Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Chapter 1:1-2a

With the intention of wooing these Jewish believers in the Lord Jesus Christ and towards Him and thereby weaning them from Judaism, as God had given it, the author sets about comparing the Lord Jesus Christ – His Person, His ministry and His New Covenant in the once-for-all-time sacrifice, to the chief heads of the Old Covenant. In doing so, he brings out things concerning the Lord Jesus Christ that far outweigh in character and glory the Old economy – the persons connected with it, its temple and its rituals along with its prescribed sacrifices. No doubt the old economy, the old covenant was of and from God Himself; and in its time served its own purpose according to God. Nevertheless, it pales into oblivion in comparison to the new covenant inaugurated by the Lord Jesus Christ.

This epistle puts our Lord Jesus Christ, and things in connection with Him, in a ‘better’ light. Notice the following

1.       The Lord Jesus Christ has a place “so much better than the angles” – 1:4
2.       The Lord Jesus Christ has brought “a better hope” – 7:19
3.       The Lord Jesus Christ has become “surety of a better covenant” – 7:22
4.       The Lord Jesus Christ is “mediator of a better covenant” – 8:6
5.       The Lord Jesus Christ is High Priest of “the better and more perfect tabernacle” – 9:11
6.       The Lord Jesus Christ has offered “better sacrifice(s)” than those under the old covenant – 9:23
7.       The Lord Jesus Christ’s blood speaks “better than Abel” – 12:24

In the course of our meditations, the Lord willing, we’ll take a look at each of these. But besides these occurrences of the word ‘better’ in connection with our Lord Jesus Christ, the author, throughout the main part of the letter, emphasises the superiority of the Lord Jesus Christ. The Lord Jesus Christ is presented superior to angels, to Old Testament prophets, to Moses, to Aaron and to Joshua. The New Priesthood of the Lord Jesus Christ is superior to the Aaronic priesthood. The Lord Jesus Christ has introduced “a greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this building” and His once-for-all-time sacrifice has perfected forever “them that are sanctified”, something all the sacrifices under the Old Covenant could never do!

In this first chapter the writer compares God’s revelation in the past through the prophets, His servants and His revelation now in and through His Son the Lord Jesus Christ. He then goes on to describe the glories of the Son, who has been appointed Heir of all things, the creator and upholder of all things. The Son’s superiority in comparison to the angels are then brought in view, they being ministers who do God’s bidding, whereas the Son is God Himself upon His throne holding His spectre of righteousness.

“God who at sundry times and in diverse manners spoke in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, hath in these last days spoken unto us by Son”

With these grand words the author introduces his magnificent theme and purpose – to unveil the glorious superiority of the Lord Jesus Christ. These words are indeed worthy to be etched in letters of gold and to be displayed in settings of silver. Who can sound the depth of words such as these? Truly, the Spirit of the Lord alone can, and He is more than willing to unfold them to us, in howsoever a small measure our own feeble minds may be able to comprehend and appreciate them.

Although in our English version Hebrews begins with ‘God’ the Greek original doesn’t do so. A more literal translation of the Greek would, in the words of William R. Newell be thus: “In many parts, and in many manners of old, God having spoken to the fathers in the prophets, at the end of these [Old Testament] days did speak to us in [the person of His] Son”. 

In opening with the words “in many parts” and “in many manners or methods”, which in the Greek make up two words transliterated polumeroos and polutropoos, the author really desires to lay emphasis on the fragmentary and piece-meal kind of revelation men received from God in the past. He emphasises, not the fact that God had indeed spoken in the past, a fact all too well known to the Hebrews; he would rather here stress the fact that God’s revelation in the past under the Old Covenant was, at best, but fragmentary, in bits and pieces. Besides, God’s revelation in the past was not direct; He chose to reveal His Word using different methods – through dreams, visions, and at best they were but through “dark speeches” (Num 12:8). Moses was probably the only prophet who beheld “the similitude of the LORD” and about whom the Lord said “with him I speak mouth to mouth, even plainly”.  But even so, the fact does remain that God’s revelation in the past was piece-meal, fragmentary and far from being direct and complete.

In sharp contrast, God’s revelation through His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ seems to have a ring of finality to it. The author of course does not literally say so, but the strong implication cannot be avoided. The fragmentary nature of God’s revelation in the past is contrasted with God’s final speech, as it were, through His Son. Furthermore, in the past God employed prophets to communicate to His people, but has now spoken through His Son. In the Greek the word ‘son’ has no definite article and so would rather emphasise the character of the person. In other words, God has now spoken to us through One who holds the relationship of ‘Son’ to God, He is the Son of God. But there is more. The fact that He sustains such a relationship to God, gives character to the manner of God’s communication now. And that’s why Newell has inserted the words “the person of His” within brackets before the word ‘Son’.

We are here reminded of the Lord’s parable recorded in the synoptic Gospels – the parable of the vineyard owner (Lu 20:9-18; Mat 21:33-46; Mar 12:1-9). In the parable which also turned out to be prophetic, a certain man planted a vineyard, and leased it to tenants. Isn’t this reference to the vineyard reminiscent of Isaiah’s song of the vineyard as recorded in Isaiah chapter 5? In Isaiah, “the vineyard of the LORD of hosts is the house of Israel, and the men of Judah his pleasant plant” (Isa 5:7), but in the parable of the Lord Jesus the care or responsibility of the vineyard seems to be likened to “the kingdom of God” (Mat 21:43), although the vineyard seems to be the land of Jerusalem itself (note especially the action of the wicked farmers in casting out the heir outside the vineyard).

But the point to notice here in connection with the opening words in Hebrews is that God did send unto Israel His servants the prophets “rising up early and sending them” although they would not hearken.  And as in the parable, God finally sent His “son, his well-beloved” (Mar 12:6) expecting them to reverence Him. Alas! They treated him most shamefully, “they took him, and killed him, and cast him out of the vineyard.”  All that now remained, if they did not yet repent, was the certain overthrow and destruction of the vineyard as detailed at the end of the parable. And this we believe took place in AD 70 when Jerusalem along with the temple was razed to the ground.

God spoke to the fathers of the Jewish nation in the past in many portions and in many ways through His servants the prophets, but He has at the end of these days, spoken to us in and through His well beloved Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. In the past God spoke through His servants, He has now spoken through His Son. And this has made all the difference in the communications. God has now spoken His heart out in a way no prophet could speak. God has now spoken personally, intimately and directly through the Lord Jesus Christ, His only begotten Son. In the words of the apostle John, “no man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him.” (John 1:18) Now that word translated ‘declared’ in the Greek is exegesato from which we get our English word exegesis, meaning to explain, to interpret. In the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament Hebrew Scriptures, the noun form of this word is used to describe the magicians at Pharaoh’s court (Gen 41:8,24). We read in verse 8 that “there was none that could interpret them (the dreams) unto Pharaoh; verse 24 tells us “there was none that could declare” the dream to Pharaoh. Clearly, the office of the exegetas was to interpret and declare a matter, which was otherwise obscure and hidden from the reach of ordinary people. The apostle John declares that the Son has ‘interpreted’, ‘declared’ the Father, and He has done so in a way none else could.

Not only that God has now spoken through the instrumentality of One who sustains the relationship of ‘Son’ to God, the author of Hebrews tells us that God has spoken in Son. This is not exactly good or correct English, but it is good Christian doctrine. Paul reminds us that “God was in Christ reconciling the world unto himself” (2Cor 5:19). In Christ it was God Himself who acted and God Himself who spoke. This and nothing less would do. The Son has brought the Father to us. The Lord Jesus could say “he that hath seen me hath seen the Father” (John 14:9), and “I and the Father are one” (John 10:30 Darby’s translation).

The opening verses in Hebrews also establish the truth and inspiration of the Old Testament Scriptures. Ours is indeed a religion based upon revelation, a revelation from God Himself. Unlike all other so-called sacred writings in the world, the Bible is a revelation from God Himself. These opening verses do not mean that God spoke no further after speaking in and through the Lord Jesus Christ; for He did. The Spirit of God continued to speak through the apostles of the Lord Jesus Christ and moved men chosen by God to put down all that He Himself wanted to put down for all time. These, along with the Old Testament, make up the complete Bible we now hold. Historically, the Lord Jesus Christ was not the last Person to speak about God. What these opening verses in Hebrews do affirm however, is the fact that God has been fully and completely, and that for the first time, revealed or brought out in and through the Person of the Lord Jesus Christ, His only-begotten Son. And it is primarily upon this fact that the writer to the Hebrews builds his argument in the following verses, which we will have occasion to take note of in its place.

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