A key theme in the letter to the Hebrews is the elevation of the “Son” as the result of his obedient death. In his sufferings, he was “perfected,” and in his resurrection, God vindicated him and elevated him to “sit down” at the “right hand of the Majesty on high,” where he intercedes on behalf of his “brethren.”
But the stress throughout Hebrews is not on his status as the king who reigns over the Cosmos, as true as that may be, but instead on his present position as the Great High Priest who ministers for his people from the divine “throne of grace.”
The letter builds its case with a series of comparisons between the past revelations of God and His definitive word that He has now spoken, but “in a Son.” Hebrews does not denigrate the words “spoken in the prophets” in the past. They did indeed originate from God, but they were partial, promissory, and incomplete.
The letter employs these comparisons to stress the vast superiority of the complete “word” that God is now “speaking” in His Son. Though the Law was mediated by mighty angels and accompanied by “scorching fire and gloom and mist and tempest,” the word unveiled in Jesus is vastly superior in all aspects to its predecessors.
SUPERIOR TO ANGELS
Jesus of Nazareth “became superior to the angels, having inherited a more distinguished name.” To “inherit” means a change in condition and status. The letter validates this proposition by citing and combining two Old Testament passages in its first chapter:
(Hebrews 1:5) - “For to which of the angels said he at any time: You are my Son, I, this day, have begotten you, and again, I will become his father, and he shall become my Son?” - (Psalm 2:7, 2 Samuel 7:14).
The clause “this day” translates the emphatic Greek adverb sémeron, which points to a specific time when Jesus was appointed by Yahweh. At no point did God ever say this to any angel. He only declared it to His “Son.” And because this Son “loved righteousness and hated lawlessness,” God “anointed him with the oil of exultation beyond his partners.”
The letter’s opening paragraph concludes by comparing the “Son” to the angels, using a passage from the Psalms that becomes one of the letter’s chief proof texts - “But to which of the angels has he said at any time: Sit at my right hand until I make your foes your footstool?” - (Psalm 110:1).
Since Jesus has been appointed sovereign over all things, a position no angel ever received, by definition, he is superior to even the highest angel.
The first comparison concludes with an exhortation not to abandon the things believers have received from the “Son.” And since his word is supreme, to disregard Jesus will result in far worse punishment than any of the proscribed penalties for breaking the Mosaic Law - (Hebrews 2:1-4).
PERFECTING THE SON
And now, all things have been subjected beneath him. God “left to him nothing un-subjected.” While not yet do we see all things subjected to humanity, “We do see Jesus made some little less than angels; by reason of the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honor, to the end, that by the grace of God, on behalf of everyone, he should taste of death.”
Moreover, we are told WHEN his exaltation occurred – at the time that he “tasted death.” But first, God determined to perfect or “complete” him “through suffering.” His need to attain “perfection” points to a change or transition in his condition or status, and apparently, one that was achieved through his enduring death.
In the letter, his “suffering” refers to the death by which he “paralyzed him who held the dominion of death, the Devil.”
And this victory over Satan also released men who “by fear of death, were all their lives liable to bondage,” or at least, those men and women who have faith in him and all that he has achieved.
And to accomplish victory over Satan and death, Jesus “was obliged in every way to be made like his brethren so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest.” The Greek verb rendered “become” denotes a “becoming” (ginomai), in this case, a change in rank, condition, and status - (Hebrews 2:14-18).
SUPERIOR TO MOSES
Next, the letter compares Jesus to Moses, and once again, emphasizes his present elevated status as a high priest. The Great Lawgiver was more honored than all the other prophets, and unlike them, God spoke to him face-to-face - (Numbers 12:7-8, Hebrews 3:1-6).
As our “apostle,” God sent Jesus to deliver His final “word.” As our “high priest,” he intercedes for us before His Father. And the description of him as “one who is faithful,” and the reference to Moses as one such “also in all his house,” allude to a passage in the book of Numbers - “My servant Moses is not so; he is faithful in all my house.”
Since the “Son” is superior to the angels, and since disobedience to his “word” incurs even greater punishment than disobedience to any word mediated by angels, logically, he is of superior rank than even Moses, the greatest of all the prophets from the past.
The keywords in the passage are “faithful,” “priest,” and “house.” They all allude to the prophecy when God promised to “raise up a FAITHFUL PRIEST; according to that which is in my heart and in my soul will he do. Therefore, will I build for him an assured HOUSE.” Jesus is that “faithful priest” who now fulfills the promise - (1 Samuel 2:35).
But there is a difference. Jesus is worthy of far more honor than Moses, just as the one who “prepares” the house is worthy of more honor than the house. The “Son” is linked with the “Builder,” namely, God. And he is set over the “house,” but Moses was a “servant” in it.
Moses was an “attendant” in the house “for a testimony.” As the faithful “attendant,” he was the witness to the word that one day would come. Thus, the Law given by angels was preparatory for the superior “word spoken in the son.”
In the “days of his flesh,” Jesus offered up supplications to the one who was able to save him from death. Though God hearkened to him because of his devoutness, and “even though he was a son, he learned obedience from what things he suffered.” In this way, he was “made perfect” or “complete” - (Matthew 26:36-46).
Once again, Hebrews presents the “Son” as one who was “made perfect” by his sufferings. Because of this, he also “became to all those who obey him the author of everlasting salvation.” And once more, his present exalted status is based on his past obedience, especially by submitting to an unjust and undeserved death.
Disciples have “a mighty consolation…an anchor of the soul, both secure and firm,” because their “forerunner” entered the interior of the “sanctuary” through the “veil.” Thus, he “became a high priest forever according to the rank of Melchizedek,” a rank he did not previously hold - (Hebrews 6:18-20, Psalm 110:4).
As our “high priest,” he “became the surety of a covenant” that is better than anything provided under the Levitical priesthood with its repeated animal sacrifices. His appointment as “high priest” occurred when he “sat down on the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens” following his death and resurrection.
As the High Priest after the “rank of Melchizedek,” he attained “a more distinguished public ministry” than any of the Levitical priests, and he became the “mediator of the better covenant” that is based on “better promises.”
These statements convey the idea of his “becoming” something “better” than anything or anyone under the old system established at Mount Sinai – (Hebrews 8:1-6).
TABERNACLE, COVENANT, SACRIFICE
Jesus “approached as high–priest…through the greater and more perfect tabernacle,” one not made-by-hand. Moreover, “through his own blood, he entered once for all, having discovered everlasting redemption.”
The reference to “blood” stresses the reality of his death. He died a genuine human death on behalf of his “brethren.” And the “new covenant” is superior to the old one. Through the “blood of the Christ, who offered himself unspotted to God through an everlasting spirit,” the “new covenant” now purifies our conscience from dead works so we can render divine service to God - (Hebrews 8:1-13).
And the “blood of Christ” means that he was able to enter the greater Tabernacle “once-for-all” because of his obedient death by which he was “perfected.”
In contrast to the “first covenant” with its repeated animal sacrifices, it was necessary that the heavenly counterpart of the Tabernacle be established “with better sacrifices than these,” namely, the death of the “Son.” The result was his entry “into heaven itself” where he is “manifested before the face of God for us.”
Because of his superior sacrifice, Jesus has no need to “offer himself often,” unlike the Levitical priests with their oft-repeated sacrifices. Instead, “once-for-all, upon a conjunction of the ages, for a setting aside of sin through means of his sacrifice,” he offered himself.
Thus, “having been offered once for all for the bearing of the sins of many,” he also will appear a second time “apart from sin.”
Believers are made holy “through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once-for-all.” Unlike every other priest who must “stand daily publicly ministering and continually offering the same sacrifices,” Jesus “offered one sacrifice for sins evermore,” after which, he “sat down on the right hand of God.”
By his “one offering,” he achieved the “purification of sin” and “perfected for evermore those who are being made holy.” Thus, he became our “faithful high priest” who lives evermore to intercede for us.
The letter to the Hebrews presents a consistent picture of a “son” who was exalted to the right hand of God because of his faithful obedience unto death. Through his exaltation, he BECAME our “high priest.”
His “perfection” was accomplished through his obedience, suffering, and death. And God vindicated his sacrifice by raising him from the dead and SEATING HIM at His “right hand.”
And so, the letter bases the present exalted status of the Son on the historical events of the obedience, death, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth.