The Manger: A King-Size Bed
Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
The first readers of “Hebrews” were Jews who had become Christ-followers. Originally, Jewish Christians continued to attend synagogue services, but within a few years, relationships became strained. Tensions rose between Jews who believed Jesus was Messiah, and those who did not.
This impasse required a total break from Judaism by those who had received Jesus. This painful choice remains the agony Jewish converts face.
To say Jesus is Messiah, a Jew must leave what was a divine religion, renounce what was a divine ritual of worship, leave ancestral beliefs that were divine, and be excluded from a people who were divinely chosen.
In other words, for Jews to accept Jesus, they must forsake things their ancestors have venerated for over three thousand years. To leave all this behind is difficult now, and was difficult in New Testament days. The writer of Hebrews was hurting for those people forced to make this decision.
Love, though, did not lead our author to compromise. His message is clear-cut. Jesus is to be followed, whatever the cost. He is preeminent, greater than anyone or anything else. Christ is better than all that has gone before, and nothing that follows will ever eclipse Him. Jesus supersedes the rituals and sacrifices of Judaism. He is above prophets, priests, angels, superior to Moses, God of very God, and should be worshiped as such.
This exalted theme recurs throughout the book of Hebrews. Thus it is a treatise loved and revered by all who adore our exalted Lord, Jesus Christ.
Heb. 1:1 (Holman) Long ago God spoke to the fathers by the prophets at different times and in different ways.
This verse is significant for what it does not say as well as for what it does say. No author’s name is given. Some think Paul wrote it, but the Holy Spirit chose not to reveal the penman’s identity. Since the purpose of Hebrews is to exalt Christ solely, an anonymous authorship is appropriate.
Many scholars consider these first verses of Hebrews to be the most beautiful passage ever written in Greek. “A great thought demanded a great dress” (Barclay). Fittingly, the noblest Greek paragraph was inspired by God the Holy Spirit and had as its theme God the Father and God the Son.
The writer began with a theme unlikely to offend his readers. He said Judaism was based on Divine authority. It was the living God that spoke to the Hebrew fathers. “Different times” means no one prophet said all there was to say. Each one had a portion to contribute to God’s total plan. God had to reveal Himself a bit at a time–here a little, there a little–because of our inability to receive the full revelation at once. We had to be led along one step at a time, receiving more light according to our need and ability.
“Different ways” means God used various methods in His efforts to communicate with people. He spoke to Israel with lightning and thunder.
Elijah heard a still small voice. Hardheaded Balaam had to listen to a donkey, softhearted Mary heard an angel. The Lord burned in a bush for Moses, and wrote on a wall for Daniel. To Paul, God spoke audibly from Heaven; to Jonah, He communicated via a whale from the sea.
Whatever the portion, whatever the method, the important fact was that God was doing the speaking. God was in the prophets, controlling their thoughts and guiding their words. The same God who speaks in the New Testament also speaks in the Old. We must think of both testaments with equal reverence. The Old Testament is also God’s Word. “It was our Savior’s Bible” (F. B. Meyer). Jesus loved it, and fed on it.
Neither testament would be complete without the other. One is the plant in full bloom, the other the seedbed. The roots of Christianity are buried deep in Judaism. The Old is fulfilled in the New, the New is built on the Old. For instance, Leviticus “lives” when studied in the light of Hebrews, and Hebrews is impossible to completely understand without Leviticus.
Our writer believed God wrote the Old Testament. Hebrews gives abundant proofs of the verbal inspiration of Scripture. In referring to Old Testament passages, our writer usually makes no mention of an author’s name, but instead speaks of the passages as emanating from God Himself.
Whether Old Testament or New, it is God who speaks. He inspired the writers, who wrote His utterances. It is a blessing to know God is speaking.
We can only know of God what He lets us know. A silent God would be an unknown God. Fortunately, the Lord YHWH is not speechless. He wants to reveal Himself. God created us for the purpose of communicating with us. He made us like Himself that He might share life and love with us.
A speaking God presents a challenge as well as a blessing. If God is speaking, and He is, then people should be listening, but they aren’t. Such rude disrespect is a serious affront to God’s majesty.
Heb. 1:2a In these last days, He has spoken to us by [His] Son,. . .
The prophets were God’s communicators, men who paved the way for something better and greater than themselves. Everything was leading up to, and pointing toward, Jesus. “Last days”, in Hebrew thinking, denoted that period of time when the prophets’ words about Messiah would be fulfilled.
When God gave revelations in portions, He used prophets. When He gave the ultimate revelation, He Son-spoke. God used various servants to give certain messages, but when it came to His last, best word, He chose to come Himself and inhabit flesh. Since revelation has God as its source, and people as its object, it is appropriate the ultimate revelation was a God-man.
God had spoken in many ways through many people, but finally spoke in one way through one person, His Son Jesus Christ. Now we have God’s final Word. In our Lord Jesus we have the climax of the Gospel revelation.
God has held nothing in reserve. We are no longer kept in suspense regarding new discoveries about God. He has nothing more to reveal.
Christ has to be the final spokesman of Deity, because He is Divine. Nothing more could be said or revealed. Jesus revealed God by being Himself. Christ was not only a messenger; He was the message. Nothing more can be conveyed than God Himself. This is what happened in Jesus.
Jesus is God. He was the One giving inspiration to the prophets. He is above them all. The Jews revered the prophets as God’s greatest men. However, none of these mighty servants, not even the greatest of them, compares with Jesus. Scripture sets Him apart from all the rest.
This truth was convincingly seen on the Mount of Transfiguration. When Moses and Elijah stood next to Jesus, Peter suggested three tabernacles should be built, one for Moses, one for Elijah, and one for Jesus. Since Moses and Elijah were considered the greatest men who had ever lived, Peter probably thought he was honoring Jesus, but immediately after Peter spoke, God withdrew the two prophets, and said, “This is My beloved Son: hear Him” (LK 9:35). When the voice ended, Jesus was standing alone.
Not even God’s greatest prophets of the past could stand on a par with Jesus. Once Moses and Elijah had borne witness to Jesus, their work was done, and they had to retire, leaving Jesus in sole view.
Jesus is not merely another great person. He is the Creator of great people. Christ is not just a prophet of God. He is God of the prophets.
Jesus is not only the Subject of Scripture. He is the Author of Scripture. He not only spoke God’s Word, He is God’s Word. He was old long before He was born, and served as Heaven’s King eons before a virgin laid Him in a manger, the first king size bed. When we think of the Christmas event in this light, we find ourselves “lost in wonder, love, and praise” (Charles Wesley). Wesley was correct in saying we need a thousand tongues to sing the glories of our God and King. Merry Christmas.