The Prophets and the Son
February 15th, 1959 @ 10:50 AM
THE PROPHETS AND THE SON
Dr. W. A. Criswell
2-15-59 10:50 a.m.
You are listening to the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. This is the pastor bringing the 11:00 o’clock morning message entitled The Prophets and the Son. In our preaching through the Word of God, last Sunday morning we began with the Book of the Hebrews, the Epistle to the Hebrews. And the message last Sunday morning was introductory, and the message this morning is Hebrews 1, the first verse and the first part of the second verse:
God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets,
Hath in these last days spoken unto us by His Son.
And the title: The Prophets and the Son. And the message is a message in contrast between the prophets and the Son. But in order for us at all to enter into the meaning of the author in writing this passage and in the long and following argument, we must first enter into a knowledge of and the spirit of the day and the time, the urgent necessity of the people to whom the author addressed this letter.
Now it is no simple and easy thing to walk into the deep waters into which the author of this epistle leads his hearers. But we are not forever, he says, to drink milk. We are to come to the place in our Christian lives when we desire the strong meat of the Word, and this is the deepness and the knowledge and the wisdom into which this author brings his hearers. So it is our purpose to go with him, not forever to stay in the rudimentary, elementary, primeval things of the gospel.
There are oceans, there are vast tides and rivers and seas into which we are to bring the little boat of our Christian life, and, sailing those seas, look upon the infinite, glorious, incomparable wonders of the riches of the grace of God. So we start into this Book to the Hebrews.
There was in apostolic times, in the days of the apostles, there was a great difference between the Christian Jew and the Christian Gentile. The Christian Gentiles had no particular proclivity or affinity or likelihood to sink back into his paganism, his heathenism. He might grow weary of the war in his soul against old habits. He might be tempted to give up the fight against ingrained patterns of life, but he would have no tendency to turn back again to his heathenism, for the Christian Gentile had learned once and for all that the collection of mythologies that were supposed to reveal the character and person of deity were themselves wicked fancies. He had learned forever that the gods he had worshipped were idols, that their priests had no divine consecration, and that their temples were houses of prostitution and vice and avarice and covetousness. Whatever a Christian Gentile might be tempted to do, he would never be tempted to go back into heathenism and be a pagan again. For other reasons he might give up his Christian profession, but having been taught of the vanity and futility and senselessness of idolatry, he would never be a heathen idolater again. And that goes for today. A man may be an infidel today; he may be an agnostic today; but he is not a heathen; he is not an idol worshiper—not if he has come under the influence of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
But the situation with the Christian Jew in apostolic times was altogether different, for the Christian Jew was not called upon to give up his religion or to turn aside from his countrymen and their national worship. The Christian Jew in his new faith but elaborated on and perfected and developed and went farther in his old faith. He was still a Jew though he was a Christian. He continued to worship in the temple. He continued to go to the synagogue and to listen to the Law and to the Prophets. He continued to observe the Sabbath Day, and he continued to observe the great Jewish feasts, which were in memory of the marvelous deeds God had wrought in days past. He continued to believe that the Aaronic priesthood was of divine institution and that the sacrifices were by divine commandment. He continued to believe that the Prophets and the Psalms and the words of Moses were divinely inspired—and the only Scriptures that the infant church possessed were the Old Testament Scriptures.
Christ Himself was a descendant of Abraham. He was circumcised on the eighth day [Luke 2:21], He was presented to the temple [Luke 2:22-24], He kept the law, He observed the ordinances and the Jewish feasts. There were those to whom this book was written who could remember the form of Jesus in the great throngs that worshipped in the temple. Our Savior Himself had observed the Jewish Passover the night before He was crucified [Matthew 26:17-30]. And the Holy Ghost came upon the church at Jerusalem upon a Jewish feast day [Acts 2:1-4].
So there was no break between the Jew who became a Christian and his old worship and his old religion and his old devotion and his old commitments. Christ was but the fulfillment and the development and the completion of the religion that he already had [Matthew 5:17].
Can you imagine, therefore, the conflict that came into the life of the Jewish Christian when, because of the fervor and fanatical and fierce drive for in the rebellion for liberty against the Roman ruler—can you imagine, therefore, the conflict that was precipitated in the heart of the Jewish Christian when he, because he was a Christian, was cut off from the temple? He was cut off from the priesthood, cut off from the sacrifices, and cut off from Messiah’s people. To him, the Christian faith was but the ultimate development and outreach of the old dispensation, the old Jewish religion. And when he was looked upon as a traitor, when he was cast out of the temple, when he was refused fellowship in the circle and circumference of Messiah’s people, it was like a death stroke to him.
That was why this author picked up pen and wrote this letter to that Jewish congregation [Hebrews 1:12]. They were about—under the tempo and temper of those terrible times—this was about 63 AD, and the war against Rome began about three years later, which resulted in the destruction of the nation in 70 AD. These Jewish Christians were tempted to go back into their Judaism and to renounce their Christian faith. So this author picks up his pen and he writes this letter to that Jewish church, in which he encourages them to be steadfast in the faith of Christ.
And he does another thing: by the Spirit of prophecy that dwelt in the heart of the man who wrote that book, he saw the approaching day when the old ancient institutions would be overthrown. There would not be any temple, there would be no more priests, there would be no more altar, there would be no more sacrifice. And he is writing to prepare these Jewish Christians for that overwhelming catastrophe, for these Jewish Christians believed that the temple worship was of divine ordinance and commandment and institution; and that was true. But they also believed that those institutions in the temple were also permanent; and that was not true. The ordinances observed in the temple—its rites, its rituals, its types, its ceremonies, all of it—were incomplete and transitory revelations of the great ultimate truth of God.
So this author picks up his pen and he writes to this Jewish congregation of Christians, and he delineates to them the transitory meaning and purpose of the old dispensation and the old ordinances. And he reveals to them the complete and final and perfect revelation in Jesus Christ and the Christian dispensation. So he starts off now; the great purpose of his letter is contrasting the Old Testament and the New Testament, the old dispensation and the new dispensation:
God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto our fathers by the prophets,
Hath in these days spoken unto us by His Son.
Now when he begins the contrast between the old and the new, he does it on a basis of their unity, of their resemblance. That’s first. By that, I mean he is not contrasting the darkness of heathenism in contrast to the glory of the light of the knowledge of God; but rather, he is contrasting the glory of the night, with its moon and its stars and its type and its symbols and its similitudes, with the glory of the sun rising, when the day rises to its meridian strength. For in both revelations, the old and the new, there is the same God, there is the same Scripture, there is the same revelation, there is the same love, the same purpose, the same redemptive compassion. The same God that inspired the old inspired the new, and Messiah is the subject and center of the old as well as the new. So he begins his contrast on a basis of resemblance: “God spoke in times past to the prophets; God spoke in these last days in the Son” [Hebrews 1:1-2].
Now I want to take an illustration that I ran across that was an amazing thing; I had never thought of it. Martin Luther quaintly illustrated this truth by the two men who were spies and went into the Promised Land and came back to Moses and the children of Israel with a branch on which was a great cluster of grapes. And it was borne, you remember, on the shoulders of the two men: one in front and then on a pole, the branch with the great cluster of grapes, and then the other man [Numbers 13:23].
In illustrating this truth, Martin Luther said that the man in front knew what he was bearing, but he did not behold it. The man behind beheld what he was bearing, the fragrance of the cluster of grapes, and, also, the man who was helping him carry it. Now Martin Luther said that is the way of the two dispensations. The prophets spake of Him who was to come, but they did not behold Him. But we who live in this Christian dispensation behold both the Christ, the Messiah, and also the prophets who testified of Him.
So it is in this contrast that he begins here. He bases it on the similitude, the similarity, the resemblance of the two. It was God who spake; it is God who is revealing Himself. It was God who spake and revealed Himself in the old day; it is God who is doing this revelation and speaking of Himself in this new day and in this new dispensation, “God, who spake unto the prophets, hath spoken unto us by His Son” [Hebrews 1:1-2].
So God is revealing Himself over the ages, over the long millennia. God is disclosing Himself to men. The god of the philosopher is silent, he does not speak. But the God of the heavens speaks in His creation, in history, in conscience, and overtly so in the prophets and in the Son—in the old dispensation and in the new [Hebrews 1:12].
And the great purpose of God is always His compassionate, sympathetic, redemptive love. “Adam, Adam, where art thou?” and, “What hast thou done?” [Genesis 3:9-11]. And the seeking God—compassionate, redemptive, loving—through all of the centuries, has been speaking in that same purpose, and through the centuries and in the prophets, He revealed Himself fragmentarily and then completely and finally in this new dispensation. What was enfolded in the Old Covenant is unfolded in the New. What was latent in the Old Covenant is patent in the New.
I looked that thing that St. Augustine said in Latin, and it is almost the same thing. Augustine said, “What is latens in the old dispensation is patens in the new,” what is latent in the old is patent in the new. What He hid by shadows and types in the Old Testament is in substance and in reality exhibited fully and gloriously in the New.
So he starts off here, “God, who spake in times past by the prophets, hath in these last days spoken also in the Son” [Hebrews 1:1-2]. So we have the same great purpose, the same great Lord, the same great subject, the same great Messiah, revealed and presented in both the Old and the New, from Genesis to the Revelation.
Now in starting that way, he also calls to our attention the contrasts in that old revelation that was given to the prophets and the new revelation which is given to us in Jesus Christ. These prophets—by that he means all the messengers of the Old Covenant: Moses, the kings, the psalmists, all of the messengers of God, he includes in his word “prophet”; he calls them all prophēteuō, “out-speakers” for God—now in those prophets he draws a contrast, for these messengers of the Old Covenant were not perfect. They were imperfect, and the revelation of God that they brought was not complete, but it was fragmentary, it was in part and in pieces.
Now he makes that contrast here in several ways in the passage I have just read. Here is one of them, “prophets,” plural, and “Son,” singular [Hebrews 1:1-2]. So in the old day, the revelation of God was made through the prophets, plural. Here was a man and he delivered a message from God, but he had to have a successor. And he delivered a message from God, and he had to have a successor, and he had a message from God. “Prophets,” plural; there was a long series of them. And they were in a series because no one of them brought an absolute and final and complete revelation. The revelation that the prophets brought was fragmentary; it was a piece. It was at that day and that period and that time, but there had to be another prophet and another revelation for another period and another time—“prophets,” plural.
But there is one Son, there is one complete and final revelation of God. It is not fragmentary, it is not incomplete, but it is forever final and done. God hath spoken in the last days, finally and completely, in His Son [Hebrews 1:2].
All right, another contrast: he says, “God, who at sundry times” [Hebrews 1:1], you have it translated, polumerōs, polumerōs; “God, who in many measures, in many pieces, in many fragments, God spake in times past unto the prophets.” The message that was given back there in the Old Dispensation was fragmentary, it was in pieces. Moses had a piece of it, Isaiah had a piece of it, Samuel had a piece of it. Each one of the prophets had a piece of it, but no one of the prophets was the entire message and the entire revelation of God. It was polumerōs, it was fragmentary, it was in portions and in pieces.
And another contrast: it was “in divers manners,” polutropōs [Hebrews 1:1]. It was in many ways. That is, the revelation that was given to the prophets was in nowise able to present the whole truth and reality and substance of God. Therefore, when God revealed Himself in the Old Testament, He did it in many ways. Polumerōs refers to the content: it was revealed in fragments. Polutropōs refers to the manner in which the revelation was made.
It came in many, many different ways—many, many different manners. It came in visions, it came in dreams, it came in similitude, it came in types, it came in symbols. But it never came completely, because there was no way in the old days in which God could completely reveal Himself. For example, the Lord spoke to Samuel in a voice while the lad was asleep [1 Samuel 3:3-14]. God spoke to Elijah after the great tempest and storm in a still, small voice [1 Kings 19:11-12]. God revealed Himself to Isaiah in a great vision in which the prophet saw the seraphim crying, “Holy, holy, holy!” [Isaiah 6:1-3]. And God revealed Himself to Daniel in dreams [Daniel 7:1]. But in no place did God fully reveal Himself at any time, because the capacity of each prophet differed. And each prophet brought his message according to his capacity to receive it. And no prophet was able to receive the entire message of God, the whole revelation of God, because of his human infirmity.
So you do not have in any one of the prophets the whole revelation of God. But he received the revelation according as he was able in a dream or in a voice or in a vision or in a type or in a similitude or in some other of the wonderful ways that God “spake in times past unto the prophets” [Hebrews 1:1].
Now another contrast: the prophets were sinful men, all of them, all of them. Moses, because of his fierce anger was not even allowed to enter into the Promised Land [Numbers 20:7-12; Deuteronomy 3:23-27, 34:1-5]. Isaiah, the greatest of all of the writing prophets, Isaiah said when he saw the vision of the Lord,
Woe is me! For I am undone; I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips: for mine eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts.
Daniel, the man who was greatly beloved, Daniel in his ninth chapter says, “And I set myself to confess my sin and to pray unto the high God” [Daniel 9:3-4]. So these prophets were not perfect men; they were sinful men in themselves.
Another thing: the prophets spoke of themselves and looked upon themselves as did John the Baptist. He was not that Light, he said, but he was sent to point to that Light [John 1:6-18]. They were not the Christ, but they pointed to the Christ. Another thing about them: they did not understand the very message that God gave them to bring. The prophet himself was given just a fragment of the message, but he himself did not even understand the fragment of the revelation that was given to him, much less did the prophet understand the whole meaning and message of the whole revelation. For example, Daniel is given a dream and a vision, and yet he has no idea what ultimately it means, for God says to him, “Seal it up until the time appointed” [Daniel 12:4]. When Moses was given the pattern on the mount [Exodus 25:9, 26:30; Hebrews 8:5], he was instructed to obey those commandments of God just exactly according to “the pattern showed thee on the mount.” But Moses himself did not know the ultimate meaning of the pattern that he himself received from God.
You will find that discussed by Peter when he said, speaking of these old prophets, that the salvation of the prophets:
that salvation the prophets have inquired and searched diligently, who prophesied of the grace that should come unto you;
Searching what, or what manner of time the Spirit of Christ which was in them did signify, when it testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ, and the glory that should follow—
and he says in the next two verses—
which things the angels desire to look into.
[1 Peter 1:10-12]
Peter says the angels in heaven did not understand these great revelations that were made to the prophets. And Peter said that the prophets themselves did not understand the content of the message that they were delivering, when they testified back there of the sufferings of Christ and the glory that should follow. So in his contrast between the prophets and the Son, he speaks of the inadequacy of those men in the ancient day to deliver the full and final revelation of God. They saw a piece of it, a part of it, a segment of it, and did not even understand the full height and depth of the piece and the part of the revelation that was given unto them [1 Peter 1:10-12].
Now may I add to that before I conclude? May I add to that; that also is true of the types. There is no type, there is no symbol, there is no ceremony in all of this ancient Jewish worship that is, in itself, a full and complete revelation of Jesus Christ. But each type and each symbol presents just a facet, a part, a portion of the great and final truth in the Lord Jesus. And that is why you have the types multiplied, so many of them, for no one of them was able to bear the entire truth of the revelation of God. Therefore, you had a tabernacle, and you had an altar, and you had a laver, and you had a veil, and you had a Holy of Holies, and you had a priest, and you had a table of showbread, and you had a candlestick, and you had a golden altar of incense [Hebrews 9:1-5].
Each one of them, each one of them represented, by picture, a facet of the great and ultimate truth of God. The sacrifice is His cross. The laver is the washing of regeneration. The Holy of Holies is the sanctuary in heaven. The table of showbread is the bread of life that we eat. The candlestick is the light of the world. All of those types, and it took many of them to present the whole truth of God. For example, you did not even have one sacrifice, you had several sacrifices: a sin offering [Leviticus 4:1-5, 6:24-30], a trespass offering [Leviticus 5:14-6:7, 7:1-7], a peace offering [Leviticus 3:1-17, 7:11-21, 228-34], a meal offering [Leviticus 2:1-16, 6:14-18, 7:12-13], a whole burnt offering [Leviticus 1:3-17, 6:8-13].
You had the Aaronic priesthood [Hebrews 10:1-4]—but that could not bear even the full revelation of the priesthood of our Savior. He also was a Priest after the order of Melchizedek [Hebrews 5:5-10]. Moses is a type of Christ, but you also had to have Joshua to picture our entrance into our ultimate and sabbatic rest. And David is a picture of Christ, but he is not all of the picture of the kingly glory of Christ, you also must have Solomon to complete it.
So it is in all of the old dispensation. It is in pieces, it is in fragments, it is in portions, it is in part. It came “at sundry times and in divers manners” [Hebrews 1:1] through many men, but it was never in itself fully, finally, and forever complete.
Now that fully and finally and forever complete revelation of God is in His Son [Hebrews 1:2]. And if you will look in your Bible, you will find that that “His” is written in italics—it is not in the Greek. The great emphasis of that [second] sentence there is the singular Son. Not plural—the prophets were many—there is one Son. The prophets were servants; there is one Lord. The prophets did not understand the full message; He is the whole message of God. Christ, this one Son is the love of God; He is the forgiveness of God; He is the message of God; He is the fulfillment of God; He is the revelation of God; He is the self-disclosure of God; He is the final Word of God. All things are summed up in Him, and in Him all things consist [Colossians 1:14-19].
Now in the little moment that remains—and I have to close—may I remind you a thing you already know, that is the great and ultimate revelation of God, and that is what makes you a Christian, is the acceptance of that ultimate and final message and revelation of God in His Son. For example, Jesus at Caesarea Philippi said to the disciples, “Whom do men say that I the Son of Man am?” [Matthew 16:13].
And they replied, “Some say You are Jeremiah; some say You are Elijah; some say You are another one of the prophets” [Matthew 16:14]—plural. The people said that.
Then Jesus said, “But whom say ye that I am?” [Matthew 16:15].
And Simon Peter replied, “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God” [Matthew 16:16].
And Jesus said to him, “Flesh and blood hath not revealed that unto thee, but My Father which is in heaven: blessed art thou, Simon Bar-jona” [Matthew 16:17]. The great revelation of God, the ultimate and final self-disclosure of God is in His Son Jesus Christ. There is no other. There is no Mary Baker Glover Patterson Eddy to come along and to add to it. There is no Joseph Smith to come along and to add to it. There is no exegetical commentary to come along and to add to it. The complete and final and forever revelation of God is in His Son, and there is no other [Acts 4:12]. And the acceptance of that ultimate revelation is what it is to be a Christian:
Blessed art thou, blessed art thou…
I say unto thee, That thou art Simon, petros, a stone, and on this petra—
rock, ledge, foundation that thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God—
on that foundation, I will build My church.
And you are in it when you receive by faith that revelation that the whole truth, and love, and purpose, and forgiveness, and redemption of God is in Christ Jesus our Lord. And it is on that confession of faith that we are baptized into the communion and fellowship of the saints:
And he begins at the same Scripture, and preached unto him Jesus.
And… they came unto a certain water: and the eunuch said, See, here is water; what doth hinder me to be baptized?
And Philip answered and said, If thou believest with all thine heart, thou mayest. And he answered and said, I believe.
What? I believe that the full, and final, and complete, and redemptive purpose of God is in Jesus Christ the Son?
I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.
And he commanded the chariot to stand still: and they went down both into the water, both Philip and the eunuch; and he baptized him.
On the basis of the confession of faith, “I believe that the full and final and complete revelation of God is in Jesus the Christ.”
What is God like? “He that hath seen [Me] hath seen [the Father]” [John 14:9]. What is it to be in the light of the Lord? He is the Light of the Word, and they that walk in His light shall never stumble or grope in darkness. What is it to be thirsty and to find water of life to drink? He is the Rock smitten, out of which flows the rivers of water [1 Corinthians 10:4].
And you can go on forever—every type, every symbol, every ceremony, every similitude, every parable, every likeness, every word and sentence of the old revelation and the old prophets is fulfilled in “the Lamb of God that taketh away the sin of the world” [John 1:29]. And to encourage them and to confirm them in the faith, this blessed author wrote the Book to the Hebrews.
And it encourages us today. Oh, in the medley of voices and in the maze and the labyrinth of this world, how does a man find the truth? My brother, it is in the Son; there it is. What is God like? There He is. What does God say? Listen to the Son. How is God in His ableness and in His power? There He is; it is in His blessed hands, upholding all things by the word of His power [Hebrews 1:2-3]—made the worlds [John 1:3; Colossians 1:16].
And oh, I have not got time; we pick it up next Sunday, but it is it blessed. And how it confirms our own hearts in the faith when we sing praises to Jesus the Lord, when we pray in His name, when we look up into His face and when we ask Him for forgiveness, for the hope of heaven: someday to present us to God Himself without spot or fault or blemish [Ephesians 5:26-27; Jude 1:24]. That’s our Lord, that’s our Savior, and that’s what makes us a Christian.
Now we must sing our song. And while we sing the song and make this appeal, in the great hosts of people here this morning, in this balcony to the top back row and from side to side, somebody today to give his heart in trust to Christ [Romans 10:8-13], would you come and stand by me? Into the aisle, down here to the front, “Pastor, today I give my heart to Jesus, and I am putting my life in the fellowship of His saints,” would you come? One somebody you, a family you, by letter, by rededication; I cannot say the word. It has to come from the Lord. And if the Lord bids you come, would you make it now? On the first note of the first stanza; while all of us stand and sing.
THE PROPHETS AND THE SON
Dr. W. A. Criswell
I. Christian Jew so different from Christian Gentile in apostolic times
A. Christian Gentile – converted heathen, unlikely to sink back into paganism
B. Christian Jew – new faith did not contradict, but rather developed the old
C. The agony of choice for Jewish Christian
D. Author of this epistle writes to encourage them against apostasy
1. Writing to prepare them for fulfillment of prediction of Christ that the old institutions would be overthrown, Jerusalem destroyed(Luke 21:20-24)
2. Delineates transitory meaning and purpose of old dispensation and ordinances, and reveals complete and final revelation in Christ
II. Contrast between the old and new dispensations is based upon their unity
A. Both inspired by God; Messiah the subject and center of old and new(Hebrews 1:1)
B. Martin Luther illustrated this by the two spies returning from Promised Land with cluster of grapes on a pole – one in front, one behind
1. The prophetsspake of Him who was to come, but they did not behold Him; but we who live in this dispensation behold both the Christ and the prophets who testified of Him
C. It is God who spake; it is God who is revealing Himself now
D. Redemption His loving purpose(Genesis 3:9-11)
III. The contrast
A. The old revelation given to the prophets and thenew given to us in Jesus
B. “By the prophets”
1. Prophets, the messengers of the old covenant, were many
2. Their message was fragmentary
3. Messages were received in a variety of forms, polutropos
4. Prophets were sinful men(Isaiah 6:5, Daniel 9:20, 23)
5. They all testified like John the Baptist, pointing to the light
6. They did not understand the message God gave them to bring(1 Peter 1:10-12)
C. The inadequacy of the prophets and the types to deliver the full revelation
D. The whole contrast in one word – “Son”
E.The Son is the message of God(Matthew 16:13-18, Acts 8:26-39, John 1:29, 8:12, 14:9