Written by 12:15 pm Bible Studies, Hebrews • One Comment

The Supremacy of the Son – Hebrews 1:1-4

I’m glad you chose to start this journey with me. I’ve debated internally over how to format the entries for this Hebrews study. I’m still not sold on just one way to do it, so in all likelihood, I may start one way and end up doing it differently before it’s over, with some changes in the middle as we go.

I guess what I’m saying is the format will be at the mercy of my whim. Whatever feels right for the topic at hand. With that said, let’s get started.


It’s customary in studies like this to spend some time examining some precursors that may help you understand the text better. Historical context, intended audience, and authorship (if it’s in question), among others, help readers gain a better feel for the motives and intents behind the content of the letter. So without any delay, let’s start looking at this information.

  • Historical Context – This is difficult to nail down precisely. There seems to be little doubt that this letter was written in the 1st century A.D. but since the author of the letter is unknown, we can only narrow this down by reading early church fathers who make reference to the letter. The earliest reference seems to be from Clement of Rome, who was the bishop of Rome in the late 1st century. Clement was a co-laborer with Paul the Apostle (Philippians 4:3), and he wrote a letter to the Corinthian church where he appeared to cite from the book of Hebrews. If this is accurate, then Hebrews was decidedly a 1st-century work.
  • Author – No one truly knows. The author of Hebrews never identified himself. There’s no shortage of possible authors, including Paul, Clement, Apollos, Luke, and Barnabas are among the serious contenders. At the end of the day, not a single air-tight argument exists for any of them. However, I would add that there is ample evidence within the text to suggest that Hebrews may have been a sermon that was recorded and circulated like a letter. My friend, Dr. John Roberts, supplied me with a document that demonstrates the pastoral nature of Hebrews through the use of horatory subjunctives (“Therefore… let us…”). You can download that document here. Personally, I lean toward the idea that this was a sermon preached by a local church pastor that was circulated among the early churches. That still doesn’t solve the authorship issue. But I’m a fan of the underdog, and I vote for Apollos. Apollos was trained as a lawyer, which would explain the more sophisticated Greek used to write this letter. He was also a well-liked teacher in the church and is referenced as such in 1 Corinthians 3.
  • Intended Audience – You’d think that by the title of the book, the intended audience was clear, but a debate does exist. For our purposes, you need to know that I believe this letter was written to Christians who were once of the Jewish faith; Messianic Jews. The content is so clearly aimed at believers who grew up Jewish, but came to faith in Christ. Not that Gentiles don’t benefit from what is written, but the content is clearly aimed at men and women with a firm grasp of the Law, Prophets, and Writings of the Old Testament.

Our Prophet

“1 Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, 2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. 3 He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, 4 having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs.”
Hebrews 1:1-4 (ESV)

If you’re a Bible person, you’ll notice that Hebrews doesn’t begin with a greeting where the author identifies himself. Here is where the mystery of authorship begins. We get close to some identifying remarks at the end of the letter. Chapter 13:22-25 (which we’ll deal with in detail when we get there) appears to be a postscript, possibly added when Hebrew began to be circulated (if this is a sermon that became a letter), where the author speaks of Timothy being released from custody. The author intends to visit the original readers along with Timothy. Some take this to mean the author is indeed Paul, but it could just as easily be anyone who had acquaintance with Timothy. Since I’ve stated my belief regarding this, I won’t spend much time going back and forth between positions on authorship. It is unknown, so this likely won’t come up again until we get to chapter 13. I’m proceeding on the hypothesis that this book is a sermon that was widely circulated in the early church and ultimately was canonized as Scripture.

The author begins with a grand statement. In the old days, and in many different ways, the LORD spoke to us through the prophets. Different sects of Jews understood the prophets differently. Pharisees embraced the prophets as Scripture. Sadducees did not. So, while not every Jew believed the prophets, it’s a safe assumption that those who believed in Jesus as Messiah also believed the prophets because the apologetic that Jesus is Messiah relied on the prophets. Therefore, the prophets had a huge place in the hearts of many Jews, including the ones who believed in Jesus. The author affirms their importance.

However, he quickly introduces an important but. That but is that now, in these last days, the LORD speaks to us by His Son. Take note that he calls the time they lived in these last days. Almost every author in the New Testament referred to the day in which they lived as the last days. Peter was the first. He made reference to it as he quoted the prophet Joel in Acts 2:17.

17 And in the last days it shall be, God declares,
that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh,
and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
and your young men shall see visions,
and your old men shall dream dreams;
Acts 2:17 (ESV)

Joel’s prophecy is important for our discussion. But for the moment, just give yourself a gentle reminder that the last days (end times) began when Jesus ascended back to heaven. These last days began a time period that is still unfolding. We currently live in these last days. That has enormous implications for how we should understand the role of prophets. The author makes a distinction. Formerly, the LORD spoke through the prophets. Now He speaks through His Son. That means at least two things. First thing, Jesus is the final Prophet. From here on, I will make a distinction between Prophet and prophet. Note that Prophet (uppercase) is an office, while prophet (lowercase) is not. Men like Isaiah, Elijah, Ezekiel, Jeremiah, Elisha, and Obadiah, are Prophets, in that they held a God-appointed office for the nation of Israel. God appointed these men to be Prophets. The English translations of our Bibles don’t capitalize the word prophet in Hebrews 1:1, but the reference made is to those men who were appointed to the office of Prophet in the Old Testament. Christ is the fulfillment of the Prophets, and since the LORD now speaks through His Son, the Son now holds the office of Prophet. Forever.

Why forever? Because He lives forevermore. It’s the same logic that the author will employ later to say that Jesus is our High Priest forever because He lives forevermore and will never vacate that office by death. That’s bad news for religions that claim Jesus was a good Prophet, but not the final Prophet. Jesus Christ is our Prophet, forevermore. God speaks to us through Him, and no one else will ever come after Him as Prophet.

Yet, Joel presents a small problem. He said, “Your sons and your daughters shall prophesy.” If Christ is the final Prophet, why did Joel predict that our sons and daughters shall prophesy? Remember, Peter said that the arrival of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost was fulfilling Joel’s prophecy. This makes sense if we piece together a few things.  To understand this, it’s helpful to understand Christ as our High Priest, and his people as a royal priesthood. Christ is clearly portrayed in Hebrews (and other places in the New Testament) as our High Priest.

23 The former priests were many in number, because they were prevented by death from continuing in office, 24 but he [Jesus] holds his priesthood permanently, because he continues forever. 25 Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them.
Hebrews 7:23-25 (ESV)

Peter calls all believers priests.

9 But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.
1 Peter 2:9 (ESV)

How are all believers priests, when Christ is our High Priest? It is Christ in us and through us who makes us priests (lowercase).

20 I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.
Galatians 2:20 (ESV, emphasis added)

In the same way, and second thing, because Jesus Christ is our Prophet, all believers become prophets (lowercase). It’s not an office of Prophet, but rather it is Christ in us and through us that makes us prophets. We declare the Gospel. We build up, encourage, and console one another when we gather. This is how Jesus can be our final Prophet, and simultaneously His people fulfill Joel’s prophecy as sons and daughters who prophesy by the Holy Spirit. We are all prophets because Jesus is our Prophet, just like we’re all priests because He is our High Priest. I have to admit that there’s a lot of nuance to this discussion that should be addressed. I did an article about New Testament prophets a while back that might offer more insights. Let’s move on.

He is Heir and Creator of All Things

2 …whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world.

Not only is the Son our final Prophet, but He is the heir and the creator of all things. Immediately, the author raises the ante. Not only is He our Prophet, but He is our Creator God, and as Creator, the Heir of all creation. It stands to reason that if He created the world, then the world belongs to Him and is His inheritance. The author buttressed His argument upfront that the Son is greater than any of the heavenly hosts. All of chapter one and much of chapter two are dedicated to this theme. He does this because Jews of that day had a great reverence for angels. Angels played an enormous role in the history of Israel, so their reverence wasn’t without cause. The Apostle Paul had to call out believers in Colossae who were being influenced by men and women who worshiped angels.

18 Let no one disqualify you, insisting on asceticism and worship of angels, going on in detail about visions, puffed up without reason by his sensuous mind,
Colossians 2:18 (ESV)

The author of Hebrews contended with a similar thought pattern among Jews who tended to elevate angels to a place of authority that challenged the authority of the Son. We’ll look deeper into this as we move through the rest of chapter one and into chapter two. But here in the opening verses, he declares the utter superiority of the Son over all creation, therefore over all created beings. He is their Creator, so He is greater. It also helps us understand that since Satan is numbered among the created heavenly host He too is under the Son’s authority. How much more superior is the Son? The author goes for the knock-out.

3 He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high,

If you started reading verse one with doubts of the author’s Christology, doubt no more. He declared in verse three that the Son is God. Jesus Christ is three things: the radiance, the exact imprint, and the Word of God’s power.

The Radiance

What is radiance? I looked it up in Strongs and other Greek resources. Honestly, the definitions employed don’t seem to squarely fit with how the author is using the word radiance. He is the radiance of the glory of God. He doesn’t just reflect God’s glory. He doesn’t just radiate God’s glory. He IS the glory. He IS the radiance. Remember this?

12 Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” John 8:12 (ESV)

He isn’t a reflection of the light. He is the light. He is the embodied manifestation – the incarnation – of the glory of God. He is God’s glory with a physical human body. He is THE radiance. He’s not one of many radiances. He is THE radiance, and there is no other.

The Exact Imprint

Not only is the Son the radiance of God’s glory, but He is the exact imprint of God’s nature. Jesus is precisely, in every way, just like the Father. His responses are the Father’s responses. His emotions are the Father’s emotions. His sense of humor is the Father’s sense of humor. Everything about Him, from the most minute detail of his personality to the most extravagant displays of supernatural power, is just like the Father. It’s why Jesus could say:

“Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.”
John 14:9b (ESV)

In some ways, this has a callback to the garden of Eden.  Jesus can say what Adam could never say. Even before his fall, Adam was not what Jesus is. Adam was an imager of God, in that he reflected the glory of God. He even reflected it perfectly before his fall, but he was never the actual radiance of God’s glory. Neither was Adam ever the exact imprint of God’s nature but only created in His likeness.

26 Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.”
Genesis 1:26a (ESV)

The Word of God’s Power

The author of Hebrews isn’t the only New Testament author to make this claim. He wrote that the entire universe is upheld by the word of His power. The Apostle Paul wrote something very similar in Colossians.

15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. 16 For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. 17 And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.
Colossians 1:15-17 (ESV)

If Paul isn’t the author of Hebrews, then it seems that the author was perhaps familiar with Paul’s letter to the church of Colossae. The similarities between these opening verses in Hebrews and verses 15-17 in Colossians are stunning. The power of God’s Word holds the cosmos together. Both Paul and the author of Hebrews contend that the Son, Jesus, is the Word of God and therefore it is He who holds all things together. And why not? As the Creator of all things, it stands to reason that He is the Sustainer of all things, which is what is meant by He upholds the universe.

He Reigns Today

After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high,

One misconception that some Christians hold is that we are waiting for His reign to come. Indeed we are waiting for His bodily return to fully establish His kingdom on earth. But He reigns over all things right now. We’re not waiting for His reign to begin. He has reigned ever since He ascended back to Heaven and took His seat at the right hand of the Majesty on high. He has already received the kingdom and dominion that was prophesied by Daniel. Ever since He ascended, the mission of God’s people has been to bring the Kingdom wherever we go. In spreading the Kingdom, we’re sharing the gospel, calling people to repentance and faith in Christ, and the Holy Spirit births new believers into God’s family. The people of the Kingdom are here, and Christ reigns through us. All we are waiting for is His return to rule over us visibly in person. But regardless of how you parse it out, the fact is He reigns right now and is only waiting for His time to return and finish what remains to establish His earthly kingdom.

His Is Greater

4 having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs.

This has the potential for a misunderstanding. If you read this verse cherry-picked from everything else we just covered, you might think that there was a time when Jesus wasn’t superior. Divorced from verse three, this seems to say that prior to completing His triumphant earthly ministry where He died, rose from death, and ascended, somehow the angels were superior. But because we know the Son is the Creator, He cannot be inferior to created angels. So what does this mean? To grasp it, we have to look at Psalm 8.

4 what is man that you are mindful of him,
and the son of man that you care for him?
5 Yet you have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings
and crowned him with glory and honor.
Psalms 8:4-5 (ESV)

Then look at Philippians 2.

7 but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.
Philippians 2:7-8 (ESV)

Humans were made a little lower than the heavenly beings. When the Son took on the form of a servant, born in the likeness of men, He clothed Himself with weakness. He purposefully took a form that was lower than the angels. In His time on earth, prior to his death, resurrection, and ascension, Jesus was clothed in weak, human flesh. In human terms, He made Himself lower than the angels. But, (and this is an enormous but) once He rose from the grave, glorified in an incorruptible human body, even His humanity became elevated above the angels. So, let’s sum up this tricky part.

  • Before His incarnation, the Son was Creator and by nature superior to the angels.
  • In His incarnation, the Son took on the weakness of human flesh, and in His humanity made Himself lower than the angels, but never ceased to be God.
  • In His resurrection and ascension, His humanity was glorified and exalted above the angels.
  • Therefore, after the resurrection and ascension, in a very real sense, Christ has an even more exalted status. Where before He was superior as the Son of God, now He is superior as the Son of Man.

He is greater in every way. And the LORD even pulled off what seemed impossible. He was infinitely superior as Son of God before His incarnation as the Son of Man. When He rose from death, He became even more superior by elevating His new humanity above the angels. This is why the Apostle Paul can say that we will judge angels (1 Corinthians 6:3). When all of the people of God are glorified by the redemption of their bodies (Romans 8:23, 1 Corinthians 15:42-49), we will all be exalted above the angels as Christ is, and we will become members of God’s council and judge the rebelling sons of God.

Final Thoughts

Folks, this is just the first four verses, and already there’s so much to unpack. Clearly, I’ve hit several things that you can rabbit-hole if you want, but the clear emphasis in the opening verses of Hebrews is simply this: Jesus is greater. He is greater than the Prophets who came before Him. He is greater than all the heavenly beings whom He created. What will follow is a very pastoral appeal to the readers that we should draw near to Him, not neglect Him, respond to Him, rest in Him, and make Him the central figure of our lives. Jesus Christ is the Son whom the author is exalting far above everyone and everything in creation. It’s foolish to live a life uncoupled from Him.

Not just foolish. Idiotic. Dangerous.


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Last modified: February 7, 2023