1] In many portions and in many ways, of old God was speaking to the fathers in the prophets; 2] in the last of these days, He spoke to us in [His] Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the ages
[Please note: the above is my own translation. I claim no particular scholarship or authority for it.]
In the introduction, we noted that Hebrews is both a defense and a declaration of the position and preeminence of the Lord Jesus. His position is that of sovereign Lord and Ruler of all, though that has not yet been made fully manifest. His preeminence, the writer asserts, is that He is superior to everything that the Jews held in high regard: Moses, the prophets, the priesthood, even Abraham; and that the New Covenant, of which Jesus is the sole Mediator, succeeds and fulfills the First Covenant, of which Moses and Aaron stand as representative mediators. To a large degree, Hebrews answers the question: How do men approach God?
The pride of the Jews was that God was their God. He had spoken to them, cf. Deuteronomy 4:6-8, 2 Samuel 7:23, 24. This is where it all began with the Jews. This is where it begins with Hebrews.
1. God Has Spoken Formerly, 1:1.
He spoke in bits and pieces, as it were, over a period of time through and to many different individuals. What we know as the Old Testament wasn’t given all at once, but a little bit at a time to Adam, to Noah, to Abraham, Moses, Joshua, David and all the other named and unnamed prophets of the OT period. Clement of Alexandria associated Hebrews 1:1 with Ephesians 3:10, the many-tinted [polupoikilos] wisdom of God.
Thus, the OT was a progressive revelation, cf. Isaiah 28:10, beginning with the origin and fall of mankind through Adam. This included the first prophecy in Genesis 2:16, a prophecy of ruin if Adam and Eve disobeyed a simple restriction, then the first redemptive prophecy, Genesis 3:15. This revelation continued until the final prophecy of the coming of the Sun of righteousness, as well as the ministry of His forerunner, Malachi 4:2-6.
The OT was also a patient revelation, taking nearly 4000 years to complete. Since God was pleased to take so long a time to reveal Himself to His OT people, perhaps we shouldn’t expect an instant understanding of it. We must continue to read, to study, and to meditate if we would unlock this treasure. There are great riches in the OT, but they aren’t uncovered by the casual and occasional glance at a verse or two.
The OT was also a varied revelation. That is, God didn’t just narrate or dictate His Word one word at a time, but over time used law, prophecy, history, psalm, sign, type or symbol, parable. Now He spoke through a gatherer of sycamore fruit, now through a shepherd, now in the sunlight of His favor, now in the thunder of His judgment, now as the people were obedient, now as they were rebellious.
The OT was also a partial revelation. By this, we mean that God didn’t tell Israel everything He ultimately intended that men should know. He gave them what they needed to know to make them a nation and, as individuals, to be His people. But there were things that He kept “secret,” as even Moses acknowledged in Deuteronomy 29:29, “The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things which are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.”
Finally, the OT was a passing revelation. What does this mean? In the original language, there are two words translated, “old.” One is archaios. We get our word “archaic” from it. It means “old in point of time,” The other word is palaios, “old in point of use, worn out, ready to be replaced by something new.” Perhaps the writer is telling us that the OT, having served its purpose, at least so far as the first coming of Christ was involved, was coming, or had come, to an end.
This does not cancel the prophetic implications for the nation of Israel, cf. Jeremiah 31:31-34; Zechariah 10:6; 12:9-14. The events recorded by the NT were necessary to lay the groundwork for the fulfillment of those prophecies. Now isn’t the time to deal with what the OT says about Israel, except to say that it is not “fulfilled in the church.” Even the OT, as in the verses noted above and many others, tells of a change in the covenantal relationship between Israel and her God. The OT also prophesies of God’s blessing to the Gentiles. The NT tells us more about that.
2. God Has Spoken Finally.
When. “in the last of these days”. There are some who try to tell us that this phrase means that revelation is still going on, and they are the recipients of it. This is not true. The writer is clear that Jesus Christ is, and brought, the final revelation of God to men.
“These days,” referring to the time of the One through whom God spoke, were “the last days,” not of or during the Church age, as we might understand it, but were the last days of the Old Testament age, Galatians 4:4. God accurately foretold the time, to the year, of the First Coming of Christ, Daniel 9:24, 25. Cf. Mark 1:14, 15. In passing, God also foretold, for that generation that will see it, the very day of the Second Coming, Daniel 12:11, 12. Cf. Matthew 24:15. Incidentally, Matthew tells us that the Daniel wasn’t all fulfilled by the First Coming of Christ. Neither was the rest of the Old Testament.
To whom. “Us,” that is, believers, in this case, Jewish believers, directly, not through priest or sacrifice. Although God has been pleased to set the office of “pastor-teacher” in the local assembly, such a one does not speak as the OT prophet did. Implicit in the OT revelation is the thought of “barrier.” Men could not come into the presence of God directly, but had to go through the priest. Cf. Exodus 19:10-13. In the OT, God spoke to the prophets, and the prophets relayed the message to the people. In Christ, God has spoken directly to us through His Word. Cf. Hebrews 9:8; 10:19-20.
Incidentally, this “directness” was a stumblingblock to the early church. The first believers were all Jews, who had been taught that one could only come to God through the sacrificial system, and that could only be accomplished at Jerusalem. One had to become a Jew, or at least one of two different kinds of proselytes.
This change was the difficulty of the “Judaizers” who plagued Paul and the early church. They tried to put believers back under the OT Law, cf. Acts 10:15. We have a lot of their descendants with us today. Early believers found it extremely difficult to receive the idea that one no longer came to God indirectly, through a place, that is the Temple, or through a procedure, that is, the sacrifices, or even through the priesthood, but one comes to God directly, through a Person, the Lord Jesus.
Through Whom. “In [His] Son,” literally, “in Son.” There is no article in the Greek. This emphasizes the character and nature of the One through Whom God spoke. The writer expands on this thought, and we will do so in the next post, Lord willing.