God’s supreme “word” has been “spoken” in His Son, and all previous “words” were partial, preparatory, and incomplete – Hebrews 1:1-3.
The epistle to the Hebrews compares what God achieved in Jesus to the partial provisions provided under the old covenant, and especially to the Levitical system. The contrast is between the finality of the “word” spoken in His “Son” and the incomplete revelations given in the “prophets.” What was preparatory under the old legislation has been superseded by the final “word in a son.”
The letter demonstrates the superiority of the Son’s word, ministry, priesthood, and his sacrifice over the services, priesthood, and animal sacrifices of the now obsolete old covenant. It does not denigrate the past revelations, but it stresses how much the new revelation has surpassed them all – What was incomplete has been completed in Jesus.
- (Hebrews 1:1-3) – “In many parts and in many ways of old, God spoke to the fathers in the prophets; at the end 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 his glory, and an exact representation of his very being, also bearing up all things by the word of his power, purification of sins having achieved, sat down on the right hand of the majesty in high places.”
The letter was addressed to a Christian congregation that was experiencing pressure from outsiders, and some members were contemplating a return to the local synagogue to avoid persecution, and that would have necessitated conforming to the rituals required in Leviticus – (Hebrews 2:15, 10:25-34, 12:4, 13:24-25).
In contrast to what some were considering, the epistle encourages believers to remain in the congregation despite any hostility from the surrounding society. And returning to the synagogue would mean 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).
The author begins with his main proposition – At the start of the “these last days,” the final, full, and superior “Word of God” has been spoken in the “Son,” and that word marks the end of one era and the commencement of another.
In the Greek text, the sentence begins with two adverbs, polumerōs and polutropōs. Both are compounded with the adjective polus or “much, many.” Polumerōs is combined with meros or “part,” and polutropōs with tropos or “manner.” Both words stress different aspects of the past revelations “in the prophets.” They were partial (“in many parts”) and given in different “ways.” And presumably, the latter category included prophecies, visions, dreams, and other forms of inspired communication.
And God did speak before, but only partially so, and three contrasts are presented that demonstrate this. First, God spoke “of old,” but now speaks “upon these last days.” Second, He spoke to “the fathers,” but now speaks “to us,” the church. And third, He spoke “in the prophets,” but now has spoken, “in a Son.”
The previous prophetic words were promissory, preparatory, and incomplete. They did not reveal all that God intended to do. A more complete revelation was necessary. As the author will argue, the old system was incapable of achieving the “purification of sins” so desperately needed by the people of God. And while the past “word” was correct, though incomplete, the final and “word” has been expressed through one who is a “son.”
The term “last days” provides the time key for this “word.” It began with the Death and Resurrection of Jesus, and his exaltation to God’s right hand has ushered in the era of fulfillment – (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 it lays stress on the class or status of the one who is a “son,” and not on his individual identity. The “word” that 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 his father, and here, that familial closeness emphasizes his elevated status. As the “Son,” he is superior even to Moses. Consequently, the “word” spoken in him is vastly superior to all others, period. His word is not just one among many inspired words, but instead, it is the one with absolute and final authority.
The “Son” in whom God now speaks is the same one whom He appointed to be the “heir of all things,” an allusion to the second Psalm, which is used several times in the epistle. Yahweh promised to give His Messiah the “nations as an inheritance,” but the epistle has expanded that promise to make him the “heir of all things”:
- (Psalm 2:7-8) – “I will tell of the decree: Yahweh said to me, You are my son; This day have I begotten you. Ask of me, and I will give the nations for your inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for your possession.”
The “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 the Most-High. This is not metaphysical speculation about the nature of Christ but instead points to the surpassing greatness of the position he now holds because of his obedient death.
The reference to the “purification of sins” anticipates the epistle’s discussions about the superior priesthood and sacrifice of Jesus, and especially their permanent results. As a result of his achievement, he “sat down on the right hand of the majesty on high.”
Under the Levitical system, the high priest entered the sanctuary only on the annual Day of Atonement, and he never “sat down” or remained long within it. In contrast, Jesus entered the true sanctuary “once for all” and “sat down,” where he now remains as High Priest on behalf of his people. The description emphasizes the completeness of his priestly act and the heights of his exaltation to reign on God’s “throne.” There, he will remain until his Father again “introduces the first-begotten into the habitable earth.”
Thus, the “sonly word” is superior to all past revelations, especially in two ways. First, it is the last word in a long series of revelations. Second, Jesus himself is the consummation of all these past and partial revelations, “the perfecter of our faith.”
The goal of the epistle is to exhort believers to hold fast to this vastly superior “word” that they now have in Jesus. His full and final “word” surpasses all past revelations, whether disclosed by prophets, priests, angels, or even Moses.
Only in His Son is the final revelation of Yahweh found, and 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 all those things foreshadowed. What preceded the “word spoken in a Son” was preparatory and promissory.