The Superiority of Christ
God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, 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. (1:1–2)
The writer does not delay in getting to his point. He makes it in the first three verses. These verses are very simple. They tell us Christ is superior to everyone and everything. The three primary features of His superiority are: preparation, presentation, and preeminence. Keep in mind that all through the book Christ is presented as being better than the best of everyone and everything that was before Him—absolutely better than anything the Old Testament, the Old Covenant, provided.
The Preparation for Christ
God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways. (1:1)
Here is an indication of how God wrote the Old Testament. Its purpose was to prepare for the coming of Christ. Whether by prophecy or type or principle or commandment or whatever, it made preparation for Christ.
The senses of man, marvelous as they are, are incapable of reaching beyond the natural world. For us to know anything about God, He must tell us. We could never know God if He did not speak to us. Thus, in the Old Testament, the writer reminds us, “God … spoke.”
Man’s Ways to God
Man lives in a natural “box,” which encloses him within its walls of time and space. Outside of this box is the supernatural, and somewhere deep inside himself man knows it is out there. But in himself he does not know anything certain about it. So someone comes along and says, “We must find out about the supernatural, the world ‘out there.’ ” And a new religion is born. Those who become interested run over to the edge of the box, get out their imaginative mental chisels and start trying to chip a hole in the edge of the box—through which they can crawl, or at least peer, out and discover the secrets of the other world.
That, figuratively, is what always happens. The Buddhist says that when you have worked and thought yourself into Nirvana, all of a sudden you are out of the box. You have transcended the natural and have found your way into the supernatural. The Muslim says basically the same thing, though in different words. So do all the other religions—Zoroastrianism, Hinduism, Confucianism, or whatever it may be. These are all attempts by man to escape from the natural to the supernatural, to get out of the box. But the problem is, he cannot get himself out.
God’s Way to Man
By definition, natural man cannot escape into the supernatural. We cannot go into a religious phone booth and change into a superman. We cannot in ourselves or by ourselves transcend our natural existence. If we are to know anything about God, it will not be by escaping, or climbing, or thinking, or working our way to Him; it will only be by His coming to us, His speaking to us. We cannot, by ourselves, understand God any more than an insect we may hold in our hand can understand us. Nor can we condescend to its level, or communicate with it if we could. But God can condescend to our level and He can communicate with us. And He has.
God became a man Himself and entered our box to tell us about Himself, more fully and completely than He was able to do even through His prophets. This not only was divine revelation, but personal divine revelation of the most literal and perfect and wonderful sort. All of man’s religions reflect his attempts to make his way out of the box. The message of Christianity, however, is that “the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost” (Luke 19:10).
When God burst into the box, He did it in human form, and the name of that human form is Jesus Christ. That is the difference between Christianity and every other religion in the world. That is why it is so foolish for people to say, “It doesn’t make any difference what you believe or what religion you follow.” It makes every difference. Every religion is but man’s attempt to discover God. Christianity is God bursting into man’s world and showing and telling man what He is like. Because man by himself is incapable of identifying, comprehending, or understanding God at all, God had to invade the world of man and speak to him about Himself. Initially, He told us He would be coming.
By the Prophets: Many Ways
This He did through the words of the Old Testament. He used men as instruments, but was Himself behind them, enlightening and energizing them. The deists teach that God started the world going and then went away, leaving it to run by itself. But God is not detached from His creation; He is not uninvolved in our world. The true and living God, unlike the false gods of man’s making, is not dumb or indifferent. The God of Scripture, unlike the impersonal “First Cause” of some philosophers, is not silent. He speaks. He first spoke in the Old Testament, which is not a collection of the wisdom of ancient men but is the voice of God.
Now notice how God spoke: “in many portions and in many ways.” The writer uses a play on words in the original language: “God, polumerōs and polutropōs …” These two Greek words are interesting. They mean, respectively, “in many portions” (as of books) and “in many different manners.” There are many books in the Old Testament—thirty-nine of them. In all those many portions (polumerōs) and in many ways (polutropōs) God spoke to men. Sometimes it was in a vision, sometimes by a parable, sometimes through a type or a symbol. There were many different ways in which God spoke in the Old Testament. But it is always God speaking. Even the words spoken by men and angels are included because He wants us to know them.
Men were used—their minds were used and their personalities were used—but they were totally controlled by the Spirit of God. Every word they wrote was the word that God decided they should write and delighted in their writing.
Many ways includes many literary ways. Some of the Old Testament is narrative. Some of it is poetry, in beautiful Hebrew meter. The “many ways” also includes many types of content. Some is law; some is prophecy; some is doctrinal; some is ethical and moral; some is warning; some is encouragement; and so on. But it is all God speaking.
true but incomplete
Yet, beautiful and important and authoritative as it is, the Old Testament is fragmentary and incomplete. It was delivered over the course of some 1500 years by some forty-plus writers—in many different pieces, each with its own truths. It began to build and grow, truth upon truth. It was what we call progressive revelation. Genesis gives some truth, and Exodus gives some more. The truth builds and builds and builds. In the Old Testament God was pleased, for that time, to dispense His gracious truth to the Jews by the mouths of His prophets—in many different ways, developing His revelation progressively from lesser to greater degrees of light. The revelation did not build from error to truth but from incomplete truth to more complete truth. And it remained incomplete until the New Testament was finished.
Divine revelation, then, going from the Old Testament to the New Testament, is progressive revelation. It progressed from promise to fulfillment. The Old Testament is promise; the New Testament is fulfillment. Jesus Christ said, “Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets,” that is, the Old Testament, “… but to fulfill” (Matt. 5:17). His revelation progressed from promise to fulfillment. In fact, the Old Testament itself clearly indicates that the men of faith who wrote it were trusting in a promise they had not yet understood. They trusted in a promise that was yet to be fulfilled.
Let me give a few supporting verses. Hebrews 11 speaks about many of the great saints of the Old Testament. “And all these, having gained approval through their faith, did not receive what was promised” (v. 39). In other words, they never saw the fulfillment of promise. They foresaw what was going to happen without seeing it fully realized. Peter tells us that the Old Testament prophets did not understand all of what they wrote. “As to this salvation, the prophets who prophesied of the grace that would come to you made careful search and inquiry, seeking to know what person or time the Spirit of Christ within them was indicating as He predicted the sufferings of Christ and the glories to follow. It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves, but you, in these things which now have been announced to you through those who preached the gospel to you” (1 Pet. 1:10–12).
We must, of course, clearly understand that the Old Testament was not in any way erroneous. But there was in it a development, of spiritual light and of moral standards, until God’s truth was refined and finalized in the New Testament. The distinction is not in the validity of the revelation—its rightness or wrongness—but in the completeness of it and the time of it. Just as children are first taught letters, then words, and then sentences, so God gave His revelation. It began with the “picture book” of types and ceremonies and prophecies and progressed to final completion in Jesus Christ and His New Testament.
from god, through his messengers
Now the picture is set for us. Long ago God spoke to “the fathers,” the Old Testament people, our spiritual ancestors—also our physical ancestors if we are Jewish. He even spoke to some of our Gentile predecessors. He spoke to them by the prophets, His messengers. A prophet is one who speaks to men for God; a priest is one who speaks to God for men. The priest takes man’s problems to God; the prophet takes God’s message to men. Both, if they are true, are commissioned by God, but their ministries are quite different. The book of Hebrews has a great deal to say about priests, but its opening verse speaks of prophets. The Holy Spirit establishes the divine authorship of the Old Testament, its accuracy and its authority, through the fact that it was given to and delivered by God’s prophets.
Throughout the New Testament this truth is affirmed. Peter, for example, tells us that “no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God” (2 Pet. 1:21). “Prophecy” in that text refers to the Old Testament. No human writer of the Old Testament wrote of his own will, but only as he was directed by the Holy Spirit.
Paul also tells us that “all Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness (2 Tim. 3:16). All Scripture is given by inspiration of God. The American Standard Version reads, “Every scripture inspired of God is also profitable,” implying that not all Scripture is inspired. But all Scripture is fully, not simply in part, inspired by God. God has not hidden His Word within man’s words, leaving His creatures to their own devices in deciding which is which. The Old Testament is only a part of God’s truth, but it is not partially His truth. It is not His complete truth, but it is completely His truth. It is God’s revelation, His progressive revelation preparing His people for the coming of His Son, Jesus Christ.
By the Son: One Way
In these last days [God] has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world. (1:2)
God’s full, perfect revelation awaited the coming of His Son. God, who used to speak in many different ways through many different people, has finally spoken in one way, through one Person, His Son Jesus Christ.
The whole New Testament is centered around Christ. The gospels tell His story, the epistles comment on it, and the Revelation tells of its culmination. From beginning to end the New Testament is Christ. No prophet had been given God’s whole truth. The Old Testament was given to many men, in bits and pieces and fragments. Jesus not only brought, but was, God’s full and final Revelation.
Coming in These Last Days
There are several ways to interpret the phrase, in these last days. It could refer to the last days of revelation. It could mean that this is the final revelation in Christ, there being nothing else to add to it. Or it could mean that in the last days of revelation it came through God’s Son. But I think the writer is making a messianic reference. The phrase “the last days” was very familiar to the Jews of that day and had a distinctive meaning. Whenever a Jew saw or heard these words he immediately had messianic thoughts, because the scriptural promise was that in the last days Messiah would come (Jer. 33:14–16; Mic. 5:1–4; Zech. 9:9, 16). Since this letter was written first of all to Jews, we will interpret the phrase in that context.
The woman at the well, though a Samaritan, told Jesus, “I know that the Messiah is coming (He who is called Christ); when that One comes, He will declare all things to us” (John 4:25). She knew that when Messiah arrived, He would unfold the full and final revelation of God, as indeed He did.
The writer, then, is saying, “In these promised Last Days Messiah (Christ) has come and has spoken the final revelation of God.” Jesus came in these last days. Unfortunately, Messiah’s own people rejected Him and His revelation, and so the fulfillment of all of the promises of the last days has yet to be fully realized.
True and Complete
The Old Testament had been given in pieces. To Noah was revealed the quarter of the world from which Messiah would come. To Micah, the town where He would be born. To Daniel, the time of His birth. To Malachi, the forerunner who would come before Him. To Jonah, His resurrection was typified. Every one of those pieces of revelation was true and accurate; and each one related to the others in some way or another. And each one in some way or another pointed to the Messiah, the Christ. But only in Jesus Christ Himself was everything brought together and made whole. In Him the revelation was full and complete.
Since the revelation is complete, to add anything to the New Testament is blasphemous. To add to it The Book of Mormon, or Science and Health, or anything else that claims to be revelation from God is blasphemous. “God has in these last days finalized His revelation in His Son.” It was finished. The end of the book of Revelation warns that if we add anything to it, its plagues will be added to us, and that if we take anything away from it, our part in the tree of life and the holy city will be taken away from us (Rev. 22:18–19).
In the first verse and a half of Hebrews, the Holy Spirit establishes the preeminence of Jesus Christ over all the Old Testament, over its message, its methods, and its messengers. It was just what those Jews, believing and nonbelieving, needed to hear.
And so is established the priority of Jesus Christ. He is greater than the prophets. He is greater than any revelation in the Old Testament, for He is the embodiment of all that truth, and more. God has fully expressed Himself in Christ.
2 “The universe” at the end of v. 2 renders τοὺς αἰῶνας (tous aiōnas, GK 172), which elsewhere more often means “the ages.” In Jewish thought time was divided into two “ages,” “the present age” and “the age to come” (see 6:5), so that “the ages” taken together represent the totality of time but by transference can also be used of the whole physical creation. See 11:3 for the same use of τοὺς αἰῶνας, tous aiōnas, with reference to the original creation of the universe; cf. the title “King of the Ages” used for God, e.g., in 1 Ti 1:17. Paul speaks of this αἰῶν (aiōn) in parallel with this κόσμος (kosmos, “world,” GK 3180) in 1 Corinthians 1:20 and 3:18–19.
God’s Final Word
Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son. (Heb. 1:1–2)
A scene from Jesus’ life and ministry wonderfully depicts what the Book of Hebrews is all about. Matthew 17 tells us that Jesus took his three closest disciples up onto the mount, where they saw him transfigured in glory, speaking with Moses and Elijah. Peter proposed building a tabernacle for the veneration of these three spiritual giants. But just then the Shekinah glory cloud enveloped them in brightness and the voice of God said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him” (Matt. 17:5). When the disciples rose from their terror, they did not see either Moses or Elijah, but they saw Jesus alone. A.W. Pink comments: “The glory associated with Moses and Elijah was so eclipsed by the infinitely greater glory connected with Christ, that they faded from view.”
This is what the Book of Hebrews is about—the supremacy of Christ, along with the sufficiency of his work and the necessity of faith in him for salvation.
Background to the Book of Hebrews
We should begin studying a book with a consideration of its background. Who wrote the Book of Hebrews? To whom was it written and when? What prompted the writing of the letter, what is its literary genre, and on what basis is it included in the biblical canon?
When we consider the authorship of Hebrews, we must first observe that the answer is not stated in the letter itself. There is no opening greeting, nor do the closing remarks identify the writer. There is, however, no shortage of candidates for the honor of authorship.
Throughout church history there has been a strong impulse to name the apostle Paul as the author of Hebrews. There seem to be two main reasons for this, the first of which is that much of the letter’s content sounds Pauline. Hebrews 13:23 refers to Timothy, one of Paul’s protégés, and chapter 10’s theme of joy amidst suffering strongly reminds us of Paul. Therefore, it is argued, the author of Hebrews must at least have been a member of the Pauline circle. The second reason to support Paul has to do with the canonicity of the book. The inclusion of Hebrews in the Bible was not without controversy, and arguments for Paul’s authorship naturally strengthened its case dramatically.
Nonetheless, there are many indications that Paul almost certainly did not write Hebrews. First, in all of Paul’s other letters he identifies himself, blatantly asserting his apostolic authority. The writer of Hebrews does not identify himself, although some speculate that because of Jewish hostility Paul may have wanted to remain anonymous. More telling is the nature of the Greek in Hebrews, which is of a high literary style in striking contrast to Paul’s more common Greek. The structure of Hebrews, with its interspersed exhortations, contrasts with Paul’s tendency to save practical applications for the letter’s end. Most conclusive is the statement of Hebrews 2:3, which says the author’s message “was attested to us by those who heard.” In other words, the writer received his message from those who heard it firsthand from Jesus. This is the very thing Paul always denies in his letters, insisting that he received his revelation directly from the Lord and not from the other apostles (see Gal. 1:12).
With Paul ruled out, other candidates are drawn from his circle and include Luke, Silas, and Priscilla. Most persuasive are the arguments in favor of Barnabas and Apollos. Hebrews 13:22 describes the letter as a “word of exhortation,” and Barnabas’s name means “son of exhortation.” Not only was Barnabas a close associate of Paul, but as a Levite he would likely have had the kind of interest in the Jewish priesthood that shows up in Hebrews. An even more intriguing suggestion was made by Martin Luther in favor of Paul’s sometime associate Apollos. Acts 18:24 identifies him as “an eloquent man, competent in the Scriptures,” which qualifies him to write such an extraordinary epistle. Furthermore, Apollos hailed from Alexandria, and Hebrews shows an interest in theological themes known to have been popular there.
So who wrote Hebrews? In the end, we must agree with the ancient scholar Origen, who concluded, “Who wrote the epistle is known to God alone.” All we can say with confidence is that it came from an apostolic figure who was likely a colleague of the apostle Paul. It did not please the Holy Spirit to have us know the human author’s identity, so we must content ourselves with knowing that the letter is the Word of God.
Also important is the identity of the recipients. The title “To the Hebrews” is not in the text, although it is found in all the earliest manuscripts. This, along with the letter’s content, argues persuasively that these were Jewish Christians who were under pressure to renounce the faith and return to Judaism.
As to their location, the two main options are Palestine and Rome. Those who argue for a Palestinian audience point out that Christians are known to have suffered at the hands of their fellow Jews, and also point to the detailed references to the Jewish temple ritual. Since the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, some have tried to show similarities to the writings of the Essene community in the Judean desert. Opposing this theory is the fact that all of the Old Testament citations in Hebrews are from the Septuagint, the Greek version common in that time, which was not used in Palestine as much as elsewhere. Also opposing a Palestinian background is the statement that the recipients of the letter had only heard of Jesus secondhand (see Heb. 2:3). Furthermore, Hebrews 12:4 states that earlier persecutions did not involve the shedding of blood, whereas those in Palestine certainly did from the very beginning.
Scholarly consensus has recently shifted in the direction of Rome. Clement of Rome, writing around a.d. 95, shows close familiarity with Hebrews, and the books of Acts and Romans speak of a large Jewish church in Rome from early on. The Jewish Christians there were persecuted in a.d. 49 under the emperor Claudius, and then again in the 60s under Nero. What we know of the former of these persecutions seems to fit the description of 10:32–34 and 12:4 (in that Claudius’s persecution involved loss of property and imprisonment, but not bloodshed), and the anticipation of violence fits the latter, with Nero’s notorious violence against Christians. Finally, there is the statement of Hebrews 13:24, “Those who come from Italy send you greetings.” It could be that a pastor now in Rome was writing to Jewish believers in Palestine. But the more natural reason for Italian Christians to send their greetings is that the readers were themselves from Italy.
If Rome was the location of the audience, then the letter would have been written shortly before a.d. 64, when Nero’s persecution broke out. Under almost all theories, Hebrews was written prior to a.d. 70, when Jerusalem and its temple were destroyed by the Romans. Not only does Hebrews speak of the temple rituals as a present reality, but it is hard to imagine its writer passing up such an opportunity as the fall of Jerusalem to prove the passing away of the old covenant religion.
The purpose of Hebrews is made clear by its content. The writer warns Christians not to fall back from faith in Christ in the midst of trials and exhorts them instead to press on to full maturity. The letter should not be thought of as a theological treatise, but as a sermon written by a pastor to a congregation from which he is separated. The writer describes it as “my word of exhortation” (13:22). His method is to point out the supremacy of Christ over everything to which the readers might be tempted to turn; he is superior to angels, to Moses and the prophets, to Aaron and the Levitical priests, to the blood sacrifices of the old covenant, and to the tabernacle and temple themselves. Since Jesus is the true messenger, the true prophet, the true priest, and the true sacrifice, to renounce him is to lose salvation altogether. Therefore, the readers must hold fast to Jesus Christ. The author’s plea is summed up in Hebrews 10:23: “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful.”
The final matter of background to consider is the place of Hebrews in the New Testament canon. The early church’s basic test of canonicity was proof of apostolicity. This did not mean that a book had to be written by an apostle, as is shown by the ready inclusion of Mark, Luke, Acts, and other books. It was sufficient for the author to be an associate of an apostle, so long as the teaching was apostolic in character. We should not think, however, that it was the church that created the canon, since really it was exactly the opposite. The canon—that is, the apostolic teaching of the New Testament writings—created the church. Hywel Jones aptly summarizes, “The canon was drawn up … by way of response to the effect which sacred literature had on those who heard it. The church’s formal acknowledgement of a piece of literature was an ‘Amen’ to the Holy Spirit’s testimony in it, and not a bestowing of its own imprimatur.”
Any introduction to Hebrews ought to conclude with an appreciation of its outstanding excellence. Here the last word is best given to John Calvin, who wrote in the dedication of his commentary: “Since the Epistle addressed to the Hebrews contains a full discussion of the eternal divinity of Christ, His supreme government, and only priesthood (which are the main points of heavenly wisdom), and as these things are so explained in it, that the whole power and work of Christ are set forth in the most graphic way, it rightly deserves to have the place and honor of an invaluable treasure in the Church.”
God Has Spoken
As soon as we begin the Book of Hebrews, we encounter what is perhaps the single most important statement that could be made in our time: “God spoke” (Heb. 1:1). This is one of the most vital things people today need to know. Ours is a relativistic age; as many as 70 percent of Americans insist that there are no absolutes, whether in matters of truth or morality. Secular society having removed God, there no longer is a heavenly voice to speak with clarity and authority. The price we have paid is the loss of truth, and with truth, hope. Even when it comes to those things we think we know, we now consider them mere constructs of thought amidst the constant flux of uncertain knowledge and belief. Really, we are told, we don’t know anything for sure, nor can we.
All this is especially the case when it comes to our knowledge of God himself. Can we know our Creator, if there is one? Is there a Savior to help us? Unless God has spoken, we cannot even be sure he is there; unless God is there, there is no ultimate hope for us as individuals, and no answer for the ultimate problem of death. Job asks, “Can you find out the deep things of God?” (11:7) and answers No. By definition, God is beyond the realm of our senses, from which all our self-gained knowledge has to come. Therefore, if God is there and wants us to know him—if he has an answer, a plan, or a salvation—he is going to have to speak to us. And he must speak in a way we can understand. Therefore, there is nothing more important, nothing more essential, than what Hebrews says in its very first verse: “God has spoken.”
This is the uniform testimony of the Bible about itself, that it is God’s very Word. The Bible’s books were written by human authors, who spoke and wrote in human language. But the Bible insists that through them God himself spoke and speaks to us still. Peter explained, “Men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:21). This is what we refer to as the Bible’s inspiration. God has communicated to us through the Holy Spirit’s leading of its human authors. The point is not that these books contain the inspired insights of men; the point is exactly the opposite. Indeed, we might better speak of the Bible not as being inspired but as being expired. It is God’s Word as from his very mouth, given through the Holy Spirit’s work in the lives of human servants. This is what Paul emphasizes in 2 Timothy 3:16, where he says, “All Scripture is breathed out by God.”
The divine authorship of Holy Scripture needs to be emphasized today, especially since contemporary scholarship tends to focus on the human authors. It is right, of course, to realize the human contours God used to give different shape to different Bible books. Moses had his own experience and calling and personality and gifts, and God used them to craft a particular message in the books that Moses wrote. The same is true of Paul and John and all the other biblical writers. But while the Bible itself affirms this, its own emphasis is on divine authorship. Hebrews 1:1 says that God spoke “at many times and in many ways,” and that God employed “the prophets” to do this. But in all of this it was still God who spoke. It is not Moses who spoke in Genesis, nor David who spoke in the Psalms, nor Paul who spoke in Romans. God spoke in the Bible, and we must regard all Scripture as his holy Word.
The Book of Hebrews gives the Bible’s own slant on the process of revelation. Whenever the writer cites Scripture, it is never the human author whom he credits but the divine Author. In Hebrews 2:12 he cites Psalm 22:22 and ascribes it to Jesus Christ speaking in the Old Testament. Hebrews 3:7–11 cites Psalm 95, but prefaces it not by saying “as David said,” but “as the Holy Spirit says.” So it goes all through Hebrews. The point is not to deny the significance of the Bible’s human authors, but to show that our emphasis, following the Bible’s own emphasis, must always be on God speaking in his Word.
This has several important implications. First, if God speaks in the Bible, then the Bible carries divine authority. Today, many want to set aside the Bible’s teachings when they collide with current cultural standards. But just as God commands our obedience, so he also demands that we humbly obey his Word. There is nothing so important for Christians to recover today as the awe and respect that Scripture deserves as God’s own revelation to us.
Second, if God wrote the Bible, then it is enduringly relevant. After all, if God does not change—and by nature he cannot—then his Word does not change either. It is true that some things said in the Bible were intended only for its original recipients. God told Moses, not us, to “Go down to Egypt.” But the teaching given all through the Bible—on God’s character, on sin and on his moral standards, on the good news of salvation and how it comes to us—abides forever for the simple reason that God abides forever. The writer of Hebrews says in chapter 13 that Christian standards of conduct remain the same because “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever” (13:8).
God not only spoke in the Bible to those who first received it, but he speaks as well to those who read it today. This is emphasized in Hebrews. In Hebrews 3:7, for instance, the writer cites Psalm 95, written a thousand years before, and writes, “as the Holy Spirit says.” He uses the present tense. It is not merely what the Holy Spirit said back when David wrote it, but what the Holy Spirit says now as God speaks to those who read it. This is why the Bible is fully relevant to all our needs today.
Third, since God has spoken in the Bible, even though he did so with great diversity—“at many times and in many ways”—we also hold to the unity of the Bible. The Bible consists of sixty-six books written over at least thirteen hundred years by over forty different people. And yet it is one book with one unified message. James Boice explains:
These people were not alike. Some were kings. Others were statesmen, priests, prophets, a tax collector, a physician, a tentmaker, fishermen.… Yet together they produced a volume that is a marvelous unity in its doctrine, historical viewpoints, ethics and expectations. It is, in short, a single story of divine redemption begun in Israel, centered in Jesus Christ and culminating at the end of history.… Behind the efforts of the more than forty human authors is the one perfect, sovereign and guiding mind of God.
This provides us with an important interpretive principle, namely, that Scripture is best interpreted by Scripture itself. Since the Bible is one message spoken by God, we should understand the teaching in one passage in light of the way that teaching is given elsewhere in Scripture. To be sure, the Bible’s message is progressively revealed, so that the gospel appears in bud in the Old Testament and in bloom only in the New Testament. Many doctrines are therefore progressively revealed. Nonetheless, the clear teaching God gives in one place constrains our interpretation of the same subject elsewhere in the Bible. This is most relevant to our study of Hebrews, where the author not only finds numerous Old Testament passages to be relevant to his readers, but under the Holy Spirit’s control also gives us an authoritative guide as to how we should understand them (as well as the whole Old Testament).
The Final Revelation in God’s Son
These opening verses tell us not merely that God has spoken, but that his final and definitive revelation is in and through his Son, Jesus Christ. The writer makes this point through three contrasts in Hebrews 1:1–2. First, there is the when of revelation: “long ago,” in contrast to “in these last days.” Second, there is the to whom of revelation, “to our fathers,” versus “to us.” Third, there is the how of revelation, namely, “at many times and in many ways … by the prophets,” versus “by his Son.”
The author’s point, which is the burden of the entire Book of Hebrews, is to show the superiority of Christianity to the old covenant religion. He wastes no time getting to this point, arguing the supremacy of Christ over the prophets. This supremacy does not in any way malign the Old Testament faith. Unlike pagan religions, it was a legitimate revelation and a true faith. In the Old Testament “God spoke,” and it was God-given religion. Nonetheless, Christ is superior and with his coming there is now no excuse for reverting back to Judaism.
The author describes former revelation as coming “at many times and in many ways.” His point is not merely the diversity of revelation in the Old Testament, but its fragmentary, incomplete, and gradual character. Take any one book of the Old Testament—perhaps Genesis, with its rich scenes of creation, fall, and redemption; or Esther, with her courageous faith in an unseen God; or Psalms, with its heart-lifting poetry—and you will read true divine revelation, even necessary revelation. But each book is fragmentary and incomplete. The Old Testament is unfulfilled. It expectantly longs for the answer that comes in Jesus Christ. By contrast, God’s revelation in Christ is not partial or incomplete. This is why the Christian era is described as “these last days.” The point is not that Jesus is about to come back any minute, as many take this to mean (though other New Testament passages tell us to have this perspective), but that this is the age of fulfillment when God’s revelation has been made complete. This is what makes the when of Christian revelation so much better. Calvin comments, “It was not a part of the Word that Christ brought, but the last closing Word.”
Another reason for the superiority of the Christian faith is the contrast in the channel of its revelation, that is, the how. In the Old Testament, God spoke by the prophets, but in the New he speaks by his own Son. One could hardly find a greater group of spiritual giants than the prophets of the Old Testament. Moses, Elijah, Isaiah, Jeremiah—these were outstanding bearers of divine truth. Yet how they pale compared to the very Son of God come to earth. As Jesus put it, “He who comes from above is above all. He who is of the earth belongs to the earth and speaks in an earthly way. He who comes from heaven is above all” (John 3:31).
The revelation in Christ, then, given not merely to our forefathers but preserved for us in Scripture, is superior to that given formerly through the prophets. Martin Luther concludes: “If the word of the prophets is accepted, how much more ought we to seize the gospel of Christ, since it is not a prophet speaking to us but the Lord of the prophets, not a servant but a son, not an angel but God.”
Jesus the Truth
Whenever we think of Jesus as the ultimate, final truth, we may remember the confrontation at his trial before Pontius Pilate. The Roman governor had demanded to know if Jesus really thought himself a king. Jesus replied that his kingdom was not of this world. When Pilate responded doubtfully, Jesus related his kingship to the revelation of God’s truth in the world. He said, “For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world—to bear witness to the truth” (John 18:37). Christ reigns through God’s Word, because in Christ God has fully and ultimately revealed himself.
What a confrontation that was! Pilate represented the philosophy and wisdom of the world, with its relativism and cruel utilitarianism. Pilate was not able to accept that there could be truth at all. Looking into the very face of God’s Son, through whom God has revealed the ultimate truth, Pilate replied, “What is truth?” (John 18:38). This not only shows that what we call postmodernity, with its denial of truth, is really nothing new, but it also dramatizes the tragedy of our unbelieving world. Jesus put it this way: “This is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their deeds were evil” (John 3:19). There before Pilate stood the very Truth of God, and there was Pilate denying even the possibility of truth.
Pilate thought he was judging Jesus, but with the Truth before him it was the governor who really was on trial. The same is true today. When you read or hear God’s message through his Son Jesus Christ, you stand before the Truth. If you reject him, God’s final Word, you consign yourself to darkness—the darkness of spiritual blindness now and the eternal darkness that comes in God’s final judgment.
But if you look to Jesus Christ, and if in him you see and believe the very Truth of God, then God’s redemptive work of the ages will be fulfilled in you. “At many times and in many ways,” God began preparing the world through the prophets for the coming of his Son. Why? So that in these last days—these days of God’s redemptive fulfillment in Jesus Christ—we might enter into the fullness of salvation. This is what Jesus said to the disciples as they struggled to know the truth on the night of his arrest. “I am the way, and the truth, and the life,” he told them (John 14:6). And so he is for us. When we receive Jesus as the Truth, then he becomes the Way for us to enter into Life everlasting. This is why Jesus is God’s final Word, and why even if all else in this world is lost we must hold fast to him in faith.
1:2 / In these last days (lit., “at the end of these days”) God has spoken through his Son. The writer uses eschatological language, that is, language of the last or end time, thereby affirming that we have entered the eschatological age. In other words, God’s plan has now come to fruition; we have entered a new age (cf. 9:26). A fundamental turning point has been reached as God speaks climactically, definitively, and finally through his Son. Any further speaking about what remains to happen in the future is but the elaboration of what has already begun. All that God did previously functions in a preparatory manner, pointing as a great arrow to the goal of Christ. This is the argument our author so effectively presents throughout the book. Christ is the telos, the goal and ultimate meaning of all that preceded.
But in what sense was the writer, or any of the writers of the nt for that matter, justified in referring to his time as the last days? The key to understanding this kind of statement (see also 4:3; 6:5; 9:26; 12:22ff.), is found in the theological ultimacy of Christ. There is no way our writer can have recognized the reality of Jesus Christ—who he is and what he has done—and not have confessed this to be the last time. The sense in which it is “last” is not chronological but theological. The cross, the death, and the exaltation of Jesus point automatically to the beginning of the end. Theologically we have reached the turning point in the plan that God has had all through the ages, so by definition we are in the last days. Eschatology is of one theological fabric: when God has spoken through his Son, the eschatological age has begun, and we are necessarily in the last days theologically. These are the last days because of the greatness of what God has done. The surprise is, of course, that this period of eschatological fulfillment is so prolonged that these last days are not necessarily (though for any age it may turn out that they are) the last days chronologically.
This book, this opening passage, and particularly verse 2, point to the centrality of the Son and the superiority of the Son to all that preceded, all that exists now, and anything that might exist in the future. God has now spoken to us climactically by his Son, in whom, as Paul puts it, all of God’s promises are “Yes” (2 Cor. 1:20). The very mention of the Son has strong ot messianic overtones, as is evident immediately in verse 5, which quotes Psalm 2:7, “You are my Son; today I have become your Father,” and 2 Samuel 7:14, “I will be his father, and he will be my son.” Indeed, the remainder of the chapter, with its numerous ot quotations, points to the unique identity of the Son as the Promised One, the Messiah designated by God to bring about the fulfillment of God’s great plan and purpose.
The true nature of the Son is then expounded in seven glorious phrases that portray his incomparable superiority. He is, in the first instance, the one whom he [God] appointed heir of all things. In the Hebrew culture, to be a son means to be an heir, especially when one is the only or unique son. Therefore, the Son of God, by virtue of his sonship, is appointed the one who will finally possess everything. To the messianic Son of Psalm 2:7 (quoted above) are also spoken the words, “Ask of me, and I will make the nations your inheritance, the ends of the earth your possession” (Ps. 2:8). The Son is thus of central significance at the beginning, in creation, and at the end, in inheritance. Paul’s language is parallel: “all things were created by him and for him” (Col. 1:16).
Second, the Son is described as the one through whom he [God] made the universe. The Son is God’s agent in the creation of the universe of all space and all time—in short, of all that exists. This view of Christ is present also in the Fourth Gospel (John 1:3, “Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made”), and in Paul (Col. 1:16, “all things were created by him”; 1 Cor. 8:6 “through whom all things came”). The background of this view possibly lies in the concept of Divine Wisdom, which, personified, is instrumental in creation according to Proverbs 8:27–31 (cf. Wisd. of Sol. 9:1f., 9).
1–2. From the opening of the Epistle, in the solemn and striking manner, in which we have the Son of God introduced; I humbly conceive, that God the Spirit, intended thereby that the Church, should have proper conceptions of the dignity of his Person, before we are brought acquainted with the nature of his offices. Hence a line of everlasting distinction, is at once drawn, between him, and the highest order, of all his servants, whether angels, or men. And whereas in all former revelations, God spake in time past, through the ministry of the Prophets; now in this last and final dispensation, he speaks openly to the Church by his Son.
Now before the Reader goes a step further, I pray him to pause and consider, in what a glorious display of dignity and power, the Son of God is here introduced. In no method, but the Gospel method, could this manifestation be made. When God went forth in acts of creation, there was nothing of a personal nature in relation to the manner of existence, in the divine essence made known. The Holy Three in One, are represented indeed, as confering on the subject of forming man’s creation, different from what is said at the creation of other inferior creatures: but nothing more, by which the personal manifestations of each might be known. Gen. 1:26. It is in redemption, the several distinct acts of each glorious Person, in the Godhead, become manifest: so that we may truly say, the first footsteps of the Holy Persons of the Godhead are first traced in Christ; and the love of God in Christ to his Church here first broke forth, in open revelation to the Church. The Son of God comes forth from the invisibility, in which God in his threefold character of Persons by his very nature, and essence dwells; and makes known the sacred purposes of his will. God hath spoken to us by his Son. To this agrees in beautiful correspondence, what another inspired Apostle hath recorded: No man hath seen God at any time. The only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him. John 1:18. How the Son of God comes, and through what medium, his communications are made; is spoken of elsewhere. We are informed of his incarnation, and all the blessed events connected with that mysterious act, in those scriptures, which sum up the account of his wonderful Person, and character, by saying, that in Him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily. Coloss. 2:9. But in this place, no more is said, in relation to the difference between him, and his servants, than that the last days revelation, are not as were the former. This glorious truth, marks the striking distinction; and here it stands, as the title page, and contents of this whole book of God; God hath spoken to us by his Son. I pray the Reader, to note this, in the deepest memorandums of his heart, in proof of the Godhead of Christ and then prosecute what next follows, concerning his Person and Offices.
He is said, to be appointed heir of all things. This cannot be said of him as God; for his heirship, if it were supposed taken in this sense, could not be an appointed heirship: for by birth-right it is his. But in the mystery of his Person, it is spoken of him as God Man. And in this sense, he is truly, and properly appointed heir of all things. And the Church, are made heirs in him. Heirs of God, and joint heirs with Christ. Rom. 8:17. Oh! the privilege of God’s children!
By whom also he made the worlds. Yes! this is a most clear, and decided doctrine, of scripture. God created all things by Jesus Christ. Ephes. 3:9. And according to the Holy Ghost’s account, by Paul, to the Church of the Colossians: not only all things were created by Him, but for Him; and by Him, all things consist. Indeed from that most blessed scripture, as well as some others, we are led to conclude, that without this mysterious Person, in his double nature, God and Man, in One; there could have been nothing, for creation to have rested upon. Nothing could have stood, or subsisted, but by dependence upon God. And yet nothing could have stood, in any way of subsistence with God. In the person therefore of God-Man alone, we find an adequate foundation to rest upon. And of Him, and Him only, as is soon after said, in this chapter, and confirmed by other scriptures, we find One competent to the Almighty work, of upholding all things by the word of his power. John 1:3, 4. I pray the Reader not to pass away before that he hath looked for further confirmation, to Colossians 1:15–17, with Commentary.
Ver. 2.—In these last days. The true reading being ἐπ᾽ ἐσχάτου τῶν ἡμερῶν τούτων, not ἐπ᾽ ἐσχάτων, as in the Textus Receptus, translate, at the end of these days. The Received Text would, indeed, give the same meaning, the position of the article denoting “the last of these days,” not “these last days.” The reference appears to be to the common rabbinical division of time into αἰὼν οὖτος, and αἰὼν μέλλων, or ἐρχόμενος: the former denoting the pre-Messianic, the latter the Messianic period. Thus “these days” is equivalent to αἰὼν οὓτος, “the present age,” and the whole expression to ἐπὶ συντέλειᾳ τῶν αἰώνων, “at the end of the ages” (infra, ch. 9:26); cf. 1 Cor. 10:11, “for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the ages are come.” The term, αἰὼν μέλλων, is also used in this Epistle (6:5); cf. 2:5, τὴν οἰκουμέγην τὴν μέλλουσαν. For allusions elsewhere to the two periods, cf. Matt. 12:32; Mark 10:30; Luke 18:30; 20:35; Eph. 1:21; Titus 2:12. Cf. also in Old Testament, Isa. 9:6, where, for “Everlasting Father,” Cod. Alex. has πατὴρ τοῦ μελλόντος αιῶνος. A subject of discussion has been the point of division between the two ages—whether the commencement of the Christian dispensation, ushered in by the exaltation of Christ, or his second advent. The conception in the Jewish mind, founded on Messianic prophecy, would, of course, be undefined. It would only be that the coming of the Messiah would inaugurate a new order of things. But how did the New Testament writers after Christ’s ascension conceive the two ages? Did they regard themselves as living at the end of the former age or at the beginning of the new one? The passage before us does not help to settle the question, nor does ch. 9:26; for the reference in both cases is to the historical manifestation of Christ before his ascension. But others of the passages cited above seem certainly to imply that “the coming age” was regarded as still future. It has been said, indeed, with regard to this apparent inference from some of them, that the writers were regarding their own age from the old Jewish standing-point when they spoke of it as future, or only used well-known phrases to denote the two ages, though they were no longer strictly applicable (see Alford’s note on ch. 2:5). But this explanation cannot well be made to apply to such passages as 1 Cor. 10:11 and Eph. 1:21, or to those in the Gospels. It would appear from them that it was not till the παρούσια (or, as it is designated in the pastoral Epistles, the ἐπιφάνεια) of Christ that “the coming age” of prophecy was regarded as destined to begin, ushering in “new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness” (2 Pet. 3:13) Still, though “that day” was in the future, the first coming of Christ had been, as it were, its dawn, signifying its approach and preparing believers for meeting it. “The darkness was passing away; the true light was already shining” (1 John 2:8). Hence the apostolic writers sometimes speak as if already in the “coming age;” as being already citizens of heaven (Phil. 3:20); as already “made to sit with Christ in the heavenly places” (Eph. 1:6); having already “tasted the powers of the age to come” (ch. 6:5). In a certain sense they felt themselves in the new order of things, though, strictly speaking, they still regarded their own age as but the end of the old one, irradiated by the light of the new. To understand fully their language on the subject, we should remember that they supposed the second advent to be more imminent than it was. St. Paul, at one time certainly, thought that it might be before his own death (2 Cor. 5:4; 1 Thess. 4:15). Thus they might naturally speak of their own time as the conclusion of the former age, though regarding the second advent as the commencement of the new one. But the prolongation of “the end of these days,” unforeseen by them, does not affect the essence of their teaching on the subject. In the Divine counsels “one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.” Hath spoken unto us (more properly, spake to us) in his Son. “His” is here properly supplied to give the meaning of ἐν υἱῷ. The rendering, a Son, which seems to have the advantage of literalism, would be misleading if it suggested the idea of one among many sons, or a son in the same sense in which others are sons. For though the designation, “son of God,” is undoubtedly used in subordinate senses—applied e.g. to Adam, to angels, to good men, to Christians—yet what follows in the Epistle fixes its peculiar meaning here. The entire drift of the earlier part of the Epistle is to show that the idea involved in the word “Son,” as applied to the Messiah in prophecy, is that of a relation to God far above that of the angels or of Moses, and altogether unique in its character. This idea must have been in the writer’s mind when he selected the phrases of his exordium. Nor is the article required for the sense intended. Its omission, in fact, brings it out. Ἐν τῷ υἱῷ would have drawn especial attention to “the personage in whom God spake; ἐν υἱῷ does so rather to the mode of the speaking—it is equivalent to “in one who was Son.” Son-revelation (as afterwards explained), is contrasted with previous prophetic revelations (cf. for omission of the article before υἱὸς, ch. 3:6; 5:8; 7:28). Whom he appointed (or, constituted) heir of all things; not, as in the A.V., “hath appointed.” The verb is in the aorist, and here the indefinite sense of the aorist should be preserved. “Convenienter statim sub Filii nomen memoratur hæreditas” (Bengel). Two questions arise. (1) Was it in respect of his eternal Divinity, or of his manifestation in time, that the Son was appointed “Heir of all things”? (2) When is God to be conceived as so appointing him? i.e. What is the time, if any, to be assigned to the indefinite aorist? In answer to question (1) the second alternative is to be preferred. For (a) his eternal pre-existence has not yet been touched upon: it is introduced, as it were parenthetically, in the next and following clauses. (b) Though the term Son is legitimately used in theology to denote the eternal relation to the Father expressed by the Λόγος of St. John, yet its application in this Epistle and in the New Testament generally (excepting, perhaps, the μονογενὴς υἱὸς peculiar to St. John, on which see Bull, ‘Jud. Eccl. Cath.,’ v. 4, etc.), is to the Word made flesh, to the Son as manifested in the Christ. And hence it is to him as such that we may conclude the heirship to be here assigned. (c) This is the view carried out in the sequel of the Epistle, where the Son is represented as attaining the universal dominion assigned to him after, and in consequence of, his human obedience. The conclusion of the exordium in itself expresses this; for it is not till after he had made purification of sins that he is said to have “sat down,” etc.; i.e. entered on his inheritance; having become (γενόμενος, not ὢν) “so much better,” etc. This is the view of Chrysostom, Theodoret, and the Fathers generally (cf. the cognate passage, Phil. 2:9). (2) It seems best to refer the aorist ἔθηκε, not to any definite time, as that of the prophetic utterances afterwards cited, or that of the actual exaltation of Christ, but indefinitely to the eternal counsels, which were indeed declared and fulfilled in time, but were themselves ἐν ἀρχῇ. A similar use of the aorist, coupled with other aorists pointing to events in time, is found in Rom. 8:29, 30. What this heirship of all things implies will appear in the sequel. By whom also he made the worlds. Interposed clause to complete the true conception of the Son; showing who and what he was originally and essentially through whom God “spake” in time, and who, as Son, inherited. Here certainly, and in the expressions which follow, we have the same doctrine as that of the Δόγος of St. John. And the testimony of the New Testament to the pre-existence and deity of Christ is the more striking from our finding the same essential idea under different forms of expression, and in writings differing so much from each other in character and style. He who appeared in the world as Christ is, in the first place, here said (as by St. John 1:3) to have been the Agent of creation; cf. Col. 1:15–17, where the original creative agency of “the Son of his love” is emphatically set forth, as well as his being “the Head of the body, the Church.” This cognate passage is of weight against the view of interpreters who would take the one before us as referring to the initiation of the gospel ages; with respect to which view see also the quotation from Bull given below under ver. 3. Here τοὺς αἰῶνας is equivalent to “the worlds,” as in the A.V. For though the primary meaning of αἰών has reference to time—limited in periods, or unlimited in eternity—it is used to denote also the whole system of things called into being by the Creator in time and through which alone we are able to conceive time. “Οἱ αἰῶνες, sæcula, pro rerum creatarum universitate est Hebraismus” (Bull); cf. ch. 11:3, καταρτίσθαι τοὺς αἰωνας ῥήματι Θεοῦ: also 1 Cor. 2:7, πρὸ των αἱώνων: and 2 Tim. 1:9; Titus 1:2, πρὸ χρόνων αἰωνίων.
2. Whom he hath appointed heir, &c. He honours Christ with high commendations, in order to lead us to shew him reverence; for since the Father has subjected all things to him, we are all under his authority. He also intimates that no good can be found apart from him, as he is the heir of all things. It hence follows that we must be very miserable and destitute of all good things except he supplies us with his treasures. He further adds that this honour of possessing all things belongs by right to the Son, because by him have all things been created. At the same time, these two things are ascribed to Christ for different reasons.
The world was created by him, as he is the eternal wisdom of God, which is said to have been the director of all his works from the beginning; and hence is proved the eternity of Christ, for he must have existed before the world was created by him. If, then, the duration of his time be inquired of, it will be found that it has no beginning. Nor is it any derogation to his power that he is said to have created the world, as though he did not by himself create it. According to the most usual mode of speaking in Scripture, the Father is called the Creator; and it is added in some places that the world was created by wisdom, by the word, by the Son, as though wisdom itself had been the creator, [or the word, or the Son.] But still we must observe that there is a difference of persons between the Father and the Son, not only with regard to men, but with regard to God himself. But the unity of essence requires that whatever is peculiar to Deity should belong to the Son as well as to the Father, and also that whatever is applied to God only should belong to both; and yet there is nothing in this to prevent each from his own peculiar properties.
But the word heir is ascribed to Christ as manifested in the flesh; for being made man, he put on our nature, and as such received this heirship, and that for this purpose, that he might restore to us what we had lost in Adam. For God had at the beginning constituted man, as his Son, the heir of all good things; but through sin the first man became alienated from God, and deprived himself and his posterity of all good things, as well as of the favour of God. We hence only then begin to enjoy by right the good things of God, when Christ, the universal heir, admits us into an union with himself; for he is an heir that he may endow us with his riches. But the Apostle now adorns him with this title, that we may know that without him we are destitute of all good things.
If you take all in the masculine gender, the meaning is, that we ought all to be subject to Christ, because we have been given to him by the Father. But I prefer reading it in the neuter gender; then it means that we are driven from the legitimate possession of all things, both in heaven and on earth, except we be united to Christ.
2. In these last days could be understood to mean at the end of these days, which points most clearly to a crisis, a new decisive revelation contrasted both with the variety of modes and the necessity in the past for repetition. A once-for-all revelation is clearly superior. The writer may have been thinking of the last days as the concluding days of the pre-Christian period, much as the Jewish teachers divided time between the present age and the age of the Messiah. According to this view, since Christians believed that Jesus was the Messiah, the ‘last days’ were the end of the old era. But in view of the corresponding expression ‘at the end of the age’ in 9:26, it is more probable that ‘these last days’ refers to the Christian era, which involves a new era compared with the old. When God spoke to men by a Son, it was meant to mark an end of all imperfect methods. The curtain had finally fallen on the previous age and the final age had now dawned.
When, in the Greek text, the writer says a Son rather than his Son, he does this to show the superior means used. He is certainly not saying that God has more than one Son. He is implying that the finest of the prophets cannot stand comparison with a Son as a means of revelation. Of course, the idea of God’s Son coming to men is a stumbling-block to many, but the writer does not defend his statement. He sees no need to do so, in spite of the fact that his own contemporaries would have been no more used to the idea than we are. The pagans thought sometimes of the offspring of the gods, but this is a very different idea from Jesus as Son of God. Our writer must have assumed that his readers would acknowledge this without question. But he does not say at first that he is thinking of Jesus. That comes later in 2:9.
There is naturally a language problem here. For it may be questioned how meaningful the father-son idea is in reference to God, however valuable it is in human affairs. But in the attempt to put divine truth into human language, the best that can be done is to use the nearest approximation; so long as this is borne in mind, it becomes full of meaning. The essence of the Christian revelation is that God is best seen in his Son. The human analogy is of course imperfect, because no human father is completely reflected in his son. But Jesus Christ perfectly shows all that is knowable about the Father. No wonder our writer is struck by the superiority of this kind of message compared with the means used in the past! He knows that if men cannot learn about God from the Son, no amount of prophetic voices or actions would convince them.
Before he identifies the Son as Jesus Christ, he gives a description of the Son. It is a profound description for it tells us about what he is and not about his appearance. The writer wants us to know first of all about the Son’s relationship to the world of nature. It is understandable that he should begin with this, for the world of nature is our environment, our home. For many this is true to such a degree that they feel themselves encased in it and cannot conceive that anyone could be more powerful. This author’s view of the world agrees with that which is seen throughout the New Testament. It is a view which begins with God as creator and goes on to see Jesus Christ as closely linked with him in the creative act. In this way the impersonal universe at once becomes personal. The writer declares that God has appointed his Son, which is an act of personal initiative here (the Greek aorist ethēken must be regarded as timeless). The important truth in this passage is that everything goes back to God.
Why is it said that God appointed the Son the heir of all things? Does this mean that he became what he was not before? Time elements are apt to confuse. It is best to think of the created order as it is, and then to be reminded that it belongs to Jesus Christ. It is the present reality of the appointment that the writer is concerned about, and not about when it was made. Indeed, it is clear that the writer wants us to understand that there was never a time when the Son was not the heir. The two ideas, Sonship and heirship, are closely linked. In human affairs the eldest son is the natural heir. In the analogy a more profound thought is introduced. The heir is also the creator. He is not inheriting what he has not been connected with. He inherits what he himself made. The writer has at once plunged us into deep thinking about the origin of the world. Yet his interest in it is not theoretical but practical, reminding us of the teaching of Jesus about God and creation. It is his creation; he even notes the falling of the sparrows. It is reassuring to know that the Son has the same personal interest in the world around us. What this letter proceeds to say about Jesus Christ is clearly based on a high view of him.
The statement that God created the world through the Son is staggering. There is no denying that God could have made the universe apart from his Son, but the New Testament is at pains to show that he did not do so. The Christians were convinced that the same person who had lived among men was the one who created men. A letter such as Hebrews, written from this conviction, could not fail to present a more than human picture of Jesus Christ. It is noticeable that this writer uses the word for ‘ages’ (aiōnes) and not the usual word for worlds (kosmoi) when speaking about God’s creative acts. The reason is that the word for ‘ages’ is more comprehensive, including within it the periods of time through which the created order exists. The more science discovers about the universe, the more marvellous is the thought that Christ is the agent through whom it was made. Rationalists may contend that scientific discovery makes the New Testament view of the world untenable, but the Christian claims the opposite. The greater man’s understanding of the marvels of the universe, the greater the need for an adequate understanding of its origin. The belief in a personal creator is not less credible as man’s penetration into space grows.
1:2 “in these last days” The Jews saw two ages: the current evil age of rebellion and sin and the coming age of righteousness inaugurated by the coming of the Messiah in the power of the Spirit. The OT emphasizes the coming of the Messiah in judgment and power to establish the new age. However, it failed to see clearly the first coming of Jesus as the “Suffering Servant” in Isa. 53 and the humble One riding the colt of a donkey in Zech. 9:9. From NT revelation we know that God planned two comings of the Messiah. The period between the Incarnation (the first coming) and the second coming involves the overlapping of the two Jewish ages. This is designated in the NT by the phrase “last days.” We have been in this period for over 2000 years.
|SPECIAL TOPIC: THIS AGE AND THE AGE TO COME
The OT prophets viewed the future by an extension of the present. For them the future will be a restoration of geographical Israel. With the continued willful rejection of YHWH by the descendants of Abraham (even after the exile) a new paradigm developed in Jewish intertestamental apocalyptic literature. These writings begin to distinguish between two ages: a current evil age dominated by Satan and a coming age of righteousness dominated by the Spirit and inaugurated by the Messiah (often a dynamic warrior).
In this area of theology (eschatology) there is an obvious development. Theologians call this “progressive revelation.” Both Jesus and Paul affirm this new cosmic reality of two ages:
|13:22 & 29
|1 Cor. 1:20; 2:6, 8; 3:18
|2 Cor. 4:4
|Eph. 1:21; 2:1, 7; 6:12
|1 Tim.othy 6:17
|2 Timothy 4:10
|In NT theology these two Jewish ages have been overlapped because of the unexpected two comings of the Messiah. The incarnation of Jesus at Bethlehem fulfilled the OT prophecies of the inauguration of the new age. However, the OT saw His coming as one of Judge and Conqueror, yet He came at first as the Suffering Servant (cf. Isa. 53), humble and meek (cf. Zech. 9:9). He will return in power just as the OT predicted (cf. Rev. 19). This two-stage fulfillment caused the Kingdom to be present (inaugurated), but future (not consummated). See Special Topic at 2 Tim. 2:12. This is the NT tension of the already, but not yet!
© “His Son” The ANARTHROUS phrase “a son” should not be capitalized because the reference here is to the manner of revelation, not a title for Jesus (cf. 3:6; 5:8; 7:28). Jesus is not a servant like Moses or the prophets, but a family member.
© “whom He appointed” This is an AORIST ACTIVE INDICATIVE which implies simple action in past time. When did God appoint Jesus heir? Was it at His baptism (cf. Matt. 3:17) or resurrection (cf. Rom. 1:4)? This question led to the heresy of “adoptionism” which said that Jesus became the Messiah at some point in time. This, however, contradicts John 1:1–18; 8:57–58; Phil. 2:6–7; and Col. 1:17. Jesus has always been deity (cf. John 1:1–2); therefore, heirship must even predate the incarnation in an ontological sense.
© “heir of all things” As the “Son of God,” the unique son of God, He is the heir (cf. Matt. 21:33–46; Ps. 2:8). The amazing thing is that sinful humanity, through faith in Him, shares His heirship (cf. 1:14; 6:2; Rom. 8:17; Gal. 4:7).
© “through whom also He made the world” It is always difficult to know for certain how related terms are to be interpreted. There is only a certain semantic overlap between synonyms. The technical Greek term for creation out of nothing is ktizō, yet the word in this text is poieō, which meant to form something from a pre-existing substance. Is the author using these terms synonymously or is a specific distinction intended? It is doubtful that a technical distinction is intended because the theological context refers to creation by the spoken word (ex nihilo, cf. Gen. 1:6, 9, 16, 20, 24, 26, but in 2:7 god formed man).
The term “world” is literally “ages” (aiōnos). This can refer to the earth (cf. Matt. 28:20) or to the ages (i.e. time). Jesus is surely the creator of both (cf. John 1:3; Col. 1:16; 1 Cor. 8:6). The author of Hebrews uses both aiōnos (cf. 1:2; 6:5; 11:3) and kosmos (cf. 4:3; 9:26; 10:5; 11:7, 38), apparently as synonymous terms.
2a. But in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son.
Although the contrast between the times before the coming of Christ and the appearance of Christ as the completion of God’s revelation is striking in verses 1 and 2, the continuity of this revelation is also significant. Both parts of God’s revelation form one unit because there is but one Author. There is but one God who reveals, and there is but one revelation. The Word spoken by God to the forefathers in the past does not differ basically from the Word spoken to us by his Son.
Yet in many ways the contrast between the first and the second verse is obvious. We may show the contrast graphically:
God has spoken
||OLD TESTAMENT ERA
|NEW TESTAMENT ERA
|at many times
|in various ways
|in the past
|in these last days
|to our forefathers
|through the prophets
|by his Son
The figure appears to be incomplete: the “how” on the Old Testament side does not have a New Testament counterpart. The phrase “at many times and in various ways” lacks a parallel. The writer is pointing out that the fullness of revelation is unique, final, and complete. He is not implying that the piecemeal revelation given through the prophets was inferior and that the revelation provided by the Son was without variation. Not at all. The many-sided revelation of God that came repeatedly to the forefathers in the ages before the birth of Christ was inspired by God. It was a progressive revelation that constantly pointed toward the coming of the Messiah. And when Jesus finally came, he brought the very Word of God because he is the Word of God. Therefore, Jesus brought that Word in all its fullness, richness, and multiplicity. He was the final revelation. 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.”
Jesus himself did not write a single verse of the New Testament; men designated by him and filled with the Spirit wrote God’s revelation. Jesus, the living Word, speaks to us because no one else possesses equal authority; “for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). By his Son, God addresses all believers. In these last days God has spoken to us by his Son. The phrase in these last days is set over against the phrase in the past and refers to the age in which the fulfillment of the messianic prophecies has taken place. This age waits for the liberation “from its bondage to decay” to be “brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God” (Rom. 8:21).
In the first two verses of Hebrews there is a contrast between the prophets, who were a distinct group of people chosen and appointed by God to convey his revelation, and the Son of God, who surpasses all the prophets because he is Son. In fact, all the emphasis in verse 2 falls on the word Son. There is, strictly speaking, only one Son of God; all others are created sons (angels) and adopted sons (believers). As God has spoken by his Son, so the Son has spoken by the apostles who, inspired by the Holy Spirit, wrote the books of the New Testament. The new revelation that God has given us in his Son is a continuation of the revelation given to the forefathers. God’s revelation, completed in his Son, is a unit, a harmonious totality in which the Old is fulfilled in the New.
2b. Whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe.
To express the excellence of the Son of God, the writer of Hebrews describes what God has done.
God appointed his Son heir of all things. An heir rightfully inherits whatever the father has stipulated in his will. As the one and only Son, Jesus thus inherits everything the Father possesses. Incomprehensible! Unfathomable!
The time when God appointed the Son heir of all things cannot be determined. The Son may have been appointed heir in God’s eternal plan. Or Jesus may have been appointed heir when in the fullness of time he entered the world, or when he pronounced the Great Commission: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me” (Matt. 28:18).
The writer of Hebrews immediately clarifies the term all things by saying that God made the universe through his Son. The phrase obviously refers to the creation account in the first chapters of Genesis. Many people think that the New Testament, which speaks about redemption, has nothing to say about creation. However, the New Testament is not entirely silent on this subject; both Paul and the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews teach that Jesus was active in the work of creation. In his discussion about the supremacy of Christ, Paul teaches: “For by him all things were created …; all things were created by him and for him” (Col. 1:16). And John in his Gospel confirms the same truth: “Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made” (1:3).
Through his Son, God made the universe. It is impossible for man to understand the full import of this statement, but complete understanding is not the objective at this point. However, it is important to recognize the majesty of the Son of God, who was present at creation and is the sovereign Lord of all created things. He is God.
The word universe signifies primarily the cosmos, the created world in all its fullness, and secondarily all the stars and planets God has created. But the meaning is much more comprehensive than this, because it involves all the events that have happened since the creation of this world. It concerns the earth and its history throughout the ages. The word has been interpreted as “the sum of the ‘periods of time’ including all that is manifested in and through them.” It refers not to the world as a whole but to the entire created order that continued to develop in the course of time.
 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1983). Hebrews (pp. 1–7). Chicago: Moody Press.
 France, R. T. (2006). Hebrews. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Hebrews–Revelation (Revised Edition) (Vol. 13, p. 39). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
 Phillips, R. D. (2006). Hebrews. (R. D. Phillips, P. G. Ryken, & D. M. Doriani, Eds.) (pp. 5–15). Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing.
 Hagner, D. A. (2011). Hebrews (pp. 22–23). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.
 Hawker, R. (2013). Poor Man’s New Testament Commentary: Philippians–Revelation (Vol. 3, pp. 203–204). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.
 Spence-Jones, H. D. M. (Ed.). (1909). Hebrews (pp. 2–4). London; New York: Funk & Wagnalls Company.
 Calvin, J., & Owen, J. (2010). Commentary on the Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Hebrews (pp. 33–34). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.
 Guthrie, D. (1983). Hebrews: An Introduction and Commentary (Vol. 15, pp. 67–70). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
 Utley, R. J. (1999). The Superiority of the New Covenant: Hebrews (Vol. Volume 10, pp. 8–10). Marshall, Texas: Bible Lessons International.
 Kistemaker, S. J., & Hendriksen, W. (1953–2001). Exposition of Hebrews (Vol. 15, pp. 27–29). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.