ways, present themselves. Before Jesus, God’s revelation of himself came in bits and pieces, delivered sporadically over a long period of time.
These revelations of God were delivered to the forefathers of Israel’s history. The messages came via God’s spokesmen, the prophets. The author of Hebrews does not minimize the importance of this prophetic voice. Rather, the author wants the readers to realize that there is incompleteness if we stop with the Old Testament. The Old Testament tells of many people who were commended for their faithfulness, yet “none of them received what had been promised” (Hebrews 11:39). Thus they were at a certain disadvantage compared with Christians.
B. Revelation in Jesus (v. 2a)
2a.… but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son,
By last days the author is not intending a reference to the final few days or weeks just before the second coming of Jesus. Rather, last days refers to the final period of human history, the era of Christ. This period is characterized by a new age of revelation. No longer do we receive our knowledge of God in bits and pieces. God now speaks through his Son.
There are two major implications to this statement. First, the ministry of Jesus was strategically chosen by God as a way to reveal himself. As John wrote, by experiencing Jesus, “We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father” (John 1:14). Later in this same Gospel, Jesus declared, “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father” (14:9).
The second implication is that Jesus is the perfect and complete revelation of the Father. The Old Testament prophets, for all their virtues, were able to give only a fragmentary picture of who God is. God has revealed himself fully by sending his Son; we neither need nor should expect further revelation about God while we’re still in our earthly existence. Therefore Jesus is the culmination of God’s revelation about himself in this, the final period of human history.
C. Revelation Through Jesus (vv. 2b, 3)
2b.… whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe.
Understanding the exact relationship between Jesus and God is difficult. One of the best ways to understand it is the frequent biblical description of the Father-Son relationship. This passage matches this description in two ways. First, as heir of all things, Jesus is the unique Son of God. He shares this level of sonship with no one else. We are able to become sons and daughters of God through faith (John 1:12; Galatians 3:26), but not in the way that Jesus is God’s Son.
What Do You Think?
How does the concept of Jesus as an heir help you understand more about him and draw closer to him? How do we bring this imagery from the first century into the twenty-first?
[Make sure to use Matthew 25:34 and Romans 8:17 to inform your answer.]
This unique relationship is further explained by the second description: Jesus as co-creator with the Father. In the ancient world a son commonly worked with his father in the family business. The Son has worked with the Father, even in creating the universe. This serves as a further confirmation of Jesus’ sonship and also affirms his preexistence. The Son is not a created being but rather the creator himself.
3. 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.
To define and explain the true nature of the Christ completely is impossible because of the limitations of human language and understanding. However, the author gives four powerful images to help us.
First, the Son is the radiance of the Father’s glory. This could also be translated as the “reflection of God’s glory.” In this the author emphasizes that Jesus was a visible revelation of God. The glory of God in Jesus was partially uncovered at the transfiguration for the disciples to see (Mark 9:2, 3). The miracles of Jesus also were partial revelations of God’s glory (John 2:11).
What Do You Think?
Which parts of God’s revelation of himself through Jesus Christ help you gain a better understanding of who he is?
Second, the Son is the exact representation of the Father’s being. The original, Greek word used is the one from which we get our English word character. In the ancient world it was used to describe an exact imprint of a coin, a complete and faithful reproduction stamped from the original, engraved coin die. The author is saying that Jesus is a full and faithful representation of the Father, without flaw.
Third, the description sustaining all things by his powerful word expands upon Jesus’ role as creator (see Colossians 1:17, last week’s lesson). In some religions the creator and the sustainer are different gods. The fully revealed truth is that the Son shares in both functions.
Fourth, the author reminds his readers that after Jesus’ death and resurrection, he ascended to Heaven to be seated at the right hand of the throne of God. This presents the Son as a ruler and judge equal to the Father. It also shifts the focus to the realm of Heaven, where the position of Jesus is far superior to that of any angel. This is the next topic of discussion.
On the Right Hand
In the English language the phrase right hand is rich in symbolism. It can mean the hand that is normally stronger (than the left). The Oxford English Dictionary cites a source from the year 1000 with this connotation. Another meaning is to symbolize friendship or alliance. This connotation is cited as early as 1591. We normally shake hands with the right hand.
A third meaning is to indicate a person of usefulness or importance, an indispensable or efficient helper. We use the phrase right-hand man, a usage that goes back to 1537. In 1863 General Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson’s left arm was amputated after a wound (which eventually proved fatal); to this General Robert E. Lee exclaimed, “You have lost your left arm, but I have lost my right!”
A similar meaning is that the right hand is the position of honor. This is probably the meaning intended in Hebrews 1:3. After he had fulfilled his task on earth, Jesus ascended and was seated at the right hand of the Father. Jesus represents the right hand of God in all ways—in strength, in alliance, and in honor. Do we hold Jesus in as much honor as the Father does? —J. B. N.
II. Jesus: Superior to Created Beings (Hebrews 1:4–9)
Recently we have experienced a renewed fascination with angels. Television programs, movies, and novels are filled with fanciful accounts of divine visitations. Cards, pictures, and artwork have used angels as a decorative motif.
The Bible has comparatively little information about angels. We know that they are a class of beings with supernatural powers. They serve at the pleasure of God. We even know the names of a couple of them: Gabriel (Luke 1:19) and Michael (Revelation 12:7). While our knowledge of angels is limited, some things about them are very clear in the Bible. First, they are not to be worshiped. Worship is for God alone (see Revelation 19:10). Second, Jesus Christ is not some type of glorified angel. He is the divine Son and far superior to any angel. Apparently the author of Hebrews is aware of misunderstandings related to both of these things. He seeks to correct them in the following verses.
A. Name Above Angels’ (vv. 4, 5)
4. So he became as much superior to the angels as the name he has inherited is superior to theirs.
What does your name mean? I recently learned that the name “Tiffany” does not mean “expensive jewelry.” It comes from the Greek word Theophanos, meaning “presence of the divine.” What a powerful name for a baby girl!
The author’s first point in showing that Jesus is superior to the angels has to do with his name. We treat names casually in the modern world. We use nicknames, shortened names, informal names, and other variations. In the biblical world, however, names were highly significant. They were chosen carefully and usually had a clear meaning. For example, Pharaoh’s daughter named her adopted baby “Moses” (meaning drawn) because she “drew” him out of the water (Exodus 2:10). The superior name in mind here is not “Jesus” or “Christ” but “Son,” as will be explained in the following verses.
5. For to which of the angels did God ever say,
“You are my Son;
today I have become your Father”?
“I will be his Father,
and he will be my Son”?
The author draws upon two well-known Old Testament passages to make his point: 2 Samuel 7:14 and Psalm 2:7. Jesus is designated Son by God himself. This is a name and (more importantly) a title that Jesus shares with no one else, not even angels. Although these verses probably applied to Kings David and Solomon in their original context, Jesus had discussed this question during his ministry (see Matthew 22:42–45). In so doing he had shown himself to be the ultimate Son of God, superior to David (compare Acts 2:25–32).
What Do You Think?
Why do you think that there is such a modern interest in angels? How can we use this infatuation to point people to Jesus instead?
B. Worthy of Worship (v. 6)
6. And again, when God brings his firstborn into the world, he says,
“Let all God’s angels worship him.”
The author uses another Old Testament quotation to show the readers what it means to be the Son of the Father in Heaven: he is worthy of worship. See Revelation 5:13, where worship includes both God and the Lamb (Jesus). The source of this quotation is probably the Greek (Septuagint) version of Deuteronomy 32:43. In that version heavenly beings are commanded to worship God. No creature, including angels, is exempt from the obligation of worshiping God and his Son.
C. Rules in Heaven (vv. 7–9)
7. In speaking of the angels he says,
“He makes his angels winds,
his servants flames of fire.”
The author now quotes Psalm 104:4 to define the glorious function of angels. They are powerful spiritual beings who are servants of God. To describe them as flames of fire reminds us of passages such as Genesis 3:24 and Exodus 3:2.
8, 9. 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.”
The author now uses his most formidable quotation: Psalm 45:6, 7. David and Solomon had been promised an eternal throne or dynasty (see Psalm 89:4, 29, 36). But neither of these esteemed kings was ever promised he would be a god. Thus their promise of an eternal throne is fulfilled only in Jesus.
What Do You Think?
One who holds a scepter is a king on a throne. Yet we who live in democratic societies may balk at the idea of having a king. If you live in a democratic society, what challenge does this pose for you?
There is another important detail in this quotation that should not be missed. When God the Father anoints God the Son, he literally makes him Christ. The term Christ (or its Old Testament counterpart, Messiah) means “Anointed One.” Jesus is not a self-anointed messiah. He is anointed by God for a special ministry, the most important ministry in the history of the world. Jesus himself proclaimed, “The Spirit of the Lord … has anointed me to preach” (Luke 4:18).
What Do You Think?
Today’s text directs the readers to Jesus as the true object for worship. How well is your church doing at pointing people toward Jesus? How will you help it do better?
The sweeping claims about Jesus Christ in this beautiful text still serve today as guideposts in our quest to know him more fully. He is the unique Son of God, the ultimate revelation of God the Father, the co-creator and sustainer of our world.
What Do You Love?
When I was a youngster, I used to love going to my grandfather’s farm. There were fascinating animals, and the wooded area at the rear of the farm was an exciting place to a suburban kid. When I got older, I used to love riding my bike and exploring residential and factory areas several miles away. I loved eating banana splits. I also loved playing baseball; the kids on our block often would play several hours every day, all summer, straight through the heat and humidity of July and August.
In my adult years my tastes have changed. Now I love to sit in a comfortable chair with a tall, cold glass of caffeine-free diet cola and a big bowl of popcorn, and read a book. Other people love to go to NASCAR races. I have a friend who loves to participate in Civil War reenactments. Some people love watching sunsets. Others love taking walks along the beach or in the woods.
What do you love? Jesus loved righteousness. That’s a much more lofty value, isn’t it? We tend to love things. Jesus loved virtues. He loved doing God’s will. He loved doing what was right in God’s sight. When he was baptized, he said it was to fulfill all righteousness. He did not live just to fulfill his own selfish desires or seek his own pleasures; he wanted to fulfill God’s will in all things. He loved righteousness. Do we? —J. B. N.
A recent newspaper story claimed that a majority of people have hidden aspects to their lives that would embarrass them if revealed. The classic example of this is the traveling salesman who has two wives and families residing in different cities. He may operate for years by spending part of each week at the different locations. When such arrangements are made public, the result is tragic, with strong feelings of betrayal.
Many people, however, have “dirty little secrets” on a smaller scale. The ability to remain anonymous in our electronic age has led many into online pornography, affairs, and other secret yet sinful behavior. An overemphasis on the “right to privacy” has proved to be a stumbling block to some Christians, even Christian leaders. The secular press delights in uncovering these transgressions and revealing the hypocritical lifestyles of guilty believers. There is nothing more comical to the critics of the church than the preacher who rails against adultery on Sunday morning and visits his mistress Sunday night.
There are some things about God that remain hidden to us. There are, however, no foul details that are hidden. God is pure and holy and righteous consistently, without any deviation at any time.
We can learn much about God from studying the Old Testament, but even more by looking at Jesus. The life of Jesus shows us that God is loving and compassionate. God loved us enough to send his only Son to redeem the world as an offering for human sin (see John 3:16, 17; Romans 5:8). God’s self-revelation in Jesus Christ is the sure foundation of all Christian faith and hope. This stands as a great assurance and comfort to all believers.
Thought to Remember
Jesus is God’s ultimate revelation and is far superior to the angels.
Holy Father, thank you for sending your Son to help us understand you better. Because of his death, we need never doubt your love for us. He has revealed your heart to us, and we rejoice in that revelation. We pray in his name, the name far above any angel’s, amen.
New International Version Standard Lesson Commentary : 2006-2007 . Standard Publishing: Cincinnati