Does the Immediate Context of Hebrews 1:8 prove that Jesus is God? Pt. 1
The neophyte wants Christians to understand that appealing to Hebrews 1:8 will not help them establish that Jesus is God in nature. Here is the text in question, including verse 9 for context:
“But of the Son He says, ‘Your throne, O God, is forever and ever, the scepter of uprightness is the scepter of Your kingdom. You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness; therefore God, Your God, has anointed You with the oil of gladness beyond Your companions.’” Hebrews 1:8-9
In this passage, the inspired author cites Psalm 45:6-7 to establish that Christ reigns forever as God:
“Your throne, O God, is forever and ever; A scepter of uprightness is the scepter of Your kingdom. You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness; Therefore God, Your God, has anointed You With the oil of joy above Your fellows.”
The Muslim greenhorn appeals to places in the Holy Bible where certain individuals such as Moses and Satan are called G/god and who (in the case of Moses) are even said to have prophets!
Since we have already responded to these assertions in the following articles and rebuttals:
- If being called God proves that Jesus is the Almighty wouldn't the same hold for Moses?
- What About 2 Corinthians 4:4?
- The Real Truth of John 1:1: A Muslim Becomes a Bible Expositor
- “I Say: Ye Are Gods”: An Examination of Jesus’ Use of Psalm 82:6 in Defense of his Deity
We will, therefore, not be responding to this neophyte’s abuse and misuse of these passages in this particular reply.
What we want to do here is to focus on the greenhorn’s attempt of undermining the testimony of Hebrews 1:8 to the Deity of Christ by highlighting the fact that the Psalm which Hebrews quotes from was initially composed to celebrate the marriage of an unnamed Israelite king.
The neophyte cites several sources which confirm that the king that is mentioned in Psalm 45 is not a divine being but a human representative of Yahweh. He then concludes his article by saying that,
“The Biblical scholar Artur[sic] Weiser hit the nail on the head by clearly stating that there is an explicit insurmountable distinction made between the king who is addressed as ‘God’ in verse six and the Most High, God in verse seven. This means that because this verse is applied to Jesus he is the human king that is anointed who is not the Most High and Supreme God. The title is merely symbolic of the king’s function as God’s representative. It does not make him literally God in any way.”
Needless to say, there are several glaring problems with this greenhorn’s attempt of undermining the Deity of Christ.
In the first place, we are not aware of any informed Christian who thinks that the mere use of elohim for the king in this specific Psalm implies that this particular ruler was God in essence. Rather, as many Christian scholars would agree, the king is being addressed as elohim because he sits on Yahweh’s earthly throne in Israel as Yahweh’s divinely appointed representative. As such, the king was empowered by Yahweh’s Spirit and invested with his divine authority to rule the people on his behalf.
Israel’s ruler was also expected to exemplify some of Yahweh’s own characteristics such as righteousness, holiness, fearlessness, courage, boldness, love, compassion etc.
“Of all my sons (for the LORD has given me many sons), He has chosen my son Solomon to sit on the throne of the kingdom of the LORD over Israel. He said to me, ‘Your son Solomon is the one who shall build My house and My courts; for I have chosen him to be a son to Me, and I will be a father to him. I will establish his kingdom forever if he resolutely performs My commandments and My ordinances, as is done now.’” 1 Chronicles 28:5-7
“… And they made Solomon the son of David king a second time, and they anointed him as ruler for the LORD and Zadok as priest. Then Solomon sat on the throne of the LORD as king instead of David his father; and he prospered, and all Israel obeyed him. All the officials, the mighty men, and also all the sons of King David pledged allegiance to King Solomon. The LORD highly exalted Solomon in the sight of all Israel, and bestowed on him royal majesty which had not been on any king before him in Israel. 1 Chronicles 29:22-25
“Blessed be the LORD your God who delighted in you, setting you on His throne as king for the LORD your God; because your God loved Israel establishing them forever, therefore He made you king over them, to do justice and righteousness.” 2 Chronicles 9:8
In other words, the appointed king was functioning as God since he stood in the place of God as his representative to the people, ruled them with his authority, and was expected to exhibit some of Yahweh’s own qualities and characteristics.
As noted evangelical NT scholar Murray J. Harris explains:
“… In whatever sense the king was divine, it was not an actual or intrinsic divinity that he possessed. Nor was the king regarded as an incarnation of Deity. Rather, he was ‘Yahweh's anointed,’ in the sense that he served as Yahweh's deputy on earth, exercising a delegated yet sovereign authority. And as anointed leader of God's chosen people, the king was, by the gracious divine will, God’s adopted son (2 Sam. 7:14; Ps. 2:7; 89:27-28 [Engl. vv. 26-27]). Yet, in accounting for this unique application of the title to a king, one must reckon with more than simply the king’s divine election and his unique role in standing in loco dei. The king may exceptionally be addressed as ‘God’ also because, endowed with the Spirit of Yahweh, he exhibits certain divine characteristics. In Psalm 45 ‘glory and majesty’ are ascribed to him (vv. 4-5a), as they are to God (e.g., Ps. 96:6); he is a defender and lover of truth and right (vv. 5b, 8a), just as God is (Ps. 33:5; 99:4; Isa. 61:8); he judges with equity (v. 7b), as God does (Ps. 67:5 [Engl. v. 4]; 99:4); just as God’s rule is eternal (Ps. 10:16; 93:2; 145:13), so is the dynasty to which the Davidic king belongs (v. 7a). Some weight must be given to the influence of the exuberant style of an oriental court (cf. v. 2: ‘my heart is bubbling over’). Psalm 45 is noteworthy for its superlatives in its description of the qualities and achievements of the king (vv. 3-8); elohim is not the only instance of hyperbolic language in the poem (see especially vv. 3, 6, 8). But verse 7 remains distinctive in that here ‘the royal compliments suddenly blossom into divine honors.’ With that said, it should also be emphasized that an occupant of the Davidic throne represented a dynasty with which God had made an eternal covenant (2 Sam. 7:13, 16) and from which God’s ideal vicegerent would come, so that these ‘divine honors’ should not be explained simply as verbal extravagance. A king of David’s line could be addressed as elohim because he foreshadowed the coming one who would perfectly realize the dynastic ideal, a godlike ruler who would embody all the ideals described in the psalm.
“The psalmist’s exuberance is tempered, however, by his theological propriety. It has been suggested above that the insertion of eloheyka after elohim in verse 8 may reflect the poet’s awareness of extraordinary use of elohim in verse 7. He forestalls misunderstanding by indicating that the king is not elohim without qualification. Yahweh is the king's ‘God.’ Such an explanation doesn’t rule out the possibility that the poet is also stressing the intimate and unique relationship that exists between the king and Yahweh, although eloheyka is also used in reference to individual prophets (e.g., 1 Kings 17:12; see de Fraine 268-76)…” (Harris, Jesus as God: The New Testament Use Theos in Reference to Jesus [Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, MI: First paperback edition, 1998], VIII. The Throne of God (Psalm 45:7-8), C. Objections to the Traditional Interpretation, 4. Theological, pp. 200-201; bold emphasis ours)
Second, it doesn’t follow that just because the inspired author of Hebrews quoted Psalm 45 to describe Christ’s reign that this somehow automatically means that he believed that Jesus was nothing more than a mere human being who functioned as God in the same way that the kings of Israel did. The writer could have quoted these verses from the Psalter to show that the words used to describe God’s anointed rulers apply even more so to Christ since these kings merely foreshadowed the Person and work of the Messiah.
It, therefore, remains for us to analyze the Christology of Hebrews in order to determine whether the author used this particular text because he thought that Christ was no different in essence than the other anointed kings which prefigured him. Or did he employ this specific passage to show that Jesus is much greater than any creature since he happens to be in nature what these other rulers were in function only, i.e. unlike the others who reigned Christ possesses the fullness of Deity intrinsically.
This leads us to the third error in the greenhorn’s reasoning. Had this neophyte simply taken the time to carefully study the context of Hebrews 1:8 he would have discovered that the inspired author depicts Jesus as sharing in the unique rule of God over all creation, receives the worship which only God is supposed to receive, performs the deeds which only God is able to perform, and possesses the very nature of God.
The Rule of God
After Jesus’ death and resurrection,
“But we do see Him who was made for a little while lower than the angels, namely, Jesus, because of the suffering of death crowned with glory and honor, so that by the grace of God He might taste death for everyone.” Hebrews 2:9
“Now the God of peace, who brought up from the dead the great Shepherd of the sheep through the blood of the eternal covenant, even Jesus our Lord, equip you in every good thing to do His will, working in us that which is pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen.” Hebrews 13:20-21
He ascended to sit down on the throne at the right side of God:
“… When He had made purification of sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high (en hypselois),” Hebrews 1:3b
“Now the main point in what has been said is this: we have such a high priest, who has taken His seat at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens, a minister in the sanctuary and in the true tabernacle, which the Lord pitched, not man.” Hebrews 8:1-2
The author describes Jesus’ enthronement in the same way that the OT prophets spoke of Yahweh’s exaltation over creation.
For instance, it is Yahweh who is enthroned on high above the nations:
“The LORD is high above all nations; His glory is above the heavens. Who is like the LORD our God, Who is enthroned on high (LXX – en hypselois), Who humbles Himself to behold The things that are in heaven and in the earth?” Psalm 113:4-6
It is also Yahweh who rules over the creation from his throne in the heavenly temple:
“The LORD is in His holy temple; the LORD’S throne is in heaven; His eyes behold, His eyelids test the sons of men.” Psalm 11:4
“The LORD has established His throne in the heavens, And His sovereignty rules over all. Bless the LORD, you His angels, Mighty in strength, who perform His word, Obeying the voice of His word! Bless the LORD, all you His hosts, You who serve Him, doing His will.” Psalm 103:19-21
This basically means that Jesus is a co-occupant of God’s heavenly throne and therefore shares in God’s exclusive rule over the entire creation!
But that’s not all. Keep in mind that according to Hebrews, the earthly tabernacle was modeled after the heavenly one. The reason why this is significant is that there was a section within the earthly tabernacle called “the Holy of Holies” or “the Most Holy Place.” In it was placed the mercy seat which represented God’s throne. Since this was fashioned after the heavenly archetype this implies that there is also a Most Holy Place in heaven, and that God’s throne is located there.
Also keep in mind that there weren’t two mercy seats in the earthly tabernacle, but only one, which therefore means we should expect to learn that there is also only one such seat in the heavenly prototype.
Hebrews also tells us that Jesus actually ascended into the Most Holy Place and entered into God the Father’s very own presence where he now intercedes for all believers:
“Now even the first covenant had regulations of divine worship and the earthly sanctuary. For there was a tabernacle prepared, the outer one, in which were the lampstand and the table and the sacred bread; this is called the holy place. Behind the second veil there was a tabernacle which is called the Holy of Holies, having a golden altar of incense and the ark of the covenant covered on all sides with gold, in which was a golden jar holding the manna, and Aaron’s rod which budded, and the tables of the covenant; and above it were the cherubim of glory overshadowing the mercy seat; but of these things we cannot now speak in detail. Now when these things have been so prepared, the priests are continually entering the outer tabernacle performing the divine worship, but into the second, only the high priest enters once a year, not without taking blood, which he offers for himself and for the sins of the people committed in ignorance. The Holy Spirit is signifying this, that the way into the holy place has not yet been disclosed while the outer tabernacle is still standing, which is a symbol for the present time… But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things to come, He entered through the greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this creation; and not through the blood of goats and calves, but through His own blood, He entered the holy place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption… Therefore it was necessary for the copies of the things in the heavens to be cleansed with these, but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these. For Christ did not enter a holy place made with hands, a mere copy of the true one, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us; nor was it that He would offer Himself often, as the high priest enters the holy place year by year with blood that is not his own.” Hebrews 9:1-9a, 11-12, 23-25
“This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, a hope both sure and steadfast and one which enters within the veil, where Jesus has entered as a forerunner for us, having become a high priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.” Hebrews 6:19-20 – cf. 10:19-22
This means that according to Hebrews Jesus has actually taken his seat in the Most Holy Place next to the Father on the same divine throne! As the following Evangelical scholars explain:
2. Jesus’ exaltation is described in the same spatial terms reserved for expressing the exalted location of God’s throne. God “seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come” (Eph. 1:20-21). Jesus “ascended far above all the heavens” (Eph. 4:10); he is “exalted above the heavens” (Heb. 7:26; cf. 4:14). God “highly exalted him” with the name “above every name” (Phil. 2:9). Jesus “sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high” (Heb. 1:3). He is not only “above” name, he is “far above” every power that can be named. He is not only in heaven, he is “far above all the heavens.” Jesus is as high up as he can go!
The prevailing imagery of the heavenly court was of a single throne, high above the rest of the throne room (note Isa. 6:1), in which God sat, surrounded by his servants, all standing below him and at attention, ready to carry out his orders… From this position, God rules over all creation, both angelic and human, in heaven and on earth. The New Testament REPEATEDLY describes Jesus as having ascended to the very highest point in all existence. He is “over all” (Rom. 9:5; cf. Eph. 4:6).
The combination of these two points alone–Jesus’ exercise of universal rule over all creation, and the exaltation of Jesus’ position far above all creation–is enough to establish him in the place that in the Old Testament and ancient Judaism belonged to God ALONE. As Bauckham observes, “God’s servants may be said, by his permission, to rule some things, as earthly rulers do, but ONLY God rules over all things from a throne exalted above all things.”
Jesus is utterly unique in this shared position. NO ONE else shares God’s throne and rules over all creation. This is because “he with whom God shares his throne MUST BE EQUAL WITH God.” And he who is equal with God must be approached accordingly. (Robert M. Bowman Jr. & J. Ed Komoszewski, Putting Jesus in His Place: The Case for the Deity of Christ [Kregel Publications, Grand Rapids, MI 2007], 21. Jesus Takes His Seat, p. 256; capital emphasis ours)
4. The New Testament reveals that Jesus actually sits on God’s own throne. That Jesus sits with God on his divine throne is stated explicitly and unambiguously in some places in the New Testament… The book of Hebrews repeatedly describes Jesus as occupying this exalted position. In its introductory affirmations about Jesus, it says that he “he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high” (Heb. 1:3). Later, the author says that Jesus “sat down at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven” (8:1 NIV) and that he “has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God” (12:2). Grammatically, the language here could be taken to mean that Jesus’ seat is somewhere to the right of God’s throne and therefore is a separate or different throne, but such an understanding fails to account for the imagery of the throne in the heavenly sanctuary (Heb. 8:1-2). The imagery is drawn from the furnishings of the Holy of Holies, where the only place to sit is on the throne of God represented by the ark of the covenant. The meaning here, then, is that Jesus is seated at God’s right on God’s very own throne–that is, that Jesus exercises the universal, royal rule over all creation that is God’s prerogative. [Martin] Hengel suggests that it would be better to translate Hebrews 12:2 “at the right hand of God on his throne.”9 (Ibid, pp. 257-258; comments within brackets ours)
8. Hengel, Studies in Early Christianity, 189.
9. Ibid., 142; similarly 149: “One must interpret the sitting at the right hand in relation to Christ as ‘on the right side of the throne…,’ that is, the resurrected Christ sat to the right beside God himself on the ‘throne of glory.’” (Ibid, p. 361)
To say that such a teaching is simply mind-boggling would be a wild understatement. Bowman and Komoszewski show why this is a truly amazing assertion for any Jew to make about himself or in reference to another Jew. Commenting on Jesus’ response to the high priest’s question whether he was God’s Son (cf. Mark 14:61-64; Matthew 26:63-66; Luke 22:66-71), the authors write that:
“A careful examination of Psalm 110:1, and Jesus’ application of it (in conjunction with Daniel 7:13) to himself, reveals how remarkable Jesus’ claim was and why it seemed to the Sanhedrin to be blasphemous. It was one thing to enter God’s presence and yet another to sit in it. But to sit at God’s right side was another matter altogether. In the religious culture and milieu of Jesus’ day, to claim to sit at God’s right hand was tantamount to claiming equality with God…
“Jesus, then, was claiming the right to go directly into God’s ‘throne room’ and sit at his side. The temerity of such a claim for any mere human would be astonishing to the Jews of Jesus’ day. The priests of the Sanhedrin, to whom Jesus made this claim, could not, as a rule, even go into the inner sanctum of the temple, known as the Holy of Holies. Many of them probably had never been inside it. The Holy of Holies could be entered only on a specific day in specific ways by one specific person. Failure to follow the instructions exactly resulted in death. On the Day of Atonement, the high priest entered the Holy of Holies, carrying the blood of a bull as offering for personal purification and the blood of a ram as offering for atonement for the people. This was followed by a change of garments and ritual washings (Lev. 16). In other words, one entered into God’s presence in the temple cautiously.
“If entrance requirements to the earthly Holy of Holies were so strict, we can imagine what the Sanhedrin priests would have thought about Jesus claiming to have the right to enter God’s heavenly presence. After all, the earthly temple was, according to Josephus, viewed as a model of the heavenly one. Worse still, though, Jesus was claiming that he was going to enter PERMANENTLY into the heavenly Holy of Holies AND SIT DOWN. Jesus might as well have claimed that he owned the place! Indeed, this is what his statement amounted to. As Darrel Bock has put it, Jesus’ claim ‘would be worse, in the leadership’s view, than claiming the right to be able to walk into the Holy of Holies in the temple and live there!’” (Ibid, Part 5: the Best Seat In The House: Jesus Shares the Seat of God’s Throne, 20. God’s Right-Hand Man, pp. 244-245; bold and capital emphasis ours)
Now this in itself shows just how vastly superior Christ is to the other Israelite and Judean kings since their thrones were located in Jerusalem or Samaria, whereas Jesus’ throne is in heaven which is the place where God himself rules from!
The Worship Due to God
Hebrews goes on to show that angels, who are spirits that God created to serve, are commanded to worship the Son:
“And again, when He brings the Firstborn into the world, he says, ‘Let all God’s angels worship Him (Kai proskynesatosan auto pantes angeloi theou).’ Of the angels He says, ‘He makes his angels winds, and his ministers a flame of fire.’” Hebrews 1:6-7
What makes this rather remarkable is that the author has actually taken OT texts, which speak of angels being commanded to worship Yahweh, and applied them to Christ!
According to Biblical scholars, Hebrews may have been quoting from either the Greek version of Deuteronomy 32:43 or Psalm 97:7. However, it really doesn’t matter which verse the writer had in mind since both texts refer to the command given to angels to worship God:
“Rejoice, ye heavens, with him, and let all the angels of God worship him (kai proskynesatosan auto pantes angeloi theou); rejoice ye Gentiles, with his people, and let all the sons of God strengthen themselves in him; for he will avenge the blood of his sons, and he will render vengeance, and recompense justice to his enemies, and will reward them that hate him; and the Lord shall purge the land of his people.” Deuteronomy 32:43 LXX
“Let all that worship graven images be ashamed, who boast of their idols; worship him, all you his angels… For you are Lord most high over all the earth; you are greatly exalted above all gods.” Psalm 96[Eng. 97]:7, 9 LXX
For the writer to apply this OT command to the worship which the angels must give to the Son shows that he not only believed that Jesus receives the worship due to God, but also thought that Jesus is God in the flesh.
This now leads me to my next point which I will pick up in the second part of my rebuttal.