The book of Hebrews has a vastly different beginning from other New Testament letters. Unlike most of the others, the author does not identify himself in the introduction, nor is the specific audience known. Although it’s apparent from the ending of Hebrews that this is a letter, when you read Hebrews from the beginning, it doesn’t feel much like a letter. It reads instead more like a statement of doctrine, or maybe even a sermon. The content of Hebrews is at times dense and can be difficult to follow, especially to modern readers who may not have much knowledge of the Old Testament or Jewish history. It seems obvious that the original recipients of Hebrews were Jewish, which meant they were likely steeped in the history and tradition of the Old Testament, and therefore more familiar with the background behind the material being presented. For Christians today, the book of Hebrews represents an opportunity to engage with theologically rich and beautiful truths that are very much personally challenging and applicable to daily life.
The author begins with a reminder that, while God formerly spoke to His people through prophets and other means, He now speaks primarily through Jesus Himself. This powerful truth lies at the core of the entire book of Hebrews; God is neither silent nor absent, but rather He is present and knowable through the person and work of Jesus. Hebrews 1:3 says, “the Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact expression of his nature, sustaining all things by his powerful word.” This means that when we see Jesus, we are seeing God Himself. When Jesus speaks, God Himself is speaking, because Jesus and God are one in the same. We also see in this verse that God’s Word is to be revered because it powerfully sustains all things. This consistent theme will return throughout the book of Hebrews.
For the remainder of chapter one, the focus is on Jesus being “superior to the angels.” For the Jewish reader this is a very significant testimony because angels so frequently served as agents of God throughout the Old Testament. In addition, the Jews understood that the law itself was given to Moses by angels. The writer of Hebrews affirms this truth in Hebrews 2:2, when he refers to the law as “the message spoken through angels.” The angels were often God’s mouthpiece. That’s why this claim is so important, because if Jesus is somehow superior to the angels, that means He is an even greater agent and mouthpiece than the angels ever were. The author of Hebrews makes this case by citing exactly seven (a number which represents perfection) different Old Testament prophecies that collectively exalt Jesus and make it clear that He is greater than even the angels. For an author writing to a Jewish audience, wanting to make the case for Jesus as Messiah, comparing Him favorably to angels is a perfect start.
At the beginning of chapter two, the writer of Hebrews challenges his readers with two steps of application: pay attention and don’t drift. In Hebrews 2:1, it says that if Jesus is in fact superior to the angels, then “we must pay attention all the more to what we have heard, so that we will not drift away.” This will be a consistent exhortation throughout Hebrews, that a Savior such as Jesus demands our full attention. We must listen to His Word, and we must do so “all the more.” Why? Because otherwise, we’re likely to drift away from Jesus. If Jesus is greater than the very angels whom God used to speak His word in the first place, how much more ought we pay attention to what we have heard, in order to make sure we don’t drift from our faith?
The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact expression of his nature, sustaining all things by his powerful word.
Old Testament References
- Psalm 2:7
- 2 Samuel 7:14
- 1 Chronicles 17:13
- Deuteronomy 32:43
- Psalm 97:7, 104:4, 110:1
- Psalm 2:7
- Acts 7:37, 53
- Galatians 3:19
The writer states that “long ago God spoke” through prophets, but in these days “he has spoken to us by his Son” (1:1-2). How does God primarily speak to us today? Consider 2 Timothy 3:16-17, Hebrews 1:2, and John 1:14. (spoiler alert, it’s through the Bible!)
What difference does it make to us today that Jesus is “heir of all things” and that God the Father made the universe through Him?
Have you experienced seasons of drifting away? What are some of the warning signs or red flags in your life that indicate to you that you’ve started to “drift away?” What are some specific steps you can take to help you make sure you “pay attention” to the wisdom and truth of God’s Word?
As we launch into a study of the book of Hebrews, it will be helpful to understand the context of the entire letter before you work your way through it by chapter and verse. To prepare for this study, try reading all of Hebrews this week to get an overview of the text you’ll be spending the next number of weeks studying. As you read, make a list of your biggest questions, your confusions, or anything else that stands out, and then watch for those questions to be addressed throughout the messages.
[expand title=”Life Group Questions”]
- Take a few minutes to read aloud the Scripture from Hebrews 1:1-2:4. What truths about God can be understood from these passages? What observations can be made about people? What questions come to mind?
- Do you believe God wants to speak to us today? If yes, how?
- Make a list of some of the characteristics of Jesus and truths about Jesus that are found in Hebrews 1. Which ones do you appreciate the most? Are there any that are difficult for you to believe?
- If someone were to ask you the question, “why should I care about Jesus?” how would you answer? What does Hebrews 2:1-4 say about why we should care about Jesus?
- Challenge the folks in your Life Group to read the entire book of Hebrews during the coming weeks. If you’d like to plan ahead, next week’s passage is Hebrews 2:5-18.