During a recent visit to Vietnam, I had the opportunity to visit the War Remnants Museum in Ho Chi Minh City, which contains primarily exhibits relating to the American phase of the Vietnam War. The goal of the museum is to act as an exhibition house for war crimes. As an American I found the visit enlightening on several fronts. I am old enough to remember the Vietnam War, and I can recall much of the American side of the War. It was interesting to be exposed to the other side. As I walked around, I was reminded of the saying that history is written by the victors.
When it comes to world history—from beginning to end—we can safely say that the Victor has written it. We are told how history began (Genesis 1—2) and also how it will ultimately end.
Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; nor does corruption inherit incorruption. Behold, I tell you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed—in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. So when this corruptible has put on incorruption, and this mortal has put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory.”
(1 Corinthians 15:50-54)
Indeed, we know that God’s gospel will prove victorious because “the kingdoms of this world have become the kingdoms of our Lord and of His Christ, and He shall reign forever and ever!” (Revelation 11:15). His kingdom has come, and will continue to come until one day it has finally, fully come. Do we believe this?
I recently visited two different churches in two different countries where church members are ministering in a missionary capacity, and in both churches the services were closed with a corporate recitation of the Lord’s Prayer. As the congregation recited those well-known words—“Your kingdom come”—it was a helpful reminder to me that God is indeed bringing His kingdom purposes to pass. The King has come and His kingdom is certain. In many ways, this is the theme of Hebrews. And it is certainly the theme of chapter 1.
Having just recently returned from a visit to some of our missionaries, I want to return once more to Hebrews 1 in this study to consider the theme of God’s kingdom, and how we ought to look for it. During my visit to one of our missionaries, I was taken to a marketplace, and as I walked past stall after stall, vendors rushed to me excitedly asking, “What are you looking for?” After a while, I thought to myself that I should answer, “The kingdom.” Unfortunately, no more vendors asked me that question once I had thought of that answer, but the truth is, Christians ought to be looking for God’s kingdom. Hebrews 1 challenges us to do just that.
I was blessed during my visits to see that our church has missionaries who believe the Lord’s Prayer. They believe that God’s kingdom has come, and are obediently looking for it to increasingly come. As we look one more time at Hebrews 1 I want us to share that vision. I trust that this study will be used by God to fill our vision with Christ so that we will seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness—and to live like we expect a positive answer to the prayer, “Your kingdom come.”
We have already spent three studies considering an exposition of this chapter, but may this study remind us of the absolute supremacy of Jesus Christ. May we resubmit to serve Him and to help others to see Him as Saviour and serve Him too. May we be reminded and empowered about what it is we are to be looking for.
A Summation of the Exposition
As we have seen, the writer of Hebrews wrote in order to encourage God’s people—Hebrew Christians—to persevere. It is a very exhortational epistle. The recipients were being tempted to abandon their faith, and the writer wanted them to keep believing.
I would suggest that we constantly need this exhortation. It is no accident that Hebrews is such a popular epistle amongst Christians. As we read this epistle we are reminded of the supremacy of Christ and encouraged to persevere because there is nothing better on offer.
The concept of Christ as “better” is replete in this epistle. As we have seen, the writer argues that the God who spoke is still speaking, but in a better way. God spoke previously through prophets, but today He speaks through the great Prophet (Deuteronomy 18:15-19). Jesus is God’s final Word, God’s pastoral Word and God’s preeminent Word. We see this in the sevenfold description of this Word in vv. 2-3.
We know that Jesus is God’s preeminent and incomparable Word because of God’s inspired Word. In order to prove his point, the writer directs us to seven Old Testament texts in vv. 5-14. The old covenant substantiates the new covenant in Christ. These seven Old Testament texts prove that Jesus has a better name. They prove that He has become better than the angels.
In His incarnation, Jesus “was made a little lower than the angels” (2:9). He laid aside His glory to such a degree that even the created angels had more glory than He had. But in his exaltation, He has “become so much better than the angels” (v. 4). The exaltation is celebrated in this chapter by reference to the Old Testament. Christ’s sonship is celebrated (v. 5). His supremacy is celebrated (v. 6). His sceptre of authority is celebrated (vv. 7-9). His sameness—His unchanging nature—is celebrated (v. 13). And He is celebrated as Saviour of all (v. 14). He is the heir and, incredibly, we are joint heirs with Him (see v. 2; cf. Romans 8:16-17).
As we saw, while angels can serve us, they cannot save us. Each of these texts proves that Jesus alone can save. Each of them proves that we in fact need to be saved, and that the only one with the “name” that can do so is Jesus. After all, “there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).
All of this leave us without excuse and without escape if we do not listen to the final Word from God—the Word that is, in fact, God (cf. 2:1-3). The Hebrews, who had always held angels in high regard, were in danger of exalting the angels above the Son. The message of the writer is clear: Don’t exalt the messenger; exalt Jesus!
An Extrapolation from the Exposition
As noted, the author cites seven Old Testament texts in order to prove the supremacy of the Son. The majority of these texts exalt Jesus Christ as king. For example, Psalm 2 is cited in v. 5, which portrays Jesus Christ as the one on the throne. Psalm 45 (cited in vv. 8-9) likewise portrays Jesus Christ as “King” (vv. 1, 5, 11, 14, 15) on His “throne” (v. 6) with great “majesty” (vv. 3-4). Verse 13 quotes from Psalm 110—the most frequently quoted psalm in the New Testament—which likewise portrays Jesus as King. While the author quotes only snippets, the expectation is that the readers would have been familiar with the psalms quoted and would have put the pieces together.
Every Scripture quoted by the author is messianic, and “messianic,” by definition, implies kingship. The word “messiah” means “anointed one,” and an anointed one in the Old Testament was a prophet, a priest or a king. In sum, then, we see that Jesus, being better than the angels with a more exalted name, is King of a kingdom. These texts celebrate this fact. The Hebrew believers needed to keep this reality before them.
We must understand an important historical connection at this point. These Hebrews, who had professed faith in Jesus as the Christ, were being tempted to turn back. We must ask why this was.
I suspect that they were being tempted to disillusionment. It appeared that Jesus had not fulfilled messianic expectations. Such unfulfilled expectations were, in fact, the very reason that Jesus had been crucified some thirty years earlier. Many of the Jews had initially embraced the miracle worker from Galilee as Messiah, but when He did not fulfil their political expectations, they turned on Him and crucified Him as a false messiah. He did not bring in the kingdom as they had expected Him to. And perhaps these professing believers were being tempted to disillusionment because they were not seeing the kingdom come as quickly and obviously as they expected.
There is a strong kingdom theme in this epistle. Consider, for example, the comparison of Christ to Melchizedek “king of Salem, priest of the Most High God” (chapter 7). Consider, further, that Jesus “has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” (12:1-2). Again, consider reference to “a kingdom which cannot be shaken” in 12:28. It appears that the writer was emphasising something about the kingdom.
And yet this must have been somewhat confusing to the readers. Positionally—at least temporally—things were not great. These Hebrew believers were facing intense pressure from unbelieving Jews. And while Nero’s persecution had not broken out yet, it was about to. John would soon receive the Revelation and Nero would soon snap. While they were hearing promises of a new world (2:5) and an age to come (6:5), all they were experiencing was persecution. Of course, persecution had been prophesied (see Matthew 10:34-39; 24:1-14), but perhaps many were having second thoughts about Jesus as King establishing His kingdom. Simply put, things just did not look messianic—at least not visibly.
I must admit: I know the feeling. My wife and I recently spent a couple of days in Hong Kong, an experience I would prefer not to repeat. Hong Kong is interesting for about a day, but the blatant materialism is tiring. At one point, we were on a subway and, as I looked at everyone sitting in their own little world with their iPads and iPods and iPhones, I wondered if the kingdom was making any impact there. Was anyone there thinking God’s thoughts after Him? What kind of impact was the gospel having there? But then I was reminded that I just don’t know. Perhaps some of those sitting with eyes closed were praying. Perhaps some were listening to sermons on their iPods. Perhaps some were on their way to a Bible study or a fellowship of some sort.
This is how many of the Hebrews no doubt felt. There was little overt evidence of Christ’s kingdom in their day. Externally and visibly, they were no doubt tempted to turn back, to quit the race. But the author exhorted them to press on.
Do you know the feeling? Do you know what it is like to look around you and feel that kingdom work is just not progressing? Have you ever felt that progress in evangelism and missions work is just not progressing as fast as you would like? I felt this temptation while visiting our missionaries. On the one hand, I watched a pagan ritual being performed as thousands worshipped their false gods, and wondered what impact Christian missionaries are having there. On the other hand, I witnessed a country doing seemingly well under a pagan, Christ-rejecting government and wondered how the gospel was progressing there. But I was encouraged that, even if I don’t see it, Christ is building His church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.
What about your personal growth in Christlikeness? Do sinful setbacks and sufferings tempt you to unbelief? Let’s face it: It can be discouraging. We can be tempted to doubt the king and His kingdom. We need biblical help! Again, as the writer cited snippets of psalms, he expected that his readers would be encouraged by the entire psalms that Jesus Christ is king. Though this may have been visibly hard to believe, they needed to know (as do we) that there was (and is) a whole lot going on in the unseen world.
There is a wonderful story in 2 Kings 6 that illustrates this truth. The Syrians had waged war against Israel, but God kept revealing Syria’s war plans to Elisha, who in turn warned the king of Israel. The Syrian king grew increasingly frustrated, believing that there was a spy in his army who was revealing his plans to Israel. When he was informed that Elisha was thwarting his plans, he sent a large force to capture Elisha. They came by night and surrounded the city where Elisha lived. When Elisha and his servant awoke early the next morning, they found their city besieged. The servant was terrified, and asked in despair what they should do. Elisha replied,
“Do not fear, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them.” And Elisha prayed, and said, “LORD, I pray, open his eyes that he may see.” Then the LORD opened the eyes of the young man, and he saw. And behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.
(2 Kings 6:8-17)
Elisha’s servant needed insight into the unseen world in order to be encouraged. We often need the same. We are far too often blind to unseen spiritual realities around us, and so we are tempted to discouragement when we face trials. By presenting a biblical view of Jesus as King, the writer aimed to motivate his readers to press into the kingdom.
There is a very simple principle here: Perspective is key to perseverance. Jesus is King, and His kingdom is certain. Therefore, be encouraged to run the race. A perspective of preeminence and of ultimate permanence is essential for perseverance.
Applications from the Exposition
Having considered the overriding principle, let me proceed with a few important applications.
A Worthy Vision
If we will persevere, then we need to have a worthy vision of Jesus. For as Solomon put it, “Where there is no vision, the people perish” (Proverbs 29:18, KJV). We must be “looking unto Jesus” if we will persevere (Hebrews 12:1-2). That is the point of the whole epistle.
Be careful of unworthy views of Christ. If Jesus is nothing more to you than a political emancipator, you will ultimately be disillusioned. Liberation theology presents a Jesus who is no better than a human hero, and the results are short-lived. If He is nothing to you but a health, wealth and prosperity giver, you are bound to grow disillusioned. Again, any benefit you derive will be short-lived. If you view Him as simply a social equaliser, you will be disappointed. Simply put, if you view Him as anyone less than the King who saves and thereby brings us into His kingdom, you will be disappointed.
On the other hand, worthy views of Christ will keep us persevering in our worship, our walk and our work. Listen to Paul’s worthy view of Christ:
Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith; that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death, if, by any means, I may attain to the resurrection from the dead.
Paul faced great persecution and tremendous trials, and was no doubt at times tempted to disillusionment. But because he had this view of Christ, he could say, “Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:13-14).
What enabled the apostle in Acts to persevere in the face of great opposition? It could only have been their high view of Jesus as sovereign King.
Of course, worthy views of Christ require worthy proclamation of Christ. As Paul said to the Corinthians, “I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:1-2). If we will have a worthy view of Christ, we must be exposed to Christ-centred and Christ-exalting preaching. This will ultimately keep us looking for the right thing. It will help us to be properly focused. It is far too easy to become sidetracked and deceived.
And so let me ask you the question that I was asked in the marketplace: What are you looking for? If you don’t know then you will end up making worthless purchases. Sadly, that is how so many spend their lives. We must know what we are looking for, and then actively look for it. Matthew 6:33 needs to be more than a mere motto.
Maintaining the Vision
The question, naturally, is how do we maintain this vision? How do we persevere with it when so much militates against it? Let me suggest at least three strategies.
First, talk with other believers about Jesus. In Malachi 3, we read of a group of God’s people who were tempted to disillusionment.
“Your words have been harsh against Me,” says the LORD, “yet you say, ‘What have we spoken against You?’ You have said, ‘It is useless to serve God; what profit is it that we have kept His ordinance, and that we have walked as mourners before the LORD of hosts? So now we call the proud blessed, for those who do wickedness are raised up; they even tempt God and go free.’”
Have you ever felt that way? Have you ever felt that “it is useless to serve God”? Have you ever asked yourself, “What profit is it that we have kept His ordinance?” How should you respond? The next verse tells us: “Then those who feared the LORD spoke to one another” (v. 16). When we are tempted to despair, we need to talk about the Lord to those who fear the Lord.
During our visit to Hong Kong, my wife and I sat together on a park bench at one point looking at the people milling about. Again, there was nothing obvious to indicate that the Lord was doing a great work. We began to discuss the kingdom of God, and my wife correctly said, “We definitely need to talk more about the Lord.” We do! Work at it!
Second, do not underestimate the value of corporate gathering. Knowing that his readers were being tempted to draw back, the writer later in this epistle wrote,
Therefore, brethren, having boldness to enter the Holiest by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He consecrated for us, through the veil, that is, His flesh, and having a High Priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful. And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching.
Solomon reminds us, “He who walks with wise men will be wise, but the companion of fools will be destroyed” (Proverbs 13:20). Corporate gathering—not only at worship services, but also in home fellowship groups, prayer meetings, and general fellowship gatherings—is vital to biblical perseverance. And while “corporate gathering” is not exclusive to Lord’s Day worship, it is vital that we guard the Lord’s Day.
Third, meditate meaningfully and intentionally upon Scriptures that reveal the exalted Christ.
Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things. The things which you learned and received and heard and saw in me, these do, and the God of peace will be with you.
God Still Speaks
We must be of the conviction that God is still speaking to His world through His Son. He is still saving people! We must have this perspective if we will faithfully persevere.
What Are You Looking For?
The question must be asked again, what are you looking for? When the Pharisees, focused on the physical and blind to invisible spiritual realities, asked Jesus when the kingdom of God would come, He replied, “The kingdom of God does not come with observation; nor will they say, ‘See here!’ or ‘See there!’ For indeed, the kingdom of God is within you” (Luke 17:20-21). They were looking for external signs, but the Lord pointed them to internal realities.
Too often, we look obsessively for external signs, but we must guard against a wrong obsession with these. We must humbly accept that Christ’s kingdom will come in His way.
In His response to the Pharisees, Jesus was not categorically denying the external manifestation of the kingdom. Instead, He was emphasising the nature of the kingdom, in that it commences in and with the individual. Only then does it work out from there.
Be encouraged to examine yourself. Are you in the kingdom? Are you part of the problem or of the solution? If Christ returned today to fully establish His kingdom, would you be included or excluded (see Luke 13:24-30; Matthew 7:21-23)? Examine yourself carefully in the light of Scripture; the sin of presumption is damning!
As believers, we must daily and delightfully devote ourselves to kingdom living. We must devote ourselves to King Jesus and then trust Him for the outcome. Like children, we must be lovingly and trustingly devoted to our Father (Matthew 18:1-5).
Can you imagine the impact in this world if every Christian consistently did this? If we were consistently forgiving and reconciliatory and refused to provoke others to sin, we would have a far greater impact. If we each exemplified holiness and thus purity, and exhibited less conflict, we could have an unimaginable impact. Imagine the impact by Christians with more joy, increased thoughtfulness, reduced selfishness, greater holiness and happiness because of more God-centred homes and more meaningful fellowship.
The point is simply this: It is time for us to stop looking outward for the kingdom, and to begin looking upward and apply inward.
Engaging the World
We must actively engage this world as representatives of Christ the King. His kingdom advances by means. His kingdom comes to earth one salvation at a time, and this requires faithful and passionate evangelism—both at home and abroad. Sacrifice and courage, because of love for Christ, are required. Whenever I visit our missionaries, I am filled with a sense of godly pride at the work they are doing. I am encouraged by young men and women who courageously sacrifice because of their love for Christ, because they believe that He is worthy.
As a church, we are preparing to send another family into the mission field, and it is my prayer that God would enable us to send many more in the future. It is my prayer that many families would see and savour the supremacy of Jesus Christ and be willing to sacrifice so that Jesus Christ can be exalted.
Joyful and Sacrificial Service
By seeing and savouring the supremacy of Christ, we can joyfully and sacrificially serve Him. As we do so, even (especially?) our suffering will manifest His worth to others. When in our trials we joyfully submit to His kingly rule, He is exalted.
Yes, He has a better name than the angels. And for this reason, His kingdom will come. Let us work on our corporate vision of Christ, and may God so use us that more and more people will gain a worthy view of Him as well.