"(1) God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, (2) in these last days has spoken to us in His Son ... " - NASB2020
"(1) Long ago God spoke many times and in many ways to our ancestors through the prophets. (2) And now in these final days, He has spoken to us through His Son." - NLT
"(1) God, having spoken to the fathers long ago in [the voices and writings of] the prophets in many separate revelations [each of which set forth a portion of the truth], and in many ways, (2) has in these last days spoken [with finality] to us in [the person of One who is by His character and nature] His Son [namely Jesus]" - AMP2015
God has spoken at many times and in various ways in the past. This serves as a good characterization of what we call the Old Testament -- the account of God's revelation of himself to Israel through not only his words, but also his acts. Moreover, our author identifies himself and his readers with those to whom God spoke in the past, our forefathers. This statement is an affirmation of what the Jews have always been committed to: God has indeed spoken to us in the past through the prophets. Prophets here are to be understood as God's spokesmen, his representatives to people in every era and therefore as all the writers of Scripture, not just those referred to in the literature we designate as "the Prophets." This affirmation provides a strong sense of continuity, of reaching back; it says God began with Israel but is even now at work in the church and in what the church believes. A unity of revelation can be seen as we move from the past into the incomparable present.
In these last days (lit., "at the end of these days") God has spoken through his Son. The writer uses eschatological language, that is, language of the last or end time, thereby affirming that we have entered the eschatological age. In other words, God's plan has now come to fruition; we have entered a new age (cf. Heb. 9:26). A fundamental turning point has been reached as God speaks climactically, definitively, and finally through his Son. Any further speaking about what remains to happen in the future is but the elaboration of what has already begun. All that God did previously functions in a preparatory manner, pointing as a great arrow to the goal of Christ. This is the argument our author so effectively presents throughout the book. Christ is the telos, the goal and ultimate meaning of all that preceded.
But in what sense was the writer, or any of the writers of the NT for that matter, justified in referring to his time as the last days? The key to understanding this kind of statement (see also Heb. 4:3; 6:5; 9:26; 12:22ff.), is found in the theological ultimacy of Christ. There is no way our writer can have recognized the reality of Jesus Christ -- who he is and what he has done -- and not have confessed this to be the last time. The sense in which it is "last" is not chronological but theological. The cross, the death, and the exaltation of Jesus point automatically to the beginning of the end. Theologically we have reached the turning point in the plan that God has had all through the ages, so by definition we are in the last days. Eschatology is of one theological fabric: when God has spoken through his Son, the eschatological age has begun, and we are necessarily in the last days theologically. These are the last days because of the greatness of what God has done. The surprise is, of course, that this period of eschatological fulfillment is so prolonged that these last days are not necessarily (though for any age it may turn out that they are) the last days chronologically.
This book, this opening passage, and particularly [Heb. 1:2], point to the centrality of the Son and the superiority of the Son to all that preceded, all that exists now, and anything that might exist in the future. God has now spoken to us climactically by his Son, in whom, as Paul puts it, all of God's promises are "Yes" (2 Cor. 1:20). The very mention of the Son has strong OT messianic overtones, as is evident immediately in [Heb. 1:5], which quotes Psalm 2:7, "You are my Son; today I have become your Father," and 2 Samuel 7:14, "I will be his father, and he will be my son." Indeed, the remainder of the chapter, with its numerous OT quotations, points to the unique identity of the Son as the Promised One, the Messiah designated by God to bring about the fulfillment of God's great plan and purpose.
- Donald A. Hagner, Hebrews, Understanding the Bible Commentary Series
In the first century, the apostle Peter described the ministry of the Old Testament prophets, noting that "no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God" (2 Pet. 1:21). For centuries leading up to Peter's simple summary of the process of divine inspiration, a long line of prophets spoke and wrote God's words under the supernatural guidance of the Spirit. Their words were "inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness" (2 Tim. 3:16). These prophets issued warnings and rebukes, which flew off their lips like arrows from a bow to strike at the hearts of their hearers.
The names of these servants of God endowed with the prophetic gift reads like a roll call from the Bible's Who's Who list: Elijah and Elisha . . . Isaiah and Jeremiah . . . Daniel and Jonah . . . Malachi and John the Baptist. The prophet was God's representative and spokesperson -- saying, doing, and writing down what God wanted said, done, and written. It never took them long to win a hearing as they stood up -- often standing alone -- to speak the truth. They were never very easy to listen to, especially by those who had drifted far from God. But as the sole bearers of God's messages to humankind, they couldn't be ignored.
Though English translations of Hebrews 1:1 usually begin with "God," the original Greek text actually begins, "In many portions and in many ways . . ." For the sake of emphasis, the author points out the varied manner in which God's messages were delivered "long ago." If we flip through the pages of the Old Testament, we see what he meant. God spoke through dreams (Gen. 37:5), visions (Isa. 1:1), angels (Zech. 1:9), voices (1 Sam. 3:4), writing (Dan 5:5), and even Balaam's donkey (Num. 22:28)!
Not only did the messages from God come in various ways, but they also came at various times rather than all at once. Though all the messages were accurate, they were also incomplete. God always has more He can say. This reminds me of my own childhood. I got a lot of information from my parents over the course of many years -- fragmentary, partial, incomplete. Sometimes this information would be in the form of instruction or discipline or living examples to follow. Sometimes it would come in conversations over supper, or alone with my father, or over the telephone, or through a handwritten note. Of course, we can all remember profound, wordless messages that came to us from our mothers with "that look." Those messages came to me continually throughout childhood and into adolescence -- all for progressively building me up toward maturity as an adult.
This experience of childhood is similar to the ministry of the prophets in the Old Testament. Their messages were accurate and contributed to the growing body of revelation from God to His people. Like an instrument played in the hands of a master musician, the prophet conveyed the notes God wanted to communicate. Together, the individual prophets whose writings were gathered in the Old Testament canon formed a symphonic harmony of revelation building up toward a great crescendo, when the final movement of God's revelation would be unveiled: the Lord Jesus Christ.
"Long ago" versus "these last days" -- the contrast between the prophetic anticipation of the Old Testament and the fulfillment of the new covenant in Christ is immediately highlighted in Hebrews 1:1, 2. Through the prophets, God spoke "long ago" (Heb 1:1). But now He has spoken "in these last days" (Heb 1:2). Literally, the Greek says, "in the last of these days"; that is, at the culminating moment when He had spoken through the prophets. The point is that God's message of the Old Testament prophets has found its climax and supreme expression through the person and work of the Son (Heb 1:2).
Let me modify my musical metaphor a little to indicate the profundity of God's ultimate revelation through Christ. It's not simply that the symphony of revelation culminated in a moving climax, like the booming cannons of Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture. Rather, the composer and conductor Himself stepped onto the stage and became the soloist, summing up in His performance all the themes, motifs, and melodies of everything that came before.
In other words, Christ is superior in His person and work. And He is the final and fullest expression of God's message and word to all humankind. Not that the old means and manner of speaking to His people were defective or deficient. They were great. But Christ is Greatness. The prophets' messages from the Lord were perfect. Jesus is Perfection. The seers of old were the instruments. The Son is the Music. He is the One to whom, for whom, through whom, and about whom all the musicians had been playing.
APPLICATION: GOD'S WORDS, HIS WORD, HIS ANGELS, AND US
The book of Hebrews doesn't open with a subtle glow that gradually grows into a bright flame; it starts with a brilliant explosion that destroys every flimsy concept of the person and work of Christ and every faulty notion of His position in the universe. He is superior to the greatest of created beings -- the angels. And if He's greater than the greatest creatures, what else can He be but the Creator Himself? In this powerful passage, I see a few lasting principles for us today -- practical applications we should never forget.
First, God's angelic servants intrigue us, but only God's Word can enlighten us. God has spoken directly to us. He has done so through His written Word, which is God-breathed, resulting in His very words conveying His very thoughts (2 Tim. 3:16). God's Word -- the Bible -- should consume us. He has also sent to us His Word incarnate (John 1:1, 14), to whom the written Word points and who points us back to the written Word. As interesting as angels are, they are "ministering spirits" (Heb. 1:14). They are never to be the recipients of our prayers, the objects of our worship, or the subjects of our obsessions. The Triune God -- Father, Son, and Holy Spirit -- should command our worship and praise. And the Son of God alone is the Source of life and Savior of our lives.
Second, God's angelic servants minister to us, but only God's Spirit can minister in us. Just because they are spirit beings, angels should not be confused with the Holy Spirit. Angels don't transform souls; that's the Holy Spirit's job. He is the Paraclete, the Comforter, the One called alongside to help us. He is our stability, our comfort, our guide. Though angels occupy an important place in New Age mysticism and popular "folk theology," we're never meant to exchange the Holy Spirit, sent by the exalted Christ, for angelic spirits. Yes, they exist, and yes, they minister on our behalf; but they, too, are subject to the Son of God.
Third, God's angelic servants protect us physically, but only God's Son can save us spiritually. The One who is to occupy the throne of our lives is Jesus. Angelic beings watch on their tiptoes and crane their necks to see, but only from afar. The apostle Peter pointed out that not only did Old Testament prophets long for the spiritual salvation through the Son of God that we experience today, but angelic beings also desire to see what it's all about. He writes, "It was revealed to [the Old Testament prophets] that they were not serving themselves, but you, in these things which now have been announced to you through those who preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven -- things into which angels long to look" (1 Pet. 1:12).
In light of the superior revelation and spiritual salvation we have in the Son -- superior to the anticipatory work of the prophets and the ministerial work of angels -- we should respond by acknowledging in thought, word, and deed, that Jesus Christ is superior to all things in His person and work.
- Charles R. Swindoll, Hebrews, Swindoll's Living Insights New Testament Commentary