Summary: At the start of the letter to the Hebrews, God speaks the most eloquent possible Word to humankind. Several Greek words help us understand the miracle of Jesus as the Christ.
God’s Most Eloquent Message
Text: Hebrews 1:1-4
Did you ever read the advertising copy or fine print about certain automobile tires? Would it ring a bell to suggest that these tires were manufactured for extra durability from the most advanced polymers? Advanced polymers—a mixture of compounds of different weights in chemistry, compounds derived from different pigments in medicine, and different parts of an organic series in botany. Not a bad word!
Of course, you’re wondering why I’m starting off a message about God’s Most Clear, Convincing, and Eloquent Message with an English word that we would almost never use in conversation. We’d be much more likely to say, “I bought new rain tires or snow tires, yesterday!” than to say, “I picked up some of those new radials made from advanced polymers.” But I do so for a reason. The first word of this morning’s text as it appears in the Greek New Testament is pronounced: “poh-lee-meh-ROHS.” It is the word from which we get “polymer” and it literally means, “in many parts.” Some translations, including the King James Version, emphasize “various times” as a way of getting to the heart of this word and, as Paul Harvey might say, “That’s part of the story.” God has revealed Himself at many different points along the historical timeline. But as Mr. Harvey would surely say, “The REST of the story…” is that each TIME God revealed Himself, it added an additional part or component to our understanding of Who God is and What God wants. With that in mind, I hope you’ll follow along in your own preferred English translation as I read from my fresh encounter with Greek text:
1) In many components and in many (different) styles, God spoke to our fathers by means of the prophets.
2) In these last days, He has spoken to US by means of His Son, whom He has appointed heir of all things, and [in fact] through whom He made the [past, present, and future] realities [see later on the discussion of the word translated worlds]
3) Who is the luminance of His glory and the exact representation of His concrete reality [usually translated “substance”],
the One who holds [the weight of ] all things by means of the command of His power,
the One who [after He] had accomplished the cleansing [root idea is “catharizing”] of sins,
seated Himself at the right hand of the Majesty [of God] within the highest [that is, “heavenly sphere”]
4) Having become so qualitatively better than the angels through the qualitatively more excellent Name He inherited.
[Pray] So, why did God use “various times” or a variety of components, parts, or ingredients to unveil His purpose of salvation to humankind—little by little? I believe the English word with which we began this exploration, “polymer,” can help us. We all understand that the world is made of up of atomic particles which are more or less stable or unstable. Sometimes they have some extra positive components to their core. Sometimes, they have some extra negative components orbiting around the nucleus. Sometimes, they are perfectly balanced. What we often see in chemistry is that when those negatively unstable molecules latch onto to those that are positively unbalanced, they tend to bind together and form a tighter bond than if they had already been balanced in the first place. The advantage of a polymer, then, is a tighter bond.
I believe the advantage of God revealing Himself part-by-part is similar to how we humans tend to learn better where there is a logical sequence. We may not be able to understand chemistry as elementary school children, but we can learn about the ions in salt by mixing salt into water, watching it dissolve, and tasting the now salty water. Later, when we get to high school chemistry, we start writing out a formula to show why this reaction takes place. But the third grader mixing hot salt water to soothe a sore throat isn’t ready for a detailed formula. He or she just needs enough information to meet the present need.
If God had revealed Himself totally to humankind from the beginning as God did in Jesus Christ, we wouldn’t have gotten it. We simply couldn’t have comprehended all of the complexity of God. Frankly, we still can’t understand the full complexity of God. That’s why it’s mystery. But it’s mystery with a solution and that solution will be found in the person of Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior.
Do you disagree? I hope not. Think about Adam and Eve in the Garden. They walked with God on a daily basis, but they still didn’t get it. They wanted more or they wanted to be in control or they misunderstood God’s intent. I don’t care how you word it, they missed the point. He spoke to Noah such that the hero preached and constructed an ark with the potential to save all who would believe, but even Noah didn’t get it—getting so drunk (presumably as part of a religious ceremony) that he caused a curse to reverberate through his family because of his pride and irresponsibility. God CAME DOWN to investigate the Tower of Babel—a lesson to all humanity that we cannot reach God by our own efforts (much less transcend God’s purposes by our own insights). God ate dinner with Abraham and later, debated with the patriarch. Abraham obviously didn’t understand all that was going on, but it was enough to keep him going. God wrestled with Jacob, giving the patriarch something to remember him by that we wouldn’t want (a limp). God showed Moses that He could indwell His creation without consuming it when our Lord called Moses at the burning bush. But Moses allowed himself to be consumed by anger when he struck the rock. We could speak of God’s revelation in clouds by day and pillars of fire by night. We can remember God’s feet and legs being visible to the elders of Israel as He stood on lapis lazuli streets. We could cite God flying upward in the fire of sacrifice for Samson’s father, Manoah. We must remember God’s shattering of Elijah’s certainty when the prophet was confronted by the “still, small voice” or the “sound of crushed silence.” We could cite the glory in the temple experienced by Isaiah, the wheeled throne observed by Ezekiel, or the whirlwind where God transformed Job’s theology. None of these were God’s ultimate Revelation but all of these, even when misunderstood, pointed toward it.