There is something altogether different about the time past and the last days. In time past the gospel was preached through mortal prophets, signs, sacrifices, the passover, etc… none of which were salvation for the people, nor were they intended to be salvation. They were all intended to point the people to the salvation that would come through the Redeemer. In these last days the sum and substance of the gospel has come in Jesus Christ the Lord. The one who spoke in these last days does not point to another but draws all men to Himself.
God, who at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, has in these last days spoken to us by His Son…
In recent articles we have considered the treasure trove of the first verse of Hebrews. The first great proposition of theology and the Christian faith is this: God is. The second great proposition that God is this: God has revealed Himself to man. The Word spoken by God is unlike any other word for it is powerful, enduring, and living. As God speaks so God does because God Is. Therefore, we must listen to Him, look to Him in faith, and we will live.
All of this is driving at the great theme of Chapter 1 – Jesus Christ is supreme and pre-eminent over all! Before the Son is introduced in verse 2, we are faced with several questions: When Did God Speak? How did God speak? To Whom did God Speak? By Whom Did God Speak?
Hebrews addresses two epochs of time in which God spoke: In time past…in these last days.. In the first two verses a comparison and contrast are presented between these two periods that divide all of history.
God Spoke in Time Past
When did God Speak? God who at sundry times and in diverse manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets.
By referencing the fathers and the prophets, the writer of Hebrews is taking us first to the Old Testament era. In that epoch of time in the past, God Spoke. God spoke all these Words saying, I am the Lord thy God… (Exodus 20:1). Thus says the LORD, your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel: I am the LORD your God, who teaches you to profit, who leads you by the way you should go. Oh, that you had heeded My commandments! Then your peace would have been like a river, and your righteousness like the waves of the sea… (Isaiah 48:17-18).
In time past it was God who spoke and no other Word was given in the Scripture but the Word of God communicating it to Holy men taught by the Holy Spirit. God spoke in time past. Several doctrines proceed from the teaching.
First, God was not apart from the people of the OT. He was with them, speaking to them. From the beginning God was there.
Second, Because God spoke in times past as in the present, the message of the unchanging God was unchanged from the message in the present.
Hebrews is very concerned to teach the unity of the message of God in the Old and the New Testament. The Gospel of God concerning Jesus Christ His Son, the call to repentance and faith, the promise of salvation to the uttermost for all those that are in Christ and washed with His blood. That gospel is the same in the Old Testament as it is in the New Testament. Salvation is by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone found in the Scripture alone, to the glory of God alone. It is the same salvation in the Old Testament and the New Testament.
Third, God affirms the unity of the Old and New Testament message in the book of Hebrews by first quoting the Old Testament in support of the doctrine of the New Testament. Then He makes it explicit in Hebrews 4:2, “For indeed the gospel was preached to us as well as to them; but the word which they heard did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in those who heard it.”
Fourth, the Lord makes the Old Testament very practical to us and our salvation. In time past the gospel was proclaimed as it is now but in those times past many did not listen. Will you listen?
Fifth, there are not two Bibles, but one. There are not multiple ways God brings salvation, but one. Not multiple people of God, but one people of God. While admittedly not the thrust of this message, this one verse refutes the teaching of historic dispensationalism popularized by the Scoffield Reference Bible that brings confusion to many Christians to the present day. It brings to nothing that old heretic Marcion who taught of the angry vengeful God of the Old Testament and compared Him against the supposedly different God of the New Testament books which Marcion decided were acceptable.
In time past the one and only God of the Old Testament who is the same and only God of New Testament spoke the gospel to the people through the preaching of the prophets.
How did God Speak? God, who at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets…
Two different Greek words that appear just once each in the NT are here in this one verse. One has to do with a variety of time; One has to do with a variety of ways or methods. The NKJV gathers this sense by translating – who at various times and various ways.
God did not speak all at once or on demand but He spoke as He chose according to His plan – Various times
Consider the garden after the fall. Adam did not go and find God and demand He speak. God came to Adam and spoke to Him. They heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day… Genesis 3:8. The Lord goes where He wills and speaks when He pleases. In times past He spoke at various times.
Notice the limitation of the these words, various times. While God spoke in time past God did not speak all the time in time past! From creation until Moses it does not seem that one book of the Scripture was written for the people. Moses wrote the first five books of the Bible many hundreds of years after the flood. Many of the generations in Genesis have no written account of God speaking to them. Others do – Enoch walked with God (Genesis 4:9). God spoke with Noah (And God said to Noah… Genesis 6:13). God spoke to Abraham many times but consider the long life of Abraham and the few special days recorded in Scripture when God spoke to Him.
Consider further the gaps in time – Nearly 400 years from Joseph to Moses as Israel was in slavery with only the promise of God to Jacob on their minds that deliverance from bondage would come. There was a similar gap between the Old Testament and the New Testament.
And yet, at that great hour when the people called upon the Lord He heard and spoke to them again. At various times God spoke but not all the time. Nevertheless, God still spoke in times past and for those times it was sufficient.
With these two words, God reminds us that He did not always speak in the same way or on demand. He spoke according to His good time and in His good way – various ways.