The initial paragraph functions as an exordium to the written address that follows. It introduces the theme of the superiority of God’s Son to all other previous modes of revelation. This theme receives emphatic expression in the first and last verses, where the revelation delivered by the Son is contrasted with that delivered through men and angels. The writer’s perspective is distinctly theocentric; he confronts his readers immediately with the God who intervened in human history with his sovereign word addressed to humankind. His ultimate word, however, was spoken through one who is distinguished from others by reason of the unique relationship he sustains to God. The core of the paragraph, which consists of seven predicates, explores the character of the divine Son in terms of expectations prompted by reflection upon Ps 2 and Ps 110 as well as by contemporary currents of Jewish wisdom theology. The Son unites in his person the attributes and privileges of the royal Son, the Wisdom of God, and the royal Priest. Consequently, he is uniquely qualified to be the one through whom God spoke his final word.
Vanhoye (La structure, 65-68) has shown that the effect of the change of subject from God to Son in the middle of the sentence is to arrange the several clauses of the period into two units, vv 1-2 and vv 3-4. Grammatically, the second unit depends upon the first because it begins with a relative clause. By virtue of its pregnant expression, however, the second unit assumes the dominant position and tends to reduce the initial lines to the role of a preamble. Both units are composed around a central statement, to which the remaining clauses are attached. The center of the first unit is the assertion that “at the end of these days, he has spoken to us in the Son” (v 2 a). This proposition is preceded by the solemn and stately beginning of the period, with its focus on the revelation through the prophets (v 1), and is followed by two relative clauses that succinctly qualify the status and character of the Son (v 2 b–c). At the center of vv 3-4 stands the proposition, “having made purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the divine majesty on high” (v 3 c). This declaration summarizes the redemptive accomplishment of the Son and his subsequent exaltation at its completion. It is harmoniously balanced by two coordinating phrases introduced by present participles (ὢν … φέρων τε) that effectively suggest the transcendent dignity of the Son on one side and by two correlative members of a comparison which assert his excellence on the other side. The two units of the period have been artistically unified so that the first concludes with the word υἱῷ, “Son,” which in turn prepares for the second unit, which concludes with the corresponding noun ὄνομα, “name.”
1 a πολυμερω̑ς καὶ πολυτρόπως, “at various times and in many ways.” Although the use of alliterative combinations of πολυ- words in rhetorical openings was a common practice in this period (Moffatt, 2), the initial adverbial phrase in Hebrews is more than a literary convention. These πολυ- compounds express in an emphatic way the writer’s conviction concerning the extent of the OT revelation. He surveys the revelation granted through the prophets in its variety and fullness but implies that until the coming of the Son the revelation of God remained incomplete.
Both compounds occur only here in the NT, and it has been asserted that they betray an indebtedness to Philo (e.g., Spicq, 1:46). Although Philo does have a fondness for πολυ- compounds and for alliteration involving πολυ- words, the particular combination found in 1:1 never occurs in his writings. There is, in fact, nothing in the Philonic corpus corresponding to this sonorous description of the OT revelation as manifold and varied. No evidence exists that the writer to the Hebrews was influenced in his choice of expression or its application by anything he found in Philo (Williamson, Philo, 70-74, 133-34).
1 b–2 a The contrast implied by the temporal references to past time (πάλαι) and to the present marked by the utterance of God’s decisive and climactic word (ἐπ᾿ ἐσχάτου τῶν ἡμερῶν τούτων, “this final age”) expresses the classic Jewish and primitive Christian conception of the succession of two ages in the course of redemptive history. The characterization of the present time as “this final age” is qualitative and indicative of the dominant eschatological orientation of the writer’s thought. He is persuaded that certain decisive events have already taken place marking the fulfillment of the promise and foreshadowing of the OT Scriptures, and that certain other decisive and final events will yet occur. Apocalyptic eschatology provided him the categories with which to interpret the entire history of God’s redemptive action (Klappert, Eschatologie, 11-61; on the fundamental difference between Philo and Hebrews on the subjects of time and history, see Williamson, Philo, 142-59). The distinctly Christian perspective reflected in the opening lines of Hebrews is thrown into bold relief when the writer’s statement is compared with the temporal contrast developed by a contemporary, who viewed the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70 from a Jewish apocalyptic point of view: “In former times, even in the generations of old, our fathers had helpers, righteous men and holy prophets.…; But now the righteous have been gathered, and the prophets have fallen asleep. We also have gone forth from the land, and Zion has been taken from us, and we have nothing now except the Mighty One and his law” (2 Apoc. Bar. 81:1, 3).
ἐπ᾿ ἐσχάτου τῶν ἡμερῶν is a Septuagintal expression that translates a Semitic temporal idiom for the future as distinct from the past (Num 24:14; Jer 23:20; 25:19; 49:39; Dan 10:14). The meaning of ἔσχατος in hellenistic-Jewish literature, however, especially in eschatological contexts, so colored the expression that it came to possess technical significance (G. W. Buchanan, “Eschatology and the ‘End of Days,’ ” JNES 20  188-93). The interpretation of the expression in Hebrews is determined by the reference to God’s utterance through the prophets in v 1. During the hellenistic-Roman period the conviction became widespread that the prophetic message to Israel was concerned with eschatology. This conception can now be attested for the pre-Christian period in a collection of biblical texts from Qumran (IVQFlor 1:15, “as it is written in the book of Isaiah the prophet concerning the latter days,” followed by a citation of Isa 8:11; Cf. Sir 48:24-25). The force of the expression in Hebrews is to characterize the Son as the one through whom God spoke his final and decisive word.
The temporal idioms qualify the central affirmation that God has spoken. The conviction that God cares for people and relates himself to them through his spoken word is developed as a major motif by the writer. In the opening lines he concentrates his hearers’ attention on the authority of the God who speaks. The locus of God’s spoken word for him was the Scriptures. He customarily introduces passages from the OT as God’s direct speech (e.g., 1:5-13; 5:5-6; 7:17, 21). The persuasion that God’s word is living and active in human experience (4:12) undergirds the appeal to the authority of the Scriptures throughout Hebrews and prepares the hearers for the solemn exhortation not to refuse the God who is speaking (12:25) at the conclusion of the sermon. Although the instrumental dative ἐν υἱῷ (“God spoke …; by his Son”) would encourage the interpretation of the phrase ἐν τοι̑ς προφήταις in an instrumental sense (“through the prophets”), it is possible that the phrase may actually refer to the OT Scriptures (as in Luke 24:25; John 6:45; so BAGD, 723).
God’s continuing disclosure of himself found its ultimate expression in the revelation through the Son. The complementary phrases “God spoke” ἐν τοῖς προφήταις … ἐν υἱῷ, “through the prophets …; by the Son,” establish that the revelation of God in Jesus Christ can be understood only within the context of God’s revelation to Israel. The OT witness actually foreshadowed the utterance of God’s decisive and climactic word. The fragmentary and varied character of God’s self-disclosure under the old covenant awakened within the fathers an expectation that he would continue to speak to his people. Those who are the sons of the fathers understand that the word spoken through the Son constituted an extension of a specific history marked by divine revelation. The ministry of the prophets marked the preparatory phase of that history.
The form of the statement in vv 1 b–2 a implies both continuity and discontinuity in the divine self-disclosure. The element of continuity is asserted in the clauses expressing the event of God’s speaking (ὁ θεὸς λαλήσας τοῖς πατράσιν … ἐλάλησεν ἡμῖν, “God having spoken to the fathers …; he spoke to us”); discontinuity is expressed in the contrast between revelation through the prophets and revelation through the Son. The anarthrous ἐν υἱῷ is qualitative. The eternal, essential quality of Jesus’ sonship qualified him to be the one through whom God uttered his final word. The antithesis in the two phases of revelation lies in the distinction between the prophets who were men and the Son who enjoys a unique relationship to God. In 7:28 a similar distinction is made between high priests who were men and the one who is the Son.
What God said through the Son clarified the intention of the word spoken to the fathers. From this perspective, the recent revelation in the Son is viewed as fulfillment (although the distinctive vocabulary of fulfillment, πληρόω/πλήρωμα, never occurs in the address).