Christ Created and Sustains the World (Hebrews 1:1–2:8)
Critical to the theology in Hebrews is that Christ created and sustains the world. He is the Son “through whom [God] also created the worlds” (Heb. 1:2). Therefore, Hebrews is a book about Christ, the creator, at work in his workplace, the creation. This may be surprising to some who are used to thinking of the Father alone as creator. But Hebrews is consistent with the rest of the New Testament (e.g., John 1:3; Col. 1:15–17) in naming Christ as the Father’s agent in creation. Because Christ is fully God, “the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being” (Heb. 1:3), the writer of Hebrews can refer interchangeably to Christ or the Father as the Creator.
How then does Hebrews portray Christ at work in the creation? He is a builder, founding the earth and constructing the heavens. “In the beginning, Lord, you founded the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands” (Heb. 1:10). Moreover, he sustains the present creation, bearing “all things by his powerful word” (Heb. 1:3). “All things,” of course, includes us as well: “For every house is built by someone, but the builder of all things is God . . . and we are his house if we hold firm” (Heb. 3:4, 6). All of creation is built by God through his Son. This strongly affirms the creation as the primary place of God’s presence and salvation.
The imagery of God as worker continues throughout Hebrews. He put together or pitched the heavenly tent (Heb. 8:2; by implication, Heb. 9:24), constructed a model or a blueprint for Moses’ tabernacle (Heb. 8:5), and designed and built a city (Heb. 11:10, 16; 12:22; 13:14). He is a judge in a court as well as the executioner (Heb. 4:12–13; 9:28; 10:27–31; 12:23). He is a military leader (Heb. 1:13), a parent (Heb. 1:5; 5:8; 8:9; 12:4–11), a master who arranges his household (Heb. 10:5), a farmer (Heb. 6:7–8), a scribe (Heb. 8:10), a paymaster (Heb. 10:35; 11:6), and a physician (Heb. 12:13).
It is true that Hebrews 1:10–12, quoting Psalm 102, does point out a contrast between the Creator and the creation:
In the beginning, Lord, you founded the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands; they will perish, but you remain; they will all wear out like clothing; like a cloak you will roll them up, and like clothing they will be changed. But you are the same, and your years will never end.
This is very much in keeping with the emphasis on the transitory nature of life in this world, and the need to seek the enduring city of the new heavens and the new earth. Nonetheless, the emphasis of Hebrews 1:10–12 is on the might of the Lord and his deliverance, rather than the fragility of the cosmos. The Lord is at work in the creation.
Human beings are not only products of God’s creation, we are also sub-creators (or co-creators, if you prefer) with him. Like his Son, we are called to the work of ordering the world. “What are human beings that you are mindful of them, or mortals, that you care for them? You have made them for a little while lower than the angels; you have crowned them with glory and honor, subjecting all things under their feet” (Heb. 2:6–8, quoting Ps. 8). If it sounds a bit vain to regard mere humans as participants in the work of creation, Hebrews reminds us, “Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers and sisters” (Heb. 2:11).
Therefore, our work is meant to resemble God’s work. It has undying value. When we make computers, airplanes, and shirts, sell shoes, underwrite loans, harvest coffee, raise children, govern cities, provinces, and nations, or do any kind of creative work, we are working alongside God in his work of creation.
The point is that Jesus is the one supremely in charge of the creation, and only by working in him are we restored to fellowship with God. This alone makes us capable to take our place again as vice-regents of God on earth. Humanity’s created destiny is being achieved in Jesus, in whom we find the pattern (Heb. 2:10; 12:1–3), provision (Heb. 2:10–18), end, and hope for all our work. Yet we do so during a time marked by frustration and the menace of death, which threatens our very existence with meaninglessness (Heb. 2:14–15). Hebrews acknowledges that “we do not yet see everything in subjection” to the ways of his kingdom (Heb. 2:8). Evil plays a strong hand at present.
All of this is crucial for understanding what Hebrews will later say about heaven and “the coming world” (Heb. 2:5). Hebrews is not contrasting two different worlds—a bad material world with a good spiritual world. Rather, it is acknowledging that God’s good creation has become subject to evil and is therefore in need of radical restoration in order to become fully good again. All of creation—not just human souls—is in the process of being redeemed by Christ. “In subjecting all things to them [human beings], God left nothing outside their control” (Heb. 2:8).
See Sean M. McDonough, Christ as Creator: Origins of a New Testament Doctrine (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010).
See Robert Banks, God the Worker: Journeys into the Mind, Heart and Imagination of God (Sutherland, NSW: Albatross Books, 1992), and R. Paul Stevens, The Other Six Days (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2000), 118–23, for a discussion of God’s work.
Moreover, the citation of Psalm 102 fits in a stream of passages that feature the cosmos as that which was created through the Son and is in the process of being cleansed.
Old Testament quotations in Hebrews are always from the Septuagint, the ancient Greek-language translation of the Hebrew Scriptures. For this reason, they do not always correspond closely to modern translations, which are based on the Hebrew Masoretic text rather than the Septuagint.