24 December 2009

God's final word

by Dan Phillips

We begin with a too-literal rendering of one of the most masterful openings in all literature, Hebrews 1:1-2.
In many parts and in many ways God having of old spoken to the fathers in the prophets, at the last of these days spoke to us in Son, whom He appointed inheritor of all things, through whom also He made the ages....
God's revelation of Himself was in many parts, in that no one revelatory event was exhaustive. God did not disclose all of Himself nor all of His plan to Adam at his creation; nor to Adam and his wife at their fall; nor to Noah at his commissioning; nor to Abraham at his call. Each received a portion of revelation, but not the whole of it.

Further, this revelation was in many ways. Now a voice but no form; now a hovering flame and smoke; now a dream; now a vision; now a holy war, a miracle, a plague, a code of laws, a sacrificial system — these, and many more, were the array of forms that God utilized in beginning to make Himself known.

But all of it was God, who had spoken to the fathers in the prophets. Though incomplete, it was all intelligible to them, because it was addressed to them. However, though intelligible, it was incomplete. It was sloping upward, as it were, heading for a climax. What was that climax?

That climax was brought about by revelation of the same God, but it came not of old, nor to the fathers. The summit has arrived at the end of these days. It has come to us. It has come in Son.

Translators despair of capturing the meaning of those two words, ἐν υἱῷ, in Son. They are almost adverbial in force, in that they describe the manner of God's speaking at these end times. It is not in many parts, it is not in many ways. It is in one who is Son, it is Son-wise, it is an in-Son kind of revelation.

But they also single out the locus of God's revelation: it is not in a thing, nor an event, nor an institution, nor in words alone. It is in a person — but not just any person. Not a mere prophet, nor a bright angel. The locus of God's final revelation is in one who is most fundamentally and essentially Son.

And this is God's final word. This is what God has to say: Jesus, the Son! Jesus in His miraculous conception, His miraculous life, His miraculous words and deeds. Jesus, in Himself not destroying the variegated Law and the various Prophets, but fulfilling them all to the utmost. Jesus, the Logos, the Word who reveals His Father. Jesus in His abandonment, His death, His resurrection. Jesus reaching out to sinners in the preaching of His Gospel.

Jesus constitutes God's final word, His final revelation. "Final" both in the sense that (unlike the Old) it will never be superseded, but also "final" in the sense that it is complete, and that it constitutes a crisis.

This revelation is a crisis in that we must deal with Jesus. If we would look impatiently past Him, restlessly cast about here and there, we shall find no other word from God — except for a word of final judgment, of final rejection, of final condemntation. F. F. Bruce well says in his commentary, "The story of divine revelation is a story of progression up to Christ, but there is no progression beyond him" (46).

That's what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown — or Andy American, or Bob Briton, Artie Australian, or whoever you may be. Christmas is about God wrapping all He has to say in one person, the person of one who is — not a prophet, not a sign, not a shadow, not a vision, not a dream, not a type, but — His Son.

Now you've heard it. Would you like to see it? Read Luke 9:29-36, for a vivid enactment of this very truth. Two men, representing the Law and the Prophets (which is to say, the entire Old Testament), appear with Jesus in the mount. Jesus shines with brilliant glory (cf. Hebrews 1:3). Just as Peter proposes three equal tents for the three majesties, a cloud overshadows all. The Father speaks:

"This is My Son, the Chosen One. Listen to Him!"

And when the cloud departs, Jesus alone is left. God has spoken in one who is Son.

God grant us ears to hear, this Christmas — and God grant that there be more of us who hear.

Dan Phillips's signature

38 comments:

sbrogden said...

Thank you for this provocative look at a passage we often take far too lightly.

May the Lord Jesus be greatly glorified by His people this Lord's day.

Craig and Heather said...

!!!

:o)



Heather

justkathy said...

Well done!

lee n. field said...

""The story of divine revelation is a story of progression up to Christ, but there is no progression beyond him" (46)."

And afterwords in time past Christ's sojourning among us, the Spirit is there to point to Christ. Not give us ramblely incoherent "words of knowledge".

donsands said...

Wonderful lesson, and words. Thanks. Very uplifting indeed.

All for Jesus, the Son. Merry Christmas.

Stefan said...

Re the Transfiguration:

Consider the immediately preceding context as well: Luke 9:18-27.

See also Psalm 2.

And Moses finally got to set foot in the Promised Land.

And Peter and John and James "were afraid when they entered the cloud," because with the Glory of God comes the fear of God—and the depth of the grace that He has granted to us who don't deserve it, through His Son.

Herding Grasshoppers said...

Amen.

And Merry Christmas... all of you,

Julie

David J. Houston said...

"The story of divine revelation is a story of progression up to Christ, but there is no progression beyond him"

I'm confused... I'm sure F.F. Bruce would have agreed that coming of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost was a progression and that the new testament prophets and apostles did receive new revelation. I am a cessationist but I have never understood why this passage is used as a proof text. Could someone explain why it is?

DJP said...

It is a good question, David, but I don't think it is difficult to answer straightforwardly.

The giving of the Spirit is not a progression beyond Christ. According to Christ, the role of the Spirit would be to glorify Him>, the Lord Jesus (John 16:14). What He would reveal would be truths He received from Jesus (ibid.). The ministry of the Spirit — the real Holy Spirit — would not be primarily about the Holy Spirit (John 16:13). It would center around the person and work of Christ (John 16:7-11). His witness would be a testimony about Christ (John 15:26), and the ministry He would prompt through the apostles would be a testimony about Christ (John 15:27). He would make Christ present to apostles, by inerrrantly bringing Christ's truth to them (John 14:16-18, 26).

And so the rest of the NT, breathed by the Spirit of Christ — whose focus and delight has always been the person and work of Christ (1 Peter 1:11) — is a testimony from, of, to and about Christ, who is the focal-point of the Father's eternal plan (Ephesians 1:10; 3:11; Colossians 1:18).

This is perhaps the greatest single and sufficient point of condemnation for all the distinctives of modern Charismaticism, both as to root and as to fruits.

stratagem said...

Wow, two best-of-class Christmas messages in one day (yours and Frank's)! What a treat! Thank you.

Rachael Starke said...

Why would we want any other?

Amen, Dan. And Merry Christmas everyone!

Frank Turk said...

Brilliant, Dan. Funny how so much of Scripture really does point to this moment when Christ put on flesh.

David J. Houston said...

That really clarifies it. Thank you!

TAR said...

Thank you for this, it brings a clarity to something that is often missed

Jeff said...

If God no longer speaks, how would anyone be saved? If the Spirit did not speak, would it not just be a man's personal understanding to a preachers message (emotions) instead of the Holy Spirit drawing the man to Christ?

donsands said...

"The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”"

DJP said...

So Jeff, you're saying that when God's actual Word is preached, that is insufficient unless He says yet an additional word? Then why would the additional word be sufficient, without a superadditional word... and on and on, until we find ourselves in Rome?

His Word is sufficient and final (as the text says), and He says all that must be said through it (cf. Hebrews 3:7-19).

Jeff said...

In no way would I say that God's Word is insufficient, just stating that God uses His Word and personal revelation.

Example: A room of 100 people hear the same message, 20 are visibly moved and 5 of those come to be converted. If God did not speak at that time to the 5 true converts alone then why did the whole 100 not also come to a saving faith?

I am not saying that God whispers in people's ears or speaks through a flaming bush, but that He speaks to the individual at their time of conversion. If not then all that hear the Gospel would respond equally. True or False? Not trying to argue, but that is my current understanding. Any insight contrary would be taken into prayerful consideration and not in a derogatory manner.

DJP said...

There is nothing that God says nor must say that is additional to His Word; in effectual calling, the Spirit opens their ears to hear what God has already said (cf. John 10:27; Acts 16:14; Hebrews 2:1, and the verses already cited).

Mike Riccardi said...

Not sure if this helps, Jeff, but it sounds like you're confusing revelation and illumination. This was (one of) Barth's error(s).

God has spoken once for all in Christ. That's revelation. When the Spirit quickens us and makes us responsive to what's already been revealed, that's illumination.

If I understand correctly, Dan said the same thing with different words. Just thought another angle might help.

J.T. Crawford said...

OK, if God doesn't speak to us at all, what is the use of the Holy Spirit in our day?

I recently listened to a sermon by John MacArthur, which was prefaced by these words: "The Lord has impressed upon my heart to share from Hebrews a special message..."

What was that? I don't think the Bible said anything to Mr. MacArthur about stopping his current series for a special message. Didn't God speak to him?

DJP said...

Someone point out the self-parody in Crawford's attempted challenge. I'll bestow some kind of heartfelt (if transient) honor on you.

J.T. Crawford said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
CR said...

Crawford,

MacArthur said what he said because he is a man who is filled with the Holy Spirit. No, I don't mean he has spoken in tongues or has been slain in the spirit and fallen backwards or gotten new revelation but he is controlled and filled in the sense of a dominating power.

When we are spirit-filled, we delight in Him and He (the Spirit) gives us the desires of our heart - it's actually the Spirit putting His desires in us. (Psalm 37:4).

So, no, the Lord did not speak to MacArthur audibly. The way the Lord works is, He works through our planning and praying. Through our planning and prayer He either confirms our plans or He frustrates them by putting up obstacles to steer us another way.

The Holy Spirit does speak to us through His word. For example, it is God's will for us to be saved, Spirit-filled, to be sanctified, and submissive and to suffer and to give thanks. If we are all these things, then the Spirit controls us, dominates us, fills us with His desires and His desires become our desires.

So MacArthur said the Lord impressed on his heart to preach a message. That is exactly what I would expect from a preacher who is Spirit-filled.

One last-thing: what does it mean to be Spirit filled - it does not mean speaking in tongues or falling backwards or giving new revelation. Eph 5:17-19 and Col 3:19ff are very clear. It means addressing one another in psalms, hymns and spiritual songs, giving thanks always and submitting to one another.

CR said...

Jeff pick up where I left off with Crawford and to reiterate what Dan said in his post, They Holy Spirit doesn't need to say anymore than what is written in the Word.

Now it's interesting because you asked earlier, what's the use of the Spirit. Well, regenerates. He makes the man born-again. Why? Because the natural man cannot respond to a preacher from Rom 10:14 proclaiming the gospel. It is only the new man that can respond. What we do is we ask the Lord to send the laborers for the harvest. And he warns us that if there is no or little harvest, it's because we haven't prayed for more laborers in the harves.t

J.T. Crawford said...

Thanks for your response, CR. And thanks for your kind tone.

I agree with you that being filled with the Spirit does NOT equal speaking in tounges or other, outward manifestations as you would see in the worst of the charasmatic movement.

As believers, aren't we all to be filled with the spirit? It sounds as if MacArthur should be that way because of his position as a preacher. Shouldn't we all as believers be filled with the Spirit? I believe Paul commanded it . . . "be ye filled with the Spirit." (Eph. 5).

But if I followed your pattern, of planning and waiting to see if my plans are prospered or fruststrated, I have no use for being led by the Spirit. That seems like fatalism, and all I have to do is discern my circumstances. If my circumtstances are good, then God must be approving my plans.

I would say, in the example of MacArthur, that God did impress upon him to change his sermon, and in his planning and prayer, it was confirmed by God. Even if it was not an audible voice (which I am not advocating hearing voices), was that not the Spirit of God speaking to the MacArthur's heart to change the direction MacArthur had planned?

DJP said...

MacArthur has nothing to do with this. Back to topic, please.

So, between the article and the meta, how many times were you wanting the same question to be answered in the same way, Crawford?

J.T. Crawford said...

DJP-

Why do you have such condescending tones toward a fellow believer? I know this is not about MacArthur, but I am using a statement of his as an example.

donsands said...

J.T.

I know many Christians who say the Lord spoke to heart, and so on.

That's a scary place to be. Chances are it is simply yourself thinking to yourself.

Does the Holy Spirit abide in our hearts? Yes. Jesus said that He and the Father would come and make their home with those who love Him.

He is with us, and His Word, the Holy Scriptures are our final authority on Earth. Satan hates the Bible, and is doing all he can to seperate the Church from God's Holy Word.

When I'm in church and wosrhipping the Lord, and singing hymns, and hearing the truth preached, I am almost in a different world. The joy is exceedingly great, and there is peace, and love fills my heart for my Savior.
It happens at other times as well, but it seems to be fuller in church. I think because you have God's people, and God's gifts to the church all there, worshipping in Spirit and truth.

And one other thought. If God came down to earth today and spoke audibly to us, it would be no different, nor greater than the Bible.

DJP said...

So, Crawford, any answer to my question? I've answered yours several times, before you even posed it.

J.T. Crawford said...

OK, Dan, you answered my question regarding the Holy Spirit, albeit in a very incomplete fashion. I do realize the constraints of space and time in a blog setting.

As you used the first part of Hebrews to state that God is done speaking, how do you view this in Hebrews chapter 3?

“ Today, if you will hear His voice, Do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion.”

DJP said...

Already answered, in the meta. You may have to work at it a bit, though; but it's there.

Still hoping someone will point out the self-parody in this series of questions. It really is very important and very instructive.

trogdor said...

You mean that all the 'Spirit speaking' points directly to scripture the Spirit already wrote? That this 'fresh revelation' amounts to 'look at the completed revelation'? Or am I going to have to go back and read it again?

DJP said...

If you're rising to my challenge, Trogdor, that's true, but not quite it (or I'm not following you).

Perhaps this will help. It seems like virtually every time I post on the sufficiency of Scripture, at least one of the other position will raise some challenge already addressed in the article, refuse to deal with that fact, and will either continue to insist that I write a fresh answer to the question I've already anticipated, or raise some hackneyed irrelevancy and demand that it be addressed afresh.

trogdor said...

Gotcha. So the way they treat your posts is the way they handle scripture, continually wanting a re-statement of what's already written and established.

DJP said...

Bingo.

Obviously there's literally an infinite gap between the literary works per se. That isn't the point of analogy.

Here's the point: the author himself is there, in person, in real-time, telling them individually and person-to-person that he has already answered their question (or that it is irrelevant), that all they have to do is go back, read more humbly and patiently and carefully and persistently, and they'll find their answer.

Yet they refuse to do so. They insist that the author is wrong about his own work. They demand more, more, more — when they haven't yet dealt with what is already there. Nothing will get them to deal with the text that is already present — and the suggestion that they should do so infuriates them.

It's virtually like clockwork.

Bringing to mind Buck Murdock's immortal words.

J.T. Crawford said...

So, Dan, what you are saying that your word is the FINAL word on this subject. That, as the Bible, what you say is sufficient on this topic, and nothing else can be said. Which begs the question, if the Bible is the final word on such matters, why do you need a blog to come and explain what the Bible says? Is that not an additional word that we really don't need?

Let me give you an inconsisentcy in what is being said here. I will refer back to the conversation with Jeff that started on the 26th. I want to focus on your post from 11:21 AM, December 27 where you said, ". . . in effectual calling, the Spirit opens their ears to hear what God has already said."

I believe that you would agree with me that because of depravity, man is naturally blinded to the truths of God, thus the need for effectual calling. You said that the Spirit opens their ears. Is this not an additional work? Is this not the Spirit of Christ doing something in addition to the word of God in order for them to hear what God has already said?

If this were not so, then anyone and everyone who read the Bible would understand and respond to God's call. It is also interesting that you used the word "hear" (not in the audible sense, obviously). Even if God said it thousands of years ago, if I am hearing it now for the first time, is it not God speaking to me?

DJP said...

...which was the anticipated sort of response. Once again, I would just be repeating myself.

Just once, I'd like to see the pattern broken.