Daniel 7: Perspective

To this point in Daniel, all the visions and dreams have happened to other people and Daniel has merely interpreted them.  Now he begins to experience them for himself.  These visions, though happening to different people at different times, are all about the same thing: the future, some of which is future even to us.  Daniel gives us detail not found anywhere else in Scripture.

This particular vision came to Daniel in the first year of Belshazzar, v. 1, or within a few years of the beginning of the Medo-Persian empire under Cyrus.

The chapter may be divided into two sections:

1. Vision and interpretation, vs. 1-18.
2. Question and answer, vs. 19-28.

Daniel’s vision and its interpretation, 7:1-18.

This vision seems also to be divided into two sections:

a. an earthly scene, vs. 1-8.
b. a heavenly scene, vs. 9-14.

An earthly scene, vs. 1-8.

Something to pay attention to in this vision is the different way it views the various empires of which it speaks compared to Nebuchadnezzar’s vision.  Nebuchadnezzar’s vision was of a great image, or statue, 2:31, something man could build and be proud of, something which would show off his ingenuity and skill, a statue made of valuable materials.  Daniel himself described it like this:  this great image, whose splendor was excellent,…and its form was awesome.  Even the least significant part, the feet and toes, was made of ceramic clay, a valuable commodity.  This is, if you will, the earthly viewpoint.

Daniel’s vision in chapter 7 shows these same empires as vicious beasts, mongrel beasts, monstrous beasts, good only to destroy and to be destroyed.  This is the heavenly viewpoint.

Strange, isn’t it, the difference between the two viewpoints.  What fallen man, even religious fallen man, praises and glories in, God finds detestable, Luke 16:15.

As we look more closely at this vision, we see:

A. The first three beasts, vs. 2-6.

We lump these three together because of the relative lack of space given to them as compared with the fourth beast.

1. From later prophecies in Daniel, and from history itself, we know this first beast, vs. 2-4, represents the Babylonian Empire.  Lion-like figures with wings and human heads abound in the ruins of this empire.  The latter description of this first beast perhaps refers to the humiliation of Nebuchadnezzar and his restoration, with a consequent lessening of the brutality of the empire.  Cf. the phrase, a man’s heart was given it, v. 4, with the corresponding verses in 4:13-16, where a watcher, a holy one, …from heaven cried aloud concerning Nebuchadnezzar, “Let his heart be changed from that of a man.  Let him be given the heart of a beast.”
Perhaps a key word for this beast is “demeanor,” as Nebuchadnezzar learned the cost and futility of human pride of accomplishment.  This lesson was lost on those who followed him, either in his own family, i.e., Belshazzar, or in the empires which followed.

2. The second beast, v. 5, is Medo-Persia.  The raised side refers to Persia, which was the stronger of the two kingdoms.  The three ribs refer to the three kingdoms this empire destroyed:  Babylon, Lydia and Egypt.  Lydia was a kingdom in approximately the area we know today as Turkey, the area of the seven churches in the Revelation.  Perhaps a key word for this kingdom is “destruction”:  “arise, devour much flesh.”  This kingdom was noted for its rapacity and cruelty.

3. The third beast, v. 6, is Greece.  The beast itself, a leopard, is described as having four wings, which symbolize the rapidity with which Alexander, though not named, conquered the Persian Empire.  The four heads refer to the four generals who served with him and who divided his kingdom after his early death at 33.  The key word for this kingdom is “dominion,” which even the text uses of it.  However, Grecian influence went far beyond the mere conquest of lands and kingdoms.  Alexander’s great desire was to spread Greek culture, including the language, throughout his domain.  So successful was he in this that Greek became the universal language of the day, even down to New Testament times.  Wherever the Gospel went, it could be understood.  The New Testament was written in ordinary, everyday Greek, and even the Old Testament was translated into Greek.  Sometimes that translation is quoted in New Testament uses of Old Testament verses.

A century and a half before the birth of our Lord, it was a ruler of the Seleucid segment of Alexander’s empire, Antiochus IV Epiphanes, who did his best to destroy the Jews.  His efforts are prophesied in Daniel.

Finally, Greek customs prevailed even among many Jews.  This led to a culture war, if you will, between those who wanted to remain faithful to their own heritage, customs and language (the “Hebrews”), and those who saw nothing wrong with adapting and conforming to the Greek culture, even to speaking the language (the “Hellenists,” from the Greek word for “Greek”).  The first church dispute, recorded in Acts 6, reflects this dissension:  …there arose a complaint against the Hebrews by the Hellenists, because their widows were neglected in the daily distribution, Acts 6:1.  Vs. 1-6 show how wisely that dispute was resolved.  Note the Grecian names of the seven chosen to take care of the problem.

B. The fourth beast, vs. 7, 8.

Again we note that the most space is given to this beast, whose key word is “different.”  Exactly how it is different is not described:  perhaps there are no earthly beasts to which it can be compared.  One difference is that this beast is nowhere identified as to which kingdom it represents.  It is simply a fourth beast, vs. 7, 19, and a fourth kingdom, v. 23.  It is usually identified as Rome, which did indeed defeat Greece and then spread throughout their known world.  This identification in historically tenable, yet it seems this fourth beast of Daniel isn’t quite analogous to Rome.  The Spirit’s own interpretation follows later in the chapter.

There are a couple of things said about this beast:

1. its destructiveness, v. 7.  The description is of an unstoppable “mad dog” sort of beast, tearing and destroying everything in its path.

2. its distinctiveness, vs. 7b, 8.  Again, we’re not told how it is different.  The only description Daniel gives us besides its dreadful teeth and paws is the fact that it had ten horns.  As we’ll see, this is perhaps the most vital part of the vision.  Another horn appears and defeats three of the ten horns.  This “horn” possesses eyes like the eyes of a man, and a mouth speaking pompous words.  These speak of intelligence and an insolent attitude, although toward what we’re not yet told, as Daniel’s attention is drawn elsewhere. What he saw, Lord willing, will be in our next post.

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Acts 6:1-7, The Seven.

Now in those days, when the number of the disciples was multiplying, there arose a complaint against the Hebrews by the Hellenists, because their widows were neglected in the daily distribution.  2] The the twelve summoned the multitude of the disciples and said, “It is not desirable that we should leave the word of God and serve tables.  3] Therefore, brethren, seek out from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business; 4] but we will give ourselves continually to prayer and to the ministry of the word.”

5] And the saying pleased the whole multitude.  And they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit, and Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Parmenas, and Nicolas, a proselyte from Antioch, 6] whom they set before the apostles; and when they had prayed, they laid hands on them.

7] Then the word of God spread, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests were obedient to the faith.  (NKJV)

This is the last reference to the communal sharing of the early church.  Though things may have changed since then, there are still several references in the NT outlining the responsibility of Christians to show compassion and charity, cf. Acts 11:27-30.  At the same time, there is no Scriptural support the idea that the communalism of the early church is to be the pattern for the churches.  It did not work, as we see in our text.  Cultural differences had not been erased and we are not sure they are supposed to be.  The purpose of preaching is not to impose Western culture on other peoples, but to bring them to repentance and faith in the Lord Jesus.  One of the earliest missionaries, Hudson Taylor, was greatly criticized because he understood this.  He adopted the dress and the customs of the Chinese among whom he served, even to the pigtail the men wore.

There were two groups in the early church, the “Hebrews” and the “Hellenists.”  The Hellenists were Jews who had, to varying degrees, adopted Greek customs and the Greek language.  The Hebrews were Jews who refused all such doings and who steadfastly clung to their own traditions and heritage.  Naturally, there were tensions between the two groups, which crept, perhaps unconsciously, into the church.

The Apostles’ responsibilities were great and they could not personally take care of the situation, 6:2-4.  So, seven men were chosen who would be able to oversee the fair  distribution of aid to those who needed it.  Too many preachers are involved in secondary matters in their churches.  Perhaps this can’t be avoided in smaller churches, but the preparation of sermons and lessons, and of the preacher himself, is a matter of great, even eternal, importance.  If at all possible, nothing should be allowed to interfere with that.

There is some discussion as to whether these seven were “deacons.”  Perhaps they were, but they are not so named.  The Greek word itself is one of several which mean, “servant.”  There is no evidence that these men were given any authority anywhere else, or even in this matter.  The phrase, “whom we [that is, the apostles] may appoint over this,” seems to indicate this.  Certainly, there was no authority over the church itself, much less over the apostles.  Whatever they were, some of the seven later rose to greater usefulness, as Stephen and Philip.

Whether these men were deacons or not, to be a deacon is a good thing, 1 Timothy 3:13.  Sadly, the diaconate has been greatly corrupted and perverted by men like Diotrephes, 3 John 9, who like and seek preeminence in the assembly.  By no means is this to say that all deacons are “bad,” nor all elders “good,” but “office” in the assembly is not a place of superiority, the phrase, “to rule” notwithstanding, but of service to it.

Hebrews 1:3: Alpha and Omega.

[3]…and maintaining all by the word of His power, [and] cleansing of sin having accomplished, was made to sit at the right hand of the majesty on high.  [author’s translation].

In v. 2, the writer taught that the Lord Jesus was the Originator of all things and that all things will ultimately be for His glory and honor.  To these words, the Lord Himself agrees:  “‘I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the ending,’ says the Lord,” Revelation 1:8.

1.  His Power.

“maintaining all.”  This is a present active participle.  In the “maintenance” of the universe, the Lord isn’t just holding up it’s dead weight.  There is movement and progress.  It is He Who maintains cohesiveness in creation, keeping everything together.  It is Christ Who promotes and forwards the development of God’s purpose to its predetermined goal.  Nothing is omitted or left to “chance.”  The universe is not some cosmic “Las Vegas,” where everything is a gamble, and the odds are stacked against us.

This verse puts to rest the notions that even many Christians have that God is merely a spectator in human history, that He changes His plans according to how men live, or that He has to wait on the sidelines of His own creation until we decide to send Him into the game.  God has indeed instituted many “Laws of nature” or secondary causes, yet He still is the great First Cause, upon which all others causes depend.

“by the word.”  The universe came into being by this same word, Hebrews 11:3, and it is through this word that it continues to exist.

“of his power.”  There are several words translated “power” in the NT.  From this particular word, we get such English words as “dynamo”, “dynamic”, “dynamite.”  It is power to get the job done, as it were.  And it is His power, inherent to Him as God the Son.  There is more than enough “dunamis” in Christ.  God’s will shall be accomplished.

2.  His Purging of Sin.

“cleansing of sin.”  This clause isn’t separate from what has been written before concerning God’s eternal purpose.  Indeed, such verses as 1 Peter 1:20 indicate that Calvary and its results were that purpose.  However we may speculate about the origin of sin, or attempt to “reconcile” divine sovereignty and human freedom and individuality, or even “define” them, for that matter, there can be no doubt that the death of Christ was “foreordained.”

This clause introduces the priestly office of Christ, which occupies most of the rest of the book.  It refers to the “result” of Christ’s death.  Sin wasn’t merely “covered,” as in the OT; it was “cleansed,” or taken away.  This is why Christ died, Ephesians 5:25-27.  It is mainly in this that the New Testament is far superior to the First Covenant:

Under Moses,  guilt could not be taken away; under Christ, it cannot remain.

3.  His Position.

“was made to sit at the right hand of the majesty on high.”  We’ve already shown that we differ from those who teach “the heavenly session” of Christ.  Though we don’t really want to get into it here, we do not believe such a view is true to the Scriptures.  Even Hebrews itself, as we shall see, doesn’t support the idea of the present reign of Christ, Lord of all though He is.  When He rules as the Scripture pictures it, the indescribable things that are going on right now all over this world will not be possible.

We admit that many have brought the Word of God into disrepute with their speculation and date-settings, none of which have happened.  But we also believe that those who seem to deny the value of the study of prophecy also bring the Word into disrepute.  There is no area of Bible study about which the true Christian dares to say, “I don’t care.”

What does Hebrews say about the present ministry of the Lord Jesus?  This is only a summary, but see Leviticus 16:11-16 for the OT background, then follow up with Hebrews 2:7; 4:14-16; 6:19-20; 7:24-25; 9:11-15, 23-24.  See also 1 John 2:1, 2.

The Cross was only part of the priestly work of Christ.  He took His blood and presented it to God and now is in the ministry of intercession for those for whom that blood was shed.  It is because of His intercession that we have what we have, and not because of any “goodness” on our part.

In every dark distressful hour,
When sin and Satan join their power,
Let this dear hope repel the dart,
That Jesus bears us on His heart.

Great Advocate, Almighty Friend,
On Him our humble hopes depend:
Our cause can never, never fail,
For Jesus pleads, and must prevail.

– Anne Steele, 1760

Hebrews 1:1, 2: Who Spoke?

1] In many portions and in many ways, of old God was speaking to the fathers in the prophets; 2] in the last of these days, He spoke to us in [His] Son, whom He appointed heir of all, through whom also He made the ages, 3] Who being [the] radiant splendor of [His] glory and [the] exact imprint of His essence, and maintaining everything through the word of His power, and having accomplished cleansing of sins, was made to sit at the right hand of the majesty on high.  [Author’s translation].

The writer begins Hebrews with the assertion that God spoke!  As he develops this thought, he sets up a three-fold contrast between the revelation of the Old Testament, i.e., the First Covenant, (in particular the Mosaic Covenant, but here including more than that), and the New Covenant, that is, the New Testament.

1.  Method.

The First Covenant was given in many portions over a long period of time – about 4000 years, and was not God’s final or complete revelation to Man.  The New Covenant was given complete in the relatively short span of about 60 years and is God’s final and complete revelation to man until the Second Coming.

2.  Recipients.

The First Covenant was given to “the fathers,” the New Covenant “to us.”  The First Covenant, while certainly inspired by God and intended for our “instruction” (cf. 1 Corinthians 10:1-14, especially vs. 6, 12) is nevertheless not the basis for either our faith or our conduct.  Those who attempt to mold the NT church or believers on OT patterns do so mistakenly.  From such a view, we have such doctrines as the Romish priesthood, the Reformed idea of a church-state, and infant baptism.

The idea of a church-state, or an “established church,” such as England and other nations have, and which the First Amendment of the U. S. Constitution was designed to prevent, gives to the church magisterial, that is, civil, authority.  Historically, this has resulted in the suppression and persecution of dissent.  History records that both the Roman Catholic and Reformed churches vigorously wielded the civil sword against those who differed from them.  Millions have died at the hands of church authorities for the heinous crime of desiring to worship and serve God only as the Bible teaches and not as some church dictates.

Though many will disagree with us on this, and many who practice it are indeed known by the Lord, yet infant baptism has done for the Reformed churches what the invitation system has done for fundamentalist-type churches:  filled them with lost people.

The Romish priesthood denies the Mediatorial office of Christ, substituting the Virgin in His place (“Hail, Mary, full of grace.  Pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death”.)  There is no Biblical authority for this.  In fact, the last thing Mary said in the sacred record is found in John 2:5, “Whatever He says to you, do it,”  This is still wise advice.  These practices also deny the liberty and right of the individual believer to come personally and directly to God in prayer and for forgiveness.  Cf. Hebrews 4:16.

All these errors, and others, have come upon Christians simply because they have failed to distinguish between the First and New Covenants.

3.  Messengers.

The spokesmen of the First, or Old, Covenant, though they were truly prophets, were just men, like those to whom they spoke.  They were not “God.”  In the New Covenant, God spoke “in son,” emphasizing the nature and character of the Spokesman.  Though Man, Jesus was also God.

Having stated the equal inspiration of the Old and New Covenants, yet also maintaining the position of the New over the Old, the writer at once answers the question, “Who is this ‘son’?”  He demonstrates that the Son, the spokesman of the NC, is far superior to “the prophets,” the spokesmen of the OC, whom the Jews held in high regard.  Including the noun “son,” the writer makes eight statements about Him:

1.  “son”, His essential nature.
2.  “heir,” His exalted position.
3.  “made the ages,” His eternal power.
4.  “radiant splendor,” His evident deity.  In the words of an ancient confession, He was very God of very God.
5.  “exact imprint,” His earthly being.  That same confession:  He was very man of very man.
6.  “maintaining,” His effectual providence.
7.  “cleansing,” His efficacious sacrifice.
8.  “made to sit,” His earned preeminence.

Numbers 1 – 4 deal mainly, but not exclusively, with His deity; numbers 5 – 8 mainly, but not exclusively, with His humanity.  Corresponding numbers go together.

For example, numbers 4 and 5.  These refer to His essential being, deity (4) and humanity (5).  He was God; He became Man, John 1:1, 14.  In His incarnation, He didn’t cease to be God.  In His resurrection and ascension, He didn’t cease to be Man.

Numbers 3 and 6 speak of His power, referring to the creation of all things (3), and to their preservation and continuation according to God’s eternal purpose (6).

Numbers 2 and 7 refer to His position.  He is “heir” (2) because (7) He laid aside His eternal glory and prerogative in order to assume human existence so that He could be the substitute for and Savior of His people, Philippians 2:5-11.

Numbers 1 and 8 refer to His unique nature and character. (1) eternally God the Son, one with the Father in essence and nature, yet (8) still truly human.

Number 8 poses a difficulty for some.  Believing that Jesus merely returned to some former angelic state, they ask, “If he were God, how could he be exalted higher than He was before?”

Those verses which tell of His exaltation give a two-fold answer.

1.  He is exalted in His deity, because of the Incarnation.  As an example, suppose an earthly king stepped down from his throne in order to rescue some of his subjects at the price of great personal suffering and indignity.  On returning to his throne, the honor and praise he would receive because of the successful completion of his task would in no way detract from nor deny his kingship before the mission.  So with Jesus Christ.  Eternally God, yet He receives more glory because of His stepping down from His throne to rescue His people.

2.  He is exalted in His humanity, because of the Resurrection.  His humanity has been elevated to the dignity and glory of His deity, so that fully God, fully Man, he sits at the right hand of the Father.  1 Timothy 2:5 clearly establishes His present humanity:  For there is one God, and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus (emphasis added).  Hebrews 8:6; 9:15 and 12:24 all confirm His present role as Mediator, so that it can’t be argued that 1 Timothy just refers to His earthly ministry.

It’s interesting that Jehovah’s Witnesses do the same thing with 1 Timothy 2:5 that they do with John 1:1.  Since there is no article (“the”) before “man Christ Jesus” in the original text, they translate it, “a man Christ Jesus,” just as they translate John 1:1, “the word was a god,” citing the absence of the article before “god.”  They assert that John was not claiming deity for Jesus, but merely that He was “godlike.”

Did Paul write to Timothy that Jesus was merely “manlike”?  Or was he asserting His real and true humanity, just as John asserted His real and true deity?

Hebrews: 1:1-2, God Has Spoken….

1] In many portions and in many ways, of old God was speaking to the fathers in the prophets; 2] in the last of these days, He spoke to us in [His] Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the ages

[Please note: the above is my own translation.  I claim no particular scholarship or authority for it.]

In the introduction, we noted that Hebrews is both a defense and a declaration of the position and preeminence of the Lord Jesus.  His position is that of sovereign Lord and Ruler of all, though that has not yet been made fully manifest.  His preeminence, the writer asserts, is that He is superior to everything that the Jews held in high regard:  Moses, the prophets, the priesthood, even Abraham; and that the New Covenant, of which Jesus is the sole Mediator, succeeds and fulfills the First Covenant, of which Moses and Aaron stand as representative mediators.  To a large degree, Hebrews answers the question:  How do men approach God?

The pride of the Jews was that God was their God.  He had spoken to them, cf. Deuteronomy 4:6-8, 2 Samuel 7:23, 24.  This is where it all began with the Jews.  This is where it begins with Hebrews.

1.  God Has Spoken Formerly, 1:1.

He spoke in bits and pieces, as it were, over a period of time through and to many different individuals.  What we know as the Old Testament wasn’t given all at once, but a little bit at a time to Adam, to Noah, to Abraham, Moses, Joshua, David and all the other named and unnamed prophets of the OT period.  Clement of Alexandria associated Hebrews 1:1 with Ephesians 3:10, the many-tinted [polupoikilos] wisdom of God.

Thus, the OT was a progressive revelation, cf. Isaiah 28:10, beginning with the origin and fall of mankind through Adam.    This included the first prophecy in Genesis 2:16, a prophecy of ruin if Adam and Eve disobeyed a simple restriction, then the first redemptive prophecy, Genesis 3:15.  This revelation continued until the final prophecy of the coming of the Sun of righteousness, as well as the ministry of His forerunner, Malachi 4:2-6.

The OT was also a patient revelation, taking nearly 4000 years to complete.  Since God was pleased to take so long a time to reveal Himself to His OT people, perhaps we shouldn’t expect an instant understanding of it.  We must continue to read, to study, and to meditate if we would unlock this treasure.  There are great riches in the OT, but they aren’t uncovered by the casual and occasional glance at a verse or two.

The OT was also a varied revelation.  That is, God didn’t just narrate or dictate His Word one word at a time, but over time used law, prophecy, history, psalm, sign, type or symbol, parable.  Now He spoke through a gatherer of sycamore fruit, now through a shepherd, now in the sunlight of His favor, now in the thunder of His judgment, now as the people were obedient, now as they were rebellious.

The OT was also a partial revelation.  By this, we mean that God didn’t tell Israel everything He ultimately intended that men should know.  He gave them what they needed to know to make them a nation and, as individuals, to be His people.  But there were things that He kept “secret,” as even Moses acknowledged in Deuteronomy 29:29, The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things which are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.” 

Finally, the OT was a passing revelation.  What does this mean?  In the original language, there are two words translated, “old.”  One is archaios.  We get our word “archaic” from it.  It means “old in point of time,”  The other word is palaios, “old in point of use, worn out, ready to be replaced by something new.”  Perhaps the writer is telling us that the OT, having served its purpose, at least so far as the first coming of Christ was involved, was coming, or had come, to an end.

This does not cancel the prophetic implications for the nation of Israel, cf. Jeremiah 31:31-34; Zechariah 10:6; 12:9-14.  The events recorded by the NT were necessary to lay the groundwork for the fulfillment of those prophecies.  Now isn’t the time to deal with what the OT says about Israel, except to say that it is not “fulfilled in the church.”  Even the OT, as in the verses noted above and many others, tells of a change in the covenantal relationship between Israel and her God.  The OT also prophesies of God’s blessing to the Gentiles.  The NT tells us more about that.

2.  God Has Spoken Finally.

When.  “in the last of these days”.  There are some who try to tell us that this phrase means that revelation is still going on, and they are the recipients of it.  This is not true.  The writer is clear that Jesus Christ is, and brought, the final revelation of God to men.

“These days,” referring to the time of the One through whom God spoke, were “the last days,” not of or during the Church age, as we might understand it, but were the last days of the Old Testament age, Galatians 4:4.  God accurately foretold the time, to the year, of the First Coming of Christ, Daniel 9:24, 25.  Cf. Mark 1:14, 15.  In passing, God also foretold, for that generation that will see it, the very day of the Second Coming, Daniel 12:11, 12.  Cf. Matthew 24:15.  Incidentally, Matthew tells us that the Daniel wasn’t all fulfilled by the First Coming of Christ.  Neither was the rest of the Old Testament.

To whom.  “Us,” that is, believers, in this case, Jewish believers, directly, not through priest or sacrifice.  Although God has been pleased to set the office of “pastor-teacher” in the local assembly, such a one does not speak as the OT prophet did.  Implicit in the OT revelation is the thought of “barrier.”  Men could not come into the presence of God directly, but had to go through the priest.  Cf. Exodus 19:10-13.  In the OT, God spoke to the prophets, and the prophets relayed the message to the people.  In Christ, God has spoken directly to us through His Word.  Cf. Hebrews 9:8; 10:19-20.

Incidentally, this “directness” was a stumblingblock to the early church.  The first believers were all Jews, who had been taught that one could only come to God through the sacrificial system, and that could only be accomplished at Jerusalem.  One had to become a Jew, or at least one of two different kinds of proselytes.

This change was the difficulty of the “Judaizers” who plagued Paul and the early church.  They tried to put believers back under the OT Law, cf. Acts 10:15.  We have a lot of their descendants with us today.  Early believers found it extremely difficult to receive the idea that one no longer came to God indirectly, through a place, that is the Temple, or through a procedure, that is, the sacrifices, or even through the priesthood, but one comes to God directly, through a Person, the Lord Jesus.

Through Whom. “In [His] Son,” literally, “in Son.”  There is no article in the Greek.  This emphasizes the character and nature of the One through Whom God spoke.  The writer expands on this thought, and we will do so in the next post, Lord willing.

Hebrews: The Preeminence of Christ. Introduction

The Book of Hebrews isn’t commonly taught in the church. Perhaps some few verses, or chapter 11, are referred to, but the book itself seems to be largely ignored. Perhaps this is because it is believed that the book doesn’t really apply to us, since it speaks of the Old Testament priesthood and sacrifices.  To a large degree, this might be true, as we’ll see in a moment, however, the purpose of the writer is that we might consider Him who endured such contradiction of sinners against Himself, 12:3, and there are many things beside priests and offerings which take our mind off the Lord.  The book does indeed have a message for us.

The Nature of Hebrews.

Hebrews is a book of

1.  Worship.

It exalts the Lord Jesus.  It is, in a sense, an exposition of Colossians 1:18, that in all things He [Christ] might have the preeminence…. There are two things Satan doesn’t want:  for men to worship or to serve the true God.  If he can get them away from doing that, then they are, in effect, worshiping and serving him.  So he has introduced a great number of substitute gods and activities to draw them away from God.  So long as men don’t worship or serve the true God, Satan doesn’t much care what they believe about Him.

But Hebrews is also a book of

2.  Warning.

As we’ll see in a moment, Hebrews was written to people who were being tempted to leave Christ and to go back to the “old way” of doing things, so to speak.  While the exact historical situation is gone, still the book speaks directly to our own day, and to the diluted and distorted views of grace which allow “believers” to live pretty much as they want to, without regard to what God might want of them.

Background of Hebrews.

Perhaps about 30 years had passed since the death and resurrection of our Lord.  Persecution was rising and the Temple had not yet been destroyed.  This impressive building, with its attendant ritual and ceremony, was still there in apparent contradiction of our Lord’s prophecies of its destruction, Matthew 24:2.  The question might have arisen, “Why suffer all this?  Why not just go back to the sacrificial system of Moses?

“Why not find some ‘common ground’?”

Date of Hebrews.

Hebrews 2:3, 4 seem to indicate that quite a bit of time had passed, yet the Temple was still standing and sacrifices were still being offered, cf. 10:11.  There is no mention of that terrible war which began in 67 A.D., which resulted in the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D., and which included the leveling of the Temple.  It would seem therefore that the book was written in the 60s A.D., perhaps to prepare the Jews for the coming destruction of all they held dear, as well as to warn them to persevere in following the Lord Jesus.

Author of Hebrews.

Since the earliest days, there has been uncertainty as to who wrote this epistle.  The point is, though, regardless of whether Paul or Barnabas or Luke or Clement of Alexandria or any of the others said to be the author…, if the Holy Spirit isn’t its primary author, as we believe He is, then it doesn’t really matter who wrote it.

Key Word: “better”.

This does not mean “improved”,  The “New Covenant” is “better” than the First, or Mosaic, Covenant, and Christ, as fulfillment and benefactor of the New Covenant, is “better” than the people mentioned by the author.

1.  The New Covenant is better than the First.

a.  The First was typical, or symbolic; the New is actual.

The ceremonies and sacrifices of the First Covenant, though real, were only symbolic of the realities, Hebrews 9:9.  The New Covenant brings their fulfillment.

b.  The First was only “temporal,” temporary, or “carnal,” dealing only with the physical, 9:10; the New deals with the “eternal,” 9:12.

c.  The First dealt with the “natural,” the New with the “spiritual.”  By this, we mean that under the First Covenant, there was no provision for help or enabling  for those under it to fulfill its obligations, cf. Deuteronomy 29:4.  The New guarantees such help, Hebrews 8:10-12.

Work and run, the Law commands,
But gives me neither feet nor hands.
But sweeter sounds the Gospel brings –
It bids me fly, and gives me wings.

d.  The First demonstrates man’s guilt; the New declares God’s grace.

e.  The First is a “shadow of good things to come,” Hebrews 10:1; the New is “the good things” themselves.

2.  Christ Himself is “better.”  We see this in how the book presents Christ in relationship to the Covenant.

a.  He is THE SPOKESMAN of the New Covenant, 1:1-4.  Here He is seen as PROPHET.

b.  He  is THE HEIR of the New Covenant, 1:4-2:9.  Here Christ is seen as LORD.  Though Hebrews isn’t a book about prophecy, being more concerned that we be prepared for the future than that we be taught about it, there are things in it in which our understanding of them will be influenced by how we view the future.

It’s sadly true that often even Christians, or at least professing Christians, don’t pay much attention to Christ as Prophet or Lord, being more interested in their own affairs than His.  Perhaps that’s why the writer spends a great deal of time in the third view of Christ:

c.  He is THE MEDIATOR of the New Covenant, 2:10-10:18.  Here Christ is seen as PRIEST, as well as, in contrast to the First Covenant priesthood, SACRIFICE.

Outline of Hebrews.

 I.  Christ and the New Covenant, 1:1-10:18.
II.  The Christian and the New Covenant, 10:19-13:25.

March Memories: In The Flesh.

[We continue in “March Memories” with another post on the person of the Lord Jesus, who was and is so much more than we really have any idea about.]

The Word became flesh, and dwelt among us….  John 1:14.

See also Philippians 2:5-11.

I suppose this is a continuation of “The Third Genealogy,” where we focused on the deity of Jesus.  He was truly God.  If He isn’t, then there is no hope of salvation at all.  But, as John also emphasized, He was also truly human, with a real body.

In the first place, the body of our Lord was indeed a real body.  Some have supposed that He was merely an apparition or a phantom, only appearing to have a body.  But His body was as real as yours or mine.  Though He was truly God, He was also truly human.  His body developed in Mary’s womb just like any other baby.  His birth was like any other.

Really, it’s the “virgin conception” that made Him special, though He was born of a virgin.  He grew and developed just like your children or mine, Luke 2:52.  I’ve often wondered if He “spoiled” His parents for their other children.  Yes, I know there’s a huge discussion about this, which I won’t get into here, with a large percentage of professing Christendom believing in Mary’s perpetual virginity.  It’s enough for me that Matthew 1:25 clearly says that Joseph and Mary enjoyed normal marital intimacy after the birth of Jesus.  And Jesus being called Mary’s “firstborn” is meaningless if He were her “only born.”

Second, it was a human body.  Jesus was God manifest in the flesh, and that “flesh” was truly human.  There is also a discussion over whether or not Jesus could have sinned.  I’ll only say that I don’t think it was possible for Him to sin – He is holy, harmless, and undefiled, Hebrews 7:26.  As I’ve said elsewhere, Satan had no “hook” in Him to get Him to sin.  Sin is not essential to being human. Adam and Eve were perfectly and completely human as they came from the hand of their Creator.  Sin may have “entered” the human race, but it isn’t essential to us, and one day will be gone from those who have been saved.

Third, it was a “prepared” body, Hebrews 10:5.  The conception and birth of Jesus wasn’t a spur-of-the-moment thing; it was carefully planned and prepared for in eternity past, 1 Peter 1:20.  In Matthew 1:22, we read that all this was done that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet….  The immediate context refers to the virgin birth, but the virgin herself didn’t just appear out of thin air.  I think it can be said without exaggeration that “all this” includes everything from the very creation of Adam himself.  After all, the human DNA for the Lord’s body would have to have been present in Adam and carefully and providentially safeguarded through all the generations from Adam to Jesus.  Wasn’t the seed of the woman promised from the very beginning?  If not in Adam, then when was it introduced into Mary’s ancestry?

Fourth, it was a sacrificial body.  Jesus came into this world to be an offering for sin, a sacrifice for sinners.  His body was carefully prepared to be the sacrifice which would take away the sin of the world, that is, of the human race considered as a whole.  The only ones individually who can say their sins are paid for are those who have believed on Him for salvation. Unbelievers are still subject to God’s wrath, John 3:17, 18, and will still pay for their own sins, though that debt will never be paid.

Finally, it is a resurrected body.  Jesus truly died; He truly rose again from the dead.  Some have questioned this with the idea that a resurrection would somehow have cancelled out his payment for sin.  But the resurrection is the receipt, if you will, for that payment.  Without the resurrection, we have no way of knowing if His death was any more effective in that regard than the death of the others who died with Him that day.  Furthermore, read Paul’s defense of the physical resurrection of the Lord in 1 Corinthians 15.  If there is no resurrection from the dead, then there is no salvation from sin and, as Paul put it, if there is no salvation, then Christians are to be pitied more than any other humans.
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(Originally published March 17, 2013.)  edited and new material.