Monday 12 October 2015

Bible Book:

“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)

Hebrews 1:1-6 Monday 12 October 2015

Psalm: Psalm 107:1-6


You might think that Christians have always thought of Jesus asthe divine Son of God, part of the eternal Holy Trinity. Not so!The first Jewish followers of Jesus certainly didn't think of himlike that - it would have been blasphemous. (You may have noticedin yesterday's reading that, in Mark10:18, Jesus was careful to distinguish himself from God.) Intoday's passage we see a bit of theology-in-the-making. The writerto 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, fullysharing God's nature from the very beginning (and thus superior tothe angels - obviously a big issue for some 1st-century Jews!). Butalongside this there is an earlier belief, which was shared withPaul (have a look at the opening verses of Romans, and Philippians 2:9-10 (link)), that Jesus becameSon of God at his resurrection, and only then did he 'inherit hisname' and thus become worthy of the angels' worship. "Begotten" (v.5) before time began, or at a later historical moment? The OldTestament verses (Psalm 2:7; 2Samuel 7:14; Deuteronomy 32:43), quoted in verses 5-6 (whichlargely relate to the enthronement of a king) tend to support thelatter idea.

Underlying all of this are two issues. The Jews (or more likelyJewish Christian) readers addressed in Hebrews were beingencouraged to overcome their Jewish sensibilities and think ofJesus both as Messiah, and as 'Son of God' in a more obviouslydivine sense, giving him a unique status as both priest andsacrifice (big themes in Hebrews). But, perhaps even moresignificantly for non-Jewish readers, these opening verses echoprecisely the kind of language used in the imperial cult of Rome,when the emperor declared his son to be both heir to the throne anddivine. To use this language of Jesus was, for Jews, blasphemousbut, for non-Jews, it was treason of the highest order, punishableby the cruellest death.

To Ponder

  • Does any of this still matter (other than to theologyanoraks!)? Why, for example, does the Church's traditional teachingabout Jesus not reflect the beliefs of his first followers? How dowe decide what to believe?
  • It may be hard for us (but, tragically, not for some in otherparts of the world) to imagine that opening our mouths to say "Ibelieve..." could cost us our lives. While trying not to appearweird to family and friends, obviously, what beliefs about Jesuscould bring us into conflict with 'the powers that be'?
  • If we believe that 'the Son' creates and sustains the wholephysical universe, how might that influence the way we treat ourplanet?
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