Second, the crowd’s celebration with palm branches and cloaks was a haze of confusion, misunderstanding and sinful desires. With their shouts of “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord!” the crowd revealed what they were really looking for … not a Savior who would cleanse them of their sin, take away their guilt and reconcile them to God. Instead, hanging onto their sin and independence, they only wanted a military power stronger than that of the Romans to rescue them from their defeated state. Since Jesus did not deliver what they wanted, this same crowd screamed “Crucify, Him! Crucify, Him!” just five days later.
The majority of the Jews were totally puzzled by Jesus. They could not deny His miracles, sinless life or powerful teaching. However, there was so much that didn’t make sense. He came from Nazareth in Galilee, He was poor and did not fit their preconceived idea of what Messiah should be. “Worst of all, [as Richard Phillips describes the crowd’s misconceived notions about Jesus] his failure as a Messiah was proved by his humiliating execution as the worst sort of criminal. The fact that he was crucified—the most despicable of all deaths—proved that he was rejected by God. Jesus may have been a decent enough man, though he obviously got carried away by his short-lived fame” (Hebrews: Reformed Expository Commentary, 16-17).
So Jesus wept over Jerusalem, as we read in Luke 19, putting everything in its proper perspective as He said, “Would that you, even you, had known this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes.” The crowd got it wrong. They missed the purpose of Christ’s entry into Jerusalem and His true identity. At that moment of prophetic judgment, Jesus announced that since they rejected the Christ, God would reject them and bring about the destruction of Jerusalem, their crown jewel, and the old form of worship centered in the Temple.
As we look into Hebrews 1, we should remember that the people who were the first to receive this letter were thinking about bailing on the true Jesus and coming up with a more palatable savior—one that would be less offensive. The pressure for these believers was extreme coming from both the Romans and the Jewish community itself. Rome did not tolerate Christianity’s radical One-God-Theology that condemned both Roman religion and the worship of Caesar. As we saw last week, they had already experienced the seizing of their property and imprisonment at the hands of the Romans. Not only that, these young Christians, coming out of Judaism, were now facing ostracism and persecution from their families and the Jewish community as a whole. This mistreatment, and abuse, was probably an even heavier burden to bear since it was coming from their families and friends—those who would have had inroads into their thoughts and feelings and could appeal to their common heritage.
It is in this context, the author of Hebrews immediately sets out to demonstrate the preeminence and superiority of Jesus Christ and the new covenant instituted through His blood. He knew it would be through the knowledge of the true Messiah that his readers would receive the hope and strength they needed to cling to Jesus rather than throwing Him off and returning to an obsolete way of worshiping God. In cutting to the chase, the author writes:
“Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, 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. 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, having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs” (Hebrews 1:1-4).
The writer affirms that God did previously speak to Israel in different ways over an extended period of time. However, most recently, and in a way in which he will claim was the final word, God has spoken through His Son. In this very long and complex sentence in the Greek (verses 1-4 are all 1 sentence), the emphasis of the sentence is being place on the contrast here between the old way of doing things—throughout the Old Testament—and the new and final way being through His Son, Jesus Christ. The rest of the sentence is there to support and explain how much better this “final word” is compared with all that went on before it. This latter method of communicating with people is found to be so much more excellent because of the One who is now speaking. We’re not talking about some human prophet or priest. We are now listening to the very voice of God the Son. The author of Hebrews laid out 7 statements in verses 2 & 3 which instructed and encouraged his brothers and sisters in their faith. These statements describe in detail exactly who the Son is. You may have heard it described in this way: Jesus Christ is Prophet, Priest, and King. We see that here in Hebrews 1. However, to hopefully help to better explain this truth, I’d like to tweak or extend the titles just slightly so what we have is this:
Jesus as Prophet is the Final Word
Jesus as Priest is the Final Sacrifice
Jesus as King is the Victorious, Sovereign Creator and Lord
And to follow the order of the text, we will take them in this order: King, Prophet, and then Priest.
Christ is the Victorious, Sovereign Creator and Lord
First, we read that Jesus has been “appointed the heir of all things” (v. 2). Jesus rightfully claims “all things” as His inheritance in 2 ways. First, He is the “firstborn of all creation … all things were created through him and for him” (Colossians 1:15-16). This is not saying as the Jehovah’s Witnesses and other cults claim that Jesus was created like all of us. What it teaches is His preeminence that Jesus is the Eternal Son of God (we’ll talk more about this next week), and as the oldest, firstborn son would receive the lion’s share of his father’s property as was customary in ANE culture, so Jesus receives the inheritance from His Father. Secondly, Jesus is the heir because of what He accomplished in His humiliation. Verse 4 tells us that He has inherited a name that is more excellent than that of angels. Philippians 2 gives the explanation. Here we read: “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:5-11). Through His incarnation, suffering and death, Jesus has been exalted above all others and given a name that is above all others that everyone will fall face down and confess Him as Lord.
To further show that Christ is the victorious, sovereign Creator and Lord, the author of Hebrews explains that it was through Him that all things were created … literally “the ages” (v. 2). Jesus is not only in line to inherit it all; He actually made all things by the word of His mouth (as Hebrews 11:2 tells us). As Creator, Jesus is also owner. It was through Him and for Him that all things were created (Colossians 1:15-16).
Christ is The Final Word
As we continue on into verse 3, we notice next that Christ is Prophet or “the Final Word.” We read that “he is the radiance of the glory of God” (this is the 3rd declarative statement of Christ’s divinity) and “the exact imprint of his nature” (the 4th statement). Jesus was not just another prophet sent by Yahweh with a message from heaven. No, Jesus is Immanuel, “God with us.” He was able to say radical things like: “No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father's side, he has made him known” (John 1:18) and “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father…” (John 14:9). In describing the brilliant glory being displayed, the apostle Paul put it this way “the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God” and “the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:4, 6). As Martin Lloyd-Jones put it: “A servant may be able to say everything that is right about his lord and master, he may know him well and intimately but he can never represent him in the way that the son can. The son is a manifestation of the father by being what he is. Thus our Lord himself, while here on earth, represented and manifested the name of God in a way that is incomparable and greater than all others because he is the Son of God” (Safe in the World, 60-61). This places Christ in the position of being the “Final Word” spoken by God. John picks up this theme in his gospel as he writes of “The Word” referring to Jesus. There is now no need for any further revelation, no other prophet is required to show up on the scene. Through Christ and His gospel, we have all we need now for life and godliness.
In addition to Jesus being the exact representation of God here on earth, Hebrews 1:3 also states that Jesus “upholds the universe by the word of his power” (if you’re keeping track this is statement #5). I love how Phillips unpacks this point. He writes: “Jesus wields divine power because as God’s Son he is fully God. As the true and great and final prophet, he is able not merely to reveal God’s will but also to establish God’s will upon the earth” (Phillips, 21). Jesus said that he came down from heaven, not to do His own will but the will of Him who sent Him (John 6:38). This He accomplishes by His great power.
Christ the Final Sacrifice
Finally we have come to Christ the Final Sacrifice or His priestly role. We read in verse 3 that “after making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high” (statements 6 and 7). Later in the book of Hebrews, the author dives deep into this subject of Christ not only being the great High Priest, but also offering Himself up as the Lamb of God because there is no forgiveness of sins without the shedding of blood (9:22), and it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins (10:4). Therefore, Christ, through His own blood, is “the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance, since a death has occurred that redeems them from the transgressions committed…” (9:15). The spectacular point to see here is that Christ sat down. This is more than a reference to being placed on His rightful throne as King. There were no chairs in the Tabernacle or Temple … the work of the earthly priests was never finished. It went on year after year after year. However, now that Christ’s work on the cross is done once for all time, He is able to be seated because there is no longer any need for a blood sacrifice. As Jesus boldly stated on the cross, “It is finished!”
Conclusion and Application
God’s Prophet, Priest and King, His Final Word, Final Sacrifice and Victorious, Sovereign Creator and Lord, came in the fullness of time to serve as the mouthpiece and full representation of His Father. Through the recording of this spoken Word, God’s voice continues to go out into the world even today. God has not been silent; He continues to speak those who have the spiritual hearing to listen to Him.
How does the 3 part role of Christ impact the church today? We aren’t all in exactly the same circumstances as what the Jewish believers were in this setting, but there are still applications for us. I want to suggest 3 points:
1. Christ’s excellencies and sufficiency, as revealed here in Hebrews 1, are enough to sustain us in the most severe trouble and persecution. Viewing Him through Scripture, we will be strengthened to always cling to our Lord Jesus Christ and the gospel even when we are faced with the loss of family, friends, jobs, possessions or life itself.
2. In this week between Palm Sunday and Easter, we will naturally be drawn to meditating on what Jesus did on our behalf on Calvary. We might be tempted to think that the best way to enhance our time of reflection and worship is to do it through paintings, statues or even videos. However, there is no substitute for the revelation of God through His Son as we see it by faith through the Bible. No painting or actor will ever come close to accurately representing our Lord. Based on the strength of the terms used here in Hebrews 1 that teach us regarding Christ as the “radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature,” it is really an offense to God to go looking anywhere else to catch a glimpse of His glory.
3. Though we may echo the words of Hebrews 2 where the author writes, “At present, we do not yet see everything in subjection to [Christ]…” yet we can be sure from the Word of God that Jesus Christ is indeed Lord and King. Because we cannot actually see Him seated “at the right hand of the Majesty on high,” we are required to look by faith and live by that same faith never doubting that He is putting “all His enemies under His feet” (1 Corinthians 15:25).
While Hebrews 1:1-4 was written to believers, there is a message here if you are not a child of God—one who is living apart from Christ. The application is this … to this very minute, you have gone the way of the Palm Sunday crowd. You may have said and thought a lot of good things about Jesus, even doing what appears to be some religious stuff, but in your heart of hearts, you have refused Christ His rightful place as Savior and King. You are holding tightly to your sin and rebellion. The message of Hebrews and the entire Bible is that you are to turn your back on that sin and look to Jesus Christ, as Prophet, Priest, and King, so that He might rescue you from pending judgment and eternal death. Won’t you believe on Him today?