after making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high.
Jesus “sat down…” The imagery of this is of a victorious king who has returned home after the defeat of his enemies. The sitting symbolizes that the victory is final and decisive. And indeed, we who have received the benefits of that victory can and do rejoice in the wonderful victory of our King! Oh, the peace and confidence that come from knowing that our Lord reigns unopposed.
Yet, with this in mind, there are several observations that must be made from this clause. The first observation is that this victory took place at the cross. “After making purifications for sins,” this passage begins, Jesus sits down in victory. Beloved, Jesus’ victory over the devil and sin is not something that has yet to take place, but it has already taken place at the cross. Indeed, the devil still rages against believers. Indeed, sin still haunts our lives and the effects of sin still surround us. But these things are the death throes of a defeated enemy and we can rejoice in knowing that the attacks we endure have lost their sting (1 Corinthians 15:55-56) for the law has been satisfied by the work of Christ (satisfaction is another aspect of the atonement—see above). The devil is dead and he knows it, he is simply thrashing about to do as much damage as he can to God’s people for as long as he is able. Indeed, there is a time when our Lord will once again leave his throne and enter into our world in final judgment, casting the devil and his servants into the eternal lake of fire, but for now, our Lord reigns victorious while he brings the entirety of his elect church to himself.
The second thing that we must note about this passage is where our Lord takes his seat. It is at the right hand of God the Father in all of his glory. Now, we know that this is metaphoric imagery. We know that God the father does not have hands and we know that God the Father and God the Son (as well as God the Holy Spirit), while three persons, are one God, so to make too much about designation and location is inappropriate—there is no real subordination, for example, within the Godhead (though, we can argue that there was an economic subordination in the sense that certain members of the Godhead primarily focused on certain tasks in redemptive history, but all-the-while knowing that God the Son and God the Holy Spirit are present when God the Father is working, etc…). All of this having been said, we must note that the right hand was symbolic in ancient cultures of the hand of power and authority. In other words, sitting at the right hand communicates that all of the power and authority of God are at the disposal of the one to that side. It is the side given to the honored guest, brought into the fellowship of one in authority (note that we retain some of this imagery in our modern culture when we extend the right hand of fellowship to another in a handshake). The symbolism of the right hand is seen as a confirmation that Jesus’ completed work of atonement has met the full satisfaction of God the Father and nothing more needs to be added. Jesus’ work is complete; his sacrifice never needs repeating. God’s justice and honor has been satisfied and his wrath has been meted out in terms of the elect—there is no more work to be done for the redemption of God’s people.
Loved ones, let that sink in a bit. Jesus’ redemptive work is complete. We neither need to nor are even able to add to it on a saving level. Jesus successfully accomplished what we could not accomplish for ourselves. Jesus’ merit was sufficient to satisfy the righteous law and his sacrifice was sufficient to satisfy the justice of his Father—what more is there left but for us to adore him! Oh, loved ones, when we speak of the “Cessation” of the Son’s work, we are not suggesting that he puts his feet up on a celestial ottoman and sips divine lemonade for all eternity, no, he lives to make intercession for his people (Hebrews 7:25)! Yet, in terms of the work necessary to redeem his people, that work was fully completed on the cross—we are just going through history while that redemptive work is slowly realized in the lives of the elect (2 Peter 3:9). Believer, rejoice in the knowledge that your Lord and Savior sits in such a place of honor and privilege in the grand scheme of God’s great plan, yet, for those who may not believe and have a relationship with Jesus Christ, be afraid, for the one you reject is the one who has the Father’s ear and who promises that none will come to the Father save through the Son (John 14:6).
To God be the glory, great things He has done;
So loved He the world that He gave us His Son,
Who yielded His life an atonement for sin,
And opened the life gate that all may go in.
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord,
Let the earth hear His voice!
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord,
Let the people rejoice!
O come to the Father, through Jesus the Son,
And give Him the glory, great things He has done.
after making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high.
There are many theories that have been put forth in the history of theology to try and articulate all of the ramifications of Jesus’ atoning work on the cross. Yet, the scriptures affirm so many different aspects of Jesus’ work on the cross that it is difficult to encapsulate all of them within one theory. And here is one of those passages in scripture that gives us a glimpse into one aspect of Jesus’ redeeming work—that of making purification for sins. This idea of making purification ties in closely with the Old Testament concept of the high priest offering a sacrifice to make atonement for his people. Indeed, this very language is found in the Greek translation of passages like Exodus 29:6 and Exodus 30:10, which speaks specifically of this atoning work.
In light of the Old Testament passages of atonement for sin, one thing that we must recognize is that sin is an offense to God, it is ugly and wicked, and it warps us wholly. The physical disease of Leprosy in the Old Testament is a visual description of the effect that sin has upon us in life. It makes us wretched and separates us from that which is holy and of God. Yet, God offers a means by which we may be made clean. In the Old Testament age, this cleansing revolved around the illustration of slaughtering animals. Though the blood of animals has no intrinsic value of its own, the promise of the work of Christ would impart value to it (Hebrews 9:15). And ultimately, the work of Christ in laying down his life as an offering of atonement, would offer a cleansing for those who flee to him in faith. Just as Jesus physically healed the lepers and others who were being consumed by disease and the other effects of the fall, Jesus heals us as well through faith in his finished work.
Does this idea of cleansing encapsulate the entirety of what Jesus’ atoning work does, certainly not! There are legal aspects where we need to talk about Jesus in terms of penal substitution. Scripture speaks of Jesus as having provided a ransom (to God, not the devil) for believers. There is the language of his being a model for us to follow and one who imputes his righteousness. We could go on, but that misses the point. The atonement is quite complex and we will likely never plumb the depths fully of this remarkable doctrine; this passage gives us just one glance at what Christ does for us: he cleanses us from our sins so that we might stand as clean in the presence of a righteous and a holy God who cannot tolerate sin in his presence. And this task, the writer of Hebrews affirms, Christ has gloriously completed, taking his seat at the right hand of God the Father Almighty. Blessed be the name of our Lord!
Extol the Lamb of God,
The sin atoning Lamb;
Redemption by His blood
Throughout the lands proclaim:
The year of jubilee is come!
The year of jubilee is come!
Return, ye ransomed sinners, home.
also bearing all things in the word of his power;
What does it mean that Jesus bears all things? The Greek word that is used here is the word fe/rw (phero), which is a fairly broad verb, but it typically carries with it the idea of carrying something from point “A” to point “B.” Now, indeed, the writer of Hebrews is not trying to depict Jesus as carrying the universe around in a basket from location to location, but in the context of the passage, the writer is presenting Jesus as the one who carries all creation from time to time. Earlier in this passage, the writer of Hebrews describes Jesus as being the means by which God created, but he does not leave the imagery there, instead, Jesus is also portrayed as being the one who is preserving the universe in an ongoing way, holding it and binding it together (Colossians 1:17), and literally bearing up the universe through time from beginning to end.
There is an illustration that seems to be floating around Christian circles today for the purpose of illustrating God’s creative activity. This is called the “Watchmaker” analogy, and it is a very old illustration that has come back into usage. Essentially it poses the question of our innate expectations—when we see something that has a clear and orderly design, we expect that there is a maker. When we see a sandcastle, per say, we do not wonder whether it was formed by the wind and tides, we know that there is design and hence a designer. When we see a watch, we realize the same thing. While this is a good reminder, in principle, of God’s creative activity, it has dangerous ramifications in our understanding of the nature of God’s providential care of his creation. When a watchmaker makes a watch, he lets it alone after it is wound so that it will go on working as it was designed until it needs to be rewound. This idea of a “hands-off” God is not Biblical and leads to Deism, not genuine Christianity.
The writer of Hebrews is saying that not only did Jesus form the clock, the clock is formed in such a way that it cannot run on its own and that it is Jesus’ hand that allows it to move on. The second that Jesus withdraws his hand will be the second that the universe stops and dies. The word of Jesus’ power of so integral to the creation’s very being, that the creation cannot be said to have existence without it. It would be like being a human being trying to live and act without air or blood, it would be like an automobile trying to drive without fuel to run it or oil to lubricate its parts, and it would be like trying to turn on a light-bulb when there is not yet any power run to the house. Nothing can be said to be or to be able to continue without the word of God’s power—without the work of Jesus Christ.
Loved ones, think of the ramifications of this principle. Even the unbeliever needs Jesus, whether he likes it or not. Without Jesus, the unbeliever and the believer alike could not walk, breath, have life, or even exist—we would be nothing and nothing would be. That makes nonsense out of even the most ardent atheist’s rejection of God, for they could not reject were not Christ causing all things to be and were not Christ allowing them the setting and ability to reject. What a wonderful reminder of how we ought to be bold in our evangelism, for we know and have a relationship with the one who holds the cosmos in its place and who will bring it into its logical judgment! Oh, beloved, how our God did not create a clock to be wound and sit on the table, but instead, he created a machine that can do nothing on its own, but requires one to be ever moving and bringing it life—and the great promise is that Christ will not fail to uphold this universe, but will do so by the word of his power to its appointed time when it will be brought into judgment and remade free from the effects of the fall.
and the exact image of his essence…
So, understanding the theology of this passage in terms of the divine nature of Christ, what does that mean for us as humans apart from the theology of salvation? We are told in scripture that as human beings we too are made in the image of God (Genesis 1:26-27). Yet in the fall of Adam and Eve, while the image of God within us was not lost, it was severely twisted and warped by sin. Living as sinful men and women, that sin nature distorts the image of God, making it difficult to see or understand and impossible to experience. Yet, Christ is the exact image of God (Hebrews 1:3; Colossians 1:15), and Christ, in all his being and glorious work, did so without sin (Hebrews 4:15). In other words, if we want to look at a picture of what our lives ought to look like were we not marred by sin, Christ provides that picture!
Thus, that is why, when we talk of our sanctification, we often use the language of being made more like Christ (1 Corinthians 4:16; Ephesians 5:1). Or, perhaps to put it in another way, as we grow in grace, our lives should more and more reflect Christ and less and less reflect our old, sinful man. People should be able to look at your life and at mine, as believers in Jesus Christ, and see Christ reflected in us.
So how do we engender that in our lives? Certainly the process of our sanctification is a process driven and empowered by the Holy Spirit, but there are also many passages in scripture that exhort us to labor alongside of the Spirit as we “work out our salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12; 2 Peter 1:10). In other words, the way in which we order our lives either resists or compliments the sanctifying work of the Spirit. So how do we being the process of what Peter refers to as “supporting” or “reinforcing” our faith (2 Peter 1:5-7)? To begin with, we need to go back to the Ten Commandments, the Moral Law of God, and seek to apply that to our lives. Why is this the place to begin? First of all, Peter says as much in 2 Peter 1:5, for the very first attribute that is to be added to faith is that of ajreth/ (arete), or “moral excellence.” Where else would we find God’s standard of moral excellence other than in God’s moral law? In addition, the moral law itself is a reflection of God’s perfect and holy character, thus, if we are being remade into the image of Christ who is the perfect image of God, then ought not we strive to instill within our lives the moral excellences as taught by God and demonstrated by his very character?
Loved ones, how important it is to apply God’s law to our lives and seek to live it out. Indeed, we cannot do so in our own strength, but in the strength of the Holy Spirit, these character traits may be worked out in our lives. Through the process of sanctification we are being made ready for glory—we won’t ever be fully glorified here in this world, but as we grow in faith, we should be more and more reflecting Christ and less and less reflecting our old, fleshly, sinful selves. How deep and wide is the chasm that Christ bridged between sinful men and God himself, let us walk along that bridge, not resisting the movement of the Holy Spirit, but participating with it, so that our lives reflect the reality of the Spirit’s work in us and on us in every way. Look to your lives, beloved, and apply God’s perfect law so that you may reflect Christ to a sinful world—Christ who is the exact image of His essence.
and the exact image of his essence…
The early church fathers faced a lot of challenges as they sought to defend believers from heretical teachings and to define the boundaries of what may be described as “orthodox” Christian theology. Probably the two most important areas in which they were required to work was in the area of defining the doctrine of the Trinity and the doctrine of the dual nature of Christ. Both of these doctrines are clearly affirmed in scripture as a whole, but neither doctrine has a nice neat prooftext that one can go to for the purpose of articulating said view. As a result, there were many who put forward views of both of these doctrines that were either heretical in themselves or would lead another to heresy. Hence, the church fathers needed to find a way to Biblically and clearly articulate what scripture presents as true, but in a precise way that did not leave room for error. All four of the early church creeds, called the “Ecumenical Creeds” (The Apostles’ Creed, the Nicene Creed, the Chalcedonian Christological Statement, and the Athenasian Creed) come out of this struggle within the early church.
With that in mind, this verse is one of the important passages that were used by the Fathers in defining the dual nature of Christ—in what we technically refer to as “Hypostatic Union.” The word Hypostatic comes from the Greek word uJpo/stasiß (hupostasis), which refers to the basic structure or most essential nature of something. In terms of Christ, we recognize that he had two distinct and unconfused natures—one human and one divine. He had within his human nature everything that makes one human, for he is in essence human. In addition, though, Jesus had within his divine nature everything that made him God, for he is in essence divine. These parts are not confused in any way within Christ; Jesus is not some sort of Greek demi-god or amalgamation of God and man, but his being is marked by a perfect union of a fully divine nature with a fully human nature.
One may wonder why this degree of precision is so important for us as Christians. To begin with, were Jesus not fully human, he could not be described as having suffered in this life and died on the cross as a bloody sacrifice. Also, were he not fully human, he could not have fulfilled the failed role of Adam as covenant mediator for his people and could not have been tempted and tried in every way as we are (Hebrews 4:15). Were Jesus not fully human in every way, he could not have redeemed every aspect of fallen humanity. In addition, were Jesus not to have died, he could not have been resurrected and thus, we would have no hope of a bodily resurrection ourselves. At the same time, were Jesus not fully God, he could not have done for us what he did. He would not have been sinless, and thus could not have entered guiltless before God to mediate a new covenant. Nor could Jesus have made atonement for sins, for a guilt sacrifice had to found as faultless and without blemish before God. Were Christ not fully God he could not be said to be pre-existent as scripture presents and thus could not have entered into a covenant to save the elect from before the foundations of the earth (see Ephesians 1).
Now that we have the technical language before us, sensing the theological importance of making sure that we articulate correctly the nature of our Lord, I think that it is important for us to stop here for a minute and dwell on just what this means. Here is one who is, to use creedal language, “very God of very God.” This is the second member of the divine Trinity, the Son of the Father, the Living God. Everything that makes God, well, God, belongs to God the Son as well as to God the Father (and Spirit for that matter). Jesus is the very word which God used to bring existence into being—to form everything from nothing and to bring about life. Here is the Son of God, worthy of all praise and glory and honor by the very principle of who he is. And it is this one—one whose very presence and name defines the very meaning of glory itself—one who is exalted on high—who chose to veil that glory in flesh and descend to earth not simply for the purpose of communicating with us, but to suffer and die in our place. Loved ones, that is incomprehensible. That the King of Glory would become flesh cannot be simply rationalized and put to the side. It is an overwhelming reality that we must deal with, and when we understand this reality, there are only two possible responses for us to take: falling on our faces awestruck in humble worship or fleeing in sin and shame. One cannot remain ambivalent when it comes to this mighty act of our Lord—one must respond, but which response will it be? Knowing what you know, will you commit yourself to a life of praise of our God? Will you adore him with your words as well as with your actions? Will you adore him even in crowds where it might be unpopular to do so? Will you lead your family in adoring him, and will you seek to live your life as a living sacrifice, seeking to be blameless so as to honor him, for He is holy and he calls us to be holy as well. Will you be deliberate in the way that you order your days, your accounts, your plans, and your careers, so as to honor Him with them? Will you cherish his word as the very word of life? Or, will you go on living for yourself in guilty fear, bound in sin and hatred, and continue to rebel against the one who gave more than you can comprehend to offer life to those who come to him in faith? Beloved, there are two responses to this truth about Christ, and only two responses; which will you choose? And, dear ones, knowing this, what must change in your day to day life so that your life reflects this choice?
“through whom he also created the ages.”
When we think of Christ being the means, or the Word, of creation, typically, we think in terms of material “stuff” that is all around us. We think of rocks and trees, of birds and clouds, of stars and of everything else in this wonderful creation from the greatest heavenly body to the smallest microbe, quark, and string. But, oftentimes, we do not think of time in the context of God’s creation, yet, indeed, it was. Prior to the God’s creative act, time simply did not exist. God dwelt in perfect satisfaction in eternity prior, with no beginning, end, or middle. For most of us, that begins to make our heads hurt just a bit. Yet, time is a description of a progression of events with a definite beginning and a possible end. Eternity has no such progression, for to suggest eternity is bound by time, and hence God as well, is to suggest that God has a beginning, and such is not the case. In the beginning (of time) God was—he simply was, no temporal markers defined his existence, he simply existed (Genesis 1:1). And as God is the beginning, the great Alpha and Omega, all things, including time, flowed forth from his creative process—indeed flowed forth through the Son of God—the Word.
It is interesting, when we think of time, to see the difference between the way we usually behave toward time and to the way in which the Bible speaks of time. In scripture, there is a sense of time’s fleetingness. We are told over and over that time is short, that the return of our Lord is near, that the life of man is but a vapor and passing quickly, etc… Yet, despite all of these warnings and testimonies in God’s word, we usually go about our daily activities as if time were in abundance. We put off much that we ought to do today until tomorrow and then into the following weeks if it is not pressing. We usually do not conduct our affairs as if time is running out. Thomas Manton, the Puritan divine, once reflected that if a town were on fire and the fire was spreading, people would not go about their daily affairs at the usual pace. Instead, they would spring to action, alerting all of the imminent danger and would find a renewed vigor as they sought to do their duty in saving the town.
Beloved, we have been lulled into a slumber while the enemy is burning down our nation and indeed even the church. What is it that we are doing to alert our neighbors and fellow villagers? Are we doing our duty and joining the bucket brigade to extinguish this fire? Are we running through the village, joining the town crier, proclaiming, “Danger is Near! Danger is Near!” To change the analogy to one from our own national history, will you be like Samuel Prescott, and join Paul Revere and William Dawes on their ride to warn the valiant defenders of our land that the enemy is coming? Do you recall, that it is only Samuel Prescott who completed his ride to Concord? Dear friends, will you remain in your slumber, or will you shout loudly and proclaim that danger is upon us! Loved ones, we do not know how the War for Independence might have proceeded had Prescott not rallied himself from his slumber and joined the ride. Loved ones, the scripture cries to us that time is short and that even though many may mock you and proclaim that nothing has changed since their father’s day and nothing is bound to change, these are lies worked by enemies of God who are destined for judgment (2 Peter 3:1-7). No, loved ones, in this battle we need not fear the approach of the redcoats, but instead the fire of God’s impending judgment. You who are born again in Jesus Christ are ready, but what of those around you? Are they ready as well? And you who have been born again, are you prepared to present yourself as a faithful servant before our God, having studied to show yourself approved (note the importance of studying God’s word to our lived out sanctification!)? If not, count this as your clarion call as well. Awake beloved, our Lord has created time and has set its boundaries, and whether our Lord returns before the end of the day or whether he tarries another thousand years (or more), we have been given a job to do—to go into all the world and to make disciples of all men—a task that begins at home and extends to every corner of the earth; it is a task we will not succeed in if we slumber through the days that God has granted to us.
“Whom he established as heir of all things…”
Loved ones, not only is Christ the means by which God has spoken, but the writer of Hebrews further asserts that Christ is the heir, the beneficiary, of all things. Everything that is, that was, and ever will be is made and given to Christ—Creation is bowed before him and is laid at his feet for His glory and honor! Not only is all of scripture designed to point to Christ, but all of the created order is also designed to point directly to our risen Lord! What a wonderful statement of truth!
Yet, this raises an important point that must be addressed. If we take this statement seriously, and we ought, then not only must our theology and reading of the Bible be Christological, but , so too must our reading of all life! In other words, our science, must be Christological; our history must be Christological; our sociology must be Christological; our philosophy, our psychology, our mathematics, our literature, our grammar, our engineering, our biology—all these disciplines are given to Christ for his glory and honor, thus all these disciplines, to be rightly pursued, must be pursued in such a way as that they give Christ glory and honor! Oh, what a wonderful testimony and reminder that Christ is the center and focal point of all things in creation, yet oh, how far short we often fall from this great and lofty end! Beloved, shall we aim for the glory of Christ? Shall we aim to see Christ honored in every academic subject and in every endeavor known to man? Indeed, if we believe this passage to be true, we must, for all things have been handed over to Christ as the great heir, and to fail to do so, is to fail to honor him as the ruler and heir that he is. Ask yourselves, dear friends, what it is that you are doing to deliberately point every area of your life to the glory of Christ.
“he spoke to us through the Son…”
What a wonderful gift has been given to us in Jesus Christ. All of the many parts and pieces of scriptures, all of the narratives, all of the prophetic literature, all of the songs, the poems, the laments, the dirges, all of the exalted praise find their meaning and unity in Jesus Christ. In Christ scripture finds its fullness of meaning, apart from Christ we are left with a puzzle that is disjointed and confusing. Is it any wonder that so many non-believers have looked at the Bible and have seen nothing but random words of men through the history of the church and of Israel, while as believers we come to the word of God and see Christ! Oh, beloved, do not back down, shy away from, or give up this great truth! How great a truth that the church in our own day has given up, when they give up the doctrines of the plenary inspiration, inerrancy, and infallibility of scripture, for when you let go of these views, you begin looking at scripture as the unbeliever looks at scripture and you lose its unity because you lose the one piece that gives it significance, unity, and life—you lose Christ. The writer of Hebrews states boldly and clearly that in the ancient times God spoke to his people in many and sundry ways, now, in these last days—they days between the cross and the return of our Lord, God speaks to us through Christ—through the Word made flesh, and now written out for us in the complete scriptures.
Have you ever noticed how often our God speaks? This is one of the wonderful attributes of our God—he is communicating and he designs to communicate with his creation—an infinite God condescending to communicate with a finite man. God did this with Adam and Eve in the Garden and even after their sin and the fall, God continued to communicate with them. We even see God communicating with himself before mankind existed, during his creative process (Genesis 1:26), and God used communication as the means by which he created in the first place, for he spoke creation into existence. What a wonderful thing that communications is—it is the way that ideas are shared, thoughts are put together, and societies are united. Communicating is part of our very nature for it is part of God’s nature. The sad thing is that often we fail to communicate or refuse to communicate truth to others. In turn, that is why relationships, marriages, and cultures break down. Now, notice the connection to our passage, for while God has many ways of communication at his disposal, his preferred and happy means of communicating with his people is through his wonderful Son, Jesus Christ!
Oh, loved ones, how we often fall into sin and error when we refuse to communicate in the context of Christ. What do I mean by that statement? What I mean is this: if God chooses to reveal all we need to know for living (see 2 Timothy 3:16-17 for the reminder that the scriptures are profitable for all of life) through his Son, then we also should communicate all we do through God’s Son as well. Thus, if you are a historian, we should communicate all of history on the basis of its relationship to the life and work of Christ. If you are a philosopher, all philosophies should be understood and communicated in their relationship to Christ. If you are a mathematician, mathematic principles should be communicated in their relationship to Christ, knowing that all things were created through and for Christ—hence the regularity of mathematical or scientific descriptions of the world was established for the glory of Christ himself. Christian, if you want to see reformation and even revival in our culture once again, it begins by breaking down the dichotomy between life in Church and life elsewhere. If you want to see real change, you will need to communicate as God communicates—through Christ—in every endeavor you undertake.
“in these last days…”
It seems like every time there is a natural disaster or some sort of terrible event, that religious groups begin crawling out of the woodwork proclaiming that the end times are here. Over the years, people have also tried to read the events that are listed in the book of Revelation in such a way as to discern when Jesus will return—and have always been wrong. We may chuckle at some of these folks, thinking of them as radicals, but there is a sense in which they are correct. We are in the last days—yet, according to scripture, we have been in the last days since the resurrection of our Lord, Jesus Christ!
Notice how the writer of Hebrews writes, “in these last days.” The great problem with the popular way of interpreting the book of Revelation as things that will take place in the future “last days” is that we are in the last days right now and we have been in those days for nearly 2000 years. Thus, when scripture speaks of the end times, know that we are in them and what we are waiting for is not the inauguration of the end times but the consummation of the end times, which will take place at the return of Christ and in his final judgment upon the sinful world and redemption of the elect.
This helps to explain the language of anticipation that is found within the book of Revelation. Jesus says, “indeed, I am coming soon” (Revelation 22:20). There is no question as to the fact that many in the early church expected to see Christ’s return within their own lifetimes, but they were counting soon-ness as man counts soon-ness, not as God counts soon-ness. Does this mean that God is slow to act? Certainly not! Peter reminds us that God’s patience means redemption for all of the elect (2 Peter 3:9). At the same time, our lives need to be characterized by a hopeful anticipation of the nearness of Christ’s return.
So how then should we live out our lives in anticipation of Christ’s return? First, we must live in repentance, not holding on to sins, but asking forgiveness in Christ so that we might come into God’s presence with a clear conscience. Second, we should live modeling the Gospel for those around us. How many people do we know that do not have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ? Have you shared the Gospel with them or are you still looking for “that right moment?” The problem is, if you are living as if Christ may return any moment, every moment is the right moment to share the Gospel. Thirdly, take risks for the Gospel with your time and with your money. God will provide for your needs, use your resources to help spread the Gospel beyond your sphere of influence—or even better, go on the mission field yourself! It does not need to be a 5 year commitment in the jungles of the Amazon, but it could simply be a two week trip to serve alongside a missionary that is working somewhere other than where you could normally reach. I promise that it will be a wonderfully rewarding time. Friends, in these last days God is calling us to be workers in the field; some fields are close to home and some are far away—but regardless of the distance, there is a harvest that needs to be brought in and the time is coming soon when the day of harvesting will be over. The storms are coming, dear friends, and there is still a harvest that needs bringing into the barn; let us work with a renewed sense of determination to bring in the harvest, no matter how far the fields are from our homes.
“God was speaking long ago to the Fathers through the prophets…”
We spoke above about how God is a communicating God. This is one of the things that separates the One True God from all of the false gods of this world—our God speaks to his people. Buddha does not speak and has never spoken to his followers. Allah does not speak and has never spoken to his followers. Those who relate that they have had an authentic and supernatural experience that contradicts the scriptures, like that of Joseph Smith who founded the Mormons, they are visions of the devil only, the great counterfeiter who seeks to do nothing but usurp the power of God.
With this in mind, this clause makes a very important statement to us. Our God did speak through the ages in many forms and ways, but he did so through prophets and he spoke to the Fathers of the faith. God has always had a group of called out and faithful people through whom and to whom he spoke. God did not speak to the pagans and tell them to bring purity to His people; God speaks in faithfully orthodox circles.
Throughout the ages, false teachers have claimed to have a “new revelation” from God, and beloved, this is not how God works. Through the Old Testament, God spoke through his prophets, and in the clause that follows this one, the writer of Hebrews will remind us that now God speaks to his people only through Jesus. God brings us together as a community of believers not only to bless us with fellowship but also to keep us free from error. The flock that is held tightly together by the faithful shepherd is safer from predators. Though tradition is always to be subordinate to scriptural truth, God raises up fathers in the faith for our teaching, instruction, and guidance in the study of God’s word.
Beloved, we are a culture that thrives on what is new and “groundbreaking,” but God is an ageless God. Beware of those who would tell you that they have found a “new way” to understand the things of God. For nearly two thousand years, the finest minds in history have been pouring over God’s word, seeking to understand its riches. And though the depths are infinite, and though we can never exhaust the riches within God’s word, when we think we have found a new way of understanding something that has been understood a different way by the church fathers of old, we are likely flirting with heresy. Beloved, let us stand on the shoulders of those who have gone before us, let us be guarded by their orthodoxy so that our lives might safeguard the orthodoxy of the next generation.
“In many parts and in many ways…”
While many of our Bibles read something to the extent of “in many times and ways…” the word that the Greek text uses is polumerw:V (polumeros), which refers not to chronological divisions but to material divisions. Thus, as the author of Hebrews begins speaking of God’s revelation, he is speaking of the many divisions and kinds of literature within the Canon. Indeed, the author of all scripture is God himself, but he wrote by inspiring the prophets (and later the apostles) so that you can see their stylistic fingerprint upon the literature.
One of the things about God’s word that should cause is to stand in amazement is the incredible unity within and between the books. This is in itself a testimony to God’s existence and inspiration of its writers. There are 66 books in the Bible, 39 in the Old Testament and 27 in the New. This was done through 9 authors in the New Testament and at least 29 authors in the Old Testament. Its writing was begun somewhere around 1450 BC (when the Israelites were on Mount Sinai) and completed around 95 AD (when John penned the book of Revelation)—across 1500 years, which includes a break of 400 years between the last prophet (Malachi) and the close of Chronicles and the coming of a new prophet (John the Baptist) on the scene. Were this simply a book of compiled religious writings, not only would it not have survived in tact to this day, but it would be filled with inconsistencies and problems—the Bible is not.
In addition, the very fact that God spoke through a variety of people through history is not only a testimony that God exists, it tells us quite a bit about his character. First, God communicates. God is not the “unmoved mover” of the ancient Greeks who is transcendent above all else and cannot be communicated with from the mortal world. God transcends the gap between himself and a sinful world to make his will known to man. Secondly, God is a God that is active in the affairs of humans. He cares about the purity of his chosen people and he cares about the right and proper worship of his name. He cares about the affairs of men and he proved it by speaking to men for more than 1000 years, slowly revealing and explaining his redemptive plan until it met its perfection and completion in the sending of his Son to die a sacrificial death on the cross.
Thirdly, God is a God who had a plan for mankind. Humans fell into sin with Adam and Eve and sin is deserving of death and destruction. The simple fact that God pronounced a promise of a coming redeemer (Genesis 3:15) is a reminder that throughout the history of mankind, God had his plan of redemption in place. That plan had its ultimate fulfillment in the cross, which stands at the very center of all human history. All that took place before the cross was a process of preparing for the work of Jesus; all that has taken place afterward and all that will yet take place is a result of that work that Jesus completed. The fact that God did not bring judgment to the human race at the fall and that he would reveal himself to a people throughout history, means that he has a plan for mankind, namely the redemption of the race through the eternal salvation of the elect and the judgment of those who do not cling to Christ in faith.
Fourthly, it tells us that we have a God who desires for his people to know him personally and intimately. We know about the character and nature of God because he has revealed it to us so that we might know him. Fifthly, the variety of types of literature contained within the Scriptures (historical narrative, law, prophetic works, poetry, wisdom literature, Gospel, apocalyptic, etc…) tells us that God is a creative God. And just as God is creative, we who have been made in God’s image express our creativity in what we do and in how we write.
The fact that God’s word (as well as his world) is orderly tells us that God is an orderly God. Chaos and misadventure are not part of God’s character and they have only become a part of mankind’s character as a result of sin. There is also a unity within God’s word that points clearly at his Son, Jesus Christ. All of the scriptures are about Jesus and God wants us to know this. He is the redeemer and the author of our faith. He is the great Lord and Master of the believer and it is through Christ that all things were created (though we are getting ahead of ourselves). The very fact that the scriptures point unanimously to Christ is a reminder to us that our lives also ought to point to Christ without any compromise. The way we live should not contradict what we say, just as the way God acts toward his people does not contradict what the scriptures say about the nature of God.
Beloved, while we could go on and on, what I want more than anything for you to see is the incredible unity of scripture as well as its intricate complexity. It is simple enough for a child to understand the basics when it is read, yet it is complex enough for even the most well-educated scholar to never exhaust, and it is deep enough that any, no matter how wise or how long they have walked in the faith, will find it satisfying and rich throughout a lifetime of study. This is the nature of the word that God has given us in various parts and in various ways, and this nature reflects the God who is behind these words. Dig deeply, dear friends, though at times you may feel overwhelmed and discouraged, press on, you will never be dismayed by the depth of what you find.
“In many parts and in many ways, God was speaking long ago to the Fathers through the prophets, in these last days he spoke to us through the Son, whom he established as heir of all things, through whom he also created the ages. Who being the radiance of the glory and the exact image of his essence, also bearing all things in the word of his power; after making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high. Becoming so much greater than the angels, as much as he has inherited a name superior to theirs.” (Hebrews 1:1-4)
There are some passages of scripture that are so deep and so rich that it would take a lifetime to plumb the depths of their meaning, and even then, there would yet be riches left to discover. And these verses indeed belong to that family. They are a glorious picture of the divinity of Christ, our Lord and they stand before us as a wonderful testimony of the understanding that this inspired writer had of the glory of our King. Many of our Biblical books start off fairly slowly and build in intensity as they develop; in this case, the author begins with passion and intensity, like a sprinter, launching himself out of the starting blocks at the beginning of a race. This powerful opening have led many to argue that the book of Hebrews is a recorded sermon, and while that is possible, we simply do not know for sure. The other thing we do not know for sure is just who was the passionate author of our text. Some have asserted it is a sermon of Paul, some argue for Apollos, some Barnabas, etc… The lines remain divided on this issue throughout history, and the fact is that we simply do not know for sure other than the book is inspired and it was written either by an Apostle or by one who was under the oversight of an Apostle (which was the ancient church’s primary criterion for deciding which books were Canonical).
While we could go on for ages making arguments for one person’s authorship over another’s, and there are certain exegetical decisions one must make when translating this passage from the Greek (all 4 verses are 1 sentence in the original Greek language), what I want to do is to make several doctrinal and pastoral reflections from what we have here in the text. This is a passage that should speak deeply to us and it will do us well to give ourselves to its study and even memorization. What a passage to have on one’s lips as we go through the trials and troubles of life! What a joy to praise our God with these words regarding his beloved Son! Beloved, imbibe from the riches of these words, they are sweet to the tongue like honey and have the power to satisfy even the hungriest soul.