Hebrews 1:1-4 – Who Said That?
Sometimes we hear or read something that really strikes home, and we are very interested in knowing in who said it. How about “Better to remain silent and be thought a fool, than to speak out and remove all doubt.” Ha! We have Abraham Lincoln to thank for that one! While we look at the book of Hebrews, we will often be impressed with the importance and effectiveness of what is stated, although we aren’t able to know who said it! But wait – although we don’t know the human author of Hebrews, we do know the Author! God Himself has declared these truths, and we have the privilege of knowing the Author personally!
We have God’s revealed truth, not only in Hebrews, but in the whole counsel of God embodied in the completed Bible which is the written Word of God. It is written by Him, and it is about Him. Yet while we have this large treasury of written words that express the mind and heart of God, we also are reminded in the introduction to Hebrews that the most important revelation God has provided is His Son, the Living Word of God.
When Jesus was transfigured on Mount Hermon, He was revealed in His full glory as God. The three disciples present were told by God the Father to “Listen to Him”. He is the full and complete revelation of God, and we need to listen closely. We need to realize just how significant He is to man’s history. The writer of Hebrews has a large task ahead of him as he moves to demonstrate how superior Jesus Christ is to every other spiritual belief man has.
Who Wrote Hebrews?
The writer of the Bible book of Hebrews chose not to disclose his name. More interesting, there is no indication from historical records of the 1st-2nd century, nor is there any early church tradition that would help identify this writer. Origen (a Chrisian theologian born in 185AD) said flatly “only God knows” – so there you go.
Common opinion has often settled on it being Paul, but there are good reasons not to be sure. Bible scholars have provided a great deal of observations about the book that combine into something of a profile of the writer. His mastery high quality of Greek, his eloquence of language and rhetoric, these and other distinctives combine to put considerable weight in favor of the view that does not support Paul as the author. Note that a masculine pronoun reference in 11:32 narrows the writer down to being a man, so Priscilla is out. Other reasonable candidates are Apollos and Barnabas. One other feature about the book that reflects on the nature of the writer is that the book very possibly was written in Hebrew and later translated into Greek.
An interesting side note: In addition to not providing his own name, the writer makes many OT citations, but never mentions who the quote is from, e.g., Moses or David. This becomes so obvious as to be a purposeful emphasis by the writer to place focus on God Himself as the speaker of this book.
Who are the “Hebrews”?
In most of the NT letters, we can read right at the beginning of the letter who the letter is to, whether it be an individual or a group. We don’t have that insight for Hebrews. There is dependable testimony from 2nd century sources that the book was already understood as being “to the Hebrews”. In understanding the audience for this book as a broad group of Hebrews, we build a more informed picture by noting other circumstances that would have been impacting a Christian audience of the mid-first century time period.
The book is probably dated around 65AD – note that the Temple and its activities are a large subject in the book, and no mention of the Temple being destroyed dates the book before 70AD. Nero, Emperor of Rome, burned Rome to the ground in 62AD. He was under intense criticism for his actions so chose to place blame on the Christian community. This initiated horrible persecution across the Roman Empire. Over the next several years, much of the Christian population became refugees forced to run for their lives to surrounding countries and begin new lives. Life was really rough for these families living in unfamiliar lands, separated from friends and relatives, forced to work at anything in order to have the basic needs of life. This “dispersion” raised up the need for the “Pastoral” letters to be written that ministered to this unique needs, including the book of Hebrews.
The persecution had a de-stabilizing impact on the faith of many, and recall that a majority of Christians of the late first century would have been Jews. These difficult times caused them to be tempted to fall back on the rituals and disciplines of their former Jewish tradition. The book of Hebrews is not really a letter, but comes across as more of a “treatise”, an elaborate development of why Jewish traditions are inferior to faith in the finished work of Christ on the Cross. This treatise is written however, with pastoral compassion while challenging the readers to be faithful to the Gospel in which they have placed their faith.
Psalm 78:1, “Listen, O My people”, strikes a familiar chord to the Jew in which God calls on His people to turn a “listening ear” to His revelation. Several terms are used for God’s revelation in this Psalm, similar to Psalm 119. These terms remind the reader of God’s extensive work of revelation. Use these passages as a foundation for meditating on the greatness of God’s revelation to man.
- In Deut. 6:1, the great Jewish “Shema” passage, we read “Hear, oh Israel, the Lord He is One.” The following verses speak of parents teaching children the rich truths of our faith.
- The way we listen is indicated by our response and performance; response leads to results; e.g., a young child may listen but it’s very superficial.
- Read Nehemiah 8, and think about the substantial response shown by the people after genuine listening to God’s Word was done with heart and mind.
In Times Past
Heb 1:1-4 is a great declaration about Christ, a major passage in the Bible’s “A” list of what we need to know as believers
- Scuba lessons and ice cream – not quite although the KJV makes it sound that way; the writer says that God has used many channels, phases, and methods; different historical times, locations, cultures, situations – men who lived across 2000+ years of human history – from all levels of social strata – supernatural and natural, nature, even an animal
- God’s own work to reveal Himself to His creation – This is the Master Creator, having lost fellowship with man, seeking to re-establish – He provides us with all that we need to know about Who He is, what He does, how He acts, and how we can re-establish our relationship with Him
- 2 Timothy 3:16-17, the Man of God! God breathed into the words of Scripture His life, mind, heart (compare this to God breathing life into Adam)
- Note the work of God to provide the inspired Word – inspiration, authentication (church recognizing and finalizing books of canon), preservation (protection through ages from efforts to eradicate Bible, Judaism & Christianity
- According to this passage, why do we have the Bible? So that the man of God would be completely, adequately prepared to wield the sword! to be a Man (or woman) of God!
In These Last Days
Hebrews 1:1-2, From past to last – from what God revealed and did in the past (for and against Israel, often announced before doing) to what we now know He revealed in the present in Christ. Further in this chapter, He states that His revelation includes what He plans to do in the future.
- Last Days? “eskatos” means “last things” – a special term in the Bible, referring generally to the conclusion of God’s program of 1)judgment on sin and 2) redemption for man;
- When did the “last days” start”? This theme includes judgment and deliverance, proclaimed mainly by OT prophets, then by Jesus and the Apostles. It is closely associated with the “Day of the Lord”, a major doctrinal theme of prophecy which elaborates God’s plan for final judgment on sin and fulfillment of His promises for restoration and salvation.
- Read 2 Pet 3:1-5 – God is “stirring us up” with words spoken by OT prophets which proclaimed the promise of the Messiah’s coming
- In Acts 2:17-21, Peter quotes Joel 2:28-31 about what God’s “Day of the Lord” includes.
- There is a “near view” of early OT prophets declaring coming judgment on Israel and surrounding nations, historical events which actually occurred shortly after being spoken.
- But there is also a “long view” of these prophecies, which foretell events that haven’t occurred even yet, 3000 years after the prophet lived.
- The long view, when final judgment begins, is mainly seen in Daniel & Revelation
- A few other verses of many that can be reviewed:
- Hosea 3:5; Isaiah 2:2; Malachi 4:1-2
- The Dispensations – God’s Progressive Revelation – helps us to put man’s experience in perspective with God’s revealed truth.
- How is God’s name important? Exodus 3:13-14
- Where else in Hebrews and the Bible is it stated where Jesus is now seated (1:3)? What is the significance of that position?
- What do you see being the main point of Hebrews 1:1-4?
- How is the deity of Christ evident according to 1:6? (Cp. Exo. 34:14 and Deut. 32:43)
- Why does the author start the book by comparing Jesus to angels?
- According to 1:7-9, what is the difference between the angels and Jesus Christ