Session 1: The Superiority of the Son

Hebrews 1:1-14

Welcome

Welcome to this study of Hebrews. Together we will study this marvelous portrait of Jesus Christ as seen through the lens of the Old Testament. We will be encouraged and reassured that Jesus is truly the way, the truth and the life. In the first chapter, the author of Hebrews emphasizes that Jesus is superior to the prophets and angels, through whom God's Word had previously been conveyed.


No one knows who wrote the epistle to the Hebrews. The author is nowhere named within it, nor is there any strong external evidence pointing to one particular person. These facts have not deterred speculation, however, and at least seven possibilities have been proposed — Paul, Barnabas (Acts 4:36), Luke, Priscilla, Silas (1 Peter 5:12), Apollos (Acts 18:24), and Clement of Rome.


As with so much else about this epistle, it is difficult to be certain about its date of composition. If the persecution referred to is that of Nero, then Hebrews was written after a.d. 64. Some hold that it must have been written prior to the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the temple in a.d. 70, for such an unprecedented event would probably have been mentioned by the book's author as the sure sign of the end of the sacrificial system.


The theme of the book is the superiority of Jesus to all that has gone before. He is superior to the prophets (1:1-3), the angels (1:4-2:18), Moses (3:1-19), and the high priests of the old covenant (4:14-8:13).


The purpose of the book is to keep Christians true in a time of persecution. The author wisely begins by pointing the readers to Jesus, the only one who is worth the high cost of allegiance that they might have to pay. As a result, in the book of Hebrews we get a beautiful picture of Christ — the prophet, priest and king whose new covenant is so superior to the old covenant that to fall away from him should be unthinkable.


The title "To the Hebrews" can be traced back to manuscripts of the late second century. Even though it was not part of the original document, it seems to be accurate, given the very Jewish flavor of the epistle. This letter was probably written to a particular assembly of Jewish-Christian believers (perhaps a house church) that was part of a larger community, quite possibly in Rome.


Whoever these people were, it is clear that they had suffered great persecution (10:32-34), and that they were being tempted to abandon Christianity. The temptation to give up their faith was severe enough that the letter to the Hebrews had to be written to encourage these beleaguered believers to "hold on" (3:6), to "persevere" (10:36), and to "hold unswervingly to the hope we profess" (10:23), lest they compromise Christ and lose all the enormous blessings of the new covenant.


The book of Hebrews is full of strange allusions that are foreign to our understanding and culture. However, if we take the time to look carefully at those allusions, we can find some eternal understandings that have meaning for us today.


Although Hebrews has been called an epistle, it lacks several key features of a true letter. It has no ordinary greeting, nor does it name either the sender or the recipients. There are no personal references in the letter until the end, where we find personal greetings and a standard conclusion.


If Hebrews is not a true letter, then what is it? Some have suggested that Hebrews is a written sermon. Its method of argument is sermonic in nature. Structurally, its closest New Testament parallel is 1 John, which also seems to be a sermon.

Ice-Breaker 15 Min.

Leader

Be sure to read the introductory pages in the front of this book prior to this first session. To help your group members get acquainted, have each person introduce him or herself and then take turns answering one or two of the Ice-Breaker questions. If time allows, you may want to discuss all three questions.

Connect with Your Group

Hebrews compares Jesus to many other persons through whom God's message has come. With whom have you been compared? Take some time to get to know one another better by sharing your responses to the following questions.

  1. To whom did you get compared when you were a child?
  2. When you were a teenager and your parents wanted to make sure a message got through to you, how did they most often convey it?
  3. When you were a child or teen did you ever receive accolades for any musical, dramatic, athletic or academic performance? Did your parent(s) save any mementos of this time?

Bible Study 30 Min.

Leader

Ask two members of the group, selected ahead of time, to read aloud the Scripture passage. Have one read the part of the author, and the other read the quotes in verses 5-13. Then discuss the questions that follow, dividing into subgroups of four or five as necessary. Be sure to save at least 15 minutes for the Caring Time.

Read Scripture and Discuss

Hebrews begins with a beautiful description of Jesus Christ, pointing to him as the way to God and the ultimate fulfillment of all prophecy. He is particularly superior to the angels as he is God's Son and sits at "the right hand of the Majesty in heaven" (v. 3). Read Hebrews 1:1-14 and note the many ways that God reveals himself to us.

The Son Superior to Angels
Reader One:

1:1 In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, 2but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe.

3The Son is the radiance of God's glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven. 4So he became as much superior to the angels as the name he has inherited is superior to theirs.

5For to which of the angels did God ever say,

Reader Two:

"You are my Son;

today I have become your Father"?

Reader One:
Or again,
Reader Two:

"I will be his Father,

and he will be my Son"?

Reader One:
6And again, when God brings his firstborn into the world, he says,
Reader Two:

"Let all God's angels worship him."

Reader One:
7In speaking of the angels he says,
Reader Two:

"He makes his angels winds,

his servants flames of fire."

Reader One:
8But about the Son he says,
Reader Two:

"Your throne, O God, will last for ever and ever,

and righteousness will be the scepter of your kingdom.

9You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness;

therefore God, your God, has set you above your companions

by anointing you with the oil of joy."

Reader One:
10He also says,
Reader Two:

"In the beginning, O Lord, you laid the foundations of the earth,

and the heavens are the work of your hands.

11They will perish, but you remain;

they will all wear out like a garment.

12You will roll them up like a robe;

like a garment they will be changed.

But you remain the same,

and your years will never end."

Reader One:
13To which of the angels did God ever say,
Reader Two:

"Sit at my right hand

until I make your enemies

a footstool for your feet"?

Reader One:
14Are not all angels ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation?

Hebrews 1:1-14

Leader

Refer to the Summary and Study Notes at the end of this session as needed. If 30 minutes is not enough time to answer all of the questions in this section, conclude the Bible Study by answering question #7.

Questions for Interaction

  1. *How has God spoken to his people in the past? How does this compare to the unique way he has spoken through Jesus?
  2. What past achievement and future honor does the author credit to the Son (v. 2)? What does John say in John 1:3 of the achievement to which this passage refers?
  3. *What "seat of honor" has Christ been given (vv. 3, 13)? What is the significance of that position (see notes on v. 3)?
  4. *What was the Son's final achievement before sitting down at the right hand of God? How did he accomplish this achievement?
  5. *What are three or four accolades that are given in this Scripture to God's Son that are not given to angels?
  6. How has God spoken to you in the past and which way comes across most clearly?
  7. If you could have angels or "ministering spirits" come to you right now, what need would you want them to minister to?

Going Deeper: If your group has time and/or wants a challenge, go on to this question.

  1. What does it mean that the Son is the "radiance of God's glory and the exact representation of his being" (v. 3)? How is this like/different from what is said of humankind in general in Genesis 1:27?

Caring Time 15 Min.

Leader

Take some extra time in this first session to go over the introductory material at the beginning of this book. At the close, pass around your books and have everyone sign the Group Directory at the beginning of this book.

Apply the Lesson and Pray for One Another

This very important time is for developing and expressing your concern for each other as group members by praying for one another.

  1. Agree on the group covenant and ground rules (see the front of this book).
  2. Begin the prayer time by taking turns and completing the following sentence: "I would like God to speak to me and give me guidance about...."
  3. Share any other prayer requests and praises, and then close in prayer. Pray specifically for God to lead you to someone to bring next week to fill the empty chair.

Next Week: Today we were reminded that Jesus is truly God's Son and that God has spoken through him and provided a way for the purification of our sins. In the coming week, be sure to take some time each day not only to pray, but also to listen and be open to God's guidance. Next week we will look at the importance of the Son's message and how he is the perfect Savior for us. We will be encouraged to hold on to our precious faith and not get distracted by the world around us.

Notes on Hebrews 1:1-14

Summary: One of the first things we notice about the "letter" to the Hebrews is that it doesn't start out like a letter at all. There isn't the usual address and greetings that we would expect to find in a letter. In fact, it sounds more like an essay or treatise. (Only at the end will it sound like a letter.) In any case, a modern person might find it sounding very much like an extended commercial, with the general theme of "Jesus is better than 'Brand X.'" During the course of the letter, the author will promote Jesus' superiority to the most central icons of Hebrew faith: prophets, angels, Moses and the priesthood. After implying Jesus' superiority to the prophets, most of this chapter is devoted to his superiority to angels.

It is important to the author to establish Jesus' superiority to angels because angels were believed to be the ones who conveyed the Law to the people of Israel. If indeed the Son is superior to angels, then the covenant that the Son brought and secured is a better covenant than the covenant brought through angels.

The author established through Scripture that Jesus is superior to the angels in the following ways: (1) he is designated as God's Son (v. 5); (2) he is referred to as one to be worshiped by angels (v. 6); (3) he is to be elevated above all others (v. 9); (4) he is eternal (vv. 10-12); and (5) he is given a place of honor at the right hand of God (vv. 3, 13).

1:1 through the prophets. The prophets were honored as those whom the Lord sent to speak to his people in times of need. The word "prophet" means "speaks for," and hence a prophet is one who speaks for God.

1:2 but. In contrast to the partial, limited revelation of the prophets, the Son fully reveals God to the world. last days. This term signifies the time after Jesus' resurrection. Now that the Messiah had come, there was an expectation of a speedy culmination of history (Acts 2:17). he has spoken. By the description of Christ that follows, the author intends to show that the word of God communicated through Jesus is superior to all the forms of communication used in the past. through whom he made the universe. See John 1:1-3.

1:3 the radiance of God's glory. God's glory is like light that radiates from its source (Ex. 24:17; 34:29-35). Jesus' miracles revealed God's glory (John 2:11), and thus made God known to the people (John 1:18). exact representation. The Greek word charakter is used in engraving dies used for stamps. Whatever is stamped bears the same image as is on the die. In the same way, the Son fully bears the nature of God (Col. 1:15; 2:9). sustaining all things by his powerful word. The Son's role in creation was not limited to creation's origin or its future. It is his powerful word that keeps order and stability in creation (Col. 1:17). purification for sins. While popular thought held that people had to work for their own purification from sin, the author uses a term related to the Day of Atonement to show that the Son has dealt with sin. The Day of Atonement provides the major interpretive grid for this author's understanding of the meaning of Jesus' death (see chapters 7-10). the right hand. This is the position of honor and power beside a king, and a position reserved for the king's most trusted advisor. It accents the Son's royal dominion.

1:4 The Son, superior to the prophets (v. 1), is also superior to the angels. the name he has inherited. The name of "Son" is greater than that of "messenger," which is what "angel" means. See also Philippians 2:4-11, especially verse 9.

1:8-9 This quote (Ps. 45:6-7) directly attributes deity to the Son.

1:14 In contrast to the ruling authority of the Son, the function of the angels is to serve his people at the Son's command. ministering. This word describes the priestly service at the tabernacle (8:4-6). In the New Testament, angels perform tasks such as interceding for children (Matt. 18:10), protecting the apostles (Acts 12:7-10), revealing God's will (Luke 1:11-38; Acts 8:26), and carrying out God's judgment (Rev. 7:1). salvation. Later passages indicate the author viewed salvation as a deliverance (from the devil's power — 2:14; the fear of death — 2:15; and the power of sin — 9:26) leading to holiness (10:10), forgiveness (10:18), free access to God (10:22), and the eternal inheritance, which God provides for those who have faith (9:15).