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Hebrews 1:1-1:2a
Key Verse: 1:2a

Thank God for granting us an opportunity to study the book of Hebrews. Hebrews is one of the most intriguing books of the New Testament. This book is so rich in the biblical theological exploration of the work of Christ and the gospel, but provides very little about its own origin. The author of this letter does not identify himself. Amid different opinions of the authorship, it seems that the judgment expressed by Origen remains correct: “Who actually wrote the epistle, only God knows.” Still, several things about the author are clear from the letter: 1) he deeply understood who Jesus is and what he has done; 2) his understanding of the Old Testament and the Levitical priesthood was thorough and profound; 3) his Greek is the most scholarly of all New Testament documents; 4) he himself had been previously among the readers of his letter and knew them well (13:19). In any case, he was fully inspired by the Holy Spirit.

This book of Hebrews was not addressed to people in a specific geographical location or to a specific church. But it is addressed generally to Jewish believers, as the following references suggest: “our ancestors” (1:1), “Abraham’s descendants” (2:16), “your ancestors” (3:9). Furthermore, the author assumes that his readers have a thorough understanding of Jewish history, temple practices, the law, the sacrificial system, and the priesthood. The recipients had been established in Christian faith which had endured through conflicts and sufferings, and they had trustworthy leaders among them (5:12; 10:32-34; 13:17).

At its origins, Christianity was indistinguishable from Judaism to those in the Greco-Roman world. Many people thought of Christianity as an extension of Judaism, which was tolerated by the Roman Empire. But Christianity proved to be quite distinct. Christians confessed that Jesus is Christ and Lord, who alone is worthy of our worship. That confession upset both the Jews and the Romans. Jews claimed that Jesus was not the Messiah, and continued their traditional temple activities. Romans were offended when Christians refused to worship all kinds of Greco-Roman gods, including Caesar. Christians began to be persecuted distinctly in local regions. The author of Hebrews knew how they had been persecuted and heroically endured (Heb 10:32-34). Yet they were now being tempted to shrink back from Christian faith—retreating to the safe zone of Judaism to avoid persecution (10:39). So the author gave them warnings and encouragement regarding their faith (2:1-3; 4:14-16).

This Epistle is written to help Jewish Christians not to turn back to Judaism at the time of severe persecution on account of their faith, but stand firm in their faith in Christ Jesus. This book of Hebrews is full of Jesus. Yet, it uniquely emphasizes Jesus’ priesthood. Why is it so important for us to know and understand Jesus’ priesthood? For it is the key to an intimate relationship with God which can be a source of real strength to us. We are living in a world influenced by Islam, Eastern religions, psychology, and atheism, among other things. We are bombarded by so many different ideas every day that we can easily become confused. Christian values—justice, compassion, generosity, trust—are diminishing rapidly. It is not easy to stand firm with a distinctive Christian identity and live a true Christian life. In order to do so, we need to know who Jesus really is. This knowledge is not just information; it transforms us and empowers us to live by the gospel truth. In addition to outer challenges, we also face challenges from within, such as strong and sweet temptations through the Internet and social media. We are weak due to our sinful nature and can easily be entangled by it. Then we become frustrated and depressed; we can begin to drift away and shrink back. Through the study of Hebrews, let’s come to Jesus, have a distinctive Christian identity, and find the grace and mercy and strength we need.

At the beginning of this epistle without mentioning himself, the recipients and greetings, the author right away says, “In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son.” We sense that the author did not want to lose time to begin his epistle with this statement. He seemed to be urgent to say this, which is a concise and sweeping view of God’s redemptive history. We can learn the supreme importance of the words spoken by God, especially the words spoken through Jesus.

First, God spoke. Look at verses 1 and 2a again. “In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son.” The term “in the past” is “long ago” in other translations (ESV, NLT, RSV.) It is just like Genesis and the Gospel of John. The story of God’s saving work in Jesus Christ begins not just during the age of the Roman Empire but “long ago” in the narratives of the Old Testament. The account of God’s saving work in Jesus Christ begins at the very beginning of creation. This description shows God’s way of working in the history of God. God speaks. At the time of creation he spoke. In Genesis we saw the expression, “God said” at each day of Creation, saying, “Let there be light” (1:3), “Let us make man in our image” (1:26), so on. And the author wrote in Hebrews 11:3, “…the universe was formed at God’s command.” And God spoke to his chosen people for his redemptive work and history. God gives general revelation of himself to all people through nature, providence and conscience (Ro 1:20; 2:15; Ac 14:17). But these are not sufficient for salvation. God gives special revelation through his words. If God remained silent, the plight of mankind would have been desperate. But now he has spoken, revealing redeeming and life-giving words. Through his words, we see the light of salvation. There are so many gods in the world. In India there are as many as cows. Whenever the Roman Empire conquered, a god was added and now there are 200,000 gods. So there is Pantheism. Psalm 135:15-16 says, “The idols of the nations are silver and gold, made by the hands of men. They have mouth, but cannot speak, eyes, but they cannot see…” (115:5). And in Isaiah 41:22 is written, “Tell us, you idols, what is going to happen. Tell us what the former things were, so that we may consider them and know their final outcome. Or declare to us the things to come.” But God is a holy God, who speaks. He is a speaking God. He speaks wonderful things.

Second, in the past through the prophets. Again in verse 1, “In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways.” After the fall, God began to reveal his salvation plan in a primitive way to Adam, prophesying the destruction of Satan through the offspring of a woman (Gen 3:15). When mankind was utterly corrupted by sin, God made a covenant with Noah and revealed his judgment through the flood, as well as salvation through the ark (Gen 6:13-14, 18). Then God chose Abraham and gave him a covenant promise to bless him and all nations on earth through his offspring (Gen 12:2-3; 22:18). This promise was handed down to Isaac, then Jacob, and then Judah and his descendants. Through Moses God presented a prototype of salvation. God delivered the Israelites from bondage in Egypt through the blood of the lamb; this represents delivering people from the power of sin and Satan through the blood of Christ. God established the tabernacle, the priesthood, and the sacrificial system so that sinful mankind could approach the holy God for the forgiveness of sins and restoration of fellowship. These all pointed to Jesus, who is the temple, the high priest, and the perfect sacrifice. The LORD said to Moses, “I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers; I will put my words in his mouth, and he will tell them everything I command him” (Dt 18:18). Then Moses said to the Israelites, “The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your brothers. You must listen to him” (Dt 18:15).

To David, God promised that one of his descendants would be an eternal king as we studied in 2 Samuel, “…I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever…Your house and your kingdom will endure forever before me; your throne will be established forever” (7:13,16).

In his last words David said, “The God of Israel spoke, the Rock of Israel said to me: ‘When one rules over men in righteousness, when he rules in the fear of God, he is like the light of morning at sunrise on a cloudless morning, like the brightness after rain that brings the grass from the earth” (2 Sam 23:2). These words in David’s last words ultimately points to the Messiah’s reign.

And we know that God spoke to the Israelites through Elijah, Elisha, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, and 12 minor prophets. He spoke not just one time, but generation after generation. We remember the words of God in Isaiah, “Come now, let us reason together. Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool. If you are willing and obedient, you will eat the best from the land; but if you resist and rebel, you will be devoured by the sword” (Isaiah 1:18). Then Isaiah spoke to them regarding the Messiah in 53:5, “But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.” Through Isaiah, the coming of the Messiah: his birth, his character, his suffering, death and resurrection, and his reign were foretold in precise detail. The LORD also spoke to them through Jeremiah, “The time is coming when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah…This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after that time. I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people…For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more” (Jer 31:31-34). And also the LORD God spoke to them through Ezekiel, “…I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirt in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws” (Eze 36:25-27). God spoke to them through Daniel particularly concerning the future and judgment and end times. It is written in Daniel 12:2-4, “Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake: some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt. Those who are wise will shine like the brightness of the heavens, and those who lead many to righteousness, like the stars for ever and ever. But you, Daniel, close up and seal the words of the scroll until the time of the end. Many will go here and there to increase knowledge.” We also remember what God spoke through Zechariah, “Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit” (4:6). And in Malachi he said, “But for you who revere my name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its wings. And you will go out and leap like calves released from the stall” (4:2).

God spoke in various ways, signs, dreams, visions, miracles, and angels’ messages. He rained manna from heaven in order to teach his people that man does not live on bread along, but every word that comes from the mouth of God (Dt 8:3). And while the Israelites were complaining in the desert and were bitten by poisonous snakes to death, God told Moses to make a bronze snake and lift it up so that whoever looked it up would live. Thus God taught his people that the way of salvation is faith by accepting his words. Then Jesus once said, “Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life” (Jn 3:15). God even used a donkey to speak to a prophet Balaam. The prophet was doing something that displeased God. Then the angel of God opposed him with a drawn sword. The prophet could not see the angel, but the donkey could. So the donkey took of the road into a field. A while later, the donkey crushed the prophet’s feet against a wall. And then the donkey lay down under the prophet. Each time the prophet beat the donkey. Finally the donkey spoke, “What have I done to you to make you beat me these three times?...Am I not you own donkey, which you have always ridden to this day? Have I ever been in the habit of doing this to you?” Still the prophet could not get it. Then the LORD opened Balaam’s eyes, and he saw the angel of the LORD standing in the road with hid sword drawn. The angel of the LORD said, “If she had not turned away, I would certainly have killed you” (Num 22:28-33). God spoke even through the donkey to prevent the prophet from doing something reckless. To Ezekiel God showed dry bones in a valley that would be the army of Israel by hearing the word of the LORD. Daniel had the visions of a ram and a goat. No animal could stand against the ram. Then a goat that could cross the whole earth without touching the ground knocked him to the ground and trampled him. The ram represented the kings of Media and Persia, and the shaggy goat is the king of Greece. Through this God revealed the future history of the world. Worldly kings are like beasts. God told a prophet Hosea to marry a woman who would be an adulterous wife and live with her for many days bearing her unfaithfulness time and again so that he might understand God’s heart for unfaithful Israelites and so let them know the love of God. And in the book of Jonah there was an event of Jonah swallowed by a great fish and being three days and three night in the belly of the fish and vomited onto dry land. Then Jonah preached the message of judgment to the people of Nineveh, who repented and thus were saved from God’s impeding judgment. Through this event God taught Jonah his broken heart for the perishing souls of even the enemy nation, and this event points Jesus’ resurrection on the third day from his death. Here “at many times and in various ways” indicates God’s heart, his eagerness and understanding for his people, his long-suffering patience for them. In this way God spoke through the prophets about his salvation plan at many times and in various ways. And in the Old Testament are historical writing and poetic writing as well as prophetic writings. There are Psalms, proverbs, even Songs of songs to reveal God’s love. This divine revelation is genuine, but incomplete.

It is notable that all prophets had no opportunity to meet and to agree with one another. They did not know each other, for they existed and wrote at different times in history. But God orchestrated all things. They were all inspired by the Holy Spirit and so there was a consistency that all the prophecies pointed to the Messiah.

Third, in these last days through his Son. Then it says, “but in these last days he has spoken to us through his Son.” As we observed, the focal point of what God spoke through the prophets was his Son. Then at God’s time the very Son came and spoke. “In these last days God has spoken through his Son” indicates that God gave the full and final revelation through his Son. Jesus fulfills all the revelations given in the Old Testament. Without him, the Old Testament revelation is partial, preparatory, and fragmentary. But in Christ, God spoke fully, decisively, finally and perfectly. Isaiah expounded the nature of God as holy, righteous and merciful. But Christ manifested it. Jeremiah described the power of God, but Christ displayed it. Ezekiel portrayed the glory of God, but Christ reflected it. Daniel prophesied God’s coming kingdom, but Christ revealed it. He spoke what no one ever spoke. For example, he said, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (Jn 14:6). He also said, “I tell you the truth. Whoever hears my words and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life” (Jn 5:24). He said in John 12:48, “There is a judge for the one who rejects me and does not accept my words; that very word which I spoke will condemn him.” And he said of his own death and resurrection, “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests and the teachers of the law, and he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life” (Lk 9:22). He also said about his second coming, “At that time the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and all the nations of the earth will mourn. They will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky, with power and great glory” (Mt 24:30). Truly what he spoke was amazing. And then he said, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away” (Mt 24:35).

Jesus’ coming inaugurated a new era, which can be compared to the dawn of a new day. The sun approaches the dark world and its rays begin to illumine it. Soon it radiates powerfully over the whole landscape and the thick darkness disappears. Now we don’t need any more revelation. Jesus, God in the flesh, came into the world and revealed God fully (Jn 1:14a). God continues to speak the message of salvation through his Son to this present moment. He now speaks to us through the written words of the Bible. Some other religions say that God spoke continually to them after Jesus regarding the salvation of mankind. But we must know that The Son’s speaking is the full and complete and final revelation from God. That is why we must listen to Jesus as of first importance. We don’t need to be responsible what others spoke, for any human being spoke. But we are to be fully responsible for the Son of God spoke, for his words are complete and final. Every human being’s eternal destiny is determined according to his or her attitude toward the words of Jesus. Also, we can say that the fruit of one’s life is in proportion to the degree of one’s heart attitude toward his words.

May we keep in mind that “in the past God spoke through the prophets at many times and in various ways but in these last days he has spoken to us through his Son.”

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