“After God spoke long ago in various portions and in various ways to our ancestors through the prophets, in these last days he has spoken to us in a son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he created the world. The Son is the radiance of his glory and the representation of his essence, and he sustains all things by his powerful word, and so when he had accomplished cleansing for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high. Thus he became so far better than the angels as he has inherited a name superior to theirs.” (Hebrews 1:1-4 NET)
God had given his message to his people throughout history through his ‘prophets’ – not that they were necessarily writing about the future, but they were receiving the word of God directly from him and writing it down. No one prophet received the entire revelation of God’s will, but each had a portion depending on what was needed in their time or what God needed his people to be prepared for.But then this changed: his son came into the world, the one who had created all things. Can you imagine it? The Creator came to live in what he had created and to interact with the creation he had made. He was the one who sustained “by his powerful word” everything he had created.
He is the one who made a way for people who sinned to be cleansed – by offering himself on the cross and dying. He rose from the dead and returned to his Father and sat down at his right hand. Because of all he has done, we need to listen to him.
When the Hebrew writer wrote down this treatise – although it is somewhat in the form of a letter it appears to be a lesson or series of lessons – Christians were beginning to suffer. And, as the name implies, those who were being addressed by the anonymous writer were of a Jewish background.
Most scholar’s date Hebrews to around 65 AD. Nero was the Roman Caesar. After Rome burned he blamed the Christians and began an intense few years of persecution. The title page of the Syriac Version of the Revelation records that it was during Nero’s reign that Paul was executed by the sword, Peter was crucified, and John was banished. Christians had suffered persecution from the hands of the Jews for decades (we read about this in the book of Acts); now they were facing state-sponsored Roman persecution.
Christians from a Jewish background, it would seem, were beginning to wonder if being a Christian was worth it. As Jews they had largely had a peaceful coexistence with the Roman authorities. But as Christians they were now being persecuted. Surely it would be better for them to go back to only being Jews and avoiding the hardships that were happening – or so it would seem that some were thinking. Little did they know of the Jewish war that was about to begin in Judea that would end with Rome destroying Jerusalem.
This treatise was circulated to let Christians know that, no matter how bad it seemed, Jesus is better than anything they had previously had as a Jew. He is better than the angels because God designated him to rule his kingdom (Hebrews 1:8). He is even better than Moses (Hebrews 3) and Aaron (Hebrews 4-5) because he is a high priest capable of sympathising with his people because he has been through what we do, yet without sin.
This is a message that is just as needed today. Christians are still tempted to turn their back on their faith, especially when it is difficult and unpopular to be seen to follow Jesus. But no matter what we might think of, Jesus is better. We need to listen to and follow him!
Readings for next week: Hebrews 1-5