The first thing we need to learn for us to properly understand the book of Hebrews is that this is not a letter. There is no author listed, no recipients named, no salutation extended, no thanksgiving given, or any other markings at the beginning of this writing to suggest that this is a letter. The end of the book has a few marks that look like a letter but those exist because this was going to be circulated through the churches and Christians. But this ending section is what tells us that this is not a letter, but a sermon.
Brothers, I urge you to receive this word of exhortation, for I have written to you in few words. (Hebrews 13:22; HCSB) The form of this book reflects a brilliant, well-crafted sermon.
So what is this sermon about? I have always seen that this is a book about the superiority of Christ. I believe I was wrong. The theme of the book is to not give up. The words of exhortation to not give up are often perceived to be side points for the key theme about the superiority of Christ. But I believe the point is to not give up. The superiority of Christ is the basis of the argument to not give up. To put it in our language, the sermon is to not give up and the reason these Christians were told not to give up is because of how great Christ is. You can see the theme to not give up in the statements found in the following passages:
2:1, 3:6; 3:13-14; 4:1; 4:14; 5:11; 5:19; 10:19; 10:22-23; 10:35; 10:39; 12:1; 13:21
1 Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, 2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. (ESV)
“At many times and in many ways” implies that God had more to say. Each prophet did not carry the final message. The whole truth was not yet out. Revelation was not complete. God first spoke directly to the patriarchs. Then God spoke through the written law. God spoke in dreams and visions. God also spoke through the prophets. But God was not done revealing his word.
“But in these last days” is a Messianic reference. The last days are the days of the Messiah. Peter quotes Joel 2 in Acts 2 and describe the days they were living in as the last days. The last days are not something still to come. The last days were then as the prophets looked forward to the time by speaking of “in those days and at that time.”
God formerly spoke by the prophets at many times and many ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son. This “us” is not an apostolic “us.” Many times when a New Testament writer speaks about “us,” he speaks as an apostle and about what the apostles experienced. But by looking at Hebrews 2:3-4 we notice that the author does not include himself as an eyewitness. Therefore, the “us” is the writer identifying himself with his audience in his sermon. God had spoken to all of his followers through his Son. Before God spoke through the prophets at many times and in many ways. Now God spoke through his Son. This suggests finality. God’s final speech was through his Son. God’s message is complete. God is not still speaking at many times and in many ways by the Son. God has spoken (past tense) by the Son. God has revealed his total truth and that truth is now out. That final truth was not revealed through prophets. It was revealed through the Son!
“Whom he appointed as heir of all things” shows authority. God has spoken through his Son and the Son carries great authority. The Son has been appointed heir of all things. Because he has this authority, the Son can make good on the words he has declared. The authority of the Son is so great that it is through the Son that all things were created. The Son is authoritative. The Son’s word is authoritative. The Son is the final, completed message of God. As the apostle John would write later, the Son is the logos, the Word.
3 He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, 4 having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs. (ESV)
This sentence in verse 3 is simply mind-blowing because it is so powerful and so vivid. Jesus is the radiance of God’s glory. He is the reflected brightness of God. This Son is so great that he is described as the radiance of God’s glory, shining the brightness of God’s glory. He is the fulfillment of prophecy concerning the glory of God.
3 A voice cries out: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. 4 Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain. 5 Then the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all people shall see it together, for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.” (Isaiah 40:3-5; NRSV)
The Son is also the exact imprint of God’s nature. When you see Jesus, you see God. We have not seen God, but we have seen Jesus. The Son gives a clear picture of the very character of God. The Son is exactly like the Father. Jesus is identical. This is a great passage to fight the idea that Jesus is a lesser god or created god. He is the carbon copy of God, completely identical in every way. Or, perhaps even more literally, the Son is of the exact same substance of God. The rest of verse 3 continues to speak about the powerful word of Jesus. God spoke through prophets before, but now God has spoken definitively and completely through the Son. The Son is superior in his message. His powerful words uphold the universe.
The Son made purification for sins. This identifies the Son as a priest. The Son whose powerful word upholds the universe and whose words contain the final, complete message of God is a priest. But he is a special priest because he made purification for sins (past tense). The Son took care of sins. He made a cleansing of sins. He was able to remove the stain of sin.
After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high. To sit down suggests that the work of the Son was complete. He has done what was needed to be accomplished. There is no more to do. His work is complete. The work of purification for sins was completed. The work of revealing the glory of God was completed. The work of being God’s final message to the world was completed. In his own words, “It is finished.” Further, the right hand of God indicates high honor, rank, and position. Jesus said these words in response to Caiaphas’ charges:
Jesus said to him, “You have said so. But I tell you, from now on you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power and coming on the clouds of heaven.” (Matthew 26:64)
This is also a direct allusion to Psalm 110:1, identifying the power of the Son.
The LORD says to my Lord: “Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool.” The LORD sends forth from Zion your mighty scepter. Rule in the midst of your enemies! (Psalm 110:1-2)
The Son is the seated high priest. He is also the prince of the house of David. He is the Messiah. In one sentence the greatness of the Son is described and glorified. The Son is high priest who made complete purification for sins. The Son is the ruler/king who is sitting in glory and honor at the right hand of God. He is the prophet through whom God’s final, complete message has been revealed. Therefore, he is even superior to spiritual beings like the angels. He is superior in every way. First century Jews were fascinated with angels, and held them in high esteem. The title as “Son of God” makes Jesus superior in every way.
Our superior Son (1) God’s final message came through him, (2) Creation occurred through him, (3) He upholds the universe by his powerful word, (4) He is the radiance of God’s glory, (5) He is the exact imprint of God’s character, (6) He made purification for sins, (7) and sat down with his worked finished at God’s right hand as prophet, priest, and king. We serve a great Lord and Savior, Jesus.