18 December 2010

Hebrews 1:1-4

"Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, through whom he also created the worlds." (vv. 1-2)


We don't know who wrote the Letter to the Hebrews, but it seems to have been written to encourage Jewish Christians to persevere in the face of persecution. The author seems worried that, because of this persecution, some of them are losing confidence in God and shrinking back from their faith in Jesus. 

So the letter starts by taking readers back to basics, affirming who Jesus is, what he's done and his glorified status in heaven. This is the central focus for the entire letter - the doctrine of the person of Christ and his role as mediator between God and humanity. 

Readers of Hebrews might notice echoes of John's Gospel in the cosmic language of today's passage. The introduction to John's Gospel (John 1:1-18) speaks of Christ as the Word of God, through whom all things were made, who became flesh and lived among us. And in Hebrews we hear of God speaking to us through "a Son", through whom God created the worlds. 

Jesus is, literally, God's greatest word - the most profound expression of who God is and what God means for humanity. The prophets brought warnings and teachings, but Jesus is the exact imprint of God, God's glorified heir through whom all things have been created. For Jewish Christians facing persecution, it would have been easy to speak of Jesus simply as another prophet in a long line of God's messengers. If Jesus could be seen as a prophet rather than the Messiah, his threat to the Jewish institutions was minimal. 

But for the author of Hebrews that was simply not an option. Jesus could be seen as nothing less than God's exact representation on Earth, and he achieved nothing less than to purify humanity from its sins. That is so much more than any prophet could ever accomplish and is the reason for Jesus' elevation above the angels, to sit at God's side in heaven (verse 4). 

To Ponder

Do you think of Jesus as a prophet or as something more than that? Why?

Are you ever tempted to 'shrink away' from your faith because of what people might think?

Re-read today's passage and then look at John 1:1-18. What similarities do you notice? What do you think the passages are telling us about who Jesus is and what he means for us today?

Bible notes author

Anna Drew

Anna Drew is Director of Communications for the Diocese of Canterbury. She is a regular contributor to BBC Radio 4's Daily Service and Prayer for the Day and a freelance writer on faith issues.