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The End Of Fragments

1:1-3 It was in many parts and in many ways that God spoke to our fathers in the prophets in time gone past; but in the end of these days he has spoken to us in One who is a Son, a Son whom he destined to enter into possession of all things, a Son by whose agency he made the universe. He was the very effulgence of God's glory; he was the exact expression of God's very essence. He bore everything onwards by the word of his power; and after he had made purification for the sins of men, he took his royal seat at the right hand of the glory in the heights.

This is the most sonorous piece of Greek in the whole New Testament. It is a passage that any classical Greek orator would have been proud to write. The writer of Hebrews has brought to it every artifice of word and rhythm that the beautiful and flexible Greek language could provide. In Greek the two adverbs which we have translated in many parts and in many ways are single words, polumeros ( Greek #4181 ) and polutropos ( Greek #4187 ). Polu- (compare Greek #4183 ) in such a combination means "many" and it was a habit of the great Greek orators, like Demosthenes, the greatest of them all, to weave such sonorous words into the first paragraph of a speech. The writer to the Hebrews felt that, since he was going to speak of the supreme revelation of God to men, he must clothe his thought in the noblest language that it was possible to find.

There is something of interest even here. The man who wrote this letter must have been trained in Greek oratory. When he became a Christian he did not throw his training away. He used the talent he had in the service of Jesus Christ. Everyone knows the lovely legend of the acrobatic tumbler who became a monk. He felt that he had so little to offer. One day someone saw him go into the chapel and stand before the statue of the Virgin Mary. He hesitated for a moment and then began to go through his acrobatic routine. When he had completed his tumbling, he knelt in adoration; and then, says the legend, the statue of the Virgin Mary came to life, stepped down from her pedestal and gently wiped the sweat from the brow of the acrobat who had offered all he had to give. When a man becomes a Christian he is not asked to abandon all the talents he once had; he is asked to use them in the service of Jesus Christ and of his Church.

The basic idea of this letter is that Jesus Christ alone brings to men the full revelation of God and that he alone enables them to enter into his very presence. The writer begins by contrasting Jesus with the prophets who had gone before. He talks about him coming in the end of these days. The Jews divided all time into two ages--the present age and the age to come. In between they set The Day of the Lord. The present age was wholly bad; the age to come was to be the golden age of God. The Day of the Lord was to be like the birth-pangs of the new age. So the writer to the Hebrews says, "The old time is passing away; the age of incompleteness is gone; the time of human guessing and groping is at an end; the new age, the age of God, has dawned in Christ." He sees the world and the thought of men enter, as it were, into a new beginning with Christ. In Jesus God has entered humanity, eternity has invaded time, and things can never be the same again.

He contrasts Jesus with the prophets, for they were always believed to be in the secret counsels of God. Long ago Amos had said: "The Lord God does nothing without revealing his secrets to his servants the prophets" ( Amos 3:7 ). Philo had said: "The prophet is the interpreter of the God who speaks within." He had said: "The prophets are interpreters of the God who uses them as instruments to reveal to men that which he wills." In later days this doctrine had been completely mechanized. Athenagoras spoke of God moving the mouths of the prophets as a man might play upon a musical instrument and of the Spirit breathing into them as a flute-player breathes into a flute. Justin Martyr spoke of the divine coming down from heaven and sweeping across the prophets as a plectrum sweeps across a harp or a lute. In the end men came to put it in such a way that the prophets had really no more to do with their message than a musical instrument had to do with the music it played or a pen with the message it wrote. That was over-mechanizing the matter; for even the finest musician is to some extent at the mercy of his instrument and can not produce great music out of a piano in which certain notes are missing or out of tune, and even the finest penman is to some extent at the mercy of his pen. God can not reveal more than men can understand. His revelation comes through the minds and the hearts of men. That is exactly what the writer to the Hebrews saw.

He says that the revelation of God which came through the prophets was in many parts (polumeros, Greek #4181 ) and in many ways (polutropos, Greek #4187 ). There are two ideas there.

(i) The revelation of the prophets had a variegated grandeur which made it a tremendous thing. From age to age they had spoken, always fitting their message to the age, never letting it be out of date. At the same time, that revelation was fragmentary and had to be presented in such a way that the limitations of the time would understand. One of the most interesting things is to see how time and again the prophets are characterized by one idea. For instance, Amos is "a cry for social justice." Isaiah had grasped the holiness of God. Hosea, because of his own bitter home experience, had realized the wonder of the forgiving love of God. Each prophet, out of his own experience of life and out of the experience of Israel, had grasped and expressed a fragment of the truth of God. None had grasped the whole round orb of truth; but with Jesus it was different. He was not a fragment of the truth; he was the whole truth. In him God displayed not some part of himself but all of himself.

(ii) The prophets used many methods. They used the method of speech. When speech failed they used the method of dramatic action (Compare 1 Kings 11:29-32 ; Jeremiah 13:1-9 ; Jeremiah 27:1-7 ; Ezekiel 4:1-3 ; Ezekiel 5:1-4 ). The prophet had to use human methods to transmit his part of the truth of God. Again, it was different with Jesus. He revealed God by being himself. It was not so much what he said and did that shows us what God is like; it is what he was.

The revelation of the prophets was great and manifold, but it was fragmentary and presented by such methods as they could find to make it effective. The revelation of God in Jesus was complete and was presented in Jesus himself. In a word, the prophets were the friends of God; but Jesus was the Son. The prophets grasped part of the mind of God; but Jesus was that mind. It is to be noted that it is no part of the purpose of the writer to the Hebrews to belittle the prophets; it is his aim to establish the supremacy of Jesus Christ. He is not saying that there is a break between the Old Testament revelation and that of the New Testament; he is stressing the fact that there is continuity, but continuity that ends in consummation.

The writer to the Hebrews uses two great pictures to describe what Jesus was. He says that he was the apaugasma ( Greek #541 ) of God's glory. Apaugasma ( Greek #541 ) can mean one of two things in Greek. It can mean effulgence, the light which shines forth, or it can mean reflection, the light which is reflected. Here it probably means effulgence. Jesus is the shining of God's glory among men.

He says that he was the charakter ( Greek #5481 ) of God's very essence. In Greek, charakter ( Greek #5481 ) means two things, first, a seal, and, second, the impression that the seal leaves on the wax. The impression has the exact form of the seal. So, when the writer to the Hebrews said that Jesus was the charakter ( Greek #5481 ) of the being of God, he meant that he was the exact image of God. Just as when you look at the impression, you see exactly what the seal which made it is like, so when you look at Jesus you see exactly what God is like.

C. J. Vaughan has pointed out that this passage tells us six great things about Jesus:

(i) The original glory of God belongs to him. Here is a wonderful thought. Jesus is God's glory; therefore, we see with amazing clarity that the glory of God consists not in crushing men and reducing them to abject servitude, but in serving them and loving them and in the end dying for them. It is not the glory of shattering power but the glory of suffering love.

(ii) The destined empire belongs to Jesus. The New Testament writers never doubted his ultimate triumph. Think of it. They were thinking of a Galilaean carpenter who was crucified as a criminal on a cross on a hill outside the city of Jerusalem. They themselves faced savage persecution and were the humblest of people. As Sir William Watson said of them,

"So to the wild wolf Hate were sacrificed

The panting, huddled flock, whose crime was Christ."

And yet they never doubted the eventual victory. They were quite certain that God's love was backed by his power and that in the end the kingdoms of the world would be the kingdoms of the Lord and of his Christ.

(iii) The creative action belongs to Jesus. The early Church held that the Son had been God's agent in creation, that in some way God had originally created the world through him. They were filled with the thought that the One who had created the world would also be the One who redeemed it.

(iv) The sustaining power belongs to Jesus. These early Christians had a tremendous grip of the doctrine of providence. They did not think of God as creating the world and then leaving it to itself. Somehow and somewhere they saw a power that was carrying the world and each life on to a destined end. They believed,

"That nothing walks with aimless feet;

That not one life shall be destroy'd.

Or cast as rubbish to the void,

When God hath made the pile complete."

(v) To Jesus belongs the redemptive work. By his sacrifice he paid the price of sin; by his continual presence he liberates from sin.

(vi) To Jesus belongs the mediatorial exaltation. He has taken his place on the right hand of glory; but the tremendous thought of the writer to the Hebrews is that he is there, not as our judge but as one who makes intercession for us so that, when we enter into the presence of God, we go, not to hear his justice prosecute us but his love plead for us.

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