In this episode we are joined by special guest Dr. Dave Anderson, who speaks on the beauty and importance of the first chapter of Hebrews. We celebrate what Hebrews has to say about Jesus and what it means for us. Jesus is the son of God and humans have been granted the opportunity to become sons of the Kingdom too. The book of Hebrews is about salvation through sonship. Dave gives us a closer look at the word son and what sonship means.
Well good morning. What a wonderful way to teach Sunday school in the absence of your faithful teacher, Tim Dunn.
Tim told me that you had begun the book of Hebrews and talked about its background some, and its overall thrust. So I’ll try to pick up where he left off. If we overlap somewhat, I think you’ll understand.
A Better Name
A key to the whole book is set out from the very beginning when it says, “He inherited a better name.” But if you search through chapter 1 for the better name, you never run into the word Jesus. It says in verse 4, “Having become so much better than the angels, as he has by inheritance obtained a more excellent name than they.” The word name.
But you go throughout chapter 1, you don’t see the name Jesus. You don’t see the name Christ. You never see Jesus Christ. It turns out that the better name is Son.
Notice verse 5 starts with “For to which of the angels did he ever say, ‘You are My Son’?”
Now we’ll talk a bit about the background of that word son. It’s a key for this book. But at the same time, before we get to that, let me just show you that it’s a theme that goes throughout the entire book. And it’s not just connected to Jesus the Son. It’s also connected to us.
Chapter 2:10 may well give the theme verse for the whole book. Here it says, “For it was fitting for him, for whom are all things, and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons to glory, to make the captain of their salvation perfect through sufferings.”
So Jesus was the Son, and he gives human beings the opportunity to become sons.
Now what do we mean by that, son, and we’ll look at it in more detail. But, essentially, this is a book about salvation through sonship. And the sonship we’re talking about is something that comes through faithful service. It’s actually part of our inheritance we receive from him. That every single one of his children is just that: a child. Everyone is born again as a child. Everyone who’s born again will spend eternity with him.
But not every child of his goes on to maturity. And not every child of his becomes a son. Even the Savior, the captain of our salvation, it says in verse 10 here, was made perfect through sufferings. And sufferings are a big part of becoming a son.
And so, I would say the first ten chapters of this book are about the superiority of the faithful son, that, of course, being Jesus. Showing he is superior to the angels, here in chapter 1.
He is superior to Moses, the mediator of the covenant known as the law. And we have a better covenant and a better mediator and a better law, so to speak: the law of Christ instead of the law of Moses. The New Covenant as opposed to the old covenant.
So it goes through the superiority of Christ: the superior priest, superior mediator, superior to the angels. And then after establishing his superiority, then in chapter 11, 12, and 13, I would call that the search for faithful sons.
Now if you’re familiar with Hebrews 11, many people call that the Hall of Faith, not fame but faith. Meaning, he goes through Abraham and all the way down through Rahab and the prophets who remained faithful even though they did not receive the promise. And they went through tremendous suffering.
These are sons.
And now he tells us in chapter 12 that we too should persevere. We should look to the author and finisher of our faith. We should run the race laying aside every sin that so easily besets us. We should be willing to undergo discipline when we step out of line for it’s the sign of the Father’s love as a father chastens his son showing him his love. And that we’re marching towards a heavenly city, a city that already is, the new heavenly Jerusalem that someday will come down out of the third Heaven.
So, chapter 1-10 is the superiority of the faithful Son. Chapter 11-13 is the search for faithful sons, plural. Both overarched by the concept of salvation through sonship.
Of course that takes us back to what kind of salvation we’re talking about. And I think Tim went over that with you quite well last week, from what he’s told me.
This not salvation from the penalty of sin. In this case it’s not even salvation from the presence of sin or salvation from the power of sin. This is talking about saving your life for eternity. That after you’re born again God has given you so much time. That time can be saved or it can be lost. It’s saved as we live for him. As we seek first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness. It’s lost when we live for our own selfish purposes.
The Reward Covenant
This is all set up back in chapter 1 by some amazing usage of the Old Testament. There are so many things to talk about this. But for further background, I need to introduce you to something called the reward covenant.
You had two basic types of covenant in the ancient Near East. You had the reward covenant, which was, obviously, rewarding you for past obedience.
The Lordship Covenant
Then you had the lordship covenant. And the lordship covenant was motivating you to future obedience. Let me say that again: The lordship covenant motivated you toward future obedience. Scholars called that the suzerainty-vassal treaty.
The entire book of Deuteronomy is a lordship covenant. It is motivating the generation that’s about to go across the river Jordan to faithful service, to keep the commandments, to possess the land; and it has a number of blessings that will come and accrue if they’re faithful. It has cursings that will take place if they’re not faithful. It tells them, by way of warning, if you don’t keep the commandments, I’ll put you out of the land. Chapter 30, if you repent, I’ll bring you back.
At the same time, though, it is a motivation toward future obedience. That’s what we call a lordship covenant.
The Covenant Grant
The other type of covenant we find in the Old Testament is one that is taken right out of the surrounding nations. It was a common covenant form of the time. The scholar’s name for it is the covenant grant. But a grant was simply a reward.
Let me try to set it up this way: Let’s say the king of Dallas and the king of Houston go to war. And the king of Dallas defeats the king of Houston. So he makes all the citizens or inhabitants of Houston his subjects, his vassals, his servants. And then he goes back to Dallas because he says, “I don’t like the heat in Houston. I’m going back to Dallas to live. But I’m going to put someone in charge, sort of a mayor of the city, and I’ll return from time to time to find out who’s faithful, who’s been a faithful servant for me. And I’ll reward him. By the way, while I’m gone, I guarantee to defend you against the king of San Antonio. I guarantee you all the water you need. I guarantee you food, electricity, protection, everything you need will be provided for you. All I ask in return is that you serve me faithfully.”
OK, what I just described to you is a lordship covenant in which the king of Dallas has overcome the king of Houston, sets up a covenant between the inhabitants of Houston and himself in which he is their Lord, and they are his servants.
Now that’s the book of Deuteronomy, folks. But that’s the way it was literally used in the ancient Near East.
Now after two years, let’s say he comes down for a visit, and he calls the mayor of Houston, and he says, “OK, tell me who has been a faithful servant while I’ve been gone.”
And the mayor calls up Tim Dunn, even though he lives in Midland. We’ll pretend he lives in Houston. And he says, “Tim has really been faithful.”
And so the king of Dallas says, “OK. I want to reward him. So what we’re going to do is give him a piece of real estate. We’ll give him River Oaks. And all around River Oaks at the boundary lines, we’ll put little stone markers with a copy of this covenant. On this covenant, this reward covenant, I’ll say, ‘I, king of Dallas, give to Tim Dunn, my faithful servant, this piece of land.’ And this piece of land will belong to him and his children forever, his children’s children, in perpetuity forever. It belongs to them, and no one can take it from them. If someone tries to, they’ll have to answer to me.”
And, by the way, in giving this reward to Tim, the king of Dallas would call him up to the stage there in Houston, in front of all the cameras, he would put him through an adoption ceremony. And the wording of that ceremony is especially important for understanding Hebrews 1 and some of the rest of the Bible.
In that ceremony he would say, “OK, Tim, heretofore—” This is the king of Dallas speaking. “Heretofore I’ve called you my servant. No longer will I call you my servant. From now on I will be a father to you, and you will be a son to me. This day I have begotten you. This day I have begotten you.”
The Three Stages of Jesus’ Sonship
Now, folks, that’s exactly what’s going on in this particular passage, only the words are directed to Jesus. Martin Hengel in his book The Son of God has carefully and definitively shown three stages in the sonship of Jesus Christ.
Phase 1 – The Creator
First of all, as the second person of the Godhead from eternity past, he was the Son of God. That was his role.
Phase 2 – The Servant
Then, when he came into this world—and, of course, there was no Jesus Christ in eternity past because Jesus Christ is an undiminished deity and perfect humanity in one person forever. So that didn’t exist until Bethlehem, or if you want to say, conception, at Nazareth.
When those two came together, Jesus was born; but it wasn’t until his baptism when the heavens opened and the voice of God came down saying, “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.”
At that point, Jesus began his sonship as the Servant. And as Isaiah 53 says, as the suffering Servant. He was a faithful servant. As it says here in Hebrews, he was perfected through his sufferings. He was tempted but did not falter. There was no sin found in him.
So he succeeded in his mission, as Isaiah 52:13 says, yaskil. It says he will succeed and he did succeed.
Phase 3 – The Adoption
As proof of acceptance of his sacrifice on behalf of the sins of the whole world, he was taken up, meaning resurrected. Resurrection was proof that God was satisfied with his offering.
Then he ascended to heaven and sat down at the right hand of God the Father.
What you’re reading in Hebrews 1, then, is an adoption ceremony that took place in the third phase of the sonship of Jesus Christ.
Remember the first phase is eternity past. And in that phase he’s the creator. We’ll read about that in a minute.
In the second phase, he’s the suffering servant. But he’s the son of God. And he turns to Mary and says, “Woman, what do I have to do with you,” to signify a new phase as even his earthly existence, when he’s stepping out from under his parents’ shadow—and Joseph may well have passed on at the time Jesus begins—steps out from under his mother, begins his ministry, and at that point, he is the Son of God serving in a mission God sent him down to fulfill.
At the ascension, though, the Father’s looking down, and he goes through the adoption ceremony of saying you have been a faithful servant. Now I’m going to reward you. I am no longer calling you a servant. I am calling you a son. “Today I have begotten you.”
Now one of the problems with this passage is when people see the word begotten, they think it’s talking about birth. And a very famous Bible teacher here in America actually denied the eternal sonship of Jesus Christ because of this word begotten. And he actually says Jesus wasn’t begotten in eternity past.
What he was missing there is the covenant background of this passage.
I did a lot of work on this, personally, in my graduate studies. I actually translated 300 of these grants from the French. The French were the great archaeologists of the ancient world, and I don’t read Assyrian, but these were Assyrian land grants, or what they call kudurru; and they’ve been translated into French.
And they have the same formula over and over and over and over. “I [name] recognize you [name] as my faithful servant. You’ve served me well. This day I’m adopting you as my son. I will be a father to you; you will be a son to me.” So that was part of the adoption formula.
But that didn’t stop there.
The giving of the land is crucial here. Almost always the reward was a land grant. And what we’re going to see in Hebrews 1—God willing, time’s clicking away—is that Jesus got a piece of land. What was the piece of land he was given? It was planet earth. That was his land grant.
The second adam
Now we remember that the first Adam was to take dominion over the earth. He failed.
Noah was to take dominion over the earth. He failed.
So finally, God realizes he’ll have to bring a savior to come in and do what the first Adam failed to do.
So the second Adam is going to come in and take dominion over the earth. And for that to happen, he has to be given the earth and come back and set up his kingdom for a thousand years, in order to take dominion over the earth.
That’s why dispensational theology is so very important.
Without an understanding of the thousand year reign of Christ on this earth, the second Adam could never fulfill what the first Adam failed to do. The first Adam was to take dominion over the earth, Genesis 1.
In order to answer the two great questions of the universe, which are: Is God worthy of being loved, and does God have the right to rule the universe, both of which Lucifer raised when he rebelled against God. In order to answer those questions, God created man, as Psalm 8 will talk about in this passage, in chapter 2 anyway. And he created man to obey him, to follow his commandments, and one of those was to take dominion over the earth. The second Adam will come back and do that. He’ll do it through his thousand-year reign on earth.
The planet earth is a reward given to the faithful son.
Staking your claim
Now. You’re probably already drifting. I would be at this point, watching a tape of this and not being able to ask questions. So let me try to jump in and say, “How does this affect you?”
Because the entire book of Hebrews is about you staking your claim in the dominion reign of Christ. The rest prepared for the people of God, as you get further into this book, is talking about the millennial period and the place that you will play in it.
In the bringing many sons to glory is to say God wants to reward every single one of his children. And the reward he wants to do is after we have served him faithfully on earth, just as Jesus served him faithfully on earth, even if that entails suffering as it did for Jesus entailed suffering. Through that suffering we should be made mature. Through maturity we go from—in the Greek world, from the napias, the child or baby, to the technia, little children, to the teckna, children, and finally the weoy, the sons. We become sons, as Romans 8 talks about.
And someday he says, “I don’t consider the sufferings of this world worthy to be compared to the glory that shall be revealed in the sons of God when Jesus comes back.” He’s going to reveal which of his children have gone on to become sons.
Now that’s crucial, folks. Because the debate on this book surrounds whether the readers are believers or professing believers: people who claim to be Christians but may not be. And one whole branch of theology says if you don’t persevere to the end, faithful in your walk, then you never were one of his children to begin with.
Another branch says if you don’t persevere faithful in your walk, then you lose the salvation that you had.
But if the issue here is not heaven and hell, the issue here is not whether you get in the Kingdom or not; but the issue is whether you are rewarded in that kingdom and whether you are a son in that kingdom, and whether you stake your claim in the millennial kingdom, you read the book entirely differently.
What I’m suggesting is that the reward covenant language that we have right here, taken right out of Psalm 2 and II Samuel 7, the Davidic covenant, is setting up the whole book as a book of rewards.
Chapter 1 breakdown
Now lest time get too far from us, I need to show you how chapter 1 breaks down into two main sections, one which scholars call the exordium. That’s verses 1-4. And another which they call the exhortation.
We’ll go through this quickly and then back up and try to spend some time on it.
This is one of my favorite Christmas sermons, by the way, to help us better appreciate “what child is this.” Just who was Jesus Christ.
The first four verses make up the Exordium. Verses 1-4. Well let me run through it, and then we’ll go back and start reading it.
We get a statement of his exaltation in verses 1-4. And then a statement of him as the creator. And then a statement of his divinity, that he’s God.
But as we do this, notice that we’re going back in time. The exaltation took place at his ascension to the right hand of God the Father. Now obviously, his creative work took place when the universe was created. But before this universe existed, God existed. He was there.
So we’re going back in time.
But then we start coming full circle, back to where we started. He comes back to creation again to show that he is the one who is sustaining creation. And then we go back to his exaltation where it mentions his heirship.
Heirship was the reward that the faithful believer got. Jesus was the faithful servant, and so at his ascension to the right hand of the father, that’s his exaltation. That’s where he’s rewarded with this name above any of the angels. No angel ever called the Son in this sense. And at the same time, he is given his land grant, planet earth.
But now, in order to support this, the writer of Hebrews dips back into the Old Testament. No New Testament book uses the Old Testament more than does the book of Hebrews. Well, why not? He’s writing to Jewish Christians. Hebrews. Jewish Christians. Not an issue of going to Heaven or not, but an issue of will they find the sonship that God has carved out for them.
So he takes each point in the exordium in these verses and supports it with a passage of Scripture.
His exaltation he supports—and we’ll go back and read—from Psalm 1 and II Samuel 7 in which he is saying, “I’ll be a father to you, and you’ll be a son to me.” That’s his exaltation. That’s when it took place.
Then we’ll go back and see that he’s the creator. He made the angels.
Then we’ll see that he’s the exact expression of God in his effulgence. That was back in the exordium. But in this passage, we’ll go back to another Psalm to show that he’s actually called God. That’s how he was addressed.
Then we’ll come in to the creative work again, and this time we’ll show, not the original creation, but how he folds up creation some day when he’s going to bring in the New Jerusalem. He will fold up creation.
And then we come back to his exaltation again when we get to Psalm 110 where he quotes Psalm 110:A and B. “Your enemies I have put under your footstool.”
Now, originally just Psalm 110:A is quoted, but when we get to verse 13, we have Psalm 110 B quoted along with A as a transition leading into chapter 2 where he deals with the two enemies of death and the devil.
With that in mind, you can see how carefully this whole passage is laid out. So backing up, “What child is this?” He’s the exalted one. He’s the creator. He’s not just the exalted one and the creator, he’s the very God, and he’s the sustainer of creation.
And we’re going to see that there is one thing in the exordium not found in the exposition that I have jumped right over in this Power Point and how it’s going to introduce us to his priesthood.
And so what we’re looking at is Jesus as the king-priest. Psalm 110 says he’ll make him a priest after the order of Melchizedek, but also says he’ll rule from Zion with the scepter of his power.
In the ancient world, the king was usually the high priest. They were one and the same person. And the Hebrews or the Israelites wanted a king just like the surrounding nations. They wanted a king-priest.
David wrote Psalm 110. It’s the most referenced piece of the Old Testament in the New, 33 references to Psalm 110 in the New Testament. Many times just quoted directly; sometimes just alluded to.
But Hebrews is the only one where it mentions his kinghood, that’s chapter 1 and 2, and then his priesthood. That’s picked up in chapter 5, moving on into the end.
But his priesthood is hinted at here in chapter 1.
Hebrews 1:1 So “God who at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets―”
So what he’s saying here is that God had many modes in the past: dreams, direct appearances, even speaking through donkeys. Some have alluded to present day preachers as—well, we won’t go into that.
But he says, “—in these last days has spoken to us by his Son.” What he’s really saying is Jesus is the capstone of the revelation of God. There is no higher revelation than Jesus Christ himself.
And the implication is, especially from chapter 2, that once the Son came on the scene, he was the apex of God’s revelation; and God wouldn’t, as a norm, be speaking through dreams and visions and things like that.
“But he’s appointed him to be heir of all things.” That’s the first point on our ring. You see the word heir.
You have to remember that heirship in general is a reward in the New Testament. You see this from Colossians 3:23, in which it says, “Whatever you do, do it heartily as to the Lord and not unto men.” Do, do, do. He’s talking about serving the Lord. Why should I do it heartily? Verse 24: “knowing that from the Lord, you shall receive the reward of the inheritance, for you serve the Lord Christ.”Notice it says reward of the inheritance. Inheritance is looked at primarily in the New Testament as a reward.