The Letter to the Hebrews, Part 3: Six Areas of Superiority
Unlike other New Testament letters, Hebrews begins with a very strong statement, followed by a dense body of material developed logically over many chapters.
“God, who at various times [portions] and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, has in these last days spoken to us by His Son” (1:1–2).
God had spoken to the Hebrews through prophets in different amounts and by different methods — a contrast with Christ’s role. The prophets’ work was partial and cumulative; Christ’s teaching is a complete revelation of God’s purpose. The Father has communicated with human beings through His own Son, who is shown to be superior to other messengers by seven characteristics:  “whom He has appointed heir of all things,  through whom also He made the worlds [or ages];  who being the brightness of His glory and  the express image of His person, and  upholding all things by the word of His power, when  He had by Himself purged our sins,  sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high”(1:2–3).
These characteristics place Christ in a position higher than any other spirit being except the Father. This revelation serves as an introduction to God’s sending of His son, and should change everything for the follower of Christ. This cannot be taken lightly or forgotten. Christ the Son is the way to truth and life, both because of who He is and because of what He has done in providing the release from death for all sin. His willing sacrifice is commemorated annually in the New Covenant Passover remembrance.
Superior to Angels
Reflecting upon three structural supports of Judaism (angels, Moses and the Aaronic/Levitical system), the book of Hebrews makes comparisons with these elements of Jewish belief, signaling that Christ’s coming has brought change. Chapter 1:4–14 contrasts Christ with angels.
God never referred to any angel individually as “my Son,” the only begotten of the Father (verse 5). Angels are called sons of God collectively and have their role as servants (verse 14), but the Son is sovereign God (verse 8), worshipped by the angels (verse 6). There are seven quotes from the Hebrew Scriptures. As a human Christ was made a little lower than the angels (2:9), but His status as resurrected Son is higher than the angels.
Because Christ is superior to the angels, anything that they might have mediated by way of God’s revelation in the past is not to be compared to what Christ has shown us. Because He has been revealed as full of grace and truth, “Therefore we must give the more earnest heed to the things we have heard, lest we drift away. For if the word spoken through angels proved steadfast, . . . how shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation, which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed to us by those who heard Him, God also bearing witness both with signs and wonders, with various miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit, according to His own will?” (2:1–4).
The introductory “therefore” emphasizes that because of the superiority of Christ and His message, believers should be doubly careful. They simply cannot become casual and drift away — after a while discovering that they have arrived somewhere else. The word of God that angels delivered brought consequences when disobeyed — how much more so Christ’s word if not obeyed.
This leads to the very encouraging truth that God has put the world to come not under angels, but under man formed in Christ’s image. Christ is the forerunner of this part of God’s plan. God’s children have the same destiny as Christ: “For He has not put the world to come, of which we speak, in subjection to angels. But one testified . . . : ‘What is man that You are mindful of him . . . ? You have put all things in subjection under his feet.’. . . But now we do not yet see all things put under him” (2:5–6, 8).
In this complex flow of ideas and truths is the fact of Christ’s coming and the truth He has brought from the Father, His own role in making it possible for humans to take on God’s nature, interspersed with warning and great encouragement to achieve the goal God has set: “For it was fitting for Him, for whom are all things and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons to glory, to make the captain of their salvation perfect through sufferings. For both He who sanctifies and those who are being sanctified are all of one, for which reason He is not ashamed to call them brethren” (2:10–11).
Christ took on human flesh so that He could suffer for sin and make it possible for humans to be helped through their struggle with human nature. They can be forgiven the sin that inevitably accompanies human life. Christ did not come to save angels, but to save humanity.
He is able to fully understand through experience what it means to be frail and human and what it takes to overcome. He is able to help when followers are in need: “Therefore, in all things He had to be made like His brethren, that He might be a merciful and faithful High Priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For in that He Himself has suffered, being tempted, He is able to aid those who are tempted” (2:17–18).
Superior to Moses
In Judaism, Moses was considered a major support and a very special historical pillar figure — possibly the most important in the Hebrew Scriptures. Notice the encouragement to hold fast to Christ for very good reason: “Therefore, holy brethren, partakers of the heavenly calling, consider the Apostle and High Priest of our confession, Christ Jesus, who was faithful to Him who appointed Him, as Moses also was faithful in all His house. . . . as a servant [see Numbers 12:5–8] . . . but Christ as a Son over His own house, whose house we are if we hold fast the confidence and the rejoicing of the hope firm to the end” (Hebrews 3:1–2, 5–6).
What follows (Hebrews 3:7–11, from Psalm 95:7–11) is a reminder of the mistake the Children of Israel made when they came to the edge of the Promised Land for the first time, but disbelieved, refused to enter in faith, and rejected God as the One who would lead them.
This is not dissimilar to those of Christ’s time, who rejected Him and accused Him of being in league with the devil (see Matthew 12:24).
Superior to the Levitical System
The third support of Judaism is the Levitical system, with Aaron as a much-respected high priest. But here we learn that Christ is superior to Aaron by way of place, priesthood, covenant, tabernacle and sacrifice (4:14–10:18).
“Seeing then that we have a great High Priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession” (4:14).
Christ is superior to Aaron in that He is in a better place — the third heaven. Christ is always at God’s throne and He is always available to help (4:15–16).
Christ is of a different and prior priestly order: “So also Christ did not glorify Himself to become High Priest, but . . . [was] called by God as High Priest ‘according to the order of Melchizedek’” (5:5, 10).
The mystery of Melchizedek cannot be explained adequately to people who have grown spiritually dull of hearing and are failing to develop. This will have to wait until chapter 7 after the discussion of what they need to do to get back on track. But there is encouragement combined with correction: “For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened . . . if they fall away, to renew them again to repentance. . . . But, beloved, we are confident of better things concerning you, yes, things that accompany salvation, though we speak in this manner” (6:4, 6, 9).
The jaded weariness that leads to laxity and sluggishness has to be combated through imitation of those who demonstrate faith and service to God and His people: “And we desire that each one of you show the same diligence to the full assurance of hope until the end, that you do not become sluggish, but imitate those who through faith and patience inherit the promises” (6:11–12).
Christ preceded Aaron as a priest and was without beginning of days. He was manifest as priest of the Most High God in the days of Abraham. The superior advantages of the Melchizedek priesthood are described in chapter 7:1–28.
Once again, Christ is shown to be superior to the Levitical system. A new priestly system has superseded it: “Now this is the main point of the things we are saying: We have such a High Priest, who is seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens, a Minister of the sanctuary and of the true tabernacle which the Lord erected, and not man” (8:1–2).
This brings us to three further superiorities — of covenant, sanctuary and sacrifice. The new covenant that Christ has introduced is superior to the one He instituted through Moses: “Finding fault with [Israel], He says: ‘They did not continue in My covenant, and I disregarded them, says the Lord. . . . For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put My laws in their mind and write them on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no more’” (8:8–10, 12).
The old covenant also related to the tabernacle in the wilderness. But Christ’s new covenant relates to a superior sanctuary: “But Christ came as High Priest of the good things to come, with the greater and more perfect tabernacle not made with hands . . . . Not with the blood of goats and calves, but with His own blood He entered the Most Holy Place once for all . . . . How much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without spot to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God? And for this reason He is the Mediator of the new covenant, by means of death, for the redemption of the transgressions under the first covenant, that those who are called may receive the promise of the eternal inheritance” (9:11–12, 14–15).
Finally, Christ’s sacrifice is superior to those offered daily by the Levitical priesthood: “And every priest stands ministering daily and offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But this Man, after He had offered one sacrifice for sins forever, sat down at the right hand of God . . . . For by one offering He has perfected forever those who are being sanctified. . . . He adds, ‘Their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no more’” (10:11–12, 14, 17).
Coming soon: The next section (10:19–13:25) will address individual ongoing responses to what has preceded and give encouragement through the examples of the faithful and of Christ Himself to any believer who is feeling the pressure to compromise.
For more from David Hulme on similar topics, visit our playlists on the Church of God, AIC, YouTube channel.