Having now established the supremacy of Christ, the writer turned his attention to those mysterious celestial beings, the angels.
The Secret of the Shema Revealed
The people of antiquity, before the coming of Christ, knew God through the prophets and the scriptures, their stories of glory, of the patriarchs and of the Exodus, of settling in the Land of Promise and the conquests of their ancient kings.
And the targeted audience of the writer to the Hebrews were those of Jewish faith raised up in Torah, and the sacred writings. They had prayed the Shema every day of their lives.
Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord alone.* You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.
*Or The Lord our God is one Lord, or The Lord our God, the Lord is one, or The Lord is our God, the Lord is oneDeuteronomy 6:4-5 (NRSV)
There was no room for God to be more than one, yet also no category for one like Jesus, Whose claims to divinity were well-established, and Whose ministry and work seemed to go beyond even Moses and Elijah.
Who was Jesus, then?
What did it mean to call Him Son of God?
Was this in some similar way to the angels occasionally being referred to as the “sons of God”? Was Jesus perhaps first among the angels, above even the archangels (yet still below God)?
Superior to the Angels
After describing Jesus’ deity, the writer of Hebrews was now going to show how unique and superior Jesus was to all creation, including even the heavenly beings known as angels. And the scriptures he would use to support his argument would have been very familiar.
For to which of the angels did [God] ever say “You are my Son. Today I have fathered you”?Hebrews 1:5 (DLNT)
This well-known Psalm had long been accepted as prophecy of Messiah
“I have set my king on Zion, my holy hill.”
I will tell of the decree of the Lord:Psalm 2:6-9 (NRSV)
He said to me, “You are my son;
today I have begotten you.
Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage,
and the ends of the earth your possession.
You shall break them with a rod of iron,
and dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.”
The writer of Hebrews continued,
and again, “I will be a father to Him, and He will be a son to Me”?Hebrews 1:5 (DLNT)
This time, the writer turned to another long-established Messianic prophecy in the Chronicles of the Kings for his text.
When your days are fulfilled to go to be with your ancestors, I will raise up your offspring after you, one of your own sons, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for me, and I will establish his throne forever.
I will be a father to him, and he shall be a son to me. I will not take my steadfast love from him, as I took it from him who was before you, but I will confirm him in my house and in my kingdom forever, and his throne shall be established forever.The Word of God to King David, 1 Chronicles 17:11-14 (NRSV)
The writer finished with,
And again, when He brings the Firstborn into the world He says “And let all the angels of God give-worship to Him”.Hebrews 1:6 (DLNT)
The writer had now gone back to the Pentateuch, the Books of Moses, the Torah, most sacred of sacred writings, accepted by all those of Jewish faith and origin as the holy words of God. The passage he referenced came from a song Moses had sung to the people.
Praise, O heavens, his people,
worship him, all you gods!
For he will avenge the blood of his children,
and take vengeance on his adversaries;
he will repay those who hate him,
and cleanse the land for his people.
Moses came and recited all the words of this song in the hearing of the people, he and Joshua son of Nun. When Moses had finished reciting all these words to all Israel, he said to them:
“Take to heart all the words that I am giving in witness against you today; give them as a command to your children, so that they may diligently observe all the words of this law. This is no trifling matter for you, but rather your very life; through it you may live long in the land that you are crossing over the Jordan to possess.”Moses to the people of Israel, Deuteronomy 23:43-47 (NRSV)
Once again, the writer had chosen a text that would have been quite familiar, something his readers would have learned by heart as children. But this time, he put a well-known phrase in an entirely new setting. His audience had always associate this quote with YHWH. The writer pointed it towards Jesus.
This often seems to be the nature of prophecy.
The Nature of Prophecy
One of Jesus’ chief occupations in the forty days after He rose from the dead was to instruct His disciples in how the whole of the Hebrew scriptures spoke of Him, having declared,
“These are My words which I spoke to you while still being with you— that all the things having been written about Me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled”.Jesus to His disciples after He rose from the dead, Luke 24:44 (NRSV)
Thousands of biblical prophecies have been fulfilled over the past several millennia, concerning events that happened both before Christ, and in Christ. In this first chapter of Hebrews, eighteen prophecies will be shown as fulfilled. Many theologians project there are still prophecies pointing to a future ahead of us today, yet to be fulfilled.
“Fulfilled” does not mean simply “coming to pass,” like a prediction. It means, in a certain sense, also coming alive, becoming full in their meaning, a mystery revealed, two dimensional words becoming three dimensional reality.
As Peter explained to his own readers, prophecy, oracles from God that foretell events and their meanings, are “God‑breathed” into human authors.
And we have the prophetic word as more-firm, to which you are doing well to be paying-attention as to a lamp shining in a dismal place, until which time the day dawns and the morning-star rises in your hearts, knowing this first—that no prophecy of Scripture comes from one’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever carried by the will of a human, but people being carried by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.2 Peter 1:19-21 (DLNT)
Prophecy that has been fulfilled just as God said it would be authenticates the God of the Bible as the true God, as truly God.
- God’s omniscience is revealed: Only God would be able to exactly know the future.
- God’s omnipotence and sovereignty are revealed: Only God would be able to govern the events of history to see to it that what God says will happen actually does .
- God’s word is revealed as genuine: The scriptures’ claim as sacred, holy, and divine revelation of God is proven true.
Fulfillment of Prophecy
Oracles from God often have a multiple fulfillment. In other words, a single prophecy may be fulfilled in different ways at different times. Remember Peter’s famous response to the stunned crowd the morning of Pentecost. He turned to Joel’s prophecy about God’s Spirit being poured out on both women and men in the last days to explain why women were also in the streets preaching and prophesying in other tongues.
But there are aspects of that famous Messianic passage that were not fulfilled on the Day of Pentecost, as described in Acts 2. We are still waiting for the rest to come to pass.
Here in this passage, prophecy about Christ had meaning for people at the time it was written, but took on specific, unexpected, glorious meaning in the person of Christ. You and I see prophetic fulfillment too, in our own lives, as God’s word takes on a rich and personal meaning in a particular situation.
[Angels holding a dial, indicating the different hours of the Acts of the Passion | James Tissot (1836-1902) The Brooklyn Museum, CC0]