To Hell and Back: How Far Does Jesus Go for Us

In my recent preparation for a sermon in Hebrews, I came across a unique phrase that required further study. The verse is Hebrews 2:14. It reads, “Now since the children share in blood and flesh, he likewise shared in them, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil…” (NABRE)

Now, the phrase at once raises the question, “Does Satan have power over death?” The answer to that question, is “Yes and No.”

Take, for example, Psalm 90:3, “You turn humanity back into dust, saying, ‘Return, you children of Adam!’” G-d has the power of death, not Satan. Or Matthew 10:28, where Jesus warns us to fear his Father, and not human villains. He states, “And do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul rather, be afraid of the one who can destroy both soul and body in Gehenna.” In a way, then, Satan does not possess power over death.

Yet we have read the verse in Hebrews. Is this a contradiction? Absolutely not!

Scripture, when taken in whole, shows us that Satan is a tool of God. David Allen, a professor at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, writes, “It is because he was the instigator of sin through his temptation of the first couple in the garden. God, not Satan, holds the ultimate power of death, ‘but the power which he presently wields is also the power by which he is destroyed.’” [David Allen, The New American Commentary: An Exegetical and Theological Exposition of Holy Scripture, Hebrews page 219.] In his large work solely on the topic of the Devil, Paul Carus comments, “It is noteworthy that Satan, in the canonical books of the Old Testament, is an adversary of man, but not of God; he is a subject of God and God’s faithful servant.”

Now, in my preparation for the sermon, I began (and still am) looking into Satanology, the study of Satan. We must, when dealing with a subject as grave and dangerous, I believe balance is a key. For example, Paul states that we are not ignorant of Satan’s purposes (see 2 Corinthians 2:11), but we must also seek to be simple concerning evil (see Romans 16:11).

I endeavor, then, to keep these two admonitions in balance. As I stated, I have been researching (and continue to do so) the teachings of Scripture on Satan. Carus’s section, addressing the views of the Devil in early Christian quotes, at length, two chapters of the Gospel of Nicodemus.

Here it is,

1 Quarrel between Satan and the prince of hell concerning the expected arrival of Christ in hell.

WHILE all the saints were vv rejoicing, behold Satan, the prince and captain of death, said to the prince of hell, 1

2 Prepare to receive Jesus of Nazareth himself, who boasted that he was the Son of God, and yet was a man afraid of death, and said,  2 My soul is sorrowful even to death.

3 Besides he did many injuries to me and to many others; for those whom I made blind and lame and those also whom I tormented with several devils, he cured by his word; yea, and those whom I brought dead to thee, he by force takes away from thee.

4 To this the prince of hell replied to Satan, Who is that so-powerful prince, and yet a man who is afraid of death?

5 For all the potentates of the earth are subject to my power, whom thou broughtest to subjection by thy power.

6 But if be be so powerful in his human nature, I affirm to thee for truth, that he is almighty in his divine nature, and no man can resist his power.

7 When therefore he said be was afraid of death, he designed to ensnare thee, and unhappy it will be to thee for everlasting ages.

8 Then Satan replying, said to the prince of hell, Why didst thou express a doubt, and wast afraid to receive that Jesus of Nazareth, both thy adversary and mine?

9 As for me, I tempted him and stirred up my old people the Jews with zeal and anger against him?

10 I sharpened the spear for his suffering; I mixed the gall and vinegar, and commanded that he should drink it; I prepared the cross to crucify him, and the nails to pierce through Ibis hands and feet; and now his death is near at hand, I will bring him hither, subject both to thee and me.

11 Then the prince of hell answering, said, Thou saidst to me just now, that he took away the dead from me by force.

12 They who have been kept here till they should live again upon earth, were taken away hence, not by their own power, but by prayers made to God, and their almighty God took them from me.

13 Who then is that Jesus of Nazareth that by his word hath taken away the dead from me without prayer to God?

14 Perhaps it is the same who took away from me Lazarus, after he had been four days dead, and did both stink and was rotten, and of whom I had possession as a dead person, yet he brought him to life again by his power.

15 Satan answering, replied to the prince of hell, It is the very same person, Jesus of Nazareth.

16 Which when the prince of hell heard, he said to him, I adjure thee by the powers which belong to thee and me, that thou bring him not to me.

17 For when I heard of the power of his word, I trembled for fear, and all my impious company were at the same time disturbed;

18 And we were not able to detain Lazarus, 1 but he gave himself a shake, and with all the signs of malice, he immediately went away from us; and the very earth, in which the dead body of Lazarus was lodged, presently turned him out alive.

19 And I know now that he is Almighty God who could perform such things, who is mighty in his dominion, and mighty in his human nature, who is the Saviour of mankind.

20 Bring not therefore this person hither, for he will set at liberty all those whom I hold in prison under unbelief, and bound with the fetters of their sins, and will conduct them to everlasting life.

CHAP. XVI.

1 Christ’s arrival at hell-gates; the confusion thereupon. 10 He descends into hell.

AND while Satan and the prince of hell were discoursing thus to each other, on a sudden there was a voice as of thunder and the rushing of winds, saying,  2 Lift up your gates, O ye princes; and be ye lift up, O everlasting gates, and the King of Glory shall come in.

2 When the prince of hell heard this, he said to Satan, Depart from me, and begone out of my habitations; if thou art a powerful warrior, fight with the King of Glory. But what hast thou to do with him?

3 And he cast him forth from his habitations.

4 And the prince said to his impious officers, Shut the brass gates of cruelty, and make them fast with iron bars, and fight courageously, lest we be taken captives.

5 But when all the company of the saints heard this they spake with a loud voice of anger to the prince of hell:

6 Open thy gates that the King of Glory may come in.

7 And the divine prophet David, cried out saying,  3 Did not I when on earth truly prophesy and say, O that men would praise the Lord for his goodness, and for his wonderful works to the children of men.

8 For he hath broken the gates of brass, and cut the bars of iron in sunder. He hath taken them because of their iniquity, and because of their unrighteousness they are afflicted.

9 After this another prophet, 4 namely, holy Isaiah, spake in like manner to all the saints, did not

I rightly prophesy to you when I was alive on earth?

10 The dead men shall live, and they shall rise again who are in their graves, and they shall rejoice who are in earth; for the dew which is from the Lord shall bring deliverance to them.

  1. 84

11 And I said in another place, O death, where is thy victory? O death, where is thy sting?

12 When all the saints heard these things spoken by Isaiah, they said to the prince of hell, 1 Open now thy gates, and take away thine iron bars; for thou wilt now be bound, and have no power.

13 Then there was a great voice, as of the sound of thunder saying, Lift up your gates, O princes; and be ye lifted up, ye gates of hell, and the King of Glory will enter in.

14 The prince of hell perceiving the same voice repeated, cried out as though he had been ignorant, Who is that King of Glory?

15 David replied to the prince of hell, and said, I understand the words of that voice, because I spake them by his spirit. And now, as I have above said, I say unto thee, the Lord strong and powerful, the Lord mighty in battle: he is the King of Glory, and he is the Lord in heaven and in earth;

16 He hath looked down to hear the groans of the prisoners, and to set loose those that are appointed to death.

17 And now, thou filthy and stinking prince of hell, open thy gates, that the King of Glory may enter in; for he is the Lord of heaven and earth.

18 While David was saying this, the mighty Lord appeared in the form of a man, and enlightened those places which had ever before been in darkness,

19 And broke asunder the fetters which before could not be broken; and with his invincible power visited those who sate in the deep darkness by iniquity, and the shadow of death by sin.

(this is reproduced from http://www.sacred-texts.com/bib/lbob/lbob10.htm accessed 23 June 2017)

This Gospel of Nicodemus is not canonical, and thus has no authority to provide us with any teachings on the truth. However, when coupled with Paul’s mysterious description of Jesus’s actions during his death, it provides a possible outlet of what Jesus was doing. Paul writes, “He ascended on high and took prisoners captive; he gave gifts to men.” (Ephesians 4:8). This is a quote from Psalm 68:19, where David writes, “You went up to its lofty height; you took captives, received slaves as tribute.” Jesus, as the Apostles’ Creed informs us, “descended into hell”. It is, as Mary Healy so beautifully expresses, “The great paradox is that Jesus conquered death through death—not by escaping it but by experiencing it, destroying death from within.” [Mary Healy, Hebrews, page 65]

Jesus went to hell and back for us.jez-timms-207948

There really is no end of his love; it is a sweet and fragrant flower, always blooming. May we relish, nay, worship Jesus for the great love wherewith he loves us.

 

A Comparison of Genesis 2:17 and 3:4 in light of the understanding of the Creation of Man and Woman

In my studies of the New Testament book of Hebrews I have come across some incredibly interesting information. Today, as I am working through Hebrews 2:14-18, I was puzzled at the phrase used in verse 14. We read, “…the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil.” (ESV) This led me on a journey. I am looking at an overview of the devil’s work throughout Scripture.
In keeping with the typical evangelical understanding of the devil, I went straight to Genesis 3. Now, in my reading of Scripture, in both the creation story of humanity (Genesis 1:26-31) and in the fall of humanity (Genesis 3:1-6) man and woman were given the same command to avoid eating the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. The consequences would be death.

However, in Genesis 2, we see a parenthetical view of the creation of man. In this account, man was formed first, given the commands concerning paradise, and then after naming animals God drew woman from one of his ribs. Below you will find a comparison of the command given to man (Genesis 2:17) and that of the statement made by the serpent to woman (Genesis 3:4).

 

Genesis 2:17

Hebrew Gen 2 14

 

“But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” (ESV)

 

Genesis 3:4

Hebrew Gen 3 4

But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die.” (ESV)

 

I have color-coded our words for ease of reference. The first word found in the almost identical statements by God and the serpent is Maveth.PNG. This word is a Qal infinitive absolute. Arnold and Choi describe this as “both ‘atemporal’ and ‘apersonal,’ meaning that only the context determines the time/aspect features of the action, as well as the subject of the action itself.” (Arnold and Choi, 2003) The word means natural death, and the scope of death in Scripture ranges from human beings to animals and plants. The structure of the Hebrew text, then, offers us further clarification as to who will die and when (relatively speaking).

The next word TMaveth (in Genesis 2:17) and Tmavethn. (in Genesis 3:4) are practically identical.  The only difference (besides the paragogic nun) is the ending. The word in Genesis 2:17 is a Qal Imperfect, 2nd person, masculine, singular. In the context, God is giving man the command that should he eat of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of God and evil “dying he would die” (author’s translation). The word in Genesis 3:4 is a Qal Imperfect, 2nd person, masculine, plural. The difference is found in the number. God, in Genesis chapter two, speaks to man, singular. In Genesis chapter three, the serpent speaks to woman and man, plural.

This may seem to be an insignificant point, but to me it has great implications. Here are a few:

  • When God created humanity, he created both male and female. This is stressed in Genesis 1:27. When it says that “God created man in his own image” (ESV) the word used for the collective of humanity is the singular word Adam.PNG , from which we derive the proper name Adam. When we look at Genesis 3:9, shortly after woman and man ate the fruit God addresses man (Adam.PNG) and asks him (singular), where he was. It is not until man blames his wife (Genesis 3:12) that God begins to address them individually. Thus, according to the beginning account of humanity, man and woman were so combined as to be seen as one.
  • While it may appear, on the surface of the text, that God only gave the commands to man, this is not the case. Some theologians and scholars use this to prove a complementary view of the male-female relationship. For example, see Andreas Köstenberger, God, Marriage, and Family: Rebuilding the Biblical Foundations, 24-26; David Lee Talley, “Gender and Sanctification: From Creation to Transformation A Comparative Look at Genesis 1-3, the Creation and Fall of the Man and the Woman, and Ephesians 5, the Sanctification of the Man and the Woman in a Redemptive Marriage Context”, in Journal for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, Spring 2003, 6-16. However, the Hebrew reveals that man and woman were oneNow, it is easy to simply take the definition of one and apply it in an incorrect manner. The Hebrew word can mean one in number or a collective of a group. For our understanding of the male-female relationship, it is quite helpful. The man and woman, one, were issued the commands regarding the keeping of the garden.
  • This has further implications for marriage roles today. Rather than seeing the husband as the king of his castle, or wives as subservient, the original Edenic nature of the male-female relationship is equality. Certainly there are physical differences between the sexes, but at creation when “God saw everything that he had made…it was very good.” (Genesis 1:31, ESV)

If you would like more information for an egalitarian point of view, check out this excellent resource: Christians for Biblical Equality.

What are your thoughts? How do you see the creation account’s implications for today?

Hebrews 2.1-4

Here are the notes covering Hebrews 2.1-4. This passage is so convicting because we all are tempted to ‘drift away’. What, in your life, has caused you to drift away? What, like the swaying tides of the sea, has drawn your heart further away from Jesus? More importantly, what brings you back? What anchors your soul to the Savior?

I pray that this is a blessing to you!

Hebrews 2.1-4 A Dire Warning

1 Corinthians 10.6

Introduction: We are introduced to this section with a connecting word, ‘therefore.’ Whenever we see such a word we should immediately look back and see what was written previously, in order to place the following section in its proper context. The passage we looked at last time covered the deity of Jesus, that, compared to the angels, God’s Word confirms that Jesus is truly God in human flesh. As this lends itself to the topic, let us look once again at the main points presented by our author.

  • Jesus is better than the angels because He is God’s own Son
    • His Name is better
  • Jesus is better than the angels because He is Sovereign Lord
    • The angels were created to be ministers
    • Jesus is better because His deity calls for worship
    • Jesus is better because His rule is without end
    • Jesus is better because He is creator

It is on this foundational knowledge of the deity of Jesus Messiah that the writer issues what should be taken as a very serious and dangerous warning: do not turn back from Jesus. It is a serious matter, when presented with truth, to either ignore it or to walk away from it.

We read throughout Scripture of similar warnings. In 1 Samuel 5.22-23 we see a warning to Saul. In Jeremiah 6.19 we see another severe warning. In Deuteronomy chapter 28 we see a list of both blessings and curses; blessings for obedience and curses for disobedience. It is a serious thing to ignore or work against the truth. James speaks of self-deception when knowledge does not affect our lives (James 1.22-25).
Read Sir Robert Anderson’s quote, ‘Types in Hebrews’ page 38.

Doctrine

The doctrine to which we shall focus our attention is: Rejection of God’s truth will bring judgment.

The Reasons for this Doctrine

Why can we arrive as this teaching? Why can we, from the reading of these verses, render such a terrifying thought? Because…

  1. God’s message through the angels proved trustworthy in every point- vss. 1-2
  2. God’s message through the Lord, witnessed by God, and empowered by the Spirit is trustworthy in every point- vss. 3-4

The Details of this Rejection

  1. This rejection is not an immediate, outright rejection.*This is confirmed by the use of the words ‘neglect’ amelew and ‘drift away’ pararrew. Both words carry the connotation of gradualness. The first word indicates an apathetic relationship with the truth, a simple non-caring attitude. The second word indicates an inclination toward disbelief that occurs gradually. They are both nautical terms. So if you can imagine a ship or small boat being loosed from the dock, it will slowly move away.

    I find it very interesting that those who leave the faith rarely do so from a one-time event. Perhaps after a tragic event one may leave. I think of Bart Ehrman. He is gifted with an incredible intellect and is one of the most recognized scholars of our time. Bart Ehrman began his life as a believer. In his story he explains how the ‘problem of evil’ and ‘suffering’ led him to eventually become an agnostic. I use Dr. Ehrman as an example because he slowly, over the course of many years, left the faith. And this is exactly how we leave the faith, or stop believing what God has said. We don’t typically just flat our deny the Bible. We gradually do so. We may slowly stop believing that God will judge this sin in our lives, or believe that He will indeed be with us, or so on and so forth.

  2. This rejection ignored the tested and provable truth.*The message of the angels presented throughout the Scriptures has proven true. Likewise, the message first preached by Jesus, then His followers, witnessed by God the Father and accompanied with miracles through the power of Holy Spirit have also proven true.

    It is important to note, here, that faith is not without evidence. When we get to Hebrews 11 we will see an abundance of Old Testament saints that prove the validity of faith. But let me give you a personal illustration. I love my kids. They are my little lady and my buddy. But there are times when I, as the father, have to discipline them. Now I may warn them repeatedly, ‘Don’t do that or you will be punished’. And they hear it, stare directly at me, and then proceed to do that which I told them not to do. They face a punishment that is deserved. That is the idea here.

The Remedy for this Rejection

  1. We must make earnest effort- vs. 1The author gravely warns us that we must give the more earnest, “a degree which is considerably in excess of some point on an implied or explicit scale of extent.” This is also a nautical term. It is the word picture of tying the ship to the dock. Throughout Scripture we are told to make every effort, to expend all our energy for several different reasons.

    There is also the connection here to the Old Testament warnings given by Moses to Joshua (and by extension the people of Israel) in Deuteronomy 32.46-47. Moses details the importance of the word he gave the Israelites, and the extension through the author of Hebrews, that the word is our life.

    2 Peter 1.5, 10, and 3.14- Peter encourages believers to develop their faith. He says, ‘make every effort’, ‘be all the more diligent,’ and ‘be diligent’.

    Psalm 119.4- God commanded that His Word be kept diligently (think of the

    Proverbs 4.23

  2. Pay closer attention to the truth of God’s Word-vs. 1Psalm 119.9, 11
  3. We must become thorough acquainted with God’s truth- vs. 1

Sermon from Hebrews 1:4-14

Below are my sermon notes from my series through the book of Hebrews. This is not a manuscript, but it does provide a frame of reference for the thoughts and main intention of the sermon. I’d love to discuss this with you further should you have any questions.

God bless!

15 March 2017 Sermon

Hebrews 1.4-14 Jesus is Better Than the Angels

 

Introduction:

Turn to Matthew 13.51-52. In this passage Jesus is checking with the disciples to ensure they understand what He is teaching. Before our passage He presented seven different parables ranging from topics of soil, wheat and tares, mustard seeds to leaven. In this discussion Jesus is instructed the disciples with new aspects of truth. But in His teaching He also encourages a devout love for the old. And this morning we are going to bring out of the treasure of Scripture things new and old.

A Brief Discussion on Angels

Let us, at the outset, clearly understand that our brief discussion this morning about angels is solely for the purpose of laying the foundation upon which we can better understand the superiority of Jesus. We are reminded that there are dangers in becoming obsessed with angels (Colossians 2.18). We certainly want to keep that in mind, but we also desire to understand the things God has revealed to us through His Word, and especially when we are considering the superiority of Jesus to that of the angels.

Angels were incredible beings of great power. “The angels, as beings worthy to stand in proximity to the Throne of Glory, necessarily were more perfect creatures than man.” (Abraham Cohen, Every Man’s Talmud: The Major Teachings of the Rabbinic Sages, 48) Angels are immortal (Luke 20.35-36), require no physical nourishment, and do not seem to be tempted with the same sinful desires with which humanity is plagued.

They were created along with the rest of the universe during the six days of Genesis chapter one. There are various debates on exactly what day God created these incredible beings. Some suggest the second day with reference to Psalm 104.3. Others suggest that He created them on the fifth day along with the other winged creatures. And some even believe that God creates angels continuously as they serve and praise Him (see Daniel 7.10).

Paul Enns, a theologian, sums up the angels’ nature and attributes:

  • Angels are spirit beings
    • They can take the human form (Genesis 18.3)
    • They are called spirits (Hebrews 1.4)
    • They do not engage in marriage or succumb to death (Mark 12.25; Luke 20.36)
  • Angels are created beings
    • God created them by His Word (Psalm 148.2-5)
  • Angels were created simultaneously and innumerable in number
    • Created in a singular act (Colossians 1.16)
    • An unknown number exist (Hebrews 12.22)
  • Angels are a higher order than mankind
    • Man, including Jesus, was made lower (Hebrews 2.7, Psalm 8.4-5)
    • Angels are not subject to death
    • Angels have incredible wisdom (2 Samuel 14.20 yet is limited (Matthew 24.36)
    • Angels have greater power than man (Matthew 28.2, Acts 5.19, 2 Peter 2.11) and yet are limited in power (Daniel 10.13)

      *Moved a large stone, opened prison doors // Gabriel was withstood by the prince of Persia

There were different views presented in Judaism at the time of Jesus and up to the time of the writing of the book of Hebrews (ca. AD 67-69). One finds the Pharisees, whom we are more than well acquainted with through Jesus’s interactions. We also know of the Sadducees. This group of Jewish people only accepted the Torah as God’s written word. In many cases, they denied the supernatural. And according to Acts 23.8, they denied the existence of any spiritual beings (unlike their counterparts the Pharisees).  There was one other community that had ties with some of the individuals revealed in the New Testament. These individuals were called the Qumran community. Some of the members of this community believed that Michael was a rival or even a superior to the Messiah.

 

Main views:

  1. Jesus is divine and is God’s own Son- 4-6 (section is a chiasm, see your handout)

    When the author of Hebrews cites this verse, he or she, is referencing Psalm 2.7. This recounts a similar expression found in the Davidic covenant (see 2 Samuel 7.8-16, see also 1 Chronicles 17.13). In David’s case he was promised a son (who we know as Solomon), but the future application would be to THE Son. We see in the baptism of Jesus the pronouncement of the name of the Son (see Matthew 3.17; Mark 1.11; and Luke 3.22). Paul, in his sermon to the synagogue at Antioch, references Psalm 2.7 as proof that Jesus is the Son of God, Messiah (Acts 13.33).

    One theologian writes, “For the same reason David was called the son of God, having been especially chosen to perform great things; but his glory was hardly a spark, even the smallest, to that glory which shone forth in Christ, on whom the Father has imprinted his own image.” (John Calvin, Hebrews, 40)

  2. Jesus is better than the angels because He is the Sovereign Lord- 7-14
    1. The angels were created to be ministers- Hebrews 1.7, 14
      1. The angels were God’s ministers, His servants. An examination of the biblical references to angels would yield an enormous amount of material. It will be better for us to relinquish this as one of the many issues to which we may be sidetracked, but for the sake of time, we will have to focus our attention.

        *The angels helped the patriarchs, they were present at the giving of the Law, used in acts of judgments (Egypt, Israel), brought food to Elijah, killed 185,000 Assyrians, kept the mouths of lions shut (Daniel)

      2. These angels are ministers for those who will be saved- Hebrews 1.4, see also Matthew 18.10.

        In contrast to the angels, who bear a wonderful privilege in serving God and a front row seat to the restoration of Creation, we see Jesus.

    2. Jesus is better because His deity calls for worship- Hebrews 1.6 (see also Deut. 33.43, LXX version; Psalm 97.7; 1 Peter 3.22; and Revelation 5.11-13

      Whereas the angels are ministers, Jesus is to be ministered He is the Son of God, and God never commands anyone to worship angels. On the contrary, God commands all angels to worship Him.

    3. Jesus is better because His rule is without end- Hebrews 1.8-9, 13
    4. Jesus is better because He is the Creator- Hebrews 1.10-12

Application:

Because Jesus is better than the angels, we should:

  1. Focus our attention, our thoughts, and our actions all on Him.
    Our thoughts should dwell on the majesty of Jesus. Our attention should fixate on the Lamb Who was slain. And our actions should be devoted deeds of worship to Jesus.

    One practical way to do this is begin, once an hour and every hour, to speak to God. Praise Him for some good thing He has done for you or given to you. Ask Him for His assistance with whatever deed you may be doing (1 Corinthians 10.31).

  2. Relish in the Sovereign rule of Jesus.
    Since Jesus is seated at a throne, worshipped at all times and for all time by every single creature, we should rest that He is in control. There is nothing that takes God by surprise. There are no limits to His power, His understanding. I say relish, because like a good steak we cannot simply choke it down. I think of the students on our party nights as they devour every piece of food set before them. But a good meal is to be relished, enjoyed. And so the fact that our Jesus sits as a righteous judge faithfully fulfilling God’s Will should be relished, enjoyed, savored.

 

Hebrews 1:4-14 Study Notes

Below are the notes that I have included with my message covering Hebrews 1:4-14. Some of it may be boring to you, but I find it interesting. Perhaps it will be a blessing! Please share your comments, questions, and thoughts.

 

Additional Notes for Hebrews 1:4-14

The following are notes that I have accrued in my study of this passage. I hope that it proves to be a blessing. I pray that the connections, the emphases, which the overwhelming amount of force the author of Hebrews uses to prove Jesus is Messiah will bless your heart and bring you to worship our incredibly gracious God!

 

Before diving too deep into this lengthy section, I wanted to share one point of linguistic interest. The writers of Scripture (both in the Old and New Testaments) utilized a feature call chiasm. It is a structure where the point of emphasis lies at the center in the form of an ‘x’. (Incidentally, the Greek letter that begins the word chiasm is chi, or c, which looks like an English ‘x’.)

The prologue (verses 1-4) are incredibly important to the rest of the book of Hebrews. The chiasm that the author uses looks like this:

 

So, in this structure the author is emphasizing the Son’s relationship with the Father. In Jewish thought, the struggles of accepting Jesus as divine (in other words, as God) developed into a huge stumbling block. Peter addresses this in 1 Peter 2:1-10. The fact that Jesus is God and that Jesus was crucified was just too much for some Jewish people to believe. Even though Peter provides several Old Testament references to this (see Isaiah 28:16, Psalm 118:22, and Isaiah 8:14).

 

On Angels

I wish we had time to cover all the wealth of information on Jewish views of the angels. The following is taken from Paul Enns work on theology. I encourage you to look up the references provided to see how amazing these angelic creatures are. And keep in mind, Jesus is better. As we move through this passage the author of Hebrews gives reason after reason why Jesus is better.

 

  • Angels are spirit beings
    • They can take the human form (Genesis 18.3)
    • They are called spirits (Hebrews 1.4)
    • They do not engage in marriage or succumb to death (Mark 12.25; Luke 20.36)
  • Angels are created beings
    • God created them by His Word (Psalm 148.2-5)
  • Angels were created simultaneously and innumerable in number
    • Created in a singular act (Colossians 1.16)
    • An unknown number exist (Hebrews 12.22)
  • Angels are a higher order than mankind
    • Man, including Jesus, was made lower (Hebrews 2.7, Psalm 8.4-5)
    • Angels are not subject to death
    • Angels have incredible wisdom (2 Samuel 14.20 yet is limited (Matthew 24.36)
    • Angels have greater power than man (Matthew 28.2, Acts 5.19, 2 Peter 2.11) and yet are limited in power (Daniel 10.13)

[Paul Enns, The Moody Handbook of Theology (Chicago: Moody, 2008), 300-302.]

Jewish Thoughts On Angels

It seems a little odd, that while discussing the prophets and the coming of Jesus, the author then moves to comparing the angels to the superiority of Jesus. Jewish teaching on angels is quite extensive. Some believed that Michael, the archangel, exceeded the Messiah in power. They believed the Law had been given by angels (as Scripture indicates in Galatians 3:19. I also recommend reading Acts 7:53 and Hebrews 2:2 as well). They also are higher, in the created order, than humanity (see Psalm 8 for this).

On the Deity of Jesus

We have already noted the point of emphasis by the author of Hebrews concerning the Jewish views of the deity of Jesus. It was extremely difficult for them to accept Jesus as God. Now, before we look down on them for not believing, I think it would be helpful for us to remember that the Jewish people were monotheistic, i.e. they worship one God. Based on the teachings of Deuteronomy 6.4 (which is a part of the Shema) the Jewish people were taught that God was one. Now, we are going down the rabbit hole, so hold on! There is a lot to this teaching. Genesis 1-2 which recounts the creation story provides an interesting view on monotheism and the Trinity. Throughout the account the word used for God (Elohim) is plural (any time you see the ‘-im’ ending a word it is typically a plural form, i.e. the Emim and Anakim in Deuteronomy 2:10 and the rephaim (or giants) in Deuteronomy 3:11). Typically, a subject (such as God) would agree with its corresponding verb in number (meaning if the subject is one individual the verb is singular). However, in  the creation account God (Elohim) is always used with a singular verb. When we reach Genesis 1:26, however, God begins to speak about the creation of man and says, “Let us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness…”. Rather than using a singular pronoun the writer carefully chooses plural pronouns.  But how do we reconcile this with the teaching found in Deuteronomy 6:4? Again, this is fascinating. The Hebrews have two words for one: ached (or eched) and yachid (there are a few other words used, but these are the two primary ones in Scripture). The interesting thing about ached, or eched, is that it does not mean one in a singular sense. Commenting on this very passage, Jewish-Christian Craig Hartman writes, “In Hebrew, verse 4 ends with echad, which appears elsewhere in Scripture to represent not a singularity of one but a unity of two. For example, a man and a woman become one flesh, yet they remain two distinct persons within that union (Gen. 2:24). That is echad.” [Craig Hartman, Through Jewish Eyes (Greenville: BJU Press, 2010), 17.] So we see that both Scripturally and linguistically, the Trinity does not violate the fact that God is one. However, imagine you are a Jewish individual with a history of idolatry (seriously, I would fill up pages with references, a quick glance through the Old Testament will yield more than enough evidence to support this). After years of fighting and defeat, bondage and captivity, monotheism began to sink into their hearts. It is understandable that when presented with the belief that a man (Jesus) was God would be met with difficulty. The Pharisees in particular had difficulty accepting this (see John 8:12-59 for an example of this. If you have access to the New King James translation, pay special attention to verse 58 and compare it with Exodus 3:14).

All of that being said (or more accurately, written) sets the backdrop of why the author of Hebrews then discusses the superiority of Jesus to the angels with a focus on the Deity of the Son. If you, as a Jewish individual, were struggling with the thought of whether Jesus truly was divine, then it would be so helpful to look at the seven references the author of Hebrews uses to encourage you to accept the Deity of Jesus.

Utilizing the stylistic emphasis of connection, the beginning of the author’s description of Jesus in Hebrews 1:2b to Psalm 2:7 connects the idea of being an heir; the throne mentioned in Hebrews 1:3c to Psalm 110:1.

 

On the Use of Seven

Each of the references is unique. In fact, the number of references is interesting. There are seven quotations drawn from the Old Testament (Psalm 2:7, 2 Samuel 7:14, Deuteronomy 32.43; Psalm 104:4, 45:6-7, 103:25-27, and 110:1). This mirrors the seven statements that are developed in the prologue about Jesus (He has been appointed heir of all things, He created the worlds, He reflects God’s glory, He bears God’s stamp, He upholds the universe, He made purification, and He sits at God’s right hand). The author of Hebrew, being Jewish, utilizes numbers as symbolic features. The number seven is found throughout Scripture indicating completeness. For a brief example of the different uses of seven, see: the Sabbath (God rested on the seventh day), circumcision occurred after seven days, seven days were needed for purification (see Leviticus 4:6-17, 8:11, 33, and Numbers 19:12); the Israelites were instructed to march around Jericho for seven times on the seventh day, Naaman was instructed to dip into the Jordan river seven times, every feast in the nation of Israel revolved around seven, there were seven years of plenty and seven years of famine in Egypt during Joseph’s stay, there are seven beatitudes, 7 petitions of Jesus on the cross, 7 petitions in the Lord’s prayer, 7 deacons chosen in Acts chapter 6, seven characteristics of wisdom in the book of James, and we haven’t even reached the book of Revelation! Seven has enormous importance in Scripture, and the author’s choice of using seven descriptions of Jesus in Hebrews 1:1-4 and then the following seven Old Testament quotations is rich with Hebraic symbolism.

On Hebrews 1:5

This section begins a statement that stretches all the way to the end of the chapter (verse 14). The author quotes two verses simultaneously: Psalm 2:7 and 2 Samuel 7:14. I encourage you to glance back at those.

As mentioned above, the author uses a literary device known as chiasm to emphasize the Father. The verses quoted can be arranged as follows:

 

 

 

Notice the structure and the emphatic position of the Father. This draws our attention to the action of God found in Hebrews 1:1, “God…spoke”.

Another interesting fact is that three groups of people referenced these two verses are regarding the Messiah: “the Qumran community, the Jewish people, and the apostolic writers.” [David L. Allen, The New American Commentary: An Exegetical and Theological Exposition of Holy Scripture Hebrews (Nashville: B&H, 2010), 171.] So from two Jewish groups and the New Testament believers, the application of these verses shows that the Messiah would be called Son of God (for a sample of the use of the phrase ‘Son of God’, see: Daniel 3:25; Matthew 4:3, 6; 8:29, 27:54; Luke 22:70; John 9:35; Acts 8:37; Romans 1:4; Galatians 2:20; 1 John 3:8; and Revelation 2:18).

Another interesting note is that no singular angel is ever referred to as ‘Son of God’. Now, in some passages angels are referred to as ‘sons of God’, but notice the use of the plural ‘sons’. For examples of this see: Genesis 6:2, 4 ((this passage is debated whether it actually refers to angels or to the godly line of Seth, but for the purposes of distinguishing between angels and Jesus I believe it to be helpful)); Job 1:6; 2:1; and 38:7).

The second reference occurs in this verse as well. This is a reference drawn from 2 Samuel 7:14. It is the establishment of what is called the ‘Davidic Covenant’ where God promised David that his seed would remain on the throne of Israel for ever.

On Hebrews 1:6

One of the interesting topics of the book of Hebrews it the author’s use of the Septuagint (hereafter LXX, or seventy, referring to the tradition that seventy Rabbis translated the Hebrew Old Testament into Greek). There are some interesting differences between the Hebrew and Greek versions of the Old Testament, and one of them is found in the reference our author uses in Hebrews 1:6. It is a quote from Deuteronomy 32:43. Now, in our English Bibles you will not see the phrase, ‘Let all the angels of God worship Him.’ But in the LXX that phrase is found. There are discussions about the validity of this, but our author uses it to prove the deity and greatness of Jesus over the angels. Another reference in Scripture is Psalm 97:7, but the rather than the normal word for angels the Psalmist uses the word for gods/God, Elohim. Either way, Jesus is God and is better than the angels, for the angels are commanded to worship Him.

Additionally, some rabbinic teaching indicates that the Messiah would worship the angels, but our author claims otherwise.

On Hebrews 1:7

This is a quotation from Psalm 104:4. In this Psalm God has created angels to do His bidding. You can check the outline provided by Mr. Enns above on what that actually entails. However, Jesus was not created for any purpose, but according to Hebrews 1:2-3 and 1:10-13 Jesus is the Creator.

I like how David Allen sums up Jesus’s superiority to the angels, “Three reasons the Son is superior to the angels. First, the Son has been inaugurated as the Davidic king by the Father at the Son’s exaltation (vs. 5). Second, this new position is a permanent position or dynasty (vs. 6a). Third, as a result of this exaltation, all the angels are called by God to worship the Son (vs. 6b); thus, he has complete authority over them.” [David L. Allen, The New American Commentary: An Exegetical and Theological Exposition of Holy Scripture Hebrews (Nashville: B&H, 2010), 175.]

On Hebrews 1:8-9

Again the comparison is made between the angels and Jesus. In verse 7 they are said to be God’s ministers or servants, but Jesus is said to possess a throne (from which we can infer sovereignty). This is a reference to Psalm 45:6-7. This Psalm, written by the sons of Korah, is a praise of the king-groom. If you look at the surrounding verses you can easily see that this is the case. But our author of Hebrews connects it beautifully to the Messiah. Note between verse 6 and 7 that this King is called God (vs. 6) but then a reference is made to His God (vs. 7). He is called God by God, given sovereign reign (as opposed to service like the angels) and is given an eternal rule (‘forever and ever’).

The anointing (from which we get the name Messiah, ‘anointed one’) of oil is an interesting concept in Scripture. In Exodus 29:7 God commands Moses to anoint the high priest and his sons. Interestingly, they served as mediators between God and Israel (Jesus also is mediator, see 1 Timothy 2:5). The Tabernacle was to be anointed with oil to signify its sanctity and holiness in Exodus 40:9. At the time of cursing for disobedience to God’s law they were forbidden to anoint themselves with oil (see Deuteronomy 28:40). David, the king of Israel (and other kings throughout Israel’s history) received anointing by oil (see Psalm 89:20). Another interesting point, besides the priests being anointed with oil, so were the kings. Jesus is the King of Kings and Lord of Lords (see Revelation 19:16). Finally, to complete our small discussion on anointing with oil, prophets also received this, see 1 Kings 19:16 and 1 Chronicles 16:22. Connecting this once again to Jesus, Jesus also served as a Prophet to His people (Matthew 21:11). Jesus is the Priest, King, and Prophet of God.

On Hebrews 1:10-12

This lengthier quote comes from Psalm 102:25-27. There is a rich amount of material in these verses, and I hope that some of the intricacies prove to be a blessing to your soul.

To begin with, the author of Hebrews describes the following verses to apply to Jesus, the Son. Now, this is incredibly important, for Jesus is God. It is vital to understand that God the Father and God the Son are one. Jehovah’s Witnesses, for example, do not believe that Jesus is Jehovah. Similarly to the Jewish people, they see this equality as being a violation of Exodus 20:2-3. For a little more detail about the deity of Jesus, see the section bearing that name in the above section. However, our reference to this Psalm is applying to Jehovah (or Yahweh, or more courteous to our Jewish friends, Adonai). Whenever we see (most likely in the Old Testament, although some New Testament references include this) ‘LORD’ with all capital letters, it is the Hebrew word hwhy, or YHWH (from whence we get Yahweh, though the Hebrew pronunciation does not necessarily justify this or the rendering Jehovah). This word hwhy only applies to God the Father throughout the Old Testament. However, our New Testament authors constantly connect verses that use hwhy and apply it to Jesus. But if you go back to Psalm 102:25 you may not see the word ‘LORD’. While it is not included in verse 25, the context clearly applies to ‘LORD’ based on verse 22. Our author, then, connects this Messianic Psalm to Jesus which equates Jesus with Adonai.

The connection is only beginning, for the Psalmist then describes the eternality of Jesus and His involvement in creation. While creation will eventually cease to exist, Jesus never will. God made the angels along with the rest of creation (Hebrews 1:7).

On Hebrews 1:13-14

The final reference provided by our author is from Psalm 110:1. This is a Psalm of David and one that the Jewish people knew referred to David (Jesus used this passage to silence His opposition, because the words have a depth of meaning that can easily be missed, see Matthew 22:42-46).

As we have already noted, when one looks to the Old Testament and sees ‘LORD’ it is the Hebrew word hwhy, or YHWH (from henceforth, Adonai). The Adonai speaks to Lord (notice the absence of all capital letters) which is the actual Hebrew word Adonai, commonly used to refer to kings and other rulers, in addition to God Himself. The author of Hebrews connects this verse to the sovereign reign of Jesus. The picture of a King sitting on his throne with his enemies as his footstool is a common one depicting absolute victory. Unlike the angels who are servants of God, Jesus sits on the throne ruling creation. The author ends this chapter with a reference to the angels as being servants once again.

Much can be said about guardian angels with this verse. God certainly uses His angels for His glory but also for a help to us. A brief excursion through the Old Testament would yield many examples of how the angels help humanity. Matthew 18:10 gives an interesting aspect to guardian angels.

Jesus is Better: A Series through the Book of Hebrews

(Image courtesy of Riverside Community Church, http://www.riversideconnect.com/sermons/sermon/2012-03-25/hebrews-12 Accessed 25 January 2017)

 

This morning marked the beginning of my series through the book of Hebrews. We have a mid-week service at 11 in the morning on Wednesday. I get to preach about every three weeks, which enables me ample preparation time. I began praying about which direction to take, and since I follow a more topical approach in our student ministry, I chose to work my way through a book.

I love Judaism and the Jewish faith. As a Christian, I honestly do not understand how one could not love it. The entire Christian faith is built on a Jewish Nazarene. The pictures presented throughout most of the New Testament are ripe with Judaism. Following my love for the Jewish context of Scripture, I chose the book of Hebrews.

Rather than load all of my study notes, I am going to present my sermon notes as I take them to the pulpit. Please forgive the grammar as I typically attempt to write the way I will speak. I hope that as you work through it and the Scripture that you will fall in love with Jesus. He truly is better.

 

25 January 2017 Hebrews Sermon Number One

Jesus is Better

Introduction to the book of Hebrews

The book of Hebrews is one of the most fascinating books in the New Testament. The beautiful pictures painted of the exquisite religion of Abraham, Moses, the priests, the sacrifices, the covenants, deck the halls of its corridors. The highs and lows rival that of the most majestic of Bach’s or Beethoven’s musical compositions. Mystery surrounds the book, much like a Sir Arthur Conan Doyle case of Sherlock Holmes. The author is unknown, and while some information can help piece together a snapshot, it does not yield any conclusive evidence. We remain ignorant of the recipients, while most assuredly are Jewish, in regards to their location: Are they from Rome? Are they from Jerusalem?

But the mystery of what we do not know should not rob us of what we do know (an oft recited quote from one of my former pastors). We do know that the author of Hebrews was very familiar with the rituals, sacrifices, and rules of the Jewish faith. He was also familiar with the struggles that the recipients were faced with: accept a new religion or what looked like a new, an outlawed religion, or remain and return to the legal religion of Judaism. “Is Jesus really worth it?” They may ask. And with a resounding YES! the author of Hebrews gives reason after reason, matched with sober warning after sober warning, of why Jesus is better. You see, the Jewish people felt safe in their religion. It was legal, respectable in the esteem of their friends and colleagues. It cost them nothing to remain in the religion of their fathers. Judaism, though certainly not loved by the Romans, at the very least was tolerated by them. And in contrast Jesus is seen as a risk. Here this Nazarene was rejected by both Jews and Romans. He was, in the eyes of the Romans and Jewish people, a complete and utter failure. But to the disciples who witnessed His resurrection, He was Lord, God himself wrapped in human flesh. But what were they to do?

It cost them nothing to remain in the religion of their fathers.

So the writer was aiming at two groups: completed Jewish people, or Hebrew Christians; and Jewish people who were riding the fence on whether to accept Jesus as their Messiah. The author of this letter sought to encourage the Jewish people who accepted Jesus as their Messiah to stay faithful. He or she borrows many stories found within the Old Testament of how the people of Israel oft failed in their faithfulness to God. Each story is accompanied with the disastrous results of that failure. The writer also seeks to illustrate how Jesus is better than the reasons many sought to remain in Judaism. And to the individuals who were on the fence, so to speak, the author presents a very stark contrast. Over and over again we find warnings of the severest kind.

At first glance this book may seem to be for others, not for us. We don’t have the background and baggage of Judaism to battle with Christ. We have never been to Temple, never observed the sacrifices or engaged in the many feasts. We never celebrated Passover with our forbearers rejoicing in our freedom from Egyptian slavery. But oh how pertinent it is to our lives! For you see, you and I are in a constant battle every day of whether Jesus is better, or whether Jesus is worth it. Is that piece of gossip more appealing than truth that is found in Jesus? Is that impure thought, that negative word, that harsh action worth leaving for Jesus? Are friendships worth keeping? Is my financial situation bigger than Jesus? You see, in our lives we may not have to battle against returning to Judaism, to Abraham, or to Moses. But we are struggling with returning to our previous, sin-darkened lives. We are burdened of leaving Jesus over…you fill in the blank. That is why the author writes today. It was a present battle for the Jewish people; it is a present battle for us.

Overview of the book of Hebrews

The book of Hebrews is a fascinating book filled with types from the Old Testament. It is a testament to the many contributions to both the Jewish and Christian faith. The author mentions the prophets (1.1) as being the spokesmen for God, calling his people to repentance and sole allegiance to him. But he also mentions that Jesus is better, because Jesus is the express or exact image (representation of God) (1.3). He mentions the angels (1.5), those who carried out the will of God on numerous occasions. Our time could be filled this morning looking at all of the service rendered by the angelic hands and feet of God. But Jesus is better, he is the Son, not merely a messenger (1.4). And while the angels are ministers for us (1.14), Jesus is better, in that he calls us his brothers and sisters (2.11-12).

The author of Hebrews then moves on to the religious history, focusing specifically on the sacrificial system. He mentions perhaps the greatest man in Hebrew history, Moses (3.1-2). One rabbi speaks of Moses in glowing terms when he writes, “Along with God, it is the figure of Moses (Moshe) who dominates the Torah. Acting at God’s behest, it is he who leads the Jews out of slavery, unleashes the Ten Plagues against Egypt, guides the freed slaves for forty years in the wilderness, carries down the law from Mount Sinai, and prepares the Jews to enter the land of Canaan. Without Moses, there would be little apart from laws to write about in the last four books of the Torah.” [Rabbi Joseph Telushkin, Jewish Literacy: The Most Important Things to Know About the Jewish Religion, Its People, and Its History (San Francisco: William Morrow, 2001), 28] It is a mistake to underscore Moses’s importance to the development of both Judaism and Christianity. As the writers of Hebrews describes him, “Moses indeed was faithful in all his house as a servant…” (3.5) But Jesus is better, and “counted worthy of more glory than Moses” (3.3). John 9.28-29 addresses how the Jewish people revered Moses. The Pharisees are arguing the Jesus has broken the Sabbath by healing a man of his blindness. And they say to the man born blind, “You are his disciple, but we are Moses’ disciples. We know that God spoke to Moses; as for this fellow, we do not know where he is from.” (John 9.28-29, NKJV)

We are then taken to view the High Priest, the only one who only once a year could enter the Most Holy Place (9.7). He had to offer sacrifices for his own sins and then for the sins of the people. But Jesus is better, he is infinitely aware of our weaknesses (4.15). And because Jesus never sinned, his sacrifice provided salvation for everyone who would believe (5.9).

We see Abraham, that Great Patriarch, is presented in the book (6.13). The “three founding fathers of Judaism are Abraham, his son Isaac, and Isaac’s son Jacob.” [Rabbi Joseph Telushkin, Jewish Literacy: The Most Important Things to Know About the Jewish Religion, Its People, and Its History (San Francisco: William Morrow, 2001), 11] As with Moses, the importance of Abraham to the Jewish people is insurmountable. We have a glimpse of how revered Abraham was in the interchange between Jesus and the Pharisees. (Read John 8.33-59) Jesus is greater than Abraham, because he has provided “an anchor of the soul, both sure and steadfast” (6.19).

The priesthood, the way Israel knew God and offered to him praise and sacrifice, is brought up (7.11-19). These who knew the law and the intricacies attached to the sacrificial system were essential to the Jewish faith. But Jesus is better, because whereas “the law made nothing perfect; on the other hand, there is the bringing in of a better hope, through which we draw near to God.” (7.19) Jesus was better, because death prevented other priests, especially the high priest, but “He continues forever” (7.24). “Therefore, he is also able to save to the uttermost those who come to God through Him” (7.25).

The covenant, that Mosaic covenant upon which the entire religious system of Israel is built, is brought up by the writer (8.1-5). The significance of the covenant is described by a Jewish Bible scholar, “Because God’s commands cover both ritual and ethical spheres, ‘any crime committed is against God, whether it be ritual or civil.” [Rabbi Joseph Telushkin, Jewish Literacy: The Most Important Things to Know About the Jewish Religion, Its People, and Its History (San Francisco: William Morrow, 2001), 39] But Jesus is better, because unlike the first covenant that failed due to the inability of the people to keep it, this new covenant will be a complete and awesome work of grace. (8.7-13, quoted from Jeremiah 31.31-34).

The sacrifices, meant to atone for the sins of the people (see Leviticus 1.4; 4.20, 26, 31, 35; 5.6, 10, 13, 16, 18; 6.7; 7.7; 8.34; 9.7 x2; 10.17; 12.8; 14.18, 19, 20, 21, 29, 31, 53; 15.15,30; 16.6, 10, 11, 16, 17 x2, 18, 24, 27, 30, 32, 33 x3, 34; 17.11 x2; 19.22; 23.27, 28 x2; and 25.9). But the author of Hebrews reminds us how limited the atonement offered by the sacrifices are (9.12-14) and how Jesus is better than those sacrifices, because his sacrifice was made once and for all for all who believe.

The author moves toward the ‘hall of faith’ where character after character of Hebrew history is brought to describe the amazing benefits of simply faith in God. But even in the midst of that, Jesus is better, because we look to him who is “the author and finisher of our faith” (12.2).

The ending section again reminds us that Jesus is the Great Shepherd of the sheep, who makes us complete in every good deed and at the same time is the power through which we do it (13.20-21).

Conclusion

My hope and prayer as we journey together through this incredible book is that we leave no doubt that Jesus is better. It is my goal, as we enter the halls of Hebrew history, that we see the perfect picture of Jesus and relish in our footing. I want our love for Jesus to explode as we gain a deeper understanding and appreciation for the Messiah.