RPM, Volume 16, Number 2, January 5 to January 11, 2014

Jesus: The Great Revelation of God

Hebrews 1:1-4

By J. Ligon Duncan III

If you have your Bibles, I'd invite you to turn with me again to Hebrews 1. Let me just remind you of a few things from last week.

Remember that we said that Hebrews is about persevering in the faith. That is the challenge this congregation was facing. They had made a profession of faith in Christ. They were walking in Christ. There were committed professing Christians, and yet there were some of them who wondered if maybe they had left was a little bit better than what they had gone to. They were struggling as to whether they were going to continue on in the faith, once delivered. And the author of Hebrews writes to them, compelling them to think about the supremacy of Christ and the sufficiency of Christ as an antidote to their temptation not to persevere in the faith.

In the verses that we will look at today, and the verses we looked at last week, verses 1-4, the author of Hebrews puts the Lord Jesus before this congregation, reminding them that Jesus is the sum and substance of faith. That there's nothing better than Jesus. You don't get Jesus and then move onto something better than Jesus. He is the better. And if you are not feeling fulfilled or satisfied in your Christian walk, the author argues, it's not because you tried Jesus and He wasn't sufficient. It was that you didn't actually ever really appropriate Him at all, because all of those who taste of the Lord Jesus can say with William Guthrie, "Less would not satisfy, more is not desired."

And so the author of Hebrews points us right back to the Lord Jesus Christ and says if there's something off balance, if there's something that seems lacking in our Christian experience, the place that we need to go is right back to the center of our relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ. Larry Richards puts it this way, "We can come to know Jesus better, but we can never find anything better than knowing Jesus." And so the author of Hebrews is pointing us right back there again. He is saying, 'don't think that you are going to start with Jesus and move on to something better. There's nothing better.' You can know Jesus better, but don't think that it is Jesus plus something else that really gives fullness to the Christian life.

So let's look again at these first four verses in Hebrews, chapter 1 in God's word.

Hebrews 1:1-4
"Now, Father, we do thank You for this word. It's so rich that we can't possibly do it justice. And, frankly, Lord, it is one of the ways that You testify to us that this is Your inerrant, Your inspired, Your infallible, Your authoritative, Your effective and profitable word. Because we cannot conceive the riches that are in store for us in it. We will study this word even in Glory, O Lord, and continue to find riches hidden away in it. We pray now that by Your Spirit You would teach us the word, that You would apply it to our hearts and we would see not simply, Lord, how this word particularly touches us in our own circumstances and situations, but that You would, by the Spirit, cause us to have that deep desire to be conformed to Christ and so to be fulfilled in Him. We ask these things in Jesus' name. Amen."

Let me go back to the same opening point that we started with last week and add something else.

I. Christians heed God's final Word as supremely authoritative.

The first thing we see in this passage in verse one and in the first half of verse two, is that Christians heed God's final word as supremely authoritative. This verse also stresses the finality of God's revelation in Christ. It's not simply that God has given us a greater revelation than He had in the Old Testament. It is that He has given us a final revelation in the Lord Jesus Christ. God is saying here, 'My word was not completely uttered until Christ came. When Christ came, the word spoken in Him, indeed, was My final word.' The Lord Jesus is the word of God in all its fullness. Christ is the goal of all that Old Testament revelation. It culminates in Him. It is fulfilled in Him. F.F. Bruce puts it this way: "The story of divine revelation is a story of progression up to Christ. But there is no progression beyond Him." In other words, once you get Christ, you've gotten to the very highest point, as well, of God's revelation. There's nothing beyond Christ which is greater or higher.

Calvin puts it this way: "It was not part of the word that Christ brought, but the last closing word." Christ is that culmination of all that God was saying to us. And, frankly, He was the culmination of the way God was revealing Himself to us. Once you've seen Christ, you have seen the Father as clearly as you will ever see Him until you see Him face to face in Glory. And even then you will see Him in Christ, because you will have been totally glorified in the context of your Savior and you will be able to appreciate the Father in that way. Again Calvin says, "Just as the Spirit of God in this passage invites all to come as far as Christ, so He forbids them to overstep this last word of which He makes mention." In short, the limit of our wisdom is placed here in the gospel. So this point has two sides to it. It's not just that the Old Testament leads up to Christ. It's that once we get to Christ, God has not held back some greater revelation of Himself in this world. It culminates in the Lord Jesus Christ. In fact, the words that you will see here in these verses, "In these days" are words that refer to the end time. That doesn't mean 'recently.' He's not just saying, 'God spoke long ago to the fathers and the prophets. Recently or more recently he has spoken to Christ.' The author is saying much more than that. He's saying that God spoke a long time ago to the fathers, but now, once for all at the end of the ages, He has spoken in His Son.

Now there are a lot of very practical applications to that truth. Let me just give you an idea of a few of them. We live in a pluralistic age where people say there is no truth with a capital "T." There are lots of truths, and they all may be self-contradictory and supplementary at the same time. And so they don't like the idea of someone saying that 'all truth is found in the Lord Jesus Christ.' They don't like people saying that 'Christ is the only way' or that 'Christ is the culmination of God's revelation of Himself,' because that's seems biased and bigoted and it means that somebody else out there must be wrong. But understand, that's exactly what the author of Hebrews is saying. He's not saying that Christ is a truth; he's saying that Christ is the truth that God has been leading up to, all along as He reveals Himself in the Old Testament. And so, this passage goes against the sort of pluralistic views that are out there that say, "Well, you know, Christianity and the other world religions, they all teach the same thing, even though they differ on Heaven, Hell, sin, salvation, and the definition of man." Okay, so the focus, then, is Christ as the culmination of God's revelation.

But there's a second application of this. Many of you, perhaps those of you who have worked in Arab countries and other countries where Islam is very powerful and strong, know that the Muslims believe that Christ was a godly man and a great prophet. In fact, you probably met some friends who thought of Christ as a godly man, as a great prophet, and a great moral teacher. Well, that's basically what the Muslims believe, except that they say that Christ as a prophet revealed God, but there was a greater revelation of God than the revelation that was given in Christ. It was a revelation that was given to Mohammed. So they agree that Abraham and Christ were prophets. They just believe that there is a fuller, a greater revelation of God in Mohammed. Well, of course, this verse is a direct challenge to this view. This verse says it's not enough to acknowledge the Lord Jesus as a great prophet. He is the great revealer of God. In fact, in no one else is God savingly revealed, other than in the Lord Jesus Christ.

Again, this is a direct challenge to the Mormon view of Christ. Our Mormon friends want us, as you see in the television commercials, to read another testament of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Apparently the revelation given by the Lord Jesus Christ and through His apostles is not sufficient, it must be supplemented by these other revelations, whether it be the Book of Mormon or the Pearl of Great Price or the various other revelations given by the elders of the Mormon church. Again, this passage directly challenges that view because it says that revelation culminates in the Lord Jesus Christ. And the whole of the New Testament is a testimony to Him. So, we see direct challenges to certain views that are held all around us by this verse.

Let me move on then and say the Hebrew's congregation was apparently struggling very much with the nature of Christianity. The way you went about being religious as a Christian was very different from the ceremonial way you would have gone about being a Jew; and, whereas this Hebrews congregation was tempted to think that the New Testament revelation that they had received in Christ was less certain or less substantial or less real than the Old Testament revelation, God is arguing here in Hebrews 1:1-4 that the New Testament revelation, the revelation that we have in Jesus is, in fact, superior to that Old Testament revelation.

You may, like me, find it hard that someone could think that. "Well, you mean there are people that would think that the revelation of Christ is not as good as the revelation of the Old Testament?" Think about it. They were used to very definite ritual forms and those ritual forms had lots of meaning to them. They had been given by God through Moses at the mountain of Sinai. They marked very significant points in their spiritual development. They had laws for all manner of things for which there were no laws given in the New Testament. They had ritual directions about all manners of things for which there were no ritual directions given in any of the books in the New Testament. They had all manner of experiences of direct guidance; God coming to Jacob, or God coming to Abraham, or God coming to the prophets. And they may have thought, "Well somehow, you know, that's just a little more concrete than this Christianity which has no rituals except the Lord's Supper and baptism and which tells us to rely upon the principles that have been set down in the word and doesn't give us a detailed list of civil laws or ceremonial laws that we have to obey. Somehow it just doesn't seem as substantial as the old way."

You can see how someone might struggle with that change. Well, the author of Hebrews is responding to that. These people had God's revelation through the Law and the prophets, they had annual festivals and rituals and sacrifices; but now the ceremonial code has been abolished. It is no longer for Christians; and so they have to discover a new identity, a new way of being religious. And they were tempted to think that maybe the old ways were superior; and if I'm right, if the Essene community at Qumran was also talking to these people, they too were enticing them to come back to Judaism in their views. And in that context, the author of Hebrews opens up with an assertion that the revelation that we have in Christ is superior to the revelation that was found in the Old Testament.

The argument of verses one and two is basically that God's revelation in Christ takes precedent over the old revelation, and it argues that point in three ways. And I do think I have this on the outline. Three ways it argues this point. First, the messenger is superior. The author of Hebrews argues that the messenger that God uses for His New Testament, His new covenant revelation, is superior to the messenger that He used in the Old Testament.

In the Old Testament, He spoke through His prophets. And you remember the phrase that is repeated in the historical books of the Bible about the prophets, what the Lord calls His prophets: "My servants, the prophets." E. J. Young, the great Old Testament scholar, wrote a book named that, because that phrase is repeated so often: My servants, the prophets. But now, God has not simply revealed Himself in His servants, the apostles: He's revealed Himself in His Son. And so, whereas, the servants revealed the Old Testament revelation, the Son reveals the New Testament revelation. So the messenger is different when you move from the Old Testament and the New Testament.

Secondly, we learn in this passage, that the means of revelation is superior. There is a superior means of revelation. In the Old Testament, God used various modes, various ways, various types of revelation. In the New Testament, revelation is concentrated in the life and in the work and in the words of Jesus Christ. Revelation is focused personally in the Son.

For instance, we might think, how helpful it would be if God would only speak to us like He did to Abraham. It would make decisions of guidance so much easier. God comes out of the sky and tells us what to do. But think about it. As far as recorded in Genesis 12 through 22 or so, where we find the bulk of the story about Abraham, God only speaks to Abraham, what, five times in his entire life? Five times, folks. That is not an everyday occurrence. God doesn't come down each day and tell Abraham what He is. Five times! We have far more revelation in the Word of God at our disposal than Abraham had. So we may think it would be wonderful for God to come down out of the sky and speak to us like Abraham, but that means you get it five times. That's it.

Whereas, in the word you have the totality of His revelation, the story of what He has done in His Son, and you have it at your fingertips. It's an amazing thing, isn't it? You can hold revelation in your hand. It's an amazing thing that the Lord has done for us in this His word. And so, whereas in the Old Testament God spoke sporadically and He did it by different means; sometimes He would use visions, sometimes He would use dreams, sometimes there would be manifestations, and sometimes He would come in some sort of a personalized form. He revealed Himself in these ways. Notice the words "in various times and in various ways." Abraham didn't know when the Lord was going to show up again. But today, the Lord has spoken definitely in His Son, in His Son's person, in His Son's works, and in His Son's words.

Thirdly, there's another way in which our revelation is superior to the revelation in the Old Testament, and that is because of the time frame in which God spoke. We're told again in verses 1 and 2 that God spoke in the distant past to our forebears. He spoke long ago to our fathers. And think again how important that is to us. We know something about feeling connected to our ancestors. We know something of the pride of accomplishment of things that our ancestors have done, and we sort of feel like it was done to us, if it was spoken to them; and we even have some heirlooms that they have passed down.

But notice again the contrast. He spoke a long time ago to our fathers, but He has spoken to us in these last times in His Son. So there is a directness in which He has addressed us that is different. He hasn't spoken to us through those fathers from a long time ago; He has spoken to us directly in the Son. And by the way, there's another contrast there. In the Old Testament, you'll remember, there were always mediators. God's revelation to His people was always mediated through human intercessors. In the New Testament, Jesus is the Mediator; and so He reveals Himself directly to us. So we see a superiority in the messenger, a superiority in the form of revelation, and a superiority in the time frame of the revelation. "He has spoken to us in these last days in His Son."

The New Testament revelation is superior to that which they have received before because it comes through the Son. That's the focal point of the argument here in these verses. Again, there are many applications for that, but one or two come immediately to mind. Think of the glory that it is for us to have received that revelation. Think of it. You have more revelation at your disposal than did the godly man, Elijah. Now, think of it. Elijah, who would one day stand with Christ in His transfigured glory in Luke 9; you have more revelation of God than he did. You have more than Abraham; than David, the man after God's own heart. Think of the glory of that. You see what the author of Hebrews is wanting to do: He is wanting us to stand back and lose our breath at the glory of what God has done for us. None of us are out there wanting to campaign to have our name put up there on the wall along with Abraham, David, Elijah, and Ezekiel.

And yet, God is saying, "I've given you far more of Myself than I gave to them. You know more about Me. I've revealed more to you than I revealed to Moses, who alone among all the prophets saw Me face-to-face." Can you think of that? The author of Hebrews wants us as believers to sense the glory of our experience so that we don't go hunting for something else. Because what He's already given us is so incredibly precious. And what he is saying to is, if we don't sense how precious it is, it's because we hadn't thought about it. It's not because it's not the most amazing thing in the world, it is we just haven't thought about how precious it is.

Now there's another side to this too. Think of the responsibility that we have. Actually the whole of this first chapter culminates with the concluding statement that the author makes in Hebrews 2:1, "So we must pay closer attention to what we have heard." He's saying that 'if we have received more than Moses received, we'd better be very careful in the way that we listen to what we have received. Because we know how God judged the children of Israel when they refused to follow His clear revelation to Moses.'

The author of Hebrews is going to spend an entire chapter convincing us that we have been given far more than they were given. Therefore, his conclusion is, we must pay close attention to what has been said to us. Is that not a challenge to us to take every opportunity to eat the word, to hear it preached, to hear it taught, to engage in the regular reading of the word, reflecting on the word, mediating on the word, memorizing the word, because we've been given this tremendous privilege and this tremendous responsibility.

II. Christians grasp and trust in the Son, as He is set forth in the gospel.

The second point that I want to stress in these opening verses is that Christians grasp and trust in the Son as He is set forth in the gospel. In these verses, the end of verse two all the way down through the end of verse three, we have a sevenfold description of what the Son is like. You see, the author of Hebrews has already argued the point that Jesus is the culmination of all that revelation that God was giving in the Old Testament. Now in this verse and a half, he is going to back up that claim, and he is going to say seven things about the Lord Jesus Christ that are very important for us to take in. First of all, he tells us that Jesus has been appointed by God as the heir of everything. He is the heir of all things. Now you don't need to know any more than that. If you are the heir of all things, you hold a divine position because we know that all things exist for the glory of God. And if you are the heir of all things, well, who must you be? Christ holds the divine position. If we say that He is the heir of everything and if everything is for the glory of God, who is He? He holds the divine position as the heir of all things.

Now let me say a couple of things. Throughout this passage, He is referred to as the Son. And oftentimes when we hear "God the Son," we sort of have a picture of a big chair and a little chair. There's God the Father and that's the big chair, and then there is God the Son. I'm not sure exactly why we think that way. But a lot of times we think that the phrase "the Son" implies some sort of inequality between the Lord Jesus and God the Father. I have some friends who say, "well, I believe that Jesus is the Son of God, but He's not God." In other words, they mean He is not divine.

But the phrase that He is "the Son" doesn't mean that He is not equal with God and it doesn't mean that He is not divine. In other cultures, particularly in the East and in Africa, when you say "son," they immediately latch onto the fact that there is a relationship there. It's not that there is an equality but there is a relationship. And that's what is being stressed when Jesus is referred to as the Son. Not that He is unequal with the Father, but that He has a unique relationship and especially as the firstborn Son, He has a unique relationship with the Heavenly Father.

He is 'appointed by God,' we are told in the verse, and that is a very strange phrase, to use about the Lord Jesus Who is equal with God being appointed by God. That phrase simply points to the fact that the Father and the Son have agreed before the foundation of the world to do certain things for the sake of your salvation. God the Father appointing the Son as the heir of the all things is evidence of that agreement that the Father and the Son have entered into before the foundation of the world for your salvation.

Notice that sonship and being an heir come naturally together. When we think of firstborn son and heir, it doesn't take a rocket scientist to see the connection in our culture. Even now where that which is given to children tends to be more equally distributed, we still have a memory in our heritage of the place where there would be one son who would get the prime allotment of the land or wealth of the family and would be considered responsible for carrying on the family name and business and such. So this sonship and heirship come together naturally and behind it are the words of Psalm 2, especially verse 8. By the way that passage will be quoted in Hebrews 2: 5-9. In Hebrews 2, the author quotes Psalm 2:8 and gives us an indication of the glory of the Son. If the Son is the heir of everything, then if we are going to partake of anything, then we must be in relationship with Him. If I could use a rather crude human illustration of this, many of us know friends who have gone through difficult experiences around the time when inheritances are brought up. It is a classic thing to divide a family when you are trying to work out inheritance matters. Especially if there are second marriages involved, often people get their feelings hurt about how the inheritance is going to be distributed. If you have ever known a friend who has been involved in one of those situations where the original family has sort of been written out of the new agreement of the Last Will and Testament, you know that the only way the original family gets anything of the old family estate is purely by the generosity of the person who has now been written into the will as the recipient. If they want to do something for the family, they can do it. But legally, they don't have to as long as they have a good lawyer.

It's the same way with the Lord Jesus Christ. If He is the heir of everything, then there's nothing left over for anyone else, unless He determines to share it. So if you want to have a share in the great inheritance of God, you've got to be related to the Lord Jesus Christ. You've got to be in favor with Him. It's a beautiful picture of how Christ shares with us His inheritance.

The words of Calvin are important here: "If Christ is the heir of all good things, then we must be in Christ to receive an inheritance." If we want to receive what God has desired for those children that He has created, we must be in saving relationship to Christ and that means trusting Him for our salvation. It means all the claims that He makes about Himself. It means believing on Him as our Lord and Savior and being brought into a walk of fellowship with Him whereby He saves us by grace. If we are in Him like that, then we are fellow heirs, Paul says in Ephesians. He says He becomes our brother, as if we along with Him become co-inheritors of the mansions in glory which God has been preparing from the foundations of the world. Too good to be true, but it is, it's true. Let's look to the Lord in prayer.

"Our Father, we thank You for Your word. It is rich and we pray that You would teach us by it. Help us to believe it, we pray. For Christ's sake. Amen."

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