Lesson 3: "God. . .Hath. . . Spoken" (Hebrews 1:1-2)
The Book of Hebrews. Welcome to lesson # 3. In this lesson we would like to begin an actual textual study of the letter TO THE HEBREWS, i.e. the letter written to Christians in and around Jerusalem just before the war of AD Seventy. Please get it tuned-in. This letter was, we believe, written within a time span of five years or less before the city of Jerusalem was destroyed by the Roman general, Titus. The nature of the book was/is an encouragement to Christians in danger of falling away from the faith. It is said that almost none of the Christians in the Jerusalem area were killed by the Roman siege on that city (that came in the fall of AD 70). This is because they had been warned by Jesus. Matthew, Mark and Luke (all three) record this warning, that Jesus gave (you will remember) on Tuesday evening of Passover week, the week that Jesus died on the cross. After giving a number of signs (that's what Peter, James, John and Andrew had asked for), Jesus said (there on Mt. Olivet): "When ye shall see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet, standing where it ought not" and the writer added in parenthesis "let him that readeth understand." Understand what? They were to understand that the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple was eminent when the signs Jesus gave (there) came to pass. Not one stone would be left upon another (Matt. 24:2). Here is Jesus' instruction: "then [i.e. when the time is eminent] let them that be in Judea flee into the mountains." The "them" that were to flee into the mountains in this verse, of course, were the Christians, i.e. the disciples of Jesus. (This quote is taken from Mark 13:14; but, the same is recorded also in Matt. 24:15.) Luke added to his account (Luke 21:20), that Jesus said: "when ye shall see Jerusalem compassed with armies, then know that the desolation thereof is nigh." Some of the apostles were still living at the time of this writing (i.e. in the mid-AD 60's). The apostle John we know was still living; he lived another 30 year or so. Possibly Andrew, but we just don't know about him. It is generally said Peter's death was just about the time the book of HEBREWS was written (Peter's death is usually said to have been about AD 64-65). James, another apostle present on that occasion (the son of Zebedee), had been dead for more than 20 years (we learn this in Acts 12:1). However, it is said that the Christians in and around Jerusalem fled from that city and escaped the Roman destruction that Jesus had predicted, which was a persecution beyond comprehension according to the historian, Josephus. We won't get into that (here). Nevertheless, the fact that most, if not all, the Christians in Judea were able to escape this carnage is proof that the Christians on that occasion were following Jesus' instruction, at least on this point. Thus, it is possible, this letter to the HEBREWS may have had a far greater influence than we know, since these Christians, even in their complacency (as inferred in this book), were still following the Master to that extent, i.e. his instruction to flee to the mountains. Had their spirits been revived recently by something like receiving this letter? Of course, we do not know the answer to that question. I simply asked the question rhetorically for discussion purposes.
The value of this book, you hold in your hand, has been preserved for us also by the Holy Spirit, AND of course, it's still a message of encouragement, a message of exhortation, a message of advice, caution and forewarning. The book is capable of bolstering us and preparing us for an event even greater, i.e. Jesus' second coming. Jesus said, that except the time should be shortened, with respect to the destruction of Jerusalem (Matt. 24:22), "there should no flesh be saved," i.e. if the destruction of Jerusalem had been delayed (I suppose a decade or two, a generation or two) and the purging and removal of the old Jewish system had been prolonged, at least some Christians would have been slaughtered in the Jerusalem massacre. And had it been delayed long enough, then no Christians would have been saved from this carnage to which thousands and thousands of Jew succumbed. If the Christians in and around Jerusalem had become complacent and were in danger of falling away from the faith back THEN; what about us? What about the church in the century we live in? Oh boy! We need this book (this reminder), just as much as they.
Now, with these thoughts in mind, let's pursue our study of HEBREWS very seriously. Are you ready? Let's read! I'll read, you read, we'll both read. Please employ our read-together technique! Put your eyes on the print. Follow the printed page! Are you ready? Now, the KJV, you will notice packs four verses into the first sentence. Let's read that first sentence. Are you ready? Four verses, here we go:
"God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, hath in these last days spoke unto us by his Son, whom he hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the worlds; who being the brightness of his glory, and the express image of his person, and upholding all things by the word of his power, when he had by himself purged our sins, sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high; being made so much better than the angels, as he hath by inheritance obtained a more excellent name than they."
O.K., let's go back and discuss this big long sentence. Who is the subject of the sentence? GOD! God did this! Now, you can't introduce a subject any faster than that! What did God do? "God... spake." God spake in the past (i.e. communicated with man); but He (the same God) has also spoken IN THESE LAST DAYS. God spoke both times, i.e. in times past and in THESE LAST DAYS. Now, God did not speak in the same manner in the past as he has now spoken. Alright, question! How did God speak in times past? Who did God speak to? In what manner did God speak in time past? God spake "unto the fathers" in time past (do you see it?), i.e. back before the time of Jesus. God spake to Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses and the Jewish nation. O.K., How? How did God speak back there? "by the prophets!" (end of v.1). Some of those prophesies were written down in the O.T. for our benefit. We have a record of this. Some of God's communications (back there) to and with mankind were not written down. The record is not totally complete. Now, look at v.1, one more time. God spake back there, not through the prophets; but, "by the prophets." That's the way God communicated in TIME PAST. Please underline, "in time past." That's the way God communicated back there. However, (going to v.2), God "hath in these last days" spoken, i.e. communicated with mankind in these days in a different manner. O.K., how does God communicate with mankind IN THESE LAST DAYS? Please underline IN THESE LAST DAYS, i.e. the days in which you and I now live? Look at v.2! "God...hath IN THESE LAST DAYS spoken unto us!" Who? US! YOU AND ME! O.K., how has God spoken unto us? "by His Son." (Do you see it?) God has communicated differently with us than with those before the time of Christ. God said to Adam, "thou shalt not eat of it" (Gen. 2:17), you know that story. God said to Noah, "Make thee an ark of gopher wood" (Gen. 6:14). Do you remember? God told Abraham, "Get thee out of thy country" (Gen. 12:1). Now, am I limited as to which tree I can eat from? Must I build an ark of gopher wood? Must I get out of my country? Do those things apply to me? NO! God said THAT to Adam, Noah and Abraham. God told Moses, "put off thy shoes from off thy feet" (Ex. 3:5). Am I commanded to take my shores off? The point is: WHAT GOD SAID to those people in a different time was a different message than the message that God has communicated to us. Not only is it a different message, the message came in a different manner. God "hath... spoken to us" ALSO (that's the first line in v.2). Now, one more time! How has God spoken to us? "by His Son," i.e. by Jesus Christ. The message of the O.T. is a different message. The message of the O.T. was to a different people in a different time. In contrast to that message, the message of the N.T., God's message to us was given by Jesus the Christ the Son of God AND has been preserved for you and me in the Bible, by the Holy Spirit. Do you get the point? The communication to us is different. We are to follow Jesus, not Moses, not Abraham, not Noah not the Jewish religion, not the Jewish national system.
Now, if I might interrupt just a minute, what do you think this said to those Christians in the homeland who were gradually falling away, feeling guilty for leaving the religion of their forefathers, those Christians that wanted to go back to the old Mosaic code, longing for the temple worship of their youth and as their parents had told them about? The writer of the HEBREWS letter got to the very heart of the matter in the first sentence and this is just the beginning. You haven't seen "nutten" yet!
If I might bring it down home, where I live and where you live...what does this mean to us? God has spoken in every age. The God of heaven has also spoken in the age in which we live, i.e. at the close of the Jewish age. As a matter of fact, the instruction God gave for the Jewish age, God has now removed and given to us new and better instruction. Christ "is the mediator of a better covenant" (Heb. 8:6). Although, this is implied in v.1-2 (that we just read), this is not specifically said (here in ch. 1). However, the writer ultimately gets back to this point, spending ch. 8 on the idea of the two covenants, the old and the new, i.e. the Mosaic covenant (or what we might call the O.T. covenant) is contrasted with the N.T. (or covenant) given for the Christian era in which we now live. In ch. 10:9, the writer said: "He (i.e. Jesus Christ) taketh away the first, that he may establish the second." As a matter of fact, much of this letter is devoted to contrasting the old with the new, of course, the main emphasis is placed upon the covenant given IN THESE LAST DAYS (v.2). Now, what does this mean to you and me, religiously speaking? Very simply put, the 10 commandment law is no longer in force. That old covenant was "nailed to the cross" (Col. 2:14). About six times in Matt. ch. 5, Jesus quoted an old law and said; "But, I say unto you..." i.e. Jesus stated (there) the new covenant or what we might call Christ's law for the Christian era. Now, it's not all given in that one chapter; but, some of the basic distinctions ARE stated there. If you will do a little survey, you'll find you don't have to go very far from your house to find people teaching their children the 10 commandments and saying: son, keep the 10 commandments and you will be fine (i.e. religiously speaking). If you say to those same people that the 10 commandments are no longer in force; they become very upset and begin to say things like: Mr. Horsley thinks it's all right to murder, commit adultery and lie (etc.) because, he doesn't believe the 10 commandments, which said, "thou shalt not kill, thou shalt not commit adultery" and "thou shalt not bear false witness" (etc.). Now, the facts of the matter are that Jesus said (Matt. 5:21), "Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not kill" (i.e. one of the 10 commandment, Jesus quoted) and then Jesus said: "But, I say unto you..." thus and so. And, I trust you know that Jesus (in the verses that follow) put murder on the same plain with even the thought of murder, i.e. thinking about murder or anticipating murder is the same as the very act of murder itself and Jesus condemned both. That's Jesus' law on murder. Further down the page there in Matt. ch. 5, Jesus made other similar changes. What I'm saying is, some refuse to accept Christ and Christ's law. They insist on keeping the Jewish covenant and intermingling it with the teachings of Christ. They pick and choose what they want to believe and what they want to do religiously; both in worship and in everyday practice.
Can you see the problem facing the Jewish Christians in the homeland in the mid-AD 60"s? Some of those people lived their early life back under the Mosaic era, they had known temple worship, they had offered animal sacrifices, they had experienced the priestly system, the rites and the rituals, the feast days and the festivals of the old covenant. By the AD 60's no doubt many of the younger generation had been baptized at an early age and thus had been Christians all their adult life. Maybe they had not personally participated in the old system; but, they were told of these things by their parents and their older relatives and beyond that, those things were still being practiced in the temple that stood just down the street where their friends and their associates were still worshipping. Thus, some Christians had by their association been weakened, become weary in well doing, at a time when they ought to have been teachers they were still babes in Christ. Some were influenced by their non-believing friends to defect to the old system and were thus falling away from Christ. This condition prompted this letter. We have already said, some in our day, two thousand years later, still persist in wanting to follow the old system, the 10 commandments and the part they like. They pick and choose, i.e. put together their own religion by blending a little of the old with a little of the new and the Lord know what else.
Please note in v.2 (here in Heb.) the writer emphasized the solution to the problem. "God... hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son, whom he [i.e. God] hath appointed heir of all things." God has put his Son, king Jesus, the Christ of glory in charge in these last days. Jesus has been appointed heir of how much? "All things!" Jesus, himself said: "all power [or all authority] is given unto me in heaven and in earth" (Matt. 28:18). Moses was a great man, the 10 commandment law was a great law. The law was given by Moses; but, in contrast "grace and truth came by Jesus Christ" (John 1:17). Even Moses understood he would be superseded in this respect, "For Moses truly said unto the fathers, A Prophet shall the Lord your God raise up unto you of your brethren, like unto me; him shall ye hear in all things whatsoever he shall say unto you..." (Acts 3:22). From here, the Hebrew writer began to show just how great Jesus was/is. A good bit of space is devoted to this point. We'll get down to this in our next lesson.
As we close, may I emphasize perspective? We must rightly divide the word of truth. This is what Paul told Timothy (in II-Tim. 2:15). It is only when we clearly understand the different dispensations and the purpose of every Bible book that we can rightly divide the Bible. We must understand who wrote it and to whom it applies. The Bible is not like a book of poetry where you pick and choose what you like. Not every command in the Bible was given to you and me directly. "For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope" (Rom. 15:4). We can learn much about God from the old testament even though it does not apply to us directly. Have a good day.