Hebrews (Part 02) – Jesus, the Son

07/29/2009 13:09

In our last study, we concluded that the epistle to the Hebrews was written in the late AD 60s to the Jewish Christians in Rome. By this time, the Christian community of Rome had probably been in existence for 30 to 40 years. The emperor Claudius had expelled the Jews from Rome in AD 49, but it was not too many years afterwards that they were allowed to return. In the interim, however, Gentile Christians had solidified leadership positions. With the return of the Jews, tensions probably formed. Paul addresses these tensions in his epistle to the Romans (probably written in the late AD 50s). But from the message of Hebrews, it would appear that the Jews of the church continued to struggle with a clear understanding of the relationship they now had through Christ and his New Covenant. With old covenant law and emphasis on performance so much a part of their cultural religion, the Jews seemed to focus their attention, even though free in the law of the Spirit of life (Rom 8:2), on a legalistic plodding through religious practice rather than in developing their relationship beyond a master/servant mindset.


The author of Hebrews is intent on correcting that outlook and opens the letter with a brilliant statement about Christ to inform the readers of that intended path. The first four verses of chapter 1 are a single sentence in the Greek. Stylistically elegant, the statement sets up the contrast between the old and the new. The first words are “long ago” contrasting to “these last days.” “God spoke to our fathers” previously, but now “he has spoken to us.” Under the old covenant, God spoke “by the prophets;” now God has spoken “by his Son.” Even the communication from God “at many times and in many ways” is implicitly contrasted to this last and ultimate revelation that we receive from Christ. The author uses this launching pad of contrast to shake the shoulders of the Jewish Christians of Rome, having them realize again that Christ brings newness of life to their relationship with God.


This message intended for the Roman Jews is not so different from what we need even in the advanced Christian community of 21st century America. How often do we formulate legalistic dogma, equating it with true spirituality or right relation with God? Our focus often seems to rest on duty and performance for an outward show (our pet slogan-justification is to maintain our testimony). But maintenance of testimony comes not by setting our minds on our outward actions, but rather on the inner focus of our hearts in relationship to Christ.


A book that has recently captured the attention of many Christians is The Shack by William Young. The book is hotly debated among Christians siding those who are more conservative, who condemn it for theological error, against those of a more postmodern bent, who embrace it for its emotional appeal. The book does contain what I believe to be theological error. The two most grievous of its theological errors are the universalistic message (everyone’s sins were paid for at the cross—no faith requirement for salvation—God now just wants relationship) and a direction toward open theism (God intentionally limits himself [or cannot know the future] so that events unfolding through time are as much a surprise to him as they are to his human creation). Those two errors are serious—serious enough that a recommendation of the book cannot be made without a distinct warning on those points. Yet, though those errors exist, I still believe the book could be helpful to many Christians in another dimension. The book does shake us (much like Hebrews did for the Roman Christians) from a settled, performance-based religious mindset and attempts to open our minds—at least for consideration—to what true relationship with God might look like. Again, even in Mr. Young’s portrayal of relationship, I think he veers off track at times. But the value of the book is not his view of the correct, perfect picture of relationship with God; rather it is the clarion call that our religious rut is not.


This is exactly the point of the author of Hebrews. For the most part, the Jewish Christians understood the propositional truth that is absolutely necessary for salvation. They understood that Christ died, paying the penalty for our sin. But what they didn’t consider is how that activity was necessarily entwined in inheriting the name of Son of God.


What does the title Son of God mean? Does it mean merely that Jesus is God? If so, why didn’t he refer to himself simply as God rather than Son of God? In John 8:44 we read of Christ’s rebuke to the Jews in discussion with him, saying “You are of your father the devil.” Thus, Christ tells us that the same nature exists in those Jews as that which exists in Satan. Satan is therefore their father; they are Satan’s sons. But by that relationship, it does not mean that the Jews were Satan; they merely have the same nature. Could it be that the name Son of God does not mean simply that Christ is God, but rather that he has the same nature as God? Before examining this, we need to make sure of a couple of points.


First, this discussion is not about whether Christ is God. Absolutely basic and vital to salvation and a correct understanding of God and relationship with him is the belief that Jesus is God. God exists in one essence and three persons. That’s the doctrine of the Trinity. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are co-equal in their eternality, power, knowledge, goodness, and perfection. The only way for them to be co-equal in all of this is for them to share one essence. But at the same time, they are three persons. The battle against the concept of one God merely acting in three manners was fought in the first few centuries after Christ. Saballianism or modalism was the idea that God acted in a manner much like the small town sheriff that arrests someone, switches hats and becomes the judge, switches hats and becomes the mayor, or justice of the peace, or whatever other position is needed. The switching of his hat changes his function. That is basically what modalism claimed for God—that the one God acted as Father and then acted as Son and at times acts as the Holy Spirit. Some of the early creeds, such as the Nicene creed, were formed to argue against this idea. Arianism is another heretical error that held Jesus as God, but that he was created by the Father (and therefore, lesser). This, the creeds (especially the Athansian) denied.


So, our discussion is not about whether Christ is God. Yes, I believe absolutely that Christ is God. What we are discussing is his use of the name Son of God while here on earth. We’ll get back to that point in a minute. But, the second clarification that must be made is that I believe Christ as “Son” is a concept that did not extend through eternity past and will not extend through eternity future. When (in eternity past) the triune God decided to create (see summary in Romans series called Covenant Theology), the whole plan that was involved in the covenant of creation included the understanding by God that the fall would occur and that the covenant of reconciliation would be set in motion and that Jesus would issue forth from God to come to the earth as fully human to fulfill the old covenant obligations through his perfect life, qualifying him to be a sacrifice for the sins of mankind, but then because of his holy soul/spirit (Acts 2:27) Jesus was resurrected from the dead and exalted to Lord over all. That whole mission and work of Jesus is what defines his Sonship. Therefore, at the time when the triune God established the covenant of creation (this whole process of time, creation, and salvation), the triune God declared that Jesus would be Son. Hebrews 1:5 tells us that God said, “You are my Son, today I have begotten you.”


Some people hold to the view of the eternal generation of the Son. In other words, there was no distinct point when the Son was begotten, but rather he is eternally being begotten. Of course, the fact that no one can explain exactly what this means doesn’t seem to bother those who hold this idea. In my view, the Son was begotten when the triune God entered the covenant to create.


In like manner, at the end of this covenant of creation (which lasts until Christ's second coming to make all things new), with the work of the Son completed, the focus on the Son in his rule and reign will end as focus returns to the triune God—that God may be all in all. This is what Paul describes for us in I Corinthians 15: 20-28:


“But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death. For ‘God has put all things in subjection under his feet.’ But when it says, ‘all things are put in subjection,’ it is plain that he is excepted who put all things in subjection under him. When all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to him who put all things in subjection under him, that God may be all in all.”


Note in the above that Christ will reign “until…” The reign or focus on Christ will end with the end of time and focus will return to the triune God. The activity of “the Son” will be complete.


Now back to our original question—what does the name Son of God mean? I believe the name means that Jesus had the same perfect nature as the Father and issued forth from him. But notice that Jesus came as a man. In other words, it is in his humanity that the name Son of God becomes fully meaningful. It is in the same way that we become sons (children) of God. Our adoption as sons (children) comes through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit—that perfect nature that was in Christ.


Consider these verses:

John 10:30 Christ is speaking. “I and the Father are one.”

John 10:38b “You may know and understand that the Father is in me and I am in the Father.”

John 17:20-21 Jesus is praying. “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us.”


The claim of Jesus that he is one with the Father is not a claim of deity. If it were, the meaning of John 17 would have to be that he is asking the Father that we all also become gods. Rather, the oneness with the Father that the Son speaks of here is a claim of perfection of nature while in his humanity. And that nature we also receive in our adoption as sons of God. Thus, Christ’s prayer is fulfilled as we become “sons.”


And this is the Hebrews’ author’s point. Notice those things about Christ spoken of in verses 2 and 3. They form a chiasm—a literary structure whereby the first phrase is repeated in basic meaning by the last phrase; the second phrase is repeated by the second to last phrase; the third, by the third to last; and so forth for as many levels as are used. Therefore, in verses 2 and 3 we have the following phrases about Christ.


heir of all things

-----created the world

----------radiance of the glory of God

----------exact imprint of his nature

-----He upholds the universe (all created things) by the word of his power

at the right hand of the Majesty on high


I’ve indented the phrases so that we can see the match-ups. Basically, these phrases mean the following.


Christ owns all

-----Christ created all

----------Christ displayed the glory of God

----------Christ is the image of God

-----Christ upholds all

Christ rules over all


We can see that the first phrase relates to the last. The second phrase relates to the second to last. And the third phrase relates to the third to last.


Now, verse 4 states that because of all this—the mission and work of Jesus in the covenant of creation—he has inherited the name Son. And here is the first “shaking of the shoulders” that the author of Hebrews performs for the Jews (and for us). The work of Christ as Son was to be a perfect Man—a perfect human being. In that perfection, a relationship with God is born. That relationship is not merely master to slave. It is a love relationship. It is the relationship of father to son. This is a picture of the relationship all people may have with God—a familial relationship.


Consider Jesus, the Son of God. Let your thoughts dwell there and your soul will be overwhelmed.