Bible Study: Hebrews Part 5 (1:4–6) — The Firstborn Son

Jesus is the firstborn, begotten, son. But what does that mean? Was Jesus created? Was Jesus born of reproduction?

Bible Study: Hebrews Part 5 (1:4–6) — The Firstborn Son
Photo by Yannick Pulver / Unsplash

Originally published in Issue #32 on November 5, 2021

This week we are finishing off the introduction of Hebrews and taking a look at the first few quotations of the Hebrew Scriptures, which are often misunderstood.



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I’m going to start the quotation of scripture in verse 3 in order to see the complete thought:

After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs.
For to which of the angels did God ever say,
“You are my Son,
today I have begotten you”?
Or again,
“I will be to him a father,
and he shall be to me a son”?
And again, when he brings the firstborn into the world, he says,
“Let all God’s angels worship him.”
— Hebrews 1:3-6

Jesus Is the Inheritor of the Excellent Name

In verse 4, we find out why Jesus can sit down at the right hand of the Father in verse 3: because he has inherited a more excellent name than the angels. I think this leads to a few questions:

  1. What is this name?
  2. What does it mean to inherit a name?
  3. What does it mean to “become superior to angels?”

What the name is, is not immediately clear. But we can do some deductions. Whatever this name is, it’s something that he earned. His inheritance and glorification at the right hand of the Father come because of his making purification for sins.

In the Hebrew Scriptures and Jewish culture, a name is much more than an identifying label. It says something about the person. Think of Abram/Abraham (Genesis 17—father of a multitude), Jacob (Genesis 25:26—the supplanter), and Nabal (1 Samuel 25—fool), to name but a few.

I think the name Jesus has inherited is “Son.” I know that I already wrote about the “sons of God,” and how Jesus was “a Son” in Hebrews 1:2. But when we look at verses 5 and 6, we see the declaration of this son as the begotten and inherited Son. As we will see as we investigate these quotations, the “Sonship” Jesus has received is more than ordinary sonship. It is firstborn status sonship.

This last part of the introduction transitions us perfectly into the rest of chapters 1 and 2, which is an extended proof that Jesus, the Son, is prophesied to be greater than angels from the Hebrew Scriptures.

Jesus Is the Begotten Son

Why is the author of Hebrews proving that Jesus is greater than the angels? If you want a sneak peek, take a look at Hebrews 2:1-4. Otherwise, we’ll get there in a few weeks. For now, let’s look at verse 5:

For to which of the angels did God ever say,
“You are my Son, today I have begotten you”?

Or again,
“I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son”?

The “for” is connective tissue explaining what went before by what follows. That’s why I think these verses explain the name of verse 4.

As an aside, I understand that this may be technical picking apart of sentences, and I understand that it may be difficult to follow. What we are looking at is one of the most challenging books of the Christian scriptures. It’s full of Hebrew scripture quotations which are used in interesting ways. I can just give you the conclusions, but part of my goal is to help you learn how to study scripture for yourself.

The introduction to these quotes is, “To which of the angels did God ever say,” and the implied answer is “none.” Therefore, whatever is meant by these quotations, they cannot apply to angels.

I may do a more in-depth analysis of Psalm 2 (the first quotation) and 2 Samuel 7 (the second) later, because they’re really fascinating, and I want to keep these as brief as I can. For now, a short explanation given what Hebrews is doing will have to be enough. In Psalm 2 we see a song of a king (probably David) being given reign over God’s people through the throne in Jerusalem. At his enthronement, we find the quote:

“As for me, I have set my King
   on Zion, my holy hill.”

I will tell of the decree:
The LORD said to me, “You are my Son;
   today I have begotten you.
Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage,
   and the ends of the earth your possession.
— Psalms 2:6-8 (ESV)

First, what is “begotten”? It usually means to bear as a child. That cannot be the meaning here, as this king is being made a son through his enthronement. In Hebrew poetry, the second line is also a re-stating of the first in different terminology. I think, therefore, that it effectively means the same thing as the first line. God has placed this king into the line of inheritance.

Psalm 2 cannot be entirely fulfilled in David, however. David does not break the nations with a rod of iron (Psalm 2:9). David did not receive allegiance from all the nations of the earth (2:12). The anointed one (Misyah / Messiah) (2:2) finds partial fulfillment in David, but ultimate fulfillment in the son written of in the book of Hebrews: Jesus. Jesus is the ultimate inheritor of all creation.

In 2 Samuel 7:14, David is receiving a prophecy that his descendent will be the one to build a temple for YHWH.

When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son.
— 2 Samuel 7:12-14 (ESV)

This found partial fulfillment in Solomon, David’s son who did build a temple for God in Israel. Solomon failed in his duty, however, to actually live and rule with a heart for God, and his desires for earthly pleasures turned him toward serving other gods.

This passage, even in the short snippet I took, cannot find its full fulfillment in Solomon. Solomon’s kingdom did not last forever. In 2 Samuel 7:14, God also claims this son will be beaten and battered by humans. A true home for Israel will be given where they will never again know war (7:11). None of this found its fulfillment in Solomon. The son talked about here, the true inheritor of the throne of God’s people, the one to bring true rest (an important theme of Hebrews!) is not Solomon, but Jesus.

Jesus Is the Worshipped Firstborn

Verse 6 continues the chain of quotations, but this time with some strange commentary:

And again, when he brings the firstborn into the world, he says,
“Let all God's angels worship him.”

What does it mean to “bring the firstborn into the world”? Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons would agree (though in different ways) that this talks about God bringing Jesus, the first creation of God, into the world, probably through his birth in Bethlehem.

This is not talking about Jesus being the first creation of God. And I don’t even think about this passage is talking about Jesus being born into Bethlehem, though I will admit that is a possible reading, and perhaps even the initially obvious one.

First, what does “firstborn” mean? Given the context of Hebrews 1, the author of Hebrews is pointing out that this Son, Jesus, was given unique sonship and inheritance, unlike the angels. In the Jewish culture of the time, “firstborn” implies the one who receives the inheritance (think of Jacob and Esau). Once again, we are talking of inheritance. That also sets the context for “brings…into the world.”

I don’t think that “into the world” means Jesus’ birth because (1) this is not when Jesus received his inheritance, the ascension was. (2) Jesus’ birth is when he emptied and humbled himself (Hebrews 2:9, Philippians 2:1–11), not when he was exalted. What does it mean then? I think it means, to paraphrase, “when he brings the firstborn into his inheritance of the world.” It’s a similar statement to what the last two quotes have been proving: that there was a prophesied son of David and God who would receive all creation as an inheritance.

When that happened, the angels were commanded to worship. This quote comes from the Greek version of Deuteronomy 32:43 and Psalm 97.

Delight, O heavens, with him
  and worship him, you sons of God.
Delight, O nations, with his people
  and prevail with him, all you angels of God.
For he will avenge the blood of his sons,
  and he will avenge and he will repay the enemies with vengeance,
and he will repay those who hate,
  and the Lord will cleanse out the land of his people.
— Deuteronomy 32:43 (Lexham English Septuagint 2nd Ed.)

This reading is also seen in the ESV, though it’s not in many other translations. There are reasons for that which I will not bore you with. Whatever the case, this is a passage talking of the “day of the Lord” when final, ultimate justice will be paid on the wicked and the Lord once again rules the whole world—remember that YHWH gave over subordinate rulership to the “sons of God” after Babel (Deut. 32:8).

This passage speaking of God has been shifted by the author of Hebrews to point to the Son. The Son is the one who inherits rulership of the world, and the one who inherits receives the worship of the “sons of God,” which is equated by the author of Hebrews with “angels.” Angels, for the author of Hebrews, are sons of God. This brings us back to Part 3 of our study. This son is greater than the other sons. He is not like them. He is the unique Son, the creator and inheritor of all creation, one worthy of worship—and only God is worthy of worship (Revelation 22:8–9). This son is not the Father, but he is God.