The author of Hebrews clearly says here, that God’s manner of speaking to the Fathers — through prophets, dreams, visions, symbols, and parables — was different from the way he speaks to us today, through his Son, in the New Testament. Therefore, we should not expect prophecy to continue in the Church today, as it was experienced in the first century church.
What did the author of Hebrews mean when he wrote, “...in these last days He has spoken to us in His Son?” Did he mean that God has spoken to us in his Son through the New Testament? Did he mean that since we now have a greater prophet than Moses, in Jesus Christ, that we have no further need, in these last days, of any prophets speaking on behalf of God? Or, did he mean to communicate that the person of Jesus, and his message of redemption, is the full disclosure of God? Let’s consider these interpretations, in brief, one at a time.
1) Is “...spoken to us in his Son” equivalent with the completed New Testament?
No. While the revelation of the person of Jesus is certainly contained in the Apostolic tradition, as it is recorded in Scripture, a category error and anachronism are committed here, when cessationists attempt to make Hebrews 1:1—2 analogous with the completed New Testament.1
Since the New Testament was still being written, with the composition of Hebrews, during a time when everyone agrees that gift of prophecy was still in operation, it should be obvious why this interpretation of the text should be rejected. If the canon was not closed with the completion of Hebrews, then “...spoken to us in His Son” cannot possibly be understood as the completed New Testament; this would have been far beyond the scope of the author’s interest (given the context) and his audience’s capacity to understand (given their location in time).
2) Is it true, that since Jesus is God’s preeminent prophet, that the Church has no further need of prophets?
No. If this argument were true, then the spiritual gift of prophecy could have never been given to the Church. Why? Because, if the argument is applied consistently, then the gift of prophecy would have become obsolete the moment Jesus' ministry began. Again, since prophets were clearly operating after God began “...speaking to us in his Son,”2 an argument for the cessation of prophecy based on this text makes no sense, whatsoever.
3) When the author of Hebrews wrote that God, “...in these last days has spoken to us in his Son,” does he simply mean to point his readers to the superior revelation of the person of Jesus, and his message of redemption, over the inferior revelation of what had come before?
Yes. Regarding this passage, John MacArthur writes, “In the past God gave revelation through His prophets, but in these times, beginning with the Messiah’s advent, God spoke the message of redemption through His Son.”3 In former times, God’s message was delivered through inferior revelatory means. This former revelation was not inferior because it was fallible or errant, it was inferior because it did not fully disclose everything that God would eventually reveal to humanity through the person and work of Jesus Christ. Jesus is the full disclosure of God; he is the Word of God made flesh; he is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his nature, who upholds all things by the word of His power; he is Immanuel, God living among his people, who speaks the very words of God, as God. And, that is what the author of Hebrews wanted us to know.
In sum, these verses cannot be used as exegetical proof for the cessation of revelatory gifts beyond the age of the Apostles. Again,
“...spoken to us in his Son” = Jesus and the message of his gospel, as the full disclosure of God.
“...spoken to us in his Son” ≠ the full disclosure of God, about Jesus and the message of his gospel, as it is recorded for us in the written record of the New Testament.
Therefore, if prophecy functioned in the New Testament church — who did not yet have a completed canon, but who did have the full revelation of God in the person of Jesus Christ — then prophecy may continue to function in the Church, in the latter part of these last days.
Return to first article in this series: Confronting Common Arguments and Objections to the Continuation of the Charismatic Gifts
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2 Cf. Matt 17:15; Mark 9:7; Luke 9:35↩
3 John MacArthur, “The Epistle to the Hebrews” in The John MacArthur Study Bible. (ed. John MacArthur; Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1997), 1897.↩