You’ve likely heard about the Marshmallow Test. Young children were given a giant marshmallow to eat, but if they were willing to wait for an unspecified amount of time, they would receive an additional marshmallow. Most of the children could not do it, but the few who did were creative at distracting themselves from looking at the prize.
This example is often used to illustrate the value of delayed gratification. Most of us are willing to forfeit the best things in life in order to have instant gratification—even if it is a much smaller reward.
The original readers were tempted to relieve the pressure of mounting persecution by retreating to Temple worship. They knew that if they were willing to turn back, or drift away from the gospel (Heb 2:1), they would find instant relief. This is why the author repeatedly encourages them to hold fast to their confession of faith (Heb 4:14).
When he is not explicitly challenging them to persevere, he is explaining the magnitude of what they have gained. He does this by emphasizing the blessings they have in union with Christ.
This opening prologue establishes the outline for the whole message. Time and again the author will show how the Old Testament points forward to Jesus. Jesus is better than the prophets, angels, and sacrificial system. The full and final installment of his progressive special revelation is given to us by his Son. In him, all the promises of the Law found their fulfillment (2 Cor. 1:20).
The second half of v.2 transitions to describing the Son. We’re just going to focus on the first two descriptions this morning.
1. The Son as Heir of All Things
2. The Son as Agent of Creation
From the opening sentence, the author is making it clear to his readers that they have nothing to gain and everything to lose if they return to the practices of the Judaic church. Jesus was not merely the last in a long line of prophets, he is the fulfillment that brings their work to its glorious conclusion.
We minimize the value of our future reward when we compromise our faith for immediate relief.
Read Heb 1:1-4.
The Heir of All Things
God has appointed the Son as the heir of all things. There is a direct correlation between the Son’s inheritance and his reign at the right hand of the Father. Here we explicitly see what his inheritance includes—all things. But we can also acknowledge that it implies something about his supremacy. If the Son inherits everything, then there are no other worthy recipients.
There is an allusion to Ps 2:7-8 regarding Christ’s exaltation (his resurrection and ascension) to the right hand of the Father as well as his comprehensive eschatological reign. In v.5 the author quotes Ps 2:7, so we may assume he has the broader context of Psalm 2 in view. This would include a call to submit to the Son lest we incur his wrath (Ps 2:12). Genuine judgement is at stake (Ps 2:9). But so is the prospect of blessing for those who take refuge in the Son (Ps 2:12).
While Christ becomes the heir of all things upon his exaltation, it is ultimately after all things have come into being and he is finally capable of receiving them for his possession. But this verse speaks to his appointment as heir. In other words, Christ has already assumed the title and begun to reign—even though his rule is not yet total and complete. Donald Hagner summarizes it well: “As the heir, all things already belong to the Son in principle, just as they will actually and finally be his at the end.”
This will be clear in the next chapter where the author quotes from Ps 8:4-6 to suggest that all things are placed under subjection of Christ (Heb 2:8a). He goes on to qualify this statement: “At present, we do not yet see everything in subjection to him” (Heb 2:8b). That is because his inheritance includes “the world to come” (Heb 2:5). Later on we will see the “already” aspects of our participation in the blessings of that inheritance (Heb 11:10, 16; 12:22, 28). Compare this with Paul’s language in 1 Cor. 15:23-28 where he reflects upon the same psalm.
Owen, “And it is but a little while before he will cast off and dispel all those clouds and shades which at present interpose themselves, and eclipse his glory and majesty from them that love him.”
What we can say with altogether unity and certainty, is that Christ has already secured his appointment as the heir of all things—and that ultimately excludes nothing from his sovereign authority. It’s simply a matter of when that reality will become part of our experience. His victory is secure.
The Agent of Creation
After starting with the end goal, the author returns to the starting point. The Son is supreme from beginning to end. The Son will inherit “all things,” in part, because he was instrumental in fashioning “all things.” We find a parallel passage in Paul’s letter to the Colossians.
Colossians 1:16 ESV
For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him.
Why should we care that God has spoken to us by his Son? Because the world was made through him and for him. Christ proclaims his lordship over all he created and as Lord, he enjoys the privilege of inherit it.
If the Son was an agent of creation then he has existed from all eternity with the Father. The Son is just as eternal as the Father, and thus, equal with the Father. Based upon this line of reasoning, Athanasius explains that the Son is designated as God.
The Son’s subjection to the Father is only in reference to his humanity. This would be contrary to the doctrine of Eternal Functional Subordination. In the past few decades, we have seen a handful of influential reformed scholars attempt to defend this heterodox teaching.
Augustine, reflecting upon Phil 2:6-7, rightly taught in De Trinitate:
“It is not without reason that the Scripture mentions both, that the Son is equal to the Father and the Father greater than the Son, for the first is said on account of the form of God, and the second on account of the form of a servant, without any confusion.”
Thomas Aquinas follows with the same warning in his Summa Theologiae.
“As we are not to understand that Christ is a creature simply, but only in His human nature, whether this qualification be added or not, as stated above (Q. 16, A. 8), so also we are to understand that Christ is subject to the Father not simply but in His human nature, even if this qualification be not added; and yet it is better to add this qualification in order to avoid the error of Arius, who held the Son to be less than the Father.”
The 19th century Scottish minister, John Brown, points out that order in the operations of God does not imply subordination. Robert Paul Martin adds:
“The idea of agency, of course, does not suggest inferiority. Indeed, as at John 1:1-3, agency in creation and oneness of substance with the Father are in perfect accord. By ascribing to the Son creative power—an unequivocal mark of deity (cf. Isa. 37:16; Jer. 10:10-12)—the Son is declared to be God.”
We Become Heirs of the Promise By Faith
If the Son is heir of everything he was instrumental in creating, then this small group of Jewish Christians in Rome have everything to lose if they turn back from him. Departure from Christ is forfeiture of the inheritance he has promised to share in glory.
But is it appropriate to live for that future reward? Doesn’t it sound a little selfish to focus on your personal inheritance? Doesn’t it cheapen the sacrifice that was made?
Jesus endured the cross “for the joy that was set before him” (Heb 12:2). His eyes were set upon the future reward, and it did not diminish his sacrifice in any way.
We will have to endure temporary discomfort and tribulation in this life. Appreciating the glory of our future inheritance “that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading” (1 Pt 1:4) is precisely what will enable us to persevere! That is part of what it means to store up our treasures in heaven (Mt 6:20).
Since Christ is the heir of all things, then we have nothing for eternity if we do not have him. Apart from Christ we will only find the misery that is ours in Adam, both in this life and the next. But if we are united to Christ, then we are enriched with everything that is good. Christ restores to us what we lost in Adam.
We go from being fearful slaves looking only for our satisfaction in this world, to sons who live as heirs of a world to come (Gal 4:4-7; Rom 8:14-17). This means that we will inherit the privilege of ruling and reigning with Christ for all eternity.
2 Timothy 2:11–13 ESV
The saying is trustworthy, for: If we have died with him, we will also live with him; if we endure, we will also reign with him; if we deny him, he also will deny us; if we are faithless, he remains faithful— for he cannot deny himself.
Let us turn to our Heavenly Father, not with a spirit of fear, but the spirit of adopted Sons—grateful that we have become joint heirs of an eternal kingdom!