THE LETTER TO THE HEBREWS

Lesson 2, Chapter 1:

The Enthronement of the Incarnate Son

 

Almighty God, Creator and Father,

In the fullness of time You sent Your Son to redeem mankind, fulfilling the promise You made in Genesis 3:15 that from "the seed of the woman" would come the One who would conquer sin and Satan.  Born of a woman, Your Son Jesus of Nazareth came to offer Himself for the sins of mankind and to defeat sin and death.  Completing His work on earth, He ascended to His heavenly kingdom to be enthroned as King of Kings and to serve as High Priest of the New Covenant people He established to rule His Kingdom of Heaven on earth.  Send Your Holy Spirit to guide us, Lord, as we seek to understand the mission of Your Son, Jesus of Nazareth and how, born of a woman, He came to complete the Old Covenant given to Your people Israel and to establish the New Israel in the Universal/Catholic Church of Jesus the Christ.  We pray in the name of God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

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St. Germanus, Bishop of Paris d. 576AD: The Church is an earthly heaven.  The souls of Christians are called together to assemble with the prophets, apostles, and hierarchs in order to recline with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob at the mystical banquet of the Kingdom of Christ.  Thereby having come into the unity of faith and communion of the Spirit through the dispensation of the One who died for us and is sitting at the right hand of the Father, we are no longer on earth but standing by the royal Throne of God in heaven, where Christ is, just as He Himself says: "Righteous Father, sanctify in Your name those whom You gave me, so that where I am, they may be with Me."

 

The God proclaimed by the Old Testament and the New is the one who is celebrated and glorified in Trinity, for the Lord said, "I have come not to abolish the law, but to fulfill."  For he worked our salvation, for the sake of which all Scripture and every mystery has been revealed.  St. John of Damascus [c. 650-750AD], Orthodox Faith 4.17

 

He is the image of the unseen God, the first-born of all creation, for in him were created all things in heaven and on earth...St. Paul's Letter to the Colossians, 1:15-16.

 

Please read Hebrews 1:1- 2:4 — The Exordium (Prologue)

[Unless otherwise noted, Scripture quoted in this study will be from the New Jerusalem Catholic Bible translation].  Please note that chapter and verse divisions in Sacred Scripture are relatively recent additions but that the original texts were written without divisions and without grammatical helps like commas, periods, etc.

 

The verses from 1:1 - 2:4 in the Letter to the Hebrews serve as an introduction to the entire letter/treatise.  Scholars often identify this passage as an exordium.  An exordium in classical rhetoric is an introduction that is designed to prepare and encourage the audience to be receptive to what the speaker will say [from the Latin exhorto = to encourage, to advise]. While some Biblical scholars identify the exordium as extending from Hebrews 1:1- 2:4, many others identify the exordium as the first sentence in the Greek text—a very long first sentence which in the New Jerusalem translation is divided into 3 sentences.  If you think the writer is fond of long sentences in this inspired text, compare the first sentence in Hebrews to St. Paul's letter to the Romans in which the first seven verses are one long, complex sentence in the Greek text [see the study on St. Paul's Letter to the Romans, Chapter 1]. 

 

The argument presented by scholars who confine the exordium to the first four verses is that there is a natural break between Hebrews 1:4 and 1:5-13 where the inspired writer shifts from the long, poetic first sentence to a series of 8 Scripture quotations from 7 Old Testament passages. However, the scholars who support the longer introduction point out that the Old Testament passages support both the opening statement in verse 1, that God spoke to man in many ways down through the ages, and the last statement in verse 4, that the Son is superior to the angels.  At the end of the Scriptural proofs, the inspired writer concludes with another complex sentence in 2:2-4: If the message that was spoken through angels proved to be so reliable that every infringement and disobedience brought its own proper punishment, then we shall certainly not go unpunished if we neglect such a great salvation.  It was first announced by the Lord himself, and is guaranteed to us by those who heard him; God himself confirmed their witness with signs and marvels and miracles of all kinds, and by distributing the gifts of the Holy Spirit in the various ways he wills.  [Hebrews 2:2-4 is translated into two sentences in the New Jerusalem English translation but is one long sentence in the Greek text].

 

Let's unpack those very full first four verses which compose one long sentence in the Greek text:

1 At many moments in the past and by many means, God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets; 2 but in our time, the final days, he has spoken to us in the person of his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things and through whom he made the ages*.  3 He is the reflection (apaugasma) of God's glory and bears the impress of God's own being, sustaining all things by his powerful command; and now that he has purged sins away, he has taken his seat at the right hand of the divine Majesty on high.  4 So he is now as far above the angels as the title which he has inherited is higher than their own name.

* "the ages" is a Hebraism for "the whole of creation."  A Jewish audience would understand this phrase to mean the Son was the force behind the Creation event.

 

Question: Often the writers of the Old and New Testament use word-play, number symbolism, and repeated word patterns including chiastic patterns in the inspired text of Sacred Scripture.  A chiastic pattern is a pattern that is repeated in reverse order.  For example, John the Baptist uses word play in his rebuke of the Pharisees and Sadducees in Matthew 3:9 when he tells them ... "because, I tell you, God can raise children (sons) for Abraham from these stones."  Speaking in Aramaic, which was the common language of the time, John would have used the words banim (benim) for sons and the word ebanim (ebenim) for stones—words which sound very similar.  An example of word patterns can be found within one passage or can extend across several chapters as in the chiastic pattern of the numbers 42, 1,290 and 3 ˝ in Revelation 11:2-13:5.  No other book of the Bible has as many patterns as the Book of Revelation! [See the study on the Book of Revelation, chapter 11 for an example of a chiastic pattern].

 

These devices are usually lost in our English translations but sometimes it is possible to discern these devices even in our modern Bibles.  Do you see any pattern in the words used in verses 1-2?

Answer: The inspired writer's opening line compares God's interaction with man in past times with His interaction with man in these "Final Days" in this pattern:

GOD

Past Days

Final Days

having spoken

has spoken

to ancestors

to us

through the Prophets

through the Son

 

Also present in the Greek text is the poetic device of alliteration in the repetition of the "p" sound—a sound that would have been repeated in the listener's ear as this document was read to faith communities. It is important to remember that all Sacred Scripture, Old Testament and New, was meant to be read aloud to the faithful, just as it is in the celebration of the Mass.  The portion of the first verse which reads in the literal Greek text,  many moments [parts, occasions]and many forms [types] of old the God has spoken to the fathers [forebearers] by the prophets, shows the repetition of the p sound 5 times in Greek: polymeros kai polytropos palai ho theos lalesas tois patrasin en tois prophetais; [...].  This example is offered to help you understand that the text of the Bible is more complex than our English translations illustrate.

 

Question: The introductory verses to Hebrews begin with no greeting or expressing of thanksgiving like St. Paul's other letters, but immediately addresses the main subject of the letter/discourse—the divinity and pre-existence of God the Son who is the Redeemer of mankind.  What other New Testament document begins in the same way, expounding on the same themes? Hint: Look in the Gospels.

Answer: The prologue of the Gospel according to St. John also announces of the Son's eternal sonship, his pre-existence before creation, and His role as the promised Redeemer.

Question: But comparing the first 5 verses of the Greek sentence in the Letter to the Hebrews with the opening in St. John's Gospel what differences do you notice in the way the two inspired writers introduce the concept of the pre-existence of the Son?

Answer: St. John moves from the pre-existence of Christ before creation, to the writer's present (or near past) time with the introduction of John the Baptist whose mission was to announce the coming of the Messiah, while the Letter to the Hebrews moves from the writer's present time, expressed as the "Final Days" to the startling announcement of the pre-existence of God the Son through whom the cosmos came into being:

John's Gospel: Past to Present

The Letter to the Hebrews: Present to Past

1:1-2: In (the) beginning was the Word: the word was with God and the word was God.  He was with God in the beginning.

1:1-2a: At many moments in the past and by many means, God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets. But in our time, the final days, he has spoken to us in the person of his Son..

1:6-7: a man came, sent by God.  His name was John.  He came as a witness, to bear witness to the light, so that everyone might believe through him.

1:2b: ..whom he appointed heir of all things and through whom he made the ages (all of creation).

 

Question: The exordium of the Letter to the Hebrews not only announces the pre-existence of Jesus before creation but also affirms that He is the eternal Son, the "Firstborn" begotten in the image of God.  Can you think of another New Testament passage in which St. Paul writes of the pre-existence of Jesus Christ the eternal Son before the beginning of time, begotten in the image of God the Father?

Answer: In Colossians 1:15-16 quoted in the introduction to this lesson, St. Paul writes of Jesus: He is the image of the unseen God, the first-born of all creation, for in him were created all things in heaven and on earth.

 

We have already discussed that to seek the correct Biblical interpretation of a text is to seek the meaning the writer was inspired by the Holy Spirit to convey.  To do this requires knowing what questions to ask, the answers to which must be sought within the living Tradition of the Catholic Church—a deposit of teaching passed down over the past 2,000 year from Jesus to His Apostles, to their disciples the first Bishops of the Church, and from them to their successors down through the centuries to the Pope and the Bishops of the Universal Magisterium of the Catholic Church today.  The Catechism of the Catholic Church instructs us: Read the Scripture within "the living Tradition of the whole Church."  According to a saying of the Fathers, Sacred Scripture is written principally in the Church's heart rather than in documents and records, for the Church carries in her Tradition the living memorial of God's Word, and it is the Holy Spirit who gives her the spiritual interpretation of the Scripture ("according to the spiritual meaning which the Spirit grants to the Church").  CCC# 113

 

Examine, for example, the first four verses in the Letter to the Hebrews.

Question: In order to discover what the inspired writer is saying what questions do we have to ask concerning the first four verses?  I have identified 12 questions that need to be answered, you may find more:

1.      What is meant by "times past"?

2.      What does the inspired writer mean by "partial" and "various" ways?

3.      What is a prophet?  How did the prophets speak the ancestors?

4.      What is meant by "Final Days"?

5.      Who is "the Son"?

6.      How was the Son involved in Creation?

7.      Why is the Son identified as "the heir", what is His inheritance, and what does this title mean to us?

8.      How is the Son the apaugasma [splendor, brilliance or radiance] of God's glory?  .

9.      How does the Son bear the "impress" or "imprint" of the Father's being?

10.  How does the Son sustain all things through His command [rhema in Greek]?

11.  How has the Son purged away sins and taken a seat at God's right hand?

12.  What was the role of the angels and how is the Son superior to them?

Answers:

1.      By "past times" the inspired writer means the time prior to the Christ event which began with the Incarnation of God the Son.

 

2.      Partial and various ways: The revelation of God's plan for humanity was revealed to man from the time of the Fall of our original parents.  These revelations were presented in various ways: through signs, miracles, God speaking through the prophets, through the unfolding of history, and through man's interaction with the natural world.  Addressing the progression of divine Revelation the Catechism teaches: God has revealed himself to man by gradually communicating his own mystery in deeds and in words [CCC# 69] and  He prepares him to welcome by stages the supernatural Revelation that is to culminate in the person and mission of the incarnate Word, Jesus Christ [CCC# 53].  The first promise of a future redeemer was partially announced in Genesis 3:15 that from the "seed of the woman" would come a Messiah who would "crush the head of the Serpent" [a Semitism for "mortal wound"], and who would be assailed by the serpent who would "strike his heel" [a Semitism for "cause suffering", or "do violence"].  In a similar way the mystery of the Trinity was hidden and not revealed to the Old Covenant Church but the evidence was present in the Sacred Scripture of the Old Testament for the Apostles and Fathers of the Church to discover after Jesus revealed this mystery to the New Covenant people of God.  In the first three verses of Genesis 1:1-3 the Fathers understood that the Triune God was present because He is God the Father "Elohim" [in the plural in Hebrew] in verse 1:1; He is God the Holy Spirit in the divine wind or spirit [ruah in Hebrew] in Genesis 1:2 who judged the days of the Creation event as "good" 7 times in Genesis 1:4, 10, 12, 19, 21, 25, and 31; and present in the creative "Word" God spoke which is the "Light," [1:3]. St. John identifies in the prologue to his Gospel the God the Son as both the Word and the Light—the mystery of the Trinity was hidden in Genesis 1:1-3

 

Since the Old Testament revelations of God's plan were not complete but were revealed slowly over time, the inspired writers of the prophecies concerning the coming of the Messiah probably did not recognize the extent of the prophecy they were given.  For example Scripture identifies Moses as the inspired writer of the first 5 books of the Old Testament.  Moses could not have foreseen through Genesis 3:15 that this prophecy would be fulfilled in the Incarnation and virgin birth of Jesus of Nazareth nor could the prophet Isaiah, writing in the 8th century BC, have understood his prophecy that a virgin would give birth to a son in Isaiah 7:14 would result in the birth of the Messiah circa 3/2BC.  It was St. Matthew, inspired by the Holy Spirit, who claimed this prophecy was intended for Jesus of Nazareth in Matthew 1:23: Now all this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken through the prophet: "Look!  The virgin is with child and will give birth to a son whom they will call Immanuel", a name which means 'God-is-with-us'.  [For information on how Moses is identified in Scripture as the inspired writer of Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus and Deuteronomy see the Chart in the Old Testament section entitled: Biblical Evidence of Moses as the Inspired Writer of the Pentateuch].

 

 It is God's plan that the words written by His inspired writers were to be opened to reveal a more profound truth as salvation history unfolded.  Scholars call this sense of expanded and unfolding meaning the plenary sense of Sacred Scripture. God the divine author of Scripture can introduce a certain part of the truth of divine revelation at a point in salvation history only to reveal that truth more fully at a date perhaps centuries later and through another inspired writer, thereby illuminating the earlier truth in greater depth and detail. According to the interpretation of Sacred Scripture given by the Catholic Church to certain passages of the Old Testament, the plenary sense of Scripture must be a teaching consistent with and grounded in the revelation of God's plan as revealed in Sacred Scripture itself and must be consistent with the unaltered doctrine of the Church as given to her by her Bridegroom, Jesus Christ.  However, the inspired writer of Hebrews wants his audience to understand that now, in the Final Age of man, God has spoken to man through the person of God the Son—His is the climax and the final revelation of God's plan of salvation.  See the Catechism of the Catholic Church #s 53; 69; 107; 108.

 

3.      What is a prophet?  The holy Prophet was God's covenant mediator to the people—he spoke the words of God.  Moses was one of the greatest prophets of the Old Testament and the last prophet of the Old Covenant was John the Baptist.  The prophets conveyed God's message to the people concerning obedience and judgment.  Jesus as the Son of God also fulfilled the role of prophet as was prophesized by God through Moses in Deuteronomy 18:13-20.  In Deuteronomy 18:17b-20 God told Moses,  From their own brothers I shall raise up a prophet like yourself; I shall put my words into his mouth and he will tell them everything I command him.  Anyone who refuses to listen to my words, spoken by him in my name, will have to render an account to me.  But the prophet who presumes to say something in my name which I have not commanded him to say, or who speaks in the name of other gods, that prophet must die."  The test of a true prophet was that he had to be 100% accurate.  This prophecy also promises a prophet, another Moses or greater than Moses that God would rise up from among the Children of Israel.  Jesus as Messiah came fulfilling the holy offices of prophet, high priest, and king.  [Note: the Islamic prophet Mohammed claimed this prophecy for himself but he does not fulfill the qualifications, he was not of the Covenant people of Israel—the Old Covenant Church.

 

4.      What is meant by the Final or Last Age?  The Incarnation ushered in the Messianic Age—the Ascension of Jesus the Messiah signaled the Final Age of mankind.    It was at the second great Feast of Pentecost in 30AD when God poured out His Spirit upon His New Covenant people who were gathered together and praying in the Upper Room the 10 days following Jesus' Ascension [Acts 1:13-14] when the Holy Spirit descended upon the Apostles and disciples in the Upper Room [Acts 2:1-3].  It was immediately after that event that St. Peter gave his first great homily and declared that the "Final Age" of man had come.  In Acts 2:17 St. Peter quotes the Old Testament prophet Joel concerning the Messianic Era when Peter preached to the crowd of Jews assembled outside the building which housed the Upper Room of the Last Supper:  In the Last Days, the Lord declares 'I shall pour out my Spirit on all humanity [Acts 2:14-21]In 1 Peter 1:5 St. Peter wrote that until this Final Age came to an end the New Covenant believers were being kept safe by God's power through faith until the salvation which has been prepared is revealed at the final point of time; and in verse 20 he affirms the pre-existence of Jesus when he writes that Jesus Christ was ...marked out before the world was made, and was revealed at the final point of time for your sake.

 

When will this Final Age of man come to an end?  This last age of history will be completed by the return of Jesus known as the "Second Coming" or "Second Advent" of Jesus the Messiah [for Old Testament references on the Final Age of man see Deuteronomy 4:30; Isaiah 2:2; Micah 4:1; Daniel 10:14; Sirach 48:24-25; and for New Testament references see Matthew 24:7-31; John 14:2-4; 1 Corinthians 15:52-53; 2 Corinthians 5:1-10; 1 Thessalonians 4:15-17; 2 Thessalonians 1:7-10]. 

 

In Hebrews the inspired writer also distinguishes between "the present time" in Hebrews 9:9, and "the world to come" in Hebrews 6:5.  From the time of the Ascension of Jesus the Messiah to the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem there was an interim period of 40 years—a period of mercy for the new generation of the New Israel that would end in judgment just as God gave the same 40 year time period to the first generation of the Old Israel in the Sinai wilderness; a period of judgment for the old generation and their unfaithfulness [Numbers 14:33-34; 32:13] but also a period of mercy for the new generation to grow up as members of God's covenant family.  The 40 year period allowed a period of time for the Old Covenant people of God who sought temporary atonement of their sins in the imperfect sacrificed blood of animals to embrace the New Covenant in the perfect sacrifice of Jesus the Messiah in which sins were completely forgiven as promised by the prophet Jeremiah in Jeremiah 31:31-34.   At the end of the "present age"  of the inspired writer, and the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple by the Romans in 70AD, the Final Age of man truly began, and the Church looked forward the "the world to come" when Jesus would return to collect His Bride the Church at the end of the Final Age of Man.

 

5.      Who is the Son? "The Son" is Jesus of Nazareth the only begotten Son of God through whom God has spoken to man in this Final Age, in contrast to the prophets of past ages.

 

6.      How is the Son involved in the creation of the cosmos?  The New Testament Gospel and Epistle writers testify to the pre-Incarnate Son of God:

 

7.      What is the importance of the title "Firstborn"?  Jesus, as the only begotten Son of God holds the honor of being the "firstborn son" which means he is the heir of God the Father.  According to the laws of primogeniture under the Mosaic covenant [Sinai covenant] the firstborn son enjoyed a double portion of the material wealth [see Deuteronomy 21:17] and therefore, the firstborn son of the king could expect to inherit his father's throne upon his father's death.  But ironically, it is through the Son's death that He succeeds to His inheritance. In the case of human heirs it is the father who dies and that is when the "last will and testament" is read and when the heir inherits his portion.  In the case of Jesus it is the Son of God who dies and his will or testament, the New Testament or Covenant assures His inheritance as King of Kings upon His resurrection from the dead in fulfillment to God's promise through the prophets that the heir of King David's kingdom would receive all the nations as his "inheritance" [see Psalms 2:8; 89:27; and Romans 43:13].

 

8.      Jesus is the apaugasma (word used in the literal Greek text)...the radiance or brilliance of God's glory.  I dislike the New Jerusalem translation of this word as "reflection" which can be misinterpreted to suggest that the Son is not equal to the Father but only a reflection of God's glory.  This metaphor "the radiance of God's glory" draws upon the image of light and depicts the way God the Father communicates to the Son and the Son communicates the will of God to man.  The Son actively radiates divine glory. He is the "light" the radiance of divine energy that gives life to the world [John 1:1-5; Colossians 1:15-20], and it is through the Son that God's presence and glory/power is brought into the physical reality of human experience. 

 

9.      God the Son bears the impress of God's own being.  This metaphor is meant to compliment the metaphor of light or radiance in the previous verse.  The Greek word character, used in the Greek text, is the word often used in ancient times to describe the impressed image on a metal coin or the impression on wax made by a seal or signet ring.  In the non-canonical Greek text of 4 Maccabees 15:4 a child is said to have the impress or character of his father, just as in Genesis 5:3 it is written that Seth is begotten in the "image" of Adam.  But God the Father does not have a physical form; therefore, in this passage the character must refer to an impression or character other than physical.  God the Son is the image or exact impression of the Father's substance.  That is why the Council of Nicaea (325AD) declared God the Father and God the Son to be hypousia= of one being or substance, and the Second Council of Chalcedon in 553AD, declared the Father and the Son to be one ousia (being) in three hypostases (persons).  Begotten in the image of God, the Son reveals God's power (radiance), God's presence, and God's love and covenant faithfulness.

 

10.  How does the Son sustain all things through His powerful command?  According to Genesis 1:3 God spoke and the Creation event began when light separated the darkness.  St. John and St. Paul expand upon this revelation.  In John 1:1-5 and verse 9 St. John reveals that Christ is both the Word and the Light and that through him all things came into being, not one thing came into being except through him [1:2-3].  St. Paul in Colossians 1:16 revealed for in him were created all things in heaven and on earth; and in him all things hold together (1:17).  God created the cosmos through the Son and for the Son and through the power of the Son the universe is sustained and "holds together".

 

11.  How has the Son purged sins which allows Him the privileged position at God's right hand?  These passages in Hebrews 1:1-4 reveal the mission, the divine nature and the power of God the Son.  The prophet Isaiah wrote in the 8th century BC: It was Yahweh's good pleasure to crush him with pain; if he gives his life as a sin offering.. [Isaiah 53:10a ].  St. Peter confirmed and expanded on this revelation when he wrote in 1 Peter 1:18-20, For you know that the price of your ransom from the futile way of life handed down from your ancestors was paid, not in anything perishable like silver or gold, but in precious blood as of a blameless and spotless lamb, Christ.  He was marked out before the world was made, and was revealed at the final point of time for your sake. Through him you now have faith in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory for this very purpose—that your faith and hope should be in God. In declaring that the Son enjoys the privilege of being seated at the "right hand" of God the inspired writer evokes in his audience the connection to the great Messianic psalms of King David, Psalm 110, which will be the basis of one of the central themes of this discourse: Yahweh declared to my Lord (Adonai), 'Take your seat at my right hand, till I have made your enemies your footstool.  Yahweh will stretch out the scepter of your power; from Zion you will rule your foes all around you.  Royal dignity has been yours from the day of your birth, sacred honor from the womb, from the dawn of your youth.  Yahweh has sworn an oath he will never retract, you are a priest for ever of the order of Melchizedek.  Psalm 110:1-4.

 

12.  Role of angels:  Jesus is called the "Son of God" but angels were also called sons of God [see Psalm 29:1; 82:1; 89:6; Job 1:6; 2:1; 38:7], as were the kings of Israel/Judah of the line of David called "sons" of God [2 Samuel 7:14; 1 Chronicles 17:13] as part of God's covenant promise to David.  Jesus ranks above all these other "sons" who are creatures of God's Creation.  He ranks above the angels in that they are "messengers" ["aggelos" means "messenger" in the Greek and malach or mal'ak in Hebrew] who are created spirits who serve God, but the Son is also superior to the angels in their sonship as created spirits in that He is the only begotten "firstborn" Son.  The "firstborn" was a title indicating the heir who received the double portion of the inheritance.  The "younger" sons serve the "firstborn" son, just as the angels serve Christ. 

 

In the Old Covenant angels attended Yahweh, their wings forming the Glory-cloud or Shekinah that contained His Divine presence [Deuteronomy 32:2; Psalm 68:17]: 

Question: How are angels involved in God's plan of salvation?

Answer: Angels are called to active service in both the Old and New Testaments:

·        Angels serve God in the heavenly Tabernacle and form His chariot of fire [Isaiah 6:2-7; Ezekiel 1:1-28; 10:21; Revelation 4:1-11; 5:8-14].

·        Angels were His emissaries to men and women who were called to play a role in God's plan of salvation [see Genesis 16:7-11; 22:11, 15; 24:7, 40; 31:11; 41:16; Judges 6:11-22; 13:2-25; Tobit 12:13, 15; Daniel 8:16; 9:21; 10:9-12; Luke 1:19]. 

·        Angels were actively involved in the redemption of the children of Israel out of slavery in Egypt; in the formation of the Covenant at Sinai; and in protecting the children of Israel during their wilderness experience [ Exodus 3:2; 14:19; 23:20, 23; 32:34; 33:2; Numbers 20:16; 22:22-35; Acts 7:30-31, 35, 38]. 

·        Angels, as God's messengers also were delivers of God's judgment [see Judges 5:23; 2 Samuel 24:16-17; 1 Chronicles 21:12-30; Matthew 13:39-49], and angels surround the throne of God and serve Him day and night [Isaiah 6:1-7; Ezekiel 1:11; 10:21; Revelation 4:1-11; 5:8-14].

·        Angels are guardians of children and the elect [Psalm 91:10-14; Matthew 18:10; Hebrews 1:14].   

 

Question: How are angels intimately involved in the Incarnation of Jesus Christ and in the formation of the New Covenant?

Answer:

 

Hebrews 1:4 declares that Jesus the Son of God is now as far above the angels as the title which he has inherited is higher than their own name.  Whenever there is a mention of one's "name" in Scripture, the reference is to the entire person, to who that person is in thought, word, deed, and desire. To "believe in the name of Jesus" is to believe everything He taught, in everything He did, and to be willing to obey everything He commanded.  Our salvation depends on our willingness to "believe on His name" as St. Peter preached in Acts 4:12: Only in him is there salvation; for of all the names in the world given to men, this is the only one by which we can be saved!  The human name  which Jesus bears, as commanded by the angel Gabriel in Luke 1:31-32 when announcing to Mary her child's exalted status,  is in Hebrew Yehosua (Joshua) or in proto-Hebrew, Yah'shua, which means "God saves" or more literally "I save" [Jesus is the English rendering of the Greek Iesous].   

 

In Hebrews 1:4 the introduction of the theme of the superiority of the "name" of Jesus over the angels leads to the question "What is the significance of His name and how does it certify His superiority over the angels?  The intent of the inspired writer in evoking the superiority of Jesus' "name" cannot be limited to His title as "son" since angels and men like the children of Israel and the Davidic kings were also called "sons".  In his dissertation entitled Kinship by Covenant: A Biblical Theological Study of Covenant Types and Texts in the Old and New Testaments, Dr. Scott Hahn sees a link to the inspired writer's identification of Jesus "the Son" as "First-born" in Hebrews 1:6: Again, when he brings the First-born into the world, he says: "Let all the angels of God pay him homage."  It is His designation as "Firstborn Son" which is given as the reason the angels must worship Him.  Dr Hahn writes on page 498: The distinctive meaning of the "Name,: as well as the singularity of Christ's divine sonship are thus clearly specified in terms of his divine primogeniture: i.e., as the younger sons are under the firstborn, so are the angels subordinate (vv. 5-6) and inferior (vv. 7-12) to Christ."  In the cultural laws of Hebrew primogeniture, the firstborn son received a "double portion" of the inheritance—both materially and spiritually in the form of a blessing and the younger were bound to acknowledge the firstborn's authority over the extended family. 

 

But this wording in verse 4 also recalls the first righteous firstborn son in the book of Genesis and the first man to be united with God's blessing in Scripture. 

Question: Who is this man whose very name in Hebrew is "Name"?  See Genesis 9:26a and 11:10-26

Answer: Shem the righteous son of Noah in Genesis 9:26aBlessed be Yahweh, God of Shem...He is also the ancestor of Abraham who, as the ancestor/father of the children of Israel was promised 3 blessings which became a 3 fold covenant from which all future covenants would unfold.  In Genesis 12:2 God promised Abraham: I shall make you a great nation, I shall bless you and make your name famous; you are to be a blessing!  This is the promise of:

1.      a nation/kingdom;

2.      descendants; and

3.      a world-wide blessing [see Genesis 12:3; 26:4; 28:14; Galatians 3:8].

 

Shem holds a unique role in salvation history as Abraham's ancestor and mediator of the covenant God made with Noah and creation.  Noah's righteous firstborn son Shem, lived 600 years, outliving his famous descendant Abraham by thirty-five years.  It is through Shem that the promised seed of Genesis 3:15 continued and through Shem the covenant established with Noah. According to the oral tradition of the Jews, as recorded by the Rabbis and found in 1st century AD Targums [Jewish commentary of Old Testament Scripture in Aramaic], Shem was the High Priest of God the Most High and his throne name was Melechizedek, which means "king of righteousness" (see Genesis 14:17-19) just as Popes who serve the New Covenantal order take "throne" names.  Melechizedek was God's priest-king of Salem, which became the holy city of Jerusalem.  This mysterious figure in the distant past of salvation history is the only man mentioned in the Old Testament to bring an offering of bread, to pronounce a priestly blessing [Genesis 14:18-20] and receive a tithe, all in a liturgical context.  The unique role of this man in salvation history and his priestly service are an important theme in the Letter to the Hebrews, uniting the priestly service of the Jews distant past with priestly service in the New Covenantal order.  In Sacred Scripture Melechizedek is only mentioned by name in Genesis 14:8; Psalm 110:4; Hebrews 5:6, 10; 6:20; 7:1, 10, 11, 15, 17, and 21.

 

In Hebrews 1:5-13 the inspired writer offers proof from Sacred Scripture, which in his time was what we call the Old Testament, to support his identification of the Son as God's divine heir and to support the claims he has made that it is the divine Son who ranks above the angels.

 

Question for group discussion:

How do the verses in Hebrews 1:1-4 impact you in your understanding of your relationship with God the Son?  Compare Hebrews 1:3 with Genesis 1:26-27.  What does it mean to be created in the image and likeness of God?  How does being created in the "image" of God separate us from the animals and from the angels?  How does this revelation of man's relationship with God in Genesis 1:26-27 pave the way for a higher revelation through the Incarnation of the Son and what does Hebrews 1:3 compared with Genesis 1:26-27 tell us about our share in divine nature by virtue of divine grace?  See CCC#299                

 

Catechism references for Hebrews 1:1-2:4 [*indicates Scripture quoted in citation]

Verse

Catechism references

Verse

Catechism references

1:1-3

53; 69; 107; 108

102*

1:6

333

1:1

65

1:13

447*

1:2

65*

1:14

331

1:3

241; 320; 2502*; 2777; 2795*

2:4

156*

 

Resources used in this Lesson:

  1. The Documents of Vatican II: Dei Verbum
  2. The Navarre Bible: Hebrews, Four Courts Press, 1991.
  3. Commentary on the Epistle to the Hebrews, Thomas Aquinas, St. Augustine's Press, South Bend, Indiana 2006
  4. Hebrews, St. John Chrysostom, Nicene and Post Nicene Fathers, first series, Hendrickson Publishers, 1995.
  5. Kinship by Covenant: A Biblical Theological Study of Covenant Types and Texts in the Old and New Testaments, Dr. Scott Hahn, UMI Dissertation Services, 1995
  6. The Anchor Bible Commentary: To the Hebrews, George Wesley Buchanan, Doubleday, New York, 1972.
  7. The Anchor Bible Commentary: Hebrews, Craig R. Koester, Doubleday, New York, 2001.
  8. Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture: Hebrews, InterVarsity Press, 2005
  9. The Faith of the Early Fathers, William Judgens, volumes I – III, Liturgical Press, 1970.
  10. Church History, Father Laux, Tan Books & Publishers, reprinted 1989

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