The Better Revelation

God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, Hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son, whom he hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the worlds;
– Hebrews 1:1-2

An exposition of the book of Hebrews

Hebrews is written to show the superiority of Jesus Christ in every respect. We need perspective to understand this properly. The author shows Jesus superior to the Old Testament revelation and the various elements of worship and service in the Old Testament as well, but he is not despising the Old Testament or disparaging it in any way. Rather he is showing us the proper way to interpret the Old Testament, the way Jesus spoke of the Old Testament (John 5:39; Luke 24:44).

So the Old Testament scriptures are about Christ. That doesn’t mean they aren’t literally true or historically accurate. To say Christ is better doesn’t mean the Old Testament is bad or worthless. As we will see in studying this letter, the Old Testament is incomplete. It is a shadow of something greater to come. That greater substance is Jesus Christ.

Think of it this way. Imagine a husband is separated from his wife for a long time due to military service. While they are apart, the only means of communication they have is by mailed letters. During that time, the wife cherishes those letters and reads them many times. The letters increase her anticipation for her husband’s return home. When her husband finally returns, does she run out to meet him or does she stay in her room reading the letters? The letters were good in their time and place but once the husband returns, she would rather have him than the letters.

Likewise, the Old Testament is pointing to the coming of Christ and building anticipation. Once He is revealed, the substance supersedes the shadow. This doesn’t render the Old Testament untrue or useless, but it can never be looked at the same way again. Everything is now viewed through the lens of Jesus Christ, His life, death, resurrection, and return.

The opening verses of this first chapter immediately establish the foundation and trajectory of this letter. The author divides time into two great epochs in which God has spoken, or revealed Himself. The second epoch being through His Son is greater than the first. This sets up the continual comparison and contrast we have throughout this book.

God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets,
– Hebrews 1:1

God … spake—The author establishes the right view of scripture immediately. Scripture is God speaking. He doesn’t write of the scriptures in terms of the human penmen. He refers to God speaking, Jesus speaking, or the Spirit speaking. There is a scarce reference to David as a penman (Hebrews 4:7), but even there the author writes of God speaking also. David’s account is a rehearsing of an historical account and he refers to God speaking. This is the biblical view of scripture (1 Peter 1:20; 2 Timothy 3:16).

Sundry times—The word means in many portions or piecemeal. So the revelation he is considering was not given all at once, but rather it was given in portions over time. In fact, it was given in thirty-nine different books with many different authors in something under 2,000 years.

Consider the diversity of the books of the Old Testament.

     • 5 books giving the origin of the universe and the law in Genesis through Deuteronomy
     • 12 books giving the history of God’s covenant people in Joshua through Esther
     • 5 books of wisdom and poetry that apply God’s law to the individual in Job through the Song of Solomon
     • 17 books of prophecy that apply God’s law to the nation
          o 5 major prophets in Isaiah through Daniel
          o 12 minor prophets in Hosea through Malachi

Revelation in many portions has a couple of important implications for how we understand the Old Testament. First, it means the different books work together and don’t stand alone. They are many parts of the same whole. That doesn’t mean the books are untrue or unimportant individually but they are incomplete. If the whole of the Old Testament is incomplete in terms of revelation, then the parts of the whole are also incomplete.

The second implication is that the revelation was progressive. Each portion was added to the other portions. One doesn’t take away from nor replace another. It is something like a puzzle where each book is adding another piece.

Consider a sample of the progress in revelation in filling out the picture of the Messiah.

     • Through Noah was revealed the world into which the Messiah would come
     • Through Abraham was revealed the nation or people into which the Messiah would come
     • Through Jacob was revealed the tribe into which the Messiah would come
     • Through David was revealed the family into which the Messiah would come
     • Through Micah was revealed the birthplace of the Messiah
     • Through Daniel was revealed the time of the Messiah’s coming
     • Through Malachi was revealed the forerunner of the Messiah
     • Through Isaiah was revealed the death of the Messiah for the sins of His people
     • Through Jonah was revealed the burial and resurrection of the Messiah

Divers manners—The word means many ways and it refers to the various methods of revelation and delivery. God gave revelation in the Old Testament through dreams, visions, audible voice, internal leading, Urim and Thummim, angels, and so on. His revelation was given in types, symbols, images, historical accounts, parables, proverbs, poetry, predictions, and more. The how and what of revelation was diverse but they all work together in one overarching story.

Times past unto the fathers by the prophets—The author divides time into two great epochs or divisions. “Times past” refers to the first of these epochs and it pairs with “these last days” in the second verse, which is the second great epoch. He effectively cuts time into two parts where the first part is the time before the coming of the Messiah and the second part is the time after the Messiah has come.

God spoke in the first epoch through human mouthpieces, the prophets. The prophets spoke forth the revelation of God to the people. No one prophet received or gave a full revelation. They knew in part and prophesied in part. Each piece added to the others.

Hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son, whom he hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the worlds;
– Hebrews 1:2

In these last days—The phrase refers to the second great epoch of time. This is the time after the Messiah has come. It was the time anticipated in the Old Testament (Numbers 24:14-19; Jeremiah 33:14-16; Zechariah 9:9, 16) and realized in the New Testament (1 Peter 1:20; 1 John 2:18).

Hath … spoken … by his Son—The words point to the completion, or finality, of the revelation. God spoke in different ways at different times in time past, but has spoken finally by His Son in these last days. What was pointed to and anticipated in the Old Testament has now been revealed in the flesh in the person of Jesus Christ.

The Old Testament revelation built anticipation for the coming of the Messiah, but also for the completion of the revelation in Him. The Samaritan woman alluded to this when she talked with Jesus by the well. “The woman saith unto him, I know that Messias cometh, which is called Christ: when he is come, he will tell us all things” (John 4:25). This expectation of the Messiah was also at the center of Nathanael’s confession (John 1:47-51).

Jesus is the full and final revelation of God. To add anything to this revelation is to belittle and even despise Christ. To seek some further revelation is equivalent to saying, “Jesus is not enough. I need something more.” Further, to deny the finality of the Scripture is to deny that Jesus is the Christ. This is exactly what happened in John 6 when they had the Messiah standing in front of them and rejected Christ because they wanted a sign.

All the different portions, ways, and speakers have given way to the One—the Son. Identifying the Son reveals his divinity and eternality (John 5:17-18; Psalm 2:6-12). The author here also introduces the once-for-all nature of Christ’s work, which features prominently in this letter.

Whom he hath appointed heir of all things—The author begins here to enumerate several excellencies of the Son. These are superiorities. Jesus, the Son, is identified as the appointed heir (Psalm 89:27). The law foreshadowed the Son’s heirship through the laws of inheritance and redemption. These laws gave two primary requirements. First, only a kinsman could redeem a possession (Numbers 27:8-11). The kinsman redeemer had to be of the tribe. The law prohibited land passing between tribes. Second, a redemption price had to be paid (Leviticus 25:23-34). Jesus perfectly fulfilled the law as a kinsman redeemer (Philippians 2:7-8; Hebrews 2:15-18) and in paying the redemption price (Revelation 5:9; 1 Peter 1:18-21). The prophets foresaw this redemption (Daniel 7:13-14).

By whom also he made the worlds—The Son is also revealed as the Creator of all things (John 1:1-3; Colossians 1:16-17). He made all things and upholds all things. He is also the heir of all things. He is the superior revelation. Obviously, no better revelation could be given.

About Jeff Short