Jesus, Greater than the Angels? Opening the Book of Hebrews

Jesus, Greater than the Angels?
Opening the Book of Hebrews

Kevin James Bywater

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For years, I wondered why the book of Hebrews began with so much attention on angels (Heb 1:1-2:18). The book seemed to me to be focused more on the priestly service described in the book of Leviticus—tabernacle, priests, sacrifices, offerings, washings, etc.—so why all this attention to angels? One might notice that Jesus was presented as one greater than Moses (Heb 3:1-6), better than the high priests, more effective than the sacrifices. Sure, but why does the book begin with a focus on angels? And just what exactly was the message brought by the angels (Heb 2:2)?

There appears to be some connection between the divine revelation delivered through Moses and the message that came through angels.[1] But what message came through angels? Again, why bring up angels and spend so much time arguing that Jesus is superior to them and that his message is more pressing than theirs (see Heb 2:2-3)?

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Readings at Summit Oxford • Spring Term 2016

It undoubtedly is a truism that one can be wearied by the reading of many books. Perhaps even more so, the reading of many online articles, a bulk of blogs, frenzied Facebook statuses, hasty hashtags, and awful opinions. Even so, some publications actually can be enlightening, perhaps challenging. Some most certainly are fuel for our conversations at Summit Oxford. And sometimes our conversation get to be a bit energetic. I call these CHAT times: Christians Happily Arguing Theology (hopefully with an emphasis upon happily).

Readings at Summit Oxford • Hilary Term 2016

Our reading list changes a bit from term to term. New books are published, older ones seem less pressing or helpful, and there is ever a steady stream of articles and chapters on subjects that beg to be included. We do read a lot, mind you, approaching 2500 pages.

For the upcoming coming Autumn Term (September – December), along with a selection of articles, essays, and other items, we are reading and discussing the ten volumes listed below. I have listed them roughly in the order we will read them. Well, actually, several of them will be divvied up over the course of several days, with a chapter or section each day. Often I have our students read the books in their entirety and prepare reports/summaries for select chapters or sections. I’ve provided links to Amazon, if you care to purchase any of them.

December2015

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OT Law & NT Ethics – 7: The Law and the Gospel (and Abraham)

It has been a while since I posted a new installment in the series exploring the relationship between Old Testament law and New Testament ethics. Sorry about that. Life has a way…of getting in the way. If you’ve not read the previous installments, well, I would strongly suggest that you grant enough time to do so. There is a madness to the method.

Previous Posts in This Series

Here are the earlier posts:

1 – Prefatory Playfulness
2 – Love and Leviticus 
3 – Practice and Priorities
4 – Abominations
5 – Ritual Impurity
6 – The Ten Commandments

Preface

Now, it may be surprising that, while in a series discussing the relationship between Old Testament law and New Testament ethics, one would include a post focused on the gospel. But it shouldn’t be too surprising, I should think.

We often hear law and gospel set in peculiar opposition, as if you cannot have both, as if you must have either one or the other, as if law vs. gospel. To be forthright, I’d like to challenge that, or at least insist that it needs to be seriously nuanced.

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Preaching Isaiah – Divine Affections and Aversions

A couple of weeks ago, I had the privilege and honor of preaching at our church, St. Leonard’s Church in Eynsham. We are at the beginning of a sermon series in Isaiah. I’ll attach the audio at the end of this post. My text was Isaiah 2:1-5, a grand vision of the nations streaming to the mountain of God to be instructed in God’s ways for the practice of peace.

mountains

Provocative Poets

I imagine each of us has been instructed that there are two subjects one should avoid when in polite company: religion and politics. What I take away from this is that the biblical prophets most definitely were not polite company.Indeed, the prophets were poets who provoked people to repent and reprioritize.

Consider these pointed words by a contemporary Christian poet residing in London.

“Chance”

If chance be
the Father of all flesh,
disaster is his rainbow in the sky,
and when you hear

state of emergency
sniper kills ten
troops on rampage
whites go looting
bomb blasts school

it is but the sound of man
worshipping his maker.

–Steve Turner, Up To Date

A prophet is a provocative poet, but also one who pronounces hope to God’s troubled people. Prophets don’t only cry for justice; they confront injustice. They don’t simply proclaim that we should have faith in God, they point up infidelity and put it on parade. None of which is very polite, to be sure, though it is the word and will of the LORD.

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Prophets and Profiteers

I wanted to spend more time on this post, but time ran out (pun intended). Honestly, the wondrous realities of real people got in the way: family, friends, our wonderful students at the Summit Oxford Study Centre. So, I’ll leave this as it is: a little bit raw.

blood moon

History and Hysteria

Since I became a follower of Jesus in late-1987, I have endured a series of seasons where Christians and others have believed that humanity is on the verge of some dramatic and traumatic event, one that is foretold in the Bible, and preferably ensconced in some vague passage, and especially with an appeal to a Hebrew term with wide lexical options or a variety applications or a myriad of resonances, and most preferably with  some numbers (any number will do), and most desirous are numbers that are easily divided by others that can be deemed significant in some way or another.

Oh, the magic of it all.

Were these prophetic? That is the question. Or were they just pathetic? Well, that may be a bit provocative, even if a bit more apropos.

Rapture CardThe truth is, the quasi-prophetic speculations of each of these seasons failed…failed…and failed most miserably, even if reluctantly.

What they said the Bible said was false…false…, thus granting motivation to some who would dismiss the Bible all the more.

These folks may not be false prophets, technically, but they surely are not commendable readers, leaders, or teachers. Yes, perhaps they are just very bad teachers, people we should not follow, should not believe. People whose books we should not have purchased!

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The God Who Is There, D.A. Carson

godwhoisthereNow and then I wonder what good resources might be available to introduce people to the Christian faith. I’ve recommended various titles throughout the years of my own loyalty to Jesus Christ. But over the last few years I’ve returned with appreciation to D.A. Carson’s book, The God Who Is There: Finding Your Place in God’s Story.

Running at 224 pages and 14 chapters, it is a medium-sized volume. One fun feature of the book is that you can watch the corresponding talks by Carson in a 14-part series online. You also can download mp3s of the lectures. I’ll link the videos and audios with the corresponding chapter titles below.

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Old Testament Law and New Testament Ethics – 6: The Ten Commandments

6 – Ten Commandments

As our series on Old Testament law and New Testament ethics continues, I thought it best to point our attention to the Ten Commandments in this post. (We’ll pick up the material on sinful impurity soon.) The previous posts are as follows.

1 – Prefatory Playfulness
2 – Love and Leviticus 
3 – Practice and Priorities
4 – Abominations
5 – Ritual Impurity

Unlike the previous posts, in this one I will provide a short essay that derives from a sermon I preached at St. Leonard’s Church in Eynsham, England, on 21 March 2010. At the end of the post you will find the sermon itself, which you can stream or download.

Ten Commandments 

It is commonplace to imitate the Ten Commandments, not necessarily offering an alternative set of moral rules but a set of rules for particular kinds of tasks. Thus we find “the ten commandments of” various professions and practices, of both the remarkable and the routine: of marriage and medicine, and even of the Mafia; of picnicking and painting, and even of politicking. Imitation may indeed be a form of flattery, but it also may trivialize the original, downgrading it from divine command to an inconvenience.

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Old Testament Law and New Testament Ethics – 5: Ritual Impurity

5 – Ritual Impurity

The previous four installments in this series are linked below. While when combined, they exceed 6500 words. This post provides another 2000 words. Once you are a little over halfway, I think the momentum of curiosity will carry you to the end, though I could be mistaken. Regardless, I would recommend that the series be read in order. There is a madness in the method, if I’m honest, though it’ll test our endurance.

1 – Prefatory Playfulness
2 – Love and Leviticus 
3 – Practice and Priorities
4 – Abominations

Some elements in this series will be seen as provocative. That is inevitable — even intentional, at times. So, without further delay, lets move on to some impure thoughts.

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Old Testament Law and New Testament Ethics – 4: Abominations

4 – Abominations

We are now to the fourth installment in this serious on the relationship of Old Testament law and New Testament ethics. We’ve moved from  some Prefatory Playfulness, to Love  and Leviticus, to some instructive analogies regarding Practices and Priorities. I realize we haven’t come very far just yet. Frankly, this is going to take some time.

Since we are scheduled to discuss the subject of abominations in our weekly Bible study this evening, I thought I should post some (though not all) thoughts on the subject. The biblical teaching regarding abominations draws both interest and ridicule, depending on where you’re standing. And when you say the term, abominations, it should be pronounced with some sort of deep, gravelly voice, almost as if either divine or downright villainous — which can be confused, depending on where you’re standing. You can follow it with a bwahahaha, if you feel you need to. 

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Old Testament Law and New Testament Ethics – 3: Practices and Priorities

We’ve been discussion the relationship between Old Testament law and New Testament ethics. What we have discussed thus far is a sort of teaser, a taster, some initial sorts of sorties to help us loosen our grip on certain assumptions by bringing our attention to features of the biblical text that often get overlooked — overlooked especially in the heat of the rhetoric of the so-called culture wars. We yet have a way to go in gaining traction on a huge number of the relevant issues and questions and texts. So, again, you’ll need to be patient. The first two posts were:

In this post I’d like to attempt a few analogies that could help us move forward in our wide-ranging explorations on this very large subject. Imagine situations in our own day when one might assign certain practices for the service of certain ends, and not as ends in themselves. It may sound a bit paradoxical, but let me explain.

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