Before proceeding, I have a little confession. I've been referring to Hebrews 1:8 for quite a few years, and have read the chapter many times. But for some reason it wasn't till preparing for this that I really followed and understood the writer's full train of reasoning in it. As will be seen, that fuller understanding augmented rather than changed my understanding of Hebrews 1:8.
Hebrews 1:1 God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, 2 in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world.
In these first two verses, the writer sets up a pattern of parallel contrasts. Here, it's limited human prophets vs. the Son, though that will not by the primary contrast in the chapter. Human prophets were “long ago”, and were limited human beings. The Son, however, is described both as the Co-Creator and as the “heir of all things”. This latter cannot be true unless the son is not a “thing”, created.
“(I)n these last days has spoken to us in His Son,” is interesting, though perhaps a rabbit trail. One's immediate thought is, “Well of course! The prophets spoke and their words were written down. Jesus spoke, and His words and story were written down.” Not so fast! There were prophets in the church as well. Agabus and the daughters of Philip are mentioned in the Book of Acts. Paul spoke of prophecy as a gift of the Spirit in Romans 12 and 1 Corinthians 12. And then Paul spoke, in Ephesians 4:11, of prophets as being one of Jesus' gifts to the church. So, taken together all these passages mean: 1.) New Testament prophets are means in which believers are, “ spoken to ... in His Son;” the Son is speaking in them; 2.) God, Who is speaking in these New Testament prophets, includes the Son (Jesus, Who gave the prophets) and the Holy Spirit (Who gives prophecies).
3 And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power.
Chapter and verse divisions in the Bible are later, human, “inventions” that make the Bible easier to use. So this sentence really is part of the thought in verse 2. Where verse 2 speaks of the Son as the uncreated Creator, this verse firmly shows that the Son is God: in glory; in nature; in power. Isaiah 42:8 points out that God does not give His glory to any other, so that the Son radiates God's glory means that the Son is God. “(E)xact representation” cannot be explained away by saying that a really good portrait or sculpture is a representation of a person. Not so! A portrait is two-dimensional; the real person is three-dimensional. A sculpture is made of stone or metal, and is not living, unlike the real person. “(E)xact representation” can only be true if the Son is God. And no “thing”, a creature, can uphold all creatures. Only the Creator, God, can do that.
And this verse states the the Son's power is not limited: not to within creation; there is no creature that is not subject to the Son's sustaining power. Again, the Son is not created, but is the uncreated Co-Creator.
When He had made purification of sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, 4 having become as much better than the angels, as He has inherited a more excellent name than they.
Here the writer of Hebrews sets up the contrast that will be the topic of the rest of the chapter – the Son vs. the angels. This contrast is devastating to the Arian theology of the Watchtower Bible & Tract Society, in further showing that the Son is God, and in showing that the Son is not angel (not even the chief angel). Two differences com into view in this verse and a half. First, the Son's name, the “Son”; second, and less obviously, the Son's position of power and authority. The writer has already precluded understanding the Son as a created “thing”. So “Son” (and “Father”) express relationship and intimacy, not creature-hood and/or inferiority. This relationship and intimacy set the Son apart from the angels. Angels do not have such a relationship with God. Sitting down on a throne means the Son is in a position of power and authority; the angels serve the One with that power and authority.
5 For to which of the angels did He ever say, "YOU ARE MY SON, TODAY I HAVE BEGOTTEN YOU"? (Psalm 2:7) And again, "I WILL BE A FATHER TO HIM AND HE SHALL BE A SON TO ME"? (2 Samuel 7:14)
Verses 5 and 6 are the closest Hebrews 1 comes to lending support to Arianism, yet they fall short, and are amenable to a better interpretation. Were the Son a creature – an angel or something unique and “other” - God would have said, “Today I have made you.” What was done, however, is that the Father-Son relationship was established within the One, uncreated, God.
6 And when He again brings the firstborn into the world, He says, "AND LET ALL THE ANGELS OF GOD WORSHIP (Deuteronomy 32:43 & Psalm 97:7)
“Firstborn” has two meanings in Scripture: the first one born among multiple children; one who is preeminent or the heir. The first meaning doesn't work, even within the idea that the Son is a creature (an idea already precluded). The second does work: the Son is preeminent over creation, of which the Son is Co-Creator. There are at least two important things to understand in the command that the angels worship the Son. First, they are inferior (positionally) to the Son. Superiors do not worship inferiors; peers do not worship peers. Second, only God is to be worshiped. So, in pointing out the fact that the Son is not an angel, the writer also shows that the Son is God.
7 And of the angels He says, "WHO MAKES HIS ANGELS WINDS, AND HIS MINISTERS A FLAME OF FIRE." (Psalm 104:4) 8 But of the Son He says, "YOUR THRONE, O GOD, IS FOREVER AND EVER, AND THE RIGHTEOUS SCEPTER IS THE SCEPTER OF HIS KINGDOM. 9 "YOU HAVE LOVED RIGHTEOUSNESS AND HATED LAWLESSNESS; THEREFORE GOD, YOUR GOD, HAS ANOINTED YOU WITH THE OIL OF GLADNESS ABOVE YOUR COMPANIONS." (Psalm 45:6-7)
Verses 7 and 8 culminate the servant-served contrast between the angels and the Son. Angels are specifically called servants in verse 7, and then verse 8 expands on the authority of the Son. Apparently, there are two ways, “Your throne o God,” could be translated, the other being, “God is your throne.” That latter doesn't make sense, unless one needs to avoid a clear statement that the Son is God. And that's what Hebrews 1:8 is, a clear statement that the Son is God in a context that identifies the Son as the uncreated Co-Creator served by and sustaining the highest of creatures (angels).
10 And, "YOU, LORD, IN THE BEGINNING LAID THE FOUNDATION OF THE EARTH, AND THE HEAVENS ARE THE WORKS OF YOUR HANDS; 11 THEY WILL PERISH, BUT YOU REMAIN; AND THEY ALL WILL BECOME OLD LIKE A GARMENT, 12 AND LIKE A MANTLE YOU WILL ROLL THEM UP; LIKE A GARMENT THEY WILL ALSO BE CHANGED. BUT YOU ARE THE SAME, AND YOUR YEARS WILL NOT COME TO AN END." (Psalm 102:25-27)
A key fact may or may not be obvious in the verse and its source in Psalm 102. Clearly, as quoted here in Hebrews, “ YOU, LORD” refers to the Son. While those words are not present in the sentence the writer of Hebrews quotes, it is present throughout the Psalm. And “LORD” there in Psalm 102 is the Divine name, YHWH! So many/most of the intended First Century audience for the book of Hebrews would have recognized that, in using this quote from Psalm 102, the Son was being equated with God.
Once again, the Son is spoken of as the Creator. The contrast in these verses between creation being subject to time and aging and the Son being ageless and unchanging show that the Son is eternal, a characteristic of God alone.
13 But to which of the angels has He ever said, "SIT AT MY RIGHT HAND, UNTIL I MAKE YOUR ENEMIES A FOOTSTOOL FOR YOUR FEET"? (Psalm 110:1) 14 Are they not all ministering spirits, sent out to render service for the sake of those who will inherit salvation?
The writer of Hebrews returns to the contrast between the Son and the angels. The Son is at rest; the angels are at work serving believers. The Son is the ruler (of creation); the angels are servants.
In detail and taken as a whole, Hebrews chapter 1 devastates the Arian theology of the Watchtower Bible & Tract Society! The Son, Jesus, is the Co-Creator of every creature. The Son speaks as God. The Son is eternal. The Son is as superior to the angels as a king is superior to His servants. The Son is directly identified as God.