Do Not Drift Away

The first chapter of Hebrews emphasizes the supremacy of the High Priest who sits at the “right hand of the Majesty on high.” First, the eternal sovereignty of God is described (“Your throne, O God, is to times everlasting”). Next, the qualifications of the Son for the priesthood are stated (“You loved righteousness and hated lawlessness”). This leads to the Letter’s first exhortation at the beginning of Chapter 2. Considering the excellency of the Son’s name and status, any failure to heed the “word spoken” in him will result in horrific consequences.

Ship Aground - Photo by K. Mitch Hodge on Unsplash
[Photo by K. Mitch Hodge on Unsplash]

And here, God and the Son are addressed separately. The purpose is not to engage in metaphysical speculation about the nature of either or their relationship, but to stress the greatness of Jesus and the supremacy of his position.

  • “But regarding the Son, Your throne, O God, is everlasting, and a scepter of equity is the scepter of his kingdom{a}You have loved righteousness and hated lawlessness. For this cause, has God, your God, anointed you with the oil of exultation beyond your partners. And you, by way of beginning, Lord, the earth founded, and the works of your hands are the heavens. They shall perish, but you abide still, and all as a mantle shall be worn out. And as if a robe will you fold them up as a mantle, and they shall be changed. But you are the same, and your years shall not failBut to which of the angels has he ever said, Sit at my right hand until I make your foes your footstool? Are they not all spirits doing public service, for ministry sent forth for the sake of those who are going to inherit salvation?” - (Hebrews 1:8-14 – Citing Psalm 45:6-7, 102:25-38, 110:1. {a}The 7better Greek manuscripts read “his kingdom,” not “your kingdom”).

Because of his qualifications, God exalted the Son to reign from His throne (“For this cause, God anointed you with the oil of exultation beyond your PARTNERS”). The Greek term rendered “partners” occurs five times in the Letter when referring to the believers for whom Jesus achieved the “purification of sins” and offered his own life - (Hebrews 3:1, 3:14, 6:4, 12:8).

The One who “anointed” the Son is the God who “founded the earth” and the “heavens.” Though the creation itself might “perish,” He “remains forever.” And because the Son inherits His throne, his authority and status are supreme and everlasting.

As for the angels, at no point did God ever say to any angel, no matter how high or powerful, “Sit at my right hand.” Angels do not rule over the Cosmos or function as priests on behalf of the saints. They are servants “sent forth for the sake of them who are about to inherit salvation,” in this case, the church.

FIRST ADMONISHMENT


The comparison of the Son with the angels now concludes with the first warning of the consequences for failing to heed the “word” spoken by God in His Son:

  • “For this cause, it behooves us with unwonted firmness to be holding fast to the things that have been heard, lest at any time we drift away. For if the word through angels spoken became firm and every transgression and disobedience received a just recompense, how shall we escape if so great a salvation as this we neglected? Which, indeed, having received a beginning of being spoken through the Lord, by them who heard to us was confirmed, God jointly witnessing also both with signs and wonders and manifold mighty works, and with impartations of Holy Spirit, according to his own will?” - (Hebrews 2:1-4).

The concluding paragraph presents two themes repeated in later chapters. First, the need to “hear” the "word" that God is now speaking in His Son. Second, warnings about the grave danger posed by refusing to obey his and thereby dishonor Jesus - (Hebrews 4:1-11, 6:4-8, 10:26-31, 12:25-26).

Because of the surpassing excellence of Christ’s “word,” it is vital to adhere to it. If disregarding the word mediated by angels resulted in the severe punishment of the Israelites, how much more so will the refusal to heed his vastly superior word mean disaster for us today?

The clause, “spoken through angels,” reflects the Jewish tradition that the Law was delivered to Israel by angels. The statement does not disparage Moses or the Torah. Angels may have mediated the Law, but its source was God. It was His “word” regardless of the intermediary used to deliver it, and every transgression of the Law received a just recompense - (Deuteronomy 33:2, Acts 7:53, Galatians 3:19).

With that being so, how shall disciples of Jesus escape far greater punishment if they now abandon the supreme word? As dangerous as it was to disobey the legal code mediated through angels, how much more serious is the danger when men ignore the superior “word of salvation” that God now speaks through His “Son”?

NEW vs OLD


The Letter argues from the LESSER TO THE GREATER. Angels are God’s ministers and glorious beings. Moses was God’s anointed servant and the Great Lawgiver. The point is the grave danger in which believers place themselves when they abandon the revelation provided by God in one who is a “Son.” Anyone who abandons him to return to the old Levitical order risks the loss of everything AND everlasting destruction.

Some believers addressed by the Letter were contemplating going back to the Jewish synagogue to escape pressure and persecution. The Letter’s goal is to encourage struggling disciples to cleave to the glorious revelation they now possess from the apostolic tradition they have received.

The rhetorical strategy is to compare this vastly superior revelation with the past ones made “in the prophets”, including Moses, and thus demonstrate the surpassing greatness of the now definitive “word” that God provides in Jesus.

Whether anyone “drifts away” from the Son of God to non-Christian Judaism, another religion, or an irreligious life, he can expect to receive a “much sorer punishment” than any transgressors ever received under the Mosaic Law. To whom much is given, much is required.


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