The opening sentence sets the entire discourse within the time line of Jewish sacred history. That history now reveals a dividing line separating all the past revelatory activity of God from what has happened in these last days (1:2). That line is drawn at the appearing of Christ, appointed heir of all things and presently seated at the right hand of the Majesty (v. 3). Whatever God said previously through the prophets must give way to what now has been spoken by the Son, the living presentation of God's own being (v. 3). Whatever God said in the past through angels (cf. 2:2) must now be subordinated to what has been communicated by Jesus of Nazareth. Thus, sacred history is divided into two epochs: the former times and these last days. Jewish theology commonly looked ahead to a coming age of glory in contrast to the present. This author begins by announcing the dawning of the new age in God's Son and the end of the former epoch thereby.
The people to whom this letter was sent apparently shared the perspective of Jews elsewhere who regarded the covenant of Moses as imparted through angels. Paul in Gal 3:19 accepts this belief. Stephen in Ac 7:53 accuses the Jews of not obeying the law put into effect through angels. The Septuagint, the Hebrew Scriptures translated for Greek-speaking Jews, in its account of the Sinai theophany, mentions angels at God's right hand at the giving of the Law (Dt 33:2, lxx). Acknowledging this, the author still argues the superiority of Christ to angels. Thus, the Gospel has precedence over the law of Moses.
The Scriptures themselves prove the Son's exalted position over all things, angels included. At the moment of his exaltation to the right hand of Majesty, the position of Christ as only Son was made manifest to all creation (1:3, 5). Jewish tradition held that at Creation God invited angels to worship man, but the author sees the invitation coming when Christ, the Firstborn, is introduced to the world (v. 6). As servants the angels are bidden by God to become wind and fire accomplishing his will (v. 7). The Son, however, is called “God” by God himself and is enthroned on high in everlasting dominion (v. 8). Likewise, God calls him “Lord” who laid earth's foundations and fashioned the heavens in the beginning (v. 10; cf. v. 2). The writer is clearly propounding here the creative activity of the preexistent Christ. His final proof-text is Ps 110:1, a text commonly understood to apply to the enthronement of the Messiah (v. 13). The conclusion to be drawn is that the angels are ministering agents, subordinates sent in service to the true heirs of salvation (v. 14), precisely because of the man Jesus who reigns at God's right hand. This opening catena of biblical texts in 1:5-13 signals that the entire discourse to follow will flow from several principal Scripture passages (see Introduction: Outline).
Having proved the superiority of the Son, the application follows. The Law of Moses (2:2) carried with it the force of just punishment, and certainly the greater salvation offered in Christ carries greater penalties if ignored. The danger is one of loss by way of lapse. The benefits of the Gospel message announced by the Lord include the miraculous attentions of God, the several gifts of the Holy Spirit (v. 4), and ultimately the world to come (v. 5). All these could be lost in one's wayward drift toward an unnamed oblivion. The only sure ground is the Gospel itself; the only safety is heeding Christ's Word (v. 1). The addressees are in danger of slipping away from the essentials of Christian faith. They are casting a backward glance again to the perceived safety of the Sinai covenant and placing at risk a far greater security offered in the Son (Westcott, xxxvi-viii).
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