Reading for Thursday, July 19: Hebrews 1
Hebrews could be summarized in a single word: better. The author writes to demonstrate the superiority of the New Covenant to the Old — superior in that it brings about what the previous covenant could not: salvation. This new covenant is won through a superior sacrifice — the all-sufficient sacrifice of Jesus. This letter is described as a word of exhortation (13:22). Hebrews is a sermon, or more likely a series of sermons, much like the OT book of Deuteronomy. But whereas Deuteronomy was a homily on living faithfully in light of the Mosaic covenant, Hebrews takes this template to its ultimate conclusion — faithful participation in God’s sprawling and lively New Covenant replete with life and rest and salvation.
The Hebrew writer begins by acknowledging God’s prior vehicle for speech: the prophets. “But in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son…” (v2). And so we enter a new mode of revelation: this Son of God is “heir of all things”, the agent of creation, and “the radiance of the glory of God”. Jesus is the self-disclosure of God, “the exact imprint of his nature” (v3). To see Jesus is to see God. The term “imprint” is only used here in the NT. It refers to the impression on an official seal – Caesar’s seal on an official document, for example. Jesus represents God’s stamp of approval, God’s revelation of His character in full.
The brilliance of the New Covenant, however, is revealed by looking back to the Old. The Hebrew writer looks back to the ancient scriptures and finds hints of this glory bleeding through at every turn. He quotes the Royal Song of Psalm 2; he recalls God’s promise to the Davidic line in 2 Sam. 7 (one of the high points of the OT); he takes us to Deut. 32 and the framework of blessings and curses associated with the Old Covenant; and he reminds us of more of David’s Psalms. His point is that the Messiah, God’s anointed one, is superior even to the angels who serve God. These “ministering spirits” are sent to “serve for the sake of those who are to inherit salvation” (v14). But they are subservient to the One whose atoning death renders this salvation possible for us.