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, through whom also He made the ages, 3] Who being [the] radiant splendor of [His] glory and [the] exact imprint of His essence, and maintaining everything through the word of His power, and having accomplished cleansing of sins, was made to sit at the right hand of the majesty on high. [Author’s translation].
The writer begins Hebrews with the assertion that God spoke! As he develops this thought, he sets up a three-fold contrast between the revelation of the Old Testament, i.e., the First Covenant, (in particular the Mosaic Covenant, but here including more than that), and the New Covenant, that is, the New Testament.
The First Covenant was given in many portions over a long period of time – about 4000 years, and was not God’s final or complete revelation to Man. The New Covenant was given complete in the relatively short span of about 60 years and is God’s final and complete revelation to man until the Second Coming.
The First Covenant was given to “the fathers,” the New Covenant “to us.” The First Covenant, while certainly inspired by God and intended for our “instruction” (cf. 1 Corinthians 10:1-14, especially vs. 6, 12) is nevertheless not the basis for either our faith or our conduct. Those who attempt to mold the NT church or believers on OT patterns do so mistakenly. From such a view, we have such doctrines as the Romish priesthood, the Reformed idea of a church-state, and infant baptism.
The idea of a church-state, or an “established church,” such as England and other nations have, and which the First Amendment of the U. S. Constitution was designed to prevent, gives to the church magisterial, that is, civil, authority. Historically, this has resulted in the suppression and persecution of dissent. History records that both the Roman Catholic and Reformed churches vigorously wielded the civil sword against those who differed from them. Millions have died at the hands of church authorities for the heinous crime of desiring to worship and serve God only as the Bible teaches and not as some church dictates.
Though many will disagree with us on this, and many who practice it are indeed known by the Lord, yet infant baptism has done for the Reformed churches what the invitation system has done for fundamentalist-type churches: filled them with lost people.
The Romish priesthood denies the Mediatorial office of Christ, substituting the Virgin in His place (“Hail, Mary, full of grace. Pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death”.) There is no Biblical authority for this. In fact, the last thing Mary said in the sacred record is found in John 2:5, “Whatever He says to you, do it,” This is still wise advice. These practices also deny the liberty and right of the individual believer to come personally and directly to God in prayer and for forgiveness. Cf. Hebrews 4:16.
All these errors, and others, have come upon Christians simply because they have failed to distinguish between the First and New Covenants.
The spokesmen of the First, or Old, Covenant, though they were truly prophets, were just men, like those to whom they spoke. They were not “God.” In the New Covenant, God spoke “in son,” emphasizing the nature and character of the Spokesman. Though Man, Jesus was also God.
Having stated the equal inspiration of the Old and New Covenants, yet also maintaining the position of the New over the Old, the writer at once answers the question, “Who is this ‘son’?” He demonstrates that the Son, the spokesman of the NC, is far superior to “the prophets,” the spokesmen of the OC, whom the Jews held in high regard. Including the noun “son,” the writer makes eight statements about Him:
1. “son”, His essential nature.
2. “heir,” His exalted position.
3. “made the ages,” His eternal power.
4. “radiant splendor,” His evident deity. In the words of an ancient confession, He was very God of very God.
5. “exact imprint,” His earthly being. That same confession: He was very man of very man.
6. “maintaining,” His effectual providence.
7. “cleansing,” His efficacious sacrifice.
8. “made to sit,” His earned preeminence.
Numbers 1 – 4 deal mainly, but not exclusively, with His deity; numbers 5 – 8 mainly, but not exclusively, with His humanity. Corresponding numbers go together.
For example, numbers 4 and 5. These refer to His essential being, deity (4) and humanity (5). He was God; He became Man, John 1:1, 14. In His incarnation, He didn’t cease to be God. In His resurrection and ascension, He didn’t cease to be Man.
Numbers 3 and 6 speak of His power, referring to the creation of all things (3), and to their preservation and continuation according to God’s eternal purpose (6).
Numbers 2 and 7 refer to His position. He is “heir” (2) because (7) He laid aside His eternal glory and prerogative in order to assume human existence so that He could be the substitute for and Savior of His people, Philippians 2:5-11.
Numbers 1 and 8 refer to His unique nature and character. (1) eternally God the Son, one with the Father in essence and nature, yet (8) still truly human.
Number 8 poses a difficulty for some. Believing that Jesus merely returned to some former angelic state, they ask, “If he were God, how could he be exalted higher than He was before?”
Those verses which tell of His exaltation give a two-fold answer.
1. He is exalted in His deity, because of the Incarnation. As an example, suppose an earthly king stepped down from his throne in order to rescue some of his subjects at the price of great personal suffering and indignity. On returning to his throne, the honor and praise he would receive because of the successful completion of his task would in no way detract from nor deny his kingship before the mission. So with Jesus Christ. Eternally God, yet He receives more glory because of His stepping down from His throne to rescue His people.
2. He is exalted in His humanity, because of the Resurrection. His humanity has been elevated to the dignity and glory of His deity, so that fully God, fully Man, he sits at the right hand of the Father. 1 Timothy 2:5 clearly establishes His present humanity: For there is one God, and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus (emphasis added). Hebrews 8:6; 9:15 and 12:24 all confirm His present role as Mediator, so that it can’t be argued that 1 Timothy just refers to His earthly ministry.
It’s interesting that Jehovah’s Witnesses do the same thing with 1 Timothy 2:5 that they do with John 1:1. Since there is no article (“the”) before “man Christ Jesus” in the original text, they translate it, “a man Christ Jesus,” just as they translate John 1:1, “the word was a god,” citing the absence of the article before “god.” They assert that John was not claiming deity for Jesus, but merely that He was “godlike.”
Did Paul write to Timothy that Jesus was merely “manlike”? Or was he asserting His real and true humanity, just as John asserted His real and true deity?