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20 June 2019

Final Word of God

SYNOPSIS:   God’s final and complete “word” has been “spoken” in His Son. All previous “words” were partial, preparatory, and incomplete – Hebrews 1:1-3.

Photo by Jonathan Borba on Unsplash
By Jonathan Borba on Unsplash
The Epistle to the Hebrews compares what God achieved in Jesus to the provisional and the partial revelation of the Mosaic legislation. The contrast is between the finality of the revelation given in Jesus Christ and the partial and incomplete one provided in the old covenant.

For example, the Author shows the superiority of the Son’s word, his ministry, priesthood, and sacrifice over the services, priesthood, and sacrifices of the Levitical system. He does not denigrate God’s past revelations but, instead, stresses how much the new revelation surpasses all that preceded it; What was incomplete is now made complete in Jesus.

(Hebrews 1:1-3) – “Whereas, in many parts and in many ways of old, God spake unto the fathers in the prophets, At the end of these days, He hath spoken unto us in his Son,—whom he hath appointed heir of all things, through whom also he hath made the ages; Who, being an eradiated brightness of his glory and an exact representation of his very being, also bearing up all things by the utterance of his power, purification of sins having achieved, sat down on the right hand of the majesty in high places.” - (The Emphasized Bible).

The letter is addressed to a Christian congregation near the city of Rome experiencing pressure from outsiders. Some members are contemplating a return to local synagogues to avoid persecution (Hebrews 2:15, 10:25-34, 12:4, 13:24-25).

The purpose is pastoral, not theological; Hebrews seeks to encourage believers to remain in the congregation despite persecution. A return to the synagogue means apostasy and the betrayal of the Son of God (Hebrews 2:1-3, 3:6, 12-14, 4:1, 11-13, 6:1-12, 10:26-31, 10:35-39).

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The letter begins by presenting its key main proposition: The final, full, and superior Word of God has been spoken in the Son at the start of the “these last days.” This new and final “sonly” word marks the commencement of the messianic age, the era of fulfillment. 

The sentence begins with two adverbs, polumerōs and polutropōs. Both words are compounded with the Greek adjective polus or “much, many.” Polumerōs combines it with meros or “part”; polutropōs with tropos or “manner.” Together, they stress different aspects of the past revelation of Yahweh. It was partial (“in many parts”) and given in different “ways.” Presumably, the latter included 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 argues, the old system failed to achieve the “purification of sins.”

The past Word was correct but partial. However, the ultimate Word of God is expressed in His Son. The term “last days” provides the time key for this new and final Word: It began with the Death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ. His exaltation to God’s right hand ushered in the time of fulfillment (compare Acts 2:17, Galatians 4:4, Ephesians 1:10).

In the Greek sentence, there is no definite article or “the” before 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 absolute and final 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, in Hebrews 2:5-10; the Son is to inherit the “coming world”).

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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, instead, it 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 discussions 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.” This description stresses the completeness of his priestly act and exaltation to reign. And there he remains until God again “introduces the first-begotten into the habitable earth.

The Word spoken in the Son is superior to all 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 this 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 all past revelations, whether disclosed by prophets, priests, angels or Moses.
Only in His Son is the final revelation of Yahweh found, not in the regulations of the Torah, animal sacrifices, circumcision, the phases of the moon or the observation of holy days. The Son came to fulfill what such things foreshadowed, not to renew them.
What preceded the Word spoken in the Son was preparatory and promissory, not final. As Paul put it, the old system constituted the “shadow” of the substance now found 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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