Hebrews 1:1–4

I. Translation

1 πολυμερως και πολυτροπως παλαι ο θεος λαλησας τοις πατρασιν εν τοις προφηταις επ εσχατων των ημερων τουτων ελαλησεν ημιν εν υιω God, who at many times and in various ways spoke of old to our fathers by the prophets, in these last days has spoken to us by His Son,
2 ον εθηκεν κληρονομον παντων δι ου και τους αιωνας εποιησεν Whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom He made the worlds,
3 ος ων απαυγασμα της δοξης και χαρακτηρ της υποστασεως αυτου φερων τε τα παντα τω ρηματι της δυναμεως αυτου δι εαυτου καθαρισμον ποιησαμενος των αμαρτιων ημων εκαθισεν εν δεξια της μεγαλωσυνης εν υψηλοις Who being the effulgence of His glory, and the exact representation of his nature, and upholding all things by the Word of his power, having made a cleansing of sins He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high,
4 τοσουτω κρειττων γενομενος των αγγελων οσω διαφορωτερον παρ αυτους κεκληρονομηκεν ονομα  Being made so much greater than the angels, as he has obtained by inheritance a greater name than they.

 

II. Structure

1:1: God Spoke by the Prophets to the Past Age

1a: When He spoke: at various times long ago

1b: How He spoke: in various manners

1c: To whom He spoke: to the fathers

1d: By whom He spoke: by the prophets

1:2–4: God Speaks by the Prophet to the Present Age

2a: This age: last days

2b–4: This Prophet: Son

2b–c: The Son in His divine placement by God

2b: Son—Messenger of God

2c: Son—Appointed Heir by God

2d–4: The Son in His divine Person as God

2d: Son—Creator of the universe

3a: Son—Bright Glory of God

3b: Son—Image of the Father

3c–d: The Son in His divine purposes for God

3c: Son—Sustainer of all things

3d: Son—Purger of of our sins

3e–4: The Son in His divine preeminence with God

3e: Son—Preeminent at the Father’s right hand

4a: Son—Preeminent above the angels

4b: Son—Preeminent by His inherited name

III. Exposition

God speaks. He has spoken to people in times past (πάλαι), and He speaks to us now (ἐπʼ ἐσχάτου τῶν ἡμερῶν τούτων). According to Lane, this expresses the classic Jewish and early Christian conception of the succession of two ages in the course of redemptive history.[footnote]Lane, W. L. (1998). Hebrews 1–8 (Vol. 47A, p. 10). Dallas: Word, Incorporated.[/footnote] The messengers of old were the prophets, who in their persons, manners, and times were surpassed by the very One of whom they spoke: the Son. This is no mere prophet next in line after the previous. This Prophet ends the line. This is the Prophet above all prophets—the One who fulfills all that the prophets foretold. The writer simply says: “he has spoken by Son” (ελαλησεν ημιν εν υιω).
Hebrews 1:1-3 is a dense argument for the Son’s supreme dignity as the special revelation of God, particularly in His divine placement, Person, purposes, and preeminence. That argument culminates with a final statement (“Being made so much better than the angels”)—a line a reasoning the writer takes in 1:5–2:18 to set forth Christ’s preeminence for a people at risk of apostatizing into Judaism.
God speaks—and He has chosen to do so through His Son, whose works, words, and Being declare God and give Him a name and place far above all else (even the angels) by reason of inheritance—an inheritance obtained through His death in the work of purging the sins of God’s people.
This combination of revelation—God speaking—and salvation cannot be underestimated. Was it not salvation that God spoke in the old covenant? Did God not in earlier days speak through the fathers and the prophets concerning His covenant and promises (cf. Luke 1:54, 55, 72): to Adam and Eve and the serpent at the Fall, “her seed shall bruise thy head” (Gen. 3:15, 16); to Noah on the cusp of the universal deluge, “Go forth of the ark” to save a remnant alive (Gen. 8:15, 16); to Abram, “Get thee out of thy country and from thy kindred…and I will of thee a great nation”; to Jacob from above the ladder, “and in thee and in thy seed shall all the families of the earth be blessed” (Gen. 28:14); to Moses, who led God’s people from bondage, and so forth?
God again speaks in these “last days” (Heb. 1:2)—by His preeminent Son in the new covenant: the One of whom all the law and the prophets testified (Luke 24:27, 44), the beginning of the Gospel (Matt. 1:1, 21), the Servant-Heir sent into His Father’s vineyard to die (Mark 12:1–8; cf. Heb. 1:2), the Creator of all things (Col. 1:16–18; cf. Heb. 1:2), the One made a little lower the angels for the suffering of death (Heb. 2:9) and resurrected to become the firstborn from the dead so “that in all things he might have the preeminence” (Col. 1:18; Heb. 1:3–4). He is “the effulgence of [God’s] glory, and the very image of his substance” (Heb. 1:3), come in the fullness of time (Eph. 1:10) to humble Himself, take on flesh, and become obedient unto the death on the cross to be the true Savior. Thus “God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name” (Phil. 2:9)—a name that is better than the angels (Heb. 1:4).
As the first two verses introduce Christ, they introduce Christ as Mediator as well as God from the beginning. The Father, who is the object of the first verse, introduces His only Son as the heir of all things (ὃν ἔθηκεν κληρονόμον πάντων, v. 2). This shows the mediating office that Christ was appointed to by God the Father. This heirship is in the light of redemption, to restore what we had lost in Adam. But this Christ, the Son, the object of the letter is the incarnate Son of God, through whom the Father created the world (δι’ οὗ καὶ ἐποίησεν τοὺς αἰῶνας). This affirms that both creation and redemption are the work of God the Father! This is important not only because it shows the desire of the Father concerning our redemption, but also because it proves the pre-existence and co-existence of Christ with the Father.
Grammatical Observations
Verse 2 shows an expression which is common to the Septuagint, translates a Semitic temporal idiom for the future as distinct from the past. This expression, ἐπ’ ἐσχάτου τῶν ἡμερῶν, is translated as “in these final days.” It connects to “the various times” of verse one, and shows a comparison of the past to the future.
ἐν υἱῷ is anarthrous and it shows that Christ is the subject of this Epistle. All the attention is drawn to the Son, and not to the prophets, (τοῖς προφήταις). The Son is the object, for it is Him who is higher than angels, creation and all that exists. The Son is higher, for What God said through the Son clarified the intention of the word spoken to the fathers. From this perspective, the recent revelation in the Son is viewed as fulfillment of all that is spoken through the prophets and the angels, as mentioned later.
Though the subject of verse 1-2 is God (ὁ Θεὸς), the subject of verse 3-4 is the Son, who sat down (ὃς … ἐκάθισεν). This is combined with a contingent aorist participle καθαρισμὸν ποιησάμενος (having made purification). Some commentaries argue that δι’ αὐτοῦ is added to explain the middle voice in ποιησάμενος. The purification is been made through Himself.
From the third verse, we see that the Son is so highly exalted because He has been appointed heir of everything by God the Father (ὅν ἔθηκεν κληρονόμον πάντων). This inheritance (τὴν κληρονομίαν) is all the nations (ἔθνη; see Ps. 2:8) . This heir of all things resembles and radiates the glory from the Father, bearing the stamp of the Father’s nature and glory (ὢν ἀπαύγασμα τῆς δόξης). This speaks of an important distinction between the Father and the Son, though the Son is at the same time the express image of the Father Himself. Athanasius said: “Who does not see that the brightness cannot be separated from the light, but that it is by nature proper to it and co-existent with it, and is not produced after it?” That is why we cannot isolate the person of Christ from His work, for they are one just like the Father and the Son are one (Jn. 14:9). That is why He upholds all things by the word of His power (τῷ ῥήματι τῆς δυνάμεως). Upholding (φέρων) is a dynamic concept. It is support, and movement, namely carrying forward. God continues to sustain the universe by His power (φέρων τε τὰ πάντα τῷ ῥήματι τῆς δυνάμεως αὐτοῦ). The world would collapse if the divine power would be removed.
In addition, the middle voice used for purification (καθαρισμὸν ποιησάμενος) through Himself, we see the essence of the gospel as Christ who reflects the glory of the Father, through nothing but Himself, keeps sustaining and carrying the world through His words.
Again an example of inclusio, as ὄνομα is put in the final position of the verse because it relates to the following clause in verse 5. One of the ways in which the Son is superior is by inheriting a name which is more excellent (διαφορώτερον) than theirs. Phil 2:9 speaks about the same thing, as Paul says that God has highly exalted Christ Jesus and “bestowed on him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth.”
CONCLUSION
So then, notice the strategic importance of the first four verses. The author puts the enthronement of Christ right up front in this epistle. Next we will turn to the angels, but he doesn’t build up to the enthronement, but he simply makes the scene of enthronement burst forth on our horizon. It’s as if he tears the clouds away and we see what faith always sees – Christ on the throne.