The book of Hebrews opens with the acknowledgement that “long ago at many times and in many ways God spoke to our fathers by the prophets.” What is established here is that God spoke to the saints of old through the prophets, indicating the need for a mediatorial office for revelation from God to sinful creatures. While these prophetic revelations of God’s Word to His people were true and accurate, Calvin makes the point in his commentary on this verse: “The diversity of visions and of other dispensations which existed in the Old Testament was evidence that there was not yet a firm and stable order of things such as is proper when everything is perfectly settled
. . . . God would have followed the same pattern in perpetuity right to the end if it had been perfect in every way.” In short, the old covenant prophetic office was a precursor of the coming messianic prophet.
Moses speaks of this coming prophet in Deuteronomy 18:15–18. Hebrews 1:1–4 proclaims that the promised prophet of whom Moses spoke has come in the person of Christ. While the prophets of old were servants of God, Jesus is the only begotten Son of God. The prophets of old were sinners, and although God communicated His Word through them, they were at times frustrated in their task (like in Jer. 20:7–9) or reluctant (like in Jonah 1:1–3). But Jesus, who is “the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of His nature” (Heb. 1:3), is without sin, and there is no frustration in His task nor reluctance to declare the words of God.
Furthermore, the Old Testament prophets prefaced their message with “thus says the Lord” because the message was not their own. This is in contrast to what Jesus does in, for example, the Sermon on the Mount — where He not only expounds the very essence of the Law but continuously rebuffs the religious traditions of the Jewish community by saying, “You have
heard it was said to those of old . . . but I say to you . . . .” Mark indicates that from the beginning of His public preaching and teaching ministry, Jesus spoke more authoritatively than the scribes (1:22). In John 5:24–25 Jesus says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. . . . an hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live.”
What is expressed in Hebrews 1:1–4 is illustrated in the gospel accounts of Jesus’ public ministry. He is superior to the prophets of old in His position of preeminence, His person, and His prophetic utterances. But the writer of Hebrews is not just making the point that Jesus is qualitatively superior to the prophets of old. There is also an eschatological dimension to be considered. The former days consisted of types, shadows, and promises that pointed to the coming prophet-priest-king of a new covenant. The death, burial, resurrection, and ascension of Christ have brought an end to those elements, practices, and offices that pointed to Him. This includes the prophetic office. Jesus’ death on the cross has brought animal sacrifices to a close, and His high priestly functions have abrogated the need for human high priests. Likewise, as the consummate prophet of God, Jesus has brought an end to the need of lesser prophets as the means of divine revelation.
The finished work of Christ and the completion of the canon of Scripture have brought an end to the office of prophet in the Old Testament sense of the term. When preachers expound the Scriptures, it is a “forthtelling” of what “thus says the Lord,” but they are not the recipients of new revelation from God. It may be commonplace for Christians to use or hear the phrase “the Lord told me . . . ,” but perhaps more caution should be exercised. I realize that in many cases what is meant is a strong impression on one’s conscience about a particular matter. Or perhaps a specific biblical text or its application is brought to bear on a given situation. This could be what is meant by “God speaking,” and I think those examples could be valid. Unfortunately, what is often meant is more akin to God speaking through individuals today in the same way He did with the prophets of old — that’s where the problem lies. This is equivalent to returning to the types and shadows of animal sacrifices and the Levitical priesthood. Those were abolished at the appearing glory of the substance — Christ, who is God’s final and definitive revelation of His Word and will. Christ has spoken in the Scriptures and continues to speak when Scripture is expounded.
In short, there is no new revelation apart from Christ. He is the prophet that has come as the fulfillment of the long awaited promise. As the Son of God, Jesus not only declared the Word of God but manifested God to us as the Word of God in the flesh. What more do we need than what God has declared and manifested through His Son?