The Incarnate Son Obeyed the Father by the Spirit

Posted by R. Fowler White

A friend emailed me recently to ask what I had meant when I wrote in a note that “the incarnate Son obeyed the Father by the Spirit.” So I offered the following explanation. It was a help to my friend, so maybe it’ll help somebody else too. Here goes …

God the Son became incarnate—took to Himself human nature—by the powerful work of God the Spirit. Conceived by the Spirit, the Son was born and lived full of the Spirit, anointed with the Spirit, empowered and equipped by the Spirit for the tasks He came to do.

He appeared before John the Baptist for baptism in the Jordan and was there identified as the Son by the Father’s words and by the Spirit’s descent upon Him (Luke 3). Full of the Spirit, He went on to stand His probation against the temptations of the devil in the Wilderness (Luke 4). Emerging from His probation, He introduced Himself in the synagogue at Nazareth as that Son of David who is first and foremost the Anointed One, “the man of the Spirit” (Luke 4). He proclaimed His empowerment for His mission, and His power was not merely because of His Davidic lineage. His power was in His anointing with the Spirit of the Lord, described in three pairs of attributes by the prophet Isaiah (Isa 11; Luke 4).

From the prophet, we learn that on Him rested the Spirit of wisdom and understanding for holy nation building and for governing, for discerning true from false, good from evil, right from wrong. Not fooled by appearances, He treated the socially marginalized and vulnerable with dignity and equity—and He punished the wicked. Moreover, on Him rested the Spirit of counsel and might for planning and carrying out holy warfare. Wonderful Counselor and mighty God that He is (Isa 9), He was empowered by the Spirit to destroy the wisdom of the wise and to thwart the discernment of the discerning (Isa 29; 1 Cor 1). Furthermore, on Him rested the Spirit of the knowledge and fear of the Lord for living a right and holy life with and before His God and Father, whose Person, work, will, and ways He knew so well. With all these attributes, Jesus introduced Himself as perfectly and permanently “the man of the Spirit,” the ideal King, who is delighted to live His life before God with affection and reverence for Him and who rules as the Anointed One because He is equipped by the Spirit with moral integrity and steadfast loyalty. In Him, by the Spirit, are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. The incarnate Son, then, had the sevenfold anointing with the Spirit, the fulness of the Spirit.

Endowed with the Spirit, we also see the incarnate Son going about in the Gospels waging His spiritual warfare with weapons of the Spirit. Baptized, tested, and introduced for public ministry, He entered into spiritual combat with those who occupied the Land. He engaged in battle with the rulers and powers, with the worldly forces of darkness, with those who are of the world, the flesh, and the devil. In the Land He went about delivering sinners through faith from all manner of illness, from disease and pains of body (Matt 4; Acts 10), so that they might learn that He also has the power to save them from the bondage of their sins (Mark 2; Luke 5). He found “lost sheep” in the state of sin and death, in the domain of Satan’s darkness, and He called them to repentance and faith in Himself alone. He delivered them from their sins by the Spirit and the Word to the kingdom of His marvelous light. Then, in His death, through the eternal Spirit, He offered Himself without blemish to God (Heb 9). Having done His Father’s will in life and in death, He was designated the Son of God in power, according to the Spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead (Rom 1). Enthroned in heaven, Christ now reigns, in and with the power of the Spirit, as Ruler of the nations, commanding sinners everywhere to repent and believe in Him as their only hope of salvation from the wrath to come (Acts 17).

Summing up, the incarnate Son was endowed with the Spirit to obey the Father, and by His obedience through the Spirit, He satisfied all the righteous requirements of God’s law and is now the source of eternal salvation to all who repent and believe His gospel.

What’s an Exile to Do? Know that Your God Will Have the Last Word

Posted by R. Fowler White

Dear Exile, when it comes to your suffering for Christ, who will have the final say: your persecutors or your God? Notice that we’re not talking here about hurt from hard providence. We’re talking specifically about being marginalized or worse for Christ in a world that’s against Christ, suffering for what is right in a world that’s gone wrong. So again: when we Christians suffer for Christ, will our persecutors or our God have the last word? In 1 Pet 3:13–4:2, Peter provides an answer to that question, and it requires our close attention.

First, says Peter, know for sure that we who are devoted to what God calls good are blessed even if we suffer (3:13-14; cf. 4:1-2). While God’s grace prevails, we with a zeal for good and right in the sight of all have no extraordinary fear of hindrance or harm. Yet even when we do suffer unjustly, we who pursue a righteous life in Christ will enjoy God’s blessing. So, Peter says, recalling God’s words to Isaiah (Isa 8:12-13), be truly fearless despite unjust suffering (3:14). Defend your hope in Christ (3:15). Even when you’re defamed, respond confidently, respectfully, and conscientiously to your accusers and thus expose their shamelessness (3:15-16). Moreover, if suffering for Christ is in God’s providential will for you, rest in His providential control of that suffering. After all, it is He who has made suffering for good better than committing evil. So, continue to do what is right (3:17) because neither your persecutors nor the suffering they inflict will have the last word.

But what assurances do we have that our enemies won’t have the final say, or that suffering for good is, in fact, better than doing evil? In 3:18–4:2, Peter points us to Christ, the supreme example of how God has the last word over suffering by giving victory and glory to all who suffer for what is right. First, the Apostle reminds us of Christ’s victory over sins: God gave us victory by making even Christ’s death the way to bring us to Himself (3:18a). The words that follow (3:18b-22), however, are harder to understand, but in my view Peter most likely refers to Christ’s resurrection and ascension (as he refers to His suffering and death in 2:21-25). He tells us that Christ, made alive in the Spirit, proclaimed His resurrection-and-ascension victory to evil spirits from Noah’s day (3:18b-20; cf. Col 2:15; 1 Tim 3:16). But why bring up His victory over those enemies? Because that victory discloses Christ’s identity as the One who will have the final say not only against persecutors of God’s church in this world, but also against those in the world before the flood. In that old world, righteous Noah and his household suffered but overcame their enemies. Among those enemies were (evidently) disobedient angels (2 Pet 2:4; Jude 6; cf. 1 Pet 3:22) who breached the boundaries of their proper realm and seduced the ungodly in Noah’s generation to defy the patience God was showing them, all while Noah built the ark and proclaimed God’s promise of deliverance with His warning of judgment. Those evil angelic spirits, kept in prison since the judgment in Noah’s day, have now heard Christ’s victory proclamation. They have heard how, in this world, Christ the righteous suffered but overcame His enemies in His glorious exaltation. And His victory proclamation to those enemies from Noah’s day tells them and us just how comprehensive His victory is. It is Christ’s victory that makes suffering the way to glory. It is Christ’s victory that defeats both angelic and human foes. It is Christ’s victory that reaches from earth to heaven and even to hell. It is Christ’s victory that settles accounts both in this world and in the old world as it identifies Him as the Judge who will dispense final judgment and final salvation. It is Christ’s victory, then, that is so all-encompassing that it leaves all persecutors, even evil angels from the old world, with nothing more to say. His word is the last word.

Considering the ramifications of Christ’s victory, Peter reminds us that, like those passengers in Noah’s ark, we too will overcome our spiritual enemies (3:20b-21). As the visible church in the old world, Noah and his household endured opposition. Their baptism, however, made a visible distinction between them and the world, representing the benefits of God’s covenant with them and their solemn vow to live in good conscience before Him. Likewise, Christ and the households of faith are the visible church in this world, and we too endure opposition. Our baptism, however, also makes a visible distinction between us and this world, representing the benefits of God’s covenant with us and our solemn vow to live in good conscience before Him (4:1-2; 3:16). So, just as the baptism of Noah and his household signified their victory over the old world in the LORD of the flood (Ps 29:10), our baptism signifies our victory over this world in Christ.

Finally, the Apostle has us look again to Christ, this time as the One through whom our baptism becomes an effectual means of our salvation (3:21-22; WLC Q. 161). No, Peter does not teach here that baptism becomes effectual by any power in it or in whoever administers it. Rather, he teaches that baptism becomes effectual as it represents and confirms to believers all the benefits that God promises to them in Christ, and as the Holy Spirit, with Christ’s blessing, works through it to increase and strengthen the saving grace of faith in them. In this context, then, the Apostle would have us who believe to see our baptism as a sign and seal of the victories that are ours in Christ: in His death, His resurrection, His ascension, and His session at the Father’s right hand. With those victories in view, how can we not share Peter’s confidence that, even while we suffer, we’ll keep dying to sin and living for God (4:1-2; 2:21)?! How can we not be fully assured that, because victory and glory are ours in Christ, the last word belongs to our God, not to our persecutors?!

Born under the Law, Born to Redeem

Posted by R. Fowler White

4 But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, 5 to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. (Gal 4:4-5)

With the words born of woman in Gal 4:4, Paul had begun to reflect on the circumstances of Jesus’ birth. The next two phrases in Gal 4:4-5—born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law—bring into view not just another circumstance of His birth but also its purpose. Together both features point us again to the humiliation of God’s glorious eternal Son.

What does the Apostle mean by those words born under the law? Specifically, he means that the Son of the Father humbled Himself to be born a servant of the Lord His God (Phil 2:7). Born under Moses, the Son would live and learn obedience (Heb 5:8) under the educational rigors of the law. As a circumcised son of Abraham, the Son-born-servant would owe to His God and Father a perfect, personal, and perpetual obedience. Every detail of His life and death was under the pedagogical direction of God’s law, from His circumcision eight days after His birth (Luke 2:21), to His last Passover on the night before His death (Luke 22:7-23), to His submission to His Father’s will (Luke 22:41-42; John 17) and His honoring of His mother in His death (John 19:26-27). As a servant of the Lord, He humbly submitted Himself to the law of His God to fulfill all righteousness, down to the smallest letter and the smallest stroke of a pen. Comprehensively speaking, God’s law demanded a righteous man, a man who kept the divine commandments, a man qualified to live with God and to be the surety for His people. The Son, says Paul, became just such a man. Indeed, it was with His qualifications in mind that the law in its multiple dimensions (moral, civil, liturgical) was put into effect, for their fulfillment was to be found in Him. No wonder the author of Hebrews can say, when Christ came into the world, He said, … “Behold, I have come to do Your will, O God, as it is written of Me in the scroll of the book” (Heb 10:5, 7). What Child is this in the manger, then? He is the Son born under the law, born a servant of the Lord His God.

Continuing in Gal 4:4-5, Paul’s focus shifts from the circumstances of Jesus’ coming to its purpose. Christ Jesus, says the Apostle, is the Son born to redeem those who were under the law. We need to pay special attention to the meaning of these words. The Apostle has in mind the intent to rescue, release, deliver from slavery by the payment of a price. No doubt the events of Israel’s redemption from Egypt provide the backdrop here. The price paid for the nation’s deliverance was stunning: the death of the firstborn. Through Moses, Israel learned of God’s penal substitute for their firstborn, and thus Israel offered the Passover lamb and saw their redemption from slavery in Pharaoh’s kingdom to liberty under the Lord their God. By saying, however, that the Son, God’s Son, came to redeem, Paul tells us that the redemption He provides is greater than that of Moses. Israel’s deliverance from Egypt was gospel, but only a shadow of the redemption fully revealed in Jesus Christ. It was He who humbled Himself to become both the true Israel (God’s firstborn son, Exod 4:22-23) and the true Passover Lamb (1 Cor 5:7; 1 Pet 1:19; John 1:29). It was He who poured Himself out in death as the surety for His people (Isa 53:12; Heb 2:10-13; Rev 5:6-9), who by His death brought about the true exodus from slavery in Satan’s kingdom of sin and death (Luke 9:31; Matt 1:21). So great was this exodus that it brought a benefit that the first exodus could not provide, namely, the forgiveness of sins, the sinner’s release from legal liability to endure the punishment that sin and its guilt required.

There is still more in the Apostle’s words in Gal 4:5. Paul goes on to describe those whom the Son redeems as those under the law. By that phrase Paul characterizes all whom the Son came to redeem. Whether God’s law reaches us by special revelation as Jews (Rom 2:17–3:1) or by general revelation as Gentiles (Rom 2:12-16), it shows no partiality in its judgment: God’s law judges all to be under sin (Rom 2:6-11; 3:9-18). It is in that light that the Apostle would bring good news of great joy to all of us sinners, Jews and Gentiles alike. He would announce to us that, commissioned by His Father, God’s Son was born a servant to bring sinners release and rescue from sin and death. He would proclaim to us that, in His life and death, the incarnate Son presented to His God and Father the obedience required by His law. He would preach to us that, on that basis, the Father applies the merits of His obedience to all sinners who believe; that, on that basis, the Son answers all accusations against His people and quiets their restless consciences; and that, on that basis, the Son qualifies sinners who believe to live with God, securing for them access to and acceptance before Him.

What Child is this, then, in that ancient feeding trough? He is none other than the eternal Son of glory who, to fulfill His Father’s commission, humbled Himself to be born a servant under the law, born to redeem those judged by that same law as sinners.

Sent Forth, Born of Woman

Posted by R. Fowler White

4 But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, 5 to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. (Gal 4:4-5)

In his phrase when the fullness of time had come, the Apostle Paul points us to the truth that the one true God has been orchestrating all of history and, in particular, the timing of Christ’s birth. In fact, it was by God’s singular sovereignty and providence that the histories of Rome and Jerusalem—even that of little Bethlehem—had coincided at the birth of Jesus. The appointed date for the debut of the Son of the Father occurred right on schedule, and He became the Child born at just the right time. And that’s not all. Paul has more to say in Gal 4:4.

He tells us that the Child in the manger was the Son sent forth by His Father. These simple words take us to the backstory of the Son’s arrival in history. Notice that the Son existed before He was sent, before He was born, before He was given the name Jesus. Before His Father sent Him, He subsisted as a Person and, at that, as a Person distinct from both the Father and the Spirit, the latter of whom was Himself later to be sent (Gal 4:6). In effect, Paul would tell us that the Son was (and is) the same in substance and equal in power and glory with the Father and the Spirit, yet was also distinguished from them by their personal properties. Notice too that the Father sent forth (sent out) His Son. That is, the Son who came had a commission from His Father. We speak of the Great Commission, but here Paul speaks of the Greatest Commission of all. He reflects on the harmony between the sending Father and the sent Son. The Father was pleased to send the Son; the Son was pleased to be sent by His Father. According to the Apostle, then, the Baby in the feeding trough was none other than God with God, the Son with the Father and the Spirit, the Son commissioned by His Father.

Paul tells us also that the Child in the manger was born of (a) woman. Again, think on how remarkable that brief phrase is. The Apostle here discloses that he knows the history of Jesus’ birth. That phrase born of woman was an expression referring to human birth (Job 14:1; 15:14; 25:4; Matt 11:11; cf. 1 Cor 11:12), and yet with an evident allusion to at least the promise of Gen 3:15. His birth was of woman, but we know from other OT prophecies that His conception was anything but ordinary. The Son born of a woman was in fact born of a virgin, born without a man, as predicted by the prophet Isaiah (Isa 7:14 with 9:6). The sent Son became flesh: He was not only made and formed in woman, He was of her, of her flesh and blood. Of these He took part. In keeping with prophecies such as those from Genesis and Isaiah, the Son was born of a woman.

In these two short phrases, Paul begins to reflect on the circumstances of Jesus’ birth, and they in turn move us to ponder the humiliation of Him who is from all eternity the glorious Son of God. Here, after all, we see the first stage of what the will of the Father required of the Son He sent forth. For your sake, Christian, the Son was pleased to humble Himself in conception and birth. Though from all eternity He had been the Son at His Father’s side and in the Spirit’s presence, He was required to empty Himself, to make Himself of no reputation, and to condescend to be made in human likeness and the fashion of a man. He was pleased to become the Son of Man when the fullness of time had come, when all the parts of history that had to occur had occurred just as predicted. Though He was the glorious eternal Son, the will of His Father required that He be born of a young virgin woman, taking part in all human properties, except sin, through her His mother. He was pleased to be born into conditions that were even worse than ordinary. He was born in a first-century truck stop. Strips of cloth were His first garments. A feeding trough was His first crib. The humiliation of His nativity, however, would not stop there. For the rest of His earthly life, the Son would endure false accusations that He had been born as a result of an immoral relationship outside of the bounds of marriage. What, then, did the will of the Father require of the Son He sent forth?  It required that, for your sake, Christian, the eternal Son of glory be pleased to humble Himself in His conception and birth.

What Child is this, then, in the manger? He is the preexistent Son commissioned by His Father, born of woman. Miraculously conceived by the Holy Spirit as to His human nature and miraculously preserved by that same Spirit from defilement in His mother’s womb, He had not always been man. Nor was He a mere woman-born human upon whom divinity descended. He was God who became flesh, thus permanently taking to Himself human nature and becoming forever thereafter one Person with two natures.

Born at Just the Right Time

Posted by R. Fowler White

One of the most beloved carols that Christians sing during the Christmas season is that of William C. Dix, “What Child is This.” As few other carols do, the lyrics of this selection prompt us to contemplate the identity, the person and work, of the Baby in the manger (i.e., the feeding trough). In fact, the carol politely but persistently presses us to answer the question: is this Child truly a holy infant or merely a holiday infant? When we think about that question, most of our reflections focus on the birth announcements in the Gospel of Matthew and the Gospel of Luke. Those passages certainly have their place. For now, however, consider Christ’s birth according to the Apostle Paul. Yes, even the Apostle reflects on the wonders of the birth of Jesus, and he does so in Gal 4:4-5. 4 But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, 5 to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. In that one sentence, the Apostle Paul tells us extraordinary things about Jesus, and in the process he gives us answers to the question that the carol poses. Though the lyrics of “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing” may have us singing, “late in time behold him come,” the first thing Paul tells us is that Jesus is the Child born at just the right time.

Paul’s words—when the fullness of time had come—prompt us to reflect on the timing of Christ’s appearance in the world. The time at which Jesus came is said to have been time at its fullest point, a unique occasion when all the parts of history that had to occur had, in fact, occurred. Each and every detail that had to take place was then in place. Clearly, Paul wants us to realize that the timing of the historical appearance of the Father’s Son was something agreed upon and fixed between the Father and the Son from all eternity. The Apostle Peter adds to this that the timing of the Son’s arrival was a date that the prophets of old diligently searched out, and it was revealed to them and predicted by them (1 Pet 1:10-12). Paul’s words, then, make us realize that the timing of Christ’s birth was according to the determination of God, the Lord of history. He, from all eternity, had, by the most wise and holy counsel of His own will, freely and unchangeably ordained whatsoever comes to pass. Christ could not have been born either sooner or later.

If, then, the birth of Jesus took place in the fullness of time, what did that fullness look like? As the commentators have pointed out, it was a time of political preparation. The Roman Empire had brought the pax Romana to the then known world and so the world was united as never before (cf. Luke 2:1). It was a time of economic preparation. Of particular note, the Romans had constructed a superior transportation system, focused in five main highways facilitating travel and commerce from Rome to destinations throughout the ancient world (cf. Col 1:23). It was a time of cultural preparation. The Greek language had become the medium (i.e., the lingua franca) of commerce, culture, and philosophy, and so it was possible for the gospel and the gospel literature to reach an effectively worldwide audience. And, finally, it was a time of religious preparation. We might say that a famine of the soul, individual and social, had come upon the world. The failures of paganism and even Judaism, along with a revival of Messianic hopes, characterized much of the ancient world.

Thus, in his phrase when the fullness of time had come, the Apostle Paul points us to the truth that, politically, economically, culturally, and religiously speaking, history had been orchestrated by the one true God. In fact, by God’s own singular sovereignty and providence, the histories of Rome and Jerusalem, both of which figured so prominently in our Lord’s life on earth, had converged. The appointed date for the debut of the Son of the Father arrived right on schedule. In the fullness of time behold him come! What Child is this in the manger, then? He is the Child born at just the right time.

Christ the Holy Son: Better Than Moses and the Levites (Heb 3–10)

Posted by R. Fowler White

Having put before us the contrasts between Jesus the Son and the prophets in Heb 1:1-3 and the angels in Heb 1:4-14 and 2:5-18, the writer of Hebrews continues to increase our esteem for Christ by turning in chs. 3–10 to the contrast between the Son and Moses and the Levitical priests. Beginning in 3:1-6, we’re told that Jesus is the faithful Son over God’s house and the builder thereof; Moses is a faithful servant in God’s house. To understand better the different roles of Jesus and Moses relative to God’s house, it helps us to consider the house’s two forms. One of those forms appeared in Exod 20–23, where God required “the house of Jacob” (Exod 19:3) to be holy as He is holy (Exod 19:6; Lev 19:2) so as to become His holy nation of priests (Exod 19:4-6). A second form of God’s house came into view in Exod 25–31 and 35–40, where the earthly tabernacle was built after the pattern of God’s holy residence in heaven (Exod 25:40; Heb 8:5) according to His word and by His Spirit. In fact, the tabernacle stood as a shadow and type of what the house of Israel was required to be, namely the living and holy house built when God’s Spirit effectually applied His word to His people. Noticeably, what these two forms of God’s house have in common is the holiness required of them, and to understand how they were sanctified is to gain an even more reverent esteem for Christ. So let’s look further at how God’s house was sanctified.

As summarized in 9:11-28, the sanctification of God’s house in its two forms was accomplished through the priesthoods of Moses and the Levites and of Christ. Under God’s servants Moses and the Levites, God’s house was sanctified when Moses inaugurated the first covenant, cleansing the earthly tabernacle and the worshipers with the blood of calves and goats for his own sins and for those of the worshipers. Once inaugurated by Moses, the Levitical priests kept the tabernacle and the worshipers cleansed by continually offering sacrifices for their own sins and for those of the people. Similarly, under God’s Son Jesus, God’s house was sanctified when He inaugurated the second covenant, cleansing the heavenly tabernacle and the worshipers with His own blood, not for His own sins but solely for those of the worshipers. The sacrifice by which Christ established the holiness of the heavenly tabernacle and the worshipers is the same sacrifice by which He maintains that holiness. He offered His sacrifice for sins once for all time (10:10, 12), forever perfecting those worshipers He sanctified (10:14) and now always ministering for them in heaven (7:25; 12:22, 24). As Hebrews presents them, then, both priesthoods followed the same liturgy necessary to sanctify God’s house in both its forms. Even so, the two priesthoods were markedly different when it came to fulfilling God’s command to emulate His holiness.

Disabled by sin and death (5:1-3; 7:23, 28; 9:7; 10:11), the Levites were not and could not be holy as God is holy. Nor could they make anyone else holy and perfect (7:18-19): their ceaseless sacrifices could neither take away sins nor cleanse the inner man (9:9-10, 13; 10:1-4). Granted these realities, however, the Levites and the worshipers they represented could and should have learned of the good things to come (3:5; 10:1). Though many continued to boast in the Levites, the remnant who shared Abraham’s faith knew of those good things. Through God’s promises, prophecies, ordinances, shadows, and types, they, like Isaiah, looked heavenward to the priest better than any son of Levi and found in Him the blessings of His sanctifying (cleansing) work (Isa 6:7). They, like Moses and David, also looked forward to the priest from the tribe of Judah (Gen 49:8-12) and the order of Melchizedek (Gen 14:18-20; Ps 110:4). According to Hebrews, Jesus, the eternal Son incarnate, became that priest. Having through the eternal Spirit (Heb 9:14) demonstrated in His life and in His death the holiness that God required, Jesus proved to be holy even as God is holy (4:15; 5:7; 7:26; 9:14; cf. 2 Cor 5:21). Sinless and immortal, He is powerful to sanctify the people He represents, cleansing their hearts and transforming them into a living tabernacle-house (e.g., Deut 6:6; Ps 37:31; 40:8; 119:11; Isa 51:7), a holy nation of priests on whose hearts God’s law is written (e.g., Mal 3:1-4). He is, in a phrase, both sanctified and the sanctifier of all who believe (Heb 2:11; 13:12), as Abraham, Moses, David, and Isaiah did.

The message of Hebrews is clear: though pressures from our opponents may tempt us to deemphasize or conceal, or even reject and deny, the distinctives of our historic Christian faith, let us hold unwaveringly to the hope that we confess (10:23), since in Jesus the Son, the Holy One, we have so great a priest over the house of God (10:21).

Christ the Victorious Son: Better than the Angels (Heb 2:1-18)

Posted by R. Fowler White

As we’ve emphasized in part 1 and part 2 of our series, the author of Hebrews teaches that our perseverance is traceable, in part, to a deepening appreciation for the eminence of Christ our high priest. In this post, we come to 2:1-18, where the author finishes what he started in 1:4-14. Having told us that Christ the God-man is exalted over the angels, he warns us: since we know that punishment was inescapable for neglecting God’s previous message through the angels at Mt Sinai (2:2), we dare not turn a deaf ear to God’s final message through the Superior who is over those angels (2:3 with 1:4)! To impress us further with the gravity of this warning, the author amplifies the contrast between the Son and the angels even more.

In 1:4-14 the writer’s accent fell on the Son’s historical glorification and His eternal deity, but in 2:5-18 his accent shifts to the Son’s historical humanity and humiliation. In 1:4-14, the theme is the Son’s supremacy to angels by rank and being, pivoting off of Ps 110:1 in 1:3 and 1:13. In 2:5-18 the theme of supremacy reappears, but now the emphasis is on His supremacy to angels by conquest as promised in Ps 110. Quoting Ps 8:4-6 to focus our thinking, it is clear in 2:8b-18 that the glory of the conquest promised in Ps 110:1 will belong not to the angels, but to man. More than that, the man qualified to conquer will not be just any man: according to Ps 8:2, God’s design is for the weak to conquer the strong. To see the force of this argument, we need to backtrack to Gen 3, where man was overcome by God’s enemy—a former cherub angel, at that—and was given with his seed over to sin, death, and defeat. In Gen 3:15, when God announced His future victory over the serpent and his seed, He reasserted His original design to have the weak conquer the strong. Specifically, God appointed death—the death of the woman’s one upright Seed—as the way to new life. Though ostensibly weak in death, that Seed would conquer the strong. Until the arrival of that upright Seed, however, God effectively took away from man the task of keeping the garden secure and pure and transferred it to the cherubim angels (Gen 3:24). As a result, man was, for a little while, subjected to the angels (Heb 2:7a; cf. 2:9).

With the appearance of the Son “in these last days” (1:2), however, the author of Hebrews can announce the arrival of the Seed promised in Gen 3:15 and Ps 8! It is none other than the eternal Son, the Creator God, who condescended to become the man qualified for conquest. In His state of incarnation (2:14), the Son overcame the temptations to sin (2:18). While contending with the indignities of this world, the temptations of the devil, and the infirmities in His flesh, He put His trust in God (2:13a), even unto death, and was thereby perfected (i.e., fully qualified) to become as the champion of salvation for the children whom the Father had given Him (2:13b). For the sake of those children, He defeated the devil, inflicting mortal suffering on him as He Himself endured mortal suffering (2:9, 14). For the sake of those children, He faced down the terrors of death, giving them the hope of resurrection (12:2; 6:18-19; 11:35). Though feeling the weight of God’s wrath, He laid down His life as a propitiation for the sins of His people (2:17). All this He did, bearing the reproach of man’s exile from Eden in being made lower than the angels for a time, so that by grace (2:9) and mercy (2:17) He might qualify man again for the glory (2:10) of life with God.

At the beginning of the ages, God drove man from the earthly sanctuary (Gen 3:23), and the cherubim angels resisted his return (Gen 3:24). Now, at the end of the ages (Heb 1:1), God has restored man, through the incarnate Son, to the heavenly sanctuary, and the angelic hosts assist Him to maintain its security and purity for all who will inherit salvation. Knowing that Jesus is the victorious Son greater than the angels, we dare not turn a deaf ear to God’s final message through Him. No, we hold Him, with ever-increasing faith, in the highest esteem! In our next and last post in this series, we’ll focus on Christ the Holy Son in Heb 3–10.

Christ the God-Man: Better Than the Angels (Heb 1:4-14)

Posted by R. Fowler White

Our esteem for Christ becomes more and more reverent as we receive and rest upon Him alone as He is presented to us in Scripture. In Heb 1:1–2:18, He is presented not only as the Son better than the prophets of old, but also as the Son better than the angels. The angels come before us in Hebrews in two capacities: 1) as heavenly messengers who delivered the old covenant revelation at Mt Sinai (2:2); and 2) as guardians of post-fall access to God’s presence, initially in Eden’s sanctuary (2:7 with Gen 3:24) and later in the most holy place of the old covenant sanctuary (9:5 with Exod 25:18-22). We’ll look in this post at the teaching of Heb 1:4-14.

In 1:4, the writer of Hebrews contrasts the Son and the angels, capturing in that contrast the reason for the Son’s rest at the Father’s right hand. In 1:5-14 the writers accents the fact that the Son is in a new state of exaltation. The point is not that the Son, born as man, has now become God. Rather, the Son, who has always been the exalted God, has now been exalted as man. In fact, the seven OT texts in 1:5-14 with which the writer expands on his statements in 1:4 contain some of the most sublime declarations of the Son’s eternality and deity in all of Scripture. In this context, however, the Son’s supremacy to the angels rests not so much on His eternality and deity, but especially on the new state He has entered and on the new honor He has received. Keeping these things in mind, notice how the author’s citations describe the Son’s exaltation.

First, in 1:5-6 the Son who has taken His seat on high is the One whom the Father had begotten, that is, in this context, begotten as the Firstborn from the dead (cf. Col 1:18; Rev 1:5). Though other texts teach us the Son’s eternal generation and identity as the Firstborn of all creation (e.g., Heb 1:2; see also Col 1:15-17), the preceding and following contexts of 1:5-6 imply that it is most probably His re-emergence into the world at His resurrection from the dead that is in view in 1:5-6. As such, it is in the new, post-resurrection phase of the Son’s messianic role in history that He and the Father are said now to enjoy their unique relationship. Second, in 1:9 the Son who has received the Spirit-oil of gladness from His God and Father is the One who had rendered to Him the perfect obedience that satisfied His law (cf. Acts 2:33-36; Eph 4:7-11). To be sure, we read of the Son’s eternality, deity, and royalty in 1:8. The focus in 1:9, however, is the Son’s new status: He is the servant who in life and in death subjected Himself to God’s law and is now rewarded for His obedience. Finally, in 1:13 we hear echoes and amplifications of 1:3. The Son who gave Himself as the final sacrifice for sins (1:3b) is not only seated in heaven: He now awaits the reward of final victory for His obedience. He who is the immutable Lord and builder of the cosmic house in 1:10-12 is also in 1:13 the One who, after humbling Himself, has already been exalted at His first coming and will again be exalted at His second coming (9:28). Thus, the Son is before us once more, both in His immutability as the eternal God and in His mutability as the once humiliated, now glorified man—who will be glorified yet again!

All told, then, the exaltation of the Son our high priest is undeniably connected with His eternality and immutability, but that exaltation is not completely or exclusively explained by those attributes. According to Heb 1:4-14, the esteem we are to have for the Son, particularly in contrast to the angels, will come as we appreciate His role in the history of creation and His role in the history of redemption. In other words, we understand Christ’s priesthood better when we receive and rest upon Him as the Son who is greater than the angels. He is now and forever, in His one Person, God ever-glorious and man at-long-last-glorified. Our next post in this series will focus on Christ the Victorious Son in Heb 2:1-18.

Christ the Eternal Son: Better Than the Prophets (Heb 1:1-3)

Posted by R. Fowler White

The author of Hebrews teaches that our perseverance is traceable, in part, to the depth of our appreciation for the surpassing greatness of Christ our high priest. In other words, receiving and resting upon Christ alone, as He is presented in Scripture, is a means by which the grace of perseverance comes to us His people. Captivated by Christ, we grow in our knowledge of His glory as our high priest and, in turn, our hearts are enlarged in peace and joy in the Holy Spirit, in love and thankfulness to God, and in strength and cheerfulness in the duties of obedience. In Heb 1:1-3, we’re introduced to our great priest as one who is first and most basically the eternal Son. Though, overall, the writer of Hebrews emphasizes the Son’s priestly office, our esteem for the Son comes first by seeing Him in His relationships with God and others who are part of the history of revelation, creation, and redemption. Each of the descriptions in 1:1-3 carries implications that we’ll consider all too briefly.

The Son in whom God now speaks appears “in these last days,” that is, at the culminating point in the history of special revelation. Placed as He is in this position, we see the Son in relation to those who preceded Him historically, namely, “the prophets”—presumably Moses and the prophets who came after him. Through them God spoke during a long and varied history of special revelation. Yet the Son, we’re told, supersedes them all. The Son is that Prophet whose appearance had been anticipated since Deut 18:15: He is the one who would lead God’s people to spiritual liberty and would mediate a better covenant (Deut 30:6-10; Jer 31:31-34; Heb 8:10; 10:16). In other words, the Son is superior to the prophets because He has spoken the final revelation and has accomplished the final redemption!

Moving beyond the Son’s present place in the history of revelation, the author of Hebrews draws our attention to the eternal decree of God (see also 10:7; 13:20; Eph 1:9-10; 3:11; Acts 2:23). According to that eternal purpose, the Son, anointed by the Spirit, was to obey His Father’s will and thereby become the firstborn Heir of all things (cf. Heb 2:10). In other words, here we behold the Son not only as He has come to be in history, but also as He was in the pre-creation situation in relation to God and all created things. As the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of His being, we see that the Son has been a distinct person from the Father but of the same essence as the Father. As the One through whom the Father made the worlds of time and space, we see that the Son was the builder of the visible temple of heaven and earth (1:10 with 3:4): He was before all things, and all things are from Him (cf. 2:10). As He governs all things by His powerful word to their proper goal, we see that all things are to Him. So before we properly consider the Son as priest, we consider Him as someone not only greater than the prophets in the history of revelation, but also as a “before creation and above history” Person equal to God in essence and distinct from the Father, the Alpha and Omega of creation and history.

With the extraordinary portrait of the Son in relation to all things as prelude in 1:1-3a, the writer sets our high priest before us in 1:3b, referring both to His sacrifice and to His post-sacrifice session. The two clauses in 1:3b carry deep and broad theological implications. Suffice it to say that in 1:3b we are already being told that this priest is greater than Levi (Aaron). Particularly by using the wording of Ps 110:1, we read the joyful news that the Son is a priest at rest. No longer standing but rather seated (Heb 10:11-14), the posture of our high priest signals that Zion’s priest has succeeded where Sinai’s priests could only fail. The ramifications of the Son’s work and rest are staggering. He has done the work of offering the sacrifice that cleanses sinners. So, sacrifice is finished; forgiveness is granted! Now the sons of Levi are purified! Now the worshipers that the Levites represented are reconstituted as a holy nation of priests (cf. Mal 3:1-4)! Now the cleansing of the cosmic temple is begun, for earth was the site of His sacrifice, and heaven is now the site of His session!

How is it, then, that we develop a more reverent esteem for Christ? We do so as we receive and rest upon Him alone as the eternal Son who is greater than the prophets of old. In our next post in this series, we’ll look at Christ the God-man in Heb 1:4-14.

Heaven’s Message to All Us Rebels (Ps 2:4-12)

Posted by R. Fowler White

It’s crucial that we in the church see our lives, history, and culture in terms of the conflict between the heavenly city of God and the earthly cities of man. When we turn to Psalm 2, that’s the way, in sum, that David views the world. His lyrics tell us of heaven’s message to all us rebels on earth. In words of warning and pardon in Ps 2:4-12, we’re told to realize what God’s response is to our rebellion and what our duty is to Him.

David gets right to the point in the second stanza of Psalm 2 (2:4-6): God the Father has responded to our revolt with scorn and ridicule, and He has taken measures to counter our rebellion. As Father of the King, He has put His Son, Christ Jesus, on the heavenly throne in heavenly Jerusalem on heavenly Mt Zion. From heaven Christ the Son now reigns as King of kings and Ruler of the nations, and He is commanding rebels everywhere to repent and believe in Him as their only hope of salvation from the wrath to come. We—especially those of us in pulpits and pews—need to recover the too-long-ignored truth of God the Father’s response to our rebellion: He declares, “There is a King. He is King of kings. His name is Jesus. His capital city is heavenly Jerusalem, and everyone must do whatever is right in His eyes.” Note to self: wise up and realize how the Father of the Anointed King has responded to your insurgency.

Not only that: wise up and realize how the Father’s Son Himself, the Anointed King, has responded to your rebellion. David gives us the headline in stanza 3 (Ps 2:7-9). The Son tells us in 2:7 about the proclamation that His Father published about Him. It reads, Today I have begotten You. The Father looks on His resurrected Son Jesus and declares: “By resurrection, I have made You ‘the Firstborn from the Dead.’” And there’s more. In 2:8-9 the ascended Son tells us about the promises made to Him by His Father. Those promises include victory over His enemies, the nations as His inheritance, the ends of the earth as His possession. As others have said, there is not one inch of this world on which His Royal Highness Jesus doesn’t look out and declare, “Mine!” The present days of salvation and grace will give way to the day of judgment and justice, and then all of us rebels will give an account to God’s Anointed King. Until He comes again, we do well to remember: “the Lord neither negotiates with rebels, nor adjusts himself to suit their demands, but simply reaffirms his royal plan: His king is installed and that is the end of the matter.”[i] Another note to self: wise up and realize how Jesus, the Anointed King Himself, has responded to your rebellion.

One more thing, and it’s big too: wise up and do your duty to God and His King as described in stanza 4 (Ps 2:10-12). His demands are simple and direct. To us, to our fellow citizens, and to our government officials in all branches at all levels, He says, “Wise up! Stop your foolishness! Show discernment! Take all necessary precautions! Open the Bible and believe the gospel of Christ; obey the commandments of Christ. Worship the LORD, the God of heaven and earth. Rejoice with trembling. Pay homage to the Son. Repent of your rebellion. Find refuge in God’s Anointed King, Jesus. To the ruling class and the ruled classes, Christ Jesus, the Son of the Father, is both just and merciful. He is just in that He rewards and punishes according to His law. He is merciful in that He pardons all who forsake their sins and take refuge in Him alone. Heed these words of warning and pardon!”

The faithless want to live life not on God’s terms, but on their own terms, in pursuit of rights, privileges, and “cancel culture.” It’s crucial that we in the church see our lives, history, and culture in terms of the conflict between heaven and earth. So, are you in the ruled classes? Are you in the ruling class? David reminds every one of us: on the authority of God’s written word, heed His warnings of wrath, embrace His promises of pardon. Wise up, repent, and take refuge in God’s Anointed King, Jesus, the Lord!

[i] D. A. Carson et al., eds., New Bible Commentary: 21st Century Edition, 489.

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