The general theme of Hebrews is that Jesus Christ is supreme. The writer wanted his Hebrew readers to know they could not go back to their old religion, because Christ was superior to it. The writer began with a prologue, or introduction, of four verses to begin his explanation and show why Christ is superior to all.
JESUS IS SUPREME
The passage from 1:1 to through 2:18 discusses Jesus’ superiority to angels. But these first four verses make a grand statement of who Jesus is and why is supreme over all others.
The first explanation of the superiority of Christ is the superiority of the message the Father gave Jesus over the message he gave to anyone else in the past.
Verses one and two present a comparison. The comparison is between how God spoke in the past and how he spoke to this age.
In the past (NIV) or “long ago” (ESV, NASB), God spoke through the prophets. The writer says he spoke “to our fathers” or “to our forefathers” depending on your translation. This statement tells us that both the writer and the majority of his audience are Jewish Christians. He said “our fathers”. That means they had the same fathers or forefathers.
By prophets, he means the Old Testament prophets. This would include Moses and all those who spoke prophetically up through Malachi. Then we know there were about 400 years between the last prophetic word in the Old Testament and John the Baptist. So, you could certainly say the prophets spoke long ago.
God spoke at many times. God spoke through Moses during the Exodus. He spoke through David as he wrote the Psalms. He spoke through all the prophets who wrote the prophetic books of the Old Testament.
God also spoke in various ways. He explained that to Aaron and Miriam in Numbers 12:6-8. God spoke in visions and dreams. But to Moses he spoke directly.
Several contrasts are made in this first verse.
The first contrast is a matter of time periods. The first time is “long ago”. This is the time of the Old Testament prophets. In contrast is “these last days”. By using the word “these” the writer shows he considered himself as living in the last days.
Writers in our century, especially those who write books saying the world is about to end, refer to the last days as the time just before the return of Christ. But the New Testament writers actually considered all of the time from Pentecost on to be the last days. Peter, in his first sermon, said the words of Joel 2:28 were fulfilled at Pentecost that “in the last days” God would pour out his spirit on all people. (Acts 2:16-17)
The second contrast is who God spoke through in these two different time periods. In the time of “long ago”, he spoke through the prophets. In the last days, or in the church age, God “has spoken” to us by his Son.
The third contrast is between God speaking in many ways in the Old Testament age and in one way, through his Son, in the church age or the last days.
Here are some conclusions from this verse.
First, notice the exclusiveness of the word spoken through Jesus, God’s son. The contrast between many ways and this one way is made to emphasize that the only word for us in the last days if the word of Jesus Christ, which is the word of the Father given to and through him.
That means for the whole church age, the time from Pentecost until the day Jesus returns no matter how long that is, there is no word from anyone but Jesus Christ the Son of God that is the word from God the Father. Mohammed does not speak the word of the Father. The Father does not speak through Joseph Smith.
The Father does not speak through Sun Yung Moon or any other self proclaimed messiah. The Father does not speak through television evangelists. And if I can get really personal, the Father does not speak through the Pope.
No teacher or preacher should ever claim that God spoke through him directly. Our job is to study the Father’s word, given through the Son, recorded and explained in the Bible, to God’s people. The Son is the supreme recipient of the word of the Father and the supreme communicator of it and no preacher or teacher should usurp the Son’s exalted position.
Second, please notice the finality of the Word of the Father spoken through the Son. The English versions read “he has spoken to us by his Son”. Focus on the words “have spoken”. Grammatically, that is a past perfect form of the verb. The past tense would simply be “he spoke to us by his Son”.
The reason the past perfect form of the verb is used in English is to try and capture the meaning of the verb in Greek, which is not just that it happened in the past, but that it happened and it is complete. Where I grew up, they would say it was “over and one with”.
So the point is that in our age, God spoke through his Son and he is done speaking. That is his final word. So, again, we do not acknowledge the writings of any subsequent person to be the Word of God. They might preach or write to explain the final Word of God, but they do not receive a new Word of God. So, when you hear preachers late at night say they have a new or “fresh” word from God, turn them off.
This statement in Hebrews is fully in agreement with what Jesus himself said to his disciples. Jesus told them “all that I have heard from my Father I have made know to you.” (John 15:14-15) That is a profound statement. It means the Father told Jesus all that was needed. Then, Jesus told his disciples all the Father revealed to Jesus, all that he wanted us to know and all we needed to know.
Now you might say: I understand how the Father spoke to us through the Son, but what gives the disciples the right to communicate the word of God? The answer has two parts: first because Jesus told them to and second, Jesus empowered them to.
Jesus commanded the disciples to communicate the word of the Father spoken through himself. In Matthew 28:18-20, he said:
All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.”
Jesus not only commanded the disciples to communicate the word of the Father spoken through the Son, he empowered them to do so. He empowered them by sending the Holy Spirit to them. Jesus said:
“When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hers he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the father has is mine, therefore I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.” (John 16:13-15)
The Father told the Son all that he wanted the Son to tell the disciples. The Son told the disciples all the Father told him. The Holy Spirit brought it to their minds and gave them understanding. They wrote it down to communicate the Word to future disciples.
For the Jewish Christians, this meant God’s word through the Son was superior to the words of the prophets, and was God’s final word, so they should not abandon it and return to the prophets and the law. It means that for us also, but it also means for us that Christ’s words are final and sufficient. We do not receive another prophet or spokesman for God in addition to or in replacement of the Son. We do not God’s word in sources outside the Bible. And, we hold Scripture sufficient for all of our needs.