The Scepter Of Uprightness

The Scepter Of Uprightness

Perseverance is the final description applied to those who maintain their faith in Christ to the end of their lives. That faith will not remain in hearts that do not treasure Christ. That is why this sermon-letter opens (and continues) with numerous examples of the superiority of the Son. The author of Hebrews establishes Christ deity, and thus, his ultimate supremacy over all things like few other sections of Scripture (cf. Jn 1Col 1).

Last week we considered how the Son is superior to angels because he has a better name (v.4), a better claim (v.5), and a better fame (v.6). The passage breaks down into two sections. He states the argument that the Son is superior to the angels in v.4 and then he spends the rest of the chapter proving it from Scripture. He expected this small group of Romans Jews to be like the Berean Jews who wanted the Apostle Paul to support his preaching from the Scriptures (Acts 17:11).

We talked about the apparent temptation of the original audience to worship angels. We don’t know the extent of their temptation. But, considering how much space the author of Hebrews allots for this particular subject, it could not have been a minor issue. 

People have directed their worship a lot lower than angelic beings in the past. They could have been worshiping Molech or Baal or some other foreign god. Maybe we think their temptation is less severe because it involves creatures who are close to the throne of God, and their tasks are directly assigned by God.

The best book on idolatry that I’ve come across is We Become What We Worship by Greg Beale. He writes,

“God has made humans to reflect him, but if they do not commit themselves to him, they will not reflect him but something else in creation. At the core of our beings we are imaging creatures. It is not possible to be neutral on this issue: we either reflect the Creator or something in creation.”

In reality, we’re always worshiping something or someone. Anytime the object of our worship is anything less than God, it is an offense to the One who made all things for his glory and our good.

Read Hebrews 1:4-14.

The Son Provides an Ongoing  Contrast  (7)

That Jesus “inherits” a name that is far superior to the angels (v.4) suggests that his redemptive work was rewarded upon his exaltation. He inherits the name “Son” which hearkens back to the promises given to the Messianic “Son of David”—namely the promise of a throne, a glory, and a kingdom that can never be shaken or diminished (Isa 11:10Ps 132:7-14).

In a series of seven quotes from the Old Testament (five from the psalms) the author of Hebrews makes a strong case for the Son’s supremacy over angels. When you study the Old Testament context of each of these quotes it becomes apparent how they complement one another. Some even suggest that this collection of texts belongs to a thematic compendium that may have been known to the first century audience.

The fourth OT quote in v.7 comes from Ps 104:4 which is a psalm about the greatness of God. God’s glory is depicted as riding upon a chariot of clouds being powered by the wind (Ps 104:3). The wind is equated with God’s angels in the sense that they operate according to God’s will. This is reflected in the four living creatures who surround the throne (Ezek 1Rev 4:6-11). 

It might also be the case that the concluding verses of the previous psalm are blending into this psalm. The phrase “Bless the Lord, O my soul” occurs five times in Scripture—all of them are found in Psalm 103 and Psalm 104. So they do seem to form a unit. And the concluding verses of Psalm 103:20-21 are particularly relevant to the purpose set forth in Hebrews 1:4-14.

Psalm 103:20–21 ESV

Bless the Lord, O you his angels, you mighty ones who do his word, obeying the voice of his word! Bless the Lord, all his hosts, his ministers, who do his will!

Essentially, one of the means by which God accomplishes his sovereign purposes is through angels. “In other words,” as Greg Beale puts it, “the angels are servants, and the Son is Lord,” (CNTUOT).

An Instinct to Worship

The only reason anyone would be tempted to worship angels is because of the glory with which God made them. If we saw them in their majesty, we would be tempted to fall down before them just like John (Rev 19:10). But their message was consistently one that pointed people to worship God.

When the Apostle Paul and Barnabas healed a crippled man in Lystra, the people immediately declared, “The gods have come down to us in the likeness of men!” (Acts 14:11). In fact, the priest of Zeus in that region was prepared to offer a sacrifice on their behalf right then and there! Worship is the instinctive response creatures have when they witness the power of God.

But, just like the angel rebuked John, so the apostles corrected the idolatry of the crowd. Paul cried out, “Men, why are you doing these things? We also are men, of like nature with you, and we bring you good news, that you should turn from these vain things to a living God, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and all that is in them” (Acts 14:15).

Whether it is the glory of a creature or the power of God displayed through the actions of a creature, we must guard against the temptation to worship anything less than the Creator.

Acknowledge the Creator-Creature Contrast

When people worship the glory of creation, there is a sense in which we should understand the instinct. They are witnessing the power and majesty and beauty of God’s created world. It ought to be breathtaking to behold. But believers understand that the purpose of created beauty is to direct honor and praise to the God who made it.

Creatures, at their best, serve God and deflect all praise to him. We can strive to live according to the purposes for which we were made—to glorify God and enjoy him forever. And we should recognize that those purposes were imbedded into our soul by the God who made us. 

In other words, we find our value and meaning in life when we recognize and acknowledge the ongoing contrast between God and us.

Creatures are never more than servants; the Son is never less than the Lord.

How do you go about cultivating a desire to serve God? At least one of the most fruitful ways is highlighting the supremacy of Christ and meditating upon his character. Read, pray, think, and discuss what you learn in a community of likeminded believers!

Even when we possess the desire to serve God, we are unable to carry out our desires apart from the help of his Spirit (Rom 7:18). As Jesus encouraged his closest disciples to pray for him before his betrayal, “The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Mt 26:41). May the Spirit of Christ dwell with you richly and enable you to serve and honor and glorify your Lord and God!

› Angels are glorious and majestic, but they will always stand in contrast to the Son who… 

The Son Provides an Everlasting  Control  (8-9)

Angels are sent as God’s ministers on behalf of the kingdom, whereas the Son’s presence establishes the kingdom (Mk 1:14-15Lk 17:21) and his sovereign rule sustains it (v.8). Verses 8-9 are quoted from Ps 45:6-7, but once again we should take into account the broader context of the psalm.

Psalm 45 served as a royal wedding song for King Solomon. It was a love song composed by the Sons of Korah. The bride is thrilled (1) as she reflects upon her handsome groom (2). She proclaims his mighty strength and military prowess (3-5). You can almost imagine her fawning over him, caressing his biceps. Later on we see the wedding procession as the princess is clothed in “robes interwoven with gold. In many-colored robes she is led to the king,” (13-15). 

However, in between this description of a wedding ceremony, we read verses 6-7. God is the subject on his throne (6), but he is also the object receiving the anointing of God (7). Once again, the author of Hebrews applies this passage directly to the Son. In doing so, he equates the Son with God and also makes a distinction between the Father and the Son.

This is another Messianic psalm that had immediate, partial fulfillment, but also spoke of God’s blessing upon the future King whose righteous reign is everlasting. The author is highlighting the difference between angelic creatures who surround the throne and are sent out as God’s messengers, and the Son who rules from his throne forever.

Never Yielding to Temptation

Verse 9 emphasizes the redemptive work of the Son. In his glorified humanity the Son was anointed with the oil of gladness. But this followed his redemptive work that began in his humiliation, first becoming man—then dying a humiliating death on the cross. 

Throughout his life “he loved righteousness and hated wickedness.” This is seen in the way he perfectly fought temptation. He was tempted in every way that we are, but he was without sin (Heb 4:15). There was never a time when he succumbed to the pressures of temptation.

C.S. Lewis gives us an excellent illustration of the significance of this point in Mere Christianity:

“No man knows how bad he is till he has tried very hard to be good. A silly idea is current that good people do not know what temptation means. This is an obvious lie. Only those who try to resist temptation know how strong it is. After all, you find out the strength of the German army by fighting against it, not by giving in. You find out the strength of a wind by trying to walk against it, not by lying down. A man who gives in to temptation after five minutes simply does not know what it would have been like an hour later. That is why bad people, in one sense, know very little about badness — they have lived a sheltered life by always giving in. We never find out the strength of the evil impulse inside us until we try to fight it: and Christ, because He was the only man who never yielded to temptation, is also the only man who knows to the full what temptation means — the only complete realist.

Anointed With the Oil of Gladness

The enthronement of the Son is the reward of his sinlessness and sacrificial death—the culmination of life lived in perfect obedience to the Father. Because he lived a sinless life, his sacrifice has infinite worth. And the result is the joyful reception of his inheritance. God has anointed the Son with the oil of gladness.

So, unlike the angels who minister on behalf of God, the Son is in control and rules. It is from this glorified and anointed state in heaven that the Son poured out the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost—effectively fulfilling Isaiah’s prophecy and turning their mourning into gladness (Isa 61:3).

The difference being highlighted in these verses is one of authority. The Son is in control, but we can be assured that he reigns with a “scepter of uprightness.” And the joy with which he was anointed will overflow upon all who have been reconciled to him (Rom 5:11Isa 61:3).

The author of Hebrews is teaching us how to read the Old Testament, especially the Psalms. It is the same way that Jesus taught the disciples on the road to Emmaus. “Beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself” (Lk 24:27).

Hear the word of God! Read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest it—all in light of the Son, and for his glory!