Hebrews opens with one of the most Christ-descriptive paragraphs in all of the New Testament,
God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world. And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power. When He had made purification of sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much better than the angels, as He has inherited a more excellent name than they (1:1-4)
In short, Jesus is God in the flesh, the second Person of the Trinity, the Son of God. Believers should camp here, unpacking the riches to know more about our Savior!
Often, when I see this verse referenced in a book, a Christology chapter in a systematic theology, or referenced among people, it is used to teach Jesus is divine. It proves his deity. Indeed, it does teach and prove Jesus’ divinity. When there is a knock at the door, and two men in white shirts stand there ready to engage you, I have no doubt of Hebrews 1:1 usefulness. But is this the primary purpose for this great paragraph? Well . . . kinda. Why and how does the opening paragraph fit into the main theme of Hebrews? How does this relate to the message that we have a great High Priest who brings us into God’s presence so we can endure to the end?
Why Hebrews 1:1-4?
When Paul — or whoever wrote it (a guy sounding so much like Paul, let’s just call him “Paul” for name sake). 😉 When “Paul” wrote these opening lines, was he intending to just give you a quick paragraph defending the deity of Christ. He knew heresies existed against Christ, so did he primarily want you to have a defense? Kinda . . . The nature of Christ is a major emphasis in the opening paragraph, but it is not the main point per se. What is the main point? Answer, Jesus is the greatest messenger and we need to listen to him. Now, where do we get this? Fair question:
- The grammar emphasizes the main point, “God spoke to us in His Son” (1:2). Verses 1-4 are one sentence — one unit of thought. “Spoke” is the main verb in Greek. Most Greek sentences have a main verb, everything else in the sentence is secondary to it. Usually the main verb is in the indicative. Everything else in the passage further nuances or explains “His Son.” To simplify, if we want only the nuts and bolts of the passage, then here it is, “God spoke to us in His Son.”
- Look at the comparison between OT revelation and NT revelation. “In many times and in many ways, God spoke to the fathers through the prophets” (my translation; Heb 1:1). The opening line reveals an incompleteness to OT prophecy. But now that Christ has come, there is a completeness to His message.
- Hebrews is a formal argument where each paragraph works together to form a beautiful tapestry.  We should not just read verses 1-4 and expect to have the entire picture, we must look at the wider context of 1:5-14. Here is a list of OT passages comparing Jesus with angels. Each comparison proves Jesus is greater than the angels. But, what is an angel? It is a messenger. In fact, ἄγγελος means “angel or messenger.” In the context, “Paul” is comparing messengers and Jesus is the greatest messenger.
- When we keep reading, evaluate an even broader context. “Therefore, holy brethren, partakers of a heavenly calling, consider Jesus, the Apostle and High Priest of our confession” (Heb 3:1). Jesus here is given two titles, Apostle and High Priest. Beginning in chapter 2:5-18, “Paul” introduces Jesus’ high priestly ministry. 3:1 acts as a summary or conclusion to chapters 1 and 2. But where is Jesus spoken of as an apostle? What does apostle mean? ἀπόστολος is a messenger. In fact, we could think of the twelve apostles as twelve messengers. Chapter 1 is about Jesus as messenger.
- Finally, look at the exhortation given in the first warning passage found in 2:1-4. “For this reason we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away from it” (Heb 2:1). Audience, listen to what Jesus has to say! Listen to this messenger. This is the greatest messenger in the world and you need to pay attention to what He SAYS. Failure to listen to Jesus results in a more grave punishment than failure to adhere to the Law (Heb 2:2-4).
Hebrews opens up drawing the audience to pay attention to Christ! He is the greatest messenger ever to walk on earth. He is not one of many prophets deserving our attention. He is the promised Prophet, the Son of God, God in the flesh, who speaks eternal life to a dying world and light to darkness. This prophet died on our behalf. He is the greatest and only priest we ever need.
Now, how do I know He is the greatest messenger?
The answer to this question is the reason this passage is commonly referenced. Because Jesus is the LORD God. The commonly cited details prove this. “God spoke to us in His Son:
- His Son — whom he appointed heir of all things;
- His Son — through whom He made the world;
- His Son is the radiance of the glory and the exact representation of His nature;
- His Son — upholding all things by the word of His power; 
- His Son — made purification for sins;
- His Son — who sits at the right hand of the Father;
- and His Son — who has a more excellent name than the angels.
Each of these characteristics and actions are also attributed to the Father in heaven. One can search through the OT and find each action ascribed to YHWH– the Father. He certainly is the creator and sustainer of earth (and the universe), sovereign Lord, who purifies sins, sitting on the throne, and deserving of all praise because His name is the greatest name.
We who believe are called to endure! We are called to finish the race. We are called to love Christ and pursue Him. We are to set aside the sin that so easily entangles us and run after Christ (Heb. 12:1-3). Where do we start? Start by listening to the greatest prophet ever.
 See my introductory article here for more information on style and structure.
 The Greek uses and active participle to describe “uphold.” The picture describes Jesus actively, habitually, upholding all things. Jesus did not create the earth and walk away to relax in a recliner, instead he upholds everything, every day, by His Word. The idea of Atlas, holding the world is a good picture of what Jesus does. On a side note, Atlas is even explained here. Unbelievers realize God upholds everything, but instead of ascribing to the Lord the glory due His name, make up their own god in their own image, and then attribute the work to their idol.
The photo is my old dog, Remy. A lab whose devotion to His ball is so strong it’s convicting. Especially when I think how often I fail in showing similar desires, love, and devotion to Christ.
Yes, I said I like coffee and see a great connection between Hebrews and specialty coffee . . . now for you who know what I’m talking about, your moment of zen: