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13 October 2018

God Has Spoken Fully in a Son

The epistle to the Hebrews compares what God achieved in Jesus to the provisional and partial revelation of the Mosaic legislation to demonstrate the finality of the revelation given in Jesus Christ. For example, the Author shows the superiority of the Son’s word, ministry, priesthood, and sacrifice over the services, priesthood, and sacrifices of the Levitical system. He does not denigrate God’s past revelations but stresses how much the new revelation surpasses all that preceded it; what was incomplete is now made complete in Jesus.
The letter is addressed to a Christian congregation near the city of Rome (Hebrews 13:24-25), one that was experiencing pressure from outsiders. Some members are contemplating a return to local synagogues to avoid persecution (2:15, 10:25-34, 12:4).
The Author's purpose is pastoral, not theological; he seeks to encourage believers to remain in the congregation despite persecution. A return to the synagogue, in the end, means apostasy (Hebrews 2:1-3, 3:6, 12-14, 4:1, 11-13, 6:1-12, 10:26-31, 10:35-39, 12:3-17, 1 3:9).
(Hebrews 1:1-3) – “In many parts and in many ways of old God spoke to the fathers in the prophets, Upon the last of these days He spoke to us in a Son, Whom he appointed heir of all things, Through whom also he made the ages; Who being an eradiated brightness of the glory and an exact impress of his essence, also bearing up all things by the utterance of his power, Having achieved purification of sins, he sat down on the right hand of the majesty in high places, Having become so much better than the angels, as much as he has inherited a more excellent name than they.”
The Author begins by presenting his main proposition: the final, full, and superior Word of God has been spoken in the Son at the start of the “last days.” The new “sonly” word marks the commencement of the messianic age, the era of fulfillment. 
The Greek sentence begins with two adverbs, polumerōs and polutropōs. Both are words compounded with the adjective polus or “much, many.” Polumerōs combines it with meros or “part”; polutropōs with tropos or “manner.” Together, they stress different aspects of God’s past revelation; it was partial (“in many parts”) and given in different “ways.” The latter presumably includes prophecies, visions, dreams, and other forms of inspired communication. 
God did speak before but only partially so, here a little, there a little. Three contrasts are presented to demonstrate this:
1.       God spoke “of old” but now has spoken, “upon these last days.”
2.      God spoke to “the fathers” (ancient Israel) but now speaks “to us,” the church.
3.      God spoke “in the prophets” but now “in a Son.”
 The prophetic words of the past were promissory, preparatory, incomplete; they did not reveal fully what God intended. A more complete revelation was needed. As the letter will go on to argue, the old system failed to achieve the purification of sins.
The past Word was correct but partial, but His ultimate Word is now expressed in His Son. “The last days” provides the time key for this new Word. This period began with the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ (cp. Acts 2:17; Galatians 4:4; Ephesians 1:10); his exaltation to God’s right hand ushered in the time of fulfillment. 
In the Greek sentence, there is no definite article with the word “son”; omitting the article lays stress on the class or status of “son” rather than on his individual identity. The word God now speaks is by means of one who is a son, in contrast to prophets, priests, and angels.
A son is in the closest relationship to a father and that closeness emphasizes the elevated status of Jesus. The Son is superior even to Moses. Consequently, the Word spoken in him is vastly superior to all others. His word is not just one among other inspired words but one with finality and absolute authority. 
The Son in whom God now speaks is the same one whom He “appointed heir of all things,” an allusion to Psalm 2:8-10. Yahweh promised to give the Son “the nations as an inheritance.” But the Author now expands that original promise to make the Son “heir of all things” (note similarly in Hebrews 2:5-10; the Son is to inherit the “coming world”).
This son is the eradiated brightness of the glory and the exact impress of God’s very essence. Not only does he hold an elevated position, but he reflects the very glory of God. This is not abstract or metaphysical speculation about the nature of Christ but points to the surpassing greatness of the position he now holds because of his obedient death (“having achieved purification of sins, he was appointed heir”).
The reference to “purification of sins” anticipates the Author’s later discussion of Christ’s superior priesthood and the permanent results of his sacrifice. As a result, the Son “sat down on the right hand of majesty.” The high priest under the Levitical system entered the sanctuary only on the annual Day of Atonement and never “sat down” or remained within it. In contrast, Jesus entered the true sanctuary “once for all” and “sat down,” which points to the completeness of his priestly act and his exaltation to reign at God’s right hand.
The Word spoken in the Son is superior to past revelations in two ways. First, it is the last and final word in a long sequence of Divine revelations. Second, the Son himself is the consummation of the past partial revelations, “the perfecter of our faith.” The author’s goal is to exhort believers to hold fast to the vastly superior “word” now found in the Son. This full and final word surpasses God’s past revelations, whether disclosed by prophets, priests, angels or Moses.
This narrative raises questions about attempts to return to Judaism or to remold the Christian faith into something more akin to a Torah-observant lifestyle. Since God’s earlier revelation given at Sinai was only partial, it makes no sense to regress to what was, in the end, preparatory now that the complete “word” has been spoken. The Law that was given at Sinai was NOT God's final word.
Only in His Son is God’s final revelation found; not in the regulations of the Torah, animal sacrifices, circumcision, the phases of the moon, or the observation of annual holy days. The Son came to fulfill God’s promises, not to renew the incomplete Levitical system.
What preceded the Word spoken in the Son was preparatory and promissory, not final. As Paul put it, the old system constituted “shadow,” but the substance to which it pointed is available freely in Jesus.
This is the choice Christians face when they contemplate dialing back Christianity into one form of Judaism or another. Pouring new wine into old wineskins will never produce the desired results. Why chase after shadows when the substance that casts them stands in our midst?

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