Things That Cannot Be Shaken
- Tuesday, June 10, 2008
The Hebrews would have seen the tremendous import of this categorical shift. It was a shift that was declaring those former means of revelation to be past their time of usefulness. It was a shift from using human and temporary means of revelation to God now using himself as the final mode of revelation to his people.
Note also how the author frames the temporal categories. This revelation, "by Son," is the completion of a long history of God's revelation to his people. As completing God's revelation, the Son is in continuity with what God had done in the past, but is also uniquely discontinuous with what God had done previously. God spoke "long ago" or (as it could also be translated) "for a long time" at various times and in various ways "by the prophets." Here the author acknowledges the history of God's revelation to his people.
It is worth noticing in this opening chapter of Hebrews just how the author chooses to cite Old Testament references. Even though he quotes from Deuteronomy, 2 Samuel, and the Psalms, he is not concerned to note the human instruments God used to write these works. Rather, he notes in every case that this is what God says (1:5-13). In each case, the author states that God said these things. This is God speaking (through different human instruments) "long ago" at various times and in various ways. He then connects that history with the revelation that has come in the Son. This is its continuity.
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More significant, however, is the way in which the author highlights the radical discontinuity between this diverse way of God revealing himself and the now climactic revelation that has come in Christ. The revelation that has come in the Son has come "in these last days." But just exactly why are these days "the last?"
The answer to that question points us again to God's revelation. The reason these days are the last days, is because God's last revelation has been given. The "days" of God's calendar are, in other words, defined not first of all by their length or their number on a calendar. The days of God are defined by the kind or category of revelation that he gives at a particular time in history.
To put the matter another way, if these days were not the last, then there would necessarily be another, and more, revelation that God would give in history. Not only so, but the clear implication would be, from what the author says, that the revelation given "in a Son" was itself insufficient and incomplete; more, better, and clearer revelation would still be needed.
But the logic of the author's argument in these first few, magnificently rich verses is striking in its opposition to such an idea. This Son, in whom God has now lastly spoken, is "the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature." It would be difficult to find a more exalted description of Christ. The two phrases, "the radiance of the glory of God" and "the exact imprint of his nature," are meant to say virtually the same thing in two different ways.
Students of the Bible will readily recognize echoes of the beginning of the Gospel of John in our passage. This should not be surprising, since, in spite of the different contexts and concerns of the author to the Hebrews and the apostle John, God authored both books. So, after John clearly sets forth the fact that the second person of the Trinity, the Word, is himself God (John 1:1), lest there be any mistake, he asserts, "And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth" (John 1:14).
This Word, who is God, came down to dwell among us. And this One who came was not only the Word, he was the Son. John then recalls the time when he, with Peter and James, was given the opportunity, on the mountain, to see this Son in his eternal glory (Matt. 17:1-13, Mark 9:1-8). He recounts this event in the context of his declaration that the Word dwelt among us to emphasize that the dwelling with us in no way eliminated the great truth that this Word was God. His glory was "as of the only Son from the Father." The glory that John saw was "the radiance of the glory of God." It pointed to the fact that this Word, this Son, remained, even as he dwelt among us, "the exact imprint" of God's very nature.
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