I’ve finished my word-by-word study of Hebrews 1:1-4, the introduction to the book. It is a fascinating and theologically rich passage, a single Greek sentence, perhaps the densest summary of the person and work of Jesus Christ in the Bible. Christ’s prophetic, priestly, and kingly offices are all featured:
prophetic: “(God) has spoken to us by His Son”
priestly: “making purification for sins”
kingly: “he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high”
I see the key word of the whole sentence as ekathisen, “he sat down.” What the writer of Hebrews ends with, amidst all his other statements about Christ’s person and work, is his exaltation/enthronement. One can see the prominence of Christ’s exaltation by noting the chiasmus that Ellingworth detects in 1:2b-3:
heir of all things (2b) —> enthronement/exaltation
__through whom the world was created (2c) —> action in universe
____radiance of God’s glory (3a) —> relation to God
____exact imprint of his nature (3b) —> relation to God
__sustains all things (3c) —> action in universe
(made purification for sins [3d]) —> (reason for …)
sat down at the right hand of God (3e) —> enthronement/exaltation
I am often skeptical of the value of noting chiastic structures, because if you look hard enough you can find a chiasmus in a phone book. Oftentimes a technical commentator, it seems to me, will find something in a text that even the author didn’t know was there. Nevertheless, I think Ellingworth is right to draw attention to the enthronement of Christ, given the prominence of this motif throughout the rest of the book, and the importance of Psalm 110 in connection to it as well.
Christ’s exaltation/enthronement is not some cold, distant reality for the writer of Hebrews. Throughout the book the writer of Hebrews frequently makes a theological move from Christ’s enthronement to his priestly ministry. Exaltation —> priestly saving work (atonement + intercession). One could say, therefore, that while Christ’s prophetic, priestly, and kingly roles are all explicit in 1:1-4, it is his priestly office, specifically his priestly enthronement for believers, that is most significant, and that will be returned to most frequently throughout the book.
The cash value: we often think of Christ’s saving work exclusively in terms of the event of his death/resurrection leading the result of atonement. Hebrews reminds us of the additional importance of the event of his exaltation leading to the result of intercession.
Thanks for that great reminder, Gav.