Here is a link to a worksheet you can print and use to take notes on part of this lesson: Hebrews Ch1-2 Class Worksheet. You will get more out of the lessons if you also follow along using this highlighted version of the text. Also notice that as you mouse-over or select the shorter scripture references in these lessons the text of that reference will be shown.
Structure of Hebrew’s first division
The last lesson showed that the book naturally breaks into three divisions Heb 1:1-4:13, Heb 4:13-10:18; Heb 10:19-13:25
We can identify the first, Heb 1:1-4:13 because it begins and end with the same thought; God’s Word to humanity is in fact a person just as John said in his Gospel “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (John 1:1, NASB95)..
This first division is also composed of three sections,
- Heb 1:1-2:4
- Heb 2:5-2:18
- Heb 3:1-4:1.
Some see Heb 1:1-4 as a prologue of the entire book, but I’m going to treat is as part of the first section. This lesson will explore how the first two sections are organized and summarize the key points the author makes.
Despite the unfortunate chapter division, Heb 1:1-2:4 is one unit of thought, yet again divided into three parts Heb 1:1-4; Heb 1:5-14; Heb 2:1-4. Let’s walk through them.
When you clear away all the descriptive language the central statement of the opening paragraph of Hebrews, you are left with the simple declaration that GOD HAS SPOKEN IN A SON.
The author introduces us to something he consistently emphasized throughout his sermon, God speaks to the human race.
In fact the author sees all of God’s written word as God’s speech. Paul introduced Scriptural quotes with “it was written” 31x and something like “the writing says” 6x. However the author of Hebrews always introduces quotations and references to the Scripture with some verb of speech, constantly reminding us that the written word is the actual communication, the very speech of God. Now that you know to look, you will find numerous examples in the book like Heb 1:5 “For to which of the angels did He ever say,” where the author refers to God communicating through the writer of the Psalm that is quoted there.
The opening paragraph of Hebrews also declares that Jesus is more than a man, more than a good man, more than one who would normally be called a prophet. God sent a unique human being to deliver His most clear, full and final official communication to all of us.
While the author states many important facts, he also assumes some he will later state more clearly. He assumes we know Jesus is the name of this Son and He assumes we know Jesus existed before He became human (Heb 1:6,10; Heb 2:9). He also assumes his hearers know that Jesus, as a human, was raised from the dead, transformed into glorified human body and rose into the sky.
As we saw last week, the opening statement is mirrored in the last two lines of this section (Heb 4:12-13). Together they claim that Jesus is the embodiment of God’s speech. He is not only a channel through which God speaks to the human race, He is God’s Word.
In the next part, Heb 1:5-18, the author crafted 7 Scripture quotations (Ps 2:7; 2 Sam 7:14; Deut 32:43; Ps 104:4; 45:6–7; 102:25–27; 110:11 in that order) into a literary structure called a chiasm (kye’ asm) or chaismus.
A Chiasm is symmetrical pattern of thoughts that Semetic writers and speakers used to make content more memorable. The simplest form has three parts where the first and the last contain common topics, while the middle another. Chiasms can be quite large, even encompassing whole books and have many parts but in all cases the center contains the most important thought. This is very different from linear presentation of ideas western cultures are used to. You’ll have a chance to get familiar with this literary form because we will see several as we go through Hebrews.
In the highlighted version of the text, parts of Chiasms are noted by orange capital letters. The normal way of showing the chiasm’s symmetry is to use the same letter for the same topic/thought adding a “prime” mark to the second. You may have also wondered what the exclamation point in the highlighted text is for. It indicates that the verb is a command, an imperative that has the force of something that must be done.
We can start to see the Chiasmic structure by noticing that Heb 1:5 and Heb 1:13 ask the same question, “For to which of the angels did He ever say“, and “But to which of the angels has He ever said.” We designate them A and A’ (A-prime) to indicate their similarity. The central thought starts in Heb 1:8 “But of the Son He says” and is marked B .
Within the chiasm you can see a further similarity between the A (Heb 1:5-7) and A’ (Heb 1:13-14) sections. In both the author first says something about the Son ends with a statement about angelic beings. Let’s look more closely.
A “For to which of the angels did He ever say…”
Heb 1:5-7 tells us that God, the being first revealed Genesis 1 as the one who spoke all things into existence is the Father of a human being. The emphasis is that this human is unique, a one-of-a-kind human. In my markup, the bold text indicates words that the author strongly emphasized by the way he structured his Greek sentences. Greek writers had several ways of emphasizing words that we don’t have in English, unless we visually change them. For example read this aloud and emphasize the words in bold to get an idea of how they would be heard by a first century Greek speaking person.
For to which of the angels did He ever say, “You are My Son, today I have begotten you?” And again “I will be a Father to Him and He shall be a Son to Me?”
Try it again with stronger emphasis. Does that change what you think the author wants to communicate?
A’ “But to which of the angels has He ever said…”
Heb 1:13 tells us that God, the Father, works on behalf of the Son.This should not be taken to mean the Father obeys the Son’s will, quite the opposite, but means that the Father works to glorify and magnify the Son in bringing about His uncontested rule over humanity and creation.
In the second half of the A and A’ parts of our chiasm we learn several facts about angels. They must worship the Son which includes obeying Him. They have the ability to control nature. And while the Father acts in human history on the Son’s behalf, angels work on behalf of those humans who will inherit salvation.
B “But of the Son He says…”
The central idea of the chiasm is expressed in Heb 1:8-12. Stop and read it over. What would you say the author wants you to know about this Son of God?
Summary of facts about the Son of God presented in Hebrews 1:1-14
- He has the Father’s full support Heb 1:2,13
- He has the angel’s full support Heb 1:6-7
- He has a unique relationship with God as “first-born.” He is uniquely God and man, however His title “Firstborn” indicates that He is the first of many whom are called fellow children, brethren and sons. This concept is further developed in Hebrews when the author tells us that Jesus’ death opened a living way for us to approach God. (Heb 1:5)
- He fully represents and demonstrates God’s nature (Heb 1:3)
- Under the Father’s command He created the universe (Heb 1:2,10)
- His word is so powerful that it sustains this universe.
- He is the final authority in this creation and in the future one (Heb 1:3,10-12)
- He reigns over the creation forever (Heb 1:8)
- He rules in righteousness. Not only does He do what is best for all creatures under His rule, but they will also do what is best for all. Righteousness is the opposite of lawlessness therefore all parts of creation will function in their proper relationship. There will be no rebellion. (Heb 1:8)
Another fact worth noting about this first section is that it reveals the author’s concept of the Trinity. The Father is identified in Heb 1:5, The Son in Heb 1:5,8 and The Holy Spirit in Heb 2:4. (I’ve marked at least one occurrence of each with three flowing gray lines to make this fact stand out.)
In this third segment the author tells his audience to pay more careful attention to the message they have heard through the Son than they have been doing. He appears to assume several things:
- That they have heard the message spoken through the Son.
- That they understand the Son brought a message concerning their salvation, that is their forgiveness and eternal reconciliation with God.
- That they have accepted it
But in this first of the 5 warning passage in Hebrews, he is concerned that they might drift away from it out of neglect.
We come to another chiastic structure
This small section again uses the symmetrical pattern called chiasm that the common verse divisions obscure. Look at these key words like this:
A heard (Heb 2:1)
………B spoken (Heb 2:2 a)
……………..C penalty (Heb 2:2 b)
……………..C’ escape (Heb 2:3 a)
………B’ spoken (Heb 2:3 b)
A’ heard (Heb 2:3 c)
Again, Semitic authors often use this structure to emphasize the concept in the center. Here the author is driving home the idea that drifting due to neglect will certainly lead to consequences that cannot be escaped.
There are several crucial questions this passage raises:
- What is the penalty he implies will be suffered by those who drift and neglect?
- Who is he addressing?
- What does it mean to drift from the message and neglect salvation?
- What is this salvation from?
Some say he is addressing Christians who leave the faith and give up salvation. Others say he is concerned about people who do not trust Christ for salvation and are in danger of never trusting Him. There are other possible views, but the one thing I want to caution you is to NOT make that decision until we have covered the next two lessons. If you do, you will be in danger of reading your own beliefs into the author’s words and potentially undermining the author’s message so much that you won’t hear it.
Why do you think the author suddenly drops this statement into his sermon at this point: “For He did not subject to angels the world to come, concerning which we are speaking.” (Hebrews 2:5, NASB95) and follows it with a quote from Psalm 8 about mankind’s role as rulers of creation?
I think he has three purposes in mind:
- He is reminding us that the message God gave through the prophets and lastly through Jesus concerns the role of human beings in creation and that their proper role will not be fully fulfilled until there is a new creation. Salvation is not primarily about making life in this world more comfortable.
- The second reason the author puts this section here has to do with his methodical style of presentation. The theme that we are to focus on our lives being fully fulfilled in a new creation is a theme that will be slowly expanded and reinforced as we move through Hebrews.
- The third is to draw our focus and attention to Jesus. He fixes attention on Christ because we can “see” God’s promises fulfilled in Him. All this shows that Jesus’ coming and ruler-ship points to the fulfillment of God’s purpose for mankind.
What do these words and phrases have in common: “many sons”, “those who are sanctified2”, “brethren”, “the congregation”, “the children”, “the people”, “those who are tempted”? They are all plural and all refer to human beings.
In the previous paragraph we were told that God’s message involves the fulfillment of humanity’s purpose, but now we are told that Jesus became human and died in our place to make it possible for many to see that fulfillment. Many, but not all.
Heb 2:11 stands out to me. “For both He who sanctifies and those who are sanctified are all from one Father.” What an astounding statement. It is what Jesus taught through John in John’s Gospel.
“But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.” (John 1:12–13, NASB95)
The message of salvation means human beings who have rebelled against God’s commands can become God’s children and Jesus’ siblings, though of course they don’t take on the nature of God that He possesses.
Through Jesus’ death those who trust in God’s promise that Jesus’ death will be accounted in our place for our sin need never fear death, neither the first nor the second.3
Hebrews 2:17-18 states the concluding lesson of Heb 2:9-18. We are told why Jesus had to become human. First a human had to be the one to die as the substitutionary sacrifice in place of condemned humans. And secondly the author introduces a major theme he will pick up in the second division of the letter, that Jesus is our high priest. The author will explain what a high priest does, and how Jesus fulfills that role even now as the sermon unfolds.
The words that begin the next section also summarize key points the author has just discussed: “Therefore holy brethren, partakers of a heavenly calling, consider Jesus, the Apostle and High Priest of our confession;…” (Heb 3:1)
Taking this apart we see the following:
The recipients of the letter, called holy brethren ( term that in that culture would be seen to include women), and partakers of a heavenly calling, have been called by God and have been set apart by God as His children.
Jesus is referred to by two titles: “Apostle” and “High Priest.” Apostle, which is a Greek word for “one who is sent by another” indicates what we were told in Hebrews 1:1-2:4, that Jesus was sent to us to deliver God’s message concerning salvation. High Priest is an Old Testament word that speaks of a person who acts as an intermediary between humans and God, one who explains God’s nature and requirements as well as offers the people’s sacrifices to God for them.
I think we can capture the thought of the two sections we have covered with the titles “The Son was sent TO us” (Heb 1:1-2:4) and “The Son was sent FOR us” (Heb 2:5-18).
- David L. Allen, Hebrews, The New American Commentary (Nashville, TN: B & H Publishing Group, 2010), 161. [↩]
- set apart from the world [↩]
- The Second Death is a “Term used in the NT only in the book of Revelation, to describe God’s eternal judgment on sin. Originally a rabbinic expression, the second death will be experienced by those whose names are not written in the “Book of Life” (Rv 20:15). The second death is equated with the “lake of fire” (v 14), or the lake that burns with “fire and brimstone” (21:8, KJV), and is described as the lot of “the cowardly, the faithless, the polluted, … murderers, fornicators, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars” (RSV). Those who are victorious in this life have nothing to fear from the second death (2:11).” (Walter A. Elwell and Philip Wesley Comfort, Tyndale Bible Dictionary, Tyndale Reference Library (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 2001), 368.) [↩]