The epistle to the Hebrews was a “word of exhortation” to a Christian congregation facing renewed pressure from pagan neighbors, perhaps even outright persecution (Hebrews 2:15, 10:32-34, 12:4, 13:22). Consequently, some members considered withdrawing from the assembly. Certain remarks suggest this congregation consisted primarily of Jewish Christians. If so, some likely contemplated a return to the local synagogue to escape persecution (2:16, 10:25).
The focus of Hebrews was not theological but pastoral. Its Author’s goal was to prevent members from apostatizing. He urged them to faithfulness rather than relapse to non-Christian Judaism or other means of escape (Hebrews 2:1-3, 3:6, 12-14, 4:1, 11-13, 6:1-12, 10:26-31, 10:35-39, 12:3-17, 13:9). Perseverance was the only proper response to persecution (Hebrews 12:22-29). He warned repeatedly of the dire consequences of faithlessness to Jesus (Hebrews 2:1-4, 3:12-13, 4:1, 4:11, 6:4-8, 10:26-30, 12:25).
The Author employed a rhetorical strategy known as synkrisis, a series of comparisons that demonstrate the superiority of one thing to another. The epistle’s comparisons highlight the superiority of the Son, his word, ministry, priesthood and sacrifice to the Old Covenant. This included his superiority to angels (Hebrews 1:5-14), Moses (3:1-6) and Aaron (5:1-10); the supremacy of Christ’s priesthood over the Levitical system (7:1-25), his sacrifice over the repeated animal sacrifices of the Tabernacle (7:27, 9:26), the New Covenant over the Old (8:4-10:18), and the New Zion over Mount Sinai (12:18-29).
The purpose of the comparisons was not to disparage God’s past revelation but to show HOW MUCH MORE the glory of the new revelation was compared to it. The Author interspersed between his several comparisons dire warnings about failure to heed the Son.
The paragraph in Hebrews 3:1-6 emphasizes how the Divine Word spoken in the Son surpasses that given by Moses.
The opening paragraph of the epistle presents the Author’s main proposition: The word of God spoken in His Son is final and complete, surpassing even the revelation given to Israel. In the past God spoke by means of the prophets “in many parts and in many ways.” The earlier “word” was true but incomplete and preparatory.
God’s Son, after achieving purification of sins, sat down at His right hand having become superior to angels by inheriting a more excellent name; namely, “Son.” At no time did God ever call an angel “My Son.” The introduction of the Son’s more distinguished name prepares for the first comparison: the Son to the angels.
Hebrews 1:6-14: First Comparison
The first contrast begins, “for to which of the angels said he at any time, ‘you are My Son, I, this day have begotten you?’ And again, ‘I will become his father and he shall become my Son?’” Angels are mighty and glorious beings in their own right, God’s “ministers of state” (verse 7) who “render divine service” (verse 14). Yet God commanded the angels “to pay homage” to His Son (verse 6).
It is the Son who has been appointed ruler of an everlasting kingdom (verses 8-9), not angels; God declared to the Son, “sit at my right hand until I make your foes your footstool” (verses 13. Cp. Psalm 110:1). Throughout the paragraph the implied answer to the rhetorical question, “to which of the angels said he at any time you are my Son,” is clearly none.
Hebrews 2:1-4: First Warning
The demonstration of the Son’s superiority to angels leads directly into the letter’s first warning (Hebrews 2:1-4). Two key themes are presented: the need to “heed” the Word spoken in the Son and the dire consequences of failure to do so. Both themes are reiterated throughout the epistle (Hebrews 4:1-11, 6:4-8, 10:26-31, 12:25-26).
The paragraph begins, “for this cause.” This connects Hebrews 2:1-4 to the preceding discussion about the superiority of the Son to angels. Because of the surpassing excellence of the Son’s word believers must hold fast to it lest they drift away.
“The word spoken through angels.” The reason the letter’s first comparison is to angels stems from the Jewish tradition that the Law or Torah was given to Moses by angels (Deuteronomy 33:2, Acts 7:53, Galatians 3:19). This does not disparage angels, Moses or the Law. Angels also are glorious ministers of God and Moses was His honored servant.
The Law given at Sinai through angels was also the word of God. Regardless of the use of angelic intermediaries, the Divine word “spoken through angels became firm and every transgression and disobedience received a just recompense.” Since terrible retribution fell on all who failed to heed the partial but word through angels, how shall Christians escape far greater punishment if they abandon the vastly superior Word spoken in the Son?
With the onset of the “last days” (1:2 – “upon these last days”) and the arrival of God’s final revelatory Word, returning even to the earlier but partial Word is not an option.
Hebrews 2:5-18: Expanded Explanation
The next section begins with a proposition: God has not subjected the coming habitable world to angels but to man. Though the Son is now highly exalted, the Author presents him as one who is fully human and previously participated in all the frailties of man’s mortality.
This Son endured unjust suffering just as the recipients of the epistle faced. Though God’s consummated Kingdom lies in the future, suffering Christians in the interim see Jesus, who “was made some little less than angels, by reason of the suffering of death crowned with glory and honor, that by the grace of God he might taste death in behalf of every one.”
Jesus now rules from God’s side but his exaltation was the result of enduring suffering and humiliation. Abasement was the necessary prelude to glory and by it Jesus demonstrated his solidarity with humanity. In order to “bring many sons to glory” Jesus was “made complete through sufferings.” This points to his death as necessary so that “he might paralyze the one who held the dominion of death, the Devil, and thereby release as many as by fear of death were all their lifetime liable to bondage.”
In achieving salvation for humanity Jesus did not “lay hold of angels” but of human beings (verse 16). To fulfill his mission it was necessary for Jesus “to be made like the brethren in every way.” Because the Son fully embraced the plight of mankind, he is now able “to give succor to those who are being tested.” In this context “tested” has primarily in view not temptation to commit sin but undergoing suffering and persecution.
In this section the Author lays out two more themes worked out in subsequent segments of the epistle: first, Jesus our “pioneer” who blazed our trail (Hebrews 2:10, 12:2) and, second, Christ our “faithful high priest” who evermore intercedes for us (e.g., Hebrews 2:17, 3:1, 4:15-16). The motif of Jesus as “high priest” becomes dominant in chapters 5-7.
Jesus Superior to Moses
Hebrews 3:1-6, “Wherefore, holy brethren, partners in a heavenly calling, attentively consider the Apostle and High Priest of our confession, Jesus, as one faithful to him who made him: as Moses also in all his house. For of more glory than Moses has this one been counted worthy, by as much as more honor than the house has he that prepared it. For every house is prepared by someone, yet God prepared all things. Even Moses, indeed, was faithful in all his house as an attendant, for testimony of the things which would be spoken; but Christ as a Son over his house, whose house are we if the confidence and boast of the hope we hold fast throughout firm.”
The Author now compares Jesus to Moses, demonstrating the superiority of the former to the latter and “by implication the superiority of Jesus to the law.”
The comparison to Moses is appropriate at this juncture. In the opening paragraph of the epistle the Author compared the Word spoken in the Son to the earlier revelation through the prophets. Although Moses was the chief representative of the Old Testament prophets, he was also more honored than the others for God spoke to him face to face, not through visions and riddles (Numbers 12:8 and see below). The greater rank of Moses serves in the comparison to emphasize just how vastly superior the Son is to all that went before him.
As our “apostle” Jesus is the one sent from God to deliver His final revelatory Word. As our “high Priest” Christ represents us to His Father and makes intercession on our behalf.
The description of Jesus as “one faithful” and the reference to Moses “also in all his house,” allude to Numbers 12:7 from the ancient Greek version of the Old Testament or the Septuagint (“My servant Moses is not so; he is faithful in all my house”). In that passage Moses was the only one in Israel to whom Yahweh spoke “mouth to mouth,” not indirectly or via intermediaries. Hence, initially Jesus is set on a par with Moses, arguably the most pivotal and honored figure in Israel’s history. God also spoke face to face to the Son.
In Jewish tradition Numbers 12:7 demonstrated that Moses received greater honor and rank than angels. Since Hebrews 1:6-14 presented the Son as superior to angels, and since 2:1-4 warned that disobedience to the Word spoken by the Son would require a far greater degree of punishment than that given by angels, it is natural to next prove the superiority of the Son to Moses, the great Lawgiver.
The key words “faithful,” “priest” and “house” allude to a prophecy from 1 Samuel 2:35 where God promised to one day “raise me up a faithful priest; according to that which is in my heart and in my soul will he do. Therefore will I build for him an assured house.” Jesus is now presented as that promised “faithful priest” set over God’s “house” (cp. Hebrews 10:1-14).
But there is a difference. Jesus has been found worthy of far more honor than Moses just as the preparer of a house is worthy of more honor than the house. Jesus is closely associated with the builder or God. Christ has been set over God’s house whereas Moses was a servant in it. “Moses, as important as he was, served in a role of preparation, not one of fulfillment (cf. 11:39f.).”
The Greek verb kataskeuazō in verse 3 more correctly reads “prepared” rather than “builder” (translated “builder” in the King James, New American and New International versions). This Greek term was used for supplying vessels and furnishings to prepare a household for habitation. The description is not of Jesus as the builder and architect, but the one who prepares and completes God’s household.
“The course of the argument through this portion of the sacred text is evident—if we bear in mind that the controlling purpose is to re-ground the Hebrew converts in their faith and to move them to steadfast boldness in confessing it. As to the ‘house of God’; was Moses faithful therein? Admitted! So was Christ—with this difference, that the position of Christ in God’s house is higher than was that of Moses; and that the house itself is nobler, namely, a ‘house’ or ‘household’ of living members, among whom we have the honour and responsibility of being counted; only we must not shrink from filling up our place therein.”
In verse 5 Moses is said to have been an “attendant” in God’s house “for testimony” of the word that “would be spoken.” The Greek clause uses a future tense participle in the passive voice that is difficult to translate word-for-word into English, but the intended sense is clear. As God’s faithful attendant Moses served as witness or testimony to the word that would come later. Put another way, this is another picture of the preparatory function of the Old Covenant revelation, including the Law issued at Sinai. It was penultimate not ultimate.
In this paragraph “house” refers not to God’s Tabernacle or Temple but metaphorically to the living community of God’s people, the church. Jesus is “over His house whose house are we” (verse 6). Believers “are” (present tense) his household as long as they hold fast their “confidence and boast of hope.” Repeated is a key warning of the book (2:1-4): the necessity to hold firmly to our confession and persevere to the end.
Nowhere in this paragraph does the Author denigrate Moses. His comparison is built on “a shared high regard for Moses. Christ’s superiority to Moses aims not at disqualifying the latter as a servant within God’s house but rather at enhancing the honor of the former as Son over God’s house.”
The Author takes a view based on Salvation History, the historical progress of God’s Redemptive plan. As great as he was, Moses was part of an “era that has been eclipsed with the coming of God’s Son.” This is not dissimilar to Jesus’ point that “among those born of women there has risen no one greater than John the Baptist; yet he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he” (Matthew 11:11). As great a prophet as was John the Baptist, the least member of God’s kingdom is “greater” because he or she lives in the time of fulfillment.
The paragraph in Hebrews 1:6-14 prepares for the section that follows in Hebrews 3:7-4:13 - the example of the Wilderness generation that received God’s Word through Moses but failed “to hold fast to their confidence and hope.”
In the first chapter of the letter the Author declared that God’s ultimate and final revelation has been spoken in His Son. God’s previous revelation made in the prophets was excellent and divine in origin, but preparatory and incomplete. He then demonstrated how the Son was and is superior to angels, as magnificent as they are. This comparison led into the letter’s first warning (2:1-4); the danger of ignoring the most excellent Word spoken in the Son.
If the revelation of God given through angels at Sinai required severe punishment for every disobedience, how much more severe will punishment be for those who ignore the vastly superior Word revealed in His Son?
The letter’s next comparison is found in Hebrews 3:1-6, a comparison of the Son to Moses. None of what the Author says disparages Moses; if anything Moses is put forward as a servant who deserved the highest rank and honor. Nevertheless, the Son is even more excellent than Moses, and by implication so is the revelation given in the Son to that given by Moses.
This paragraph concludes with a reiteration of the warning given in Hebrews 2:3. Believers are God’s living household but will only remain so as long as they “hold fast their confidence.”
 Unlike Christianity Judaism had legal standing in the Roman Empire. Jews were exempt from certain requirements imposed on others, including participation in the imperial cult. At first Roman authorities viewed Christianity as another Jewish sect and it benefited from the legal protections given to Judaism. By around 65-70 A.D. Rome began to perceive Christianity to be a new religion distinct from Judaism and it eventually became an illegitimate religion without legal protection. Following the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple in 70 A.D. the divide between church and synagogue became more pronounced and believers came under increasing Roman scrutiny.
 Donald Hagner, Hebrews (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1990), p. 59.
 Victor Pfitzner, Hebrews (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1997), p. 72.
 Ben Witherington III, Letters & Homilies for Jewish Christians (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2007), p. 169.
 Victor Pfitzner, Hebrews (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1997), p. 72.
 Hagner, p. 60.
 Joseph Rotherham, Studies in Hebrew (Restoration Reprint Library), p. 78.
 Ibid. p. 84.
 David DeSilva, Perseverance in Gratitude (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2000), p. 135.
 Witherington, p. 170.
 DeSilva, p. 140.