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02 The Expositor's Bible Commentary: Hebrews-Revelation
Copyright 2006 by the Zondervan Corporation
Requests for information should be addressed to:
Zondervan, Grand Rapids, Michigan 49530
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
The expositor's Bible commentary / [general editors], Tremper Longman III and David E. Garland.--Rev.
p. cm.
Includes bibliographical references.
ISBN-10: 0-310-26894-X (hardcover)
ISBN-13: 978-0-310-26894-9 (hardcover)
1. Bible. N.T.--Commentaries. I. Longman, Tremper. II. Garland, David E.
BS2341.53.E96 2005
220.7--dc22 2005006281
This edition printed on acid-free paper.
All Scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the Holy Bible: New International Version(r). NIV(r). Copyright
1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved.
Scripture quotations marked NASB are taken from the New American Standard Bible, Copyright 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968,
1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or
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Interior design by Tracey Walker
Printed in the United States of America
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The first four verses of Hebrews form a single
Greek sentence. By the end of the sentence,we have
already been introduced to the theme of the superiority
of the Son to angels, which will remain in
focus throughout the rest of chs. 1-2.To impose a
section break between vv.3 and 4 is therefore to
favor a thematic analysis of the text over its grammatical
form. My reason for doing so is that the
contrast with the prophets with which the sentence
opens (and which will not be made explicitly again
in the rest of the letter) serves to set the scene more
broadly than just in relation to angels and provides
our author with the cue for his most powerful
christological statement--indeed one of the three
or four most striking accounts in the NT of the
incarnate Son of God. The theme and indeed
much of the language of vv.2-3 is closely parallel
to what is said about the role of the Word/Son
in creation and revelation in John 1:1-18 and
especially Colossians 1:15-20.
Text and Exposition
I. Better Than the Prophets (1:1-3)
Overview
1In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in
various ways, 2but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed
heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe. 3The Son is the radiance of
God's glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful
word.After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the
Majesty in heaven.
Commentary
1-2a One of the chief glories of OT religion was
its prophetic tradition. Israel lived not by human
insight but by divine revelation as God "spoke
through the prophets." Our author has no wish to
belittle this privilege, and he will quote from those
same prophets later in the course of his argument.
But now God has provided something even better.
The prophets were many and varied, and their
revelations came to the forefathers sporadically over
a considerable period. But now their place has been
taken by a single spokesman, whose message has
been delivered once-for-all "in these last days" (lit.,
"at the end of these days," echoing the OT formula
"in the end of the days," Ge 49:1; Isa 2:2; etc.).The
period of preparation is over, and all that the
prophets have looked forward to is now fulfilled in
the single person of "a Son." (The lack of article
does not indicate one son among many but rather
the true nature and status of this new spokesman as
against his predecessors the prophets.) This title,
which will form the backbone of Hebrews' presentation
of Jesus, is dramatically introduced in contrast
with the mere messengers who have gone before
and will immediately be filled out with a series of
descriptive clauses that totally set him apart from all
merely human representatives. Note that the name
"Jesus" will not appear until 2:9, when the focus will
be on the period of the human incarnation of the
Son. In his essential nature he is better designated
not by his human name but by a title that directly
links him to God.
2b-3a Seven arresting statements now fill out
the unique status of "the Son" and make it unmistakably
clear he is much more than a passing historical
figure like the prophets. The first five
statements focus on his relationship to God and to
the created universe in such a way as to place him
outside the natural order as its originator and sustainer.
Two further clauses in v.3b will then bring
his historical work of redemption into focus, but
first we are invited to contemplate the eternal glory
of the Son since before the world was made.
Three clauses trace the role of the Son in relation
to the universe, covering respectively its past,
present, and future. It was "through" the Son that
God made the universe in the past; in the present
that same Son upholds everything "by his powerful
word"; and the future destiny of the universe is
understood also in relation to him who has been
made the "heir of all things" (perhaps echoing Ps
2:8; cf. the quotation of Ps 2:7 that follows in v.5).
This is the same threefold relation to the creation,
embracing all eternity, which is succinctly expressed
in Paul's formula in Romans 11:36:"from him and
through him and to him are all things"; Paul was
speaking there of God, not of Christ, but in Colossians
1:16-17 he says the same of Christ:"all things
were created by him and for him . . . , and in him all
things hold together."The author of Hebrews, like
Paul (and John in 1:1-3), has no hesitation in saying
of Jesus what in Jewish orthodoxy was reserved for
God the Creator.
The double clause that opens v.3 describes the
Son's relation to God more directly and even more
unequivocally, not now in his creative role but in his
essential nature: he is "the radiance of God's glory
and the exact representation of his being." He is, in
other words, as in John 1:14, 18, God made visible.
To see what God is like we must look at the Son.
"Radiance" (apaugasma,GK 575) means literally the
"outshining" (though it is sometimes also used of a
"reflection") of the glory that is God's essential
character, while "exact representation" translates the
vivid Greek metaphor charakte rm , "imprint, stamp"
(GK 5917), used, for instance, of the impression
made on a coin, which exactly reproduces the
design on the die. (The idea is the same as the more
familiar phrase "the image of God.") Again there is
a close echo of Colossians 1:15, 19:"He is the image
of the invisible God. . . .God was pleased to have all
his fullness dwell in him."
3b The glory of the Son consists not only in his
eternal nature but also in his role in bringing salvation
to human beings.The two clauses that conclude
the description of the Son take up this theme and
thus introduce two of the most prominent themes
of the letter as a whole. First, he has "provided purification
for sins." The theme of the sacrificial work of
Christ will come into focus especially in chs. 9-10
as the outworking of his office as our great high
priest, where the author will emphasize that this
work of purification is now fully complete.While at
this point he does not yet spell out the means by
which this "purification" has been achieved, his readers
would be well aware that it must be through the
shedding of blood (9:14, 22, etc.).The way is thus
prepared for the paradoxical argument of ch. 2 that
it is in his humiliation and death that the superior
glory of the Son, as our perfect redeemer, is revealed.
But humiliation is followed by exaltation, and the
author's first allusion to Psalm 110:1 introduces the
language of "sitting at the right hand," which will
echo through the letter (cf. 1:13; 8:1; 10:12; 12:2).
The Son, his earthly work complete, now occupies
in heaven the place of highest authority next to
God himself.


Library of Congress subject headings for this publication:
Bible. -- N.T. -- Commentaries.