The identity of the author of the Letter to Hebrews is unknown. In the past Luke and Clement have been suggested. Today some modern scholars think Apollos may have been the author. The truth is, as Origen stated, “God alone knows”. All we can say is he (or she?) was an amazingly creative theologian. Or in the words of Luke Johnson: “The most important thing Hebrews tells us about the author whoever he was, is that in the first decades of the Christian movement, another remarkable mind and heart besides Paul’s was at work in interpreting the significance of the crucified and raised Messiah Jesus for the understanding of Scripture, of the world and of human existence”. In this blog for Ascension Day we shall look at seven amazing claims he made for Jesus the Ascended Lord in his introduction to his letter.
First Jesus reveals God. “In these last days he has spoken to us by a Son (Heb 1.2a NRSV). This NRSV translation is a little pedantic. It is true that there is no definite article in the underlying Greek. However, the implication is not that Jesus is ‘one son among many’. Rather we see here the exalted status of God’s messenger. Jesus is “one who is a son” – and not just a prophet. Jesus is God’s final and definitive Word. In that regard the importance of Jesus lies not in just what he said, but in who he was and what he did. Clearly the teachings of Jesus are invaluable for our understanding of the nature of God and of what God would have us to be. But if the significance of Jesus resulted solely in his teaching, then he would still be just a prophet, albeit the greatest of prophets. However, God spoke through his very life and being. Whereas the prophets were but friends of God, Jesus was the Son of God. As the Son of God Jesus was able to reveal the Father in a way previously unknown.
Secondly, and intimately connected with the first claim, Jesus helps us to see the glory of God: he “is the reflection of God’s glory” (1.3a NRSV). This phrase has been translated in different ways: “He is the effulgence of God’s splendour” (NEB) “He is the radiance of God’s glory” (REB/NIV); He reflects the brightness of God’s glory” GNB). Or as Peterson puts it in his paraphrase; “Jesus perfectly mirrors God” (The Message). Some people don’t like mirrors – it shows them as they are, warts and all. But there is nothing off-putting about the reflection of Jesus. Jesus shows us what God is like in all his amazing glory. How is this possible? In the Old Testament the glory of God was overwhelming to the point of being terrifying: people could not look at God and live. R.E.O White put it this way: “As smoked glass, at the time of an eclipse, allows the safe study of the sun’s ‘corona’, so Jesus makes the divine glory bearable to human eyes: we cannot bear to gaze upon the sun’s full splendour, but we can live in sunlight, shining through Jesus Christ”. Jesus helps us see God safely. To see Jesus is to see God wonderfully in action.
Thirdly, and related to the first two claims, Jesus is the spitting image of God: “He is the exact imprint of God’s very being” 1.3b NRSV); He is “the stamp of God’s very being” (NEB/REB); “the exact likeness of God’s own being” (GNB); “the exact representation of his being’ (NIV); ‘He is stamped with God’s nature’ (The Message). The underlying Greek word (character) was used of the impression of a metal stamp on a coin. In the days when this letter was written emperors would employ an engraver to carve their portrait on a stamp made of hard metal. He would then use this stamp to make the coin: when you looked at the coin you would see a picture of the emperor. Similarly, if we look at Jesus, we see exactly what God is like. To see Jesus is to see God. So the great Christ-hymn of Colossians declares: “He is the image of God” (Col 1.15). “No one has ever seen God. The only Son, who is the same as God and is at the Father’s side, he has made him known” (John 1.18). What a claim to make of a man still within the living memory of many! But then, this was a claim that Jesus made of himself: “Whoever has seen me, has seen the Father” (John 14.9)
Fourthly, before time even began Jesus was God’s agent in creation: he is the one “through whom he also created the worlds” (1.2c NRSV). The author uses an unusual word for ‘world’ (literally ‘eons’ or ‘ages’) and employs the plural to emphasise the all-encompassing nature of the creation. The NIV & REB speak of Jesus creating “the universe”; the Revised New Jerusalem Bible speaks of Jesus making “the ages”. Perhaps the best translation is to say that that Jesus made “the whole created universe of time and space”. The same thought is found in John 1.1-3: “In the beginning was the Word… All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being”. Similarly in Col 1.16 we read: “In him all things in heaven and on earth were created… all things have been created through him and for him”. What an amazing person Jesus is!
Fifthly, from the beginning of time to the end Jesus is the cosmic linchpin:“he sustains all things by his powerful word” (1.3c NRSV); “sustaining the universe with his powerful word” (GNB); “he holds everything together” (The Message).The same thought is found in Col 1.17: “in him all things hold together”. Jesus is involved not just in the beginning and the end, but also in everything in-between. Here creation is viewed not just as a one-off event, but as a continuous process. God did not just set off the world in motion – he is involved in the whole evolutionary process. In the words of F.F. Bruce “He upholds the universe not like Atlas supporting a dead weight on his shoulders, but as One who carries all things forward on their appointed course”.
Sixthly, at the end of time the whole creation will belong to Jesus: whom he appointed heir of all things (1.2b NRSV). He is “the one whom God has chosen to possess all things at the end (GNB). “It [the world] will all belong to him at the end” (The Message). “Here we have an allusion to Psalm 2, where the Lord’s anointed is acclaimed as God’s Son.
Seventhly and intimately related to the fifth and sixth claims, Jesus is the ‘Master of the Universe’, he is Lord of all: “When he had made 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” (1.3d NRSV). In the New Testament the resurrection and ascension are seen as one and are viewed as the moment when Jesus was crowned Lord of all. Sere Phil 2.9-11: “Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord”. Similarly in an early Christian creed contained in Rom 1.4: “he was declared Son of God with power according to the spirit of holiness by resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord”. As F.F Bruce noted: “The eternity of Christ’s divine sonship is not brought into question by this view: the suggestion rather is that he, who was the Son of God from everlasting, entered into the full exercise of all the prerogatives implied by his sonship when… he was raised to the Father’s right hand”.
I think Paul in fact was the author of Hebrews. I don’t buy the argument of the others although I thought for a while it could be Clement. The language, depth and weight of argument means it could have only come from one person! Nor do I think the style precludes it being him because the style of his other letters differs in places.
This view is shared with the translators of the King James Version who named him as the author. Why though we don’t have his named signatured, as with his other letters, I don’t know!