12 October 2015Hebrews 1:1-6
“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)
Psalm: Psalm 107:1-6
You might think that Christians have always thought of Jesus as the divine Son of God, part of the eternal Holy Trinity. Not so! The first Jewish followers of Jesus certainly didn't think of him like that - it would have been blasphemous. (You may have noticed in yesterday's reading that, in Mark 10:18, Jesus was careful to distinguish himself from God.) In today's passage we see a bit of theology-in-the-making. The writer to the Hebrews weaves together two distinct ideas about Jesus - one (as in the opening of John's Gospel (link)) that he is the "Son of God", co-creator and sustainer of the universe, fully sharing God's nature from the very beginning (and thus superior to the angels - obviously a big issue for some 1st-century Jews!). But alongside this there is an earlier belief, which was shared with Paul (have a look at the opening verses of Romans, and Philippians 2:9-10 (link)), that Jesus became Son of God at his resurrection, and only then did he 'inherit his name' and thus become worthy of the angels' worship. "Begotten" (v. 5) before time began, or at a later historical moment? The Old Testament verses (Psalm 2:7; 2 Samuel 7:14; Deuteronomy 32:43), quoted in verses 5-6 (which largely relate to the enthronement of a king) tend to support the latter idea.
Underlying all of this are two issues. The Jews (or more likely Jewish Christian) readers addressed in Hebrews were being encouraged to overcome their Jewish sensibilities and think of Jesus both as Messiah, and as 'Son of God' in a more obviously divine sense, giving him a unique status as both priest and sacrifice (big themes in Hebrews). But, perhaps even more significantly for non-Jewish readers, these opening verses echo precisely the kind of language used in the imperial cult of Rome, when the emperor declared his son to be both heir to the throne and divine. To use this language of Jesus was, for Jews, blasphemous but, for non-Jews, it was treason of the highest order, punishable by the cruellest death.
- Does any of this still matter (other than to theology anoraks!)? Why, for example, does the Church's traditional teaching about Jesus not reflect the beliefs of his first followers? How do we decide what to believe?
- It may be hard for us (but, tragically, not for some in other parts of the world) to imagine that opening our mouths to say "I believe..." could cost us our lives. While trying not to appear weird to family and friends, obviously, what beliefs about Jesus could bring us into conflict with 'the powers that be'?
- If we believe that 'the Son' creates and sustains the whole physical universe, how might that influence the way we treat our planet?