The author of Hebrews begins by describing how Jesus Christ is superior to the angels. Jesus is God’s final and definitive revelation (surpassing the OT, vv. 1–2), for he is the Son of God (v. 2), the agent of creation (v. 2), the very glory of God (v. 3), and the one who purifies from sin (v. 3). In all this he is superior even to angelic beings, especially in his unique sonship (vv. 4–14). This leads to a warning to attend to the words of salvation, since they are from and about the Son (2:1–4).
1 Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, 2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. 3 He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high,
Verses 1-4 in Greek forms a single, multiclause sentence, built around the main clause in verse 2, that God “has spoken.”
There is a God who speaks that we might know him and love him and live in joyful obedience to him. God spoke. God spoke.
“God has spoken” is basis to the whole argument of this sermonic letter, as indeed it is to the Christian faith. God has not remained silent and we are duty-bound to listen and obey.]
The author does not delay in getting right to the point. This is his opening introduction. He wants to tell us that Christ is superior to everyone and everything. God communicates, and He has spoken His last and best word in His Son.
Using the properties of light as an illustration, we may say that God spoke in a spectrum in the Old Testament. Jesus is a prism that collected all those bands of light and focused them into one pure beam.
“The new is in the old concealed; the old is in the new revealed.” This famous statement by Saint Augustine expresses the remarkable way in which the two testaments of the Bible are so closely intertwined with each other. The key to understanding the New Testament in its fullest is to see in it the fulfillment of those things that were revealed in the background of the Old Testament. The Old Testament points forward in time, preparing God’s people for the work of Christ in the New Testament. It makes sense, then, that this is now God’s final revelation.
Hebrews is a book deeply rooted in the Old Testament. Hebrews has 29 quotations and 53 allusions to the Old Testament, for a total of 82 references.
Verses 1 and 2 show the contrasting periods of God’s revelation between the Old and New Testaments. “Long ago” contrasts to “in these last days” in verse 2. Two similar Greek words (polymerōs and polytropōs) emphasize the many times and many ways in which God has spoken in the past; now he has spoken to us singularly through His Son.
Another contrast is that the Old Testament revelation came through the prophets, and although New Testament revelation came through the apostles, it is in Jesus Christ that the final revelation has been spoken. All these other men were “go-betweens,” but Jesus is the ultimate revelation.
Jesus is not a mere prophet, as Islam mistakenly assumes. Jesus is a prophet, but much more than that. He is the Son of God. The writer of Hebrews will unpack all that means in vv. 3-4.
The recipients of the former revelation was “our fathers,” in particular the patriarchs, while the recipient of this new and final revelation is “us,” the 1st century Christians.
Since God has spoken finally and fully in the Son, and since the NT fully reports and interprets this supreme revelation once the NT is written, the canon of Scripture is complete. No new books are needed to explain what God has done through his Son.
If God seemed ready and eager to communicate himself in the Old Testament, how much more is he ready to communicate in the sending of His Son!
So verses 1 and 2 are contrasting two periods of God’s revelation. But even before the prophets of Old the cosmos was filled with God’s eloquence, leaving every person without excuse.
Psalm 19 begins
1 The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork. 2 Day to day pours out speech, and night to night reveals knowledge.
According to verse 3 this revelation is without words, but it is clear and present. Paul in Romans expresses it this way…
19 For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. 20 For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. (Romans 1:19-20)
The cosmic eloquence of God is deafening, but many will not hear it. They “suppress the truth in unrighteousness” (Rom. 1:18), Paul says. So even those who hear, hear partially. As Job said, “Behold, these are but the outskirts of his ways, and how small a whisper do we hear of him! But the thunder of his power who can understand?” (Job 26:14).
This is what theologians call general revelation. It is universal, so every single person throughout history has had access to it, but it is not complete. It shows us some truth about God.
But fortunately we have more than the eloquence of the heavens to speak to us.
The Reformers and Puritans spoke of two books—nature and God’s Word. Psalm 19 goes on to speak of God’s Word as His special revelation to us…
7 The law of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul; the testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple; 8 the precepts of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the LORD is pure, enlightening the eyes; 9 the fear of the LORD is clean, enduring forever; the rules of the LORD are true, and righteous altogether. 10 More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and drippings of the honeycomb.
God spoke. He did not leave us in the dark. He didn’t abandon us to our best guesses about who He is and what He is like and who we are and what our problem is. He spoke. He spoke to the prophets in ages past and completed His revelation in Jesus Christ.
The words “many times and many ways” emphasize the diversity of God’s communications in the Old Testament. God spoke to Moses at Sinai in thunder and lightning and with the voice of a trumpet. He whispered to Elijah at Horeb in “a still small voice” (1 Kings 19:12 KJV). Ezekiel was informed by visions and Daniel through dreams. God appeared to Abram in human form and to Jacob as an angel. God declared himself by Law, by warning, by exhortation, by type, by parable.
And when God’s seers prophesied, they utilized nearly every method to communicate their message. Amos gave direct oracles from God. Malachi used questions and answers. Ezekiel performed bizarre symbolic acts. Haggai preached sermons. And Zechariah employed mysterious signs.
God primarily spoke through the prophets in the Old Testament, through the apostles in the New Testament. This process is called “inspiration,” which is the supernatural influence of the Holy Spirit upon the writers of Scripture so that their writings were an accurate record of the revelation of God, thus resulting in the Word of God.
2 Peter 1:20-21 describes it like this. Actually, let me start back up in verse 16. Peter is telling his readers why it is so important that he remind them of certain biblical truths.
16 For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. 17 For when he received honor and glory from God the Father, and the voice was borne to him by the Majestic Glory, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased,” 18 we ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain.
Peter is talking about the experience he James and John had with Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration, recorded in Matthew 17:1-8, Mark 9:1-8 and Luke 9:28-36.
He says that this was a glorious experience of the glory of Christ. However, he goes on to say that even more significant than this glorious, face-to-face experience with Christ, is the fact that we have this prophetic word:
19 And we have something more sure, [what’s more sure than any experience we have?] the prophetic word, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts, 20 knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. 21 For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.
Notice again that last line, “men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” Like the wind fills the sails and directs the ship, so the Holy Spirit carried along the minds of the prophets so that they were directed to write the very mind of God into Scripture.
How wonderful it is that we have in our hands today the very word of God, the Bible. At any time, whenever we need it, we can take it up and read it and it becomes our comfort, the joy and rejoicing of our hearts.
So God had communicated throughout the ages past, but now something new has come.
The point the writer is trying to make here is that God’s previous revelation was fragmentary and partial compared to the final and complete revelation of the Son. John Calvin points out that this is like the sun coming out of the shadows, that the revelation now in pointing us to Christ is for the more mature.
The Old Testament prepares one for Christ, the New Testament presents Christ. As F. F. Bruce aptly remarks, “The story of divine revelation is a story of progression up to Christ, but there is no progression beyond Him.”
This revelation comes in the “last days,” a very familiar concept to the Jews. It would have a distinctive Messianic and apocalyptic flavor.
For example, even the Samaritan woman at the well in John 4, told Jesus, “I know that Messiah is coming (He who is called the Christ); and when that One comes, He will declare all things to us.” She was expecting a fuller and more complete revelation to unfold when Messiah came.
It is important to see that for the author of Hebrews, this revelation was final. There would be no more revelation after Jesus Christ. This is why Revelation 22, the last chapter of the Bible, ends with this injunction neither to add to nor to take away any words from this completed revelation.
18 I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book, 19 and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book.
Adding to or taking away from the 66 books of the Old and New Testaments carries severe penalties and should make us think twice before holding up any ancient or current “word from God” as authoritative.
The final revelation did not come through Muhammed or Joseph Smith, or any modern-day prophet or apostle, but it came through Jesus Christ.
“The aim of the writer is to prove that the old Covenant through which God had dealt with the Hebrews is superseded by the New; and this aim he accomplishes in the first place by exhibiting the superiority of the mediator of the new Covenant to all previous mediators” (Marcus Dods, “The Epistle to the Hebrews,” in The Expositor’s Greek Testament, 4:247).
The Greek puts the emphasis on the quality of God’s final revelation. It is literally “in Son.” It is not “in a son” as an indefinite person, nor even “in the Son.” The emphasis is the quality of this revelation through the One who is infinitely related to the Father.
“… Jesus, the Son of God, not merely declares unto us the message of the Father, but He Himself is the message of the Father. All that God has to say unto us is Jesus. All the thoughts and gifts and promises and counsels of God are embodied in Jesus. (Adolf Saphir, The Epistle to the Hebrews, 1:38)
William Newell adds: “… the fundamental truth set forth in Hebrews is that Christ Himself, the Son of God, is God’s message, His voice to us.” (William R. Newell, Hebrews Verse by Verse, p. 4).
And I love the way that A. W. Pink puts it:
“God might have spoken ‘Almightywise,’ as He did at Sinai; but that would have terrified and overwhelmed us. God might have spoken ‘Judgewise,’ as He will at the great white Throne; but that would have condemned us, and forever banished us from His presence. But, blessed be His name, He has spoken ‘Sonwise,’ in the tenderest relation which He could possibly assume” (An Exposition of Hebrews, p. 27).
As “Son” he reveals the Father-heart of God.
Jesus Christ, the Son, is the perfect revelation and explanation of the invisible attributes of God and completely communicates to us the very nature of God.
Jesus is God’s final word. Jesus is God’s complete word. Jesus is God’s best word.
John 1 begins…
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
Then in verses 14 and 18 John says this about this eternal Word:
14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.
18 No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known.
In John 14, when Jesus was preparing His disciples for life without His direct presence, answered Philip’s question of “How can we know the way?” by saying…
“I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. 7 If you had known me, you would have known my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.” 8 Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.” 9 Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?
In other words, there is no better display of who God is than Jesus Christ, and no other.
The phrase “in son” is the fulcrum of Hebrews 1:1-4. It concludes the contrast of God’s old revelation, which was fragmentary and temporary, with the revelation of the son, which is final and complete and has lasting significance, and it also introduces seven descriptions of this Son. These descriptions show why He is the ultimate revelation of God.
What is the author of Hebrews telling us? He is telling us that the final, complete revelation of God resides in His Son, Jesus Christ, and we’d better listen to Him.
Hebrews 12:25 says…
25 See that you do not refuse him who is speaking. For if they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, much less will we escape if we reject him who warns from heaven.
The question today is, have you heard the word of God in the person of Jesus Christ? If not, I encourage you not only to read and study the book of Hebrews, but the Gospels as well. Seek Christ. If you seek Him, you will find Him.