Is the Holy Spirit Phase Three of God’s Word?
The point of the first chapter of Hebrews is to make us realize the enormous value of God’s speaking to us through the Son of God and revealing to us a way of salvation. We know this because the chapter begins with the trumpeting of the superior value of God’s speaking “in these last days by a Son,” and because the next chapter begins by saying, “For this reason we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard.” In other words, the whole first chapter is to help us pay attention to the Word of God.
Then again in Hebrews 2:2-3 this great word of salvation is contrasted with the word of angels: “For if the word spoken through angels proved unalterable, and every transgression and disobedience received a just recompense, how shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation?” So again the point is the superiority of the Word that God has spoken through Jesus concerning our salvation. Listen! Listen! Take heed! Don’t take it for granted! That is the message.
Then, in Hebrews 2:3, the writer tells us how this word comes to the generations who were not there to hear it from Jesus himself or to see it with their own eyes when he died and rose again. There are three stages. Look for them in this text: “After it was at the first spoken through the Lord, it was confirmed to us by those who heard.”
The three stages in this verse are: 1) the Lord spoke once for all by his life and teaching and death and resurrection, 2) those who heard him and saw him (the apostles) testify to us and confirm the truth of the Lord’s Word, and, finally, 3) the following generations hear or read the confirming word of the apostles.
But what is the role of the Holy Spirit mentioned here in this connection? The answer is given in verse 4: “…God also bearing witness with them, both by signs and wonders and by various miracles and by distributions of the Holy Spirit according to His own will.” This verse says that God himself testified to the Word in three ways: 1) by signs and wonders, 2) by various miracles, and 3) by distributions of the Holy Spirit.
The function of the “distributions of the Holy Spirit” were to testify to the Word, that is, the “great salvation” which was “at first spoken through the Lord” (v.3). In other words, the role of the Holy Spirit is to direct attention and conviction toward the Word of the Son of God which has been spoken “in these last days.” In the terms of Palm Sunday’s message on Hebrews 1:1-2, the work of the Holy Spirit is not a “third phase” of the divine communication after phase one (the Old Testament) and phase two (the incarnation of the Son of God). The work of the Holy Spirit is a clarification and application and certification of phase two.
Thus one test of the Spirit’s voice is whether it orients us more and more on the Word of God spoken once for all “in these last days” through the Son of God, Jesus Christ in his decisive work of redemption. If a claim to spiritual revelation leads us to depend less on the once-for-allness of the historical Word that comes to us by Jesus Christ through the apostles (2:3), then that claim is dubious.
“In these last days God has spoken to us in his Son” (1:2). The us in this verse is a third generation of Christians—the ones to whom the apostles delivered the message in 2:3. This means that in principle any of us after the apostles, whether third generation or fiftieth generation, can hear God in the Son. He has spoken to us. This is where we hear God. He is not silent. Nor has any of us exhausted this Word. O let us read and ponder and meditate and memorize and saturate our minds in this great, final Word—which the Holy Spirit serves in all his gifts.
Striving with you to hear what I hear and see what I see,