Near to the Heart of God: A Study of the Book of Hebrews

Download all audio

Each lesson on this study of Hebrews is designed fit into the whole of the book. The attached powerpoint and audio were given during the teaching of these lessons. The attached word document (study guides) are questions for the congregation, handed out the week prior to the lesson. They are intended for reflection and self study before reading/listening to the lesson.

Series ID: 
366
Ad Category: 
Passage: 

1. Why Study Hebrews?

Introduction1

I confess; I’m a coward. I’ve been preaching for nearly 40 years, and I’ve somehow avoided preaching on the Book of Hebrews. I’m not sure that it was always a conscious thing, but for whatever reasons, it has taken me all these years to get to this point.

I’m not alone in this. I know of other preachers who have also avoided Hebrews. Of course, there are many preachers who don’t teach any book of the Bible in an expository way – chapter by chapter and book by book. And even those who have been so bold as to take on the monumental task of preaching through Hebrews have not necessarily proven to be an encouragement to me. I’ve read or listened to their teaching, and in the end, I’m just as perplexed as I was beforehand. I also know that some who have taught through Hebrews have not even convinced themselves and have changed their minds as to its interpretation.

Having said this, the elders and I have concluded that it is finally time for us to commence a study of Hebrews. In this lesson, I will seek to answer several questions:

Why should we study Hebrews?

How will I approach Hebrews?

Why do people avoid Hebrews?

We will spend the majority of our time on this third question, hoping to put some problem areas into perspective. Having done so, we will conclude by suggesting some areas of application.

Why Should We Study Hebrews?

There are a great number of reasons why I believe it is time for us to study the Book of Hebrews. Let me suggest a few of them.

1. I believe that a study of the Book of Hebrews may be the next step for us as a church as we seek to grow in our desire for greater intimacy with Christ, greater faith, and bolder acts of service.Last week, we were challenged to think of our Lord in much greater terms – greater in power, in majesty, in love and mercy and grace. We were exhorted to exercise much greater faith in what He can and will do in us, in our church, and in our community (in addition to what He is doing abroad). Today, one of our men stood in our prayer time and prayed that we would thirst for God as the deer pants for water (Psalm 42:1). I believe Hebrews is just the book God’s Spirit may employ to move us in this direction.

2. More than any other New Testament book, Hebrews connects the dots between the Old Testament and the New. George H. Guthrie points out how the Book of Hebrews refers to the Old Testament:

“Of all the writings of the New Testament, none is more saturated with overt references to the Old Testament. The author so filled his discourse with Old Testament thoughts and passages that they permeate every chapter. Thirty-five quotations from a Greek translation of the Old Testament and thirty-four allusions work to support the development of Hebrews’ argument. In addition, the writer offers nineteen summaries of Old Testament material, and thirteen times he mentions an Old Testament name or topic, often without reference to a specific context.”2

In Colossians, the Apostle Paul writes,

16 Therefore do not let anyone judge you with respect to food or drink, or in the matter of a feast, new moon, or Sabbath days – 17 these are only the shadow of the things to come, but the reality is Christ! (Colossians 2:16-17).3

It is the Book of Hebrews that takes up this theme and explains it in greater detail (see Hebrews 8:5; 10:1). The Old Testament foreshadowed the New, and Hebrews is the place to go if we wish to understand this as we should.

3. The Book of Hebrews helps us to understand the relationship between Jewish and Gentile believers, and between Israel and the church. In Acts 15, the Judaisers prompted the “Jerusalem Council” by insisting that Gentile believers be baptized and keep the law. In other words, they insisted that Gentiles become Jewish proselytes. This issue was taken up in great detail in the Book of Galatians. In my opinion, the underlying issue in the Book of Romans is the relationship between Israel and the church (and thus the relationship of Jewish and Gentile believers in the church). I am tempted to think that this highly emotional and divisive issue was dealt with on two levels: The Epistle to the Romans was the “western” explanation; the Epistle to the Hebrews was the “eastern” resolution.4 And both come to the same conclusions.

4. Hebrews exalts the person and work of Jesus Christ, prompting us to draw near to Him. When you stop to think about it, the whole Bible is about Jesus, although this becomes more and more clear as we work our way into the New Testament. But among the epistles, no book places the spotlight more directly on Jesus than Hebrews. As the author himself puts it, “keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith” (Hebrews 12:2). Thus, we are to draw near:

19 Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the sanctuary by the blood of Jesus, 20 by the fresh and living way that he inaugurated for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near with a sincere heart in the assurance that faith brings, because we have had our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed in pure water (Hebrews 10:19-22).

5.Hebrews provides us with the most extensive exposition on the high priestly ministry of our Lord Jesus.We read our Lord’s “high priestly prayer” in John 17, and we find brief references to His high priestly ministry for us elsewhere in the New Testament. But it is the Book of Hebrews that contains the fullest exposition of our Lord’s ministry as our Great High Priest. It is this ministry which we most need in times of difficulty and adversity.

6. Hebrews emphasizes the authority of the Word of God and urges us to heed its warnings and exhortations:

1 After God spoke long ago in various portions and in various ways to our ancestors through the prophets, 2 in these last days he has spoken to us in a son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he created the world. 3 The Son is the radiance of his glory and the representation of his essence, and he sustains all things by his powerful word, and so when he had accomplished cleansing for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high (Hebrews 1:1-3).

1 Therefore we must pay closer attention to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away. 2 For if the message spoken through angels proved to be so firm that every violation or disobedience received its just penalty, 3 how will we escape if we neglect such a great salvation? It was first communicated through the Lord and was confirmed to us by those who heard him, 4 while God confirmed their witness with signs and wonders and various miracles and gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will (Hebrews 2:1-4).

11 Thus we must make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by following the same pattern of disobedience. 12 For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any double-edged sword, piercing even to the point of dividing soul from spirit, and joints from marrow; it is able to judge the desires and thoughts of the heart. 13 And no creature is hidden from God, but everything is naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must render an account (Hebrews 4:11-13).

11 On this topic we have much to say and it is difficult to explain, since you have become sluggish in hearing. 12 For though you should in fact be teachers by this time, you need someone to teach you the beginning elements of God’s utterances. You have gone back to needing milk, not solid food. 13 For everyone who lives on milk is inexperienced in the message of righteousness, because he is an infant. 14 But solid food is for the mature, whose perceptions are trained by practice to discern both good and evil (Hebrews 5:11-14).

No New Testament epistle more strongly emphasizes the authority of Scripture and its importance in our daily lives.

7. Hebrews not only challenges us to live by faith; it provides us with many practical examples of how this is done.We think first of the eleventh chapter, where we see many examples of living by faith. But the instructions and exhortations of the rest of the book also thrust us in the direction of living out our faith.

8. Hebrews has many words of hope and encouragement, but it also has some very sobering words of warning for those who disregard God’s Word and draw back from intimate fellowship with our Lord. Let’s face it, the warnings are so sobering many choose to keep this epistle a closed book. But when the writer warns us, he also encourages us as well:

4 For it is impossible in the case of those who have once been enlightened, tasted the heavenly gift, become partakers of the Holy Spirit, 5 tasted the good word of God and the miracles of the coming age, 6 and then have committed apostasy, to renew them again to repentance, since they are crucifying the Son of God for themselves all over again and holding him up to contempt. 7 For the ground that has soaked up the rain that frequently falls on it and yields useful vegetation for those who tend it receives a blessing from God. 8 But if it produces thorns and thistles, it is useless and about to be cursed; its fate is to be burned. 9 But in your case, dear friends, even though we speak like this, we are convinced of better things relating to salvation. 10 For God is not unjust so as to forget your work and the love you have demonstrated for his name, in having served and continuing to serve the saints. 11 But we passionately want each of you to demonstrate the same eagerness for the fulfillment of your hope until the end, 12 so that you may not be sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and perseverance inherit the promises (Hebrews 6:4-12, emphasis mine).

9. Hebrews will not hear of us living lives of complacency, lives which neglect God’s Word, intimacy with Christ, and fellowship of His people. Hebrews urges us to press on to maturity and warns us of the danger of complacency.

Thus we must make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by following the same pattern of disobedience (Hebrews 4:11).

11 Now all discipline seems painful at the time, not joyful. But later it produces the fruit of peace and righteousness for those trained by it. 12 Therefore, strengthen your listless hands and your weak knees (Hebrews 12:11-12).

10. Hebrews holds us accountable, not only for our own Christian walk, but also for what happens to our struggling or straying brethren.

23 And let us hold unwaveringly to the hope that we confess, for the one who made the promise is trustworthy. 24 And let us take thought of how to spur one another on to love and good works, 25 not abandoning our own meetings, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging each other, and even more so because you see the day drawing near (Hebrews 10:23-25).

11. Hebrews challenges us to press on to deeper spiritual understanding and Christian maturity (Hebrews 5:11-13).

12. Hebrews summons us to endurance and perseverance, especially as days of greater persecution come upon us.

32 But remember the former days when you endured a harsh conflict of suffering after you were enlightened. 33 At times you were publicly exposed to abuse and afflictions, and at other times you came to share with others who were treated in that way. 34 For in fact you shared the sufferings of those in prison, and you accepted the confiscation of your belongings with joy, because you knew that you certainly had a better and lasting possession. 35 So do not throw away your confidence, because it has great reward. 36 For you need endurance in order to do God’s will and so receive what is promised (Hebrews 10:32-36).

3 Think of him who endured such opposition against himself by sinners, so that you may not grow weary in your souls and give up. 4 You have not yet resisted to the point of bloodshed in your struggle against sin (Hebrews 12:3-4).

13.Hebrews instructs us as to how we should “abide in Christ.”John 15 was the central text in our time at the Lord’s Table this Sunday morning. How important it is to abide in Christ. It occurred to me that while this term (meno, “to abide”) is not found in Hebrews, it is really what Hebrews is all about. Hebrews exalts the person of our Lord Jesus Christ and of His Word and exhorts us to abide in Him. What is more important than this? And if this is what Hebrews is all about – and I assure you that it is – then we had better become students of this book.

How Will We Approach This Series?

My goal is to help us all understand the message of Hebrews as a book. The book has several sections, so we will begin at the first section and work through the entire book. I will begin each section with an overview of the entire section, and then we’ll work our way through the smaller segments of that section. We will move at a fast enough pace so that the message of the whole book will not be lost in the details.

Let me give you an example of how this will work in the next few lessons. The first major section is Hebrews 1:1—2:18. In the next lesson, I will deal with the message of this entire section. This will be followed (in the next two or three weeks) with a study of these segments:

Hebrews 1:1-3

Hebrews 1:4—2:4

Hebrews 2:5-185

In this series, I will be inviting even greater participation on the part of the congregation. I have asked those in the Friday morning study group to each focus on a particular dimension, or a particular commentary. Because there are many different ways of interpreting some passages, I will attempt to give these points of view a hearing, and then I will seek to represent these positions fairly, especially if I disagree with them. I am also inviting you in the audience to send me e-mails when you have found helpful information, have gained a certain insight, or have some matter about which you disagree or which needs further investigation. I hope that this will make the teaching of this series more interactive.

Why Don’t We Study Hebrews?

Put more bluntly, why is it that so many Christians seek to avoid studying Hebrews? This gets to the heart of my purpose in this introductory lesson. I believe that we need to recognize why we shy away from Hebrews, and then get some perspective on these issues. So let’s get to it. Why do people (including me) tend to avoid Hebrews?

1.We’re cowards, especially me. As a preacher, I don’t want to get in over my head. I remember a time years ago when a preacher I know started a chapter-by-chapter study of the Book of Job. He quit, right in the middle of the series. In fact, he may have quit before he got to the middle of the book. It was tough sledding, and I can fully understand why he gave up. Others may doggedly press on, causing the audience to wish the preacher would quit.

2.One of the reasons preachers don’t want to tackle teaching through Hebrews is that congregations are not eager for them to do so.Hebrews is the Leviticus of the New Testament. I know that this is true with regard to its content, but I am speaking in terms of its popularity. If Leviticus is one of the least-read books of the Old Testament, Hebrews is one of the least-studied books in the New.

Few preachers aspire to teach something that others don’t wish to hear (though this is our task). I certainly don’t want to start something that I’m afraid I might not finish. And so it is that you and I must commence this study by faith, rather than by sight. We must trust that because this is God’s Word (and that is surely something the author wants us to grasp – see Hebrews 1:1—2:4), God will grant us insight into this book, and He will make this study one that is profitable.

3. Hebrews may appear to be irrelevant to those of us who are Gentiles because the book has such a strong Jewish orientation.Let us remember that “salvation is from the Jews” (John 4:22). Gentile believers are “sons of Abraham” by faith (Romans 4; see Galatians 6:16). Gentile believers have been “grafted in” to Israel’s blessings (Romans 11:11-24). It was Israel’s unbelief that (in the sovereign purposes of God) was the means by which this grafting has taken place (Romans 11:25-33). It is Gentile belief that will provoke unbelieving Jews to jealousy, leading to salvation (Romans 11:11-16). All of this is to say that one cannot compartmentalize the Old Testament, isolating it from the New. Nor can one completely separate God’s dealings with His people, the Jews, from His dealings with those of us who are Gentiles.

There is another reason why Gentiles must grasp the relationship of the Old Covenant to the New. Much of the error being disseminated among Gentile churches had a distinctly Jewish flavor. The Judaisers were seeking to put the Gentiles under the Old Testament law (see Acts 15 and the whole Book of Galatians). Those who were causing trouble in the churches were Jewish (or so they represented themselves):

Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they descendants of Abraham? So am I (2 Corinthians 11:22).

6 Some have strayed from these and turned away to empty discussion. 7 They want to be teachers of the law, but they do not understand what they are saying or the things they insist on so confidently (1 Timothy 1:6-7).

10 For there are many rebellious people, idle talkers, and deceivers, especially those with Jewish connections, 11 who must be silenced because they mislead whole families by teaching for dishonest gain what ought not to be taught. 12 A certain one of them, in fact, one of their own prophets, said, “Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons.” 13 Such testimony is true. For this reason rebuke them sharply that they may be healthy in the faith 14 and not pay attention to Jewish myths and commands of people who reject the truth (Titus 1:10-14).

“‘I know the distress you are suffering and your poverty (but you are rich). I also know the slander against you by those who call themselves Jews and really are not, but are a synagogue of Satan’” (Revelation 2:9; see also 3:9).

It was necessary to understand the Old Testament and its relation to the New in order to understand the gospel of grace, and thus to avoid the false teaching of those Jews who were seeking to mislead Gentile believers.

One more thing needs to be said about those who would consider that these “Jewish matters” were of no interest or concern to Gentile believers:

No trial has overtaken you that is not faced by others. And God is faithful: He will not let you be tried beyond what you are able to bear, but with the trial will also provide a way out so that you may be able to endure it (1 Corinthians 10:13).

Our problems as Gentiles are not unique, nor are the problems faced by the Jews. That is why, in the verses leading up to verse 13,6 Paul used the failings of the Jews during their wilderness wanderings to instruct the predominantly Gentile church at Corinth (and beyond) about those fleshly temptations that are so deadly.

4.The main reason why we avoid Hebrews is that it is a difficult book to interpret and to apply.In short, we find it difficult to understand, and so we put it aside for something that is simple. If we find Hebrews hard to understand, we are certainly not alone:

“William Barclay once wrote, ‘When we come to read the Letter to the Hebrews we come to read what is, for the person of today, the most difficult book in the whole New Testament.’”7 (Guthrie, pp. 13-14)

“The young Charles Haddon Spurgeon found it difficult to understand. With typical humour he recalled his teenage feelings about the letter: ‘I have a very lively, or rather deadly, recollection of a certain series of discourses on the Hebrews, which made a deep impression on my mind of the most undesirable kind. I wished frequently that the Hebrews had kept the Epistle to themselves, for it sadly bored a poor Gentile lad.’”8

Let me be more specific about some of the ways people find Hebrews more perplexing than other books of the Bible.

Canonicity9

Hebrews was one of the New Testament books which was recognized as being a part of the canon of Scripture later than others. It was not until late in the fourth century that Hebrews was officially accepted as part of the New Testament, and this was perhaps largely due to the fact that Pauline authorship was assumed at this point in time.10

Authorship

The author of Hebrews is not indicated in the epistle, and there is considerable debate as to who it might be. I find it interesting – and perhaps even troubling – that so much effort has been expended to determine the author of Hebrews when it seems apparent that God did not want us to know. Paul Ellingworth, in his commentary,11 deals with 13 proposed authors to the book. When I read all the pages in the commentaries devoted to this question of authorship, the words of Deuteronomy 29:29 come to mind:

Secret things belong to the Lord our God, but those that are revealed belong to us and our descendants forever, so that we might obey all the words of this law (Deuteronomy 29:29).

God is telling us here that He has revealed what we need to know, and that what He has concealed we should leave alone. Why then are we working so hard to identify the author?

I think I would go one step further. Why do we not consider it instructive that the name of the author is deliberately concealed? Several have noted that not only is the author’s name concealed, but that when the author cites Old Testament Scriptures – which he often does – he does not name the human author there, either.12 I used to think that the author of Hebrews simply had a bad memory, but I now am convinced that he purposed not to name the human authors, and I think that the author of Hebrews tells us why at the very outset of the epistle:

1 After God spoke long ago in various portions and in various ways to our ancestors through the prophets, 2 in these last days he has spoken to us in a son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he created the world. 3 The Son is the radiance of his glory and the representation of his essence, and he sustains all things by his powerful word, and so when he had accomplished cleansing for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high (Hebrews 1:1-3).

The author wants us to look at Scripture as having come from God. The words of Scripture are God’s revelation to us, a revelation to which we would do well to heed (Hebrews 2:1-4). No wonder human authorship is not emphasized in Hebrews (though it is certainly not denied). And so we find the absence of the author’s name to be instructive and completely consistent with the message of the book.

The Recipients of this Epistle

The recipients of this epistle are not identified, nor is the city in which they live. Neither is the city from which this epistle originated revealed to us. This does not mean that we know nothing about them or their circumstances. Here is some of what we do know:

The recipients were either Jewish, or they were Gentiles who were very familiar with Jewish practices and beliefs: they knew their Old Testament.13 The author assumes this, and thus he often cites Old Testament texts, or he refers to Old Testament personalities or institutions.

The author assumes that his readers (perhaps with a few exceptions) were believers (see Hebrews 3:1).

The recipients had been believers for some time. They had already endured some persecution for their faith (see Hebrews 5:12; 10:32-34).

These Hebrew saints had not yet suffered unto death for their faith, though the inference is that they will see more intense persecution in the not-too-distant future (Hebrews 12:1-13).

Those whose lives were characterized by spiritual neglect were considered especially vulnerable to failure if and when hard times fell upon the church.

In spite of being believers for some time, they were still immature in their knowledge of the Scriptures (Hebrews 5:11-14).

Some of them were negligent with regard to the Scriptures and also in their gathering with other believers. They had also drifted away from an intimate walk with the Lord Jesus (Hebrews 2:1-4; 10:19-25).

Thus, they were in danger of more blatant disobedience and rebellion – of falling away (Hebrews 3:12-17; 4:11; 10:26-31; 12:15-17, 25).

The Date of the Writing of Hebrews

We are not given clear indication as to when this epistle was written, though most conservative scholars tend to believe it was in the second half of the first century. Was the temple still standing and functional? If so, then the epistle would seem to have been written before 70 A. D.14

The “Warning Texts” of Hebrews

Many Christians are troubled by the “warning texts” of Hebrews, such as those found in Hebrews 6:4-8 and 10:26-31.Is Hebrews teaching that a Christian can lose his or her salvation, contrary to the clear teaching of other biblical texts? If not, what do these texts mean? I would simply point out to you what Don Curtis indicated to me: these warning texts are followed by words of assurance, rather than doubt.15 We must not avoid certain texts just because they are difficult to understand or because they appear to contradict other texts. We must be all the more diligent to study these texts and to find a biblical resolution to any apparent contradictions.

The Way Old Testament Texts are Used in Hebrews

Another reason why people find Hebrews a hard book to study is the way in which the author uses the Old Testament Scriptures in his epistle. We in the West, and those who have been trained to interpret Old Testament citations in a very narrow way, need to recognize that the New Testament authors used Old Testament texts in a variety of ways. I would strongly urge you to look at Don Curtis’ work on this subject.16

Conflict over the Interpretation of Hebrews

Some people do not enjoy Hebrews because there seems to be so much disagreement among the scholars regarding the interpretation of this epistle. “If the scholars can’t agree on what it means, how am I to know?” And sometimes the disagreements can get heated. For this reason, some chose to avoid Hebrews altogether.

It is Hard to Trace the Argument of Hebrews

I must confess that this is the main reason why I’ve tended to avoid preaching Hebrews for a number of years. Not only have I failed to trace the argument of the book, but others whom I trust and respect have not produced convincing17 arguments either.

So how do we come to terms with the fact that there seems to be no general agreement concerning the argument of the Book of Hebrews? I greatly appreciate George H. Guthrie’s commentary18 on this point. First, Guthrie reminds us that this epistle is more in the form of a sermon, perhaps like that which would have been preached in a synagogue:

“Although the author chooses to address the pressing problem facing this community in the form of a sermon, the development and structure of this sermon’s argument have baffled commentators through the centuries. A quick look at the introductions to several commentaries demonstrates the lack of consensus on this matter among those who have attempted to outline the book.”19

Second, Guthrie proposes that Hebrews intertwines exposition and exhortation:

“However this [superiority] approach fails to take seriously the two distinct types of literature found in Hebrews, namely, exposition, in which the author expounds the person and work of Christ, and exhortation, in which he seeks to motivate the congregation to a positive response. Hebrews does not develop in a neat outline from point A to point Z. Rather, the author switches back and forth between exposition and exhortation. Although the two work together powerfully, weaving a tapestry of concepts toward the accomplishment of his purpose, they contribute to that purpose in different manners.”20

We’ve gotten used to books like Romans and Ephesians, where the author (Paul) first establishes his doctrinal foundation (exposition), and then moves on to application (exhortation). Thus, Romans establishes doctrine in chapters 1-11, and then applies it in chapters 12-16. In Ephesians, the exposition is found in chapters 1-3, and the exhortation comes in chapters 4-6. This is not so with Hebrews. Exhortation is interspersed with exposition.

But there is yet further reason why we find the argument of Hebrews difficult to trace. The author is distant from us in time and in culture. Because of this, we must work harder to interpret and apply this great epistle. I love the way Guthrie illustrates the need for greater effort on our part.21

Guthrie uses two excellent illustrations to demonstrate the need for increased effort on our part when we approach our study of Hebrews. First, he uses the analogy of friendship. He drove to seminary with a college friend (both of them were apparently from Tennessee). From their common background, they both understood that “barbeque” was shredded pork, “Paris” was a town in Western Tennessee, and “to carry someone to church” meant that you would give them a ride to church in your car.

When Guthrie arrived at seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, he discovered that Texans saw things a little bit differently. “Barbeque” was not shredded pork, but beef brisket, “Paris” was a town in northeast Texas, and a “tank” was a small body of water which you used to water your cattle, or perhaps to fish or swim in.

But Guthrie also met and befriended a number of international students. One in particular was from Korea. For this friend, “barbeque” was a strange substance called pulgoki, and other food included things like fermented cabbage. Cultural and language differences required a great deal more effort for meaningful communication to take place. The greater the cultural and linguistic distance, the greater the effort required.

Guthrie used a second analogy of three bridges. The first is near his home. It crosses a thirty-some-foot expanse over the Forked Deer River (or creek – crick as we would say it where I grew up). It took a certain amount of resources and effort to build. Some fifty miles away, there is another river and another bridge. The river is the Mississippi, and the bridge is a mile long. It took a lot more resources and a great deal more effort to build – because the gap to span was greater. Then he mentioned a third bridge, which crosses the Atchafalaya Swamp. This bridge is seventeen miles long, and it had to be built over a swamp teaming with snakes and alligators. The greater the gap, the greater the effort required. Needless to say, the Book of Hebrews is the “Atchafalaya Swamp” of the New Testament. If we wish to bridge the gap from here and now to then and there, we will have to work at it.

Another thing that makes it hard to trace the argument of Hebrews is that this epistle is really a lengthy sermon. This was a sermon that would likely have been preached in a synagogue. The author speaks of the epistle as a “message of exhortation”:

Now I urge you, brothers and sisters, bear with my message of exhortation, for in fact I have written to you briefly (Hebrews 13:22, emphasis mine).

The kind of message one would preach in the synagogue would also be called an “exhortation.”

14 Moving on from Perga, they arrived at Pisidian Antioch, and on the Sabbath day they went into the synagogue and sat down. 15 After the reading from the law and the prophets, the leaders of the synagogue sent them a message, saying, “Brothers, if you have any message of exhortation for the people, speak it” (Acts 13:14-15, emphasis mine).

We thus must approach Hebrews as a sermon.

Conclusion

I have attempted to demonstrate that our excuses for avoiding Hebrews are invalid and that it is time for us to devote ourselves to a serious study of this epistle. As I conclude this lesson, let me do a little exhorting.

Granting that this book is difficult, I (echoing George Guthrie and others) have urged that we commit ourselves to the labor it will take, confident that it will be worth our while. But let’s not assume that this book was ever easy for anyone to grasp. If we suppose that this book was not difficult for its original readers, we are wrong. Granted, the content and style of this epistle were not nearly as foreign to the original readers as they are to us, but it was not an easy message for them to grasp either. The writer makes this abundantly clear to us:

11 On this topic we have much to say and it is difficult to explain, since you have become sluggish in hearing. 12 For though you should in fact be teachers by this time, you need someone to teach you the beginning elements of God’s utterances. You have gone back to needing milk, not solid food. 13 For everyone who lives on milk is inexperienced in the message of righteousness, because he is an infant. 14 But solid food is for the mature, whose perceptions are trained by practice to discern both good and evil (Hebrews 5:11-14, emphasis mine).

When I allow the Book of Hebrews to shape my thinking about the difficulties with this book, I come to the somewhat shocking realization that the problem is not with Hebrews; it is with me (May I be so bold as to say that the problem is with us?) The situation, whether we like it or not, is that we have not chosen to move from milk to meat. We (along with the first recipients of Hebrews) are much like the Corinthians:

1 So, brothers and sisters, I could not speak to you as spiritual people, but instead as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. 2 I fed you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready. In fact, you are still not ready, 3 for you are still influenced by the flesh. For since there is still jealousy and dissension among you, are you not influenced by the flesh and behaving like unregenerate people? (1 Corinthians 3:1-3)

The writer to the Hebrews recognizes this same immaturity. But he refuses to “dumb down” his writing. He turns to “meat” and writes of things that are difficult to grasp. He seizes his readers by the hand, so to speak, and pulls them along into much deeper truth:

11 On this topic we have much to say and it is difficult to explain, since you have become sluggish in hearing. 12 For though you should in fact be teachers by this time, you need someone to teach you the beginning elements of God’s utterances. You have gone back to needing milk, not solid food. 13 For everyone who lives on milk is inexperienced in the message of righteousness, because he is an infant. 14 But solid food is for the mature, whose perceptions are trained by practice to discern both good and evil. 1 Therefore we must progress beyond the elementary instructions about Christ and move on to maturity, not laying this foundation again: repentance from dead works and faith in God, 2 teaching about baptisms, laying on of hands, resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. 3 And this is what we intend to do, if God permits (Hebrews 5:11—6:3).

Hebrews is what all of us should be studying. In his brief introduction to Guthrie’s commentary on Hebrews, Terry Muck22 made some very challenging comments. Greatly paraphrased, Muck observed that Christians today are very much like the first readers of Hebrews. We are lazy in our Bible study, somewhat cold and indifferent in our walk with Christ, and less than faithful in our church attendance. The approach today has been somewhat sociological. We conduct polls and surveys, seeking to learn what will attract people to a personal faith and to church. Then we change (aka “dumb down”) our message and our methods so that we appeal to slothful saints.

The writer to the Hebrews does just the opposite. He elevates and exalts Christ to His rightful place. Then he exposes our weaknesses and spiritual immaturity. Rather than cater to our weakness, the author lovingly rebukes us, letting us know that much more is expected of us. And then he presses on to deal with material that is, at the moment, way over our heads. He challenges us to acknowledge our spiritual lethargy and presses us to sink our teeth into some real meat. That meat is the Book of Hebrews, and it is about time that all of us took a large bite.

We, like the Corinthians and the recipients of Hebrews, are spiritually weak. Many of us have been saved for some time. We may once have been zealous about our faith, but many have become cool (luke warm?), resting on our laurels. As such, we have become too occupied with our self-indulgent impulses and are thus ripe for trouble when real trouble comes our way. Hebrews is not just for those first readers, my friends; it is for us. We desperately need to study it and to take the corrective action that is prescribed. In essence, we need to see Christ exalted in His power, love, and grace. We need to heed His Word and to draw near to Him in intimate fellowship. As we do, we will also draw nearer to our fellow saints, and we will re-discover that “first love” which we experienced at the time of our conversion.

So let’s take the challenge of the Book of Hebrews, for it is God speaking to us, and not just a man. Let’s step up to the plate and partake of the feast which God has placed before us, looking to Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith (Hebrews 12:2).


1 Copyright © 2008 by Robert L. Deffinbaugh. This is the edited manuscript of Lesson 1 in the series, Near to the Heart of God – A Study of the Book of Hebrews, prepared by Robert L. Deffinbaugh on July 13, 2008. Anyone is at liberty to use this lesson for educational purposes only, with or without credit.

2 George H. Guthrie, Hebrews – The NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1998), p. 19.

3 Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the NET Bible. The NEW ENGLISH TRANSLATION, also known as THE NET BIBLE, is a completely new translation of the Bible, not a revision or an update of a previous English version. It was completed by more than twenty biblical scholars who worked directly from the best currently available Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek texts. The translation project originally started as an attempt to provide an electronic version of a modern translation for electronic distribution over the Internet and on CD (compact disk). Anyone anywhere in the world with an Internet connection will be able to use and print out the NET Bible without cost for personal study. In addition, anyone who wants to share the Bible with others can print unlimited copies and give them away free to others. It is available on the Internet at: www.netbible.org.

4 This would be particularly interesting if both Romans and Hebrews were addressed to believers in Rome, something we will not know for certain this side of heaven.

5 This section may require two lessons.

6 1 Corinthians 10:1-12.

7 George H. Guthrie, Hebrews – The NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1998), pp. 13-14.

8 C. H. Spurgeon, The Early Years (Banner of Truth, 1962), p. 48, as cited by Raymond Brown, Christ Above All: The Message of Hebrews (Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1982), pp. 20-21.

9 Meaning, “Is Hebrews a part of the inspired Scriptures?”

10 See F. F. Bruce, The Epistle to the Hebrews, revised edition (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1990), pp. 17, 22-25.

11 Paul Ellingworth, The Epistle to the Hebrews (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1993), pp. 3-21.

12 One rare exception would be found in Hebrews 4:7.

13 Most likely there was a mixture of Jewish and Gentile believers.

14 “Although dating most of the New Testament literature is a difficult endeavor, with any propositions considered tentative, the situation indicated by the data above suggests Hebrews was written in the mid-60s A.D., just prior to the extreme persecution of the Roman church under Nero.” Guthrie, p. 22.

15 See Hebrews 6:9-12 and 10:32-39.

16http://www.bible.org/node/545

17 Convincing to me, that is.

18 George H. Guthrie, Hebrews – The NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1998). See especially pp. 27-38.

19 Guthrie, p. 37.

20 Guthrie, pp. 27-28.

21 Guthrie, pp. 31-35.

22 Guthrie, pp. 11-12.


http://feeds.bible.org/deffinbaugh/hebrews/deff_hebrews_01.mp3
/assets/powerpoint/deff_hebrews_01.ppt
Ad Category: 
Passage: 
/assets/worddocs/deff_hebrews_01_sg.zip

2. The Uniqueness and Authority of Jesus Christ (Hebrews 1:1-2:4)

1 After God spoke long ago in various portions and in various ways to our ancestors through the prophets, 2 in these last days he has spoken to us in a son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he created the world. 3 The Son is the radiance of his glory and the representation of his essence, and he sustains all things by his powerful word, and so when he had accomplished cleansing for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high. 4 Thus he became so far better than the angels as he has inherited a name superior to theirs (Hebrews 1:1-4).2

Introduction

My friend, Fred Smith,3 did not have the opportunity to obtain a college degree. Nevertheless, he was one of the most educated men I have ever known. This is not just my opinion. Fred used to tell the story of being invited to be the commencement speaker at Harvard University. As the time for him to speak drew near, a woman from the university called to ask Fred what his academic colors were so that they could provide him with the appropriate academic garb. Fred had to inform the woman that he did not have a college degree, and then offered to step aside if they wished to invite someone else (with the proper credentials) to speak. Wisely, they opted to confirm their invitation for him to speak, and thus (much to Fred’s amusement) he wore a choir robe for the occasion. Certain outward indications of intellectual achievement may not have been present, but it didn’t take long for the audience to realize that this man had something significant to say. I have to admit, though, that I would have loved to hear what was said as Fred was being introduced to this audience.

Our first lesson in the Book of Hebrews was my introduction to the book. This lesson focuses on the author’s introduction. In one sense, it is an introduction to the Book of Hebrews; in another sense, it is an introduction to the Person about whom this book is written – Jesus Christ. We know that this is a difficult and challenging book, so the author begins by answering a question that is in the minds of anyone who contemplates whether or not to read it: “What is so special about Jesus that I should expend the time and energy to study Hebrews?” In this lesson, we will discover that Jesus Christ stands above and apart from anyone else.

An Overview of Hebrews 1:1-2:18

My desire is to understand the Book of Hebrews as a whole, as well as to explore the meaning and message of each of its many parts. I will therefore seek to identify the major sections in Hebrews and to study the parts each contains in the light of the argument of that section. The first major section of Hebrews is 1:1—2:18, chapters 1 and 2. Here’s the way I see the structure of this first section:

The Son of God and the “sons of God”4

Hebrews 1:1—2:18

Introduction: God has spoken in His Son (1:1-4)

The Son is God’s “final Word” (1:1-2a)

The Son is above all, particularly the angels (1:2b-4)

The Son is higher than the angels (1:4-14)

Exhortation: Listen to Him! (2:1-4)

The Son became lower than the angels to save men (2:5-18)

The term “angels” appears twelve times in the Book of Hebrews; ten of the twelve occurrences of this word occur in chapters 1 and 2 (five times in each chapter). The author begins by demonstrating that the Son is “higher than the angels” (1:1-14) and then, after a few words of exhortation (2:1-4), he tells us that the Son of God became “lower than the angels” in order to save sinful men, and having done so, He is once again exalted above all others (2:5-18). Hebrews 1 and 2 thus sums up the person and work of Jesus Christ from beginning (Creator) to end (Heir of all things), with particular emphasis on His incarnation and saving work at Calvary.

Characteristics of Hebrews 1:1-4

I have a friend who lives on a lake in Canada (I would think of this now as it will reach 100 degrees in Dallas, Texas today!) This is a glacier-cut lake, and sometimes large rocks will be invisible, just below the surface of the water. Usually the danger is indicated by a white plastic bottle that is anchored near the rock. On one occasion, the bottle somehow disappeared. Since my friend was relatively new to the lake at that time, he didn’t realize the danger just below the surface. To make a long story short, he got a new boat.

Just below the surface of the English text of Hebrews 1:1-4 are some very interesting features. These are not dangers at all, but beauties. Thankfully, the scholars have marked them for us. For example, in our English translation in the NET Bible, verses 1-4 contain three sentences. I counted five sentences in another translation. Yet in the Greek text, these four verses are one sentence. One implication of this is that we must see verse four as inseparable from verses 1-3. (I confess; I was tempted to deal only with verses 1-3 in this lesson.)

But it is two other characteristics of this text which are of the most interest to me. First, whether in the Greek text or the English, these verses are some of the most theologically powerful words in the New Testament. In so few words, the vast scope of the power and majesty of the Lord Jesus is described.

Second, not only is the content of these verses superb; the style of writing is absolutely top notch. Listen to what George H. Guthrie has to say about them:

“For example, in the book’s first four verses, which one commentator [Ceslas Spicq] has called the most perfect Greek sentence in the New Testament, the author of Hebrews uses periodic style (a crafted configuration of clauses and phrases that concludes with a majestic ending), effectiveness, compactness, contrast, poetic structure, omissions, figures, repetition (alliteration), and rhythm – all features extolled in the rhetorical handbooks of the day. His use of the Greek language ranks at the top of New Testament authors; his rich vocabulary reveals the background of one widely read.”5

Later on in his commentary, Guthrie says,

“Because Hebrews begins like a sermon, without any mention of sender, addressees, or words of greeting, the author opens with a majestic overture, rhetorically eloquent and theologically packed.”6

The first readers of these verses must have been struck with the power and majesty of Jesus, as reflected in both the content and the style of these introductory words.

Exposition

God Has Spoken By His Son

Hebrews 1:1-2a

1 After God spoke long ago in various portions and in various ways to our ancestors through the prophets, 2 in these last days he has spoken to us in7 a son, . . . .

In one sentence, the author sums up the whole of the Old Testament: God spoke to the readers ancestors from time to time, over many years, in many different ways. He spoke directly to some, as He did to Adam and Eve.8 He spoke through dreams and visions,9 such as those of Pharaoh10 and Nebuchadnezzar.11 He even spoke through Balaam’s donkey.12 But most often He spoke by means of the prophets, who then conveyed this revelation to the Israelites, the people of God.13 The Old Testament contained a written account of much of this revelation. The readers of Hebrews were familiar with this revelation, so that the author of this book will feel free to refer to it often, expecting his readers to know what he is talking about.

It is the next words – those found at the beginning of verse two – which come with boldness and authority: “In these last days He has spoken to us by his Son.” We would do well to observe that the author is not belittling the truth or the value of this Old Testament revelation. It is entirely true and authoritative – God spoke. It anticipates and is fully consistent with God’s speaking by His Son. But while there is a clear emphasis on the continuity of God’s revelation to men, there is also a very clear element of contrast. Thus, we can summarize these contrasts in this way:

God Has Spoken . . .

In olden times Now, in these last days

14To our fathers To us

By various means By one means

    At various times At one point in time

    Partially Fully and once for all

    Through the prophets Through His Son

    Through prophets who spoke for God Through Jesus, who spoke as God

Let me make one clarification. When the author writes that God has spoken by (or in) His Son, he does not refer only to the words that Jesus has spoken – those words in red in some Bibles. The author means for us to understand that God revealed Himself to us by our Lord’s character, by His words, and by His deeds. Jesus reveals God to man by His entire being.

The Uniqueness of the Son

Hebrews 1:2b-4

. . . whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he created the world. 3 The Son is the radiance of his glory and the representation of his essence, and he sustains all things by his powerful word, and so when he had accomplished cleansing for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high. 4 Thus he became so far better than the angels as he has inherited a name superior to theirs.

God has spoken through His Son (literally “through Son”. We know, of course, that this “son” is His Son, Jesus Christ. But what does it mean to be the Son? Put a different way, “So God has spoken through the Son, why should I listen to Him?” Who is the Son, that He deserves to be heard? The author is about to tell us. These powerful words, stated in such eloquent Greek, declare that Jesus Christ is absolutely unique, so unique that He stands apart from and above every other creature, including the angels. Jesus Christ is someone to whom we should pay close attention. This point will be driven home in Hebrews 2:1-4, but for now let us look at those things which make the Son unique, which set Him apart from and above the angels.

The Son has been appointed heir of all things. An heir is one who will inherit something from another. An heir is one who is related to the one through whom the inheritance will come. In a sense, an heir is one who is designated or appointed as such, usually by means of a will. The Son has been appointed” as such by the Father. It may well be that the author is thinking of this Old Testament text:

Ask me, and I will give you the nations as your inheritance,

the ends of the earth as your personal property (Psalm 2:8).

Because the author has set out to show the superiority of the Son to the angels, my mind was drawn to one angel (Lucifer) who sought to possess “all things” in a very different way:

12 “How you have fallen from heaven,

O star of the morning, son of the dawn!

You have been cut down to the earth,

You who have weakened the nations!

13 “But you said in your heart,

‘I will ascend to heaven;

I will raise my throne above the stars of God,

And I will sit on the mount of assembly

In the recesses of the north.

14 ‘I will ascend above the heights of the clouds;

I will make myself like the Most High.’

15 “Nevertheless you will be thrust down to Sheol,

To the recesses of the pit” (Isaiah 14:12-15, NASB95).

The Son, the Lord Jesus, is designated by the Father to be the heir to the throne, and thus to rule over all creation. Satan first sought to seize the throne, and then later he arrogantly claimed to possess it, promising to hand it over to the Son if He would bow down in worship (see Matthew 4:8-10). The Father who sits on the throne is the One who deserves all glory and honor and praise:

9 And whenever the living creatures give glory, honor, and thanks to the one who sits on the throne, who lives forever and ever, 10 the twenty-four elders throw themselves to the ground before the one who sits on the throne and worship the one who lives forever and ever, and they offer their crowns before his throne, saying: 11 “You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, since you created all things, and because of your will they existed and were created!” (Revelation 4:9-11)

It is He who has designated the Son as the heir. And, let us not forget that those who are the “sons of God” by faith in Jesus Christ are joint heirs with Him and will reign with Him:

16 The Spirit himself bears witness to our spirit that we are God’s children. 17 And if children, then heirs (namely, heirs of God and also fellow heirs with Christ) – if indeed we suffer with him so we may also be glorified with him (Romans 8:16-17; see also Galatians 4:7).

“I will grant the one who conquers permission to sit with me on my throne, just as I too conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne” (Revelation 3:21).

9 They were singing a new song: “You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals because you were killed, and at the cost of your own blood you have purchased for God persons from every tribe, language, people, and nation. 10 You have appointed them as a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth” (Revelation 5:9-10).

The Son is the One through whom the Father created the universe. The writer to the Hebrews is certainly not alone in declaring the Lord Jesus to be the Creator:

1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was fully God. 2 The Word was with God in the beginning. 3 All things were created by him, and apart from him not one thing was created that has been created (John 1:1-3).

Yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we live, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we live (1 Corinthians 8:6).

15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation, 16 for all things in heaven and on earth were created by him – all things, whether visible or invisible, whether thrones or dominions, whether principalities or powers – all things were created through him and for him (Colossians 1:15-16).

15How aptly Moffatt put it when he wrote, “. . . ‘what the Son was to possess he had been instrumental in making’ (Moffatt).” It is little wonder that the One through whom all things have come into being should inherit them:

For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever! Amen (Romans 11:36).

We should also go on to say that if Jesus, the Son, is Creator then He surely is not a part of creation in the sense that He is a created being (as are the angels). He was there, in the beginning, before the angels were called into being. How much greater is the Creator than that which He creates.

The Son is the radiance of the Father’s glory. One of the first times we encounter God’s glory is found in Exodus 16, when God’s glory is revealed in response to the grumbling of the Israelites. You can see why this produced fear. The glory of God appears at Mount Sinai, and once again produces fear, prompting the Israelites to keep their distance (Exodus 19 and 24). Actually, God’s glory was so terrifying that the people wanted Moses to mediate for them, so that they would not encounter God in such close proximity:

22 The Lord said these things to your entire assembly at the mountain from the middle of the fire, the cloud, and the darkness with a loud voice, and that was all he said. Then he inscribed the words on two stone tablets and gave them to me. 23 Then, when you heard the voice from the midst of the darkness while the mountain was ablaze, all your tribal leaders and elders approached me. 24 You said, “The Lord our God has shown us his great glory and we have heard him speak from the middle of the fire. It is now clear to us that God can speak to human beings and they can keep on living. 25 But now, why should we die, because this intense fire will consume us! If we keep hearing the voice of the Lord our God we will die! 26 Who is there from the entire human race who has heard the voice of the living God speaking from the middle of the fire as we have, and has lived? 27 You go near so that you can hear everything the Lord our God is saying and then you can tell us whatever he says to you; then we will pay attention and do it” (Deuteronomy 5:22-27).

God’s glory was frightening, causing men to keep their distance. Even Moses could not look fully on His glory:

18 And Moses said, “Show me your glory.” 19 And the Lord said, “I will make all my goodness pass before your face, and I will proclaim the Lord by name before you; I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, I will show mercy to whom I will show mercy.” 20 But he added, “You cannot see my face, for no one can see me and live.” 21 The Lord said, “Here is a place by me; you will station yourself on a rock. 22 When my glory passes by, I will put you in a cleft in the rock and will cover you with my hand while I pass by. 23 Then I will take away my hand, and you will see my back, but my face must not be seen” (Exodus 33:18-23).

Moses reflected this glory but, as Paul is determined to make very clear to us, the evidence of that glory faded:

12 Therefore, since we have such a hope, we behave with great boldness, 13 and not like Moses who used to put a veil over his face to keep the Israelites from staring at the result of the glory that was made ineffective (2 Corinthians 3:12-13).

When the Son of God took on human flesh at His incarnation, He manifested God’s glory to men. Thus John could write:

14 Now the Word became flesh and took up residence among us. We saw his glory – the glory of the one and only, full of grace and truth, who came from the Father (John 1:14).

And to this the Apostle Paul says a hearty “Amen!”

5 For we do not proclaim ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your slaves for Jesus’ sake. 6 For God, who said “Let light shine out of darkness,” is the one who shined in our hearts to give us the light of the glorious knowledge of God in the face of Christ (2 Corinthians 4:5-6).

It is this to which the writer to the Hebrews refers. Jesus Christ, the Son of God, displays the glory of God to men. That glory was not usually evident in spectacular ways, but there were those rare occasions when the curtain was lifted, and greater outward evidences of it were seen, such as at His baptism16 and at His transfiguration.17 And what glory He now displays from heaven:

12 I turned to see whose voice was speaking to me, and when I did so, I saw seven golden lampstands, 13 and in the midst of the lampstands was one like a son of man. He was dressed in a robe extending down to his feet and he wore a wide golden belt around his chest. 14 His head and hair were as white as wool, even as white as snow, and his eyes were like a fiery flame. 15 His feet were like polished bronze refined in a furnace, and his voice was like the roar of many waters. 16 He held seven stars in his right hand, and a sharp double-edged sword extended out of his mouth. His face shone like the sun shining at full strength. 17 When I saw him I fell down at his feet as though I were dead, but he placed his right hand on me and said: “Do not be afraid! I am the first and the last, 18 and the one who lives! I was dead, but look, now I am alive – forever and ever – and I hold the keys of death and of Hades! 19 Therefore write what you saw, what is, and what will be after these things (Revelation 1:12-19).

This One – the Son – is He who radiates the glory of God, and yet this glory does not force men to keep their distance (as was the case in the Old Testament); it beckons men, women and children to draw near, as so many have done.

The Son is the manifestation of the Father’s essence. The reason why the Son radiates the glory of God is that He is of one essence with the Father. This was a topic of great debate in the Arian Controversy, and our text in Hebrews was one of the primary texts that the church fathers employed to refute the Arian error that Jesus was “like the Father” but not of the same essence. The Bible clearly indicates that the two are of the same essence, as implied or indicated elsewhere in Scripture:

Jesus replied, “Have I been with you for so long, and you have not known me, Philip? The person who has seen me has seen the Father! How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?” (John 14:9)

26 Eight days later the disciples were again together in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and examine my hands. Extend your hand and put it into my side. Do not continue in your unbelief, but believe.” 28 Thomas replied to him, “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:26-28)

Among whom the god of this age has blinded the minds of those who do not believe so they would not see the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God (2 Corinthians 4:4).

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation (Colossians 1:15).

For in him all the fullness of deity lives in bodily form (Colossians 2:9).

And so the faithful commentators observe:

“Just as the glory is really in the effulgence, so the being (Gk. hypostasis) of God is really in Christ, who is its impress, its exact representation and embodiment.”18

“What God essentially is, is made manifest in Christ. To see Christ is to see what the Father is like.”19

The Son upholds all things by His powerful Word. In the first chapter of the Book of Genesis, we read the repeated statement, “Then God said, ‘Let there be . . . .’”20 We know that God spoke a word, calling all creation to order. The writer to the Hebrews is well aware of this, for later in his epistle he writes,

By faith we understand that the worlds were set in order at God’s command, so that the visible has its origin in the invisible (Hebrews 11:3, emphasis mine).

What God starts, God sustains.21 And so it is that we know that just as our Lord was the One through whom God made the universe,22 so He is the One who sustains it:

16 For all things in heaven and on earth were created by him – all things, whether visible or invisible, whether thrones or dominions, whether principalities or powers – all things were created through him and for him. 17 He himself is before all things and all things are held together in him (Colossians 1:16-17).

Those who reject Jesus as the Promised Messiah want to have nothing to do with Him. They want to be left alone. Worse yet, they want Him to go away.23 It is such folks who cried, “Away with Him!”24 It seems to me that at least in some aspects of the Great Tribulation, our Lord gives men what they have asked for by withdrawing His hand from sustaining the cosmos. The Savior who is also the Sustainer of the Universe keeps silent, letting the universe spin out of control:

24 “But in those days, after that suffering, the sun will be darkened and the moon will not give its light; 25 the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken (Mark 13:24-25).

In reading Hannah’s prayer this past week, I noted that she associated God’s power as Creator with His power as Protector and Provider:

8 He lifts the weak from the dust;

he raises the poor from the ash heap

to seat them with princes

and to bestow on them an honored position.

The foundations of the earth belong to the Lord,

and he has placed the world on them.

9 He watches over his holy ones,

but the wicked are made speechless in the darkness,

for it is not by one’s own strength that one prevails (1 Samuel 2:8-9).

He Who created the universe sustains it, and it is He Who also created me, physically and spiritually. Surely I can trust Him to sustain me, just as He does His cosmic creation.

The Son accomplished cleansing for sins. The first major event after creation is the fall of mankind. Sin enters the world, along with its deadly consequences. The Old Testament law and the sacrificial system did not solve the sin problem; it merely served to put off the consequences until a permanent solution arrived.25 It was the Son of God who removed sin once for all:

38 with respect to Jesus from Nazareth, that God anointed him with the Holy Spirit and with power. He went around doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, because God was with him. 39 We are witnesses of all the things he did both in Judea and in Jerusalem. They killed him by hanging him on a tree, 40 but God raised him up on the third day and caused him to be seen, 41 not by all the people, but by us, the witnesses God had already chosen, who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. 42 He commanded us to preach to the people and to warn them that he is the one appointed by God as judge of the living and the dead. 43 About him all the prophets testify, that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name” (Acts 10:38-43).

38 Therefore let it be known to you, brothers, that through this one forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you, 39 and by this one everyone who believes is justified from everything from which the law of Moses could not justify you” (Acts 13:38-39).

God made the one who did not know sin to be sin for us, so that in him we would become the righteousness of God (2 Corinthians 5:21).

The writer does not take this occasion to delve deeply into the atoning work of Jesus for that matter will be taken up much more fully later in the book (this is, after all, the author’s introduction to the book). He accomplished a remedy for sin. It is something that is already done. As our Lord Himself put it, “It is finished!”26

The Son sat down at the Father’s right hand. It is only after our Lord accomplished cleansing for sins that He sat down. That is because He had finished His work of cleansing sins. But the author wants us to know more than just that the Son sat down. He wants us to take note of where the Son was seated – at the right hand of the Father. The right hand is the hand of power.27 The right hand of God is the place of access and intercession.28It is at the right hand of the Father that the Son will await the Father’s indication that it is time for the Son to subdue His enemies and assume His throne.

So then, exalted to the right hand of God, and having received the promise of the Holy Spirit from the Father, he has poured out what you both see and hear (Acts 2:33).

God exalted him to his right hand as Leader and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins (Acts 5:31).

55 But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked intently toward heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. 56 “Look!” he said. “I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!” (Acts 7:55-56)

The right hand of the Father is the place from which one may intercede on behalf of others:

Who is the one who will condemn? Christ is the one who died (and more than that, he was raised), who is at the right hand of God, and who also is interceding for us (Romans 8:34).

This is the place from which our Lord currently ministers on behalf of His people.

The Author’s Conclusion

Ideally this message would be a two-hour sermon. In many parts of the world, that would pose no problem at all, but in America, going longer than forty minutes is an unpardonable sin. Having made his seven statements regarding the Son in verses 1-3, the author reaches his conclusion in verse 4.

“Thus he became so far better than the angels as he has inherited a name superior to theirs.”

Our author has reminded us that “the Son” is (1) the heir of all things; (2) the Creator of the universe; (3) the radiance of the Father’s glory; (4) the manifestation of the Father’s essence; (5) the Sustainer of all things; (6) the One who accomplished cleansing for sins; and, (7) the One who is now seated at the right hand of the Father – all of this to show that the Son is greater than the angels. And now, in verses 5-14, he will buttress this conclusion with seven Old Testament citations which validate the conclusion from these texts. The author’s application will not come until the first four verses of chapter 2.

Having said this, let us conclude with some observations and points of application.

Observations

First, I would observe that this passage is a great introduction. The author has certainly gotten our attention. He has informed us of the content of this great book, and He has given us some powerful reasons as to why we should press on to study and understand it, even though this is a substantial task. We now see that Christ is the focus of this book’s message, and we see that there are two main themes about the Son that we are to grasp:

The Son, Jesus Christ, is God’s full and final revelation to mankind.

The Son, Jesus Christ, is above all29 (angels in particular).

Second, the Book of Hebrews is rich in doctrinal content. If we want our theology to be right, we had better check it against the teaching of Hebrews. For example, Hebrews has much to teach us about the inspiration and authority of Scripture, the doctrine of progressive revelation, and even guides us as to how we should interpret and apply it to our lives. Over and over, we are told how essential the Scriptures are to our lives. Our Christology (the doctrine of Christ) must be rooted in the teaching of Hebrews. The atoning work of the Son at Calvary and His current high priestly ministry is examined in depth by the author of Hebrews. Likewise, this epistle has much to contribute toward our understanding of the doctrine of the Trinity. If we would know doctrine as we should, we will be students of the Book of Hebrews.

Third, the Book of Hebrews is much more than a scholarly tome. In the end, Hebrew inspires and exhorts us to “draw near” to the One of whom this book speaks, the Lord Jesus Christ. In this sense, this scholarly work is a devotional work as well. And it is deeply practical. Chapter 11 provides us with ample examples of what it means to live by faith. Chapters 12 and 13 give us specific instructions as to how we are to live in difficult times.

As I was thinking about my introduction to the Book of Hebrews in our last lesson, I was reminded of all the time and toil that scholars have spent agonizing over what we are not told: the author of the epistle, the recipients, the date of its writing, the exact circumstances that prompted it. The epistle could have started as some of the New Testament epistles do:

1 From Paul, called to be an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Sosthenes, our brother, 2 to the church of God that is in Corinth, to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, and called to be saints, with all those in every place who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, their Lord and ours. 3 Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ! 4 I always thank my God for you because of the grace of God that was given to you in Christ Jesus (1 Corinthians 1:1-4).

Do we really wish that the author of this epistle had followed this pattern in Hebrews? Or would we prefer the introduction that he has written:

1 After God spoke long ago in various portions and in various ways to our ancestors through the prophets, 2 in these last days he has spoken to us in a son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he created the world. 3 The Son is the radiance of his glory and the representation of his essence, and he sustains all things by his powerful word, and so when he had accomplished cleansing for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high. 4 Thus he became so far better than the angels as he has inherited a name superior to theirs (Hebrews 1:1-4).

As for me, I’ll take the introduction that God has given, and I’ll not agonize about the things He has purposely omitted, nor will I spend countless hours attempting to “fill in the blanks.” To see Christ, high and lifted up, is all that we need, and that is just what this book will do.

Jesus Christ is totally unique, One of a kind. I have a friend who recently showed me a magnificent automobile, one that belonged to the royalty of a Middle Eastern nation. It is very rare, but it is not unique (so far as I know); it is not one of a kind. Jesus is truly unique, and our text has made that abundantly clear. One might say that God the Father put all His eggs into one basket (proverbially speaking); all of God’s promises and purposes rest upon the perfection and the performance of the Son. He has, so to speak, staked His glory on the person and the work of the Son. And because He is what He is (as summarized in our text), God’s glory has been displayed to mankind (and the heavenly host):

8 To me – less than the least of all the saints – this grace was given, to proclaim to the Gentiles the unfathomable riches of Christ 9 and to enlighten everyone about God’s secret plan – a secret that has been hidden for ages in God who has created all things. 10 The purpose of this enlightenment is that through the church the multifaceted wisdom of God should now be disclosed to the rulers and the authorities in the heavenly realms. 11 This was according to the eternal purpose that he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord, 12 in whom we have boldness and confident access to God because of Christ’s faithfulness (Ephesians 3:8-12).

This One is the One in whom we must trust for the forgiveness of our sins and the gift of eternal life. When we see ourselves in comparison to Him, we see how far short of God’s standard of perfection we fall. Only Jesus Christ meets God’s specifications for righteousness. Only He could speak for the Father with full authority. And only He could die at Calvary in the sinner’s place, accomplishing the cleansing from sins. Are you trusting in anything or anyone other than the Lord Jesus Christ? If so, confess your sin and trust in Him alone. He is God’s only provision for forgiveness of sins and eternal life:

9 The true light, who gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and the world was created by him, but the world did not recognize him. 11 He came to what was his own, but his own people did not receive him. 12 But to all who have received him – those who believe in his name – he has given the right to become God’s children 13 – children not born by human parents or by human desire or a husband’s decision, but by God (John 1:9-13).

16 For this is the way God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16).

6 Jesus replied, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. 7 If you have known me, you will know my Father too. And from now on you do know him and have seen him.” 8 Philip said, “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be content.” 9 Jesus replied, “Have I been with you for so long, and you have not known me, Philip? The person who has seen me has seen the Father! How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? 10 Do you not believe that I am in the Father, and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you, I do not speak on my own initiative, but the Father residing in me performs his miraculous deeds. 11 Believe me that I am in the Father, and the Father is in me, but if you do not believe me, believe because of the miraculous deeds themselves. 12 I tell you the solemn truth, the person who believes in me will perform the miraculous deeds that I am doing, and will perform greater deeds than these, because I am going to the Father. 13 And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son” (John 14:6-13).

12 And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among people by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).

10 (The one who believes in the Son of God has the testimony in himself; the one who does not believe God has made him a liar, because he has not believed in the testimony that God has testified concerning his Son.) 11 And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. 12 The one who has the Son has this eternal life; the one who does not have the Son of God does not have this eternal life (1 John 5:10-12).

Some balk at the fact that the gospel is too exclusive, that all other religions and all other means to reach God are rejected. The reason that the gospel is exclusive is that the Son, Jesus Christ, is unique. No one can make the claims that He has made, claims that the author of Hebrews has reaffirmed. And since He is unique, the only One qualified to accomplish cleansing from sins, His way of salvation is exclusive. Trust in the only One who can save, the only One who has provided cleansing from sins – Jesus Christ.

And for those who have placed their trust in Christ, for those who affirm the statements made in the first verses of Hebrews, I would ask you (and myself) a question: “If we claim to serve Jesus Christ as the unique Son of God, do our lives demonstrate it? Does your checkbook show it? How about your Day Timer? Is He first of all in our finances, our schedules, our priorities, our thoughts and meditations, our reading, our conversations, our devotion (worship), of obedience? That is what the author of this great book is seeking to challenge us to do.

So let us take our study of this great epistle seriously, conscious of Who it is who is speaking to us, and well aware of what He will challenge us to do.


1 Copyright © 2008 by Robert L. Deffinbaugh. This is the edited manuscript of Lesson 1 in the series, Near to the Heart of God – A Study of the Book of Hebrews, prepared by Robert L. Deffinbaugh on July 13, 2008. Anyone is at liberty to use this lesson for educational purposes only, with or without credit.

2 Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the NET Bible. The NEW ENGLISH TRANSLATION, also known as THE NET BIBLE, is a completely new translation of the Bible, not a revision or an update of a previous English version. It was completed by more than twenty biblical scholars who worked directly from the best currently available Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek texts. The translation project originally started as an attempt to provide an electronic version of a modern translation for electronic distribution over the Internet and on CD (compact disk). Anyone anywhere in the world with an Internet connection will be able to use and print out the NET Bible without cost for personal study. In addition, anyone who wants to share the Bible with others can print unlimited copies and give them away free to others. It is available on the Internet at: www.netbible.org.

3 Fred went to be with the Lord almost a year ago. Many of his thoughts and materials are still available at http://www.breakfastwithfred.com.

4 I have used the expression “the sons of God” because this is used to refer to angels in Old Testament texts like Job 1:6; 2:1; 38:7; and some would add Genesis 6:2, 4. It is also found in the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Old Testament) at Deuteronomy 32:43. This expression will be used for Christians in the New Testament.

5 George H. Guthrie, Hebrews – The NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1998), p. 26, fn. 20.

6 Guthrie, p. 45. One should press on in Guthrie’s commentary to pages 54-55, where Guthrie gives more specifics about the magnificent style of this unnamed author.

7 I would much prefer that the translation above (the NET Bible) reflected the fact that the same preposition (en) is used with reference to the prophets and to the Son, making the contrast ever more apparent. Thus, we are told, in times of old God spoke from time to time by the prophets, but now at last He has spoken fully and finally to us by his Son. This is the way the ESV translates it. The NASB also does this by using the preposition in: “in the prophets,” and “in His Son.”

8 Genesis 2:16-17; 3:9-19.

9 Genesis 37:5, 9; 40:8-19.

10 Genesis 41.

11 Daniel 2 and 4.

12 Numbers 22:21-30.

13 See, for example, 1 Samuel 3.

14 “[In these last days] is a literal rendering of the Hebrew phrase which is used in the Old Testament to denote the epoch when the words of the prophets will be fulfilled, and its use here means that the appearance of Christ ‘once for all at the consummation of the ages’ (9:26) has inaugurated that time of fulfillment.” F. F. Bruce, The Epistle to the Hebrews, revised edition (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1990), p. 46.

    “Christ is God’s greatest prophet with a distinctive message for these last days. His coming inaugurated a new era. In him the last days have certainly begun; the phrase conveys the superiority of the message and the urgency of the times.” Raymond Brown, Christ Above All: The Message of Hebrews (Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1982), p. 29.

15 Cited by Raymond Brown, p. 30.

16 Mark 1:9-11.

17 Matthew 17:1-8.

18 F. F. Bruce, The Epistle to the Hebrews, revised edition (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1990), p. 48, citing Garvie (fn. 27).

19 F. F. Bruce, The Epistle to the Hebrews, p. 48.

20 See Genesis 1:3, 6, 9, 11, 14, 20, 24, 26.

21 See Philippians 1:6.

22 Hebrews 1:2.

23 See Mark 5:16-17.

24 See John 19:15.

25 See Romans 3:25-26.

26 John 19:30.

27 See, for example, Exodus 15:6, 12; Psalm 18:35.

28 See Romans 8:34.

29Christ Above All: The Message of Hebrews is the title of Raymond Brown’s excellent commentary on Hebrews. Raymond Brown, Christ Above All: The Message of Hebrews (Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1982).

http://feeds.bible.org/deffinbaugh/hebrews/deff_hebrews_02.mp3
/assets/powerpoint/deff_hebrews_02.ppt
Ad Category: 
Passage: 
/assets/worddocs/deff_hebrews_02_sg.zip

3. Higher Than the Angels (Hebrews 1:4-14)

1 After God spoke long ago in various portions and in various ways to our ancestors through the prophets, 2 in these last days he has spoken to us in a son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he created the world. 3 The Son is the radiance of his glory and the representation of his essence, and he sustains all things by his powerful word, and so when he had accomplished cleansing for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high. 4 Thus he became so far better than the angels as he has inherited a name superior to theirs.

5 For to which of the angels did God ever say, “You are my son! Today I have fathered you”? And in another place he says, “I will be his father and he will be my son.” 6 But when he again brings his firstborn into the world, he says, “Let all the angels of God worship him!” 7 And he says of the angels, “He makes his angels spirits and his ministers a flame of fire,” 8 but of the Son he says, “Your throne, O God, is forever and ever, and a righteous scepter is the scepter of your kingdom. 9 You have loved righteousness and hated lawlessness. So God, your God, has anointed you over your companions with the oil of rejoicing.” 10 And, “You founded the earth in the beginning, Lord, and the heavens are the works of your hands. 11 They will perish, but you continue. And they will all grow old like a garment, 12 and like a robe you will fold them up and like a garment they will be changed, but you are the same and your years will never run out.” 13 But to which of the angels has he ever said, “Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet”? 14 Are they not all ministering spirits, sent out to serve those who will inherit salvation?2

Introduction

When I was in seminary, I took a class from Dr. S. Lewis Johnson entitled, “Paul’s Use of the Old Testament.” Dr. Johnson was an excellent golfer, and he had been asked to speak to a group of professional golfers at a golf tournament on the East coast. When Dr. Johnson finished giving us our homework for the week he would be gone, he turned to the blackboard to write something. Now Dr. Johnson wasn’t really a knee-slapping kind of guy, so I took it as my duty to try to make him laugh. With his back still turned to the class, I called out, “Dr. Johnson, why don’t you try the old ‘Billy Sunday’ approach at the tournament? You could title your message, “Where will you be at the lost hole?” Dr. Johnson’s shoulders began to shake a bit, and I knew that I had succeeded. He turned around and said to me, “If you think of any more like that before I leave, give me a call.”

I remember something else about that class. Each student in the class had to present papers. Each paper focused on one instance of Paul’s use of the Old Testament in one of his epistles. If I were to submit a paper on Hebrews 1:5-14, it would be a virtual doctoral dissertation because there are seven Old Testament citations in these verses. Needless to say, we will not be able to fully expound these verses as a seminary paper might require. We will, however, seek to show how these citations serve to establish the author’s premise that the Son – Jesus Christ – is vastly higher than the angels.

To do this, I will begin with an overview of chapters 1 and 2, and then we’ll take a closer look at the argument of chapter one, with an eye on how verses 4-14 fit into the argument. Next we will discuss how the New Testament authors used the Old Testament Scriptures, focusing on several examples. This will set the stage for us to look at how the author of Hebrews used these seven Old Testament citations to help prove that the Son is superior to the angels. We will then conclude by considering several areas of application.

A Wide-Angle View of Hebrews 1 and 2

The first 14 verses of chapter 1 convey this message: While God spoke to men in Old Testament times, He has spoken fully and finally in His Son, who is vastly superior to the angels. In the first 4 verses of chapter 2, the author pauses to make a pointed application: We dare not neglect the message God has spoken in His Son. The remainder of chapter 2 (verses 5-18) explains how it is that the Son could save lost sinners: it was by identifying with men in His incarnation. By this, He made atonement for our sins by His death and then was raised from the dead to be exalted to the right hand of the Father. He did this, not for angels, but for men. Having identified with men, He is able to help us in our time of need. We could summarize the structure of chapters 1 and 2 in this way:

1:1-14 The Son is higher than the angels

2:1-4 Therefore, we had better listen to what He has said

2:5-18 The Son became lower than the angels in order to save men

A Zoom Lens View of Hebrews 1

1:1-2a God has spoken fully and finally in His Son

1:2b-3 Seven unique characteristics of the Son

Heir of all things (1:2)

    Creator of the universe (1:2)

    The radiance of the Father’s glory (1:3)

    The manifestation of the Father’s essence (1:3)

    The sustainer of all things by His powerful word (1:3)

    He accomplished cleansing for sins (1:3)

    He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high (1:3)

    1:4 Conclusion: the Son is higher than the angels

1:5-14 Seven Old Testament texts which support the conclusion that the Son is higher than the

angels

    Because of the Son’s unique relationship with the Father (1:5)

    Because of the inferior position of the angels (1:6-7)

    Because the Son is eternal (1:8-12)

    Because the Son’s position is higher than the angels (1:13-14)

Hermeneutics
How the New Testament Authors Interpreted the Old Testament Scriptures

In an excellent and very helpful message delivered some time ago, Don Curtis set forth the four basic methods of interpreting the Old Testament Scriptures. I strongly recommend that you read this article posted on bible.org. 3 Because of our time constraints and the purpose of this message, I would like to sum up all these methods with one word – “correspondence.” I believe that every time a New Testament author4 cited an Old Testament text as some kind of proof, it was because he saw some kind of correspondence between what he was saying and what the Old Testament text was saying. The precise nature of this correspondence would, of course, differ from one instance to another.

Correspondence Between 1 Samuel and Luke

Our Bible study was reading and discussing the early chapters of 1 Samuel this past week. At first glance, the only correspondence one might see is that a woman is central in both texts. But when you think about it, while Mary was quite young and Hannah somewhat older, they both were not able to bear a child. Hannah could not have a child because God had closed her womb (1 Samuel 1:6). Mary could not have a child because she was a virgin and was not yet married. Because of her inability to bear a child, Hannah was scorned by her rival, Peninnah. Because of her pregnancy, Mary was likely scorned as a loose woman.

We can quite easily see how Hannah’s prayer of thanksgiving could describe her circumstances:

1 Hannah prayed, “My heart rejoices in the Lord; my horn is exalted high because of the Lord. I loudly denounce my enemies, for I am happy that you delivered me. 2 No one is holy like the Lord! There is no one other than you! There is no rock like our God! 3 Don’t keep speaking so arrogantly, letting proud talk come out of your mouth! For the Lord is a God who knows; he evaluates what people do. 4 The bows of warriors are shattered, but those who stumble find their strength reinforced. 5 Those who are well-fed hire themselves out to earn food, but the hungry no longer lack. Even the barren woman gives birth to seven, but the one with many children withers away. 6 The Lord both kills and gives life; he brings down to the grave and raises up. 7 The Lord impoverishes and makes wealthy; he humbles and he exalts. 8 He lifts the weak from the dust; he raises the poor from the ash heap to seat them with princes and to bestow on them an honored position. The foundations of the earth belong to the Lord, and he has placed the world on them. 9 He watches over his holy ones, but the wicked are made speechless in the darkness, for it is not by one’s own strength that one prevails. 10 The Lord shatters his adversaries; he thunders against them from the heavens. The Lord executes judgment to the ends of the earth. He will strengthen his king and exalt the power of his anointed one” (1 Samuel 2:1-10).

Hannah recognized that God had raised her up, and in some ways had put down her rival (at least He had silenced her). Hannah realized that God’s dealings with her were illustrative of His dealings with His people. Even though the Israelites had been humbled by their neighbors – the Philistines in particular – God would raise them up, and He would bring down their enemies. In her final words of praise, Hannah (either knowingly or unwittingly) looked beyond her own day to the time when God would give Israel a king. And that king would be designated by her son, Samuel.

Now look at Mary’s words of praise when she met with Elizabeth:

46 And Mary said, “My soul exalts the Lord, 47 and my spirit has begun to rejoice in God my Savior, 48 because he has looked upon the humble state of his servant. For from now on all generations will call me blessed, 49 because he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name; 50 from generation to generation he is merciful to those who fear him. 51 He has demonstrated power with his arm; he has scattered those whose pride wells up from the sheer arrogance of their hearts. 52 He has brought down the mighty from their thrones, and has lifted up those of lowly position; 53 he has filled the hungry with good things, and has sent the rich away empty. 54 He has helped his servant Israel, remembering his mercy, 55 as he promised to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever” (Luke 1:46-55).

The mother of the prophet who would designate Israel’s first kings has spoken words which are more than appropriate for the woman who is to be the mother of the last King, the Messiah, who has come to visit Elizabeth, the mother of the man who will designate Him as King. There is plenty of correspondence here. But we are not done. Consider the correspondence between these two statements, the first in 1 Samuel, the second in Luke:

Now the boy Samuel was growing up and finding favor both with the Lord and with people (1 Samuel 2:26).

And Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature, and in favor with God and with people (Luke 2:52).

Correspondence Between David’s Suffering and that of Messiah

Psalm 22

1 For the music director; according to the tune “Morning Doe;” a psalm of David.

My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?

I groan in prayer, but help seems far away.

. . . 6 But I am a worm, not a man;

people insult me and despise me.

7 All who see me taunt me;

they mock me and shake their heads.

8 They say, “Commit yourself to the Lord!

Let the Lord rescue him!

Let the Lord deliver him, for he delights in him.”

. . . 13 They open their mouths to devour me

like a roaring lion that rips its prey.

14 My strength drains away like water;

all my bones are dislocated;

my heart is like wax;

it melts away inside me.

15 The roof of my mouth is as dry as a piece of pottery;

my tongue sticks to my gums.

You set me in the dust of death.

16 Yes, wild dogs surround me

– a gang of evil men crowd around me;

like a lion they pin my hands and feet.

17 I can count all my bones;

my enemies are gloating over me in triumph.

18 They are dividing up my clothes among themselves;

they are rolling dice for my garments (Psalm 22:1, 6-8, 13-18).

In this psalm, David is writing about his own experience. No doubt there is a kind of poetic embellishment which amplifies his suffering. (Don’t we tend to exaggerate the extent of our suffering, too?) But here is a case where David’s words, while initially descriptive of his own suffering, served as an almost understated description of our Lord’s agony on the cross. There is a similarity between David’s suffering and that of His Son to come. And our Lord makes this correspondence very clear when He cries out the first words of this psalm from the cross: “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46)

Isaiah 7:14

10 The Lord again spoke to Ahaz: 11 “Ask for a confirming sign from the Lord your God. You can even ask for something miraculous.” 12 But Ahaz responded, “I don’t want to ask; I don’t want to put the Lord to a test.” 13 So Isaiah replied, “Pay attention, family of David. Do you consider it too insignificant to try the patience of men? Is that why you are also trying the patience of my God? 14 For this reason the sovereign master himself will give you a confirming sign. Look, this young woman is about to conceive and will give birth to a son. You, young woman, will name him Immanuel. 15 He will eat sour milk and honey, which will help him know how to reject evil and choose what is right. 16 Here is why this will be so: Before the child knows how to reject evil and choose what is right, the land whose two kings you fear will be desolate (Isaiah 7:10-16).

Rezin, king of Syria, and Pekah, king of Israel formed an alliance and attacked Judah. When Ahaz learned that they had laid siege to Jerusalem, he was terrified, along with the people. God sent Isaiah to speak to Ahaz to assure him that the plans of Rezin and Pekah would not succeed. God then instructed Ahaz to ask for a sign, by which He might confirm His words through Isaiah. When Ahaz refused to ask for a sign, God responded by providing one anyway: a young woman would have a son, and before that child would be able to reject evil and choose what is right, the two kings Ahaz feared would be rendered powerless.

A young woman in that day would bear a child, whom she was to name Immanuel, meaning “God is with us.” Before that child could discern between good and evil, the two dreaded kings, Rezin and Pekah, would be rendered powerless. And within 65 years, Ephraim (Israel) would be shattered, dispersed so that they were no longer a nation. (This took place when they were attacked and scattered by Assyria, and many foreigners were transplanted to possess the land.)

So much for those days and for that prophecy. But there was a deeper level of prophecy that was not seen at that moment. Only later would God’s people realize that another young woman (a virgin this time) would later bear a child whose name would be Immanuel. This child would not just symbolize God’s presence (as the earlier “Immanuel” had done); this child would be God, taking up residence among His people. His death would bring about a much greater “salvation” than the mere deliverance from two opposing kings.

Once again there is a “correspondence” between the Old Testament text and its New Testament fulfillment. This same kind of correspondence exists between the ministry of Jesus Christ as portrayed in the Book of Hebrews and the Old Testament texts the author of Hebrews cites or alludes to. Raymond Brown puts it this way:

“When the writer of Hebrews chapter 1 comes to the two psalms we have mentioned, he looks beyond their initial meaning and, without denying the validity of that original context, extracts a further and more important message from the words. It is not that he superimposes on the text a meaning it was not intended to convey; he brings out a truth already there. He believes that Christ is everywhere present in the Old Testament, though that might not necessarily have been discerned by the original writers and readers.”5

We see this “extended” meaning when Matthew sees our Lord’s return from Egypt as a fulfillment of Hosea’s prophecy:

12 After being warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they went back by another route to their own country. 13 After they had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother and flee to Egypt, and stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to look for the child to kill him.” 14 Then he got up, took the child and his mother during the night, and went to Egypt. 15 He stayed there until Herod died. In this way what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet was fulfilled: “I called my Son out of Egypt” (Matthew 2:12-15).

Who would ever have suspected that Hosea 11:1 would be fulfilled by the return of our Lord’s family (and thus of our Lord) from Egypt to Israel? But there is a correspondence. Israel was called God’s “son” (see Exodus 4:22-23; Hosea 11:1). At the exodus, God brought Israel, His “son,” out of Egypt, and they eventually entered the land He had promised to give the descendants of Abraham (see Genesis 15:12-17). But in the fullest sense, it was Jesus who was God’s Son. God sent Him (and His parents) to Egypt for His protection, just as God had sent the descendants of Jacob to Egypt for their protection. And so when our Lord’s parents returned from Egypt, Matthew saw the correspondence and represented this as a fulfillment (in a deeper sense than was originally evident) of Hosea’s words.

I will briefly mention three instances in Paul’s First Epistle to the Corinthians in which he sees a kind of prophetic correspondence between the Old Testament and the New. In 1 Corinthians 5:7, Paul writes that “Christ our Passover has been sacrificed.” We know that Jesus was the Passover Lamb (John 1:29). The sacrifice of the Passover Lamb was followed by the Feast of Unleavened Bread. This was the time when the Israelites went through their houses and removed anything with leaven (Exodus 12:17-20).

The application can quite easily be seen. There was “sin in the camp” at the church in Corinth. A man was living with his father’s wife (1 Corinthians 5:1). Paul tells the church at Corinth to deal with this man by putting him out of the church, delivering him over to Satan for discipline (1 Corinthians 5:5, 13). Since Christ, our Passover, has been sacrificed (Christ has died at Calvary), it is time to search out the leaven and remove it from our midst. This corresponds to putting the sinning saint out of the church.

In 1 Corinthians 9, Paul illustrates how he sets aside his rights for the advancement of the gospel. When he had every right to be paid for his ministry, he chose instead to support himself by his own labors. Paul is careful to prove that he did, indeed, have the right to be paid. Not only does he call attention to the fact that his fellow-apostles were supported; Paul turns to the Old Testament to prove it. He does so by calling attention to the priests, who could partake of their labors (the sacrifices they offered – verse 13), and also to the text in Deuteronomy 25:4 where the Israelites were instructed,

9 For it is written in the law of Moses, “Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain.” God is not concerned here about oxen, is he? 10 Or is he not surely speaking for our benefit? It was written for us, because the one plowing and threshing ought to work in hope of enjoying the harvest (2 Corinthians 9:9-10).

Paul’s words are clear. This instruction was not just about the care and feeding of oxen. This instruction was to teach a principle: “the laborer is worthy of his hire.” And so, once again, an Old Testament text is cited by a New Testament author to prove a point by way of correspondence.

My final example is probably the most dramatic:

1 For I do not want you to be unaware, brothers and sisters, that our fathers were all under the cloud and all passed through the sea, 2 and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, 3 and all ate the same spiritual food, 4 and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they were all drinking from the spiritual rock that followed them, and the rock was Christ (1 Corinthians 10:1-5, emphasis mine).

Who would have ever come to this conclusion apart from Paul’s inspired instruction? When we look at Old Testament teaching, institutions, and events through the lens of Christ, we see so much more than we do from the Old Testament writer’s perspective.

Now this is the time for a couple of caveats (words of caution). First, the literal meaning is never set aside by the deeper, corresponding meaning. It is sort of like a fringe benefit, something we enjoy in addition to what we have already gained from the literal meaning. Second, we do not have the same liberty to authoritatively announce new, “spiritual” meanings to the biblical text, Old Testament or New. This seems clear to me when we read Paul’s words pertaining to his privilege of proclaiming the great mystery of Christ and His church:

8 To me – less than the least of all the saints – this grace was given, to proclaim to the Gentiles the unfathomable riches of Christ 9 and to enlighten everyone about God’s secret plan – a secret that has been hidden for ages in God who has created all things. 10 The purpose of this enlightenment is that through the church the multifaceted wisdom of God should now be disclosed to the rulers and the authorities in the heavenly realms. 11 This was according to the eternal purpose that he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord, 12 in whom we have boldness and confident access to God because of Christ’s faithfulness (Ephesians 3:8-12).

I see the same restriction (of revealing mysteries through the inspired New Testament writers) in Hebrews.

8 Although he was a son, he learned obedience through the things he suffered. 9 And by being perfected in this way, he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him, 10 and he was designated by God as high priest in the order of Melchizedek. 11 On this topic we have much to say and it is difficult to explain, since you have become sluggish in hearing. 12 For though you should in fact be teachers by this time, you need someone to teach you the beginning elements of God’s utterances. You have gone back to needing milk, not solid food. 13 For everyone who lives on milk is inexperienced in the message of righteousness, because he is an infant. 14 But solid food is for the mature, whose perceptions are trained by practice to discern both good and evil.

1 Therefore we must progress beyond the elementary instructions about Christ and move on to maturity, not laying this foundation again: repentance from dead works and faith in God, 2 teaching about baptisms, laying on of hands, resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. 3 And this is what we intend to do, if God permits (Hebrews 5:8—6:3).

I don’t think the author is chastising his readers for not making more of Melchizedek on their own. I believe he is saying that he wishes to convey to his readers the much deeper insight he has into Melchizedek (especially as it corresponds to Christ), but that they are not really able to grasp it. This is not all that different from what Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 3:1-3, except that here the author of Hebrews presses on with his teaching on Melchizedek, challenging his readers to keep pace with him.

The Author’s Assumptions Regarding the Old Testament Scriptures6

Before we look at the seven Old Testament citations found in Hebrews 1:5-14, I would like to underscore some of the assumptions that the author apparently held:

The author assumes the inspiration and authority of the Old and New Testament Scriptures. As he puts it, “God spoke by the prophets” and “He spoke by His Son” (1:1-2). God spoke, not just men. The Old Testament and the New are the Word of God.

(1) The author also accepts the meaning and application of the Old Testament texts in their normal historical setting and context. This “literal” meaning is never set aside, though it may be added to.

(2) The author (as with all biblical authors) believed that the Bible was one book, progressively revealed, leading us to Christ.7

(3) The author assumes that the Old Testament is a Christ-centered book.8 Listen to the words of Raymond Brown:

“It is, first of all, his profound conviction that the Old Testament is a Christ-centered book. Its writers frequently look beyond their immediate scene to a day when their predictions would be fulfilled, and their impressive language describes greater realities than those apparent in their immediate circumstances.”9

(4) I believe the author of Hebrews would agree with Peter when he wrote these words about the Old Testament prophets and their writings:

10 Concerning this salvation, the prophets who predicted the grace that would come to you searched and investigated carefully. 11 They probed into what person or time the Spirit of Christ within them was indicating when he testified beforehand about the sufferings appointed for Christ and his subsequent glory. 12 They were shown that they were serving not themselves but you, in regard to the things now announced to you through those who proclaimed the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven – things angels long to catch a glimpse of (1 Peter 1:10-12).

(5) The author of Hebrews, as with other New Testament authors, believed that the Old Testament was relevant to the people of his times (and, by extension, our own times as well):

“Furthermore, the author of this letter was deeply persuaded that in addition to its Christocentric character the Old Testament is a book with abiding relevance. Its message was not locked away in remote antiquity, providing merely an historical account of God’s dealings with Israel. Its teaching about ceremony and sacrifice is richly fulfilled in Christ. Its message to the covenant community about God’s reliability, faithfulness and love was as relevant to those first-century Christians as when the promises were first made in Old Testament times.”10

The Son is Superior to the Angels
Hebrews 1:4-14

The author to the Hebrews has just given us a seven-fold description of the majesty and power of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Now he sets out to validate these claims from seven Old Testament texts. The author strings together a list of Old Testament texts, much as Paul does in Romans 3:10-18, or later in Romans 9:25-29 and 10:19-21. Five of the seven Old Testament citations in our text are from the Psalms. When the author quotes from the Old Testament, he usually cites from the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Old Testament). This may explain why the text reads differently in the Book of Hebrews than it does when you look it up in your Old Testament, which is translated from the Hebrew text.

We will consider four ways in which the Son of God is Superior to the angels:

(1) The Son has a unique relationship with the Father (1:5; Psalm 2:7; 2 Samuel 7:14).

(2) The angels have an inferior position compared to the Son (1:6-7; Psalm 97:7; 104:4).

(3) The Son’s reign and His relation to the cosmos is eternal (1:8-12; Psalm 45:17; 102:25-27).

(4) The Son’s position is contrasted with that of the angels (1:13-14; Psalm 110:1).11

The Son’s Unique Relationship With the Father
Hebrews 1:5

For to which of the angels did He ever say, ‘YOU ARE MY SON, TODAY I HAVE BEGOTTEN YOU”?12 And again, ‘I WILL BE A FATHER TO HIM AND HE SHALL BE A SON TO ME”13 (Hebrews 1:5, NASB95)

We dare not ignore the relationship between verse 4 and verse 5. Verse 4 ended, “Thus he became so far better than the angels as He has inherited a name superior to theirs.”14 So it is all about one’s name or title (or position). That’s what these seven Scripture citations are all about – the better name that Jesus possesses.

Angels were sometimes called the “sons of God,”15 but the designation, “the Son of God” is a title reserved only for the Messiah, our Lord Jesus Christ. Now the question is, “What does it mean to be the Son of God?” We know that the Lord Jesus is not a created being. He, like the Father and the Spirit, are eternal.16 Our Lord was there at the beginning; indeed it was by the Son that God created the worlds (Hebrews 2:2; see John 1:1-3; Colossians 1:16). The Father-Son relationship between God the Father and Jesus Christ, the Son, can best be understood in the light of God’s words in 2 Samuel 7:

12 “‘When the time comes for you to die, I will raise up your descendant, one of your own sons, to succeed you, and I will establish his kingdom. 13 He will build a house for my name, and I will make his dynasty permanent. 14 I will become his father and he will become my son. When he sins, I will correct him with the rod of men and with wounds inflicted by human beings. 15 But my loyal love will not be removed from him as I removed it from Saul, whom I removed from before you. 16 Your house and your kingdom will stand before me permanently; your dynasty will be permanent’” (2 Samuel 7:12-16).

David wanted to build a temple, a “house” for God. God made it clear that He did not really need a “house.” Instead, God promised to build a “house” – a dynasty – for David. God assured David that there would always be someone of his descendants who will sit on the throne of Israel. After David dies, God will raise up one of his descendants to take his place. God then tells David that when his son sins, He will correct him (verse 14). Thus, we have a double prophecy. David will always have a descendant to sit on the throne. But beyond this, David’s descendant, the Messiah, will reign forever because He is eternal. God will not need to correct Him for committing iniquity.

But the important words for us to grasp are found in verse 14: “I will become his father and he will become my son.” This “father-son” relationship is not about one’s birth; it is about being installed on the throne. Guthrie says it well, and with him Bruce agrees:

“What does it mean that God has ‘become’ the Son’s Father ‘today’ and that he ‘will be’ his Father? These, of course, are not references to a bringing into existence, nor what some in the church would later call ‘the eternal generation of the Son,’ speaking of the eternal nature of the relationship between God and his Messiah. We have already seen that Jesus was considered the Son prior to creation itself and is later referred to as ‘Son’ in the Incarnation (e.g., Heb. 5:8). Rather, the early church understood these passages to refer to Jesus’ induction into his royal position as King of the universe at the resurrection and exaltation. With these events God vindicated Jesus as Messiah and established his eternal kingdom (see Acts 13:32-34; Rom. 1:4). God’s becoming the Son’s Father, then, refers to God’s open expression of their relationship upon Christ’s enthronement, an interpretation that fits both Old Testament contexts in question.”17

“What did our author understand by the word ‘Today’ in this quotation? In view of the emphasis laid throughout the epistle on the occasion of Christ’s exaltation and enthronement, it is probably that he thought of this occasion as the day when he was vested with his royal dignity as Son of God.” . . . “The eternity of Christ’s divine Sonship is not brought into question by this view; the suggestion rather is that he who was the Son of God from everlasting entered into the full exercise of all the prerogatives implied by his Sonship when, after his suffering had proved the completeness of his obedience, he was raised to the Father’s right hand.”18

This interpretation fits 2 Samuel 7:14 very well. When David’s descendant was installed in his place, God would enthrone him as king, and they would commence a kind of Father-son relationship. The heir to the throne of David would rule on behalf of God. How much more this was true of the sinless “Son of God,” who would sit on the throne forever.

And so the author has made his first point biblically: The Lord Jesus is superior to the angels because He alone holds the title “the Son of God,” while the angels are mere “sons of God.” They are messenger boys; Christ is God’s Message.

The Angels Inferior Position When Compared to the Son
Hebrews 1:6-7

6 But when he again brings his firstborn into the world, he says, “Let all the angels of God worship him!19 7 And he says of the angels, “He makes his angels spirits and his ministers a flame of fire20 (Hebrews 1:6-7).

In Israel, the firstborn son was to inherit the mantle of leading the family in his father’s place.21 The firstborn also received a double portion of the father’s inheritance.22 This is why, when twins were born, great care was taken to identify the first to come from the womb.23 The author is not speaking here about the birth of baby Jesus in Bethlehem. But here, as elsewhere in the New Testament,24 he is talking about the preeminence of Jesus as the “firstborn Son.” Remember as well that Jesus is not only the “firstborn,” He is also the “only begotten” Son, so that He alone is the heir of all things.25

The author’s point here is Jesus has the preeminent place and that the role of the angels is to worship Him. It is the lesser beings who worship the greater being – Jesus. I am reminded of the instances where men prostrated themselves before angels and were stopped because only God can be worshipped:

18 I testify to the one who hears the words of the prophecy contained in this book: If anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book. 19 And if anyone takes away from the words of this book of prophecy, God will take away his share in the tree of life and in the holy city that are described in this book (Revelation 22:18-19; see also 19:10).

Psalm 104 speaks of the might and majesty of God. He who created all things is now described as commandeering them for His service. He wears the light as a cloak (verse 2); He makes the clouds His chariot. He makes the angels spirits and His ministers a flame of fire. There is little question as to who is superior here – it is the One who is served, rather than the creature things (angels, light, clouds) that serve His purposes. He is the Son; the angels are His servants. Indeed, they not only serve Him, they worship Him as God. The angels were at His disposal, even when He was on the cross:

51 But one of those with Jesus grabbed his sword, drew it out, and struck the high priest’s slave, cutting off his ear. 52 Then Jesus said to him, “Put your sword back in its place! For all who take hold of the sword will die by the sword. 53 Or do you think that I cannot call on my Father, and that he would send me more than twelve legions of angels right now? (Matthew 26:51-53)

The Son is Eternal, Creation is Not
Hebrews 1:8-12

8 But of the Son he says, “Your throne, O God, is forever and ever, and a righteous scepter is the scepter of your kingdom. 9 You have loved righteousness and hated lawlessness. So God, your God, has anointed you over your companions with the oil of rejoicing.” 26 10 And, “You founded the earth in the beginning, Lord, and the heavens are the works of your hands. 11 They will perish, but you continue. And they will all grow old like a garment, 12 and like a robe you will fold them up and like a garment they will be changed, but you are the same and your years will never run out27 (Hebrews 1:8-12, underscoring mine).

There is so much that could be said about these verses, but let us dwell on what is probably the most prominent theme – the eternality of the Son. What makes the Son superior to the angels? The Son is the Eternal One, the Creator. His days have no beginning or end. But all creation has a point of beginning,28 and a time when it will perish.29

Merely being eternal is not necessarily a blessing. No wonder God banned Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden, and specifically from the tree of life:

22 And the Lord God said, “Now that the man has become like one of us, knowing good and evil, he must not be allowed to stretch out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever.” 23 So the Lord God expelled him from the orchard in Eden to cultivate the ground from which he had been taken. 24 When he drove the man out, he placed on the eastern side of the orchard in Eden angelic sentries who used the flame of a whirling sword to guard the way to the tree of life (Genesis 3:22-24).

How terrible it would have been to be a fallen creature and yet live forever. Come to think of it, that is what hell is all about. But the great news is that the Son is eternal. The Son will reign over all creation, and He is the One who loves righteousness and who hates lawlessness. It is He who will reign forever, for His kingdom (like Him) is eternal. This same truth (the Son is eternal) will later be a prominent theme as it relates to our Lord’s priesthood:

17 For here is the testimony about him: “You are a priest forever in the order of Melchizedek.” 18 On the one hand a former command is set aside because it is weak and useless, 19 for the law made nothing perfect. On the other hand a better hope is introduced, through which we draw near to God. 20 And since this was not done without a sworn affirmation – for the others have become priests without a sworn affirmation, 21 but Jesus did so with a sworn affirmation by the one who said to him, “The Lord has sworn and will not change his mind, ‘You are a priest forever’” – 22 accordingly Jesus has become the guarantee of a better covenant. 23 And the others who became priests were numerous, because death prevented them from continuing in office, 24 but he holds his priesthood permanently since he lives forever. 25 So he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them. 26 For it is indeed fitting for us to have such a high priest: holy, innocent, undefiled, separate from sinners, and exalted above the heavens. 27 He has no need to do every day what those priests do, to offer sacrifices first for their own sins and then for the sins of the people, since he did this in offering himself once for all. 28 For the law appoints as high priests men subject to weakness, but the word of solemn affirmation that came after the law appoints a son made perfect forever (Hebrews 7:17-28, emphasis mine).

No wonder the Son is superior to the angels.

The Son’s Status Contrasted with the Angels
Hebrews 1:13-14

13 But to which of the angels has he ever said, “Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet30? 14 Are they not all ministering spirits, sent out to serve those who will inherit salvation? (Hebrews 1:13-14)

To sit at the “right hand” of one in power was to have a place of influence, prestige, and power. No wonder the mother of the two disciples – James and John – wanted these positions for her sons.31 No angel has ever been invited to the right hand of the Father. Only one angel tried to gain this position by rebellion against God – Satan:

12 Look how you have fallen from the sky, O shining one, son of the dawn! You have been cut down to the ground, O conqueror of the nations! 13 You said to yourself, “I will climb up to the sky. Above the stars of El I will set up my throne. I will rule on the mountain of assembly on the remote slopes of Zaphon. 14 I will climb up to the tops of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High!” (Isaiah 14:12-14)

And he did not succeed!

So only the Son has been summoned to the right hand of the Father. This took place after He was raised from the dead and ascended into heaven:

32 This Jesus God raised up, and we are all witnesses of it. 33 So then, exalted to the right hand of God, and having received the promise of the Holy Spirit from the Father, he has poured out 34 For David did not ascend into heaven, but he himself says, ‘The Lord said to my lord,Sit at my right hand 35 until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet”’ (Acts 2:32-35).32

It is from this position of close proximity to the Father that the Son intercedes for the saints:

Who is the one who will condemn? Christ is the one who died (and more than that, he was raised), who is at the right hand of God, and who also is interceding for us (Romans 8:34).

In contrast to the Son who is seated at the right hand of the Father, we find the angels who are described as those whose mission it is to minister to those who will inherit salvation – in other words, whose mission it is to minister to us.

Conclusion

Surely we can conclude with the author that the Son is superior to the angels, not only on the basis of the seven-fold description of the Son in verses 1-4, but also on the basis of the seven Scripture texts that are cited in support of this claim.

But why this interest in angels in chapters 1 and 2 of Hebrews? Some would say that it was intended to correct an abundance of false or distorted teaching (or practice) related to angels. No doubt the first two chapters of Hebrews do give us a better understanding of angels, but it is not my view that the primary purpose of these chapters is to correct a false or exaggerated view of angels. The author views angels in a positive light. He presents them and their ministry in the highest possible terms. And the reason is so that they can serve as a benchmark, against which to measure the worth and work of the Son. Angels are “as good as it gets” so far as created beings are concerned, and yet the Son is vastly superior. Angels thus serve to show how far superior the Son is, thereby preparing us to pay all the more attention to what He has revealed from the Father (2:1-4).

As I seek to draw this lesson to a close, I would point out that the author’s “conclusion” (or application if you prefer) comes in the next four verses – Hebrews 2:1-4. There he will exhort us to pay much closer attention to what the Son has revealed, knowing the greatness of the One who has spoken to us.

Chapter 1 of the Book of Hebrews is a rich source of sound doctrine. We should find substantial contributions to our understanding of Christology (the doctrine of Christ), of the Trinity, and of Angelology. The deity of Christ is clearly taught here, and thus this chapter of Hebrews was a text to which the early church fathers appealed when they contended with heresy. And after giving careful attention to these words of Scripture, how could one deny the doctrine of the Trinity? No wonder the author urges us to pay close attention to these words (as well as the rest of the New Testament Scriptures).

Something else has happened in the course of considering the message of the first chapter of Hebrews – the author has succeeded in widening the gap between the Son and mere men. If the Son is higher than the angels, then He is vastly higher than men. How can we ever have a relationship with Him? The second chapter of Hebrews will provide us with the solution – the incarnation. The Son of God took on human flesh in order to identify with men and to die for our sins. In order to accomplish this, He must, for a little while, become “lower than the angels.”

One of the things we can learn from our text is how we should understand and apply the Old Testament Scriptures. I believe that we should find that the Bible applies to our lives a great deal more than we might think when we look for “correspondence” between the Scriptures and our lives. This is not to say that there is little direct application in the Bible. Most of the Ten Commandments directly apply to us today. We should put God first, above all others. We should not lie or steal, commit adultery, or covet our neighbor’s property. But there are many more areas of application that become apparent when we look for points of correspondence between the Scriptures and ourselves. Thus, the teaching of the Old Testament regarding not muzzling the ox applies to paying preachers of the gospel (as we see in 1 Corinthians 9). The command to have a parapet (a guard rail) around the roof of one’s house33 instructs us to anticipate danger and to make every effort to protect against injury to others.

From observing our author’s use of the Old Testament, we should recognize that there is much there that we would not have seen, apart from an apostle making it clear to us in the New Testament:

1 For this reason I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles – 2 if indeed you have heard of the stewardship of God’s grace that was given to me for you, 3 that by revelation the divine secret was made known to me, as I wrote before briefly. 4 When reading this, you will be able to understand my insight into this secret of Christ. 5 Now this secret was not disclosed to people in former generations as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit, 6 namely, that through the gospel the Gentiles are fellow heirs, fellow members of the body, and fellow partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 3:1-6).

As Paul put it in 2 Corinthians, Christ is the key that unlocks many mysteries, especially the gospel, which is hidden from the eyes of unbelieving Jews (not to mention Gentiles):

14 But their minds were closed. For to this very day, the same veil remains when they hear the old covenant read. It has not been removed because only in Christ is it taken away. 15 But until this very day whenever Moses is read, a veil lies over their minds, 16 but when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed (2 Corinthians 3:14-16).

Now we need to be careful that we do not “see” too much. We had best let the apostles and inspired authors of the New Testament “unveil” things hidden in the Old Testament, just as our author will do in regard to Melchizedek.34

When we read the Old Testament, we should seek to see more of Jesus. I can remember Dr. Bruce Waltke telling those of us who were his students at the time, “When I turn to the Old Testament I pray, ‘Help me see more of Jesus.’” That should be our desire as well, especially as we continue our study in the Book of Hebrews, for when it cites Old Testament texts, it shows us more of Him.

Lord, as we delve more deeply into the Book of Hebrews, may we see more and more of Jesus, and may He become more and more precious to us. For our good and for your glory. Amen.


1 Copyright © 2008 by Robert L. Deffinbaugh. This is the edited manuscript of Lesson 3 in the series, Near to the Heart of God – A Study of the Book of Hebrews, prepared by Robert L. Deffinbaugh on July 27, 2008. Anyone is at liberty to use this lesson for educational purposes only, with or without credit.

2 Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the NET Bible. The NEW ENGLISH TRANSLATION, also known as THE NET BIBLE, is a completely new translation of the Bible, not a revision or an update of a previous English version. It was completed by more than twenty biblical scholars who worked directly from the best currently available Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek texts. The translation project originally started as an attempt to provide an electronic version of a modern translation for electronic distribution over the Internet and on CD (compact disk). Anyone anywhere in the world with an Internet connection will be able to use and print out the NET Bible without cost for personal study. In addition, anyone who wants to share the Bible with others can print unlimited copies and give them away free to others. It is available on the Internet at: www.netbible.org.

3 http://bible.org/node/545

4 Actually, I should probably state this more broadly, to include the use of an Old Testament text by anyone that is recorded in the New Testament. Thus, Mary’s prayer in Luke chapter 1 would be included.

5 Raymond Brown, Christ Above All: The Message of Hebrews (Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1982), p. 37.

6 See George H. Guthrie, Hebrews – The NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1998), p. 73.

7 See 1 Peter 1:10-12 below.

8 See Ephesians 3:8-11; Colossians 2:1-3.

9 Raymond Brown, p. 36.

10 Raymond Brown, pp. 37-38.

11 By and large I am following George H. Guthrie’s analysis here. See George H. Guthrie, Hebrews – The NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1998), pp. 67-71.

12 Psalm 2:7.

13 2 Samuel 7:14.

14 As Raymond Brown points out (p. 39), the angels’ name means messenger.

15 See, for example, Job 1:6.

16 This is a point that the author will make shortly.

17 George H. Guthrie, p. 69.

18 F. F. Bruce, The Epistle to the Hebrews, revised edition (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1990), p. 54.

19 Deuteronomy 32:43 (LXX); Psalm 97:7.

20 Psalm 104:4.

21 See Genesis 49:3-4.

22 See Deuteronomy 21:17.

23 Genesis 38:27-30.

24 Romans 8:29; Colossians 1:15.

25 Hebrews 1:2.

26 Psalm 45:6-7.

27 Psalm 102:25-27.

28 The angels, too, have been created at a point in time – see Ezekiel 28:13.

29 2 Peter 3:10-12.

30 Psalm 110:1.

31 Matthew 20:20-21.

32 See also Luke 22:69; Acts 5:31; 7:55-56; Ephesians 1:20; Colossians 3:1.

33 Deuteronomy 22:8.

34 See Hebrews 5-7.

http://feeds.bible.org/deffinbaugh/hebrews/deff_hebrews_03.mp3
/assets/powerpoint/deff_hebrews_03.ppt
Ad Category: 
Biblical Topics: 
Passage: 
/assets/worddocs/deff_hebrews_03_sg.zip

4. A Word of Warning and Exhortation (Hebrews 2:1-4)


1 Therefore we must pay closer attention to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away. 2 For if the message spoken through angels proved to be so firm that every violation or disobedience received its just penalty, 3 how will we escape if we neglect such a great salvation? It was first communicated through the Lord and was confirmed to us by those who heard him, 4 while God confirmed their witness with signs and wonders and various miracles and gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will (Hebrews 2:1-4).1

Introduction

It was just a year ago (August 1, 2007) that the bridge which spanned the Mississippi River in Minneapolis collapsed, resulting in the death of 13 and injuring 145. It was a 40-year-old bridge, and quite obviously there were hidden weaknesses that went undetected until it was too late. Sad to say, it can also happen to Christians. When I spoke at a seminary this past year, one of the professors came up to me and said something like, “Bob, I’m so encouraged to see men like you who are still faithfully proclaiming God’s Word.”

This started me to thinking. It was as though this professor was indicating that a number of seminary students do not persevere. A fellow-graduate and I were discussing this not long ago, and he proceeded to list a number of men in his class at seminary who had failed to persevere. I am aware of some who have denied the faith, of others who just got weary and threw in the towel, and of some who failed morally. Even graduating from a conservative seminary is no guarantee of ending well.

The problem is not a new one. How many Old Testament saints failed to finish well, falling to one kind of evil or another? I believe that when the author of Hebrews warns us of the danger of “drifting,” he is speaking of the same problem. This is a danger that every Christian faces, and thus we would do well – as our text exhorts us – to listen more carefully to the message that God has for us in the person and work of His Son. As our text urges us, let us listen well to the Word of God, lest we drift into dangerous waters.

We should observe that this is the first “warning passage” in the Book of Hebrews. The writer has changed from exposition to exhortation. It is very important that we get this text right because it will set the course for our future studies. In particular, this is true so far as to whom the author has written this epistle and to what the dangers are that he addresses. We will therefore take some extra time to assure that we are right in our conclusions regarding these matters.

Where Are We in Hebrews?

The first two chapters call our attention to the message which God has conveyed to us in His Son. There are essentially three major sections, the message of which can be summarized as follows:

Exposition: God has spoken through His Son Who is higher than the angels (1:1-14).

          Exhortation: Listen well to what He says! (2:1-4)

Exposition: The Son became “lower than the angels” to save sinners (2:5-18).

The Danger of Drifting
Hebrews 2:1

Therefore we must pay closer attention to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away 2 (Hebrews 2:1).

“Therefore” looks back to chapter 1. The author is tying this exhortation to what he has just said: “Therefore, since God has spoken finally and fully in His Son, who is vastly superior to any other being, we should listen most carefully to what He has said.”

There are two particularly important questions we must answer before going any further. First, who is meant by “we” (three times)3 in verse 1? And second, “What is meant by the expression ‘drift away’?” We have several possible answers to the question, “Who is the author referring to when he says ‘we’?

1. The “we” refers to Jewish unbelievers who have heard the gospel, but have not really embraced it for salvation.

2. The “we” refers to believers.

3. The “we” refers to the members of a particular church, a few of whom might be unsaved.

The first view is held by John MacArthur, who writes:

“To whom is the warning directed? It cannot be to Christians. They can never be in danger of neglecting salvation – in the sense of not receiving it – since they already have it. They can neglect growth and discipleship, but they cannot neglect salvation. Nor can the warning be to those who have never heard the gospel, because they cannot neglect what they do not even know exists. The warning must therefore be directed to non-Christians, specifically Jews, who are intellectually convinced of the gospel but who fail to receive it for themselves.”

“But if the warning is to unbelievers, why does the writer speak of ‘we’ and ‘us’? Does he include himself among the intellectually convinced but uncommitted? Is the author saying that he himself is not a Christian? No. The ‘us’ is the us of nationality or of those who have heard the truth. The author’s willingness to identify himself with his readers does not mean he is in the same spiritual condition as they are. He seems simply to be saying, ‘All of us who have heard the gospel ought to accept it.’”4

“We believe this warning is to those who have heard the gospel, know the facts about Jesus Christ, know that He died for them, that He desires to forgive their sins, that He can give them new life, but are not willing to confess Him as Lord and Savior. This surely is the most tragic category of people in existence.”5

This definition of “we” certainly makes the warning texts of Hebrews less of a problem. But it simply does not correspond with what we read in Hebrews. Look at those texts in Hebrews in which the author gives us some information about his readers:

1 Therefore, holy brothers and sisters, partners in a heavenly calling, take note of Jesus, the apostle and high priest whom we confess, . . . 6 But Christ is faithful as a son over God’s house. We are of his house, if in fact we hold firmly to our confidence and the hope we take pride in (Hebrews 3:1, 6).

The author is certainly not speaking to unbelievers here. He is speaking to those who are “partners in a heavenly calling.” Now look at our next text in Hebrews.

12 See to it, brothers and sisters, that none of you has an evil, unbelieving heart that forsakes the living God. 13 But exhort one another each day, as long as it is called “Today,” that none of you may become hardened by sin’s deception. 14 For we have become partners with Christ, if in fact we hold our initial confidence firm until the end (Hebrews 3:12-14, emphasis mine).

These are “brothers and sisters.” The danger is “becoming hardened by sin’s deception.” And the solution is not “repent and be saved,” but “exhort one another each day.” It sounds to me like the author is speaking to believers.

11 On this topic we have much to say and it is difficult to explain, since you have become sluggish in hearing. 12 For though you should in fact be teachers by this time, you need someone to teach you the beginning elements of God’s utterances. You have gone back to needing milk, not solid food. 13 For everyone who lives on milk is inexperienced in the message of righteousness, because he is an infant. 14 But solid food is for the mature, whose perceptions are trained by practice to discern both good and evil (Hebrews 5:11-14, emphasis mine).

Once again, the author is addressing believers. Granted, they are not as mature as believers should be, but they are believers. They have not refused to hear; they have become “sluggish in hearing.” They are immature so that they need “milk” rather than “meat.” Sufficient time has passed that some of the audience might have become teachers, but they did not. These folks need “solid food.”

After some very serious words of warning in Hebrews 6:4-8, the author has these words of reassurance to his readers:

9 But in your case, dear friends, even though we speak like this, we are convinced of better things relating to salvation. 10 For God is not unjust so as to forget your work and the love you have demonstrated for his name, in having served and continuing to serve the saints. 11 But we passionately want each of you to demonstrate the same eagerness for the fulfillment of your hope until the end, 12 so that you may not be sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and perseverance inherit the promises (Hebrews 6:9-12, emphasis mine).

The issue here is not their salvation, but rather their endurance. In his words, the author wants his readers to “demonstrate the same eagerness for the fulfillment of their hope until the end.” We might say that he wants them to “keep on keeping on.”

In chapter 10, we come to yet another sobering warning text in verses 26-31, but immediately after this he writes these words of encouragement:

32 But remember the former days when you endured a harsh conflict of suffering after you were enlightened. 33 At times you were publicly exposed to abuse and afflictions, and at other times you came to share with others who were treated in that way. 34 For in fact you shared the sufferings of those in prison, and you accepted the confiscation of your belongings with joy, because you knew that you certainly had a better and lasting possession. 35 So do not throw away your confidence, because it has great reward. 36 For you need endurance in order to do God’s will and so receive what is promised. 37 For just a little longer and he who is coming will arrive and not delay. 38 But my righteous one will live by faith, and if he shrinks back, I take no pleasure in him. 39 But we are not among those who shrink back and thus perish, but are among those who have faith and preserve their souls (Hebrews 10:32-39, emphasis mine).

Their conversion (enlightenment) is assumed, and beyond this, these saints endured a good deal of persecution for their profession of faith. They gladly endured. Now, the author says, they need to endure. They need to fix their eyes on their eternal reward. There is good reason for optimism that the readers will do just this.

If the original readers of this epistle were unbelievers, then you would expect the author’s application to be evangelistic. But when we get to chapter 12, that is not the case at all:

1 Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, we must get rid of every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and run with endurance the race set out for us, 2 keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith. For the joy set out for him he endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God. 3 Think of him who endured such opposition against himself by sinners, so that you may not grow weary in your souls and give up. 4 You have not yet resisted to the point of bloodshed in your struggle against sin. 5 And have you forgotten the exhortation addressed to you as sons? “My son, do not scorn the Lord’s discipline or give up when he corrects you. 6 “For the Lord disciplines the one he loves and chastises every son he accepts.” 7 Endure your suffering as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is there that a father does not discipline? 8 But if you do not experience discipline, something all sons have shared in, then you are illegitimate and are not sons. 9 Besides, we have experienced discipline from our earthly fathers and we respected them; shall we not submit ourselves all the more to the Father of spirits and receive life? 10 For they disciplined us for a little while as seemed good to them, but he does so for our benefit, that we may share his holiness. 11 Now all discipline seems painful at the time, not joyful. But later it produces the fruit of peace and righteousness for those trained by it. 12 Therefore, strengthen your listless hands and your weak knees, 13 and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but be healed (Hebrews 12:1-13).

The suffering these saints are experiencing are not an indication of divine distance, as though God has forsaken them and left them to their own devices. The author deals with their struggles as the “normal Christian life” and as God working in their lives. He is not raising doubts in their minds about their faith, but is explaining that their trials and tribulations are from the hand of a loving Father. Their difficulties are a proof of their relationship to God as Father, rather than being evidence of God’s lack of concern for them. These are evidence of divine discipline, not for our destruction, but for our growth.

Now look at some of the exhortations in chapter 13. Do these sound like the words you would expect the author to be writing to unbelievers?

Let love of brethren continue (13:1)

Don’t neglect hospitality (13:2)

Remember the prisoners (13:3)

Purity in marriage/sex (13:4)

Live free of the love of money (13:4-6)

Remember your leaders (13:7)

Don’t be carried away with strange teachings (13:9)

In Christ, offer up a sacrifice of praise (13:15)

Obey your leaders (13:17)

And does the author’s conclusion lead us to believe he is writing to unbelievers, or to saints?

20 Now may the God of peace who by the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead the great shepherd of the sheep, our Lord Jesus Christ, 21 equip you with every good thing to do his will, working in us what is pleasing before him through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever. Amen. 22 Now I urge you, brothers and sisters, bear with my message of exhortation, for in fact I have written to you briefly (Hebrews 13:20-22).

And so it is that I am forced to conclude that the “we” of Hebrews 2:1 refers to a particular group of believers – a church (perhaps a house church). It is possible that there may be an unbeliever or more in the group, but by and large, the recipients of the letter are believers. I believe this needs to be understood throughout the letter.

So we have found the answer to the first question: “Who is the author writing to?” We must now answer a second question: “What is the danger about which the author warns his readers?” Using the author’s choice of terms, “What does it mean to “drift away”? Let’s seek to follow the author’s line of thought. The “therefore” of verse 1 turns us back to chapter 1. Since God has spoken finally and fully in His Son, and this Son is superior to the angels, then therefore” we should “pay closer attention to what we have heard.” It is evident that some attention has been paid to the New Testament Scriptures (including Hebrews), but not enough attention. Wives will quickly grasp this. Husbands may pay a measure of attention to their wives as they sit at the breakfast table, drinking their coffee and reading the paper, but not enough. Husbands may give some attention to their wives as they sit in front of the television, watching a football game, but not enough.

The problem that the author calls “drifting away” must therefore be associated with not paying sufficient attention to God’s Word, and also with “neglecting so great a salvation” (verse 3). So what does it mean to “drift away”? George H. Guthrie sums up the various nuances of the term:

“The image of ‘drifting’ is an especially potent one. The word used here (panaruomai) could signify objects that slip away, such as a ring that slips off the finger, or objects that go in the wrong direction, such as a piece of food that goes into the windpipe. Perhaps the image closer to our author’s intention in this passage is that of a ship drifting, missing a harbor it intended to enter because of strong currents or winds.”6

R. Kent Hughes defines “drifting away” in very practical terms:

“That church’s experience 2,000 years ago intersects our lives in this way: drifting is the besetting sin of our day. And as the metaphor suggests, it is not so much intentional as from unconcern. Christians neglect their anchor – Christ – and begin to quietly drift away. There is no friction, no dramatic sense of departure. But when the winds of trouble come, the things of Christ are left far behind, even out of sight. The writer of Revelation uses different language, but refers to the same thing when he says to the ostensibly healthy Ephesian church, ‘Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken your first love’ (Revelation 2:4).”7

So, the danger is that Christians may grow cold in their love for Christ, drift from their dependence upon the nourishment of His Word, and by this neglect, put themselves in danger. The nature of that danger will now be addressed in the verses which follow.

The Consequences of Drifting

2 For if the message spoken through angels proved to be so firm that every violation or disobedience received its just penalty, 3 how will we escape if we neglect such a great salvation? (Hebrews 2:2-3a)

The author is about to employ a “much more” argument. He will show the severe consequences for Israelites who disregarded the requirements of the Law of Moses. And then he will reason that neglecting the later and fuller revelation of God in Christ is even more dangerous.

Let’s begin by considering the consequences of disregarding the Old Testament law. Here it is identified as “the message spoken through angels.” How could the law be said to have been spoken through angels? The answer comes to us in several biblical texts: Deuteronomy 33:2 (LXX8); Acts 7:38, 53; Galatians 3:19.

2 He said: The Lord came from Sinai and revealed himself to Israel from Seir. He appeared in splendor from Mount Paran, and came forth with ten thousand holy ones. With his right hand he gave a fiery law to them [LXX: on his right hand were his angels with him] (Deuteronomy 33:2).

“This is the man who was in the congregation in the wilderness with the angel who spoke to him at Mount Sinai, and with our ancestors, and he received living oracles to give to you” (Acts 7:38).

“You received the law by decrees given by angels, but you did not obey it” (Acts 7:53).

Why then was the law given? It was added because of transgressions, until the arrival of the descendant to whom the promise had been made. It was administered through angels by an intermediary (Galatians 3:19).

There was, then, some angelic involvement in the giving of the law, and that is exactly the point that the author draws upon. Beginning in chapter 1, he has been showing the superiority of Christ to the angels and that continues to be his point here. If the consequences for neglecting God’s Word were severe in the Old Testament, how much greater will the consequences be for neglecting God’s Word in the New Testament? One vastly superior to the angels has brought the good news to men. Surely disregarding the message God has revealed by His Son will have more severe consequences.

So just what are the consequences for neglecting the revelation which has come through the Son? MacArthur, assuming that the “we” of Hebrews 2:1 refers to Jewish unbelievers, concludes that the author speaks of an eternity in hell:

“Hell is undoubtedly full of people who were never actively opposed to Jesus Christ, but who simply neglected the gospel. Such people are in view in these four verses. They know the truth and even believe the truth, in the sense that they acknowledge its truthfulness, its rightness. They are well aware of the good news of salvation provided in Jesus Christ, but are not willing to commit their lives to Him. So they drift past the call of God into eternal damnation.”9

But we have seen that the “we” of whom the author speaks are Christians. Surely he is not saying that they will lose their salvation, is he? Certainly not! In both the Old Testament and the New, there are severe consequences for disregarding God’s Word. Think, for example, of Uzzah, who reached out and touched the ark and was struck dead for his irreverence.10 In this instance, the law had clearly instructed the Israelites as to how the ark was to be transported (by the priests, carrying it by the use of poles, and not in a cart drawn by oxen). Ignorance of the law was no excuse for disobedience, and thus Uzzah was struck dead. So, too, some of the men of Beth-shemesh died because they “looked into the ark.”11 Then there was David, and the severe consequences resulting from his sin against Uriah (2 Samuel 11-12). Think, too, of the consequences of Miriam’s sin – leprosy.12 Likewise, we should not forget that Moses was kept from entering the land because of his irreverence.13

We can see the same thing in the New Testament, where believers in Jesus suffered severe consequences because of their sin. Ananias and Sapphira were struck dead for “lying to the HolySpirit.”14 Some of the saints in Corinth were stricken with illness, and some died because of their irreverence at the Lord’s Table.15 The man who was living with his father’s wife was handed over to Satan for judgment, but this did not include the loss of his eternal salvation:

3 For even though I am absent physically, I am present in spirit. And I have already judged the one who did this, just as though I were present. 4 When you gather together in the name of our Lord Jesus, and I am with you in spirit, along with the power of our Lord Jesus, 5 turn this man over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord (1 Corinthians 5:3-5).

I must admit that I was somewhat puzzled by the change from “what we have heard” in verse 1 to “such a great salvation” in verse 3. It seems apparent that the author is using these expressions interchangeably, but why the change? Here is a suggestion for you to consider. Based upon Paul’s teaching in the New Testament, we can safely say that the law could never save; it could only condemn:

19 Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world may be held accountable to God. 20 For no one is declared righteous before him by the works of the law, for through the law comes the knowledge of sin (Romans 3:19-20).

The law brings condemnation, while Jesus Christ brings salvation:

21 But now apart from the law the righteousness of God (which is attested by the law and the prophets) has been disclosed – 22 namely, the righteousness of God through the faithfulness of Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction, 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. 24 But they are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. 25 God publicly displayed him at his death as the mercy seat accessible through faith. This was to demonstrate his righteousness, because God in his forbearance had passed over the sins previously committed. 26 This was also to demonstrate his righteousness in the present time, so that he would be just and the justifier of the one who lives because of Jesus’ faithfulness (Romans 3:21-26).

It is not surprising, then, for the author of Hebrews to speak of the Old Testament revelation (the law) as bringing condemnation and the New Testament as bringing salvation. This is consistent with the teaching of the New Testament:

7 But if the ministry that produced death – carved in letters on stone tablets – came with glory, so that the Israelites could not keep their eyes fixed on the face of Moses because of the glory of his face (a glory which was made ineffective), 8 how much more glorious will the ministry of the Spirit be? 9 For if there was glory in the ministry that produced condemnation, how much more does the ministry that produces righteousness excel in glory! 10 For indeed, what had been glorious now has no glory because of the tremendously greater glory of what replaced it. 11 For if what was made ineffective came with glory, how much more has what remains come in glory! (2 Corinthians 3:7-11)

So it is that I must conclude that this first warning in Hebrews – like all the others – is directed toward Christians, who are in danger of “drifting away” because of their neglect. The consequences are serious, but not the loss of salvation. And so it remains for us to inquire as to just how we may discern that we are “drifting away” and what we should do to prevent it. That will come shortly, but first we must look at the rest of our text.

The New Testament Scriptures Are They Reliable?

It was first communicated through the Lord and was confirmed to us by those who heard him, 4 while God confirmed their witness with signs and wonders and various miracles and gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will (Hebrews 2:3b-4).

The question that may be lingering in the minds of some might go something like this: “Okay, so God spoke through the Old Testament prophets, and then (finally and fully) He spoke to us through His Son. But we did not hear Jesus directly. The Scriptures have been passed down to us. So how do we know that these Scriptures are reliable?” We have seen from chapter 1 that the source of the Scriptures is both reliable and authoritative. The question before us is whether we have an accurate account of what our Lord (the Son) revealed to us. This is not a merely hypothetical discussion. Most all of the religions of the world have some kind of scripture on which they base their belief and practice. The Muslims would acknowledge Jesus as a prophet and His words as inspired, yet they believe that these words have been corrupted, so that they are not reliable. Postmodernists likewise are skeptical about any claim to an exclusive, authoritative “word from God.” So what we are able to consider is really important.

The New Testament Scriptures are the teaching of our Lord Jesus. It is God’s revelation to men that was “first communicated through the Lord.” This is entirely consistent with our Lord’s teaching:

25 “I have spoken these things while staying with you. 26 But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and will cause you to remember everything I said to you” (John 14:25-26).

12 “I have many more things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. 13 But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. For he will not speak on his own authority, but will speak whatever he hears, and will tell you what is to come. 14 He will glorify me, because he will receive from me what is mine and will tell it to you. 15 Everything that the Father has is mine; that is why I said the Spirit will receive from me what is mine and will tell it to you” (John 16:12-15).

Our Lord’s teaching was then conveyed to us by those who heard Him directly.16 For this reason, the New Testament writers speak with authority:

14 Now the Word became flesh and took up residence among us. We saw his glory – the glory of the one and only, full of grace and truth, who came from the Father. 15 John testified about him and shouted out, “This one was the one about whom I said, ‘He who comes after me is greater than I am, because he existed before me.’” 16 For we have all received from his fullness one gracious gift after another. 17 For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came about through Jesus Christ. 18 No one has ever seen God. The only one, himself God, who is in closest fellowship with the Father, has made God known (John 1:14-18).

1 This is what we proclaim to you: what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and our hands have touched (concerning the word of life – 2 and the life was revealed, and we have seen and testify and announce to you the eternal life that was with the Father and was revealed to us). 3 What we have seen and heard we announce to you too, so that you may have fellowship with us (and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ). 4 Thus we are writing these things so that our joy may be complete (1 John 1:1-4).

16 For we did not follow cleverly concocted fables when we made known to you the power and return of our Lord Jesus Christ; no, we were eyewitnesses of his grandeur. 17 For he received honor and glory from God the Father, when that voice was conveyed to him by the Majestic Glory: “This is my dear Son, in whom I am delighted.” 18 When this voice was conveyed from heaven, we ourselves heard it, for we were with him on the holy mountain. 19 Moreover, we possess the prophetic word as an altogether reliable thing. You do well if you pay attention to this as you would to a light shining in a murky place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts. 20 Above all, you do well if you recognize this: No prophecy of scripture ever comes about by the prophet’s own imagination, 21 for no prophecy was ever borne of human impulse; rather, men carried along by the Holy Spirit spoke from God (2 Peter 1:16-21).

7:10 To the married I give this command – not I, but the Lord – a wife should not divorce a husband 11 (but if she does, let her remain unmarried, or be reconciled to her husband), and a husband should not divorce his wife. . . . 14:37 If anyone considers himself a prophet or spiritual person, he should acknowledge that what I write to you is the Lord’s command (1 Corinthians 7:10-11; 14:37).

The author does not claim to have heard Jesus directly, so how can he know with certainty that what he has heard from those who did hear it from Jesus is accurate, inerrant, and fully authoritative? God confirmed the words of these men, not unlike He did the words of our Lord.

20 For the Father loves the Son and shows him everything he does, and will show him greater deeds than these, so that you will be amazed. 21 For just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, so also the Son gives life to whomever he wishes” (John 5:20-21).

“I testify about myself and the Father who sent me testifies about me” (John 8:18).

Jesus said to them, “I have shown you many good deeds from the Father. For which one of them are you going to stone me?” (John 10:32)

29 And now, Lord, pay attention to their threats, and grant to your servants to speak your message with great courage, 30 while you extend your hand to heal, and to bring about miraculous signs and wonders through the name of your holy servant Jesus.” 31 When they had prayed, the place where they were assembled together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak the word of God courageously. 32 The group of those who believed were of one heart and mind, and no one said that any of his possessions was his own, but everything was held in common. 33 With great power the apostles were giving testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was on them all. 34 For there was no one needy among them, because those who were owners of land or houses were selling them and bringing the proceeds from the sales 35 and placing them at the apostles’ feet. The proceeds were distributed to each, as anyone had need (Acts 4:29-35).

7 The word of God continued to spread, the number of disciples in Jerusalem increased greatly, and a large group of priests became obedient to the faith. 8 Now Stephen, full of grace and power, was performing great wonders and miraculous signs among the people (Acts 6:7-8).

Here is a point where Christians tend to disagree. Some believe that God still validates the witness of Christians through signs and wonders and miracles. Others believe that such gifts were only for the apostolic period. Personally, I believe that God is free to manifest His power whenever He chooses. From things I have heard, I believe that when the Word of God comes to a people group for the first time, God may validate the message by miracles. He is not obligated to do so, but I believe that it is a possibility.

But our text does not limit God’s validation of His Word to spectacular miracles:

While God confirmed their witness with signs and wonders and various miracles and gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will (Hebrews 2:4).

I read these words in the light of Paul’s teaching in 1 Corinthians 12:

7 To each person the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the benefit of all. 8 For one person is given through the Spirit the message of wisdom, and another the message of knowledge according to the same Spirit, 9 to another faith by the same Spirit, and to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, 10 to another performance of miracles, to another prophecy, and to another discernment of spirits, to another different kinds of tongues, and to another the interpretation of tongues. 11 It is one and the same Spirit, distributing as he decides to each person, who produces all these things. . . . 18 But as a matter of fact, God has placed each of the members in the body just as he decided (1 Corinthians 12:4-11, 18, emphasis mine).

I see no reason to restrict the gifts God has given that validate His Word to the so-called “temporary” gifts. This seems to be in keeping with Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians, and it is also consistent with these words from Ephesians 4:

7 But to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of the gift of Christ. 8 Therefore it says, “When he ascended on high he captured captives; he gave gifts to men” (Ephesians 4:7-8).

Spiritual gifts are evidence of our Lord’s resurrection and ascension to the Father’s right hand. As the body of Christ exercises the various spiritual gifts, the Word comes to life before our eyes, confirming the power and authority of God’s Son, and of His Word.

Conclusion

Our text has made it abundantly clear that every Christian faces the danger of drifting away from the Lord Jesus, from His Word, and even from fellowship with other believers. This is not just a danger for unbelievers who have heard the gospel; it is a danger for all who have heard and embraced the good news:

“The transcending concern of this warning text is for those who have heard. Even more, the concern is not for those who reject the gospel, but for those who ‘ignore’ it. The concern is for one’s attitude – the one who has let the greatness of Christ slip away – the one who no longer marvels at the atonement – the one who no longer has a desire for the Word – the one who really does not pray in his spirit – the one who is drifting back to where he came from and has little concern about his drifting.”17

If drifting away is a grave danger for every believer, then it is important for us to be able to recognize when we are drifting. What are some possible symptoms of drifting? Let me suggest a few. I am drifting when . . .

1. My sense of wonder begins to wane. When we went on vacation this summer, we saw a lot of magnificent scenery, much of which was the mountains on the West Coast. Mount Rainier or Mount Hood can be looming in the background, and some of the natives seem to have forgotten its beauty and majesty. Likewise, when we read the first verses of Hebrews 1, we are informed of the majesty and splendor of the Son of God, our Savior. Has the wonder that He came down to earth to save us (chapter 2) been lost on us? Is this not awesome? If we have lost the wonder of our Savior and His salvation, we are drifting.

2. My awareness of the nearness of God has become ancient history. If the intimacy I once knew and enjoyed is now a faint memory, I am drifting.

3. My love and desire for God’s Word falls short of what I find in Psalm 119.

4. The realities of heaven and hell seem distant and unreal.

5. I fall apart at the first sign of suffering or persecution.

6. I am unaware of the constant, downward pull of the world, the flesh, and the devil.

7. Prayer, Bible study, witnessing, and going to church are a duty, rather than a delight.

8. The Lord’s Table is dull, and preaching is boring.

9. Remembering the work of Jesus Christ on the cross does not emotionally move me.

10. I become autonomous, rather than deeply dependent upon other believers.

11. Theology ceases to be important to me, or (worse yet) when it is just an intellectual exercise.

12. My theology is derived more from the fiction section of the library than from the Bible, good commentaries, or books on theology. I know that I am stepping out on a limb here, but I believe this is a very real danger. The recent popularity of the book, The Shack, among Christians is distressing and disturbing. When professing saints say that they have learned more about God from this book than from their Bible or from preaching, something is seriously wrong. I think that too many Christians have found it easier and more enjoyable to read Christian fiction to learn about spiritual warfare or prophecy than to learn from God’s Word. In my opinion, that is drifting.

13. I lack joy and gratitude for all God has done for me.

14. I have ceased growing in faith, hope, and love.

15. I’m looking for something “more” outside Scripture, and outside of Christ. I see this in the carnal Corinthians. I also see this dealt with in Colossians 1 and 2. In Colossians 1, Paul declares the supremacy of Christ. In chapter 2, Paul writes that in Christ “are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Colossians 2:3). He then goes on to warn us about seeking wisdom that is not according to Christ.18

Let me end with some final words of exhortation. First, I have a word for those of you who have never “dropped anchor” by confessing your sins and trusting in the work of Jesus Christ for your eternal salvation. Being in close proximity to the gospel, or to Christians, does not save you. Listen to these words of our Lord (the One to whom the writer to the Hebrews is urging us to pay attention):

24 “Exert every effort to enter through the narrow door, because many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able to. 25 Once the head of the house gets up and shuts the door, then you will stand outside and start to knock on the door and beg him, ‘Lord, let us in!’ But he will answer you, ‘I don’t know where you come from.’ 26 Then you will begin to say, ‘We ate and drank in your presence, and you taught in our streets.’ 27 But he will reply, ‘I don’t know where you come from! Go away from me, all you evildoers!’ 28 There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth when you see Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and all the prophets in the kingdom of God but you yourselves thrown out. 29 Then people will come from east and west, and from north and south, and take their places at the banquet table in the kingdom of God” (Luke 13:24-29).

The time to confess your sins and to trust in Jesus is now. Knowing about Jesus is not enough; you must personally accept the gift of salvation that He offers. As the next verses in Hebrews 2 will inform us, the Son of God humbled Himself by taking on human flesh, thereby identifying with lost sinners so that by His death on the cross at Calvary, He could bear the punishment for our sins, thereby giving us eternal life. Don’t be among those who knew about Jesus, but who never entrusted their eternal future into His hands.

And finally, I have a word for true believers. The author of Hebrews has urged us to take the Word of God much more seriously. But just how do we go about this? Ron Maness, our excellent librarian, recently put a book into my hands entitled, What is a Healthy Church Member?19 The first chapter of this book deals with the first mark of a healthy church member: A Healthy Church Member is an Expositional Listener.20 The author, Thabiti M. Anyabwile, lists several steps to becoming an expositional listener. Allow me to pass them along to you (along with a recommendation to read his fine book):

1. Meditate on the sermon passage during your quiet time.

2. Invest in a good set of commentaries.

3. Talk and pray with friends about the sermon after church.

4. Listen to and act on the sermon throughout the week.

5. Develop the habit of addressing any questions about the text itself.

6. Cultivate humility.

May God grant that we beware of drifting away from Christ, and that we pay much closer attention to that which God has revealed to us through His Son, who is vastly higher than the angels.


1 Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the NET Bible. The NEW ENGLISH TRANSLATION, also known as THE NET BIBLE, is a completely new translation of the Bible, not a revision or an update of a previous English version. It was completed by more than twenty biblical scholars who worked directly from the best currently available Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek texts. The translation project originally started as an attempt to provide an electronic version of a modern translation for electronic distribution over the Internet and on CD (compact disk). Anyone anywhere in the world with an Internet connection will be able to use and print out the NET Bible without cost for personal study. In addition, anyone who wants to share the Bible with others can print unlimited copies and give them away free to others. It is available on the Internet at: www.netbible.org.

Copyright © 2008 by Robert L. Deffinbaugh. This is the edited manuscript of Lesson 4 in the series, Near to the Heart of God – A Study of the Book of Hebrews, prepared by Robert L. Deffinbaugh on August 3, 2008. Anyone is at liberty to use this lesson for educational purposes only, with or without credit.

2 Both the NASB and the ESV add “from it.” The NASB at least indicates that these words are supplied by the translators, and yet are not in the original text. Unfortunately, there is no such indication in the ESV. Personally, I believe the author is warning the reader about the danger of drifting away from Christ rather than only warning about drifting away from the Word of God, though the two are closely related.

3“We” is found five times in Hebrews 2:1-4 and “us” is found once.

4 John MacArthur, Hebrews (Chicago, Illinois: Moody Press, 1983), pp. 41-42.

5 MacArthur, p. 42.

6 George H. Guthrie, Hebrews – The NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1998, p. 84.

7 R. Kent Hughes, Hebrews (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway Books, 1993), vol. 1, p. 48. Hughes also cites this statement by C. S. Lewis: “‘And as a matter of fact, if you examined a hundred people who had lost their faith in Christianity, I wonder how many of them would turn out to have been reasoned out of it by honest argument? Do not most people simply drift away?’” C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (New York: Macmillan, 1976, p. 124), as cited by Hughes, p. 48.

8 LXX stands for the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament. The author of Hebrews, like most of the New Testament writers, more often quotes from the Septuagint.

9 MacArthur, p. 39.

10 2 Samuel 6:6-7.

11 1 Samuel 6:19-20.

12 Numbers 12:1-15.

13 Numbers 20:1-12.

14 Acts 5:1-11.

15 1 Corinthians 11:17-34.

16 I believe this includes Paul. See Acts 9:1-10; 22:3-21; 26:1-18; Galatians 1:11-17. It would not, however, include the author to the Hebrews.

17 Hughes, p. 52.

18 See Colossians 2:8-10.

19 Thabiti M. Anyabwile, What is a Healthy Church Member? (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway Books, 2008).

20 See pages 20-26.

http://feeds.bible.org/deffinbaugh/hebrews/deff_hebrews_04.mp3
/assets/powerpoint/deff_hebrews_04.ppt
Ad Category: 
Passage: 
/assets/worddocs/deff_hebrews_04_sg.zip

5. The Necessity of the Incarnation: Why God Drew Near to Mankind – Part I (Hebrews 2:5-9)

13 But to which of the angels has he ever said, “Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet”? 14 Are they not all ministering spirits, sent out to serve those who will inherit salvation? (Hebrews 1:13-14)

5 For he did not put the world to come, about which we are speaking, under the control of angels. 6 Instead someone testified somewhere: “What is man that you think of him or the son of man that you care for him? 7 You made him lower than the angels for a little while. You crowned him with glory and honor. 8 You put all things under his control.” For when he put all things under his control, he left nothing outside of his control. At present we do not yet see all things under his control, 9 but we see Jesus, who was made lower than the angels for a little while, now crowned with glory and honor because he suffered death, so that by God’s grace he would experience death on behalf of everyone.1

Introduction

We live in the age of “self-esteem.” Criminals do the bad things they do, we are told, because they have poor self-esteem. It isn’t just criminals who are the alleged “victims” of poor self-esteem – it is nearly all of us. And so the books on healthy self-esteem keep rolling off the presses. And we have (at least some of us did) television’s Mr. Rogers to tell us that we are all so very special, so special that a generation of students grew up thinking they didn’t have to perform in order to get a passing grade, earn scholarships, or even graduate from college. I recently saw a soap commercial, assuring the viewers that they were conducting programs to convince young girls that they were all beautiful persons. What about those of us who could scrub our faces with that stuff till the cows come home and we’re still less than beautiful?

The Bible’s assessment of the human condition is, once again, very different. In our text, we will find that the Son of God came to earth and took on humanity, not because we are so loveable, but because we are so desperately wicked.2 And if there is any reason to feel good about ourselves, it is because Jesus did something about our fallen condition to restore us to wholeness, to the destiny for which man was originally created.

This is our fifth lesson in the Book of Hebrews, and as we draw near to the end of chapter 2, we approach the end of the first major section. This first section can be summarized in this way:

The Son is Superior to the Angels

God has spoken finally and fully through His Son, who is higher than the angels (1:1-14).

Exhortation: We must more carefully listen to Him, lest we drift away (2:1-4).

The Son became lower than the angels to save sinners, and to restore them to their original destiny (2:5-18).

God spoke through the prophets in the past, at various times and in various ways. Now, in these last days He has spoken to us finally and fully through His Son. This Son is vastly higher than the angels (as evidenced by seven statements in 1:2-4). To these seven statements the author adds seven citations from Scripture (1:5-14). Next, leaving his exposition for a moment, the author pauses for a word of exhortation: His readers need to give more careful attention to what God has revealed through the Son, for neglect will result in drifting away and its consequences. In verse 5 of chapter 2, the author returns to his exposition, taking up where he left off at the end of chapter 1. Only now he will show the supremacy of the Son in a different way. He will show how the Son is superior to the angels in a very different way – by taking on humanity (the incarnation) in order to save lost men and women, and restore them to the place of dignity and authority for which they were originally created. Verses 5 through 9 are crucial transition verses, which turn our attention to this new theme of the incarnation in which Jesus became, for a little while, lower than the angels.

A Few Initial Observations Regarding our Text

5 For he did not put the world to come, about which we are speaking, under the control of angels. 6 Instead someone testified somewhere: “What is man that you think of him or the son of man that you care for him? 7 You made him lower than the angels for a little while. You crowned him with glory and honor. 8 You put all things under his control.” For when he put all things under his feet,3 he left nothing outside of his control. At present we do not yet see all things under his control, 9 but we see Jesus, who was made lower than the angels for a little while, now crowned with glory and honor because he suffered death, so that by God’s grace he would experience death on behalf of everyone (Hebrews 2:5-9).

Our text begins with the word “For,” which indicates that there is a connection to what has been said earlier, not so much in 2:1-4, but in 1:13-14. Because 2:1-4 is almost parenthetical, 2:5 takes up where the author left off at the end of chapter 1. You will also note from the bold and italicized text that the author of Hebrews cites Psalm 8:4-6 here. He then returns to particular portions of the text cited to further expound on the meaning of that portion of Psalm 8. The expression “lower than the angels” follows the Septuagint (LXX), the Greek translation of the Hebrew text of the Old Testament. In Psalm 8:5, the Hebrew term rendered “angels” by the Septuagint is Elohim, which could either be rendered “God” (as we see in the NASB) or “angels” (as we see in the Septuagint and the author’s citation in the Book of Hebrews. Our author assumes that “angels” is the correct rendering.

It should probably be noted that in our text, the name “Jesus” appears for the first time in the Book of Hebrews. Up until now, the author has wanted us to think of Him as the Son, God’s Son. Finally, the term “little” in verse 7 can either mean “a little while” (a short period of time) or, “a little bit lower” than the angels. I think that the meaning must be temporal here (“for a little while”) in order for the citation to make sense.

A Brief Look at Psalm 8

      1 For the choir director; on the Gittith.

      A Psalm of David. O Lord, our Lord,

      How majestic is Your name in all the earth,

      Who have displayed Your splendor above the heavens!

      2 From the mouth of infants and nursing babes

      You have established strength Because of Your adversaries,

      To make the enemy and the revengeful cease.

      3 When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers,

      The moon and the stars, which You have ordained;

      4 What is man that You take thought of him,

      And the son of man that You care for him?

      5 Yet You have made him a little lower than God,

      And You crown him with glory and majesty!

      6 You make him to rule over the works of Your hands;

      You have put all things under his feet,

      7 All sheep and oxen, And also the beasts of the field,

      8 The birds of the heavens and the fish of the sea,

      Whatever passes through the paths of the seas.

      9 O Lord, our Lord, How majestic is Your name in all the earth! (Psalm 8:1-9, NASB95)

Psalm 8, as seen above, is the English translation of the Hebrew text and not a rendering of the Septuagint (which is the translation cited by the author of Hebrews). First, this means that the author’s citation of Psalm 8:4-6 (from the Septuagint) in Hebrews 2:6-8 may not exactly match our English translation of Psalm 8. Second, observe that Psalm 8 is framed by the expression: “O Lord, our Lord, How majestic is Your name in all the earth” (verses 1 and 9). The fact that the opening and closing expressions are the same and that they praise the name of the Lord would surely have caught the attention of the author of Hebrews, for it was he who said in chapter 1: “He has inherited a more excellent name than the angels” (Hebrews 1:4).

Here’s the way I understand the flow of the argument of Psalm 8. The author (David) begins with a word of praise: “O Lord, our Lord, How majestic is Your name in all the earth.” The majesty to which David refers can be seen in the splendor of the heavens, which is but a reflection of the splendor of the Creator of the heavens (verse 1b). One can easily think of David’s recollection of his days as a young shepherd boy, lying out at night with his father’s flock, gazing into the heavens and marveling at the majesty of it all.

Verse 2 commences the theme of the relationship of greatness and insignificance. God has chosen to use the utterances which come from the mouths of babes to silence the “weighty and profound” protests and accusations of His adversaries. The seemingly insignificant utterances of children silence the protests of the great. This theme is picked up by our Lord in Matthew 21 (as we will soon see).

David continues the same theme (of greatness and seeming insignificance) in verses 3-8. When David looks up at the heavens and contemplates their magnitude and majesty, he realizes how small and apparently insignificant he is. How can God take an interest in man, who is so small in the grand scheme of things (verse 4)? But just as God uses the utterances of little children to silence His foes, God has chosen to use men to rule over His majestic creation. His words in verses 5-8 are a poetic expansion of Genesis 1:26.

Psalm 8 and Genesis 1:26

      3When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers,

      The moon and the stars, which You have ordained;

      4What is man that You take thought of him, And the son of man that You care for him? 5Yet You have made him a little lower than God, And You crown him with glory and majesty! 6You make him to rule over the works of Your hands; You have put all things under his feet, 7All sheep and oxen, And also the beasts of the field, 8The birds of the heavens and the fish of the sea, Whatever passes through the paths of the seas. 9O Lord, our Lord, How majestic is Your name in all the earth! (Psalm 8:3-9, NASB95; emphasis mine)

26 Then God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, after our likeness, so they may rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move on the earth” (Genesis 1:26, emphasis mine).

It is difficult to miss the connection between Psalm 8:7 and Genesis 1:26. In Genesis 1, we see that when God created the world, He placed it under man’s authority. Man was created in God’s image to rule over all of creation, including the animals, birds, and sea life. Insignificant “man” (as he would appear when compared with the heavens) is very significant because God decreed it so.

The fact that our author interprets Psalm 8 Christologically (in the light of the life and ministry of our Lord Jesus Christ) should come as no surprise because this Psalm was interpreted this way by our Lord and the Apostle Paul. Let’s take a look at some of those passages where Psalm 8 is cited.

Psalm 8 in Matthew 21:16

      1 O Lord, our Lord,

      How majestic is Your name in all the earth,

      Who have displayed Your splendor above the heavens!

      2 From the mouth of infants and nursing babes

      You have established strength Because of Your adversaries,

      To make the enemy and the revengeful cease (Psalm 8:1b-2, NASB95; emphasis mine).

15 But when the chief priests and the experts in the law saw the wonderful things he did and heard the children crying out in the temple courts, “Hosanna to the Son of David,” they became indignant 16 and said to him, “Do you hear what they are saying?” Jesus said to them, “Yes. Have you never read, ‘Out of the mouths of children and nursing infants you have prepared praise for yourself?” (Matthew 21:15-16, underscoring mine)

Jesus makes His triumphal entry into Jerusalem (after having raised Lazarus from the dead – compare John 11). The Jewish religious leaders are greatly upset by our Lord’s appearance in Jerusalem at this time, and especially by the popular acclaim He receives from the crowds. He is doing many wonderful things, and the little children are crying out, “Hosanna to the Son of David.” They insist that Jesus silence them, but in response the Lord Jesus reminds His opponents of Psalm 8:2. God will silence them – His enemies – by the praise He established out of the mouths of babes. Psalm 8:2 is thus fulfilled Christologically.

I believe that verse 2 establishes a theme which runs throughout Psalm 8, the theme that God takes that which is small and insignificant and makes it great, while He makes the great small and insignificant. This will play itself out in verses 3-7. Incidentally, this is a theme of Hannah’s praise (1 Samuel 2:1-10), and later of Mary’s Magnificat, which echoes Hannah’s words and thoughts (Luke 1:51-53).

Psalm 8 in Ephesians 1:22

4 What is man that You take thought of him,

And the son of man that You care for him?

5 Yet You have made him a little lower than God,

And You crown him with glory and majesty!

6 You make him to rule over the works of Your hands;

You have put all things under his feet (Psalm 8:4-6, NASB95; emphasis mine).

20 This power he exercised in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms 21 far above every rule and authority and power and dominion and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. 22 And God putall things under Christ’s feet, and he gave him to the church as head over all things. 23 Now the church is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all (Ephesians 1:20-23, emphasis mine).4

The Apostle Paul understood Psalm 8 Christologically, which is evident when he cites verse 6 in Ephesians 1:22. God put all things under Christ’s feet at the time of His ascension to His right hand. Based upon Ephesians 1:20-23, we might even say that Paul sees both Psalm 110:1 and Psalm 8:6 to have been fulfilled in Jesus, much like the author of Hebrews. The important thing for us to see here is that these texts are viewed as fulfilled at the time of our Lord’s ascension, and as a result of His resurrection. God put all things under Christ’s feet when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand.

The Use of Psalm 8 in Hebrews 2:5-9

1 For the choir director; on the Gittith.

A Psalm of David.

      O Lord, our Lord, How majestic is Your name in all the earth,

      Who have displayed Your splendor above the heavens!

      2 From the mouth of infants and nursing babes You have established strength

      Because of Your adversaries,

      To make the enemy and the revengeful cease.

      3 When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers,

      The moon and the stars, which You have ordained;

      4 What is man that You take thought of him,

      And the son of man that You care for him?

      5 Yet You have made him a little lower than God,

      And You crown him with glory and majesty!

      6 You make him to rule over the works of Your hands;

      You have put all things under his feet,

      7 All sheep and oxen,

      And also the beasts of the field,

      8 The birds of the heavens and the fish of the sea,

      Whatever passes through the paths of the seas.

      9 O Lord, our Lord, How majestic is Your name in all the earth! (Psalm 8:1-9, NASB95, emphasis mine)

It is not difficult to see how our author would make a connection between what he is saying and Psalm 8. In Hebrews 1:4, we are told that the Son has a more excellent name than the angels. Psalm 8 begins and ends with praise to the Lord for His majestic name. In Hebrews 1, the Son is described as the heir of all things and as the Creator (Hebrews 1:2, 10). In Psalm 8, all creation is seen as the handiwork of God. Man was appointed to rule over creation because he was made in God’s image (Genesis 1:26; Psalm 8:6-8). Our Lord has been designated as the One who is to rule on behalf of the Father (Hebrews 1:5, 8-9, 13).

The author of Hebrews chose to focus on verses 4-6 (Psalm 8:3-6) in order to buttress his statement that God did not subject the world to come to the angels, but to men. This authority to rule over creation is consistent with God’s statements at creation (Genesis 1:26), as well as later statements such as those cited from Psalm 8. And so we must conclude with the author of Hebrews that God did not purpose for angels to rule in the age to come,5 but man.

How skillfully the author has brought about a convergence of Psalm 110:1 (cited in verse 13 of chapter 1) and Psalm 8:3-6 (cited in Hebrews 2:6-8). In verses 13-14 of chapter 1, the author has shown that the Son has been appointed to rule over creation, while the angels are merely servants, servants of those who will inherit salvation. In verses 6-8 of chapter 2, we find that man has been appointed to rule over creation. How can the author say that Christ has been appointed to rule in chapter 1, and yet he shows us that man was created to rule in chapter 2? The solution is to be found in our text:

5 For He did not subject to angels the world to come, concerning which we are speaking. 6 But one has testified somewhere, saying, “What is man, that You remember him? Or the son of man,6 that You are concerned about him? 7 “You have made him for a little while lower than the angels; You have crowned him with glory and honor, And have appointed him over the works of Your hands; 8 You have put all things in subjection under his feet.” For in subjecting all things to him, He left nothing that is not subject to him. But now we do not yet see all things subjected to him. 9 But we do see Him who was made for a little while lower than the angels, namely, Jesus, because of the suffering of death crowned with glory and honor, so that by the grace of God He might taste death for everyone (Hebrews 2:5-9, NASB95; emphasis mine).

In the NASB, when an Old Testament text is cited in the New, the quoted text is put in caps, as you can see above. Thus, they also capitalize any pronouns that refer to God (for example: “You,” “He,” “Him”) as well as any pronouns that refer to mere man. Because all the pronouns are capitalized in the citation from Psalm 8, we don’t have a clear indication as to whom the translators believed the pronouns refer to. But that becomes clear to us in verses 8 and 9. The NASB does not capitalize “him” at the end of verse 8, indicating that in verses 6-8, the author is referring to man, not the Son. But when we come to verse 9, the reference is now to our Lord Jesus, and thus the capitalized “Him” and “He.”

God made man to rule over the creation. He made man a little “lower than the angels.” He crowned him with glory and honor, and “put all things under his feet.” All things have been subjected to him. “But wait a minute,” the author objects, “We don’t yet see all things subjected to man!” As Romans 8 indicates, this is something that is still future:

18 For I consider that our present sufferings cannot even be compared to the glory that will be revealed to us. 19 For the creation eagerly waits for the revelation of the sons of God. 20 For the creation was subjected to futility – not willingly but because of God who subjected it – in hope 21 that the creation itself will also be set free from the bondage of decay into the glorious freedom of God’s children. 22 For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers together until now. 23 Not only this, but we ourselves also, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we eagerly await our adoption, the redemption of our bodies (Romans 8:18-23).

“True enough,” the author seems to say, “All things are not presently under man’s control, but we do see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels but is now crowned with glory and honor. This is because He suffered death in order to restore fallen man to his lost glory and honor.”7

Christ is the key to understanding Psalm 8. While the original meaning of the psalm concentrated on man, the secondary (Christological) interpretation of the psalm focuses on the “Son of Man,” the Lord Jesus. Man was created to rule, but his sin turned the world upside-down. Now we see chaos, sickness, suffering, and death, a world that is not subject to man. But then the perfect God-man came when the Second Person of the Trinity took on sinless humanity. When Jesus added sinless humanity to His undiminished deity, He became the perfect man, or as Paul puts it, the “last Adam” (1 Corinthians 15:45). What Adam did by his act of disobedience, Christ undid, and more:

12 So then, just as sin entered the world through one man and death through sin, and so death spread to all people because all sinned – 13 for before the law was given, sin was in the world, but there is no accounting for sin when there is no law. 14 Yet death reigned from Adam until Moses even over those who did not sin in the same way that Adam (who is a type of the coming one) transgressed. 15 But the gracious gift is not like the transgression. For if the many died through the transgression of the one man, how much more did the grace of God and the gift by the grace of the one man Jesus Christ multiply to the many! 16 And the gift is not like the one who sinned. For judgment, resulting from the one transgression, led to condemnation, but the gracious gift from the many failures led to justification. 17 For if, by the transgression of the one man, death reigned through the one, how much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one, Jesus Christ! 18 Consequently, just as condemnation for all people came through one transgression, so too through the one righteous act came righteousness leading to life for all people. 19 For just as through the disobedience of the one man many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of one man many will be made righteous (Romans 5:12-19).

45 So also it is written, “The first man, Adam, became a living person”; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit. 46 However, the spiritual did not come first, but the natural, and then the spiritual. 47 The first man is from the earth, made of dust; the second man is from heaven. 48 Like the one made of dust, so too are those made of dust, and like the one from heaven, so too those who are heavenly. 49 And just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, let us also bear the image of the man of heaven (1 Corinthians 15:45-49).

Those who “see Jesus . . . now crowned with glory and honor” are restored in their relationship with God and with creation. That is, those who recognize Jesus Christ as God’s only provision for salvation, and trust in Him for the forgiveness of sins and the gift of salvation, will reign with Him when He returns to establish His kingdom on earth:

28 Jesus said to them, “I tell you the truth: In the age when all things are renewed, when the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel (Matthew 19:28).

Blessed and holy is the one who takes part in the first resurrection. The second death has no power over them, but they will be priests of God and of Christ, and they will reign with him for a thousand years (Revelation 20:6).

Night will be no more, and they will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, because the Lord God will shine on them, and they will reign forever and ever (Revelation 22:5).

Adam and Eve were created to rule over God’s creation, but when they sinned, they lost control of creation, and they died. Our Lord came to the earth in human flesh as the last Adam and lived a sinless life. He endured all the trials and temptations of mankind and prevailed victoriously – without sin. He then died in the sinner’s place, taking our punishment upon Himself. And because He rose from the dead, He defeated sin and death, and He restores fallen man to a glorious future. That is the message of our text.

Conclusion

The Superiority of the Son to Angels. As we have seen, all of chapter 1 and 2 are devoted to proving the superiority of the Son to the angels. And so we must ask at the conclusion of this message, “How does this text contribute to the author’s purpose of proving the superiority of the Son?” In the first place, we are taught that the Son took on human flesh, so that He might redeem fallen sinners to their original status. Angels cannot take on humanity, as our Lord did. They can appear as though they were men (Genesis 18 and 19), and some would say that they can even produce half-human offspring (Genesis 6). But they cannot become a perfect God-Man, as our Lord did. Neither can angels redeem fallen man from sin, deliver him from the pangs of death, or restore him to his former glory. Angels, whose mission is to serve those who have been saved (Hebrews 1:13), can do nothing to save him.8 Only the Son can do this, because of the incarnation.

The Necessity of the Incarnation.This message has been titled, “The Necessity of the Incarnation – Part I.” Why was the incarnation necessary, so far as our text is concerned? First of all, it was necessary in order for God to cleanse men from sin, and restore them their broken relationship with Him. Only a man – a perfect, sinless, divine, man – could die in the sinner’s place. It was therefore necessary for the Second Person of the Trinity to add sinless humanity to His undiminished deity, thereby qualifying him to die in man’s place, bearing the guilt and punishment of his sin. As such, He became the “last Adam,” who provided a reversal for Adam’s sin and its consequences.

In addition to this, the incarnation was necessary in order for God to restore fallen man to his former, original dignity and glorious destiny. It is through the work of the perfect man, Jesus Christ, that men can anticipate reigning over all creation. His victory is ours, as His reign will be shared with us as well. And so the incarnation and death of the Son not only saves sinners from the guilt and punishment of their sins, it produces the glorious hope of reigning with Him in His kingdom.

One can hardly overestimate the importance of the hope that this gives the Christian, especially in the dark days when we, like all of creation, suffer and groan because of the ravages of sin:

23 Not only this, but we ourselves also, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we eagerly await our adoption, the redemption of our bodies. 24 For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope, because who hopes for what he sees? 25 But if we hope for what we do not see, we eagerly wait for it with endurance (Romans 8:23-25).

25 I became a servant of the church according to the stewardship from God – given to me for you – in order to complete the word of God, 26 that is, the mystery that has been kept hidden from ages and generations, but has now been revealed to his saints. 27 God wanted to make known to them the glorious riches of this mystery among the Gentiles, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory (Colossians 1:25-27).

11 For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all people. 12 It trains us to reject godless ways and worldly desires and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, 13 as we wait for the happy fulfillment of our hope in the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ. 14 He gave himself for us to set us free from every kind of lawlessness and to purify for himself a people who are truly his, who are eager to do good (Titus 2:11-14).

5 He saved us not by works of righteousness that we have done but on the basis of his mercy, through the washing of the new birth and the renewing of the Holy Spirit, 6 whom he poured out on us in full measure through Jesus Christ our Savior. 7 And so, since we have been justified by his grace, we become heirs with the confident expectation [hope] of eternal life” (Titus 3:5-7).

17 In the same way God wanted to demonstrate more clearly to the heirs of the promise that his purpose was unchangeable, and so he intervened with an oath, 18 so that we who have found refuge in him may find strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us through two unchangeable things, since it is impossible for God to lie. 19 We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, sure and steadfast, which reaches inside behind the curtain, 20 where Jesus our forerunner entered on our behalf, since he became a priest forever in the order of Melchizedek (Hebrews 6:17-22).

3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy he gave us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 that is, into an inheritance imperishable, undefiled, and unfading. It is reserved in heaven for you, 5 who by God’s power are protected through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. . . . 13 Therefore, get your minds ready for action by being fully sober, and set your hope completely on the grace that will be brought to you when Jesus Christ is revealed. . . . 20 He was foreknown before the foundation of the world but was manifested in these last times for your sake. 21 Through him you now trust in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God (1 Peter 1:3-5, 13, 20-21).

Our hope should not be diminished by our difficulties, but rather should be strengthened as we see how God sustains us in trials, so that our strength and perseverance increase:

3 Not only this, but we also rejoice in sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4 and endurance, character, and character, hope. 5 And hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us. 6 For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. 7 (For rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person perhaps someone might possibly dare to die.) 8 But God demonstrates his own love for us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. 9 Much more then, because we have now been declared righteous by his blood, we will be saved through him from God’s wrath. 10 For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, how much more, since we have been reconciled, will we be saved by his life? 11 Not only this, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received this reconciliation (Romans 5:3-11).

Those who are currently undergoing testing and trials can be assured by the certainty of their hope that in the future they will reign with Christ.

There is a relationship between the “now” and the “not yet. The author speaks of man’s glorious future, but he also calls attention to the “not yet.”“We do not yet see all things subjected to man” (Hebrews 2:8). Some Christians seem to think that trusting in Jesus exempts them from the suffering and trials of life, but not the author of Hebrews. We have many difficulties to endure in this life; man’s great glory will come “in the world to come” (Hebrews 2:5). This is not to say that there is no victory and joy in this life, but it is not a life free from tribulation:

Now in fact all who want to live godly lives in Christ Jesus will be persecuted (2 Timothy 3:12).

What we must constantly keep in mind is that how we live in this age has a direct relationship to what we will experience in the next. Consider these texts:

19 “After a long time, the master of those slaves came and settled his accounts with them. 20 The one who had received the five talents came and brought five more, saying, ‘Sir, you entrusted me with five talents. See, I have gained five more.’ 21 His master answered, ‘Well done, good and faithful slave! You have been faithful in a few things. I will put you in charge of many things. Enter into the joy of your master.’ 22 The one with the two talents also came and said, ‘Sir, you entrusted two talents to me. See, I have gained two more.’ 23 His master answered, ‘Well done, good and faithful slave! You have been faithful with a few things. I will put you in charge of many things. Enter into the joy of your master’” (Matthew 25:19-23).

9 “And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by how you use worldly wealth, so that when it runs out you will be welcomed into the eternal homes. 10 “The one who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much, and the one who is dishonest in a very little is also dishonest in much. 11 If then you haven’t been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will entrust you with the true riches? 12 And if you haven’t been trustworthy with someone else’s property, who will give you your own? 13 No servant can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money” (Luke 16:9-13).

29 Then Jesus said to them, “I tell you the truth, there is no one who has left home or wife or brothers or parents or children for the sake of God’s kingdom 30 who will not receive many times more in this age – and in the age to come, eternal life” (Luke 18:29-30).

We can also say that what will take place in the next age should impact our conduct in the present age:

1 When any of you has a legal dispute with another, does he dare go to court before the unrighteous rather than before the saints? 2 Or do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if the world is to be judged by you, are you not competent to settle trivial suits? 3 Do you not know that we will judge angels? Why not ordinary matters! 4 So if you have ordinary lawsuits, do you appoint as judges those who have no standing in the church? 5 I say this to your shame! Is there no one among you wise enough to settle disputes between fellow Christians? 6 Instead, does a Christian sue a Christian, and do this before unbelievers? (1 Corinthians 6:1-6, emphasis mine)

Paul’s argument goes like this: If saints are going to judge angels in the age to come. then surely they should be capable of judging petty disputes among themselves in the present age. Our conduct in the future thus dictates our conduct in the present.

The Incarnation Indicates the Exclusiveness of the Gospel.God has chosen to save men only through the incarnation of the Son and His substitutionary death on the cross of Calvary. There are those who would tell us that the gospel of Jesus Christ is but one of many ways that men can reach heaven. That is not what the author of Hebrews says (or any other biblical author). Man’s fallen condition can only be cured by a man, a perfect man. Only the incarnation provided such a man, the God-man, Jesus Christ. If God’s only provision for redeeming sinful men is the person and work of the Son, then how do you think He responds to those who choose some “other way”?

Jesus replied, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6).

“And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among people by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).

Have you trusted in Jesus as God’s only provision for your salvation? He alone can forgive your sins. He alone can restore you to the glory that God purposed for man.

Hebrews (like other Scriptures) Sets the Record Straight about Self-Esteem.Should we be telling people how wonderful they are and that they should love themselves? Man was created with greatness and glory, but that was a greatness given to him by God. And man lost that greatness because of sin. It is not we who are so great, but the Son. Hebrews is not written so that men will think more highly of themselves, but rather that we will think of Him who is superior to every created being – angels, leaders like Moses and Joshua, and priests like Aaron. Our problem is that we do not think highly enough of Him who took on humanity and became, for a time, “a little lower than the angels.” It is by seeing Jesus for who He is that we see ourselves as we should.


1 Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the NET Bible. The NEW ENGLISH TRANSLATION, also known as THE NET BIBLE, is a completely new translation of the Bible, not a revision or an update of a previous English version. It was completed by more than twenty biblical scholars who worked directly from the best currently available Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek texts. The translation project originally started as an attempt to provide an electronic version of a modern translation for electronic distribution over the Internet and on CD (compact disk). Anyone anywhere in the world with an Internet connection will be able to use and print out the NET Bible without cost for personal study. In addition, anyone who wants to share the Bible with others can print unlimited copies and give them away free to others. It is available on the Internet at: www.netbible.org.

Copyright © 2008 by Robert L. Deffinbaugh. This is the edited manuscript of Lesson 5 in the series, Near to the Heart of God – A Study of the Book of Hebrews, prepared by Robert L. Deffinbaugh on August 10, 2008. Anyone is at liberty to use this lesson for educational purposes only, with or without credit.

2 Jeremiah 17:9; see also Romans 3:10-18.

3 I modified the translation of the NET Bible because the Greek term found here is literally “feet,” as nearly all the other translations render it. I believe the term “feet” is essential because it is the link with Psalm 110:1 in Hebrews 1:13.

4 See also 1 Corinthians 15:25-28.

5 One will find some discussion in the commentaries about the role that angels play in the administration of this present age. See, for example, George H. Guthrie, Hebrews – The NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1998), p. 97; also R. Kent Hughes, Hebrews (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway Books, 1993), vol. 1, p. 56.

6 While the term “son of man” is used in reference to the Lord Jesus in the Gospels, it appears from the parallel structure of verse 6 that “son of man” is simply another (poetic) way of referring to mere man, and not to our Lord Jesus.

7 The author does not take the time to explain the fall of man to his readers, who knew that story all too well. That would have been an unnecessary digression.

8 Let us not forget that it was an angel – a fallen one – who was instrumental in creating man’s fallen condition.


http://feeds.bible.org/deffinbaugh/hebrews/deff_hebrews_05.mp3
/assets/powerpoint/deff_hebrews_05.ppt
Ad Category: 
Biblical Topics: 
Passage: 
/assets/worddocs/deff_hebrews_05_sg.zip

6. The Necessity of the Incarnation: Why the Son Drew Near to Man – Part II (Hebrews 2:10-18)

13 But to which of the angels has he ever said, “Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet”? 14 Are they not all ministering spirits, sent out to serve those who will inherit salvation? (Hebrews 1:13-14)

5 For he did not put the world to come, about which we are speaking, under the control of angels. 6 Instead someone testified somewhere: “What is man that you think of him or the son of man that you care for him? 7 You made him lower than the angels for a little while. You crowned him with glory and honor. 8 You put all things under his control.” For when he put all things under his control, he left nothing outside of his control. At present we do not yet see all things under his control, 9 but we see Jesus, who was made lower than the angels for a little while, now crowned with glory and honor because he suffered death, so that by God’s grace he would experience death on behalf of everyone.

10 For it was fitting for him, for whom and through whom all things exist, in bringing many sons to glory, to make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through sufferings. 11 For indeed he who makes holy and those being made holy all have the same origin, and so he is not ashamed to call them brothers and sisters, 12 saying, “I will proclaim your name to my brothers; in the midst of the assembly I will praise you.” 13 Again he says, “I will be confident in him,” and again, “Here I am,withthe children God has given me.” 14 Therefore, since the children share in flesh and blood, he likewise shared in their humanity, so that through death he could destroy the one who holds the power of death (that is, the devil), 15 and set free those who were held in slavery all their lives by their fear of death. 16 For surely his concern is not for angels, but he is concerned for Abraham’s descendants. 17 Therefore he had to be made like his brothers and sisters in every respect, so that he could become a merciful and faithful high priest in things relating to God, to make atonement for the sins of the people. 18 For since he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are tempted.1

Introduction

I only wish that it was late December so that this lesson could be a Christmas message. Christmas is the time when we celebrate the incarnation of our Lord Jesus. If we were to select one chapter from the epistles that dealt with the subject of our Lord’s incarnation, I would venture to say that Philippians 2 would probably be the immediate choice of most. That’s a great text, but it is given to us as an example of our Lord’s humility, which we are to follow. It is not an exposition of what the incarnation of our Lord achieved. I do not know of a text that does a better job of this than Hebrews 2. Here, the implications of the incarnation are spelled out in detail, informing us of what God accomplished for us when our Lord added sinless humanity to His undiminished deity. Let us listen well to what our Lord is saying to us in this text, keeping in mind the words that introduce this chapter.

1 Therefore we must pay closer attention to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away. 2 For if the message spoken through angels proved to be so firm that every violation or disobedience received its just penalty, 3 how will we escape if we neglect such a great salvation? It was first communicated through the Lord and was confirmed to us by those who heard him, 4 while God confirmed their witness with signs and wonders and various miracles and gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will (Hebrews 2:1-4).

The Propriety of the Incarnation
Hebrews 2:10

10 For it was fitting for him, for whom and through whom all things exist, in bringing many sons to glory, to make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through sufferings (Hebrews 2:10, emphasis mine).

“For” connects verses 10-18 with what has come before. Specifically, the “For” takes up the argument from verses 5-9:

5 For he did not put the world to come, about which we are speaking, under the control of angels. 6 Instead someone testified somewhere: “What is man that you think of him or the son of man that you care for him? 7 You made him lower than the angels for a little while. You crowned him with glory and honor. 8 You put all things under his control.” For when he put all things under his control, he left nothing outside of his control. At present we do not yet see all things under his control, 9 but we see Jesus, who was made lower than the angels for a little while, now crowned with glory and honor because he suffered death, so that by God’s grace he would experience death on behalf of everyone.

The argument goes something like this:

1. No angel has ever heard these words, which were spoken by the Father to the Son: Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet (1:13). No, for they are all servant spirits, whose service is directed toward those who will inherit salvation (1:14).

2. Exhortation: “We must pay much closer attention to what we have heard” (from the Son), for His Word has divine confirmation, and neglecting it has dire consequences (2:1-4).

3. The Father did not subject “the world to come” (about which the author has been speaking in 1:13-14) to angels, but to men (as can be seen in Psalm 8:4-6).

4. Granted, we do not presently see the inhabited world under man’s control. What we do see, however, is the Son (who was made for a little while “lower than the angels”) crowned with glory and honor because (during His time on earth) He suffered death for everyone (2:9).

5. Now, to explain this brief time of being “lower than the angels” (the incarnation and our Lord’s earthly ministry) in more detail, it was completely right and proper for the Father to make the Son – the “pioneer” of man’s salvation – perfect through various sufferings (2:10).

6. Verses 10-18 now detail the various results of our Lord’s incarnation and sufferings, which prove that the time of our Lord’s suffering and humiliation2 was absolutely fitting and proper.

The “him” of verse 10 refers to God the Father, who sent the Son to the earth to be the “pioneer” of salvation. The term rendered “pioneer” has been variously translated as “author” (NASB, NIV), “pioneer” (NET Bible), “source” (CSB), “founder” (ESV), and “captain” (KJV, NKJV). It seems obvious that no one English word fully captures the essence of the Greek word. Having read his article in the Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society (JETS),3 I came to appreciate this somewhat expanded definition of the term by Julius Scott, Jr.

“Given its full range of meaning, the word designates an individual who opened the way into a new area for others to follow, founded the city in which they dwelt, gave his name to the community, fought its battles and secured the victory, and then remained as the leader-ruler-hero of his people.”4

“Bringing many sons to glory” might well be an expanded expression meaning “salvation,” but in the light of verses 5-9, it would seem that this expression might refer to salvation as the solution to man’s dilemma of lost authority and glory, as a result of the fall. If this is so, then “bringing many sons to glory” is “restoring many sons to their former, but lost, glory.”

So at this point, the question in everyone’s mind should be this: “How is it that it can be fitting for the Father to ‘perfect’ or ‘make perfect’ the Son by His incarnation and resulting sufferings?” Part of the answer can be seen as soon as one understands the meaning of “make perfect.” Friberg’s5 Greek Lexicon specifically indicates that in Hebrews 2:10, the meaning of the term is “to completely prepare.” After having watched some of the Summer Olympics at Beijing, one might even say, “to qualify.” In order to compete in the Olympics and win a medal, hopeful contestants must first show themselves to be worthy athletes. Thus, they go through a number of “trials,” and having endured these successfully, they are then qualified to compete. In this sense, our Lord’s incarnation and sufferings qualified Him for the work He would accomplish on the cross of Calvary.

But how is it that the incarnation and our Lord’s sufferings (note the plural) were a “fitting” thing for the Father to purpose for the Son? I believe the answer to this question will be found in verses 11-18 of Hebrews 2. Here, the author spells out several of the results of our Lord’s incarnation – results which could not have occurred apart from the incarnation.

We Have Gained a Family
Hebrews 2:11-13

11 For indeed he who makes holy and those being made holy all have the same origin, and so he is not ashamed to call them brothers and sisters, 12 saying, “I will proclaim your name to my brothers; in the midst of the assembly I will praise you.” 13 Again he says, “I will be confident in him,” and again, “Here I am,withthe children God has given me” (Hebrews 2:11-13, emphasis mine).

In our text, the one “who makes holy” is the Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. Those “being made holy” are those who have come to faith in Jesus – Christians. Thus, the Lord Jesus Christ and Christians “all have the same origin” (verse 11). Literally, the text reads “all are of one.” We find the same expression in Exodus and the Book of Acts:

Their buds and their branches will be one piece, all of it one hammered piece of pure gold (Exodus 25:36, emphasis mine).

From one man he made every nation of the human race to inhabit the entire earth, determining their set times and the fixed limits of the places where they would live (Acts 17:26, emphasis mine).

Exodus 25:36 contains part of the instructions given to Moses pertaining to the making of the lampstand. Moses was told that the buds and branches were to be one piece (literally, of one). In Acts 17:26, Paul is speaking to Gentile pagans in the market place in Athens, and there he says that God created all mankind from one (translated from one man). The sense is clear: all of mankind came into existence through one man, Adam. So, too, while Adam was “the first man,” our Lord Jesus Christ was the “last Adam.”6 While the first Adam’s sin made all men sinners, subject to death, the “last Adam’s” incarnation and sacrificial death, burial, and resurrection was the beginning of a whole new race – the “seed of Abraham.”

For just as through the disobedience of the one man many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of one man many will be made righteous (Romans 5:19).

26 For in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God through faith. 27 For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female – for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. 29 And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s descendants, heirs according to the promise (Galatians 3:26-29, emphasis mine).

13 But now in Christ Jesus you who used to be far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 14 For he is our peace, the one who made both groups into one and who destroyed the middle wall of partition, the hostility, 15 when he nullified in his flesh the law of commandments in decrees. He did this to create in himself one new man out of two, thus making peace, 16 and to reconcile them both in one body to God through the cross, by which the hostility has been killed (Ephesians 2:13-16, emphasis mine).

The author’s point in our text in Hebrews is simply this: All who believe in Jesus Christ for salvation have been united with Christ, and we have also become one with all other believers. We are all “of one” and thus we are one family. Christ is “the Son,” a unique identity and role, while we who believe in Him are all “sons of God.”7

To buttress his point, the author now turns the readers’ attention to two Old Testament texts which are presented as three separate citations. The first of these is Psalm 22:22:

    I will tell of Your name to my brethren;

    In the midst of the assembly I will praise You (Psalm 22:22, NASB95).

We should all remember this Psalm by the way it begins:

My God, my God, why have you abandoned me? (Psalm 22:1a)

Our Lord cried out these very words from the cross,8 thereby identifying Himself as the fulfillment of Psalm 22, because He is Israel’s Messiah. Thus, the church has always regarded this Psalm to be messianic. It contains elements that were the outgrowth of David’s personal experience, but it goes beyond that to the events related to the cross of our Lord. In verses 1-11, David, the psalmist, agonizes over God’s apparent silence to his cries for help. Verses 12-18 contain details that go beyond David’s experiences to those of the Lord Jesus on the cross:

12 Many bulls surround me;

powerful bulls of Bashan hem me in.

13 They open their mouths to devour me

like a roaring lion that rips its prey.

14 My strength drains away like water;

all my bones are dislocated;

my heart is like wax;

it melts away inside me.

15 The roof of my mouth is as dry as a piece of pottery;

my tongue sticks to my gums.

You set me in the dust of death.

16 Yes, wild dogs surround me –

a gang of evil men crowd around me;

like a lion they pin my hands and feet.

17 I can count all my bones;

my enemies are gloating over me in triumph.

18 They are dividing up my clothes among themselves;

they are rolling dice for my garments (Psalm 22:12-18).

After a passionate plea for help (Psalm 22:19-21), the psalmist now seems assured of God’s help. From here on to the end of the psalm, we find praise, not petition. And this praise begins with the words cited by the author of Hebrews:

I will declare your name to my countrymen!9

In the middle of the assembly I will praise you! (Psalm 22:22)

In ancient Israel, men cried out to God for help in times of distress. And when God delivered them from their difficulties, they would come to the temple and give praise to Him.10 Even Jonah vowed to offer praise and thanksgiving to God in the temple if He would save him from drowning:

9 But as for me, I promise to offer a sacrifice to you

with a public declaration of praise;

I will surely do what I have promised.

Salvation belongs to the Lord!”

10 Then the Lord commanded the fish and it disgorged Jonah on dry land (Jonah 2:9-10).

In Psalm 22, David cries out for help, vowing to praise God in the midst of His brethren. But when viewed Christologically (as our author does), then we see that our Lord cried out to the Father and was (ultimately) delivered from death by His resurrection. Having been raised from the dead and exalted to the right hand of the Father, the Lord Jesus now declares praise to the Father in the midst of His spiritual family – His brothers and sisters, who have been saved through His ordeal. So, our Lord was saved from death by His resurrection, and thus He praises the Father in the presence of His family. We are saved by His death, and we praise God because we are now a part of His family.

Let us be very clear on this matter. It was because of His incarnation that our Lord could identify with David and thus fulfill Psalm 22. It was only because of His incarnation that our Lord Jesus could call us brothers and sisters. It was because we are all “of one.”

The second set of texts, both from Isaiah 8, are now cited (separately) by our author.

11 For indeed he who makes holy and those being made holy all have the same origin, and so he is not ashamed to call them brothers and sisters, 12 saying, “I will proclaim your name to my brothers; in the midst of the assembly I will praise you.” 13 Again he says, “I will be confident in him,” and again, “Here I am,withthe children God has given me” (Hebrews 2:11-13, emphasis mine).

These citations come from Isaiah 8, so it is not difficult to believe that they are understood by our author to be messianic. After all, Isaiah 8 is surrounded by two of the great messianic prophecies of Isaiah:

14 “Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, a virgin will be with child and bear a son, and she will call His name Immanuel” (Isaiah 7:14, NASB95).

6 For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us; And the government will rest on His shoulders; And His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6, NASB95).

Let’s remember the context. Rezin, king of Syria, and Pekah, king of the northern kingdom of Israel, have joined forces to attack Ahaz, king of Judah. They have laid siege to Jerusalem but have not been able to capture it.11 Ahaz and his people were terrified, but God sent Isaiah to assure them that these two nations would not succeed. In just a few years, they will be neutralized. To confirm this prophecy, God told Ahaz to ask for a sign, but he declined, so God gave him a sign anyway.

13 So Isaiah replied, “Pay attention, family of David. Do you consider it too insignificant to try the patience of men? Is that why you are also trying the patience of my God? 14 For this reason the sovereign master himself will give you a confirming sign. Look, this young woman is about to conceive and will give birth to a son. You, young woman, will name him Immanuel. 15 He will eat sour milk and honey, which will help him know how to reject evil and choose what is right. 16 Here is why this will be so: Before the child knows how to reject evil and choose what is right, the land whose two kings you fear will be desolate. 17 The Lord will bring on you, your people, and your father’s family a time unlike any since Ephraim departed from Judah – the king of Assyria!” (Isaiah 7:13-17)

God assured Ahaz that the king of Assyria would come and subdue these two nations which were currently threatening Judah. All of the schemes of Judah’s enemies will come to naught because “God is with them” (this is what “Immanuel” means).

The people of Judah are not to fear men; they are to fear God. But the One they should fear – the Messiah (“God with Us”Immanuel) will be a stumbling stone, rather than their refuge for both Israel and Judah.

13 You must recognize the authority of the Lord who commands armies. He is the one you must respect; he is the one you must fear. 14 He will become a sanctuary, but a stone that makes a person trip, and a rock that makes one stumble – to the two houses of Israel. He will become a trap and a snare to the residents of Jerusalem. 15 Many will stumble over the stone and the rock, and will fall and be seriously injured, and will be ensnared and captured.” 16 Tie up the scroll as legal evidence, seal the official record of God’s instructions and give it to my followers. 17 I will wait patiently for the Lord, who has rejected the family of Jacob; I will wait for him. 18 Look, I and the sons whom the Lord has given me are reminders and object lessons in Israel, sent from the Lord who commands armies, who lives on Mount Zion (Isaiah 8:13-18, emphasis mine).

So, both nations – Israel and Judah – will stumble over the Messiah who comes. But there will be a small remnant to whom and through whom God’s covenant promises will be fulfilled. Isaiah will have a small group of followers (or disciples) who will be this remnant. Thus Isaiah can say, “I will wait patiently for the LORD,” or as the writer to the Hebrews puts it, “I WILL PUT MY TRUST IN HIM.” Isaiah will patiently endure the days of rejection, casting himself upon God until the day when His promises are fulfilled.

We know that the prophecy of Isaiah 7 is to be understood on two levels – the literal level, which will be fulfilled in Isaiah’s days or soon thereafter, and the spiritual (Christological) level, which will be fulfilled in the coming of the Messiah. Assuming the Christological interpretation of Isaiah, the author of Hebrews can apply the words of Isaiah to the Lord Jesus. As Isaiah could say, “I will put my trust in Him,” so the Messiah – as He becomes God incarnate, suffers and dies on the cross of Calvary – can say, “I will put My trust in Him.” Thus our Lord utters from the cross,

“Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” And after he said this he breathed his last (Luke 23:46).

To what extent did the Son of God identify with men and become like them? To the extent that He, like men, put His trust in the Father when facing suffering and death. He trusted in the Father to rescue Him out of death, not to keep Him from death.

Now the writer to the Hebrews moves to the very next verse in Isaiah 8 with these words, “Look, I and the sons whom the Lord has given me.” Just as Isaiah could include his sons among those who were “with him” in trusting God, so our Lord Jesus could include His spiritual children among those who, with Him, trust in God even in the midst of trials and tribulations.

And so we see that our Lord’s incarnation resulted in the fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecies regarding the coming of Messiah. And thus it set the stage for His saving work on the cross of Calvary that produced brothers and sisters – a new family.

We Have Lost the Fear of Death through the Defeat of Satan
Hebrews 2:14-15


14 Therefore, since the children share in flesh and blood, he likewise shared in their humanity, so that through death he could destroy the one who holds the power of death (that is, the devil), 15 and set free those who were held in slavery all their lives by their fear of death (Hebrews 2:14-15).

The author of Hebrews is still seeking to show his readers how the incarnation affects them. He has just shown that the incarnation paved the way for our Lord to create a family. Now he will show how the incarnation made it possible for the Son of God to defeat Satan and thus to remove the “fear of death,” by which Satan dominates men.

We need to go back to the beginning to see that the incarnation was necessary for Satan’s defeat. After the fall of man in the Garden of Eden, we read these words:

14 The Lord God said to the serpent, “Because you have done this, Cursed are you more than all cattle, And more than every beast of the field; On your belly you will go, And dust you will eat All the days of your life; 15 And I will put enmity Between you and the woman, And between your seed and her seed; He shall bruise you on the head, And you shall bruise him on the heel” (Genesis 3:14-15, NASB95).

For the moment, let us note that the One who would destroy Satan is of the “seed of the woman.” Thus, the Son had to take on humanity before He could defeat the devil. The incarnation was necessary for the defeat of Satan.

In order to save mankind (who are “flesh and blood”), the Son must first take on “flesh and blood.” In other words, he must share our humanity so that he could die for man, thereby defeating the one who holds the power of death – the devil. As the appointed time for our Lord’s death drew near, our Lord Jesus said, “Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out” (John 12:31). The Apostle Paul speaks of this victory in even broader terms:

11In him you also were circumcised – not, however, with a circumcision performed by human hands, but by the removal of the fleshly body, that is, through the circumcision done by Christ. 12Having been buried with him in baptism, you also have been raised with him through your faith in the power of God who raised him from the dead. 13 And even though you were dead in your transgressions and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, he nevertheless made you alive with him, having forgiven all your transgressions. 14He has destroyed what was against us, a certificate of indebtedness expressed in decrees opposed to us. He has taken it away by nailing it to the cross. 15Disarming the rulers and authorities, he has made a public disgrace of them, triumphing over them by the cross (Colossians 2:11-15, emphasis mine).

The death (and resurrection) of our Lord was the “death of death” for all who trust in Him. And the “fear of death” is Satan’s “foothold” (if I can use the term) on all men. And rightly so, for as the writer to the Hebrews will say, “And just as people are appointed to die once, and then to face judgment” (Hebrews 9:27). Unbelievers should dread death, for judgment will follow. But those who have trusted in the Lord Jesus are delivered from death unto life. Death becomes the doorway to heaven:

38 For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor heavenly rulers, nor things that are present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:38-39).

53 For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. 54 Now when this perishable puts on the imperishable, and this mortal puts on immortality, then the saying that is written will happen, “Death has been swallowed up in victory.” 55 “Where, O death, is your victory?Where, O death, is your sting?” 56 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 57 But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ! (1 Corinthians 15:53-57)

21 For to me, living is Christ and dying is gain. 22 Now if I am to go on living in the body, this will mean productive work for me, yet I don’t know which I prefer: 23 I feel torn between the two, because I have a desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far (Philippians 1:21-23).

I should add a few comments on the “fear of death” mentioned in our text. One of the men in our church asked if I would elaborate further on just what the nature of the “bondage” is for man who has “the fear of death.” I consulted the commentaries more carefully, but did not find a very good explanation in any of them. Then, as I reflected on the statement, it occurred to me that the construction can be understood in two different ways:12

“the fear of death” = man’s fear of dying/death

or

“the fear of death” = man’s fear which death produces.

It is true that there is in man a fear of death, a fear of dying and what lies thereafter. But Satan has done an excellent job of blinding the eyes of men, so that many think that death is just the end of it all, with no heaven or hell to follow. In fact, in our culture it seems that some get their thrills from coming as close to death as they can.

But I’m inclined to think that there is a somewhat different kind of “fear of death” than being a fear that death produces. I’m thinking specifically of the story of the fall of man in Genesis 3. God forbade Adam and Eve to eat of the forbidden fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. He said that in the day they ate of it, they would die. We know that Adam and Eve died physically, but that was many years later – 930 years for Adam!13 There was also a spiritual death that occurred the very day that Adam and Eve sinned. That death is sometimes called “separation from God.” After Adam and Eve sinned, they hid themselves from God. Why? Adam tells us:

8 Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God moving about in the orchard at the breezy time of the day, and they hid from the Lord God among the trees of the orchard. 9 But the Lord God called to the man and said to him, “Where are you?” 10 The man replied, “I heard you moving about in the orchard, and I was afraid because I was naked, so I hid” (Genesis 3:8-10).

Their spiritual death separated them from God. Now, rather than desiring to enjoy fellowship with Him, they feared God and sought to hide from Him. Is this not true of all unbelievers? While unbelievers may have their false gods, they do not want anything to do with the One True God. They resist God and flee from Him:

10 just as it is written: “There is no one righteous, not even one, 11 there is no one who understands, there is no one who seeks God (Romans 3:10-11).

10 For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, how much more, since we have been reconciled, will we be saved by his life? (Romans 5:10)

Is this not a bondage which Satan uses to his advantage? Is this not a fear that keeps men from seeking God? If it were not for a God who sought out sinners while they were His enemies, we would never come to faith. The death of Jesus removes this fear, freeing us to fellowship with God.

We Become Abraham’s Descendants and Heirs to His Covenant Blessings
Hebrews 2:16

For surely his concern is not for angels, but he is concerned for Abraham’s descendants (Hebrews 2:16).

Let us remember that God’s covenant was with Abraham and his seed (descendants):

2 Then I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you, and I will make your name great, so that you will exemplify divine blessing. 3 I will bless those who bless you, but the one who treats you lightly I must curse, and all the families of the earth will bless one another by your name” (Genesis 12:2-3).

4 “As for me, this is my covenant with you: You will be the father of a multitude of nations. 5 No longer will your name be Abram. Instead, your name will be Abraham because I will make you the father of a multitude of nations. 6 I will make you extremely fruitful. I will make nations of you, and kings will descend from you. 7 I will confirm my covenant as a perpetual covenant between me and you. It will extend to your descendants after you throughout their generations. I will be your God and the God of your descendants after you” (Genesis 17:4-7, emphasis mine).

This may not sound that encouraging for those of us who are Gentiles, but the fact is that the gospel is good news for Gentiles as well as Jews. The Scriptures are clear that Abraham’s “seed” includes all those who have trusted in Jesus by faith:

9 Is this blessedness then for the circumcision or also for the uncircumcision? For we say, “faith was credited to Abraham as righteousness.” 10 How then was it credited to him? Was he circumcised at the time, or not? No, he was not circumcised but uncircumcised! 11 And he received the sign of circumcision as a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised, so that he would become the father of all those who believe but have never been circumcised, that they too could have righteousness credited to them. 12 And he is also the father of the circumcised, who are not only circumcised, but who also walk in the footsteps of the faith that our father Abraham possessed when he was still uncircumcised. 13 For the promise to Abraham or to his descendants that he would inherit the world was not fulfilled through the law, but through the righteousness that comes by faith. 14 For if they become heirs by the law, faith is empty and the promise is nullified. 15 For the law brings wrath, because where there is no law there is no transgression either. 16 For this reason it is by faith so that it may be by grace, with the result that the promise may be certain to all the descendants – not only to those who are under the law, but also to those who have the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all (Romans 4:9-16, emphasis mine).

26 For in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God through faith. 27 For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female – for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. 29 And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s descendants, heirs according to the promise (Galatians 3:26-29, emphasis mine).

Thus, the blessings of the Abrahamic Covenant are for all those who trust in Jesus Christ by faith. But how do those blessings come to us? They come through the seed of Abraham. God’s blessings to Abraham and his seed come through Abraham’s “seed.” But who is the seed of Abraham that fulfills God’s covenant with Abraham? The answer is given to us in Galatians 3:

15 Brothers and sisters, I offer an example from everyday life: When a covenant has been ratified, even though it is only a human contract, no one can set it aside or add anything to it. 16 Now the promises were spoken to Abraham and to his descendant. Scripture does not say, “and to the descendants,” referring to many, but “and to your descendant,” referring to one, who is Christ (Galatians 3:15-16).

The “seed” through whom the blessings of the Abrahamic Covenant come is Jesus Christ. Thus, in order for God to fulfill His covenant promises to Abraham, God the Son had to take on humanity. The incarnation was necessary for us to enjoy the blessings of the Abrahamic Covenant.

Because God the Son took on human flesh, we can enjoy His covenant blessings. And now as Abraham’s seed, we become the special objects of God’s affection and attention. He cares a great deal about us because He has purposed and promised to bless us. God’s affection is directed to us14 in a very unique way, a way that is not experienced by the angels. In this sense, man is now “higher than the angels,” through Christ.

We Gain a Merciful and Faithful High Priest
Hebrews 2:17-18

17 Therefore he had to be made like his brothers and sisters in every respect, so that he could become a merciful and faithful high priest in things relating to God, to make atonement for the sins of the people. 18 For since he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are tempted (Hebrews 2:17-18, emphasis mine).

In the first verse of our text for this lesson (verse 10) we read,

For it was fitting for him, for whom and through whom all things exist, in bringing many sons to glory, to make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through sufferings (Hebrews 2:10, emphasis mine).

At the time we were considering this verse, we said that we must wait until later in this chapter for the answer to the question, “Why was it fitting for God to make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through sufferings?” Now I believe the answer has become obvious. Our Lord had to take on humanity and the sufferings which come with it15 in order to accomplish God’s purposes and promises for man. And here in verses 17 and 18, we see how our Lord’s sufferings perfectly suited Him for the task of being our High Priest. Our Lord underwent various kinds of suffering, and this is why the author speaks of sufferings (plural) and not just suffering (on the cross).

What kind of sufferings would these be? We would first think of our Lord’s sufferings related to His crucifixion and death. Surely it was the ultimate agony to bear the sins of the world and to have the Father (with whom He had enjoyed perfect fellowship) turn His back on Him on the cross. But there was also the suffering of putting up with the unbelief of men:

14 When they came to the crowd, a man came to him, knelt before him, 15 and said, “Lord, have mercy on my son, because he has seizures and suffers terribly, for he often falls into the fire and into the water. 16 I brought him to your disciples, but they were not able to heal him.” 17 Jesus answered, “You unbelieving and perverse generation! How much longer must I be with you? How much longer must I endure you? Bring him here to me” (Matthew 17:14-17, emphasis mine).

Think, too, of the suffering of having His closest disciples abandon Him and having Peter deny Him. Think about leaving heaven to live in a fallen, broken, world where there is suffering and groaning because of sin and its consequences (Romans 8:18-22).

And yet enduring all of these sufferings served to qualify our Lord for the task of being our High Priest. His sufferings were essential to His atoning work at Calvary, where He bore our sins and endured our punishment so that we could have eternal life. And being made like us in every respect, so that He endured every kind of temptation to the ultimate degree, made Him a High Priest who could identify with us in our weaknesses, trials, and temptations. Not only has He experienced our temptations, He has faithfully endured them all without failure. And He has experienced these tests to a far higher level, to a much greater degree, than any of us. Thus, He can serve as a merciful and faithful High Priest.

Incidentally, our author will soon deal with these two themes, the mercy and faithfulness of our Lord as our High Priest in reverse order. He will first show us how our Lord is our faithful High Priest in 3:1—4:13. Then he will take up His mercy as our High Priest in 4:14—5:10. Thus, the incarnation of the Son, followed by His sufferings, equipped Him to serve as our merciful and faithful High Priest. No wonder it was fitting for the Father to make the Son perfect through sufferings.

Conclusion
What Should the Incarnation Mean to Us?

This conclusion will not be as action oriented as you might expect. Most of us have become accustomed to “what you need to do” conclusions. But while our author does have applications, at this point in time he wants us to focus on who we are and what we have in Christ. He wants us to more fully appreciate the implications of the incarnation. He wants us to realize all that our Lord’s incarnation accomplished for us.

Chapter 1 focused on our Lord as the Son who is infinitely higher than the angels. Chapter 2 has turned our attention to our Lord’s incarnation, when the Son took on human flesh and became, for a little while, “lower than the angels.” But in chapter 2, I do not find any statements like I find in one of the closing verses of chapter 1:

13 But to which of the angels has he ever said, “Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet”? (Hebrews 1:13)

Here, the Son is shown to be vastly higher than the angels in position, power, and prestige. And just as the first chapter closes, we see man elevated above the angels:

14 Are they not all ministering spirits, sent out to serve those who will inherit salvation? (Hebrews 1:14)

In this verse, the author tells us that the angels are not only subordinate (inferior) to the Son, he goes on to say that angels are subordinate to man. Angels are ministering spirits, spirits whose mission it is to serve the saints – all those who will inherit salvation. This same emphasis on man’s superiority to the angels follows throughout chapter two. In verse 5 we read:

For he did not put the world to come, about which we are speaking, under the control of angels (Hebrews 2:5).

Thus, it is not angels who will be in charge in the “world to come,” but man, restored to his original place of authority and honor (Hebrews 2:6-8). And then we find this statement in verse 16:

For surely his concern is not for angels, but he is concerned for Abraham’s descendants (Hebrews 2:16).

Thus, while man is temporarily “lower than the angels,” he will be “higher than the angels” in the age to come. The author’s point, which we are meant to grasp, is this: The only reason that man will be “higher than the angels” in the age to come – when we inherit salvation and thus fully enter into the benefits of the Abrahamic Covenant – is because our Lord has brought it about through His incarnation.

At His incarnation, our Lord left the glories of heaven behind to take on humanity, and to dwell among men, ultimately to die as a man (the unique God-man) for men, so that their sins can be forgiven, and they can be restored to the glory they lost at the fall. After making atonement for our sins, our Lord was raised from the dead by the Father, ascended into heaven, and was seated at the Father’s right hand. Because of this, our Lord was exalted above the angels (see 1:13), until the day when He will return to reign over the earth, along with His saints. Those who believe in the person and work of Jesus on their behalf will not only have their sins forgiven, they will be exalted to a position of glory and power as well as our Lord. So our Lord chose to share His glorification and rise to power with His saints, with His “brothers and sisters.” He is exalted and glorified as lost sinners are saved and raised to positions of power and glory.

The Son set aside His glory to restore fallen men to fellowship with God and to positions of power and responsibility in His kingdom. He chose to manifest His greatness through us as we seek to manifest His greatness and glory to others.

And so here are the benefits of our Lord’s incarnation, according to the author of Hebrews:

1. Fallen man is restored to his former glory and authority through the incarnation of our Lord (2:5-18).

2. As a result of our Lord’s incarnation, all believers have become a family (2:11-13).

3. Because of the incarnation, Jesus defeated Satan and his colleagues, so that we are no longer paralyzed with the fear of death (2:14-15).

4. Because of the incarnation of our Lord, we have become Abraham’s seed, and thus are assured that we will enjoy the blessings God promised to Abraham (2:16).

5. Because of the incarnation, we now have a merciful and faithful High Priest (2:17-18).

If, my friend, you have never trusted in Jesus Christ for your salvation, these are the things you will miss. How foolish and sad it is for people to reject the person and work of Jesus because they will be left to their own devices, rather than to these divine provisions.

And for those who may be drifting by neglect, these benefits of our Lord’s inclination are the benefits from which we drift. Drifting diminishes our enjoyment of the fruits of our Lord’s greatness and power, manifested in His incarnation.

Let us not drift, but draw near.


1 Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the NET Bible. The NEW ENGLISH TRANSLATION, also known as THE NET BIBLE, is a completely new translation of the Bible, not a revision or an update of a previous English version. It was completed by more than twenty biblical scholars who worked directly from the best currently available Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek texts. The translation project originally started as an attempt to provide an electronic version of a modern translation for electronic distribution over the Internet and on CD (compact disk). Anyone anywhere in the world with an Internet connection will be able to use and print out the NET Bible without cost for personal study. In addition, anyone who wants to share the Bible with others can print unlimited copies and give them away free to others. It is available on the Internet at: www.netbible.org.

Copyright © 2008 by Robert L. Deffinbaugh. This is the edited manuscript of Lesson 6 in the series, Near to the Heart of God – A Study of the Book of Hebrews, prepared by Robert L. Deffinbaugh on August 17, 2008. Anyone is at liberty to use this lesson for educational purposes only, with or without credit.

2 I need to be perfectly clear about something here when I speak of the incarnation as something temporary. The Son’s time on earth is referred to as a brief time when He became “lower than the angels” because His humbled state was temporary. But His taking on of human flesh is permanent. At the incarnation, our Lord added perfect humanity to His undiminished deity forever.

3 J. Julius Scott, Jr., JETS, vol. 29, pp. 47-54.

4 J. Julius Scott, Jr., p. 52.

5Analytical Lexicon to the Greek New Testament. Copyright © 1994, 2000 Timothy and Barbara Friberg. All rights reserved.

6 1 Corinthians 15:45.

7 See Romans 8:14, 19; 9:26; Galatians 3:26; 4:4-6.

8 Matthew 27:46.

9 A translator’s note in the NET Bible reads:

Or “brothers,” but here the term does not carry a literal familial sense. It refers to the psalmist's fellow members of the Israelite covenant community (see v. 23).

I am not certain that “countrymen” conveys the ‘covenant community’ any better than “brethren.” I am certain that the writer to the Hebrews sees it differently – in a literal familial sense.

10 See, for example, Psalm 9:1-2; 13:1-6; 26; 27:4-6; 30:8-12; 35:18.

11 Isaiah 7:1.

12 In the Greek text, a word in the genitive case can be understood as either objective or subjective.

13 Genesis 5:5.

14 Those who have become the seed of Abraham through faith in the person and work of Jesus Christ.

15 See Romans 8:18-25.

http://feeds.bible.org/deffinbaugh/hebrews/deff_hebrews_06.mp3
/assets/powerpoint/deff_hebrews_06.ppt
Ad Category: 
Biblical Topics: 
Passage: 
/assets/worddocs/deff_hebrews_06_sg.zip

7. Greater than Moses (Hebrews 3:1-6)

1 Therefore, holy brothers and sisters, partners in a heavenly calling, take note of Jesus, the apostle and high priest whom we confess, 2 who is faithful to the one who appointed him, as Moses was also in God’s house. 3 For he has come to deserve greater glory than Moses, just as the builder of a house deserves greater honor than the house itself! 4 For every house is built by someone, but the builder of all things is God. 5 Now Moses was faithful in all God’shouse as a servant, to testify to the things that would be spoken. 6 But Christ is faithful as a son over God’s house. We are of his house, if in fact we hold firmly to our confidence and the hope we take pride in (Hebrews 3:1-6)1

Introduction

My friend Fred grew up as a pastor’s son – one of several children born into a family with a limited income. Since he was interested in music, he purchased a beat-up old trombone at a pawn shop and taught himself to play it. He reached a level of accomplishment that prompted an invitation for him to play a special number at church. Afterwards, a man came up to him and began asking him some questions about playing the trombone. Fred felt quite skilled (and maybe even a little smug) until he sensed that his interested questioner was somebody he should know. He was – someone he should know. He was a professional musician, on the trombone.

I like to think of this humbling incident in terms of the book title, Good to Great. Fred seemed to be good, but not when compared to someone who was truly great. That’s really the way it was with Moses. I would not debate with anyone who wished to think of Moses as “great,”2 rather than merely “good.” But when our author compares Moses to Jesus Christ, the Son of God, there is a vast difference between the greatness of Moses and the infinitely greater supremacy of the Son. This comparison of Moses to Jesus is the author’s focus in Hebrews 3:1-6.

We will begin this message by reviewing some of the reasons why Moses was considered by some Jews to be the greatest man in the Old Testament (or at least one of the greatest).3 We will look at Moses in the Old Testament and in the New. Then we will see how our author compares and contrasts Moses and the Lord Jesus Christ. Finally, we will address the problem of the “if” passage in the second half of verse 6, and consider how we should understand and apply it.

The Importance of Moses in the Old Testament

Few people compare favorably with Moses. How many men have been a “basket-case,” put out to die in a pitch-covered basket, set afloat in the Nile River? How many have been rescued by Pharaoh’s daughter, and then raised as the son of the most powerful ruler on earth? How many have been called to confront Pharaoh, years later, as the result of a conversation with a burning bush?

When Moses confronted Pharaoh, he did so as God’s prophet. In response to his words, plagues came upon Egypt and were later removed. When Pharaoh finally released the Israelites, it was Moses who led them through the midst of the Red Sea, on dry ground!

Moses was a great mediator. When God revealed His glory at Mount Sinai, the people were terrified and asked Moses to be their mediator, between them and God:

25 But now, why should we die, because this intense fire will consume us! If we keep hearing the voice of the Lord our God we will die! 26 Who is there from the entire human race who has heard the voice of the living God speaking from the middle of the fire as we have, and has lived? 27 You go near so that you can hear everything the Lord our God is saying and then you can tell us whatever he says to you; then we will pay attention and do it” (Deuteronomy 5:25-27).

Closely related to his role as mediator was Moses’ function as an intercessor. Humanly speaking, the nation Israel would have been wiped out had it not been for Moses:

11 The Lord said to Moses, “How long will this people despise me, and how long will they not believe in me, in spite of the signs that I have done among them? 12 I will strike them with the pestilence, and I will disinherit them; I will make you into a nation that is greater and mightier than they!” 13 Moses said to the Lord, “When the Egyptians hear it – for you brought up this people by your power from among them – 14 then they will tell it to the inhabitants of this land. They have heard that you, Lord, are among this people, that you, Lord, are seen face to face, that your cloud stands over them, and that you go before them by day in a pillar of cloud and in a pillar of fire by night. 15 If you kill this entire people at once, then the nations that have heard of your fame will say, 16 ‘Because the Lord was not able to bring this people into the land that he swore to them, he killed them in the wilderness.’ 17 So now, let the power of my Lord be great, just as you have said, 18 ‘The Lord is slow to anger and abounding in loyal love, forgiving iniquity and transgression, but by no means clearing the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children until the third and fourth generations.’ 19 Please forgive the iniquity of this people according to your great loyal love, just as you have forgiven this people from Egypt even until now.” 20 Then the Lord said, “I have forgiven them as you asked” (Numbers 14:11-20).

This incident where Moses mediated on behalf of the nation Israel took place at Kadesh, and God makes it clear that this was the last of many similar interventions on Moses’ part:

22 For all the people have seen my glory and my signs that I did in Egypt and in the wilderness, and yet have tempted me now these ten times, and have not obeyed me, 23 they will by no means see the land that I swore to their fathers, nor will any of them who despised me see it” (Numbers 14:22-23).

Moses was especially esteemed for his role in the reception of the Law of Moses. In addition to this, he was a great military leader. Under Moses’ leadership, the nation defeated the armies of those who opposed them,4 beginning with Pharaoh’s army. Moses was also a judge and arbitrator for the nation Israel:

13 On the next day Moses sat to judge the people, and the people stood around Moses from morning until evening. 14 When Moses’ father-in-law saw all that he was doing for the people, he said, “What is this that you are doing for the people? Why are you sitting by yourself, and all the people stand around you from morning until evening?” 15 Moses said to his father-in-law, “Because the people come to me to inquire of God. 16 When they have a dispute, it comes to me and I decide between a man and his neighbor, and I make known the decrees of God and his laws” (Exodus 18:13-16).

Let us not forget Moses the author. It is he who penned the first five books of the Old Testament. And finally, there is Moses the prototype Prophet:

“The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you – from your fellow Israelites; you must listen to him” (Deuteronomy 18:15).

God Himself testifies to the greatness of this man Moses:

6 The Lord said, “Hear now my words: If there is a prophet among you, I the Lord will make myself known to him in a vision; I will speak with him in a dream. 7 My servant Moses is not like this; he is faithful in all my house.5 8 With him I will speak face to face, openly, and not in riddles; and he will see the form of the Lord. Why then were you not afraid to speak against my servant Moses?” (Numbers 12:6-8)

(Now the man Moses was very humble, more so than any man on the face of the earth.) (Numbers 12:3)

10 No prophet ever again arose in Israel like Moses, who knew the Lord face to face. 11 He did all the signs and wonders the Lord had sent him to do in the land of Egypt, to Pharaoh, all his servants, and the whole land, 12 and he displayed great power and awesome might in view of all Israel (Deuteronomy 34:10-12).

The Greatness of Moses in the New Testament

Moses even appears in the New Testament at the transfiguration of our Lord.6 He was especially popular with the Jews of Jesus’ day, especially among the religious leaders, who loved and took advantage of his authority:

Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, 2 “The experts in the law and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat” (Matthew 23:1-2).

The fact is that they were too devoted to Moses:

45 “Do not suppose that I will accuse you before the Father. The one who accuses you is Moses, in whom you have placed your hope. 46 If you believed Moses, you would believe me, because he wrote about me” (John 5:45-46).

28 They heaped insults on him, saying, “You are his disciple! We are disciples of Moses! 29 We know that God has spoken to Moses! We do not know where this man comes from!” (John 9:28-29)

They gave Moses credit for that which God did through Him:

Then Jesus told them, “I tell you the solemn truth, it is not Moses who has given you the bread from heaven, but my Father is giving you the true bread from heaven (John 6:32).

Moses was a great man, but a bit too great in the minds of many of the Jews. He serves well the purpose of the author of Hebrews because Moses is the “high water mark” for men in the Old Testament. If our author can prove Jesus to be superior – vastly superior – to Moses, then Jesus must truly be great.

The Author’s Exhortation
Hebrews 3:1

Therefore, holy brothers and sisters, partners in a heavenly calling, take note of Jesus, the apostle and high priest whom we confess (Hebrews 3:1)

“Therefore” informs us that our author is linking our text with what has been said earlier. Chapter 1 speaks of Jesus as the Son, God’s full and final revelation to man, Who has supremacy over all creation, particularly the angels. Chapter 2 then begins with an exhortation to listen more carefully to what God has spoken through Him:

1 Therefore we must pay closer attention to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away. 2 For if the message spoken through angels proved to be so firm that every violation or disobedience received its just penalty, 3 how will we escape if we neglect such a great salvation? It was first communicated through the Lord and was confirmed to us by those who heard him, 4 while God confirmed their witness with signs and wonders and various miracles and gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will (Hebrews 2:1-4).

The remainder of chapter 2 speaks of the incarnation of the Son and its impact on man. The Son added sinless humanity to His undiminished deity and for a little while lived and suffered among men, culminating in His sacrificial death, burial, resurrection, and ascension to the right hand of the Father. His incarnation, accompanied by sufferings, qualified the Son to identify with mankind, so that He could restore man to his former glory and authority that was lost at the fall of man, by His experiencing the death that sin brought into the world (Hebrews 2:5-9). Our Lord’s incarnation equipped the Son to produce a new family through His sacrificial death at Calvary, a family that is sanctified – set apart from the rest of humanity (2:11-13). So, too, our Lord’s incarnation made Him one of us (man) so that He could bear the death penalty we deserve, thus bringing death to death, and thereby stripping Satan of the power he held over men (2:14-15).

The impact of His incarnation does not stop here. Our Lord’s identification with mankind – and specifically with Abraham – qualified Him to be the One through whom the Abrahamic Covenant would be fulfilled. In Him, theseed” of Abraham, all of the nations of the earth, are blessed, and all those who trust in Him become “sons of Abraham,” the special object of God’s affection and blessing (2:16). Finally (so far as our author is concerned at the moment), the identification of the Son with man has qualified Him to become a merciful and faithful High Priest, whose atoning death satisfied the Father’s righteous wrath toward sin and whose empathy with man enables Him to come to the aid of all who need help (2:17-18).

Thus, the One who was described as “higher than the angels” in chapter 1 became “lower than the angels” (as described) in chapter 2, so that He could raise fallen men up with Him in His exaltation, glory, and power.

In the light of chapter 2, we have even greater reason to pay attention to Jesus, and thus the author commences an extended exhortation which will extend through Hebrews 4. While there is still a strong emphasis on the Word of God which our Lord has revealed (see 4:12-13), it seems as though the author wants us to fix our attention on Jesus Himself:

Therefore, holy brothers and sisters, partners in a heavenly calling, take note of Jesus, the apostle and high priest whom we confess (Hebrews 3:1).

It is important that we understand to whom this exhortation is addressed. Without looking beyond chapter 3, we can see from verse 1 that the recipients are addressed as . . .

      . . . holy brethren

      . . . partners in a heavenly call

      . . . those who confess Jesus as Apostle and High Priest.

By these designations, we are informed that the author is addressing fellow believers.

The exhortation is a simple one, “take note of Jesus.” The NASB simply renders, “consider Jesus,” and the NIV more fully renders “fix your thoughts on Jesus” (I think I like this one best). This sounds a great deal like the exhortation we will find later in Hebrews 12:

Keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith. For the joy set out for him he endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God (Hebrews 12:2, emphasis mine).

What is it, in particular, that the author wants us to take note of regarding Jesus? He tells us in this verse – we are to take note of Jesus as the apostle and high priest” whom we confess as such. In other words, we are to give considerable thought to the Jesus in whom we have put our trust, concerning Him in whom we profess to believe. We are not just to “practice what we preach;” we are to “ponder what we proclaim.”

“Take note of Jesus” – as others have noted, this could not only serve as the summation of this lengthy exhortation, it could very well capsulize the message of the entire Book of Hebrews. It might even be a summary of the message of the Bible. Where else should we look?

The author is about to compare (and then contrast) Jesus with the much revered Moses. These two areas – apostle and high priest – are those areas which our author has chosen to demonstrate the superiority of the Lord Jesus to Moses. That comparison is about to begin in the next verse.

Moses and Jesus: Faithful in their Responsibilities
Hebrews 3:2

Who is faithful to the one who appointed him, as Moses was also in God’s house (Hebrews 3:2).

Moses and Jesus shared much in common. In a sense, both had roles which involved priestly duties and a kind of apostleship.7 We know that Aaron, Moses’ brother, was the high priest, but it was Moses who sprinkled the blood of the covenant on the altar and on the people in Exodus 24:1-8. Later, Moses consecrated Aaron and his sons by offering sacrifices and applying the blood to (or around) the altar and to Aaron and his sons. He then anointed them with oil (Leviticus 8:18-36). Before long, our author will go into great detail concerning our Lord’s priestly ministry.

Moses was a kind of apostle as well. If an apostle is a “sent one,” then Moses was clearly sent by God to Egypt, where he would speak to men for God. Jesus was also an apostle in the sense that He was sent to earth by the Father8 to lead men from captivity to freedom. As Moses was the one through whom the Law was given, Jesus was the One through whom God finally and fully spoke (Hebrews 1:1-3). Both Moses and Jesus, our author tells us, were faithful to their divine calling. But having briefly noted their similarities, the author will now move to his real interest – their differences, which demonstrate that Jesus is vastly superior to Moses.

Moses and Jesus Contrasted
Hebrews 3:3-6

3 For he has come to deserve greater glory than Moses, just as the builder of a house deserves greater honor than the house itself! 4 For every house is built by someone, but the builder of all things is God 5 Now Moses was faithful in all God’shouseas a servant, to testify to the things that would be spoken. 6 But Christ is faithful as a sonover God’s house (Hebrews 3:5-6a, emphasis mine).

Just as Jesus is “higher than the angels” (1:1—2:18), He is also greater than Moses (3:1-6). Our Lord was faithful to the one who appointed him” (3:2). Moses was faithful in God’s house” (3:5), and thus he is viewed as being a part of the house in verses 3 and 4. What is this “house”? The “house” is My house(3:5), that is, God’s house. This is a term that is often used in reference to the nation Israel,9 and then also to the temple.10 No doubt here house” means that Moses was faithful in (or among) the people of God, the Israelites. I say among because the author’s point here is that Moses is a part of the house; the Son, however, is greater than the house. He is the builder of the house. The Creator is always greater than the creation.

Let’s not miss the subtlety of the author here. In verse 1, the reader is exhorted to “take note of Jesus.” In verse 2, Jesus and Moses are compared. In verses 3-6a, Jesus and Moses are contrasted, showing Jesus to be greater than Moses. But in verses 3 and 4, if Jesus is being shown to be Moses, then He is greater because He is the “builder of the house,” but the builder of the house” is said here to beGod.”Let us not miss the fact that our author is saying that Jesus is the Son, and Jesus is God. He is proclaiming the deity of the Lord Jesus.

Two more elements of contrast are introduced in verses 5 and 6. First, we see that Moses was faithful as a servant,”while Christ” was faithful as a son.” Second, this contrast between servantand son” is underscored by the fact that Moses was a servant in”all God’s house (verse 5), while Christ is the Son over”God’s house. I love the story Bible teacher Ray Stedman told about visiting a ranch in Montana. At first, Ray knew only the son of one of the ranch hands. When he visited, they were restricted from the main house, and they rode the old “nags” when they went horseback riding. Then, Ray says, he became friends with the owner’s son. Now it was a whole new experience. They had free run of the ranch and could go wherever they pleased. When they rode horses, they rode the best horses. That’s the difference between a servant and a son.

There is one more observation that I would point out to you. The author began by referring to Jesus,” then to Him as “God” (verse 4). In verse 6, He is the Son and Christ.” Jesus is the Son, God, and the Christ, that is, the Messiah. Some Jews tended to understand these (and other) titles as referring to different persons. Such is not the case with the author of Hebrews.

How Iffy is Our Faith?
Hebrews 3:6b

We are of his house, if in fact we hold firmly to our confidence and the hope we take pride in (3:6b, emphasis mine).

So the author has shown us that the Lord Jesus Christ is vastly superior to Moses, as great a man as he was. Moses was part of God’s “house,” and he was faithful. And now we are told that we, likewise, are of God’s house, if we hold firmly to our confidence. . . .” How do we deal with this “if”? Our answer has several parts:

1. “If” statements are not restricted to the Book of Hebrews.The fact is that we find similar statements in many places in the New Testament:

You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God lives in you. Now if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, this person does not belong to him (Romans 8:9, emphasis mine).

And if children, then heirs (namely, heirs of God and also fellow heirs with Christ) – if indeed we suffer with him so we may also be glorified with him (Romans 8:17, emphasis mine).

Notice therefore the kindness and harshness of God – harshness toward those who have fallen, but God’s kindness toward you, provided you continue in his kindness; otherwise you also will be cut off (Romans 11:22, emphasis mine).

Put yourselves to the test to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves! Or do you not recognize regarding yourselves that Jesus Christ is in you – unless, indeed, you fail the test! (2 Corinthians 13:5, emphasis mine)

22 But now he has reconciled you by his physical body through death to present you holy, without blemish, and blameless before him – 23 if indeed you remain in the faith, established and firm, without shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard. This gospel has also been preached in all creation under heaven, and I, Paul, have become its servant (Colossians 1:22-23, emphasis mine).

1 So get rid of all evil and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander. 2 And yearn like newborn infants for pure, spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up to salvation, 3 if you have experienced the Lord’s kindness (1 Peter 2:1-3, emphasis mine).

3 Now by this we know that we have come to know God: if we keep his commandments (1 John 2:3, emphasis mine).

Our problem, then, is not unique to Hebrews. If we don’t deal with it here, we will face it elsewhere.

2. The author assumes the best about his readers. That is to say, the author assumes that his readers are fellow believers in Jesus Christ. We saw this by his statements in the first verse of chapter 3. His readers are holy brothers, partners in the heavenly calling, and those who confess Jesus as apostle and high priest. The author’s statements in the rest of the book only confirm the conclusion that he assumes most of his readers are saved.

3. The author does not look at the world through rose-colored glasses.He does assume that most of his readers are believers in Jesus Christ. He does not believe them to be infallible. He understands that the danger of “drifting” is very real and that drawing near is not the path of least resistance. Thus, failure is dealt with as a real possibility.

4. This epistle is written to a church. It may not be a large church, but virtually all the commentators agree that it is written to a church (even if we are not certain where it may be). Whenever a church is addressed, the assumption is made that most of the recipients have a genuine faith in Jesus Christ. But it also means that it is very possible that one or more members of the church addressed may not be saved. Thus the qualifications and the “ifs” that we find in the epistles.

5. The “if texts” are not intended to teach or imply that salvation is by works.The author is simply telling us that those who are truly saved are those who will also persevere to the end. Their faith and trust in Jesus will not fail under pressure. We are encouraged to draw near because we are saved, not to work harder in order to be saved. It is Christ who saves us,11 it is Christ through His Spirit who sanctifies us,12 and it is Christ who keeps us.13 This is precisely why we need to draw near (and stay near) to Him.

6. The “if statements” assume human weaknesses. Only God knows the hearts of men. We know that there will be some who assume that they have gained entrance into heaven who will not be admitted:

21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter into the kingdom of heaven – only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven. 22 On that day, many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, didn’t we prophesy in your name, and in your name cast out demons and do many powerful deeds?’ 23 Then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you. Go away from me, you lawbreakers!’” (Matthew 7:21-23)

Jesus’ story of the rich man and Lazarus must have been a great shock to the Pharisees who heard it.14 They assumed the rich man would make it to heaven and that the poor man would join others like him in hell. Just the reverse occurred. Our consolation is that God knows His own:

19 However, God’s solid foundation remains standing, bearing this seal: “The Lord knows those who are his,” and “Everyone who confesses the name of the Lord must turn away from evil” (2 Timothy 2:19).15

We do not know with absolute certainty those who are saved and those who are not. Some folks make their relationship with Jesus pretty plain, both by their profession and by their practice. But others leave us scratching our heads. My point here is to say that because we cannot know the hearts of men, we dare not assume all to be saved, even those who are fairly regular attendees at church. Thus, we must always leave room for the possibility that some who hear us may be unsaved and outside the faith. And because of this, it is only proper to include an “if” here and there, to address such folks. That is why I attempt, in nearly every sermon, to give the gospel to my audience. I assume that someone listening to or reading my sermon may be lost and in need of salvation. That is what our author is doing with his “ifs.”

7. The purpose of this epistle is not to create doubt, but to turn our attention to Jesus. Let’s not lose sight of what the Book of Hebrews is all about. It is an epistle that is addressed to a church, made up mainly of true believers. Over time, these believers, like us, can grow cold in their walk with the Lord, cold in their love for Christ and for men, much like the saints in Laodicea:

14 “To the angel of the church in Laodicea write the following: “This is the solemn pronouncement of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the originator of God’s creation: 15 ‘I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either cold or hot! 16 So because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I am going to vomit you out of my mouth! 17 Because you say, “I am rich and have acquired great wealth, and need nothing,” but do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind, and naked, 18 take my advice and buy gold from me refined by fire so you can become rich! Buy from me white clothing so you can be clothed and your shameful nakedness will not be exposed, and buy eye salve to put on your eyes so you can see! 19 All those I love, I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest and repent! 20 Listen! I am standing at the door and knocking! If anyone hears my voice and opens the door I will come into his home and share a meal with him, and he with me. 21 I will grant the one who conquers permission to sit with me on my throne, just as I too conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne. 22 The one who has an ear had better hear what the Spirit says to the churches’” (Revelation 3:14-22, emphasis mine).

As our Lord invites the lukewarm Laodiceans to repent and return to intimate fellowship with Him (as symbolized by eating a meal with Him), so the writer to the Book of Hebrews warns his readers of the dangers of drifting, and exhorts them to draw near to Jesus.

The Hebrews were not to look back to Judaism, nor to the Old Covenant, nor even to great men like Moses. They were to look to Jesus, the author and finisher of the faith (Hebrews 3:1; 12:2). The last thing our author wants is for us to look to ourselves; his goal is to get us to look to Jesus. The “if passages” are intended to call our attention to our spiritual condition. And, whether good or bad, the exhortation is the same.

Are you lost in sin, under divine condemnation, and headed for an eternity in hell? Look to Jesus! He is the only solution. He is not only God; He also took on humanity, so that He could die in the sinner’s place, bearing his (or her) punishment. He rose from the dead and is ascended to the right hand of the Father, and in so doing, He restores all who are in Him, by faith, to the glory and dignity that was once ours, before the fall.

Are you drifting from God, negligent about studying His Word, spasmodic about your church attendance and fellowship with the saints, apathetic about the peril of those who are without Jesus? Look to Jesus! He is the One who saves, sanctifies, and keeps. It is abiding in Him that we need.16

Are you troubled, in need, fearful, discouraged? Look to Jesus!

Our author does not want us to look to mere men, even those as great as Moses. And he certainly doesn’t want us looking to ourselves, as though we are able to keep our souls. We are to look to Jesus.

    The Lord will protect you from all evil;

    He will keep your soul (Psalm 121:7, NASB95).


1 Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the NET Bible. The NEW ENGLISH TRANSLATION, also known as THE NET BIBLE, is a completely new translation of the Bible, not a revision or an update of a previous English version. It was completed by more than twenty biblical scholars who worked directly from the best currently available Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek texts. The translation project originally started as an attempt to provide an electronic version of a modern translation for electronic distribution over the Internet and on CD (compact disk). Anyone anywhere in the world with an Internet connection will be able to use and print out the NET Bible without cost for personal study. In addition, anyone who wants to share the Bible with others can print unlimited copies and give them away free to others. It is available on the Internet at: www.netbible.org.

Copyright © 2008 by Robert L. Deffinbaugh. This is the edited manuscript of Lesson 7 in the series, Near to the Heart of God – A Study of the Book of Hebrews, prepared by Robert L. Deffinbaugh on August 24, 2008. Anyone is at liberty to use this lesson for educational purposes only, with or without credit.

2 “Moses held a special place in the hearts of the Jews of the first century. He was considered to be the greatest person in history in certain strands of Jewish tradition, and in some, the Messiah was expected to be a ‘new Moses’ (cf. Deut. 189:15-18): ‘The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own brothers . . .’).” George H. Guthrie, Hebrews – The NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1998), p. 127, citing Paul Ellingworth, The Epistle to the Hebrews (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1993), p. 194.

3 “He was considered to be the greatest person in history in certain strands of Jewish tradition, and in some, the Messiah was expected to be a ‘new Moses’ (cf. Deut. 18:15-18). . . . Other evidence suggests that Moses held an even higher status than the angels because of his special intimacy with God.” George H. Guthrie, Hebrews – The NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1998), p. 127, footnoting Paul Ellingworth, The Epistle to the Hebrews (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1993), p. 194 and Mary Rose D’Angelo, Moses in the Letter to the Hebrews, SBLDS (Missoula, Mont.: Scholars, 1979), 91-131.

4 See, for example, Exodus 17:8-13.

5 Note: This statement is picked up by the author of Hebrews in Hebrews 3:5.

6 Matthew 17:3.

7 “That Moses was an apostle of God to his people does not call for demonstration; it is equally true that he was his people’s most effective intercessor with God. It was his brother Aaron, and not he, who was high priest of Israel as far as title and investiture were concerned; but it was Moses, and not Aaron, who was Israel’s true advocate with God.” F. F. Bruce, The Epistle to the Hebrews, revised edition (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1990), pp. 91-92.

8 The Gospel of John has many references to our Lord as having been sent by the Father. A few of these texts would be 3:34; 4:35; 5:22-24, 30, 36-38; 6:29, 38-39.

9 See Exodus 16:31; Leviticus 10:6; 17:3, 8, 10; 22:18; Numbers 20:29; Joshua 21:45; Ruth 4:11; 1 Samuel 7:3.

10 For example, see 1 Chronicles 28:6; Isaiah 56:5, 7; Jeremiah 11:15; 23:11; Ezekiel 23:39; 44:7; Haggai 1:9.

11 Ephesians 2:1-10; Titus 3:5-7.

12 Romans 8:28-30; 1 Corinthians 6:11; Galatians 3:1-7; 1 Thessalonians 5:23; 2 Thessalonians 2:13; 1 Peter 1:2.

13 John 10:27-28.

14 Luke 16:19-31.

15 See also John 10:14; 1 Corinthians 8:3.

16 See John 15:1-10.


http://feeds.bible.org/deffinbaugh/hebrews/deff_hebrews_07.mp3
/assets/powerpoint/deff_hebrews_07.ppt
Ad Category: 
Biblical Topics: 
Passage: 
/assets/worddocs/deff_hebrews_07_sg.zip

8. Resisting A Rest (Hebrews 3:7-19)

1 Therefore, holy brothers and sisters, partners in a heavenly calling, take note of Jesus, the apostle and high priest whom we confess, 2 who is faithful to the one who appointed him, as Moses was also in God’s house. 3 For he has come to deserve greater glory than Moses, just as the builder of a house deserves greater honor than the house itself! 4 For every house is built by someone, but the builder of all things is God. 5 Now Moses was faithful in all God’shouse as a servant, to testify to the things that would be spoken. 6 But Christ is faithful as a son over God’s house. We are of his house, if in fact we hold firmly to our confidence and the hope we take pride in.

7 Therefore, as the Holy Spirit says, “Oh, that today you would listen as he speaks! 8 “Do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion, in the day of testing in the wilderness. 9 “There your fathers tested me and tried me, and they saw my works for forty years. 10 “Therefore, I became provoked at that generation and said, ‘Their hearts are always wandering and they have not known my ways.’ 11 “As I swore in my anger, ‘They will never enter my rest!’” 12 See to it, brothers and sisters, that none of you has an evil, unbelieving heart that forsakes the living God. 13 But exhort one another each day, as long as it is called “Today,” that none of you may become hardened by sin’s deception. 14 For we have become partners with Christ, if in fact we hold our initial confidence firm until the end. 15 As it says, “Oh, that today you would listen as he speaks! Do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion.” 16 For which ones heard and rebelled? Was it not all who came out of Egypt under Moses’ leadership? 17 And against whom was God provoked for forty years? Was it not those who sinned, whose dead bodies fell in the wilderness? 18 And to whom did he swear they would never enter into his rest, except those who were disobedient? 19 So we see that they could not enter because of unbelief (Hebrews 3:1-19).1

Introduction

A few years ago, I was talking with a friend on the phone. He was at his office in the Pacific Northwest; I was in my office in Richardson, Texas. He and I had been talking for some time, and then the conversation changed. As I continued the conversation, I sensed something wasn’t right. Eventually, it became evident that for whatever reason, I was talking to someone else. The man I was talking to did not know me, and I did not know him. Somewhere in the middle of a conversation, the phone connection was switched, and we were suddenly and unexpectedly talking to people we didn’t know. I cannot describe how strange that conversation felt. Part of it was the lack of any common connection and common background on the things we were discussing. Well, the truth is, we were talking about different things and wondering how the other person didn’t seem to connect with the conversation.

I’ve also had nearly the opposite experience, and I suspect that you have as well. Have you ever been in a different city, or state, or country, in a place where you did not know anyone? This happened to me on my first trip to India. I landed in Bombay (now Mumbai), and there was no one to meet me. It took almost a full day before I met up with the people I had expected to meet at the airport (my letter took another two weeks to reach India). But when I finally found myself among Christian brothers and sisters, I felt very much at home and at ease, even though some of us did not even speak the same language. Because of our faith in Christ, we had much in common, which made it easy to be with them.

When we come to Hebrews 3, a great deal of Old Testament history and biblical knowledge is assumed by the author of this text. Without this knowledge, little of what we read in chapters 3 and 4 will make much sense to us. For example, the term “rest” occurs 10 times in chapters 3 and 4 (and nowhere else in the book). What is most important for us to understand is that there are several different kinds of “rest” to which our author refers. We must understand each of these, and the differences between them, to grasp the message of this portion of Scripture.

An Overview of this Lesson

The author of our text is going to use the second half of Psalm 95 as the basis for his exhortation in chapters 3 and 4, but there are several Old Testament texts which serve as the backdrop for the psalmist’s argument in Psalm 95. We will begin with these texts which describe several incidents having to do with Israel’s exodus from Egypt and their journey toward the Promised Land. Specifically, the psalmist bases his exhortation on Israel’s failures at Meribah and Massah (Exodus 17:1-7; Numbers 13-14; 20:1-13). We will review these dark times in the wilderness and then move on to the psalmist’s use of them in Psalm 95. Having done this, we will study the way in which the author to the Hebrews uses Psalm 95 as the basis for his lengthy exhortation in Hebrews 3 and 4. Finally, we will seek to see how this exhortation applies to the church – our church – today.

Considering the Context: Where We Are In Hebrews

We have already noted that the author’s style is to alternate between exposition and exhortation. In the exposition of Hebrews 1, we learned that the Son – Jesus Christ – is God’s full and final revelation to man. He is vastly superior to every created thing because He is the Creator, and as such, He is vastly higher than the angels. Having set forth the supremacy of the Son, the author now exhorts his readers to pay very careful attention to what God has revealed to us through Him:

1 Therefore we must pay closer attention to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away. 2 For if the message spoken through angels proved to be so firm that every violation or disobedience received its just penalty, 3 how will we escape if we neglect such a great salvation? It was first communicated through the Lord and was confirmed to us by those who heard him, 4 while God confirmed their witness with signs and wonders and various miracles and gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will (Hebrews 2:1-4).

In the remaining verses of chapter 2 (verses 5-18), we are shown, to our great wonder, that the Son set aside the glory of heaven to become “a little lower than the angels” (2:9). He did this in order to qualify Himself to “taste death for everyone,” thereby becoming a Savior and a faithful and merciful High Priest to all who believe. Having accomplished this, the Son ascended into heaven where the Father seated Him at His right hand. The wonder of it all is that in so doing, He accomplishes redemption for fallen man2 and restoration to His original glory and honor, as God had created them.3

In chapter 3, the author sets out to show us the supremacy of the Son in yet another way. In the first 6 verses of chapter 3, the author demonstrates that the Son – the Lord Jesus Christ – is greater than Moses, the most revered man in the Old Testament in the eyes of many Jews. Both Moses and the Lord Jesus were faithful, but Moses was faithful in all God’s house” (3:2), while the Lord Jesus was faithful over God’s house” (3:6). Moses was faithful as a part of the house (3:2-3), while Jesus was faithful as the builder of the house (3:3). Moses was faithful as a servant” (3:5); Jesus was faithful as a Son” (3:6).

In verse 7, our author continues his exhortation. It is almost as though Hebrews 3:7–4:13 is an expansion of the short exhortation of 2:1-4. And it may also be that in this exhortation the author, in a very subtle way, adds further proof to his declaration that the Son is superior to Moses. After all, Moses was not able to lead his generation of Israelites into God’s Canaan rest. Indeed, Moses himself did not enter into that rest (something we are about to see).

The “therefore” in verse 7 of chapter 3 indicates that our author connects verses 7-19 (and beyond) with what has already been said. The Son humbled Himself by taking on humanity (at His incarnation), and by virtue of His identification with man, He provided a way of salvation and a source of help. “Therefore” we should focus our attention on Jesus, the Apostle and High Priest, whom we confess. He is greater than Moses (3:1-6). If the Son is greater than Moses, then we really do need to “hear His voice” (3:7).

This brings us to the citation of the last half of Psalm 95 in Hebrews 3:7-11. This psalm is based upon some of Israel’s experiences in the wilderness. This use of the exodus in Psalm 95, and then later in Hebrews 3 and 4, is entirely consistent with the use of this theme elsewhere in the Bible. Let me suggest some of the ways the exodus experience is used in the Bible.

The Exodus Experience in the Bible

Exodus Language Assures Exiled Israel of Her Return and Restoration. Note how Isaiah uses the terminology of the exodus in the crossing of the Red Sea to assure the people of Judah that He will fulfill His promise of restoration in the future:

26 Who fulfills the oracles of his prophetic servants and brings to pass the announcements of his messengers, who says about Jerusalem, ‘She will be inhabited,’ and about the towns of Judah, ‘They will be rebuilt, her ruins I will raise up,’ 27 who says to the deep sea, ‘Be dry! I will dry up your sea currents,’ 28 who commissions Cyrus, the one I appointed as shepherd to carry out all my wishes and to decree concerning Jerusalem, ‘She will be rebuilt,’ and concerning the temple, ‘It will be reconstructed’” (Isaiah 44:26-28, emphasis mine).

Exodus Language is Employed in Israel’s Prayers of Repentance.

10 But they rebelled and offended his Holy Spirit, so he turned into an enemy and fought against them. 11 His people remembered the ancient times. Where is the one who brought them up out of the sea, along with the shepherd of his flock? Where is the one who placed his holy Spirit among them, 12 the one who made his majestic power available to Moses, who divided the water before them, gaining for himself a lasting reputation, 13 who led them through the deep water? Like a horse running on flat land they did not stumble (Isaiah 63:10-13, emphasis mine).

The Exodus is a Prototype of the Saving Work of Jesus Christ at Calvary.

30 Then two men, Moses and Elijah, began talking with him. 31 They appeared in glorious splendor and spoke about his departure [literally exodus] that he was about to carry out at Jerusalem (Luke 9:30-31, emphasis mine).

The Exodus Events are a Lesson to New Testament Christians.

1 For I do not want you to be unaware, brothers and sisters, that our fathers were all under the cloud and all passed through the sea, 2 and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, 3 and all ate the same spiritual food, 4 and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they were all drinking from the spiritual rock that followed them, and the rock was Christ. 5 But God was not pleased with most of them, for they were cut down in the wilderness. 6 These things happened as examples for us, so that we will not crave evil things as they did (1 Corinthians 10:1-6, emphasis mine; see also vss. 7-11; 5:7; Romans 15:4; Hebrews 3-4).

The Exodus Events as Instruction to the Ancient Israelites. I am speaking here of the use of the Exodus in the Old Testament to instruct the ancient Israelites. Specifically, I am referring to the use of the Exodus events as employed and applied in Psalm 95, as we shall see next.

Exodus Events Referred to in Psalm 95

Exodus 17:1-7

1 The whole community of the Israelites traveled on their journey from the Desert of Sin according to the Lord’s instruction, and they pitched camp in Rephidim. Now there was no water for the people to drink. 2 So the people contended with Moses, and they said, “Give us water to drink!” Moses said to them, “Why do you contend with me? Why do you test the Lord?” 3 But the people were very thirsty there for water, and they murmured against Moses and said, “Why in the world did you bring us up out of Egypt – to kill us and our children and our cattle with thirst?” 4 Then Moses cried out to the Lord, “What will I do with this people? – a little more and they will stone me!” 5 The Lord said to Moses, “Go over before the people; take with you some of the elders of Israel and take in your hand your staff with which you struck the Nile and go. 6 I will be standing before you there on the rock in Horeb, and you will strike the rock, and water will come out of it so that the people may drink.” And Moses did so in plain view of the elders of Israel. 7 He called the name of the place Massah and Meribah, because of the contending of the Israelites and because of their testing the Lord, saying, “Is the Lord among us or not?” (Exodus 17:1-7)

The Israelites have just passed through the Red Sea on dry ground, while the Egyptian soldiers were drowned in the sea (Exodus 14). The Israelites sang songs of deliverance, praising God for their miraculous deliverance and anticipating their possession of the Promised Land by the defeat of their enemies (Exodus 15:1-18). But soon after this, things began to fall apart. Still, in chapter 15, the people come to Marah, where the water is too bitter to drink. The people grumbled at Moses, demanding to know what they are going to drink. God instructs Moses to throw a tree into the waters to sweeten them, and thus the Israelites are able to drink the water (15:22-26).

When the Israelites arrive at the wilderness of Sin4 (virtually a month after the exodus), the people begin to grumble because they are concerned about what they are going to eat. Already they have forgotten the horrors of Egypt, and they now speak of it longingly, especially in terms of the food it seemed to offer them. They accuse Moses and Aaron of bringing them into the wilderness to kill them. God provides them with manna and quail. I cannot help but notice this question in verse 28:

So the Lord said to Moses, “How long do you refuse to obey my commandments and my instructions?” (Exodus 16:28)

The answer to this question, as we are about to see, is forty years. This is just the firstfruits (if I can dare to put it in these terms) of Israel’s disobedience.

This brings us to Exodus 17 and to Rephidim, where there is no water. The people once again quarrel with Moses and accuse him of bringing them to this place to kill them. In obedience to God’s instruction, Moses strikes the rock with his staff, and water pours forth. And thus God again provides for His grumbling people. Appropriately, the place was named “Massah” (“test”) and “Meribah” (“quarrel”).

Numbers 14:20-35

20 Then the Lord said, “I have forgiven them as you asked. 21 But truly, as I live, all the earth will be filled with the glory of the Lord. 22 For all the people have seen my glory and my signs that I did in Egypt and in the wilderness, and yet have tempted me now these ten times, and have not obeyed me, 23 they will by no means see the land that I swore to their fathers, nor will any of them who despised me see it. 24 Only my servant Caleb, because he had a different spirit and has followed me fully – I will bring him into the land where he had gone, and his descendants will possess it. 25 (Now the Amalekites and the Canaanites were living in the valleys.) Tomorrow, turn and journey into the wilderness by the way of the Red Sea.” 26 The Lord spoke to Moses and Aaron: 27 “How long must I bear with this evil congregation that murmurs against me? I have heard the complaints of the Israelites that they murmured against me. 28 Say to them, ‘As I live, says the Lord, I will surely do to you just what you have spoken in my hearing. 29 Your dead bodies will fall in this wilderness – all those of you who were numbered, according to your full number, from twenty years old and upward, who have murmured against me. 30 You will by no means enter into the land where I swore to settle you. The only exceptions are Caleb son of Jephunneh and Joshua son of Nun. 31 But I will bring in your little ones, whom you said would become victims of war, and they will enjoy the land that you have despised. 32 But as for you, your dead bodies will fall in this wilderness, 33 and your children will wander in the wilderness forty years and suffer for your unfaithfulness, until your dead bodies lie finished in the wilderness. 34 According to the number of the days you have investigated this land, forty days – one day for a year – you will suffer for your iniquities, forty years, and you will know what it means to thwart me. 35 I, the Lord, have said, “I will surely do so to all this evil congregation that has gathered together against me. In this wilderness they will be finished, and there they will die!”’” (Numbers 14:20-35)

The Israelites have been given the Law at Mount Sinai, and now at last they have now come to Kadesh, the gateway to the Promised Land. Twelve spies are sent to assess the suitability of the land and the military strength of the Canaanites. God wanted the Israelites to fully grasp the difficulty of the task ahead:

17 When Moses sent them to investigate the land of Canaan, he told them, “Go up through the Negev, and then go up into the hill country 18 and see what the land is like, and whether the people who live in it are strong or weak, few or many, 19 and whether the land they live in is good or bad, and whether the cities they inhabit are like camps or fortified cities, 20 and whether the land is rich or poor, and whether or not there are forests in it. And be brave, and bring back some of the fruit of the land.” Now it was the time of year for the first ripe grapes (Numbers 13:17-20).

When the spies returned, they all agreed as to the fruitfulness and desirability of the land. They also agreed on the magnitude of the task of taking possession of the land. There were giants in the land, and the place was well fortified. The spies differed in their faith in God’s promises and in His ability to remove the Canaanites. Caleb and Joshua were confident that God would give them the victory; the other ten did not deem it possible. The people initially wept, but this quickly turned to grumbling and rebellion. They were ready to be rid of Moses and to appoint another leader who would take them back to Egypt. God once again asks How long . . .?” He must put up with their unbelief:

10 However, the whole community threatened to stone them. But the glory of the Lord appeared to all the Israelites at the tent of meeting. 11 The Lord said to Moses, “How long will this people despise me, and how long will they not believe in me, in spite of the signs that I have done among them?” (Numbers 14:10-11, emphasis mine)

As He had done at Mount Sinai when the Israelites worshipped the golden calf, God threatened to wipe out this rebellious nation and to begin anew through Moses (14:11-12). Moses interceded with God on behalf of the nation, and God once again forgave, but not without dire consequences:

13 Moses said to the Lord, “When the Egyptians hear it – for you brought up this people by your power from among them – 14 then they will tell it to the inhabitants of this land. They have heard that you, Lord, are among this people, that you, Lord, are seen face to face, that your cloud stands over them, and that you go before them by day in a pillar of cloud and in a pillar of fire by night. 15 If you kill this entire people at once, then the nations that have heard of your fame will say, 16 ‘Because the Lord was not able to bring this people into the land that he swore to them, he killed them in the wilderness.’ 17 So now, let the power of my Lord be great, just as you have said, 18 ‘The Lord is slow to anger and abounding in loyal love, forgiving iniquity and transgression, but by no means clearing the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children until the third and fourth generations.’ 19 Please forgive the iniquity of this people according to your great loyal love, just as you have forgiven this people from Egypt even until now.” 20 Then the Lord said, “I have forgiven them as you asked. 21 But truly, as I live, all the earth will be filled with the glory of the Lord. 22 For all the people have seen my glory and my signs that I did in Egypt and in the wilderness, and yet have tempted me now these ten times, and have not obeyed me, 23 they will by no means see the land that I swore to their fathers, nor will any of them who despised me see it” (Numbers 14:13-23, emphasis mine).

There is a very important observation to be made here. This entire generation of Israelites (with the exception of Joshua and Caleb) will not be allowed to possess the land of Canaan.5 But while they cannot enter the Promised Land, God has assured Moses that their sins are forgiven. There are consequences for their constant grumbling and rebellion, but their sins have been forgiven. Thus, we should be very cautious about jumping to the conclusion that “failure to enter the land” is the equivalent of “failing to enter heaven.” There are temporal consequences for the nation’s sin, but God assured Moses that their sin was forgiven. Our next passage in Numbers 20 will further support this.

Numbers 20:1-13

1 Then the entire community of Israel entered the wilderness of Zin in the first month, and the people stayed in Kadesh. Miriam died and was buried there. 2 And there was no water for the community, and so they gathered themselves together against Moses and Aaron. 3 The people contended with Moses, saying, “If only we had died when our brothers died before the Lord! 4 Why have you brought up the Lord’s community into this wilderness? So that we and our cattle should die here? 5 Why have you brought us up from Egypt only to bring us to this dreadful place? It is no place for grain, or figs, or vines, or pomegranates; nor is there any water to drink!” 6 So Moses and Aaron went from the presence of the assembly to the entrance to the tent of meeting. They then threw themselves down with their faces to the ground, and the glory of the Lord appeared to them. 7 Then the Lord spoke to Moses: 8 “Take the staff and assemble the community, you and Aaron your brother, and then speak to the rock before their eyes. It will pour forth its water, and you will bring water out of the rock for them, and so you will give the community and their beasts water to drink.” 9 So Moses took the staff from before the Lord, just as he commanded him. 10 Then Moses and Aaron gathered the community together in front of the rock, and he said to them, “Listen, you rebels, must we bring water out of this rock for you?” 11 Then Moses raised his hand, and struck the rock twice with his staff. And water came out abundantly. So the community drank, and their beasts drank too. 12 Then the Lord spoke to Moses and Aaron, “Because you did not trust me enough to show me as holy before the Israelites, therefore you will not bring this community into the land I have given them.” 13 These are the waters of Meribah, because the Israelites contended with the Lord, and his holiness was maintained among them (Numbers 20:1-13, emphasis mine).

A Sabbath-breaker was put to death in chapter 15, followed by a word of warning to the entire nation.6 Then comes the report of the rebellion of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram, which ended in their being swallowed up by the ground, followed by fire from the Lord which consumed those offering the incense (Numbers 16:1-35). Believe it or not, rather than becoming fearful of the Lord, the people grumbled against Moses and Aaron, blaming them for the deaths of those who were disobedient and died at the hand of God. This led to a further outbreak of God’s wrath, so that an additional 14,700 died (16:41-50).

Now, once again, the Israelites have come to Kadesh. It has been forty years since the Israelites first left Egypt.7 Miriam died and was buried, and soon Aaron will die8 as well. As on other occasions, the people run out of water, and the whole congregation begins to complain against Moses and Aaron. Somehow, Moses and Aaron were blamed for making the Israelites leave Egypt (as though it were against the will of the people). The people said that they wished they had died in the wilderness earlier, along with their (rebellious) brethren (20:2-5).

The glory of God appeared to the people, and the Lord commanded Moses to speakto (not to strike) the rock in the sight of the people so that it would bring forth water for them to drink. Forty years of griping finally got to Moses, who completely lost his cool. He struck the rock, in disobedience to God’s instructions. Nevertheless, the rock brought forth water, and the people drank.

Here’s what I want you to observe about this text. This text is not so much about the unbelief and disobedience of the Israelites, but about the unbelief and disobedience of Moses. We are hardly surprised by the actions of the people here, for they have been behaving this way for forty years. What is surprising and disappointing is the way Moses responded to this situation. According to God’s words, Moses did not believe God” (verse 12), and thus he disobeyed. The result was that neither Moses nor Aaron would be allowed to enter the Promised Land, just like the unbelieving and disobedient generation of Israelites they led. These waters were called “Meribah,”9 just as we read in Exodus 17:7, because the Israelites once again contended with God.

Does this text not serve to validate the author’s claim in Hebrews 3:1-6 that the Lord Jesus is superior to Moses? Moses, like his fellow Israelites, did not believe God and disobeyed His Word. Like their fellow Israelites, Moses and Aaron were not allowed to enter into the rest of possessing the land of Canaan. Surely we cannot conclude from Moses’ failure to enter into this particular kind of rest that Moses was an apostate and that he would never get to heaven!10 I take it, then, that true believers are also capable of unbelief and disobedience. We will have more to say about this later.

Israel’s Disobedience in Psalm 95

The exhortation of the third and fourth chapters of Hebrews is based upon the exhortation of Psalm 95. In fact, one might go so far as to say that the exhortation of the third and fourth chapters of Hebrews is a reiteration of the exhortation of Psalm 95. Let us take a brief look at this psalm and its message to the people of Israel centuries ago.

    1 Come! Let’s sing for joy to the Lord!

    Let’s shout out praises to our protector who delivers us!

    2 Let’s enter his presence with thanksgiving!

    Let’s shout out to him in celebration!

    3 For the Lord is a great God,

    a great king who is superior to all gods.

    4 The depths of the earth are in his hand,

    and the mountain peaks belong to him.

    5 The sea is his, for he made it.

    His hands formed the dry land.

    6 Come! Let’s bow down and worship!

    Let’s kneel before the Lord, our creator!

    7 For he is our God;

    we are the people of his pasture, the sheep he owns.

    Today, if only you would obey him!

    8 He says, “Do not be stubborn like they were at Meribah,

    like they were that day at Massah in the wilderness,

    9 where your ancestors challenged my authority,

    and tried my patience, even though they had seen my work.

    10 For forty years I was continually disgusted with that generation,

    and I said, ‘These people desire to go astray;

    they do not obey my commands.’

    11 So I made a vow in my anger,

    ‘They will never enter into the resting place I had set aside for them’” (Psalm 95:1-11).

This psalm is worthy of a thorough exposition, but that cannot happen here and now. Let it suffice for the time being to make a few observations about this psalm, especially as these relate to the psalmist’s interpretation and application of Israel’s failures at Massah and Meribah.

First, we observe that the psalm divides into two distinct portions (verses 1-7a, and 7b-11).You will note that the author of Hebrews cites only the second half of the psalm, in its entirety. The first half of the psalm is a call to assemble and to worship God. One of the prominent themes of this worship is the greatness of God as evident in His creation. He is the Creator, and all creation is the work of His hands. This corresponds to what we have read in Hebrews 1:2, 10-12. Verses 7b-11 are the second half of the psalm, which the author of Hebrews cites in its entirety. These verses are a word of warning, based upon Israel’s failures in the wilderness over a period of forty years. In effect, the psalmist is saying: “Come, let us gather to worship and praise our Creator (7:1-7a), and if we do not, we are in danger of becoming hard of heart and disobedient, just like the Israelites of old.”

Second, the last half of the psalm is a call to pay attention to God’s voice (7b), which is also the exhortation of the author of Hebrews (see 2:1-4; 3:7; 4:12-13, etc.).

Third, the failure referred to by the psalmist was the failure of an entire generation, punctuated by sins that persisted for forty years. This was not the failure of a few, nor was it a momentary lapse of piety. It was the persistent, life-long, rebellion of an entire nation.

Fourth, God’s disciplinary action of preventing this generation from entering the land was not a “knee jerk” reaction. God put up with Israel’s failures for forty years (verse 10). Finally, it was time for this generation to face the consequences of their actions.

Fifth, Israel’s failure originated from the unbelief of hardened hearts, which was then manifested in rebellion and disobedience (verse 8-10).

Sixth, Israel’s unbelief and disobedience resulted in their failure to enter into God’s rest (verse 11).

Seventh, the psalmist views “rest” as something that Israel did not achieve in the past, but which is still available in his day, and yet something which his readers are still in danger of failing to attain.

Eighth, failure to enter into rest is here likened to the failure of the first generation of Israelites to enter the Promised Land.

Ninth, the “rest” offered in Psalm 95 may be “like” that of Numbers and Joshua, but it is not the “rest” of possessing the land because the psalm was written by one who, like his fellow Israelites, was dwelling in the Promised Land. The rest is therefore “like” the rest which the first generation of Israelites failed to attain, but not identical to it.

Tenth, the preventative to a hardened heart is to listen to God’s Word and to gather together corporately to encourage one another by worshipping God.

Psalm 95 as Employed in Hebrews 3 and 4

We should begin by noting that the author of Hebrews believes in the inspiration and authority of the Old Testament Scriptures. He begins his citation of Psalm 95 with these words,

“Therefore, as the Holy Spirit says” (Hebrews 3:7a, emphasis mine).

It is the Holy Spirit speaking to us in the words of Psalm 95. This Old Testament text truly is the Word of God and should be received as such.11

Having said this, we should step back and take a look at the bigger picture in Hebrews. In chapter 1, verses 1-3, we see that God has spoken to us in His Son. Then, in Hebrews 2:1-4, we are to listen much more carefully to what the Son has revealed, because He is “higher than the angels” (Hebrews 1:4-14; 2:1-4). Thus, God speaks to us from Scripture (1:1-3), as does the Son (2:1-4), and the Holy Spirit (3:7). The entire Trinity (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) is involved in the revelation of Holy Scripture.

It is very interesting to see how the author of Hebrews employs the second half of Psalm 95 in a way that makes it the basis for his exhortation. Indeed, I would go so far as to say that just as the psalmist was able to perceive lessons for his audience from the failures of the Israelites in the wilderness, so the author to the Hebrews understands them as still applicable to his recipients, hundreds of years later. To put it differently, the author of Hebrews seeks to make the same applications to his readers that the psalmist did in his day, and by using the very same incidents in Israel’s history. For any who might be tempted to think that the author of Hebrews is “forcing” a meaning on these Old Testament texts, I would contend that he understands these passages better than we do, and he applies them in a way that is completely consistent with their use in Psalm 95. Our author is not forcing these Old Testament texts to say what he wants; he is simply repeating their warning and exhortation to us, just as the psalmist did.

So what is the lesson of Psalm 95 for those who received this Epistle to the Hebrews? It is a warning against disregarding God’s Word, and of forsaking the gathering of the saints for worship and mutual encouragement. This results in ignorance of God’s ways, in a hardened heart, and in a life of rebellion against God. In short, disregarding the Word and worship keeps one from entering into God’s rest. Now just what that “rest” consists of is yet to be seen.12

Hebrews 3:12-13

12 See to it, brothers and sisters, that none of you has an evil, unbelieving heart that forsakes the living God. 13 But exhort one another each day, as long as it is called “Today,” that none of you may become hardened by sin’s deception (Hebrews 3:12-13).

Notice how the author of Hebrews does not seem to feel obligated to engage in an exposition here, but rather he moves immediately to exhortation. I believe that the author of Hebrews accepts the argument of the psalmist and his conclusions. All he needs to do is to press for the same application on the part of his readers, hundreds of years later.

Take note of the corporate dimensions of this text. Compare these two translations of Hebrews 3:12:

Be careful then, dear brothers and sisters. Make sure that your own hearts are not evil and unbelieving, turning you away from the living God (NLT).

Take care, brethren, lest there should be in any one of you an evil, unbelieving heart, in falling away from the living God (NASB).

The New Living Translation renders this verse in a way that makes inward introspection primary, and outward observation and action secondary. Of course, we should all look first to the “beam in our own eye,” and then to the speck in the eye of our brother. But I think that the NASB renders it in a way that more accurately represents the emphasis of the author (as I understand him). To paraphrase the author, I believe that he is saying something like this:

“Be very careful, my brothers, that no one in your congregation has such an evil, unbelieving, heart that they would turn from their faith in the living God.”

This is completely consistent with what will follow next:

13 But exhort one another each day, as long as it is called “Today,” that none of you may become hardened by sin’s deception (Hebrews 3:13).

The spiritual health and well being of every member of the church is the responsibility of every member of the church, and not just one of its staff who is paid to do so. We are a body, and we are to care for one another. That is not only the emphasis here, but elsewhere in the book as well.13 We are to see to it that no one in the body becomes “hardened by sin’s deception.”

What does it mean to be “hardened by sin’s deception”? I’ve observed this in fairly dramatic terms a number of times in my years of ministry. A Christian husband becomes romantically attracted to another woman, and this leads to an affair. When confronted, he acknowledges that what he has done is sin. He admits that he should break off the relationship immediately and seek the restoration of his marriage. And yet the fleshly attraction of the illicit relationship is something he does not wish to forsake. As sin continues, the wayward heart becomes harder and harder, more and more deceived by sin. “Well,” the sinner reasons, “there are other interpretations of those texts in the Bible. After all, God wants me to be happy.” As the sin and deception continues, the sinner eventually comes to reason this way: “Well, that’s just your interpretation of what the Bible says. I believe that God wants me to be happy, and so I’ll just keep doing what I am doing.” I have personally seen this lead to another statement: “I don’t believe any of that (gospel) stuff anyway.” That is the deceitfulness of sin that hardens hearts to the place where disobedience seems so logical, even compelling.

This deceit and hardening of the heart takes place over a period of time. It is our duty as members of the body of Christ to be alert to this hardening in our own lives and in the lives of others. Because sin is so deceitful, and because hardened hearts don’t see things clearly, we need to take responsibility for others. What the sinner cannot see, we should see and seek to correct.

The author speaks of “forsaking the living God,” an expression referring to apostasy. How do we explain the fact that apostasy can occur within the church? First, let me share some words of wisdom from Dr. S. Lewis Johnson:

“When we say a Christian perseveres, we don’t say he perseveres in a certain style of life. . . . What the doctrine of perseverance says is that the man who has come to Christ and has believed in Him will never apostatize from the faith.”14

In other words, you cannot diagnose apostasy merely on the basis of one’s conduct at the moment. If this were the case, there are a few times when we might very well have accused David of apostasy (such as when he took Uriah’s wife, Bathsheba, for himself and killed Uriah). Apostasy is the renunciation of one’s faith in the person and work of Jesus Christ for salvation. Apostasy may be accompanied by moral failure, even preceded by it, but apostasy isn’t merely committing sin; apostasy is one’s departure from faith in Jesus.

Let me attempt to explain the difference between a “backsliding Christian” and an apostate. The Christian is never “free to sin” in the sense that his sins are already covered by the blood of Christ, and thus on-going sin has no consequences.

Let me see if I can illustrate the difference between apostasy and “backsliding” with the following charts:

The first chart represents the unbeliever. Paul describes the unbeliever in Ephesians 2:

1 And although you were dead in your transgressions and sins, 2 in which you formerly lived according to this world’s present path, according to the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the ruler of the spirit that is now energizing the sons of disobedience, 3 among whom all of us also formerly lived out our lives in the cravings of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath even as the rest… (Ephesians 2:1-3).

The second chart represents the true believer. As Christians gather regularly, they should exhort and encourage one another in the faith, just as the first half of Psalm 95 urges Old Testament saints, and Hebrews 3:12-13 and 10:23-25 does for New Testament saints.15 Ideally, exhortation and admonition take place before sin occurs. These are preventative measures. When sin does occur, then rebuke is the appropriate response.16 If confession and repentance occur, then sin has been dealt with, and the goal of repentance and restoration has been realized. If the sinner becomes hard-hearted and refuses to repent, persisting in his (or her) sin, then more dramatic action is required. The willful sinner must be removed from the fellowship, which is tantamount to handing him over to Satan:

15 “If your brother sins, go and show him his fault when the two of you are alone. If he listens to you, you have regained your brother. 16 But if he does not listen, take one or two others with you, so that at the testimony of two or three witnesses every matter may be established. 17 If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. If he refuses to listen to the church, treat him like a Gentile or a tax collector. 18 “I tell you the truth, whatever you bind on earth will have been bound in heaven, and whatever you release on earth will have been released in heaven. 19 Again, I tell you the truth, if two of you on earth agree about whatever you ask, my Father in heaven will do it for you. 20 For where two or three are assembled in my name, I am there among them” (Matthew 18:15-20, emphasis mine).

1 It is actually reported that sexual immorality exists among you, the kind of immorality that is not permitted even among the Gentiles, so that someone is cohabiting with his father’s wife. 2 And you are proud! Shouldn’t you have been deeply sorrowful instead and removed the one who did this from among you? 3 For even though I am absent physically, I am present in spirit. And I have already judged the one who did this, just as though I were present. 4 When you gather together in the name of our Lord Jesus, and I am with you in spirit, along with the power of our Lord Jesus, 5 turn this man over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord (1 Corinthians 5:1-4, emphasis mine).

It is important to note that this is a professing believer who is willfully persisting in his sin, and that the discipline Paul exercises from a distance is severe. This man is being “turned over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh” (1 Corinthians 5:4). But even here the goal is that his spirit will be saved in the day of the Lord. My point here is that God always removes the sinning believer before they get to the end of sin’s path – eternal judgment.

The third chart represents the apostate. The apostate is one who seems to have joined the cause of Christ. He or she will appear to be among the elect, but has never really come to faith in Jesus. And then there is some crisis point at which the apostate realizes what true faith involves, and he or she denies Christ and His atoning work at Calvary.

Hebrews 3:14-15

14 For we have become partners with Christ, if in fact we hold our initial confidence firm until the end. 15 As it says, “Oh, that today you would listen as he speaks! Do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion.”

Here, the author says it in a plain and straightforward manner: True Christians are those who hold fast to their faith in the Lord Jesus. They never forsake their faith in Him for salvation. They may stumble and fall, but they do not cease to trust in the shed blood of Jesus as the only means of their salvation. And thus, those who appear to be drifting away from their faith and devotion to Jesus are urged not to become hard of heart, which leads to rebellion.

When the author cites the portion of Psalm 95 that urges his readers to listen as God speaks Today,” he underscores the fact that the Christian life is a day-by-day experience. We live out our faith a day at a time. And so the critical question for us is this: Am I listening to what God has to say to me through Christ today, and I am obedient to what He tells me? If not, I am on the path of sin which leads to death. God will not allow me to taste eternal judgment, but He will intercept me at various points and with various forms of discipline. It is simply not worth the price to drift away and to become hard hearted.

Hebrews 3:16-18

Three Questions

16 For which ones heard and rebelled? Was it not all who came out of Egypt under Moses’ leadership? 17 And against whom was God provoked for forty years? Was it not those who sinned, whose dead bodies fell in the wilderness? 18 And to whom did he swear they would never enter into his rest, except those who were disobedient? (Hebrews 3:16-18)

The author is not looking for information when he asks these three questions, because he gives us the answers. By asking and answering these questions, the author is seeking to call attention to the facts of the matter. First, those who heard and rebelled were those who came out of Egypt under the leadership of Moses. Moses was the one whom the Jews (including Jewish believers) revered, and yet those he led failed. This adds weight to the author’s earlier emphasis on the superiority of Christ to Moses.17 And those who had Moses as their leader not only heard what God spoke through Moses, they also saw the attesting miracles that God worked through Moses. This generation that failed had more revelation than any generation up to that point in history (and for many generations to come).

The second question and answer calls attention to the fact that those with whom God was angry for forty years were also those whose bodies were strewn throughout the desert. In other words, just as God kept His promises made through Moses (of deliverance for Israel, and of judgment upon the Egyptians), He also kept His word with regard to the consequences Israel must face for their persistent rebellion. God means what He says, and He keeps His word, for blessing and for discipline.

Third, those who failed to enter God’s promised rest were those who disobeyed. The Israelites continually rebelled against God’s commands. Disobedience to God’s commands is rebellion, and rebellion brings discipline.

Hebrews 3:19
Unbelief: The Root of it All

“So we see that they could not enter because of unbelief” (Hebrews 3:19).

Now we’ve come to the root of it all – unbelief. That generation of Israelites did not believe God, even though they saw example after example of how God kept His word through Moses. Again and again, God announced a coming plague, and each came as and when God said. Again and again, God announced that He would remove a plague. And each time it came about just as (and when) God said. The Israelites complained and rebelled when they were hungry or thirsty, even though God had promised to meet all their needs. And, in the end, the Israelites failed to believe that God would give them victory over the giants in the land. The root evil behind Israel’s failure to enter into God’s “rest” was unbelief.

Conclusion

It is interesting (perhaps even providential) that on this Labor Day weekend we would be studying a passage in Hebrews that deals with rest. Labor Day was declared a federal holiday in 1894. Originally, it was intended as a street parade to honor trade and labor organizations. Then later it became more general in scope, honoring the labor movement. Today, it may still do that, but for most folks it is a day off, a day that we don’t have to show up for work and perform our normal workday duties. It is a day to rest from our labors. The “rest” which Israel failed to enter was quite different. The exact nature of that rest will be the topic of our next lesson. But failure to enter into God’s “rest” is the result of unbelief. It was true for that first generation of Israelites, as well as for those in the days of the psalmist (Psalm 95). And so it is true today.

Even in the Old Testament, the issue is not man’s works, but man’s faith in God to work. That is what rest is about, resting in faith. It is not the absence of activity or work, but it is the absence of trust in one’s own abilities and strength. Our faith must be in God.

Just as that first generation heard God’s Word proclaimed and witnessed the attesting signs and wonders which accredited that Word, so the writer to the Hebrews claims that his audience has received God’s revelation – not through Moses, but through the Son. And that revelation was validated by the miracles, gifts, and signs that God performed through His apostles. So we must believe God’s Word and obey, rather than rebel against Him.

So what lessons are there for us to learn from our text? Allow me to suggest a few.

First, we have a lesson in hermeneutics – the interpretation of God’s Word. The author of Psalm 95 found in Israel’s wilderness wanderings lessons for those who lived centuries later, lessons in faith. The author of Hebrews then takes the lessons of Psalm 95 and applies them to his day and time. The key for us is to understand Hebrews so that we can grasp its application to this generation.

Second, we should observe from our text that the exhortations of Psalm 95 and Hebrews are the same and can be summed up in three messages:

1. Listen and pay careful attention to God’s Word (Psalm 95:7b; Hebrews 1:1-3; 2:1-4).

2. Don’t become hard hearted and disobedient due to unbelief (Psalm 95:7-11; Hebrews 3-4).

3. The consequence of unbelief is failure to enter into God’s “rest” (Psalm 95:11; Hebrews 3:11,18).

Third, we cannot conclude that failure to enter God’s “rest” is synonymous with failure to get to heaven.An entire generation of Israelites (minus Joshua and Caleb) failed to enter Canaan, and thus failed to enter God’s “rest.” Among those who failed to enter the land were Moses and Aaron, but we can be confident that they did go to heaven. The next generation, under Joshua, did enter the land, but we would be hard pressed to say that they were all going to heaven. Surely there were unbelievers among them. And in the psalmist’s day, he was still warning about failing to enter God’s “rest,” and yet his generation was in the land. Let us wait until our next lesson to clarify what “entering God’s rest” means.

Fourth, it does seem that the words of Psalm 95 and also those of Hebrews 3 and 4 had a unique application to that “first generation” of Jews to witness the greater “exodus” of Jesus in His incarnation, earthly ministry, death, and resurrection. These words must have given any surviving first generation witnesses of the coming of Christ something to ponder. Would these words in Hebrews not have been similar to the words of Paul and others as they preached to the Jews in their synagogues?

Fifth, we are our brother’s keeper. Verses 12 and 13 indicate that every believer has some responsibility for the spiritual well-being of his fellow believers. We are to gather together faithfully to encourage one another and to watch for signs of spiritual ill-health. I fear that many churches are not living up to their responsibilities with respect to caring for one another’s spiritual health. I suspect that in all too many churches, church discipline does not exist. It does exist in our church, but this text indicates that just exercising church discipline on willfully sinning saints (by profession, at least) is not enough.

We need to be much more proactive (exhortation) in our care for one another, rather than merely being reactive (discipline). We need to be faithful to gather for worship, exalting God for His greatness, recalling His acts of mercy and salvation. That is the kind of fuel which promotes faith. We need to be more aggressive in admonishing our brothers and sisters as we see spiritual dangers ahead. This is why we believe the gathering of the church each Sunday is so important. It provides us with the opportunity to encourage one another. And this is why we have a meeting where all of the men can speak and lead, because we need to be ministering to one another so that we enter into rest, rather than drifting toward rebellion and discipline. May God give us the grace to do better as we gather as a church.


1 Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the NET Bible. The NEW ENGLISH TRANSLATION, also known as THE NET BIBLE, is a completely new translation of the Bible, not a revision or an update of a previous English version. It was completed by more than twenty biblical scholars who worked directly from the best currently available Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek texts. The translation project originally started as an attempt to provide an electronic version of a modern translation for electronic distribution over the Internet and on CD (compact disk). Anyone anywhere in the world with an Internet connection will be able to use and print out the NET Bible without cost for personal study. In addition, anyone who wants to share the Bible with others can print unlimited copies and give them away free to others. It is available on the Internet at: www.netbible.org.

2 That is to say, all those who accept the gift of salvation and the assurance of eternal life (see John 1:12-13:3:16).

3 See Genesis 1:26-28.

4 Exodus 16:1-36.

5 It may also be worthy of noting that God does not say anything about Moses and Aaron entering the land. We know that they will not enter the land because of a sin that is yet future. But God knew it would take place. So is this why He is careful not to speak of Moses and Aaron entering the land? I’m inclined to think so.

6 Numbers 15:32-41.

7 “Within the first month of the 40th year after the Exodus the tribes arrived . . . at Kadesh (modern ‘Ain Qedeis) where Miriam died and was buried. Though there is no reference to events between the second year—the year when Israel was sentenced to wander for 40 years (14:34; cf. 10:11)—and the death of Miriam, it is certain that she died in the 40th year because the next dated event is the death of Aaron at Mount Hor (20:27-28), which occurred (33:38) ‘on the first day of the fifth month of the 40th year after the Israelites came out of Egypt.’ The ‘first month’ in 20:1 then must be understood in that context since the narrative of chapter 20 cannot accommodate anything much shorter or longer than three or four months. The reference to Kadesh does not mean that Israel arrived there for the first time, since they had already sent the spies out from there (12:16; 13:26). It means simply that they returned to Kadesh on this occasion.” Walvoord, J. F., Zuck, R. B., & Dallas Theological Seminary. (1983-c1985). The Bible Knowledge Commentary : An Exposition of the Scriptures (238). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.

8 Numbers 20:27-29.

9 Numbers 20:13.

10 Otherwise, how could we see him at the transfiguration of our Lord (Matthew 17:3)?

11 The Apostle Paul certainly agrees, as we can see from 2 Timothy 3:16-17.

12 This will be the focus of our next lesson.

13 In particular, I’m thinking of Hebrews 10:23-25.

14 This may not be word-for-word, but it is a fairly accurate quote taken from Dr. Johnson’s 1993 audio series on the Book of Hebrews: http://www.believerschapeldallas.org/a/Johnson/slj-31_Hebrews/12_SLJ_31_32K.m3u.

15 See also Romans 15:14; 1 Thessalonians 5:11, 14.

16 See 2 Samuel 12:1-15; Matthew 18:15-20; Galatians 2:11-21; 6:1-2.

17 Hebrews 3:1-6.


http://feeds.bible.org/deffinbaugh/hebrews/deff_hebrews_08.mp3
/assets/powerpoint/deff_hebrews_08.ppt
Ad Category: 
Passage: 
/assets/worddocs/deff_hebrews_08_sg.zip

9. Defining Rest (Hebrews 4:1-10)

1 Therefore we must be wary that, while the promise of entering his rest remains open, none of you may seem to have come short of it. 2 For we had good news proclaimed to us just as they did. But the message they heard did them no good, since they did not join in with those who heard it in faith. 3 For we who have believed enter that rest, as he has said, “As I swore in my anger, They will never enter my rest!’” And yet God’s works were accomplished from the foundation of the world. 4 For he has spoken somewhere about the seventh day in this way: “And God rested on the seventh day from all his works,” 5 but to repeat the text cited earlier: “They will never enter my rest!” 6 Therefore it remains for some to enter it, yet those to whom it was previously proclaimed did not enter because of disobedience. 7 So God again ordains a certain day, “Today,” speaking through David after so long a time, as in the words quoted before, “O, that today you would listen as he speaks! Do not harden your hearts.” 8 For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken afterward about another day. 9 Consequently a Sabbath rest remains for the people of God. 10 For the one who enters God’s rest has also rested from his works, just as God did from his own works (Hebrews 4:1-10).2

Introduction

When I was in college, I worked on the night maintenance crew. We cleaned the student union center from midnight Friday night to 8 a.m. Saturday morning. On one particular Friday night, one of the members of our work crew wasn’t to be found, so we decided to search the building to find him. It turned out that he had curled up under a piano and was getting his rest. This is not the kind of “rest” we will be talking about in this lesson. Sleeping on the job is not “rest.”

I fear there are some Christians who may be “sleeping on the job.” If so, this message will not provide any comfort for them. The “rest” we are talking about is not the kind that you find a couple of weeks in the summer, in a hammock, or in bed. Speaking of beds, have you noticed how often mattresses are advertised on T.V.? There are foam mattresses with a memory (probably better than mine) and a plethora of others. And then there are the sleeping pills that we “can ask our doctor about to see if they are right for us.”

We know that it is important for our bodies to get a proper night’s rest, and if we don’t, there are unpleasant consequences. But if physical rest is important to our physical well being, spiritual rest is even more important to our spiritual well being. In our last lesson, we saw how the author of Hebrews warned us about failure to enter God’s rest, due to unbelief, a hardened heart, and disobedience. We now know how we can fail to rest, but it isn’t entirely clear just what that “rest” is. I believe the first ten verses of Hebrews 4 will give us a much better definition of rest. That is the goal of this lesson.

Our Approach in this Lesson

We will begin this lesson with an overview of chapters 1-4. We will then return to last week’s lesson and the text of Hebrews 3:1-19, which is the basis for our text. Then we will concentrate on our text – the first ten verses of chapter 4. There are several terms on which the author builds his argument, so we will seek to define them, and then determine how these help us to understand what “rest” means for us. We will conclude with some areas of application.

Overview of Chapters 1-4

The Book of Hebrews begins with the declaration that while God has spoken in various ways through the Old Testament prophets, He has now spoken fully and finally in His Son (Hebrews 1:1-4). The Son is characterized by a seven-fold description (verses 1-4), which is then buttressed by citations from Old Testament texts (verses 5-14). The thread which unifies chapter 1 is that the Son is superior to the angels. Chapter 2 begins with an exhortation to pay even more careful attention to the revelation which has come through the Son. The remainder of the chapter deals with the results of the incarnation of the Second Person of the Trinity. To briefly summarize the benefits of the incarnation, it enabled the Son to die in the sinner’s place, paying the penalty for his sins, and restoring him (or her) to the glory and authority which God gave man at creation. Furthermore, it enabled Him to become a faithful and merciful high priest. His humiliation and exaltation is God’s provision for man’s redemption and restoration.

Chapters 3 and 4 will establish the superiority of the Son to Moses. The first six verses of chapter 3 set out the argument and provide three examples of the superiority of the Son. Verses 7-19 of chapter 3 continue to show the Son’s superiority to Moses, but in a more subtle way than verses 1-6. The author cites the last half of Psalm 95, in which the psalmist warns the people of his day, based on the failure of the Israelites to enter Canaan. The warning was against failing to enter God’s rest, due to unbelief, hardness of heart, and disobedience. The subtlety of the argument is that Moses did not lead the Israelites into Canaan; indeed, he and Aaron didn’t enter the land either. The author wants his readers to know that there is still a rest available to us, but there is likewise a danger of failing to enter this rest, for the same reasons that earlier generations failed.

We have seen indications of more than one “rest” in chapter 3. There is the “rest” of entering the land of Canaan, which the first generation of Israelites failed to attain. Then there is the “rest” which is available for the readers of Psalm 95. This must be a different rest because the readers are now dwelling in the Promised Land, and “rest” is still being offered. There is also “God’s rest,” which will be more fully explained in chapter 4. And so as we come to chapter 4, we find that it is tightly related to chapter 3. In chapter 4, the author will cite fragments of his quotation from Psalm 95 in chapter 3. It is these repeated words and phrases which provide us with the key to understanding the author’s meaning of “rest.” Chapter 4 will conclude with an exhortation to strive to enter “God’s rest,” with an emphasis on the Word of God (verses 12-13) and on the high priestly ministry of our Savior (verses 14-16).

Tracing the Argument of Chapters 3 and 4

There are two keys to understanding the argument of chapters 3 and 4. The first is the superiority of the Son – Jesus Christ – to Moses. This is introduced in 3:1-6. The second is the superiority of the rest which Jesus has achieved to the “rest” which Israel, under the leadership of Moses, did not attain (indeed, a rest to which Moses himself did not attain). This superior rest is the focus of verses 7-19. A few observations of these verses will prove helpful when we come to our text in chapter 4.

First, verses 7-19 continue the theme of the superiority of Christ to Moses. We can see from the incidents underlying Psalm 95 that neither the first generation of Israelites nor Moses himself entered into the rest God had for them.

Second, these verses address the danger of falling back into Judaism. If the danger facing the Hebrews was drifting from Christ and the New Covenant and falling back into Judaism and the Old Covenant, then verses 7-19 deal with this issue. Consider verse 8:

“Do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion, in the day of testing in the wilderness” (Hebrews 3:8, NET Bible, emphasis mine).

“Do not harden your hearts as when they provoked Me, As in the day of trial in the wilderness” (Hebrews 3:8, NASB95, emphasis mine).

“Do not harden your hearts as you did in the rebellion, during the time of testing in the desert” (Hebrews 3:8, NIV, emphasis mine).

The NET Bible provides us with the most literal translation of verse 8. One could thus read it with two slightly different meanings. Either the readers are warned not to sin as those in the past sinned in the day of testing, or, the readers are warned not to sin as they did in the day of testing. The first understanding is reflected by the translation of the NASB; the second by the translation of the NIV. The NET Bible remains somewhat neutral by rendering the verse literally, allowing the reader to go either way.

What difference does it make? Well, the warning certainly becomes more personal with the rendering of the NIV. But how can one be guilty of the sins of a bygone generation? Consider these verses:

34 “For this reason I am sending you prophets and wise men and experts in the law, some of whom you will kill and crucify, and some you will flog in your synagogues and pursue from town to town, 35 so that on you will come all the righteous blood shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah son of Barachiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar” (Matthew 23:34-35, emphasis mine).

51 “You stubborn people, with uncircumcised hearts and ears! You are always resisting the Holy Spirit, like your ancestors did! 52 Which of the prophets did your ancestors not persecute? They killed those who foretold long ago the coming of the Righteous One, whose betrayers and murderers you have now become! 53 You received the law by decrees given by angels, but you did not obey it” (Acts 7:51-53, emphasis mine).

Do you notice how both Jesus and Stephen linked the guilt of those in previous generations with the guilt of a later generation? In both instances above, the audience that was being condemned was Jewish. These folks rejected Jesus and chose to identify themselves with the Jews and the Judaism of a bygone day. They identified themselves with the old by clinging to it, while rejecting the new. They also identified with the older generation by repeating their sins. And so it is that they became guilty of those sins, partners with that unbelieving and hard-hearted generation in their sin.

Is the author of Hebrews saying this as well? Is he saying that those who are tempted to fall back into Judaism will also fall back into the sins of the past? If so, this is a strong argument against doing so. Let the readers take note of what it means to identify with the rebels of the past, rather than with the Redeemer.

Third,we should note that the entire first generation3 of Israelites failed to enter their rest (verse 16). If an entire generation failed, then the warning based upon their experience carries more weight. Have you listened to the commercials for prescription drugs lately? After urging us to ask our doctor about the usefulness of a certain medication, they go on to list all of the possible side effects. Why don’t these side effects scare us to death? Because we assume that they are few and far between. If only 5% of those who take a pill have their hair fall out, then I conclude that it probably won’t happen to me, especially if the pill will fulfill all the promises that are made concerning its benefits. But when 99.9999% of that generation failed, then the danger must be great indeed.

Fourth, this generation failed for forty years. Israel’s unbelief and disobedience was a persistent practice. It was the rule, and not the exception.

Fifth, the Israelites failed under Moses’ leadership, after hearing God speak to (and through) Moses, and after seeing many miracles in confirmation of Moses’ authority.

Sixth, God was angry with this generation, and this resulted in their death in the wilderness (which is exactly what they asked for – Numbers 14:2), and thus their failure to enter into rest.

Seventh, the offer of “rest” remains till “today.”

Eighth, the danger of failing to enter rest also remains till “today.”

Ninth, the fundamental problem is that of “unbelief.”

The Keys to Understanding Our Text

There are several “keys” to understanding our text. The first is those “key terms,” which are found in Psalm 95 and to which our author repeatedly refers. We will look more carefully at these terms in a moment. The second is to understand how the psalmist connected the dots – how he understood and applied Israel’s failure to enter into rest to his own day. We should learn how to interpret and apply Scripture from the Scriptures. What better way to understand our text than to grasp how the psalmist came to his interpretation and application. The third key is to understand how our author interpreted and applied the lessons of Psalm 95 to his day. Surely his method of interpreting and applying Scripture is instructive to us as to how we should understand and apply Hebrews 3 and 4 today.

Key Terms

“Today”

Therefore, as the Holy Spirit says, “Oh, that today you would listen as he speaks!(Hebrews 3:7, citing Psalm 95:7b)

But exhort one another each day, as long as it is called “Today,” that none of you may become hardened by sin’s deception (Hebrews 3:13).

As it says, “Oh, that today you would listen as he speaks!Do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion” (Hebrews 3:15, referring to Psalm 95:7b).

So God again ordains a certain day, “Today,” speaking through David after so long a time, as in the words quoted before, “O, that today you would listen as he speaks! Do not harden your hearts” (Hebrews 4:7, referring once again to Psalm 95:7b).

When the author of Psalm 95 said, “today,” he was somehow keeping the offer made to the first generation current. Whatever was “today” in Psalm 95 is still “today” today.

When the writer to the Hebrews cites from Psalm 95:7, he calls attention to the word “today.” He makes the point that while the “rest” that the first generation of Israelites failed to enter was dwelling in peace in the Promised Land, there was still a “rest” being offered in Psalm 95. It was still “today.” Thus, for the psalmist, the offer of rest remains, as does the danger of failing to enter into it. And when the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews uses Psalm 95, he does so in a way that makes it clear that there is still an offer of rest, and that it will be embraced and experienced or lost.

“Today” thus calls attention to at least of couple of applications. First, there is an urgency regarding the offer of rest. It must be seized while it is today, for a “tomorrow” is coming when it will be too late, just as there was for the ancient Israelites. Second, rest appears to be a day-by-day, “one day at a time” experience. It is not something that we believe for the moment, but rather something we believe and lay hold of day after day.

God’s Word

God’s Word is a key ingredient in the Book of Hebrews (as we will point out in our next lesson), although it is referred to by means of several different expressions. In addition to being called “the Word of God,” (4:12), it is sometimes referred to as “what God has spoken” (1:1-3), “what we have heard” (2:1), or “good news” (4:2). It is even referred to as “so great a salvation” (2:3) and as “God’s voice” (3:7).

God’s Word is the Father’s full and final revelation through the Son, the crowning conclusion to previous revelations through the prophets (1:1-4). It is the message of salvation to which we are exhorted to give much more careful attention (2:1-4). Israel’s unbelief and disobedience was in spite of God’s Word revealed to and through Moses, which was confirmed by the many miracles associated with the exodus from Egypt (3:7-19). Belief in God’s Word is the key to “rest” (4:3), just as “unbelief” is the reason why men fail to enter into God’s rest (3:19). While the “good news” that the ancient Israelites received was not the full-blown gospel that we have heard, it was nevertheless good news that did them no good because they failed to believe it and act upon it.

Faith

Faith is also known as belief, just as the absence of faith is unbelief. Faith is a key concept in the Book of Hebrews, as will be dramatically evident when we get to chapter 11. It is an evil heart of unbelief that falls away from the living God (3:12, see also verse 19), while those who enter God’s rest do so by faith (4:3). Unbelief leads to a hardened heart, which leads to rebellion and divine discipline.

Community

Community is not a term that is found in our text, or even in the Book of Hebrews. But it is a concept which is emphasized as vitally important to the believer. It is very possible that the concept of “community” is referred to in verse 2 of chapter 4:

For we had good news proclaimed to us just as they did. But the message they heard did them no good, since they did not join in with those who heard it in faith4 (Hebrews 4:2, NET Bible; emphasis mine).

For we also have received the good news just as they did; but the message they heard did not benefit them, since they were not united with those who heard it in faith (CSB, emphasis mine).

For good news came to us just as to them, but the message they heard did not benefit them, because they were not united by faith with those who listened (ESV, emphasis mine).

Other translations render this verse differently:

For indeed we have had good news preached to us, just as they also; but the word they heard did not profit them, because it was not united by faith in those who heard (NASB, emphasis mine).

For indeed the gospel was preached to us as well as to them; but the word which they heard did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in those who heard it (NKJV, emphasis mine).

So we have two ways of understanding this verse, due to a measure of ambiguity in the Greek text. (1) The good news did not do some any good because they did not identify themselves with people of faith. Or, (2) The good news did not do some any good because they did not personally embrace it by faith. Perhaps the ambiguity is deliberate, so that both meanings apply.

It is pretty clear that the Word does us little good if we refuse to believe it. But the writer to the Hebrews also wants us to realize that our faith and Christian walk is not a solo proposition but a choir event. When we come to faith in Christ, we are joined with Christ and with other believers (see 1 Corinthians 12:12-14; Ephesians 2:11-22; 1 Peter 2:4-5, 9-10). This is why the author can employ Psalm 95, a psalm which summons the community of faith to worship. This is also why he expects the saints to gather regularly to encourage one another and to watch for those who are drifting:

12 See to it, brothers and sisters, that none of you has an evil, unbelieving heart that forsakes the living God. 13 But exhort one another each day, as long as it is called “Today,” that none of you may become hardened by sin’s deception (Hebrews 3:12-13).

23 And let us hold unwaveringly to the hope that we confess, for the one who made the promise is trustworthy. 24 And let us take thought of how to spur one another on to love and good works, 25 not abandoning our own meetings, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging each other, and even more so because you see the day drawing near (Hebrews 10:23-25).

Rest

There are several kinds of rest referred to in Hebrews. The first rest mentioned is the “rest” the first generation of Israelites failed to enter, namely entrance into the Promised Land and rest from its enemies (Hebrews 3:11). Then there was the “rest” to which the psalmist referred in Psalm 95 that was available in his time (“today”). And there is the “rest” which was available to those whom the author of Hebrews was writing in his day:

Therefore we must be wary that, while the promise of entering his rest remains open, none of you may seem to have come short of it (Hebrews 4:1, emphasis mine).

That rest was not merely the rest of possessing the Promised Land, but a great rest, a “sabbath rest.” The source of this rest is God, who after having completed the work of creation, rested on the seventh day. This rest is the rest from our labors. It is the “rest” which is the key to the rest which is available to us today.

There is still a “rest” that is available to us “today.” I would understand this to have present and future dimensions, just as salvation has. There is surely a “salvation rest,” a resting from our works in an effort to earn God’s favor, when we come to faith in the finished work of the Lord Jesus on the cross of Calvary. And there is the eternal rest which all Christians will experience. But there must also be what we might call a “sanctification rest,” a rest from striving as Christians in the power of the flesh, in a futile effort to attain godliness. I believe that we see this in Romans 7 and 8. Chapter 7 is the description of a Christian trying to live up to God’s standards in the power of the flesh, and failing badly. Chapter 8 is the solution. The Christian is to live in the power of the Holy Spirit, the same Spirit that raised the dead body of Jesus from the grave. By the working of His Spirit in us, we are able, to some degree, to live a godly life (see Romans 8:1-17). This is resting in Him, or we might even say, abiding in Him (see John 15:1-14). This is the key to fruitfulness.

The Argument of Hebrews 4:1-10

So, having reviewed the argument of Hebrews 1-4, and having noted the terms and concepts foundational to this argument, let us briefly trace the author’s argument in the first ten verses of chapter 4.

The ancient Israelites, along with those who lived in the days of the psalmist, had the promise of rest, a rest which could only be attained by faith. Because the first generation of Israelites failed so badly to enter God’s rest – in spite of the extent of revelation from God, and miracles to confirm it – we should have a keen sense of our own fallibility, and thus the danger of a failure in our faith and walk (4:1).

We are not that different from those ancient Israelites. Just as they received the good news of a promise of entering the land of Canaan, so we have received an even greater revelation of good news, the good news of salvation by faith in the person and work of Jesus Christ. Just as the “good news” the ancient Israelites received did them no good because of their lack of faith, so our “good news” is only profitable through faith. It requires not only initial faith on our part, but on-going faith. This kind of faith is encouraged and stimulated by our association with others who share the same faith (4:2).

The “rest” into which we enter is God’s rest, God’s Sabbath rest, such as we find in Genesis 2:2 – the rest God entered after He had finished His work of creation. It is this rest into which the ancient Israelites failed to enter, for “My rest” is God’s rest, God’s Sabbath rest. This is the rest some failed to enter, but which remains available to us today, a rest received by faith (4:3-6).

Just as the psalmist could seize upon the term “today” and apply it to his readers, so God has fixed a “today” for us, the same “today” as was offered in the psalms. And so we need to believe God and enter this rest, rather than to refuse to believe and fail to enter, as did the ancient Israelites. This “rest” must be more than merely entering Canaan because Joshua did lead the second generation of Israelites into the Promised Land, and yet many years later the psalmist spoke of a rest that was still available, a greater rest. And that rest was God’s “Sabbath rest,” a rest still available, a rest of ceasing from futile works in an effort to earn God’s favor. The one who has entered God’s rest has set aside striving in the flesh, and has trusted in the work God has finished, in Christ (4:7-10).

Conclusion

When I think of the Old Testament law, with all of its requirements and stipulations, it makes me tired. How could one ever please God by the works of the law? No one ever could, for the purpose of the law was not to provide men with a list of works by which one could be saved. The purpose of the law was to demonstrate to men that they could never save themselves, but must be saved some other way. And that way was the promised Messiah, Jesus the Christ:

19 Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world may be held accountable to God. 20 For no one is declared righteous before him by the works of the law, for through the law comes the knowledge of sin. 21 But now apart from the law the righteousness of God (which is attested by the law and the prophets) has been disclosed – 22 namely, the righteousness of God through the faithfulness of Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction, 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. 24 But they are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. 25 God publicly displayed him at his death as the mercy seat accessible through faith. This was to demonstrate his righteousness, because God in his forbearance had passed over the sins previously committed. 26 This was also to demonstrate his righteousness in the present time, so that he would be just and the justifier of the one who lives because of Jesus’ faithfulness (Romans 3:19-26).

4 But “when the kindness of God our Savior and his love for mankind appeared, 5 he saved us not by works of righteousness that we have done but on the basis of his mercy, through the washing of the new birth and the renewing of the Holy Spirit, 6 whom he poured out on us in full measure through Jesus Christ our Savior. 7 And so, since we have been justified by his grace, we become heirs with the confident expectation of eternal life” (Titus 3:4-7).

8 For by grace you are saved through faith, and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God; 9 it is not from works, so that no one can boast (Ephesians 2:8-9).

This is why our Lord could say,

28 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke on you and learn from me, because I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy to bear, and my load is not hard to carry” (Matthew 11:28-30).

How different this was from what the Jewish religious leaders did:

1 Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, 2 “The experts in the law and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat. 3 Therefore pay attention to what they tell you and do it. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they teach. 4 They tie up heavy loads, hard to carry, and put them on men’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing even to lift a finger to move them” (Matthew 23:1-4).

The concept of rest is such a beautiful thing to one who is weary of striving to please God in his (or her) own strength. To trust in Jesus is to cease from one’s own labors, one’s own efforts, and receive the fruit of the work which Jesus did on the cross of Calvary. For a Hebrew Christian to entertain thoughts of retreating back to Judaism, of going back under the law, was to set aside rest for fruitless works.

Have you entered that “rest,” my friend? Have you experienced the rest which only Christ can give? Have you ceased from fruitless efforts to win God’s favor? If not, I urge you to do so “today” by acknowledging your sin and your inability to please God. And then simply trust in the only provision God has made for sinners to be forgiven and to enter into His rest. Trust in Jesus.

My Christian friend, are you resting in what Christ has done for you? Or are you striving in the power of your own flesh to please God, just as Paul describes in Romans 7:

15 For I don’t understand what I am doing. For I do not do what I want – instead, I do what I hate. 16 But if I do what I don’t want, I agree that the law is good. 17 But now it is no longer me doing it, but sin that lives in me. 18 For I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my flesh. For I want to do the good, but I cannot do it. 19 For I do not do the good I want, but I do the very evil I do not want! 20 Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer me doing it but sin that lives in me. 21 So, I find the law that when I want to do good, evil is present with me. 22 For I delight in the law of God in my inner being. 23 But I see a different law in my members waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that is in my members. 24 Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? (Romans 7:15-24)

Praise God the answer immediately follows:

25 Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin. 1 There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. 2 For the law of the life-giving Spirit in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and death. 3 For God achieved what the law could not do because it was weakened through the flesh. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and concerning sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, 4 so that the righteous requirement of the law may be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. 5 For those who live according to the flesh have their outlook shaped by the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit have their outlook shaped by the things of the Spirit. 6 For the outlook of the flesh is death, but the outlook of the Spirit is life and peace, 7 because the outlook of the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to the law of God, nor is it able to do so. 8 Those who are in the flesh cannot please God. 9 You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God lives in you. Now if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, this person does not belong to him. 10 But if Christ is in you, your body is dead because of sin, but the Spirit is your life because of righteousness. 11 Moreover if the Spirit of the one who raised Jesus from the dead lives in you, the one who raised Christ from the dead will also make your mortal bodies alive through his Spirit who lives in you (Romans 7:25-8:11).

For the Christian, there is not only the rest of salvation, but the day-to-day rest of dependence upon God for living the Christian life. There are many things which can interfere with our “resting” in Christ. As I write this message (a little while after having preached it), the stock market has taken a serious downward turn. Do I lose my rest because of this? Do I worry and fret about the future, or do I rest in God’s promises:

25 “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Isn’t there more to life than food and more to the body than clothing? 26 Look at the birds in the sky: They do not sow, or reap, or gather into barns, yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Aren’t you more valuable than they are? 27 And which of you by worrying can add even one hour to his life? 28 Why do you worry about clothing? Think about how the flowers of the field grow; they do not work or spin. 29 Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his glory was clothed like one of these! 30 And if this is how God clothes the wild grass, which is here today and tomorrow is tossed into the fire to heat the oven, won’t he clothe you even more, you people of little faith? 31 So then, don’t worry saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ 32 For the unconverted pursue these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 But above all pursue his kingdom and righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matthew 6:25-33).

Your conduct must be free from the love of money and you must be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you and I will never abandon you” (Hebrews 13:5).

Persecution is on the rise, not only in distant places, but in our own country. Are you resting in our Lord’s promises, or are you filled with doubts and worries? We need to believe in God’s Word:

10 “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to them. 11 “Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you and say all kinds of evil things about you falsely on account of me. 12 Rejoice and be glad because your reward is great in heaven, for they persecuted the prophets before you in the same way. 13 “You are the salt of the earth. But if salt loses its flavor, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled on by people. 14 You are the light of the world. A city located on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 People do not light a lamp and put it under a basket but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before people, so that they can see your good deeds and give honor to your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:10-16).

32 But remember the former days when you endured a harsh conflict of suffering after you were enlightened. 33 At times you were publicly exposed to abuse and afflictions, and at other times you came to share with others who were treated in that way. 34 For in fact you shared the sufferings of those in prison, and you accepted the confiscation of your belongings with joy, because you knew that you certainly had a better and lasting possession. 35 So do not throw away your confidence, because it has great reward. 36 For you need endurance in order to do God’s will and so receive what is promised. 37 For just a little longer and he who is coming will arrive and not delay. 38 But my righteous one will live by faith, and if he shrinks back, Itake no pleasure in him. 39 But we are not among those who shrink back and thus perish, but are among those who have faith and preserve their souls (Hebrews 10:32-39).

National elections are coming soon, and many are concerned (downright worried) about the outcome. We can and should rest in the knowledge that it is God who raises up kings and who puts them down. It is He who holds the heart of the king in His hands:

The king’s heart is in the hand of the Lord like channels of water;

he turns it wherever he wants (Proverbs 21:1).

We can forsake our rest because of worries about our families and even about our ministries. These are areas in which God desires to lead us to rest, rather than leave us to trust in futile works of the flesh. Let us rest in Him, who has done all the work for our salvation and sanctification, and who promises to lead us to eternal rest.


1 Copyright © 2008 by Robert L. Deffinbaugh. This is the edited manuscript of Lesson 9 in the series, Near to the Heart of God – A Study of the Book of Hebrews, prepared by Robert L. Deffinbaugh on September 7, 2008. Anyone is at liberty to use this lesson for educational purposes only, with or without credit.

2 Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the NET Bible. The NEW ENGLISH TRANSLATION, also known as THE NET BIBLE, is a completely new translation of the Bible, not a revision or an update of a previous English version. It was completed by more than twenty biblical scholars who worked directly from the best currently available Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek texts. The translation project originally started as an attempt to provide an electronic version of a modern translation for electronic distribution over the Internet and on CD (compact disk). Anyone anywhere in the world with an Internet connection will be able to use and print out the NET Bible without cost for personal study. In addition, anyone who wants to share the Bible with others can print unlimited copies and give them away free to others. It is available on the Internet at: www.netbible.org.

3 With the exception of Joshua and Caleb.

4 It is interesting to recall how those who rebelled against God identified themselves with rebel leadership, while those who were faithful identified themselves with Moses and those who remained faithful to God. I am thinking here of the rebellion of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram in Numbers 16:1-35.


http://feeds.bible.org/deffinbaugh/hebrews/deff_hebrews_09.mp3
/assets/powerpoint/deff_hebrews_09.ppt
Ad Category: 
Biblical Topics: 
/assets/worddocs/deff_hebrews_09_sg.zip

10. Striving to Rest (Hebrews 4:11-16)

11 Thus we must make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by following the same pattern of disobedience. 12 For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any double-edged sword, piercing even to the point of dividing soul from spirit, and joints from marrow; it is able to judge the desires and thoughts of the heart. 13 And no creature is hidden from God, but everything is naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must render an account. 14 Therefore since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast to our confession. 15 For we do not have a high priest incapable of sympathizing with our weaknesses, but one who has been tempted in every way just as we are, yet without sin. 16 Therefore let us confidently approach the throne of grace to receive mercy and find grace whenever we need help.1

Introduction

As usual, God tends to give me quizzes that pertain to sermons I am preparing to preach (or ones that I have recently delivered). In my last message, I concluded with some practical areas in which Christians might find an occasion to experience rest, areas like ministry and family and politics and money. Well, my test came mid-week. I was working away at my computer when it crashed. That has not happened for a long time, and consequently I had become a little sloppy with regard to precautions like backing up my files. The entire system went down, leaving me without my calendar, my contacts (address book, etc.), and my notes thus far on the coming week’s sermon.

In days gone by, I would have secretly delighted, because these are occasions when an upgrade would be necessary. But I did not rejoice this time. Having been down this trail before, I knew what was ahead. It would take both time and money that I could not spare. I agonized for a while, and then it occurred to me that I was not “resting” in the midst of my circumstances. I asked God to help me in my time of need. Then I went to the computer store and purchased the needed components. When I got home, I determined to start with the least expensive part first, just to see if it would solve my problem. If not, I would move forward until, if necessary, I would build a new computer, with all the expense and troubles that would bring.

The first component was a video card. I had some unconfirmed suspicions that this could be the culprit. As it turned out, it was. And here’s the best part. When I get the factory rebate back, the part will cost me nothing, and the time spent in making the repair was just a few minutes. God was gracious to me in my time of need. I should have rested the whole time. Perhaps you have had some similar experience.2

Where We Are in Our Study

For several lessons, we gave our attention to the first two chapters of Hebrews, where we saw through various means that Jesus is vastly superior to the angels. And thus the revelation that we have received through Jesus – God’s final and full revelation – is one that we should heed more carefully (2:1-4).

When we arrived at Hebrews 3, we found that the Lord Jesus is also superior to Moses (3:1-6). Two lessons ago, we studied Hebrews 3:7-19, where the author builds his exhortation on the last half of Psalm 95, a psalm which exhorts the Israelites of that time to gather for worship and mutual encouragement, and thus to stimulate faith and perseverance. In our last lesson, we sought to define “rest” more precisely through our study of Hebrews 4:1-10. In this lesson, we come to the author’s concluding exhortation, before he turns the focus toward the high priestly ministry of our Lord Jesus.

Our goal in this lesson will be to focus on the theme of the Word of God in the early chapters of Hebrews. We will trace the argument of the author in relation to the Word of God through chapters 1-5. This will give us a better grasp of how Hebrews 4:12-13 fits into the context of the author’s argument. In all of the messages on Hebrews 4:12-13 that I have heard or read, few of them have dealt with these two verses in the light of their context. That is what I will endeavor to do in this lesson.

The Word of God in Hebrews 1-5

Chapter 1

In chapter 1, we find that the introduction to the Book of Hebrews consists of the author’s declaration that while God has revealed His Word in various ways and at various times through the prophets of old, He has now revealed His Word fully and finally through His Son, who is greater than the angels (1:1-4). In these opening verses, the author gives us seven descriptive statements about the Son, which (among other things) make it clear that He is fully divine. He is the Sustainer of the cosmos. He is the perfect reflection of the Father’s nature and glory. And having accomplished redemption for lost sinners, He is now raised from the dead and seated at the right hand of the Father in heaven. The author now buttresses these seven descriptive statements with seven Scripture quotations from the Old Testament, which further demonstrate the supremacy of the Son.3

I like to title chapter 1, “Look Who is Speaking,” because these verses reveal that the One speaking is King of Kings and Lord of Lords. Wives know what I’m talking about. A wife talks to her husband at the breakfast table, largely concealed behind the newspaper. He grunts occasionally when he knows a response is expected, but when it is all over, his wife knows that he has not been paying close attention to what she said. Now if her husband were talking to a fishing buddy, or to the President, he would not miss a word. We pay close attention to those we regard most highly. (Which means husbands should be listening carefully to their wives but we, too, can get “dull of hearing.”)

Chapter 2

Chapter 1 began with an emphasis on the Word of God, as revealed through the Son. He then showed that the Old Testament Scriptures spoke of the Son in the same way. And so as chapter 1 was all about Scripture, so chapter 2 begins with an exhortation to pay more careful attention4 to the revelation which has come through Jesus. His Word is the message of salvation. The apostles reported what Jesus said and taught, and their inspired writings were authenticated by the many miracles which God produced through the Word. We see many of these recorded in the Book of Acts.

In verses 5-14, the author pursues a theme that we find in the Gospel of John:

Now the Word became flesh and took up residence among us. We saw his glory – the glory of the one and only, full of grace and truth, who came from the Father (John 1:14).

He who is “higher than the angels” (chapter 1) for a little while became “lower than the angels” by adding sinless humanity to His undiminished deity (chapter 2). This is known as our Lord’s incarnation. Verses 5-14 describe some of the fruits of our Lord’s incarnation. By taking on our humanity, our Lord qualified Himself to atone for our sins and to be our high priest. His incarnation enabled Him to graft us into Abraham’s blessings and to become a part of His family. Through His incarnation, He became for us a merciful and faithful High Priest.

Chapter 3

That chapter 3 should begin with a section that demonstrates the superiority of the Son to Moses comes as no surprise. If Jesus is greater than the angels (chapters 1 and 2), then He is surely greater than Moses (3:1-6). The devoted followers of Moses could not claim the statements of 1:2-4 for their leader, nor could they apply the seven Old Testament Scripture citations to him (1:5-14). And they most certainly could not claim that he came down from heaven and achieved the accomplishments of 2:5-18. And so we are told that the Son is superior to Moses (3:1-6) by being the builder of the house, rather than the house, by being over His house, rather than merely being in God’s house, and by being a faithful Son, rather than merely a faithful servant.

While Moses was faithful, like Jesus (3:1-2), the generation of Israelites that he led were not faithful. Indeed, that first generation of Israelites failed to enter into God’s rest because of their unbelief, hardness of heart, and rebellion. But their experience in the wilderness did have some lessons for others to learn, some of which the psalmist spelled out in Psalm 95. Psalm 95 should be a warning to every believer that we are prone to wander, prone to drift. In spite of having God’s Word confirmed to them, they refused to believe and rebelled against Moses, and even against God. We need to be aware of the dangers that face us, the same kind of dangers that resulted in Israel’s failure.

God spoke to Israel through Moses and testified to his authority by the many miracles He performed at his hand. And yet the people of Israel did not believe, but rebelled. If their rebellion kept them from entering into rest, how much more serious was rebellion against God’s revelation in Christ? After all, we should pay much closer attention to His Word because it too has been shown to be given with divine power and authority (2:1-4). The writer wants his readers to know that this same danger of unbelief and rebellion exists today and must be taken seriously. There is great danger in hearing God’s Word, seeing it authenticated, and then refusing to believe it and act upon it.

Chapter 4

Warnings continue in chapter 4, reminding us of the danger of not entering into rest because we have not believed in the Word which we have received:

1 Therefore we must be wary that, while the promise of entering his rest remains open, none of you may seem to have come short of it. 2 For we had good news proclaimed to us just as they did. But the message they heard did them no good, since they did not join in with those who heard it in faith (Hebrews 4:1-2).

The “good news” that the ancient Israelites received was not the “gospel” that one would read in the Book of Acts, but it was good news – the promise of “rest” for those who trusted in God’s Word. This “rest” was not the same as the “rest” which God swore the Israelites would not enter. The rest which is offered to us “today” is not the “rest” which the Israelites experienced when they entered the land, led by Joshua. It is a Sabbath kind of rest, like the rest which God took when He had completed creating the world (Genesis 2:2). That kind of rest is a rest from one’s works. The Sabbath was a day of rest, based upon the completion of God’s work. And so our rest is a rest based upon the completion of Christ’s work of redemption, a rest for everyone who believes in Him. We rest from striving to please God in our own strength, and rely upon the work which He has done (at Calvary) and which He continues to do (as our High Priest) for us.

Chapter 5

I know that we are getting ahead of ourselves here, but let’s take just a quick look at chapter 5 to see how the author continues to emphasize the importance of the Word of God.

11 On this topic [of Melchizedek] we have much to say and it is difficult to explain, since you have become sluggish in hearing. 12 For though you should in fact be teachers by this time, you need someone to teach you the beginning elements of God’s utterances. You have gone back to needing milk, not solid food. 13 For everyone who lives on milk is inexperienced in the message of righteousness, because he is an infant. 14 But solid food is for the mature, whose perceptions are trained by practice to discern both good and evil (Hebrews 5:11-14).

The author wants to speak of “meatier” matters, but his readers are hardly up to it. They cannot follow deeper teaching because they are accustomed to “milk.” The problem is that while they have heard the Word taught, they have been short on putting it into practice. The mature can handle “solid food” because they have gained maturity by putting the truth into practice, thus being able to discern what is good and what is evil. No wonder the author feels the need to underscore the importance of God’s Word (chapter 1) and to exhort the readers to pay more careful attention to it (2:1-4). No wonder he goes to great lengths to warn and exhort us from the example of the ancient Israelites and from the instruction of Psalm 95! Failure to heed the Word has dire consequences.

Examining our Text
Hebrews 4:11-16

11 Thus we must make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by following the same pattern of disobedience.

12 For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any double-edged sword, piercing even to the point of dividing soul from spirit, and joints from marrow; it is able to judge the desires and thoughts of the heart. 13 And no creature is hidden from God, but everything is naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must render an account.

14 Therefore since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast to our confession. 15 For we do not have a high priest incapable of sympathizing with our weaknesses, but one who has been tempted in every way just as we are, yet without sin. 16 Therefore let us confidently approach the throne of grace to receive mercy and find grace whenever we need help (Hebrews 4:11-16, emphasis mine).

These verses are our author’s concluding exhortation, the application of his teaching regarding rest. We see that there are three exhortations, introduced by the words, “let us.”5 We are thus exhorted to …

  • Strive to enter God’s rest (verses 11-13)
  • Hold fast to our confession (verses 14-15)
  • Confidently approach the throne of grace (verse 16)

Let’s consider each of these exhortations.

“Strive to enter God’s rest.”
Hebrews 4:11-13

11 Thus [Therefore] we must make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by following the same pattern of disobedience (emphasis mine).

12 For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any double-edged sword, piercing even to the point of dividing soul from spirit, and joints from marrow; it is able to judge the desires and thoughts of the heart. 13 And no creature is hidden from God, but everything is naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must render an account.

Why must we “make every effort to enter that rest” when we have just been told, “For the one who enters God'srest has also rested from his works, just as God did from his own works” (verse 10)? I think there are several dimensions to the answer.

First and foremost, our “work” is to believe in Jesus Christ.

28 So then they said to him, “What must we do to accomplish the deeds [works] God requires?” 29 Jesus replied, “This is the deed [work]6 God requires – to believe in the one whom he sent” (John 6:28-29).

Second, good works are the anticipated result of faith in Jesus Christ for salvation (and that faith is a gift of God, not the result of our works).I’ll say it differently. Faith is not the result of our works; works is the result of the faith God gives us:

8 For by grace you are saved through faith, and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God; 9 it is not from works, so that no one can boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, having been created in Christ Jesus for good works that God prepared beforehand so we may do them (Ephesians 2:8-10).

Third, our rest comes when our work is complete. God rested after He had finished His work of creation. Rest is not the absence of any work, but the rest that comes after our work is done.

7 I have competed well; I have finished the race; I have kept the faith! 8 Finally the crown of righteousness is reserved for me. The Lord, the righteous Judge, will award it to me in that day – and not to me only, but also to all who have set their affection on his appearing (2 Timothy 4:7-8).

Fourth, we are to cease from our works, not to cease from all work. We are to cease from our labors in the power of the flesh, for they will never please God. Instead, we are to “work out our salvation” in the power which He provides.

I pray that according to the wealth of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in the inner person (Ephesians 3:16).

12 So then, my dear friends, just as you have always obeyed, not only in my presence but even more in my absence, continue working out your salvation with awe and reverence, 13 for the one bringing forth in you both the desire and the effort – for the sake of his good pleasure – is God (Philippians 2:12-13).

I am able to do all things through the one who strengthens me (Philippians 4:13).

9 For this reason we also, from the day we heard about you, have not ceased praying for you and asking God to fill you with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, 10 so that you may live worthily of the Lord and please him in all respects – bearing fruit in every good deed, growing in the knowledge of God, 11 being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might for the display of all patience and steadfastness, joyfully 12 giving thanks to the Father who has qualified you to share in the saints’ inheritance in the light (Colossians 1:9-12).

16 Now may our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and by grace gave us eternal comfort and good hope, 17 encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good thing you do or say (2 Thessalonians 2:16-17).

16 At my first defense no one appeared in my support; instead they all deserted me – may they not be held accountable for it. 17 But the Lord stood by me and strengthened me, so that through me the message would be fully proclaimed for all the Gentiles to hear. And so I was delivered from the lion’s mouth! (2 Timothy 4:16-17)

9 Do not be carried away by all sorts of strange teachings. For it is good for the heart to be strengthened by grace, not ritual meals, which have never benefited those who participated in them (Hebrews 13:9).

“Drawing near to God”7 takes action on our part while drifting is the result of doing nothing with regard to God’s Word.8 In this sense, then, the author can challenge his readers to “make every effort to enter that rest” (4:11). We cease from all efforts in the flesh, but we actively strive to do God’s will in the power of the Spirit. Thus, “resting from our (fleshly) works” is not a contradiction to “striving to enter God’s rest” by completing the work He has given us to do.

Now comes the intriguing part of verses 11-13 – verses 12 and 13:

12 For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any double-edged sword, piercing even to the point of dividing soul from spirit, and joints from marrow; it is able to judge the desires and thoughts of the heart. 13 And no creature is hidden from God, but everything is naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must render an account (Hebrews 4:12-13).

Verse 12 begins with the word “For,” which connects verses 12 and 13 to the exhortation of verse 11. There are very good reasons why God’s people should “make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by following the same pattern of disobedience.”9 If an entire generation of Israelites failed to enter “that rest,” then there must be very real danger here. Those on the Texas coast just experienced the devastation of Hurricane Ike. Some remained in their homes and died because of it. They simply did not believe the danger was as great as they were told. So, too, we may read of the failure of the Israelites to enter their rest and take the warning too lightly. We need to listen to Paul’s words of warning, based upon the failure of that generation:

11 These things happened to them as examples and were written for our instruction, on whom the ends of the ages have come. 12 So let the one who thinks he is standing be careful that he does not fall (1 Corinthians 10:11-12).

Now let’s take a few moments to consider the relationship between the exhortation of verse 11 to the words of verses 12 and 13. We have been exhorted to pay more careful attention to what God has revealed through His Son (2:1-4). Now we are exhorted to expend more effort to attain the rest which is before us. Israel’s failures should have alerted us to the dangers, but that is not the only indication of our need to draw near to our Great High Priest. The Word of God exposes our sins and our weaknesses, so that we can see our great need and turn to our High Priest for help.

God’s Word is “living and active.” We read these words in the first chapter of John’s Gospel:

1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was fully God. 2 The Word was with God in the beginning. 3 All things were created by him, and apart from him not one thing was created that has been created. 4 In him was life, and the life was the light of mankind. 5 And the light shines on in the darkness, but the darkness has not mastered it… . 9 The true light, who gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and the world was created by him, but the world did not recognize him… . 14 Now the Word became flesh and took up residence among us. We saw his glory – the glory of the one and only, full of grace and truth, who came from the Father (John 1:1-5, 9-10, 14).

Our Lord Jesus became the living Word. He had life in Himself, and as the Creator, He was the source of all life. His Word is alive. It is not something dead, which we have to energize; it is powerful and active.

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is God’s power for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek (Romans 1:16).

You have been born anew, not from perishable but from imperishable seed, through the living and enduring word of God (1 Peter 1:23).

Have you ever watched some of those commercials for cleansers that make it look as though the product works all by itself? Phooey! Most cleansers are like a scrub brush. They just sit there, unless you put your hand on them and then scrub like crazy. God’s Word is different; it just needs to be released, like letting a lion out of its cage. It will do all the work. Our task is to believe that Word, and act upon it, and then share it with others:

13 For everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. 14 How are they to call on one they have not believed in? And how are they to believe in one they have not heard of? And how are they to hear without someone preaching to them? 15 And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How timely is the arrival of those who proclaim the good news” (Romans 10:13-15).

Jesus is also the Light of the World, and thus at His incarnation, He exposed the darkness. The written Word originates from God and it, too, is alive. It, too, exposes sin for what it is. As Adam and Eve were naked before God, so the Scriptures strip away all of our “fig leaves,” exposing our sin. The Word of God is something like the MRI I recently had (of my neck). It exposed what was going on in my spine, beneath my skin. It revealed the likely source of some pain and also made it obvious that surgery was not the proper course of action.

In Proverbs 1, there is a Hebrew word for wisdom which means “to distinguish between.”10 Wisdom is the ability to make distinctions, sometimes very subtle distinctions. Wisdom is not only the distinction between good and evil, but between good and better. No surgeon’s knife was ever more skillful in dividing than the Word of God. It can distinguish between “soul and spirit,” something I find impossible to do on my own. Physiologically speaking, it distinguishes between joints and marrow. Spiritually speaking, it exposes the condition of our hearts. It judges the thoughts and intentions of our heart, which we know to be desperately wicked:

The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it? (Jeremiah 17:9, ESV)

The Word of God does many wonderful things.

  • It is God’s revelation to man through Christ (Hebrews 1:1-4).
  • It is God’s revelation of Christ to man (1:5-14; 2:5-18; see John 5:39; 1 John 1:1-3).
  • It is a declaration of God’s way of salvation (2:1-4)
  • It is God’s exhortation to us (13:22).
  • It warns us strongly of dangers ahead (Hebrews 3:12-19; 6:4-8; 10:26-31)

But here in our text, the Word of God exposes our sin so that we know we are in desperate need of help (4:12-13). And then this same Word that exposes our sin urges us to draw near to Jesus as our Great High Priest, who offers us mercy and grace in our time of need (4:14-16).

“Hold Fast to Our Confession”
Hebrews 4:14-15

14 Therefore since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast to our confession. 15 For we do not have a high priest incapable of sympathizing with our weaknesses, but one who has been tempted in every way just as we are, yet without sin (Hebrews 4:14-15).

What does he mean when the author says that we have a great” high priest? It means “mighty” or “powerful” as it does in Titus 2:13:

12 It trains us to reject godless ways and worldly desires and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, 13 as we wait for the happy fulfillment of our hope in the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ (Titus 2:12-13, emphasis mine).

Our high priest is great; that is, He has the power and the authority to get things done. That is what the author tells us in the remainder of verse 14. He is a high priest who is the Son of God, who has “passed through the heavens.” This calls our attention to the resurrection and ascension of our Lord to the right hand of God:

The Son is the radiance of his glory and the representation of his essence, and he sustains all things by his powerful word, and so when he had accomplished cleansing for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high (Hebrews 1:3).

As the Son of God, He sits enthroned at the Father’s right hand. What better, what closer, what more influential place for one whose task is to represent men before God (5:1)? When we draw near to Him, we draw near to God. When we draw near for help, we draw near to One who is able to help.

Beyond this, we draw near to One who desires to help, who understands our weakness and sympathizes with us (4:15). His incarnation has not only qualified the Son to represent men before God, it also gave Him great empathy with those who are weak. He can sympathize, not because he wrestled with sin and lost, but because He experienced temptation and prevailed. We all have our breaking point, but God is faithful and never tests us beyond the limits of what we could endure (if we turn to our High Priest for help):

No trial has overtaken you that is not faced by others. And God is faithful: He will not let you be tried beyond what you are able to bear, but with the trial will also provide a way out so that you may be able to endure it (1 Corinthians 10:13).

The Son, however, was tested to the ultimate degree, far beyond what we could endure, and He did endure without failing. To whom should we flee? To one who failed when tested minimally, or to the One who was victorious when tested to the maximum? This is why we can hold fast to our confession and draw near to our High Priest – because He alone can keep us from falling.

24 Now to the one who is able to keep you from falling, and to cause you to stand, rejoicing, without blemish before his glorious presence, 25 to the only God our Savior through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, power, and authority, before all time, and now, and for all eternity. Amen (Jude 24-25).

“Let Us Confidently Approach the Throne of Grace”
Hebrews 4:16

Therefore let us confidently approach the throne of grace to receive mercy and find grace whenever we need help (Hebrews 4:16).

Why the emphasis here on approaching our High Priest confidently or boldly? I think there are two reasons. The first has already been disclosed in verses 14 and 15. We can approach Him confidently because He has the power and the authority to help us. We are confident in His ability to come to our aid. He is our great” High Priest, the Son of God, who has passed through the heavens, and who sits at the Father’s right hand. He is able to help.

But there is another reason why men are reluctant to ask for help. We may be hesitant to ask for help because we may fear that God will rub our noses in our weakness and failure. We’ve all experienced this when dealing with men. We make the mistake of asking the wrong person for help and then they make us pay by berating and belittling us. When we approach the throne of grace,”11 we are assured of receiving grace whenever we need help. I am reminded of another text which assures us of God’s help, minus humiliation:

But if anyone is deficient in wisdom, he should ask God, who gives to all generously and without reprimand, and it will be given to him (James 1:5).

Conclusion

We have come to the conclusion of this message, but we are also at a point of conclusion for our author as well. The three “let us” exhortations of our text indicate this to the reader. If a conclusion tells us anything, it tells us where the author has been headed all along. It tells us the main point of what the author was trying to say to the reader. (Except, that is, for stories written by Alfred Hitchcock. He always likes his conclusion to take an unexpected turn, one that appears very different from where the author seemed to be taking the reader.)

So where has our author been leading us? What is his message to his readers, and thus to us as well? Fundamentally, the author has been doing two things. (1) He has been expounding the greatness of the Lord Jesus Christ, as the One through whom God has spoken authoritatively, as the One who created the world and sustains it, as the One who is higher than the angels and greater than Moses, as the One who stooped lower than the angels to save lost sinners and to become the great High Priest to all who come to Him. (2) He has been expounding the sinfulness of man. Drawing upon the example of the first generation of Israelites to leave Egypt, the author has shown how we are prone toward unbelief and rebellion against God. An entire generation rebelled against God for forty years, and because of this, they failed to enter into the rest God had placed before them. We share the same nature, and if we have any doubt about that, the Word of God exposes the deceitfulness of our hearts before God.

When we come to the concluding verses of chapter 4, we see how the author has brought these two major truths to a point of convergence, and thus his three exhortations. There is a rest available to men and women today, but it is a rest that we are predisposed to resist and reject. It is a rest which we cannot attain by our own efforts, but it is also a rest that we are exhorted to strive to enter. How can this be? Because God has provided a salvation for lost sinners, a salvation which provides not only atonement for our sins in the cross of Christ but a Mediator who is a great High Priest. He has passed through the heavens, and He is seated at God’s right hand. He is none other than the Son of God. He is powerful and positioned to serve as our High Priest. But His incarnation also exposed Him to the same trials and temptations which we face; thus, He is a compassionate and merciful High Priest, whom we may boldly approach for mercy and grace to help in our time of need. His mercy and grace intersects our weakness, willfulness, and need in the person of Jesus Christ. His Word reveals the way of salvation through faith in the person and work of the Lord Jesus. We must acknowledge our need and accept His grace through Calvary to be saved. And, those who have trusted in Him for salvation must continually draw near to Him for the grace to live in a way that pleases Him.

So far in the Book of Hebrews, the author has highlighted the importance of the Word of God. It reveals God to us, and it also reveals us (as sinners, weak, and in great need) before God. It holds before us the hope of our salvation, and it warns us of the dangers we face by pointing to the example of those who have gone before us.

If the Word of God is as important as our author (and many other biblical authors) claims it is, then we should expect that it will come under attack, both by Satan (“Has God said… ?” – Genesis 3:1), by the world – the culture in which we live, and by our own flesh. The Bible is not written to make us feel good about ourselves. It is written to expose us for what we are, and Jesus Christ for who and what He is. It is written to turn us to Him, dying to self and living in His power.

Post Modernism is a culture that rejects absolute truth, and thus it rejects God’s Word as absolute truth. If there is any truth (our culture tells us,) it is “our truth,” what is true for us. But that is not what will be true for many others. And thus the teaching of Scripture cannot be embraced as God’s full and final revelation in the person of Jesus Christ (Hebrews 1:1-4). And so, too, our culture claims, we do not need to pay more careful attention to it, though our author tells us we do (Hebrews 2:1-4). And so the sin-exposing power of God’s Word is denied and ridiculed, as is the salvation it sets forth. If we will embrace God’s Word as Hebrews exhorts us to do, we will fly in the face of what our culture believes.

Is it any wonder, then, that the absolute values of Scripture are being cast aside, not only by the unbelieving world, but by many who profess to know Christ as Savior? Many who profess to know Christ are not so sure that the Bible is absolute truth. They are not so sure that God’s standard for marriage is one man and one woman for a lifetime. They are no longer so sure that homosexuality is a sin. They are not so sure that the distinctive roles God assigns to men and women are valid for today. Let us listen to God as He speaks to us through Hebrews, my friend, for this is a significant portion of God’s revelation to us. If we ignore God’s Word, we begin to drift. May God draw us near to Himself as we hear and heed His Word, and as we come to our great High Priest for help in our time of need.


1 Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the NET Bible. The NEW ENGLISH TRANSLATION, also known as THE NET BIBLE, is a completely new translation of the Bible, not a revision or an update of a previous English version. It was completed by more than twenty biblical scholars who worked directly from the best currently available Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek texts. The translation project originally started as an attempt to provide an electronic version of a modern translation for electronic distribution over the Internet and on CD (compact disk). Anyone anywhere in the world with an Internet connection will be able to use and print out the NET Bible without cost for personal study. In addition, anyone who wants to share the Bible with others can print unlimited copies and give them away free to others. It is available on the Internet at: www.netbible.org.

2 I realize that my experience is not the essence of “rest” as described in Hebrews 3 and 4, but it may be a small expression of the kind of rest we need to experience in the daily difficulties of life.

3 In the process, these Old Testament citations do something more. They underscore the unity of the Scriptures, Old Testament and New. The Old Testament Scriptures pointed ahead to the coming of Jesus as Israel’s Messiah. Even though the New Testament is God’s final word, the Old Testament Scriptures are likewise inspired and authoritative (see 2 Timothy 3:16-17).

4 Does the expression, “more careful attention,” mean that we should pay greater attention to this later and final revelation than we have been doing? Yes, I think so. But I am also wondering if it does not also mean that the readers are to pay “more careful attention to the New Testament revelation” than they have been doing in relationship of the New Testament to the Old. These Hebrew saints came from a religious context where the Old Testament Scriptures were considered authoritative – we might even say, considered God’s full revelation. Thus, when Jesus came with further revelation which did not square with the Pharisees’ teaching of the Old Testament, they rejected Jesus’ words and clung to their (mistaken) understanding of the Old. Did these readers not need to realize that the New Testament revealed mysteries that were hidden in the Old Testament (see Ephesians 3:1-13; 5:22-33)? Thus, while both the Old and New Testament are inspired and authoritative, the Old Testament must now be read and interpreted in the light of the New. To the extent that the New explains the Old, the New has a certain priority over the Old. For Hebrew Christians, accepting this would be a real stretch, especially if any were considering turning back to Judaism.

5 In the NET Bible, verse 11 begins, “Then we must . . .” but virtually all of the other translations render this, “Let us. . . .” The three-fold repetition of this expression indicates that there are three specific exhortations addressed to the reader.

6“Deeds” (verse 28) and “deed” (verse 29) are a legitimate rendering of the Greek term employed here, but given the works-oriented mindset of the Jews, I think it better to render the term “works” in verse 29 and “work” in verse 30. This is in keeping with the marginal note in the NET Bible.

7 Hebrews 4:16; 7:19.

8 Hebrews 2:1.

9 Hebrews 4:11.

10 “The second synonym in Proverbs 1 is understanding, or insight. . . . The background idea (though it is not always prominent) can be gauged from the fact that the verb ‘to discern’ is parent to both nouns, and the preposition ‘between’ is a near relation. Solomon put the two together in I Kings 3:9: ‘that I may discern between good and evil’. (Cf. Phil. 1:9, 10; Heb. 5:14)” Derek Kidner, The Proverbs (Chicago, Illinois: Inter-Varsity Press, 1964), p. 36.

11 I love this expression, throne of grace,” because the word “throne” reminds us that our help comes from our powerful King, and grace” reminds us that He deals graciously with us. What a perfect union, that of power and grace.

http://feeds.bible.org/deffinbaugh/hebrews/deff_hebrews_10.mp3
Ad Category: 
Biblical Topics: 
Passage: 
/assets/worddocs/deff_hebrews_10_sg.zip

11. High Priests and Our Great High Priest (Hebrews 5:1-10)

This is the eleventh part of a sermon series titled Near to the Heart of God: A Study of the Book of Hebrews. A manuscript will be posted when it is available.



http://feeds.bible.org/deffinbaugh/hebrews/deff_hebrews_11.mp3
/assets/powerpoint/deff_hebrews_11.ppt
Passage: 
/assets/worddocs/deff_hebrews_11_sg.zip

12. Melchizedek and Maturity (Hebrews 5:11-6:3)

This is the twelfth part in a series on Hebrews titled Near to the Heart of God: A Study in the Book of Hebrews. The Manuscript will be posted for this study when it is available.



http://feeds.bible.org/deffinbaugh/hebrews/deff_hebrews_12.mp3
/assets/powerpoint/deff_hebrews_12.ppt
Passage: 
/assets/worddocs/deff_hebrews_12_sg.zip

13. Dairy Queen or Steak and Ale (Hebrews 6:4-8)

1 Therefore we must progress beyond the elementary instructions about Christ and move on to maturity, not laying this foundation again: repentance from dead works and faith in God, 2 teaching about baptisms, laying on of hands, resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. 3 And this is what we intend to do, if God permits. 4 For it is impossible in the case of those who have once been enlightened, tasted the heavenly gift, become partakers of the Holy Spirit, 5 tasted the good word of God and the miracles of the coming age, 6 and then have committed apostasy, to renew them again to repentance, since they are crucifying the Son of God for themselves all over again and holding him up to contempt. 7 For the ground that has soaked up the rain that frequently falls on it and yields useful vegetation for those who tend it receives a blessing from God. 8 But if it produces thorns and thistles, it is useless and about to be cursed; its fate is to be burned (Hebrews 6:1-8).1

Introduction

After suffering through “Mother Miller’s” cafeteria food, consisting of “mystery meat” and scrambled eggs with chunks of salt, my roommates and I determined that we could do better preparing our own meals off campus. At least it turned out to be less expensive. But our “menu” was far from tempting. It consisted (as I recall – I’ve tried to forget over the years) of tomato soup, macaroni and cheese, and chuck steak.

I must confess that we were a bit misled by the word “steak” when it was attached to “chuck.” We decided that we would indulge ourselves with some chuck steak, only to discover that you don’t cook it the same way you might a cube steak. To put it candidly, that steak was tough. There’s only one way to enjoy chuck steak, and that is to cook it slowly, until it is tenderized.

I was reminded of chuck steak and college days when I arrived at Hebrews 6. The author has urged his readers to improve their milk diet to a meat diet. Well, to be more precise, he has urged his readers to progress beyond their milk diet to “solid food”:2

11 On this topic we have much to say and it is difficult to explain, since you have become sluggish in hearing. 12 For though you should in fact be teachers by this time, you need someone to teach you the beginning elements of God’s utterances. You have gone back to needing milk, not solid food. 13 For everyone who lives on milk is inexperienced in the message of righteousness, because he is an infant. 14 But solid food is for the mature, whose perceptions are trained by practice to discern both good and evil (Hebrews 5:11-14).

If the author has challenged his readers to move on to “meat,” it didn’t take him long to introduce them to steak – “chuck steak.” Here is a serving of meat that will keep them (and us) chewing for some time.

We should not find it unusual that there are difficult texts in the Bible. Peter – who was no stranger to difficult texts3 – observed that Paul provides us with some as well:

14 Therefore, dear friends, since you are waiting for these things, strive to be found at peace, without spot or blemish, when you come into his presence. 15 And regard the patience of our Lord as salvation, just as also our dear brother Paul wrote to you, according to the wisdom given to him, 16 speaking of these things in all his letters. Some things in these letters are hard to understand, things the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they also do to the rest of the scriptures. 17 Therefore, dear friends, since you have been forewarned, be on your guard that you do not get led astray by the error of these unprincipled men and fall from your firm grasp on the truth. 18 But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the honor both now and on that eternal day (2 Peter 3:14-18).

These difficult texts not only pose us with challenges in interpreting and applying them, they also provide the opportunity for false teachers to twist and distort them so that they become proof tests for all sorts of error. Therefore, we must exercise not only great diligence, but also great caution when we seek to interpret this text in Hebrews, clearly one of those “hard to understand” texts.

My Approach in This Lesson

I might as well forewarn you that I am going to throw my readers a curve in this lesson. I will not seek to present my interpretation of this text as the definitive solution for centuries of study and debate. Instead as I begin, I will borrow from a sermon by John Piper in which he seeks to explain “Why God Inspired Hard Texts.” Then I shall attempt to summarize five of the most popular interpretations of our text by evangelical scholars. Having done this, I will draw some preliminary conclusions. Then I will let you, my readers, “stew” over this text until the next lesson, when I will return to my exposition of this same text.

Why God Inspired Hard Texts4

Piper’s lesson was not occasioned by our text in Hebrews, but rather by Romans 3:1-8. Nevertheless, what we find in this sermon applies also to the hard texts in the Book of Hebrews. Piper cites four reasons why God inspired the hard texts:

1. Desperation. Hard texts force us to recognize our inability to grasp them, and thus we see our need to depend upon the Holy Spirit to enable us to understand God’s Word:

The unbeliever does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him. And he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned (1 Corinthians 2:14).

2. Supplication. The hard texts bring us to our knees, beseeching God to help us understand them:

Guide me into your truth and teach me.

For you are the God who delivers me; on you I rely all day long (Psalm 25:5).

Open my eyes so I can truly see

the marvelous things in your law! (Psalm 119:18)

3. Cogitation.While the Holy Spirit illuminates the Scriptures, we must also exert ourselves to understand them. The hard texts force us to think, pondering the words until the meaning becomes clear to us.

Think about what I am saying and the Lord will give you understanding of all this (2 Timothy 2:7).

4. Education. Those who have struggled with hard texts can then instruct others, so that they can also help those who seek to understand what God is teaching:

And entrust what you heard me say in the presence of many others as witnesses to faithful people who will be competent to teach others as well (2 Timothy 2:2).

In addition to these four reasons why God inspired hard texts, I would like to add a couple more.

5. Humility. The hard texts keep us from becoming arrogant about our knowledge of Scripture. The hard texts humble us, which is the beginning of wisdom.

May he show the humble what is right!

May he teach the humble his way! (Psalm 25:9)


    When pride comes, then comes disgrace,

but with humility comes wisdom (Proverbs 11:2).

6. Hard work. God did not scatter his pearls about for us to pick up as though we were picking wild strawberries in the woods. God buries His secrets deep so that we have to dig for them. It is those who are willing to work hard who will get the meaning of the hard texts.

1 My child, if you receive my words,

and store up my commands within you,

2 by making your ear attentive to wisdom,

and by turning your heart to understanding,

3 indeed, if you call out for discernment

– raise your voice for understanding –

4 if you seek it like silver,

and search for it like hidden treasure,

5 then you will understand how to fear the Lord,

and you will discover knowledge about God.

6 For the Lord gives wisdom,

and from his mouth comes knowledge and understanding.

7 He stores up effective counsel for the upright,

and is like a shield for those who live with integrity,

8 to guard the paths of the righteous

and to protect the way of his pious ones (Proverb s 2:1-8).

All of this is to say that the hard texts serve to produce some very good things. This is something I will pursue further at the end of this lesson. For now, let us turn to some of the most popular interpretations of our text.

The Five Major Interpretations of Hebrews 6:4-85

Preface

Let me make a few comments about these four interpretations, and then about those who hold them. First, I must confess to you that in presenting these four views I am acting contrary to my normal inclinations. I am fully aware that there are any number of evangelical books which present a number of opposing views, and generally I have avoided them. It runs contrary to my nature to pose multiple options instead of just presenting your own viewpoint. But I believe that it is necessary and proper here.

Second,as a preacher, I must come to our text and these differing interpretations with a question: “What is my responsibility to you in this message as a preacher of the gospel?” I believe that the answer is found in the purpose of the author (or should I say Author) of the text. I should be encouraging you to respond in a way that is consistent with God’s purpose in writing our text. I must warn you that it may not be to make this difficult text easy for you, so that you do not have to agonize over it.

Third,I believe that the author has been purposely vague in his use of terms in our text. Some of the terms or expressions in our passage are not common, so that we can understand them from occurrences elsewhere in the Bible. This vagueness allows for a wider range of possible meanings, making the interpretation of our text more difficult. My point is that the “hardness” of our text is not accidental, but purposeful.

Fourth,most of those who hold to these divergent interpretations are genuine believers, men and women of integrity. We would do well not to characterize those who hold views different from ours as poor students or false teachers. I have not sensed an arrogance or confrontational attitude in those whose views I have considered. Some have mellowed in their thinking or may even have changed their position (as I have). There is no need for hostility here nor for attacking those who hold different views, if they have sincerely studied the Scriptures and have sought to discern God’s leading in these matters.

The Arminian View

Summary: A Christian may turn away from his faith and thus may lose his salvation.

Main elements:

Those warned are genuine believers.

Future salvation is not assured (no eternal security).

The warning concerns eternal judgment (hell).

Positive aspects:

It appears to take the description of those warned at face value.

It appears to take the warnings literally.

Concerns:

It contradicts the doctrine of eternal security and raises doubt as to the certainty of one attaining salvation.

Visually represented:

The Loss of Rewards View

Summary: A Christian may fall away and thus lose future rewards, as well as encounter severe discipline in this life.6

Main elements:

Those warned are viewed as genuine Christians.

Future salvation is assured for every true believer.

The warnings concern future rewards and earthly discipline.

Positive aspects:

The warnings apply to Christians (just as the exhortations do).

The warnings are taken seriously, as a very real possibility.

This view undergirds assurance and confidence in one’s confession.

Difficulties:

Is “earthly discipline” as severe as the description of the judgment on the one who falls away?

Is “earthly discipline” severe enough to match the description of judgment?

Visually represented:

The Calvinistic View

Summary: If an apparent Christian apostatizes (falls away by denying the faith), then we know he was never really saved in the first place.

Main elements:

Those warned and disciplined are not true believers.

Only an unbeliever can apostatize or fall away from the faith.

The warning of eternal judgment is for unbelievers.

Positive aspects:

It is consistent with the doctrine of eternal security.

It means that a Christian can never lose his faith.

It takes the warning of judgment seriously (for unbelievers).

Difficulties:

Can those described in verses 4-5 really be unsaved?

The emphasis falls on unbelievers, rather than believers (to whom the author appears to have

consistently been speaking up to this point).

Does this view undermine the confidence and assurance of believers in their confession? Will

true believers always be doubtful of their salvation?

Visually represented:

The Hypothetical View

Summary: If a believer could apostatize, he would be eternally doomed (which will never happen), and thus there is no reason to continue to dwell on the ABC’s of the faith. This is the reason for moving from milk to meat.

Main elements:

It addresses believers hypothetically.

An apostate cannot be restored to salvation.

One should press on toward maturity.

Positive aspects:

It is consistent with the doctrine of eternal security.

It seeks to urge people on to maturity.

Difficulties:

It is only a theoretical view.

It doesn’t mean what the text appears to say.

It undermines the warnings.

It is an inferior motivation for growth.

Visually represented:

One Additional View: The Historically Unique View

Summary: The situation this group of professing Jewish believers faced is unique and is not like any situation believers face today; thus the warnings are for those people in those days, but not so much for us.

Main elements:

This is a unique situation.

Thus its application to us is minimized.

Positive aspects:

The historical setting is taken into consideration in the interpretation.

Difficulties:

It sets a bad precedent. No circumstance described in Scripture is ever identical to our circum-

stances. Do we take this same interpretive approach with every passage that has its own setting?

The failure of the first generation of Israelites in the desert was unique, and yet both the author

of Psalm 95 and the author of Hebrews believed that there were lessons for us to learn from Israel’s failures. Paul applies the same lessons in 1 Corinthians 10:1-13.

It blunts the force of the author’s argument.

Visual representation: None.

Reflections on “Milk” and “Meat”

As I consider our text (and listen to others who have agonized over it), it does appear that the author is somewhat vague where clearer language was possible. Thus, some can read verses 4-6 of chapter 6 and conclude that they describe a genuine Christian, while others conclude the opposite. Could the author not have been more precise, and thus avoid widely differing interpretations? Of course, the ultimate author (the Spirit of God) could have done so, but He did not. And since God is both omniscient and sovereign, He gave our text just as we have it, knowing and intending that it would produce the effects that it has. Hear me well: God intended for us to struggle with this text. The wording was designed to produce these effects.

The question, therefore, must be “Why?” Why would God give us this difficult text to struggle over, and to end up with different conclusions? The answer must be (for those who recognize that God is sovereign) that this text has been given to us as is to promote His purposes for us. And what are these purposes? Where has the Epistle to the Hebrews been taking us? I believe that God’s purposes can be found in the exhortations that we find in Hebrews, especially those we find in close proximity to our text. These would be . . .

    To gain an appreciation for the sufficiency of Jesus Christ as our Great High Priest (1:1—2:18)

    To recognize our inadequacies and our dependence upon God’s provisions through His Son (3:7—4:13)

    To draw near to Him for help in our time of need (4:14-16)

    To pay closer attention to God’s Word (2:1-4; 4:12-13)

    To press on from “milk” to “meat” (5:11—6:3).

Think of how this difficult passage in Hebrews 6:4-8 (along with others like 10:26-31) presses us toward the obedience of these exhortations. The vagueness of some of the descriptions results in differing interpretations among believers. The bottom line is that we are forced to go outside of our immediate text to other texts. We must first seek to understand the context by tracing the flow of the argument of the larger context to which our text contributes. To put it plainly, our text forces us to study, to become students of Scripture. Thus, we must determine the setting (which is not immediately apparent), the purposes of the author in writing this epistle, and the intended outcome. We must look elsewhere in Hebrews and the whole of Scripture to see how certain terms or concepts are used.

I believe that we cannot interpret our text in isolation, but in the light of all the Scriptures. We cannot determine the meaning and the message of this passage of Scripture without employing theology. Every text of Scripture, every warning, every exhortation, comes from a certain set of circumstances, and from a particular point of view. Systematic theology seeks to look at matters from the vantage point of the Scriptures as a whole.

Let me attempt to illustrate what I am saying by considering the matter of prayer. In our reading of the Bible, we come across a text like this:

“Again, I tell you the truth, if two of you on earth agree about whatever you ask, my Father in heaven will do it for you” (Matthew 18:19).

We could easily (and simplistically) conclude that all we have to do is to get one other person to agree with our prayer and we will get anything we ask for. Not necessarily, because there are other passages of Scripture that put this promise into perspective.

5 But if anyone is deficient in wisdom, he should ask God, who gives to all generously and without reprimand, and it will be given to him. 6 But he must ask in faith without doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed around by the wind (James 1:5-6).

2 You desire and you do not have; you murder and envy and you cannot obtain; you quarrel and fight. You do not have because you do not ask; 3 you ask and do not receive because you ask wrongly, so you can spend it on your passions (James 4:2-3).

So, not only do we need to ask, it is advisable to ask others to join with us, in agreement with our prayers. And beyond this we must be careful to ask for what is best in God’s wisdom, rather than to ask God to satisfy our fleshly desires. Furthermore, we should ask in the Son’s name and for His glory.

In short, we cannot understand prayer from only one passage of Scripture, especially if that one text seems to validate our selfish desires. We can only understand and practice prayer as mature Christians by considering all of the biblical texts which bear on this vital aspect of our Christian lives.

Here is where we come to the difference between “milk” and “meat.” Unfortunately, there are a number of preachers who serve only milk. They over-simplify the truth, peddling what immature believers want to hear:

17 For we are not like so many others, hucksters who peddle the word of God for profit, but we are speaking in Christ before God as persons of sincerity, as persons sent from God (2 Corinthians 2:17).

1 Therefore, since we have this ministry, just as God has shown us mercy, we do not become discouraged. 2 But we have rejected shameful hidden deeds, not behaving with deceptiveness or distorting the word of God, but by open proclamation of the truth we commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience before God (2 Corinthians 4:1-2).

18 For by speaking high-sounding but empty words they are able to entice, with fleshly desires and with debauchery, people who have just escaped from those who reside in error. 19 Although these false teachers promise such people freedom, they themselves are enslaved to immorality. For whatever a person succumbs to, to that he is enslaved (2 Peter 2:18-19).

Please don’t misunderstand me here. I am not trying to say that all those who teach only “milk” are false teachers. But they don’t progress beyond the milk stage. One very successful mega church conducted a study which produced some very unexpected results. They learned that while they did a good job of attracting “seekers” and of evangelizing many, they had done far too little to instruct and challenge those who were more mature believers. They were a “Dairy Queen” church, but not a “Steak and Ale” church. The fact is that we must be both. We must nurture new believers by feeding them “milk”and we must challenge those older in the faith with “meat.”

Because the problem passages in Hebrews don’t provide us with quick and easy (“milk”) solutions, we are effectively challenged to move on to the “meat.” In my opinion, theology is meat. There may be other kinds of “meat,” but theology is one variety of “meat.” It does not come without a consideration of the teaching of the whole Bible. One must then harmonize all of the texts and teachings which bear on a particular subject or theme. One must sometimes hold in tension truths that might appear to be incompatible – truths like the sovereignty of God and man’s responsibility. It is hard work, even if one only studies systematic theology by reading the works of respected scholars. And sometimes there are truths that are difficult to “swallow” (so to speak). We may prefer to think that we found God, when, in truth, it was God who chose us and called us to faith in Himself. Indeed, He gave us the faith to believe in Him. This doesn’t flatter us, nor should it, because it is to God that we should give the glory (1 Corinthians 1:26-31; 10:31).

What I have been seeking to show is that God purposely made our text in Hebrews difficult (so too with some other texts) so that we would be pressed to move on from “milk” to “meat.” If we are to interpret and apply our text correctly, we must look to the teaching of the entire Bible; in other words, we must approach our text from the vantage point of theology.

I would like to illustrate the value of theology (“meat”) by addressing the issue of suffering. “Milk” teaching will sometimes take this form: “If you have enough faith, you won’t have to suffer, or even to die.” Another form of milk teaching promises success and prosperity if you only trust God (and send in your contribution). There are a few simple steps to a happy, prosperous life. We don’t have to suffer if we know the keys to success – or so we are told by the “health and wealth gospeleers.”

Look at what the psalmist has to say about suffering and the Word of God in Psalm 119:

67 Before I was afflicted I used to stray off,

but now I keep your instructions.

68 You are good and you do good.

Teach me your statutes!

69 Arrogant people smear my reputation with lies,

but I observe your precepts with all my heart.

70 Their hearts are calloused,

but I find delight in your law.

71 It was good for me to suffer,

so that I might learn your statutes.

72 The law you have revealed is more important to me

than thousands of pieces of gold and silver (Psalm 119:67-72, emphasis mine).

The psalmist praises God because of the suffering He sent his way. It was that suffering that drove him to God’s Word, and it was a deeper (“meatier”) understanding of the Word that sustained him in his suffering.

Consider Asaph in Psalm 73. His immature thinking led him to conclude that the godly always prosper, while sinners suffer. And yet his viewpoint did not square with life. The wicked seemed to prosper, and they were arrogant about it. They virtually shook their fists at God and seemingly got away with it. Asaph confessed that he was about ready to throw in the towel, because life didn’t seem fair, and God didn’t seem to care about it, or him.

This was until the psalmist moved from milk to meat, until he came to see life from an eternal perspective. The wicked do prosper, but it is for a moment. They will suffer for all eternity. And besides this, Asaph came to recognize that while he may have endured some measure of suffering, he found himself nearer to God, and God nearer to him in the midst of his affliction. He came to realize that the ultimate good is the nearness of God, not good health or material wealth. And because of this, he was able to enjoy the intimacy of God’s presence in life and throughout eternity. It was theology, biblical theology, that enabled Asaph to see himself and his circumstances in an entirely different light.

We could say the same thing for Job. Now Job was a godly man, as we read in chapter 1 of the Book of Job. But when God allowed suffering to come to his family, and then to Job’s body, Job began to question God’s wisdom. Part of the problem was that Job’s friends did not have good theology, either. They operated on the same assumptions that Asaph held before his transition to meat. They believed that the righteous prosper and the wicked suffer. Since Job was suffering, he must be wicked. Therefore, the solution was to confess his sins and be restored to God’s blessings.

Well, Job’s friends were wrong, and so was Job when he began to question God’s goodness and wisdom in the midst of his afflictions. How did God straighten out Job? He taught him some good theology. He reminded Job that he had not been there to direct Him as He created the universe. He did not tell God to hang one star here, and another there, and this one just a bit higher. Essentially, the lesson God had for Job was that He was not only omniscient (all-knowing); He was also omnipotent (all-powerful), and good. When we trust in a God who is all-knowing, all-powerful, and entirely good, then our responsibility is to trust and obey, and not to challenge God or put Him to the test (as Israel did). Once this was settled, Job had no more complaints. He had set aside milk for meat.

One final example that is directly relevant to the readers of Hebrews (then and now) is found in Deuteronomy 8. I should begin by reminding you that Hebrews 12:7 refers to Deuteronomy 8. The author’s point is that God uses “discipline” (adversity, suffering, etc.) to bring us to maturity as sons. Thus, discipline is one of the evidences of our sonship.

In Hebrews 3 and 4, the author speaks of Israel’s failures in response to adversity. Deuteronomy 8 speaks of God’s purposes for those instances of adversity.

2 Remember the whole way by which he has brought you these forty years through the desert so that he might, by humbling you, test you to see if you have it within you to keep his commandments or not. 3 So he humbled you by making you hungry and then feeding you with unfamiliar manna. He did this to teach you that humankind cannot live by bread alone, but also by everything that comes from the Lord’s mouth (Deuteronomy 8:2-3).

Get this! God purposed Israel’s adversities in the wilderness for their good. He wanted to humble them – that is to cause them to realize their weakness and His strength (a prominent theme in Hebrews). He wanted them to “draw near” to Him by recognizing and holding fast to His Word as the real source of life. Isn’t it interesting that while God’s purpose was to teach the Israelites to value His Word and to trust in Him, they viewed His intentions in an entirely different way:

3 The Israelites said to them, “If only we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the pots of meat, when we ate bread to the full, for you7 have brought us out into this desert to kill this whole assembly with hunger!” (Exodus 16:3)

1 Then all the community raised a loud cry, and the people wept that night. 2 And all the Israelites murmured against Moses and Aaron, and the whole congregation said to them, “If only we had died in the land of Egypt, or if only we had perished in this wilderness! 3 Why has the Lord brought us into this land only to be killed by the sword, that our wives and our children should become plunder? Wouldn’t it be better for us to return to Egypt?” (Numbers 14:1-3)

How often God brings us to difficult places to teach us to trust Him, and we accuse God of seeking to bring about our demise. God led the Israelites into the wilderness, so that they were trapped between the Red Sea and the Egyptian army. He did so to demonstrate His faithfulness and His power to save. Jonah wanted to die, and so he urged the sailors to throw him overboard. He was swallowed by the great fish, which appeared to be his destruction. Instead, that fish was God’s provision for Jonah’s deliverance (and, it would seem, his transportation to Nineveh).

Incidentally, Jonah needed a large dose of theology. He seemed to think that God owed Israel blessings, while the Gentiles deserved torment. He did not grasp the grace of God; indeed, he protested because God was gracious.8 He did not realize that Israel’s unbelief opened the door for Gentile evangelism nor did he understand that the captivity of God’s people would ultimately be for their deliverance, just as his “captivity” in the great fish was his deliverance:

“King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon devoured me and drove my people out. Like a monster from the deep he swallowed me. He filled his belly with my riches. He made me an empty dish. He completely cleaned me out” (Jeremiah 51:34).

The Hebrews were about to enter into another9 period of persecution. There was theology to be learned from their failure that would apply as well to their own times (and ours). But we shall see more about that in our next lesson.

Conclusion

What I’ve sought to demonstrate in this lesson is that the difficulty of our text is by divine design. It is intended to move us along from “milk” to “meat,” from a simplistic approach to the Scriptures and to our Christian life, to one which gives us greater insight and discernment, and this through a more mature understanding of the teachings of the Bible (aka “doctrine” or “theology”). Our text has prompted many Christians to study God’s Word more diligently and to think more deeply about our Lord and the life we are called to live by faith.

Our text was not set forth merely as a challenge to scholars and preachers. Our job is not to solve all the problems and give our audiences a quick and easy solution. Our text was given to challenge every Christian to think more deeply about the teachings of God’s Word, and then to draw near to our Great High Priest for help in our times of need. It is by this means that we will know God better and find Him even more powerful, more faithful, and more worthy of our faith and worship. It is this deeper knowledge which will sustain us in the difficult times of life, which the Bible assures us we will experience.

And so may I challenge you to become a “Steak and Ale” Christian, rather than merely a “Dairy Queen” Christian? That means you will have to commit to more than just reading “Our Daily Bread” each day. Even though this is good devotional material, you will need more meat than this. You will need to study larger portions of Scripture, considering the argument of an entire book of the Bible, and then pressing on to theology (the overall teaching of the Bible on various topics).

To start with, commit yourself to a serious study of our text. Read through the entire Book of Hebrews a number of times. Seek to track the flow of the argument. Then consider the theological implications of our text. What interpretations are not permissible, given what we know from other Scriptures? Then seek to find an interpretation that really fits the context and the teaching of the Bible as a whole.


1Copyright © 2008 by Robert L. Deffinbaugh. This is the edited manuscript of Lesson 13 in the series, Near to the Heart of God – A Study of the Book of Hebrews, prepared by Robert L. Deffinbaugh on October 5, 2008. Anyone is at liberty to use this lesson for educational purposes only, with or without credit.

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the NET Bible. The NEW ENGLISH TRANSLATION, also known as THE NET BIBLE, is a completely new translation of the Bible, not a revision or an update of a previous English version. It was completed by more than twenty biblical scholars who worked directly from the best currently available Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek texts. The translation project originally started as an attempt to provide an electronic version of a modern translation for electronic distribution over the Internet and on CD (compact disk). Anyone anywhere in the world with an Internet connection will be able to use and print out the NET Bible without cost for personal study. In addition, anyone who wants to share the Bible with others can print unlimited copies and give them away free to others. It is available on the Internet at: www.netbible.org.

2 Technically, most translations render the word used here “solid food,” rather than “meat” (as we find in the KJV), but we are not out of bounds if we contrast “milk” with “meat.”

3 For example, see 1 Peter 3:18-22.

4http://www.desiringgod.org/ResourceLibrary/Sermons/ByDate/1999/1074_Why_God_Inspired_Hard_Texts/

5 I am presenting the first four of these views largely as set forth in The Race Set Before Us by Thomas R. Schreiner and Ardel B. Caneday (Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 2001). These authors actually hold a different view, which the book seeks to set forth. The illustrations also represent the work of Schreiner and Caneday, with only slight variations.

6 The portion I have in italics is not found in Schreiner and Caneday, but I think it is an important element that most of those who hold this position would insist upon. The warning is not just that a Christian who falls away faces future loss; that individual faces the possibility of severe earthly discipline (e.g., 1 Corinthians 5:5) for his willful waywardness.

7 Granted, here the people are accusing Moses of leading them to their death, but in verse 8, Moses tells them that their accusations are not against him, but against God.

8 See Jonah 4:1-4.

9 See Hebrews 10:32-34.


http://feeds.bible.org/deffinbaugh/hebrews/deff_hebrews_13.mp3
/assets/powerpoint/deff_hebrews_13.ppt
Ad Category: 
Passage: 
/assets/worddocs/deff_hebrews_13_sg.zip

14. Who are Those Who Fall Away (Hebrews 6:1-12)

5:11 On this topic we have much to say and it is difficult to explain, since you have become sluggish in hearing. 12 For though you should in fact be teachers by this time, you need someone to teach you the beginning elements of God’s utterances. You have gone back to needing milk, not solid food. 13 For everyone who lives on milk is inexperienced in the message of righteousness, because he is an infant. 14 But solid food is for the mature, whose perceptions are trained by practice to discern both good and evil.

6:1 Therefore we must progress beyond the elementary instructions about Christ and move on to maturity, not laying this foundation again: repentance from dead works and faith in God, 2 teaching about baptisms, laying on of hands, resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. 3 And this is what we intend to do, if God permits. 4 For it is impossible in the case of those who have once been enlightened, tasted the heavenly gift, become partakers of the Holy Spirit, 5 tasted the good word of God and the miracles of the coming age, 6 and then have committed apostasy, to renew them again to repentance, since they are crucifying the Son of God for themselves all over again and holding him up to contempt. 7 For the ground that has soaked up the rain that frequently falls on it and yields useful vegetation for those who tend it receives a blessing from God. 8 But if it produces thorns and thistles, it is useless and about to be cursed; its fate is to be burned. 9 But in your case, dear friends, even though we speak like this, we are convinced of better things relating to salvation. 10 For God is not unjust so as to forget your work and the love you have demonstrated for his name, in having served and continuing to serve the saints. 11 But we passionately want each of you to demonstrate the same eagerness for the fulfillment of your hope until the end, 12 so that you may not be sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and perseverance inherit the promises (Hebrews 5:11—6:12).1

Introduction

In our last lesson, I attempted to look at the big picture so far as our text in Hebrews 6 is concerned. I was seeking to demonstrate that the difficulty of our text and even the differences in the way we interpret it are by divine design. The author’s goal is to motivate his readers to take the Scriptures more seriously and to move from milk to meat. I think all Christians can agree that our text is surely meat. As a result, many Christians have spent a considerable amount of time and energy seeking to understand the correct interpretation and application of our text.

In this lesson, I will attempt to expound our text in the context of the author’s argument in the Book of Hebrews. I believe there are several prerequisites for a correct understanding of our passage.

Prerequisites for Our Study of Hebrews 6:1-12

First, I believe that we must distinguish between Hebrews 6:4-8 and Hebrews 10:26-31. I do not believe that Hebrews 10 is merely an expanded repetition of chapter 6.

Second, we must grasp the corrupting influence an unbeliever can have upon a group of believers in Jesus Christ.

Third, we must recognize the strong influence (and even control) devout Jews (believers and unbelievers) wielded in the church, and even amongst the apostles.

My Criteria for Identifying the Interpretation of Our Text

I believe that in order for any interpretation of our text to be acceptable it must satisfy the following criteria:

1. The interpretation must fit the flow of the argument of the text.

2. It must make sense of the passage.

3. It must be consistent with the rest of the Book of Hebrews.

4. It must be consistent with the rest of Scripture.

5. It must be consistent with biblical theology.

6. It must explain the use of the key transition words “therefore” (6:1) and “for” (6:4).2

7. It must explain why unbelievers are dealt with (6:4-8) in a context which deals primarily with believers.

8. It must be one that accomplishes the author’s purpose, which is to instill confidence and encourage saints.

Distinguishing Hebrews 6 from Hebrews 10

It is my opinion that Hebrews 10:26-31 is not a reiteration of Hebrews 6:4-8. Thus, we have to interpret these two texts separately, rather than to seek one interpretation that covers both. Allow me to outline the differences between these two troublesome texts and then summarize the differences in chart form.

There is a clear difference in the pronouns employed in chapter 6 and in chapter 10. In our text in Hebrews 6:4-8, the pronouns are third person plural: “those,” “them,” and “they.” These folks are distinguished from the first person plural (“we”) or the second person plural (“you”) of the verses which precede and follow the troublesome words of verses 4-8. In other words, those warned about in 6:4-8 appear to be outside the community of faith, while those warned in 10:26-31 seem to be believers.

On the other hand, the pronouns “we” and “us” occur in the problem text in chapter 10:

26 For if we deliberately keep on sinning after receiving the knowledge of the truth, no further sacrifice for sins is left for us, 27 but only a certain fearful expectation of judgment and a furyof fire that will consume God’s enemies (Hebrews 10:26-27, emphasis mine).

This certainly gives the appearance that those addressed are inside the community of faith.

Also, the sins committed in these two texts appear to be different. In 6:4-8 there is an open, active, and on-going3 rejection of Christ. It is as though they are persistently re-crucifying Christ and showing contempt toward Him. Such people do not appear to be believers. And yet when we come to chapter 10, we find the warning is addressed to those who “deliberately go on sinning” (verse 26). They, too, show a disregard (even disdain) for Christ and His atoning work (10:29), but it appears to be the contempt of one who has truly been saved.

The judgment of those in Hebrews 6 is that they can never be renewed to repentance, while those in chapter 10 face terrifying judgment. It is also interesting to read that those who “fall away” (6:6) fall “from the living God” (3:12), while those in chapter 10 are said to fall “into God’s hands” (10:31).

When we put this in chart form it looks like this:

Hebrews 6:4-8

Hebrews 10:26-31

“Those,” “them,” “they”

“We”

“Fall away”

“Go on sinning”

Rejecting Christ – no need for grace

Contempt for Christ – Presuming upon grace

Can’t be renewed to repentance

Terrifying judgment

Fall “from the living God” (3:12)

Fall “into the hands of the living God” (10:31)

Recognizing the Negative Impact of Unbelievers on the Church

The “rabble” that accompanied the Israelites from Egypt were sometimes the source of trouble.4 Later, in the Book of Deuteronomy, God warned the Israelites about those who would rise up from within, seeking to persuade them to worship heathen gods:

1 “Suppose a prophet or one who foretells by dreams should appear among you and show you a sign or wonder, 2 and the sign or wonder should come to pass concerning what he said to you, namely, ‘Let us follow other gods’ – gods whom you have not previously known – ‘and let us serve them.’ 3 You must not listen to the words of that prophet or dreamer, for the Lord your God will be testing you to see if you love him with all your mind and being. 4 You must follow the Lord your God and revere only him; and you must observe his commandments, obey him, serve him, and remain loyal to him. 5 As for that prophet or dreamer, he must be executed because he encouraged rebellion against the Lord your God who brought you from the land of Egypt, redeeming you from that place of slavery, and because he has tried to entice you from the way the Lord your God has commanded you to go. In this way you must purge out evil from within. 6 Suppose your own full brother, your son, your daughter, your beloved wife, or your closest friend should seduce you secretly and encourage you to go and serve other gods that neither you nor your ancestors have previously known, 7 the gods of the surrounding people (whether near you or far from you, from one end of the earth to the other). 8 You must not give in to him or even listen to him; do not feel sympathy for him or spare him or cover up for him. 9 Instead, you must kill him without fail! Your own hand must be the first to strike him, and then the hands of the whole community. 10 You must stone him to death because he tried to entice you away from the Lord your God, who delivered you from the land of Egypt, that place of slavery. 11 Thus all Israel will hear and be afraid; no longer will they continue to do evil like this among you” (Deuteronomy 13:1-11; see also vss. 12-18).

The people who might lead the Israelites astray in chapter 13 appear to be fellow-Israelites. In chapter 19, God warns the Israelites concerning those who would practice pagan means of communication with foreign deities:

9 “When you enter the land the Lord your God is giving you, you must not learn the abhorrent practices of those nations. 10 There must never be found among you anyone who sacrifices his son or daughter in the fire, anyone who practices divination, an omen reader, a soothsayer, a sorcerer, 11 one who casts spells, one who conjures up spirits, a practitioner of the occult, or a necromancer. 12 Whoever does these things is abhorrent to the Lord and because of these detestable things the Lord your God is about to drive them out from before you. 13 You must be blameless before the Lord your God. 14 Those nations that you are about to dispossess listen to omen readers and diviners, but the Lord your God has not given you permission to do such things. 15 The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you – from your fellow Israelites; you must listen to him” (Deuteronomy 18:9-15, emphasis mine).

My point in calling attention to these verses is to demonstrate that someone can become a part of the believing community and corrupt it from the inside. Judas is a glaring example of how corruption can occur from within, from an unbeliever. In Matthew 26, we read this account of Mary anointing the feet of her Lord:

6 Now while Jesus was in Bethany at the house of Simon the leper, 7 a woman came to him with an alabaster jar of expensive perfumed oil, and she poured it on his head as he was at the table. 8 When the disciples saw this, they became indignant and said, “Why this waste? 9 It could have been sold at a high price and the money given to the poor!” 10 When Jesus learned of this, he said to them, “Why are you bothering this woman? She has done a good service for me. 11 For you will always have the poor with you, but you will not always have me! 12 When she poured this oil on my body, she did it to prepare me for burial. 13 I tell you the truth, wherever this gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will also be told in memory of her” (Matthew 26:6-13, emphasis mine).

As one reads this account, he would not be able to identify any one person as the root of this indignation toward Mary (and even toward Jesus for allowing such “waste”). But John’s Gospel gives us the inside scoop on what happened here:

1 Then, six days before the Passover, Jesus came to Bethany, where Lazarus lived, whom he had raised from the dead. 2 So they prepared a dinner for Jesus there. Martha was serving, and Lazarus was among those present at the table with him. 3 Then Mary took three quarters of a pound of expensive aromatic oil from pure nard and anointed the feet of Jesus. She then wiped his feet dry with her hair. (Now the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfumed oil.) 4 But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (the one who was going to betray him) said, 5 “Why wasn’t this oil sold for three hundred silver coins and the money given to the poor?” 6 (Now Judas said this not because he was concerned about the poor, but because he was a thief. As keeper of the money box, he used to steal what was put into it.) 7 So Jesus said, “Leave her alone. She has kept it for the day of my burial. 8 For you will always have the poor with you, but you will not always have me!” (John 12:1-8, emphasis mine)

We know that Judas was not a believer,5 yet he was one of the twelve. In fact, it would appear that Judas was one of the most respected and trusted disciples, for it was he who was the treasurer for the group. Somewhere along the line, Judas began to dip into the money bag, taking some of the money for himself. He may have thought of this as his “commission.” And so John tells us that Judas was a thief and that he was the source of the grumbling of the other disciples. It sounded pious, but Judas was simply angry that such a large gift would never fall within his grasp.

The point I am trying to make here is that an unbeliever can indeed infiltrate a community of believers, undetected. And this unbeliever can become a corrupting influence on those who were true followers of Jesus. I think we can see this in other places in Scripture as well:

13 For such people are false apostles, deceitful workers, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. 14 And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. 15 Therefore it is not surprising his servants also disguise themselves as servants of righteousness, whose end will correspond to their actions (2 Corinthians 11:13-15).

Now this matter arose because of the false brothers with false pretenses who slipped in unnoticed to spy on our freedom that we have in Christ Jesus, to make us slaves (Galatians 2:4).

3 Dear friends, although I have been eager to write to you about our common salvation, I now feel compelled instead to write to encourage you to contend earnestly for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints. 4 For certain men have secretly slipped in among you – men who long ago were marked out for the condemnation I am about to describe – ungodly men who have turned the grace of our God into a license for evil and who deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ (Jude 3-4).

Recognizing the Influence of Judaisers in the Church

This topic is closely related to the last, except for the fact that some “Judaisers” may have been true believers. By “Judaiser,” I am referring to those devout Jews who sought to retain as much as they could of their past traditions and practices and who likewise attempted to impose their Judaism on Gentile converts. In effect, they wanted Gentile believers to be Jewish proselytes. One cannot underestimate the amount of influence these Jews exercised within the church.

In the Book of Acts, we find Peter’s Jewish peers indicting him for going to the home of a Gentile (Cornelius):

1 Now the apostles and the brothers who were throughout Judea heard that the Gentiles too had accepted the word of God. 2 So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcised believers took issue with him, 3 saying, “You went to uncircumcised men and shared a meal with them” (Acts 11:1-3).

When Paul and Barnabas returned from their first missionary journey, some of the Jews from Judea boldly challenged Paul and Barnabas, insisting that Gentile converts must be circumcised and must keep the law in order to be saved, thus precipitating the first church council:

1 Now some men came down from Judea and began to teach the brothers, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.” 2 When Paul and Barnabas had a major argument and debate with them, the church appointed Paul and Barnabas and some others from among them to go up to meet with the apostles and elders in Jerusalem about this point of disagreement (Acts 15:1-2).

But the most distressing account of Jewish intimidation in the church comes from Galatians 2. Here we see how strong their influence was:

11 But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he had clearly done wrong. 12 Until certain people came from James, he had been eating with the Gentiles. But when they arrived, he stopped doing this and separated himself because he was afraid of those who were pro-circumcision. 13 And the rest of the Jews also joined with him in this hypocrisy, so that even Barnabas was led astray with them by their hypocrisy (Galatians 2:11-13).

Even great men like Peter and Barnabas6 folded under pressure from the pro-circumcision Jews who came “from James.” It took a sharp rebuke from Paul to correct the situation. This was not merely an act of hypocrisy; it was a denial of the gospel. It dealt with Gentile believers as though they were second-class citizens in the kingdom, rather than being part of “one new man.”7

Jewish False Teachers in the Church

The more I study the New Testament, the more convinced I am that the Jew/Gentile issue was one of the greatest problems the New Testament church faced. Think of the adjustments that had to be made, especially by Jewish believers. Temple worship seems to have ended with the persecution that followed the stoning of Stephen. It didn’t take long for Jewish Christians to be excluded from the synagogues. Now the church met in homes, without all the splendor of the Temple and Jewish rituals of worship. And worst of all (in the Jewish mind), they had to embrace Gentile believers as equals. Gentiles were to be embraced as part of “one new man,” the church, and not forced to become Jewish proselytes, or to be treated as second-class citizens. It is obvious that there was a major mental adjustment needed, even by the apostles. And sometimes they needed to be rebuked, as we see in Galatians 2. It should come as no surprise, then, that Jewish false teachers would infiltrate the church with their false teachings. This is apparent in various epistles in the New Testament. Let me mention a few instances where Jewish false teachers are addressed.

3 As I urged you when I was leaving for Macedonia, stay on in Ephesus to instruct certain people not to spread false teachings, 4 nor to occupy themselves with myths and interminable genealogies. Such things promote useless speculations rather than God’s redemptive plan that operates by faith. 5 But the aim of our instruction is love that comes from a pure heart, a good conscience, and a sincere faith. 6 Some have strayed from these and turned away to empty discussion. 7 They want to be teachers of the law, but they do not understand what they are saying or the things they insist on so confidently. 8 But we know that the law is good if someone uses it legitimately, 9 realizing that law is not intended for a righteous person, but for lawless and rebellious people, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers, 10 sexually immoral people, practicing homosexuals, kidnappers, liars, perjurers – in fact, for any who live contrary to sound teaching. 11 This accords with the glorious gospel of the blessed God that was entrusted to me (1 Timothy 1:3-11, emphasis mine).

1 Now the Spirit explicitly says that in the later times some will desert the faith and occupy themselves with deceiving spirits and demonic teachings, 2 influenced by the hypocrisy of liars whose consciences are seared. 3 They will prohibit marriage and require abstinence from foods8 that God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth. 4 For every creation of God is good and no food is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving. 5 For it is sanctified by God’s word and by prayer. 6 By pointing out such things to the brothers and sisters, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, having nourished yourself on the words of the faith and of the good teaching that you have followed. 7 But reject those myths fit only for the godless and gullible, and train yourself for godliness (1 Timothy 4:1-7, emphasis mine).

14 Remind people of these things and solemnly charge them before the Lord not to wrangle over words. This is of no benefit; it just brings ruin on those who listen. 15 Make every effort to present yourself before God as a proven worker who does not need to be ashamed, teaching the message of truth accurately. 16 But avoid profane chatter, because those occupied with it will stray further and further into ungodliness, 17 and their message will spread its infection like gangrene. Hymenaeus and Philetus are in this group. 18 They have strayed from the truth by saying that the resurrection has already occurred, and they are undermining some people’s faith. 19 However, God’s solid foundation remains standing, bearing this seal: The Lord knows those who are his,” and “Everyone who confesses the name of the Lord must turn away from evil” (1 Timothy 2:14-19, emphasis mine).9

1 But understand this, that in the last days difficult times will come. 2 For people will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, 3 unloving, irreconcilable, slanderers, without self-control, savage, opposed to what is good, 4 treacherous, reckless, conceited, loving pleasure rather than loving God. 5 They will maintain the outward appearance of religion but will have repudiated its power. So avoid people like these. 6 For some of these insinuate themselves into households and captivate weak women who are overwhelmed with sins and led along by various passions. 7 Such women are always seeking instruction, yet never able to arrive at a knowledge of the truth. 8 And just as Jannes and Jambres opposed Moses, so these people – who have warped minds and are disqualified in the faith – also oppose the truth. 9 But they will not go much further, for their foolishness will be obvious to everyone, just like it was with Jannes and Jambres (2 Timothy 3:1-9, emphasis mine).

I find this text especially interesting. These false teachers are likened to Jannes and Jambres, who opposed Moses (verses 8-9). But what is most significant here is that these teachers teach in such a way that their instruction must be repeated, and yet those instructed don’t ever really learn the truth. Granted, those deceived in this manner are said to be women here, but I don’t think gender is the deciding factor at all. Guilt is the cause. Jewish legalists surely impose guilt, as opposed to grace, and thus those instructed by them do not and cannot grow. This is exactly what we found in Hebrews:

11 On this topic we have much to say and it is difficult to explain, since you have become sluggish in hearing. 12 For though you should in fact be teachers by this time, you need someone to teach you the beginning elements of God’s utterances. You have gone back to needing milk, not solid food (Hebrews 5:11-12).

Here is yet another text which clearly identifies the false teachers in the church at Crete as promoters of Jewish-oriented error:

10 For there are many rebellious people, idle talkers, and deceivers, especially those with Jewish connections, 11 who must be silenced because they mislead whole families by teaching for dishonest gain what ought not to be taught. 12 A certain one of them, in fact, one of their own prophets, said, “Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons.” 13 Such testimony is true. For this reason rebuke them sharply that they may be healthy in the faith 14 and not pay attention to Jewish myths and commands of people who reject the truth. 15 All is pure to those who are pure. But to those who are corrupt and unbelieving, nothing is pure, but both their minds and consciences are corrupted. 16 They profess to know God but with their deeds they deny him, since they are detestable, disobedient, and unfit for any good deed (Titus 1:10-16, emphasis mine).

Those causing division in the church at Corinth were not immediately labeled as Jewish false teachers, but by the time we get to 2 Corinthians, Paul does not pull any punches about their identity:

13 For such people are false apostles, deceitful workers, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. 14 And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. 15 Therefore it is not surprising his servants also disguise themselves as servants of righteousness, whose end will correspond to their actions. . . . 22 Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they descendants of Abraham? So am I (2 Corinthians 11:13-15, 22, emphasis mine).

It is my understanding that the Book of Acts, Romans, 1 and 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Colossians, 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus all address Jew/Gentile issues in relation to the church. If this is true, then we would expect that the Book of Hebrews, an epistle written to Jewish converts to Christ, would deal with some of the areas of false teaching that we see addressed elsewhere in the New Testament. We should also see that the pressure to “fall back” into Judaism may not have come merely from outside the church, but may have actually come from within as well.

All of this is to suggest that Hebrews is dealing with false teaching within the church, as well as without. This seems to become more apparent as we approach the conclusion to this epistle. Note these texts related to leadership and Jewish teaching:

15 See to it that no one comes short of the grace of God, that no one be like a bitter rootspringing up and causing trouble, and through him many become defiled. 16 And see to it that no one becomes an immoral or godless person like Esau, who sold his own birthright for a single meal. 17 For you know that later when he wanted to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no opportunity for repentance, although he sought the blessing with tears (Hebrews 12:15-17, emphasis mine).

We should not overlook the relationship between this text in chapter 12 and what we have just seen in chapter 6:

4 For it is impossible in the case of those who have once been enlightened, tasted the heavenly gift, become partakers of the Holy Spirit, 5 tasted the good word of God and the miracles of the coming age, 6 and then have committed apostasy, to renew them again to repentance, since they are crucifying the Son of God for themselves all over again and holding him up to contempt (Hebrews 6:4-6, emphasis mine).

The warning is against those who “spring up” in the church and then defile others. These are folks that, like Esau, are beyond repentance. Is Hebrews 12:15-17 not talking about those in Hebrews 6:4-6)? This seems to be confirmed in Hebrews 13:

1 Brotherly love must continue. 2 Do not neglect hospitality, because through it some have entertained angels without knowing it. 3 Remember those in prison as though you were in prison with them, and those ill-treated as though you too felt their torment. 4 Marriage must be honored among all10 and the marriage bed kept undefiled,11 for God will judge sexually immoral people and adulterers. 5 Your conduct must be free from the love of money12 and you must be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you and I will never abandon you.” 6 So we can say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper, andI will not be afraid. What can man do to me?” 7 Remember your leaders, who spoke God’s message to you; reflect on the outcome of their lives and imitate their faith. 8 Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever! 9 Do not be carried away by all sorts of strange teachings. For it is good for the heart to be strengthened by grace, not ritual meals, which have never benefited those who participated in them.13 10 We have an altar that those who serve in the tabernacle have no right to eat from. 11 For the bodies of those animals whose blood the high priest brings into the sanctuary as an offering for sin are burned outside the camp. 12 Therefore, to sanctify the people by his own blood, Jesus also suffered outside the camp. 13 We must go out to him, then, outside the camp, bearing the abuse he experienced. 14 For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come. 15 Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of our lips, acknowledging his name. 16 And do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for God is pleased with such sacrifices. 17 Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls and will give an account for their work. Let them do this with joy and not with complaints, for this would be no advantage for you (Hebrews 13:1-17, emphasis mine).

In the light of what we find in Hebrews and the rest of the New Testament, we should expect that Jewish false teachers have infiltrated the church and that our author has such false teachers in mind in his warning passage in Hebrews 6. If, in chapter 13, the author instructs the Hebrews to “consider the outcome of their lives” (13:7), then I believe Hebrews 6:4-8 tells us what that outcome is. No wonder such folks are not to be followed.

Tracing the Flow of the Argument

The interpretation of our text (particularly 6:4-8) should be consistent with the author’s development of his argument thus far in Hebrews. So let’s seek to trace the argument, beginning at chapter 1.

The Book of Hebrews begins by emphasizing the authority and finality of the revelation which God has given us in the person of the Son (1:1-4). This revelation is worthy of our attention because of the supremacy of the Son, through whom God has revealed Himself (1:5-2:4). The Son of God is “higher than the angels” (chapter 1), but He also became “lower than the angels” at His incarnation in order to become our Great High Priest (chapter 2). He added sinless humanity to His undiminished deity in order to identify with man and to become a merciful and faithful high priest (2:9-18).

If chapters 1 and 2 set forth the supremacy and sufficiency of Christ as God’s revelation and our High Priest, chapters 3 and 4 demonstrate the deficiency of mankind. This deficiency is exemplified by the unbelief and rebellion of the first generation of Israelites who left Egypt for the Promised Land, led by Moses. The author of Hebrews cites the second half of Psalm 95, in which the psalmist highlights Israel’s failures and exhorts his current readers to learn from them. The author to the Hebrews then exhorts his readers, based upon lessons learned from the past: (1) To be diligent to enter into God’s rest (4:11); (2) to hold fast to their confession (4:14); and (3) to draw near to Jesus, their Great High Priest, for help in time of need (4:15-16).

In chapter 5, the author compares the Lord Jesus and His high priestly ministry with Aaron and his ministry as high priest. Our Lord is not only shown to be qualified to be our High Priest, but it is clear that His priesthood is vastly superior to that of Aaron. His priesthood is of another order, the order of Melchizedek. It is at this point that the readers’ weaknesses become apparent, for this subject is obviously far more difficult to grasp than the spiritual diet to which they have become accustomed. Both in content and in practical application they have become dull and sluggish and inept at discerning the difference between good and evil (5:11-14).

The author’s solution is not to cater to the immaturity of his audience, but to forge ahead with the spiritual meat they need for growth. He moves beyond elementary instruction to that which should come next in their spiritual curriculum (6:1-3). As I understand it, this elementary teaching was that instruction based on the Old Testament which foreshadowed the coming of the Messiah. But now it is time for the fuller and more complete revelation that God has given through the Son (1:1-4; 2:1-4). Because his readers needed to be taken beyond the instruction given them by those who apparently wanted to keep them from growing spiritually, the author of Hebrews is determined to press ahead. And thus he begins verse 1 with “therefore.” He does this not “in spite of” his readers’ spiritual immaturity, but precisely because of it.

In 1 Corinthians 3, Paul seems to find it necessary to “speak down” to his readers:

1 So, brothers and sisters, I could not speak to you as spiritual people, but instead as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. 2 I fed you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready. In fact, you are still not ready, 3 for you are still influenced by the flesh. For since there is still jealousy and dissension among you, are you not influenced by the flesh and behaving like unregenerate people? (1 Corinthians 3:1-3)

It is a different story in Hebrews 6. The author refuses to resort to a mere repetition of the elementary teachings. Why? I believe it is because of those who were teaching these things. By purposely avoiding the fuller and more complete teaching of the New Testament (the very teaching the author was urging his readers to heed with full attention), these teachers could stress the superiority of the Old Covenant, and the Jewish rituals and practices so familiar to them, and so much “better” in their minds.

The author says that his readers in their immaturity have the need for “someone” to teach them these elementary things once again, but he refuses to do so. I believe it is because this is the content that the false teachers are using to promote their Judaising agenda. It is not wrong, but they are unwilling to move beyond the Old Testament revelation to the New. They will avoid texts like Ephesians 2 and 3, or Galatians, because it exposes the error of their ways.

Verse 4 commences the troublesome portion of our text. Note that it begins with the explanatory “for”:

4 For it is impossible in the case of those who have once been enlightened, tasted the heavenly gift, become partakers of the Holy Spirit, 5 tasted the good word of God and the miracles of the coming age, 6 and then have committed apostasy, to renew them again to repentance, since they are crucifying the Son of God for themselves all over again and holding him up to contempt. 7 For the ground that has soaked up the rain that frequently falls on it and yields useful vegetation for those who tend it receives a blessing from God. 8 But if it produces thorns and thistles, it is useless and about to be cursed; its fate is to be burned (Hebrews 6:4-8).

Since I have already dealt with the major interpretations of this text in our previous lesson, I will restrict my interpretation to that which best seems to fit the context. I believe that those described in verses 4 and 5 are those who have come very close to faith, but who have never embraced the gospel personally for salvation. The most forceful example of this “close, but no cigar” unbeliever would be Judas, a man who heard the gospel from our Lord, who experienced God’s power, but who never really believed in Jesus for salvation. It would seem that the kind of person who is described above is one who has heard the gospel, who has witnessed and perhaps even experienced its power, but who has not come to faith, and who after experiencing the gospel “up close and personal,” has rejected it.

Here, I find myself in essential agreement with most Calvinistic scholars, although I certainly understand and appreciate the merits of the “loss of rewards (and experience God’s earthly discipline)” position. I would go so far as to say that they may be right in interpreting this passage in that way. But I still see our author as addressing two different kinds of people in chapters 6 and 10. Where my interpretation would differ slightly from the classic Calvinistic view is that I see these unbelievers as those who exercise a significant level of authority and influence in the church. I see these folks as being the source of much of the pressure and temptation to revert back to the law-works of unbelieving Judaism.

In verse 12, we read,

So that you may not be sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and perseverance inherit the promises (Hebrews 6:12).

Combined with the exhortation of chapter 13, verse 7, I see our author exhorting his readers to pay attention to those whom they follow. Are they men of faith and perseverance, who look forward to the fulfillment of God’s promises? What is the outcome of their life? We know that the outcome of those described in verses 1-6 is not one which should attract us to follow them.

These would-be teachers are those who seem to have grasped the gospel and to have been exposed to it to the degree that they have witnessed (and perhaps experienced) some of its power. But they, like Judas, never crossed the line of faith in Jesus. They chose to remain in the shadows of the Old Testament concerning Messiah, rather than to fully embrace Jesus as the Messiah. They preferred the old rituals and rules to the freedom of the New Covenant. They seemed to prefer a strictly Jewish system rather than the church, composed of Jewish and Gentile believers in Jesus. And, in my estimation, they sought to persuade others to think and act in a similar manner.

Our author distinguishes the false believers from the true by using an agricultural illustration in verses 7 and 8. Within the church, there were two kinds of soil. Both soils received the benefit of the rains, but while one soil produced a crop, the other produced only thorns and thistles. The good soil receives God’s blessing, while the bad soil is in danger of being cursed, the worthless produce being fit only for the fire.

Those described in verses 4-6 and 8 are the exception, while the majority of the Hebrews are the “good soil” of verse 9. This the author makes very clear in verses 9-12. He begins by calling these believers “dear friends” or “beloved” (verse 9). This is the most intimate reference to these Hebrews so far in the book. He is convinced of better things than what he has just described. These “better things” pertain to what accompanies salvation – the fruit which grows from the soil of salvation.

These Hebrews have evidenced their love by their work in ministering to the needs of the saints, and God has taken note of this fruit. Love for the brethren is one of those powerful witnesses to the presence and power of God in our lives. The author does not wish his believing readers to rest on the laurels of their past deeds; his desire is for them to maintain the same kind of diligence so that they will not be sluggish, but will realize the full assurance of their hope to the very end. He desires for them to imitate those, like Abraham (as we are about to read), who through faith and patient endurance inherit the promises.14

How Does This Interpretation Encourage Christians?

I said at the outset of this message that the correct interpretation of this text should affirm and encourage the faith of believers. Has this interpretation done so, and if, so, how? First, this text encourages Christians by making a clear distinction between those who believe and those who do not. The way some handle this text only raises doubts and fears. “Am I really one of those who believe?” “Is my faith genuine, or will I be found to be an imposter in the end?” These are the kinds of questions which arise when the line between faith and apostasy is fuzzy. It seems to me that the author has clearly distinguished faith from unbelief. To go back to chapter 4, we find that the Word of God makes the important distinctions clear to us (4:12-13).

Secondly, our text holds believers corporately responsible for one another – for discerning and dealing with unbelief, apostasy, and false teaching. In the midst of warning of the danger of unbelief, the saints are encouraged to minister to one another because we have become partakers of Christ:

12 See to it, brothers and sisters, that none of you has an evil, unbelieving heart that forsakes the living God. 13 But exhort one another each day, as long as it is called “Today,” that none of you may become hardened by sin’s deception. 14 For we have become partners with Christ, if in fact we hold our initial confidence firm until the end (Hebrews 3:12-15).

How can the saints undergird the faith and endurance of others if they maintain doubts about their own standing before God? The fact that we are held accountable for encouraging other saints should serve to undergird our confidence in God and the salvation He has given to us.

Conclusion

So, as we conclude let me be careful to answer the question which I chose as the title for this message? “Who Are Those Who Fall Away?” They are those who have come close to the truth of the gospel, who have benefited from the truth, but in the end have chosen to reject the gospel of Jesus Christ in order to maintain the perceived benefits of the Old Covenant, as though it was superior to the New. These are not believers who fall away, but those who only came close to the truth, only to reject it.

Our text underscores the importance of confidence in our confession, that is in our confidence in the One in whom we have come to trust for our eternal salvation. It is doubt that undermines confidence, and faith that produces confidence. How confident Paul was in his standing before God:

Because of this, in fact, I suffer as I do. But I am not ashamed, because I know the one in whom my faith is set and I am convinced that he is able to protect what has been entrusted to me until that day (2 Timothy 1:12, emphasis mine).

Likewise, Paul is confident concerning the faith and perseverance of others who have come to trust in Jesus Christ for salvation:

For I am sure of this very thing, that the one who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus (Philippians 1:6).

If confidence is constructive, doubt is destructive and unproductive:

5 But if anyone is deficient in wisdom, he should ask God, who gives to all generously and without reprimand, and it will be given to him. 6 But he must ask in faith without doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed around by the wind. 7 For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord, 8 since he is a double-minded individual, unstable in all his ways (James 1:5-8).

If we know the Lord Jesus Christ, we should “know His voice” and thus be able to discern false teachers:

3 The doorkeeper opens the door for him, and the sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. 4 When he has brought all his own sheep out, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they recognize his voice. 5 They will never follow a stranger, but will run away from him, because they do not recognize the stranger’s voice” (John 10:3-5).

Our text cautions us to be careful who we choose as our leaders. We know that the Israelites rebelled against Moses when they rebelled against God. They threatened to kill Moses and to appoint a new leader. Hebrews instructs us about those whom we choose to follow, just as a number of other epistles do. We must be very careful to follow those who are following Christ, for there are those who are on the path to destruction, and they would love to take others with them.

Our text underscores the value of New Testament ecclesiology (church doctrine). Notice that our text holds all believers responsible for ministry to one another and not just a pastor or pastoral staff. Our text assumes a plurality of leaders, and not just one dominant leader. When there is a plurality of leaders, one individual is not as likely to “take the reins” and lead the flock astray.

Our text instructs us to deal with apostasy. We are responsible to be good students of God’s Word so that we recognize error for what it is, and so that we deal with it appropriately. Error is to be dealt with by the church and is to be removed so that it will not corrupt others. There are those who feel obliged to remain in an apostate church – a church that has corporately fallen away from the faith – with the hope of saving it, or some within it. Apostasy corrupts. In my opinion, it is better to remove oneself from an apostate church than to attempt to restore it to genuine faith.

Our text challenges those who are outside the faith to acknowledge their sin and to trust in the sacrifice of Jesus, our Great High Priest, for the forgiveness of their sins. Our text tells us the outcome of unbelief, thus calling for men to repent and to believe in Jesus. If you have never confessed your sin and publicly professed your faith in the work of Jesus at Calvary, I urge you to do so today.


1 Copyright © 2008 by Robert L. Deffinbaugh. This is the edited manuscript of Lesson 14 in the series, Near to the Heart of God – A Study of the Book of Hebrews, prepared by Robert L. Deffinbaugh on October 12, 2008. Anyone is at liberty to use this lesson for educational purposes only, with or without credit.

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the NET Bible. The NEW ENGLISH TRANSLATION, also known as THE NET BIBLE, is a completely new translation of the Bible, not a revision or an update of a previous English version. It was completed by more than twenty biblical scholars who worked directly from the best currently available Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek texts. The translation project originally started as an attempt to provide an electronic version of a modern translation for electronic distribution over the Internet and on CD (compact disk). Anyone anywhere in the world with an Internet connection will be able to use and print out the NET Bible without cost for personal study. In addition, anyone who wants to share the Bible with others can print unlimited copies and give them away free to others. It is available on the Internet at: www.netbible.org.

2 It is indeed unfortunate that the translators of the NIV saw fit to ignore the Greek term gar, which should be rendered “for” as it is in virtually all the best translations.

3 As others have pointed out, the tense of the verbs has been “aorist” elsewhere, but in verse 6 we are dealing with verbs (participles) that are in the present tense. The NET Bible has been careful to translate in a way that makes the durative aspect of the present tense clear: “. . . since they are crucifying the Son of God for themselves all over again and holding him up to contempt” (emphasis mine).

4 See Exodus 12:38; Numbers 11:4.

5 See John 6:64.

6 Barnabas, who rejoiced greatly when he witnessed the faith of Gentiles who had come to faith at Antioch (Acts 11:20-24), buckled under the pressure of those Jews who felt Gentile believers were inferior, and who distanced themselves from them.

7 See Ephesians 2:11-22.

8 Surely this abstinence from certain foods betrays a Jewish source. And there was also a disdain for marriage. Here we should compare the words of the writer to the Hebrews in 13:4, 9.

9 No direct Jewish connection is specified here, but given the other warnings of the Pastoral Epistles, it seems likely that there was a connection.

10 See 1 Timothy 4:1-3.

11 See 1 Corinthians 6 and 7 (especially when the false teaching is viewed as coming from Jewish teachers).

12 See 1 Timothy 6:3-10; Titus 1:11.

13 See Acts 10-11; Romans 14:1-4; Galatians 2:11-21; 1 Timothy 4:3.

14 Note that folks like Abraham have not yet inherited the promises (see Hebrews 11:13-16), but they will do so, along with us (11:39-40).


http://feeds.bible.org/deffinbaugh/hebrews/deff_hebrews_14.mp3
/assets/powerpoint/deff_hebrews_14.ppt
Ad Category: 
Biblical Topics: 
Passage: 
/assets/worddocs/deff_hebrews_14_sg.zip

15. Standing on the Promises (Hebrews 6:13-20)

9 But in your case, dear friends, even though we speak like this, we are convinced of better things relating to salvation. 10 For God is not unjust so as to forget your work and the love you have demonstrated for his name, in having served and continuing to serve the saints. 11 But we passionately want each of you to demonstrate the same eagerness for the fulfillment of your hope until the end, 12 so that you may not be sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and perseverance inherit the promises. 13 Now when God made his promise to Abraham, since he could swear by no one greater, he swore by himself, 14 saying, “Surely I will bless you greatly and multiply your descendants abundantly.” 15 And so by persevering, Abraham inherited the promise. 16 For people swear by something greater than themselves, and the oath serves as a confirmation to end all dispute. 17 In the same way God wanted to demonstrate more clearly to the heirs of the promise that his purpose was unchangeable, and so he intervened with an oath, 18 so that we who have found refuge in him may find strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us through two unchangeable things, since it is impossible for God to lie. 19 We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, sure and steadfast, which reaches inside behind the curtain, 20 where Jesus our forerunner entered on our behalf, since he became a priest forever in the order of Melchizedek (Hebrews 6:9-20).1

Introduction

It seems as though I have heard a lot of promises lately. Oh, yes, it is an election year isn’t it? I hope that all of us have figured out that almost all of the promises we hear from political candidates (whatever their political party) are empty words. In many instances the candidates promise different things to different people, knowing that they cannot deliver. In a few instances, the candidates may actually think that they can deliver, but chances are they will not.

This message is about the kind of promises you can count on, promises you can “take to the bank,” so to speak. The particular promises we are dealing with here in this lesson are those which God has sworn to uphold as unchanging.

Our Text in Context

Hebrews 6:13-20 serves as the conclusion to a digression which began in chapter 5 at verse 11. The author has presented a powerful demonstration of the sufficiency of God the Son in chapters 1 and 2, and then drew our attention to the deficiency of men in chapters 3 and 4. He did so by means of the example of the first generation of Israelites to leave Egypt, and by the lessons the author of Psalm 95 drew from their failures. He then proceeds to show how the Son is the solution to our dilemma by means of becoming our Great High Priest, a priest after the order of Melchizedek.

A digression is required by the condition of the original recipients of this epistle. They were not accustomed to teaching beyond a very elementary level, and thus teaching about Melchizedek was going to be a real stretch for all of them. And so the author’s analysis of the situation is recorded in 5:11-14: the readers of Hebrews are used to “Dairy Queen” teaching, rather than “Steak and Ale” teaching. Because of this, the author lays out his approach, which is to leave behind the elementary teachings and to press on to teach those things which lead to maturity (6:1-3).

Hebrews 6:4-8 is the “thorny” portion of this digression, with various interpretations, as we have previously noted. I’m inclined (at this moment) to see this paragraph as referring to those who have come close to faith and have even enjoyed some of the benefits of association with the gospel and the Christian community, but who have never truly come to faith. And in the end, these are the folks who more actively reject and oppose the gospel. Thus at some point (known only to God), their fate is to be forever condemned, without a further opportunity for repentance.2 I would differ slightly with those (Calvinists) who hold to this view in that I see these condemned folks as the source of false teaching in the church which sought to turn others back to Judaism, and thus to join them in “falling away” from the faith.

Having issued a solemn warning to those outside the faith, the author is quick in 6:9-12 to reassure his readers that he is assured of better things concerning their salvation. In particular, their lives have demonstrated service to the saints, manifesting the love which should characterize those who are followers of Jesus:

“Everyone will know by this that you are my disciples – if you have love for one another” (John 13:35).

This manifestation of love has continued to the present, and the author hopes that it will continue. Thus he urges them to persevere in the faith with all diligence, so that they may realize the full assurance of their hope, up to the very end (6:11). This will remedy the problem of sluggishness and will be evident as they imitate others (such as Abraham) in patiently enduring to the end, and thus inheriting God’s promises (6:12).

Hebrews 6:13-20 is the conclusion of the author’s digression. It presents God’s promises (particularly those sealed with an oath) as the basis for our hope and perseverance. I believe it also presents a greater assurance of hope as the result of faithful endurance in the tests and trials of life. As the author comes to the end of this section, he very neatly returns to the subject of Melchizedek, his point of departure in 5:11.

The Importance of our Text

Our text is important for several reasons. First, our text puts the whole issue of perseverance into its proper perspective. Overall, the purpose of the author is to undergird the Hebrew Christians’ assurance and confidence in their confession of faith in Christ. Hebrews 5:11—6:20 is a bit of a digression, and much of this section emphasizes the believers’ responsibility to “be diligent to enter rest” (5:11), to “hold fast their confession” (5:14), and to “draw near to Jesus . . . to receive mercy and grace in their time of need” (5:16). And let us not overlook the author’s strong warning regarding falling away in 6:4-8.

One might wrongly conclude that the author is telling the reader that the believer’s endurance is totally their own doing. This would be turning from grace to works, the very thing the author strongly opposes. The concluding verses of this section – our text – give us the proper perspective: our security and our endurance are rooted in God’s changeless promises (covenants). These promises are fulfilled by the person and work of Jesus as our Great High Priest. It is God’s faithfulness that prompts the believer to cling to Him. Our trust is in God, not in our efforts.

Second, our text is the “on ramp”3 back to the subject of Melchizedek, and the superior high priestly ministry of our Lord. It was the author’s teaching concerning the relationship of our Lord to Melchizedek that necessitated the digression of 5:11—6:20. But the author is determined to deal with this meaty topic (6:1-3), and these concluding verses of his digression take us right back to where he left off in 5:10. With this transition, we will come to the major emphasis of the Book of Hebrews – the high priestly ministry of Jesus Christ.

Questions to Answer

I believe there are several questions that must be answered in order to understand our text. Let me set them out here to be answered as we proceed in our study.

1. Wh y does God’s oath come so late in Abraham’s life (Genesis 22)?

    2. Why does God need to swear at all, when He cannot lie (Numbers 23:19), and we are commanded not to (Matthew 5:33-37; James 5:12)?

3. What are the two unchangeable things in which God cannot lie?

4. What is our hope, and why is it an anchor for our soul?

The Key to our Text
Hebrews 6:11-12

11 But we passionately want each of you to demonstrate the same eagerness for the fulfillment of your hope until the end, 12 so that you may not be sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and perseverance inherit the promises.

The author desires for his readers to continue to manifest the same eagerness and diligence they have demonstrated in the pursuit of their hope to the very end (see 6:10). In so doing, they will be imitators of those, like Abraham (coming up in verses 13ff.) and others who will be named in chapter 11. The ones who have demonstrated faith and patient endurance are those who inherit4 the promises. In this sense, hope is not only the basis for perseverance; it is also the result of perseverance. I believe we can find this sequence elsewhere in Scripture. For example, consider these words in Romans 5:

1 Therefore, since we have been declared righteous by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 through whom we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in the hope of God’s glory. 3 Not only this, but we also rejoice in sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4 and endurance, character, and character, hope. 5 And hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us. 6 For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. 7 (For rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person perhaps someone might possibly dare to die.) 8 But God demonstrates his own love for us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:1-8).

Christians rejoice in the hope of seeing God’s glory (see Romans 8:18-25), and they do so in the midst of trials and tribulations. How can this be? Paul tells us that God uses suffering to enhance our hope and our endurance. When we endure suffering by faith, we experience God’s sustaining strength. We discover that suffering actually strengthens our faith because God is faithful to sustain us. Successful suffering gives us greater confidence in God, and thus it produces hope by assuring us that, with God’s enablement, we will endure to the end and thus experience the full revelation of God’s glory in the future.

What the author of Hebrews is going to do in the verses which follow (6:13-20) is to show how God’s covenant promises undergird and strengthen our hope, which then becomes the basis for perseverance and endurance in the midst of adversity. He will show that as we persevere God provides further confidence in His promises, which enhances our hope. All of this is God’s way of showing us that His promises are the basis for our perseverance. Thus, it really is all about God, and not about our performance.

The Example of Abraham
Genesis 22:15-18
Hebrews 6:13-18

15 The Lord’s angel called to Abraham a second time from heaven 16 and said, “‘I solemnly swear by my own name,’ decrees the Lord, ‘that because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, 17 I will indeed bless you, and I will greatly multiply your descendants so that they will be as countless as the stars in the sky or the grains of sand on the seashore. Your descendants will take possession of the strongholds of their enemies. 18 Because you have obeyed me, all the nations of the earth will pronounce blessings on one another using the name of your descendants’” (Genesis 22:15-18, emphasis mine).

13 Now when God made his promise to Abraham, since he could swear by no one greater, he swore by himself, 14 saying, “Surely I will bless you greatly and multiply your descendants abundantly.” 15 And so by persevering, Abraham inherited the promise. 16 For people swear by something greater than themselves, and the oath serves as a confirmation to end all dispute. 17 In the same way God wanted to demonstrate more clearly to the heirs of the promise that his purpose was unchangeable, and so he intervened with an oath, 18 so that we who have found refuge in him may find strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us through two unchangeable things, since it is impossible for God to lie (Hebrews 6:13-18).

Let’s begin with the account in Genesis. The promise which God affirmed by His oath is found in Genesis 22. It comes immediately after Abraham’s greatest test of faith – his willingness, if necessary, to sacrifice his son Isaac in obedience to God’s command. This was now Abraham’s only heir, the one through whom God’s covenant blessings would be fulfilled. And now God commands Abraham to offer this son up as a sacrifice. We know from Hebrews 11:19 that Abraham did so in faith, believing that if he did so God would raise Isaac from the dead.

The promise that God made in Genesis 22 was not something new. It had been made at various times and occasions during those years before and after Isaac’s birth. It was initially given in Genesis 12:1-3, as the basis for leaving both home and family and seeking the Promised Land. It was repeated in chapter 13 after Abram and Lot separated (13:14-17). In chapter 15, God assured Abram that the promised seed would not be the child of one of his servants, but his own offspring. We are then told that Abram believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness (15:6). In response to Abram’s faith, God sealed this promise by making it a covenant with him (15:7-21). In chapter 17, God affirmed his covenant with Abram and gave him the sign of circumcision. He also clarified that the promised son would not only come through Abram, but that the mother of that descendant would be Sarai. God even gave Abram the name of that child – Isaac. In chapter 18, the Lord specified that Isaac would be born at the same time the following year.

Over time and by repetition, God became more and specific about His covenant with Abraham, and further assurances were also given. Moses makes it clear that the assurance is based upon God’s character and His covenant, and not upon Abraham’s perfect performance. Several lapses in Abraham’s faith are recorded in the period between the initial promise and the offering of Isaac. In Genesis 12, shortly after the first recording of the Abrahamic Covenant (12:1-3), Abram leaves the Promised Land and sojourns in Egypt because of a famine. To protect himself, Abram passes off Sarai as his sister, resulting in her being added, for a time, to the Pharaoh’s harem. It was only God’s divine intervention that spared Abram’s life and Sarai’s virtue (12:10-20).

There were further failures as well. One was when Abram, at his wife’s suggestion, took Hagar (Sarai’s handmaid) as his concubine and produced an offspring (Ishmael) through her (Genesis 16). And then in Genesis 20, we find Abraham repeating his same deception of passing off Sarah as his sister – resulting in her being temporarily added to Abimelech’s harem. And lest we think that he only did this on these two occasions, Abraham’s confession to Abimelech seems to indicate that this kind of deception was their usual practice:

11 Abraham replied, “Because I thought, ‘Surely no one fears God in this place. They will kill me because of my wife.’ 12 What’s more, she is indeed my sister, my father’s daughter, but not my mother’s daughter. She became my wife. 13 When God made me wander from my father’s house, I told her, ‘This is what you can do to show your loyalty to me: Every place we go, say about me, He is my brother”’” (Genesis 20:11-13, emphasis mine).

My point in emphasizing Abraham’s failures is to show that God was faithful to fulfill His promises to Abraham, even though this man’s faith was not without its failures. The birth of Isaac was God’s doing, for which Abraham can receive little credit. Abraham’s faith sometimes failed, but God’s promises to Abraham were certain.

Why Did God Swear to Abraham Later, Rather than Sooner?

So we return to the question I raised earlier: “Why does God now affirm his covenant with Abraham by swearing an oath after the greatest test of his faith?” Shouldn’t God have given an oath before this test, rather than after it? Let’s consider some important factors in the answer to this question.

First, hope is the basis for endurance.Hope inspires and encourages endurance. We’ve seen this already in verses 11 and 12, as well as from Romans 5:1-8. We see this also in Romans 8:

24 For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope, because who hopes for what he sees? 25 But if we hope for what we do not see, we eagerly wait for it with endurance (Romans 8:24-25).

Second, hope is also a reward for perseverance and trusting in God’s promises. A more certain hope is the fruit of (or reward for) endurance. God’s promises were the reason why Abraham left his homeland and family and set out for a new country. God’s promises assured Abraham in those years that he and Sarah were growing older and thus even less able to bear children. God’s promises inspired Abraham’s faith and thus his endurance. But the reward for having endured for more than 25 years was an even greater promise, a promise confirmed by an oath, a promise that assured Abraham of God’s commitment to bring His previous promises to fulfillment. This time the promise of God was confirmed with an oath, an even greater guarantee than that which he had received earlier. And thus, Abraham had an even greater hope set before him.

Third, God’s oath was His confirmation of His promises. In our text, we are told that men swear in order to confirm their statements and to remove any doubt about them. In order to give confirmation of their words, men must swear by something greater than themselves (verse 16). Thus, when men swear to tell the truth in a court of law, they swear with their hand on the Bible. Since God is greater than anyone or anything else, He can only swear by Himself (verse 13). God swears to remove any doubt as to the certainty of His promises being fulfilled.

Fourth, God’s oath assured Abraham because he had not yet seen the complete fulfillment of God’s covenant promises, nor would he before his death.

13 These all died in faith without receiving the things promised, but they saw them in the distance and welcomed them and acknowledged that they were strangers and foreigners on the earth. 14 For those who speak in such a way make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. 15 In fact, if they had been thinking of the land that they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. . . . 39 And these all were commended for their faith, yet they did not receive what was promised. 40 For God had provided something better for us, so that they would be made perfect together with us (Hebrews 11:13-15, 39-40).

Abraham was promised the land of Canaan, but he had to purchase a portion of that land for a burial place. Abraham was promised descendants that were as numerous as the sand of the sea, or as the stars in the heavens, and yet at this point in time he had but one son, Isaac. Abraham was promised that his seed would become a source of blessing for all nations, but this promise was not fulfilled as yet either. As the time of his death drew ever more near, God knew that Abraham would benefit greatly from a further confirmation of His covenant promises. This further confirmation came after the offering of Isaac, by means of God’s promise being confirmed by an oath.

Fifth, the confirmation of God’s promises to Abraham was not just for Abraham’s benefit, but for his descendants as well. His oath gives strong encouragement to the heirs of promise:

17 In the same way God wanted to demonstrate more clearly to the heirs of the promise that his purpose was unchangeable, and so he intervened with an oath, 18 so that we who have found refuge in him may find strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us through two unchangeable things, since it is impossible for God to lie (Hebrews 6:17-18, emphasis mine).

His descendants would include Isaac, Jacob, Judah, and David, but they would also include those Gentiles like us who share Abraham’s faith in God:

13 For the promise to Abraham or to his descendants that he would inherit the world was not fulfilled through the law, but through the righteousness that comes by faith. 14 For if they become heirs by the law, faith is empty and the promise is nullified. 15 For the law brings wrath, because where there is no law there is no transgression either. 16 For this reason it is by faith so that it may be by grace, with the result that the promise may be certain to all the descendants – not only to those who are under the law, but also to those who have the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all (Romans 4:13-16, emphasis mine).

Sixth, the confirmation of God’s promise to Abraham made it clear that this covenant was unconditional, and thus unchangeable.

17 In the same way God wanted to demonstrate more clearly to the heirs of the promise that his purpose was unchangeable, and so he intervened with an oath, 18 so that we who have found refuge in him may find strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us through two unchangeable things, since it is impossible for God to lie (Hebrews 6:17-18, emphasis mine).

It is important to recognize that not all of God’s promises are unconditional (or unchangeable). Consider, for example this text in Jeremiah:

7 There are times, Jeremiah, when I threaten to uproot, tear down, and destroy a nation or kingdom. 8 But if that nation I threatened stops doing wrong, I will cancel the destruction I intended to do to it. 9 And there are times when I promise to build up and establish a nation or kingdom. 10 But if that nation does what displeases me and does not obey me, then I will cancel the good I promised to do to it (Jeremiah 18:7-10, emphasis mine)

Some prophecies, for example, are warnings that can be avoided by repentance. For example, there was the warning that Jonah proclaimed to the Ninevites:

When Jonah began to enter the city one day’s walk, he announced, “At the end of forty days, Nineveh will be overthrown!” (Jonah 3:4)

The king of Nineveh called for repentance in case God might be merciful:

7 He issued a proclamation and said, “In Nineveh, by the decree of the king and his nobles: No human or animal, cattle or sheep, is to taste anything; they must not eat and they must not drink water. 8 Every person and animal must put on sackcloth and must cry earnestly to God, and everyone must turn from their evil way of living and from the violence that they do. 9 Who knows? Perhaps God might be willing to change his mind and relent and turn from his fierce anger so that we might not die” (Jonah 3:7-9, emphasis mine).

As the king of Nineveh hoped, and as Jonah assumed, God was merciful and compassionate, and thus in response to Nineveh’s repentance, He suspended the judgment5 Jonah proclaimed was coming in forty days. This greatly angered Jonah, who did not share God’s compassion toward sinners:

1 This displeased Jonah terribly and he became very angry. 2 He prayed to the Lord and said, “Oh, Lord, this is just what I thought would happen when I was in my own country. This is what I tried to prevent by attempting to escape to Tarshish! – because I knew that you are gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in mercy, and one who relents concerning threatened judgment. 3 So now, Lord, kill me instead, because I would rather die than live!” (Jonah 4:1-3, emphasis mine)

As Jeremiah indicated, the impending judgment that God threatened was stayed, because He had indicated that repentance may forestall divine judgment. Daniel understood this as well, and this is why he appealed to Nebuchadnezzar to repent, in order to avoid (or at least forestall) God’s judgment:

24 This is the interpretation, O king! It is the decision of the Most High that this has happened to my lord the king. 25 You will be driven from human society, and you will live with the wild animals. You will be fed grass like oxen, and you will become damp with the dew of the sky. Seven periods of time will pass by for you, before you understand that the Most High is ruler over human kingdoms and gives them to whomever he wishes. 26 They said to leave the taproot of the tree, for your kingdom will be restored to you when you come to understand that heaven rules. 27 Therefore, O king, may my advice be pleasing to you. Break away from your sins by doing what is right, and from your iniquities by showing mercy to the poor. Perhaps your prosperity will be prolonged” (Daniel 4:24-27, emphasis mine).

When God confirmed His covenant with Abraham with an oath, He was indicating to him that this was a covenant that was unconditional. This was done so that Abraham (and his descendants) would be assured that His promises to him would most certainly be fulfilled. Nothing would prevent His covenant promises from being fulfilled.

Let me illustrate how this works. In Genesis 15, God entered into His covenant with Abraham, making some very specific commitments regarding the exodus, which He sealed by a formal covenant-making process:

9 The Lord said to him, “Take for me a heifer, a goat, and a ram, each three years old, along with a dove and a young pigeon.” 10 So Abram took all these for him and then cut them in two and placed each half opposite the other, but he did not cut the birds in half. 11 When birds of prey came down on the carcasses, Abram drove them away. 12 When the sun went down, Abram fell sound asleep, and great terror overwhelmed him. 13 Then the Lord said to Abram, “Know for certain that your descendants will be strangers in a foreign country. They will be enslaved and oppressed for four hundred years. 14 But I will execute judgment on the nation that they will serve. Afterward they will come out with many possessions. 15 But as for you, you will go to your ancestors in peace and be buried at a good old age. 16 In the fourth generation your descendants will return here, for the sin of the Amorites has not yet reached its limit.” 17 When the sun had gone down and it was dark, a smoking firepot with a flaming torch passed between the animal parts. 18 That day the Lord made a covenant with Abram: “To your descendants I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the Euphrates River – 19 the land of the Kenites, Kenizzites, Kadmonites, 20 Hittites, Perizzites, Rephaites, 21 Amorites, Canaanites, Girgashites, and Jebusites” (Genesis 15:9-21).

When the Israelites sinned in worshipping the golden calf, God threatened to wipe out the nation and to start a new nation through Moses. But look at the basis on which Moses intercedes for the Israelites:

10 So now, leave me alone so that my anger can burn against them and I can destroy them, and I will make from you a great nation.” 11 But Moses sought the favor of the Lord his God and said, “O Lord, why does your anger burn against your people, whom you have brought out from the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand? 12 Why should the Egyptians say, ‘For evil he led them out to kill them in the mountains and to destroy them from the face of the earth’? Turn from your burning anger, and relent of this evil against your people. 13 Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel your servants, to whom you swore by yourself and told them, ‘I will multiply your descendants like the stars of heaven, and all this land that I have spoken about I will give to your descendants, and they will inherit it forever.’” 14 Then the Lord relented over the evil that he had said he would do to his people (Exodus 32:10-14, emphasis mine).

Moses did not promise God that the Israelites would try harder and do better. In truth, they persisted in their unbelief and rebellion, so that this generation would die in the wilderness, and the second generation would possess the Promised Land under Joshua. Moses interceded with God on the basis of His (Abrahamic) covenant promises, His character, and His glory. The unchangeableness of this covenant gave Moses the courage to boldly intercede for the Israelites.

The author tells us, his readers, that God gave us strong encouragement by two specific matters in which He could not lie:

17 In the same way God wanted to demonstrate more clearly to the heirs of the promise that his purpose was unchangeable, and so he intervened with an oath, 18 so that we who have found refuge in him may find strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us through two unchangeable things, since it is impossible for God to lie (Hebrews 6:17-18, emphasis mine).

So just what are these “two unchangeable things”? Scholars do not all agree on this matter, so I will just tell you my opinion as to what these “two unchangeable things” are. I believe these two things are matters in which God has confirmed His promise with an oath, matters which are found nearby in Hebrews. And these would be the two promises which were confirmed by an oath:

Now when God made his promise to Abraham, since he could swear by no one greater, he swore by himself . . . (Hebrews 6:13)

20 And since this was not done without a sworn affirmation – for the others have become priests without a sworn affirmation, 21 but Jesus did so with a sworn affirmation by the one who said to him, “The Lord has sworn and will not change his mind,You are a priest forever’” – 22 accordingly Jesus has become the guarantee of a better covenant (Hebrews 7:20-22).

Thus, I believe that the two unchangeable things which the author of Hebrews has in mind are the Abrahamic Covenant (chapter 6), and His oath by which He appointed the Lord Jesus a priest forever, after the order of Melchizedek (chapter 7). These two covenant promises are the basis for our salvation, sanctification, and eternal security. How much more secure could our salvation be?

It is fascinating to me how our author describes the security of those who put their trust in Christ for salvation:

So that by two unchangeable things in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have taken refuge would have strong encouragement to take hold of the hope set before us (Hebrews 6:18, NASB95; emphasis mine).

Why does the author use these words to describe our trust in Christ (confession of faith) for salvation? I believe that this man is so saturated with the Old Testament that he virtually drips with Old Testament words and imagery. No wonder scholars can’t agree among themselves as to how often the author refers (or alludes) to the Old Testament (though they all agree it is very often).

These words reminded me of several Old Testament texts:

12 “Whoever strikes someone so that he dies must surely be put to death. 13 But if he does not do it with premeditation, but it happens by accident, then I will appoint for you a place where he may flee. 14 But if a man willfully attacks his neighbor to kill him cunningly, you will take him even from my altar that he may die” (Exodus 21:12-14, emphasis mine).

6 Now from these towns that you will give to the Levites you must select six towns of refuge to which a person who has killed someone may flee. And you must give them forty-two other towns. 7 “So the total of the towns you will give the Levites is forty-eight. You must give these together with their grazing lands. 8 The towns you will give must be from the possession of the Israelites. From the larger tribes you must give more; and from the smaller tribes fewer. Each must contribute some of its own towns to the Levites in proportion to the inheritance allocated to each. 9 Then the Lord spoke to Moses: 10 “Speak to the Israelites and tell them, ‘When you cross over the Jordan River into the land of Canaan, 11 you must then designate some towns as towns of refuge for you, to which a person who has killed someone unintentionally may flee. 12 And they must stand as your towns of refuge from the avenger in order that the killer may not die until he has stood trial before the community. 13 These towns that you must give shall be your six towns for refuge. 14 “You must give three towns on this side of the Jordan, and you must give three towns in the land of Canaan; they must be towns of refuge. 15 These six towns will be places of refuge for the Israelites, and for the foreigner, and for the settler among them, so that anyone who kills any person accidentally may flee there. 16 “But if he hits someone with an iron tool so that he dies, he is a murderer. The murderer must surely be put to death (Numbers 35:6-16, emphasis mine).

49 All of Adonijah’s guests panicked; they jumped up and rushed off their separate ways. 50 Adonijah feared Solomon, so he got up and went and grabbed hold of the horns of the altar. 51 Solomon was told, “Look, Adonijah fears you; see, he has taken hold of the horns of the altar, saying, ‘May King Solomon solemnly promise me today that he will not kill his servant with the sword’” (1 Kings 1:49-51, emphasis mine).

We know that God established cities of refuge where a man who unintentionally killed another could flee to avoid being killed by an avenger. If a man were found to be guilty of murder, he would not be protected and would be killed by the avenger. But if he was found innocent, he could flee to one of the six Levite cities of refuge. In order to be protected, the man must stay in the city of refuge and not go outside it, or the avenger could kill him. He must stay in the city until the death of the current high priest,6 then he could go outside the city. It appears from Exodus 21 that there was a custom whereby a guilty man would flee to the altar and grasp its horns as a plea for protection. If the one who did so was found not guilty of murder, then he could flee to one of the cities of refuge.

I believe the author of Hebrews is using this Old Testament imagery to portray the safety and security Christ alone offers as the Great High Priest. It is to Him that the Christian can flee for safety. The believer grasps Him by faith, just as the manslayer grabbed the horns of the altar. In Christ, the believer finds safety, as the manslayer found safety in the city of refuge. What a picture of the safety and security of the saint. And, incidentally, since our High Priest lives forever, we find refuge and safety in Him forever.

Jesus: An Anchor for the Soul
Hebrews 6:19-20

19 We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, sure and steadfast, which reaches inside behind the curtain, 20 where Jesus our forerunner entered on our behalf, since he became a priest forever in the order of Melchizedek (Hebrews 6:19-20).

The author changes to different imagery to describe the safety and security of the Christian. Because our hope is secure in Christ, due to God’s oath and His character, we need only to cling to Him as our Great High Priest, whose substitutionary death on the cross of Calvary paid the penalty for our sins, and whose mediatory high priestly ministry at the Father’s right hand gives us access to draw near for help in our time of need.

The imagery of an anchor should come as no surprise to the reader of this epistle. It no doubt is used because of what we have already read in chapter 2:

Therefore we must pay closer attention to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away (Hebrews 2:1, emphasis mine).

It is not difficult to see how an anchor prevents drifting. A certain hope in God’s covenant promises made to Abraham and his descendants, guaranteed by God’s oath, is the anchor for our souls. As it is unchangeable, so it is immovable. We shall not drift if we cling to Christ. And these unchangeable promises are found in the Scriptures, Old Testament and New. Thus, we dare not neglect God’s final Word, revealed in the person of His Son (2:1-4).

Incidentally, these promises which are the basis of our hope and of our endurance, are a prominent theme in the Book of Hebrews. Some form of the word “promise” occurs 17 times in Hebrews, more frequently than in any other book of the Bible.7

Switching imagery once again, the author now moves to the holy of holies and the veil separating it from the holy place. I am convinced that the author intends for us to see much more than what lies on the surface, but I’m inclined to think that he is whetting our appetite for what he is going to say in chapters 9 and 10. For now, I believe that he is indicating to the reader that Jesus, the object of our hope, has entered into the holy of holies as our forerunner. There He made atonement for our sins once for all as our Great High Priest, a Priest after the order of Melchizedek who lives forever. As Guthrie indicates,8 this serves as an “on ramp” to chapter 7.

Conclusion

Our text has been about God’s promises, so let’s conclude by focusing on some of the truths we have seen and what impact these have on us.

First, we find that God’s promises are the basis for our faith.

Now faith is being sure of what we hope for, being convinced of what we do not see (Hebrews 11:1).

Those things that we hope for, yet do not see, are things regarding which God has given His promise. And these things not seen are the things which are spoken in God’s Word. No wonder the author of Hebrews places so much emphasis on the Word of God, and on the attention we must pay to what it says.

Second, God’s promises are the basis of our hope, and thus the assurance which encourages us to persevere in times of adversity.

17 In the same way God wanted to demonstrate more clearly to the heirs of the promise that his purpose was unchangeable, and so he intervened with an oath, 18 so that we who have found refuge in him may find strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us through two unchangeable things, since it is impossible for God to lie (Hebrews 6:17-18).

By faith, even though Sarah herself was barren and he was too old, he received the ability to procreate, because he regarded the one who had given the promise to be trustworthy (Hebrews 11:11).

17 By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac. He had received the promises, yet he was ready to offer up his only son. 18 God had told him, “Through Isaac descendants will carry on your name” (Hebrews 11:17-18).

24 By faith, when he grew up, Moses refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, 25 choosing rather to be ill-treated with the people of God than to enjoy sin’s fleeting pleasure. 26 He regarded abuse suffered for Christ to be greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for his eyes were fixed on the reward (Hebrews 11:24-16).

1 From Paul, a slave of God and apostle of Jesus Christ, to further the faith of God’s chosen ones and the knowledge of the truth that is in keeping with godliness, 2 in hope of eternal life, which God, who does not lie, promised before the ages began (Titus 1:1-2).

Third, promises are given when their fulfillment will come after a period of delay.Promises are given to those who must wait, those who do not expect or demand that God give them freedom from tests and trials, or provide them with prosperity now. A promise implies a delay; otherwise, a promise is not necessary.

But, according to his promise, we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness truly resides (2 Peter 3:13).

Fourth, God’s covenant promises (specifically the Abrahamic Covenant and the covenant regarding a priest after the order of Melchizedek) are fulfilled in the Lord Jesus Christ.

15 Brothers and sisters, I offer an example from everyday life: When a covenant has been ratified, even though it is only a human contract, no one can set it aside or add anything to it. 16 Now the promises were spoken to Abraham and to his descendant. Scripture does not say, “and to the descendants,” referring to many, but “and to your descendant,” referring to one, who is Christ. 17 What I am saying is this: The law that came four hundred thirty years later does not cancel a covenant previously ratified by God, so as to invalidate the promise. 18 For if the inheritance is based on the law, it is no longer based on the promise, but God graciously gave it to Abraham through the promise. 19 Why then was the law given? It was added because of transgressions, until the arrival of the descendant to whom the promise had been made. It was administered through angels by an intermediary. 20 Now an intermediary is not for one party alone, but God is one. 21 Is the law therefore opposed to the promises of God? Absolutely not! For if a law had been given that was able to give life, then righteousness would certainly have come by the law. 22 But the scripture imprisoned everything and everyone under sin so that the promise could be given – because of the faithfulness of Jesus Christ – to those who believe (Galatians 3:15-22, emphasis mine).

For I tell you that Christ has become a servant of the circumcised on behalf of God’s truth to confirm the promises made to the fathers (Romans 15:8).

Fifth, if God’s covenant promises are fulfilled in Christ, and these are the basis for our faith, hope, and endurance, then to reject Christ is to reject faith, hope, and endurance. Once we come to realize that Jesus Christ is the fulfillment of God’s promises in the Old Testament, and our only basis for the hope of salvation, then to reject Him is a most serious and most deadly sin.

Sixth, our confidence and assurance are grounded (anchored) in the promises of God and His faithfulness to fulfill them, not in our performance. It is not all about us; it is all about Jesus. He has accomplished the cleansing of our sins, once for all. He is the Great High Priest to whom we must draw near for help in time of need. The author of Hebrews is not seeking to get us to work harder, but to draw near to the Savior and cling to Him, looking to Him for help in our weakness.

Seventh, we can count on God’s promises because He can be trusted. His promises are our certain ground for faith and endurance.

19 For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, the one who was proclaimed among you by us – by me and Silvanus and Timothy – was not “Yes” and “No,” but it has always been “Yes” in him. 20 For every one of God’s promises are “Yes” in him; therefore also through him the “Amen” is spoken, to the glory we give to God (2 Corinthians 1:19-20).

Eighth, God’s promises are the basis and the incentive for cleansing ourselves from sin and its defilement:

Therefore, since we have these promises, dear friends, let us cleanse ourselves from everything that could defile the body and the spirit, and thus accomplish holiness out of reverence for God (2 Corinthians 7:1).

Through these things he has bestowed on us his precious and most magnificent promises, so that by means of what was promised you may become partakers of the divine nature, after escaping the worldly corruption that is produced by evil desire (2 Peter 1:4).

Ninth, the promises of God and the hope they produce are an opportunity for us to proclaim the gospel.

Now this is the promise that he himself made to us: eternal life (1 John 2:25).

But set Christ apart as Lord in your hearts and always be ready to give an answer to anyone who asks about the hope you possess (1 Peter 3:15).

Tenth, Gentiles believers become full heirs of the promises of God.

13 For the promise to Abraham or to his descendants that he would inherit the world was not fulfilled through the law, but through the righteousness that comes by faith. 14 For if they become heirs by the law, faith is empty and the promise is nullified. 15 For the law brings wrath, because where there is no law there is no transgression either. 16 For this reason it is by faith so that it may be by grace, with the result that the promise may be certain to all the descendants – not only to those who are under the law, but also to those who have the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all 17 (as it is written, “I have made you the father of many nations”). He is our father in the presence of God whom he believed – the God who makes the dead alive and summons the things that do not yet exist as though they already do. 18 Against hope Abraham believed in hope with the result that he became thefather of many nations according to the pronouncement, “so will your descendants be.” 19 Without being weak in faith, he considered his own body as dead (because he was about one hundred years old) and the deadness of Sarah’s womb. 20 He did not waver in unbelief about the promise of God but was strengthened in faith, giving glory to God. 21 He was fully convinced that what God promised he was also able to do (Romans 4:13-21).

And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s descendants, heirs according to the promise (Galatians 3:29).

5 Now this secret was not disclosed to people in former generations as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit, 6 namely, that through the gospel the Gentiles are fellow heirs, fellow members of the body, and fellow partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 3:5-6).

Eleventh, it is the promises of God which are certain, and it is these promises which will sustain us in the difficult days ahead.In the past few weeks, we have seen our country enter into a kind of financial meltdown. We may have falsely sought security in the very things which are now being removed or reduced. God’s promises are the one thing we can count on, because His promises are sure, and He is a God who always keeps His promises.

My friend, if you have never trusted in Jesus Christ, I urge you to do so today. In fulfillment of His Old Testament promise to Abraham, God sent Jesus to take on humanity (without surrendering any of His deity) and to serve as our Great High Priest by suffering the punishment for our sins. He now sits at the Father’s right hand in heaven to mediate on our behalf and to help us in our time of need. There is no other solution for our sin, and its eternal punishment (hell). There is no other anchor for the soul than Jesus Christ. Trust in Him.


1 Copyright © 2008 by Robert L. Deffinbaugh. This is the edited manuscript of Lesson 15 in the series, Near to the Heart of God – A Study of the Book of Hebrews, prepared by Robert L. Deffinbaugh on October 19, 2008. Anyone is at liberty to use this lesson for educational purposes only, with or without credit

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the NET Bible. The NEW ENGLISH TRANSLATION, also known as THE NET BIBLE, is a completely new translation of the Bible, not a revision or an update of a previous English version. It was completed by more than twenty biblical scholars who worked directly from the best currently available Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek texts. The translation project originally started as an attempt to provide an electronic version of a modern translation for electronic distribution over the Internet and on CD (compact disk). Anyone anywhere in the world with an Internet connection will be able to use and print out the NET Bible without cost for personal study. In addition, anyone who wants to share the Bible with others can print unlimited copies and give them away free to others. It is available on the Internet at: net.bible.org.

2 See Mark 3:28-30.

3 See George H. Guthrie, Hebrews – The NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1998), p. 240.

4 We know from Hebrews 11:13-15, 39-40 that these Old Testament saints died without receiving all that God had promised. They believed, by faith, in what they could not see, but in what God had promised. Thus, they still await the full inheritance of the promised blessings.

5 Incidentally, this is a very important point to bear in mind when speaking with those who say that God “changes his mind.” It may appear that way, but Jonah knew better. He knew that warnings of coming judgment may be given in order to prompt men and women to repent, thus avoiding that judgment, just as God said in Jeremiah 18.

6 Numbers 35:25, 28.

7 It occurs 11 times in Acts and Romans and 10 times in Deuteronomy and Galatians.

8 Guthrie, p. 240. See fn. 3 above.

http://feeds.bible.org/deffinbaugh/hebrews/deff_hebrews_15.mp3
/assets/powerpoint/deff_hebrews_15.ppt
Ad Category: 
Biblical Topics: 
Passage: 
/assets/worddocs/deff_hebrews_15_sg.zip

16. Abraham, Melchizedek, and Messiah (Hebrews 7:1-10)

17 After Abram returned from defeating Kedorlaomer and the kings who were with him, the king of Sodom went out to meet Abram in the Valley of Shaveh (known as the King’s Valley). 18 Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine. (Now he was the priest of the Most High God.) 19 He blessed Abram, saying, “Blessed be Abram by the Most High God, Creator of heaven and earth. 20 Worthy of praise is the Most High God, who delivered your enemies into your hand.” Abram gave Melchizedek a tenth of everything. 21 Then the king of Sodom said to Abram, “Give me the people and take the possessions for yourself.” 22 But Abram replied to the king of Sodom, “I raise my hand to the Lord, the Most High God, Creator of heaven and earth, and vow 23 that I will take nothing belonging to you, not even a thread or the strap of a sandal. That way you can never say, ‘It is I who made Abram rich.’ 24 I will take nothing except compensation for what the young men have eaten. As for the share of the men who went with me – Aner, Eshcol, and Mamre – let them take their share” (Genesis 14:17-24).1

1 A psalm of David.

Here is the Lord’s proclamation to my lord:

“Sit down at my right hand until I make your enemies your footstool!”

2 The Lord extends your dominion from Zion.

Rule in the midst of your enemies!

3 Your people willingly follow you when you go into battle.

On the holy hills at sunrise the dew of your youth belongs to you.

4 The Lord makes this promise on oath and will not revoke it:

“You are an eternal priest after the pattern of Melchizedek.”

5 O sovereign Lord, at your right hand he strikes down kings in the day he unleashes his anger.

6 He executes judgment against the nations;

he fills the valleys with corpses;

he shatters their heads over the vast battlefield.

7 From the stream along the road he drinks; then he lifts up his head (Psalm 110:1-7).

1 Now this Melchizedek, king of Salem, priest of the most high God, met Abraham as he was returning from defeating the kings and blessed him. 2 To him also Abraham apportioned a tithe of everything. His name first means king of righteousness, then king of Salem, that is, king of peace. 3 Without father, without mother, without genealogy, he has neither beginning of days nor end of life but is like the son of God, and he remains a priest for all time. 4 But see how great he must be, if Abraham the patriarch gave him a tithe of his plunder. 5 And those of the sons of Levi who receive the priestly office have authorization according to the law to collect a tithe from the people, that is, from their fellow countrymen, although they too are descendants of Abraham. 6 But Melchizedek who does not share their ancestry collected a tithe from Abraham and blessed the one who possessed the promise. 7 Now without dispute the inferior is blessed by the superior, 8 and in one case tithes are received by mortal men, while in the other by him who is affirmed to be alive. 9 And it could be said that Levi himself, who receives tithes, paid a tithe through Abraham. 10 For he was still in his ancestor Abraham’s loins when Melchizedek met him (Hebrews 7:1-10).

Introduction

I have to admit that I was impressed with the new Airbus 300 we were flying in over India. It was certainly the newest airplane I had ever experienced in that part of the world. Suddenly, while we were in midair,an alarm sounded nearby. I watched the crew scurry about, looking for the source of the problem. At the time, I believed I understood exactly what was happening (and I may well have been right): the crew was not familiar with this craft and did not know how to shut off the alarm. It was kind of a “Keystone Cops” moment for me, and I enjoyed it. I chuckled more and more the longer this comedy played itself out. And soon it was over.

Years later, I was talking with a friend who sat beside me on that trip to India. He was talking to someone about a near-death experience he had while traveling. I could not imagine what he was talking about, and so I asked him. To my surprise, he indicated that he interpreted the same incident on that airliner as a near tragedy, narrowly escaped. I couldn’t believe it. It never once occurred to me that there was ever anything wrong with that aircraft or that we were in any danger at all. But while I was being amused by the flustered crew, my friend was preparing to meet his God.

My point in retelling this story is that we sometimes do not grasp the significance of an event until years later. That is certainly the case with Abraham’s encounter with Melchizedek, recorded in Genesis 14. Having read this account, who would have ever imagined that the author of Hebrews a couple of thousand years later would have built an argument on this event? Well, the author of Hebrews did precisely that, and this encounter and its meaning is the topic for this study.

Our author has spoken several times of the priestly ministry of our Lord Jesus Christ in the chapters leading up to our text. He has already cited Psalm 110:4 in chapter 5:

5 So also Christ did not glorify himself in becoming high priest, but the one who glorified him was God, who said to him, “You are my Son! Today I have fathered you,” 6 as also in another place God says, “You are a priest forever in the order of Melchizedek.” 7 During his earthly life Christ offered both requests and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to the one who was able to save him from death and he was heard because of his devotion (Hebrews 5:5-7, underscoring mine).

It is not until our text in chapter 7 that the author explains just how the Messiah (the Lord Jesus Christ) is a priest “in the order of Melchizedek. He does so by interpreting and applying the events of Genesis 14 through the lens of David’s words in Psalm 110:4.

This is not the first time our author has employed this methodology. In chapters 3 and 4, he interprets and applies lessons to be learned from the failures of the first generation of Israelites to leave Egypt. This he does through the interpretive filter of Psalm 95:7-11. He shows why that generation failed to enter into God’s rest and then applies it to those living in his day. Just as that first generation needed Moses to intercede for them, so we need our Great High Priest to intercede on our behalf.

My Approach in this Lesson

We will begin our study in Genesis 14, where Abraham encounters Melchizedek. We will then proceed to Psalm 110, where David interprets Genesis 14 in prophetic terms. Then we will seek to explain our text in Hebrews 7:1-10 and to look for ways in which it furthers the author’s argument and how this applies to Christians today.

Genesis 14:1-24

Abraham was introduced to us in Genesis 11, where we are told that Abram left Ur of the Chaldeans along with several members of his family. They got only as far as Haran and then settled there (11:27-32). Chapter 12 then begins with the first recorded declaration of the Abrahamic Covenant:

1 Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go out from your country, your relatives, and your father’s household to the land that I will show you. 2 Then I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you, and I will make your name great, so that you will exemplify divine blessing. 3 I will bless those who bless you, but the one who treats you lightly I must curse, and all the families of the earth will bless one another by your name” (Genesis 12:1-3).

Abram was 75 years old when he left Haran for Canaan, along with his wife, Sarai, and Lot, his nephew, and some others he had acquired in Haran (Genesis 12:4-5). When a famine came upon the land of Canaan, Abram went down to Egypt where he passed off his wife as his sister. God not only protected her purity, He also arranged for Abram’s return to the land of promise.

In chapter 13, we read that the flocks of Abram and Lot had increased to the point where the two men had to part paths. Abram gave Lot his choice of where to settle, and it seems as though he chose the better place. (A little time – and a few chapters in Genesis – will indicate that he made the wrong choice.) And so Lot headed east for the valley of the Jordan, eventually pitching his tents in close proximity to Sodom, even though it was not the ideal place to bring up a family (13:12-13).

Abram was left with what seemed to be the inferior choice. I wonder if Abram experienced any grief for letting his nephew take advantage of him. God’s words of confirmation and assurance must have been an encouragement to Abram because He promised to give all that he could see to him. He also confirmed His promise of many descendants:

14 After Lot had departed, the Lord said to Abram, “Look from the place where you stand to the north, south, east, and west. 15 I will give all the land that you see to you and your descendants forever. 16 And I will make your descendants like the dust of the earth, so that if anyone is able to count the dust of the earth, then your descendants also can be counted. 17 Get up and walk throughout the land, for I will give it to you.” 18 So Abram moved his tents and went to live by the oaks of Mamre in Hebron, and he built an altar to the Lord there (Genesis 13:14-18).

And so Abram lived by the oaks of Mamre, in Hebron, while Lot settled near Sodom. Abram’s alliance with Mamre and his two brothers, Eschol and Aner, would prove to be most advantageous, while Lot’s alliance with the people of Sodom would prove disastrous (both sooner and later).

That brings us to chapter 14, where Lot “meets” Chedorlaomer, and Abram meets Melchizedek. The land of Canaan was a crucial land link between Egypt and those nations or peoples to Israel’s north or east. Israel was on the trade route known as the “way of the kings.” Whoever controlled Canaan controlled the lucrative trade between the lands it linked. And so we see why Chedorlaomer and his three eastern allies were intent upon maintaining their control over those small city-states in Canaan. After serving Chedorlaomer for twelve years, the five southern city-states, including Sodom and Gomorrah, rebelled against him, along with a number of other kingdoms. Chedorlaomer and his allies were determined to regain their dominance in this area, and so they set out to suppress the rebellion of all the kingdoms in their path. They attacked each rebel kingdom on their approach saving the five Canaanite kings for their last battle. They seem to be taking no chances regarding any future trouble that these surrounding kingdoms might present. Chedorlaomer and his allies were completely successful, and all that was left now was this coalition of the five kings, whom they would confront in the valley of Siddim, somewhere near the Dead Sea.

It seems to me that the description of Moses is too detailed not to be of significance to the reader. On the one hand, it would seem that these kingdoms were some of those that Moses and the Israelites defeated on their way toward Canaan, or that Joshua and the Israelites would defeat when they entered the Promised Land. On the other hand, it would appear that we are being informed of the size and the power of this coalition of four eastern kings, led as it were by Chedorlaomer. If all of these kingdoms had fallen before these four kings, it would seem most unlikely that Abram, with his 318 household servants, and whatever men Mamre, Eschol, and Aner contributed, would be able to defeat such a daunting enemy. Isn’t this the point, that humanly speaking, Abram’s mission could have been called “Mission Impossible”?

It looks as though the battle of the five against the four did not last long and was really a rout. I doubt that Abram would have felt any obligation to engage Chedorlaomer and company, except for the fact that they captured Lot and all of his possessions. Lot was family, and Abram felt patriarchal enough to go after him in hot pursuit. Abram called upon his allies, Mamre, Eschol, and Aner, and they set off in pursuit all the way to Dan. Here, Abram divided his forces and engaged in a night attack, chasing his enemies all the way to Hobah, north of Damascus. Abram recovered all the people taken captive, along with what must have been a substantial amount of spoils of war.2

What a triumphant return that must have been. Think of the joy of all those captives, who were on their way back to their own cities. Think of the relief that Lot must have experienced. Think of the wonder of Mamre, Eschol and Aner, as they reflected on a battle they surely should not have won, but did! The king of Sodom was ready to welcome Abram back with open arms. In our day, he would probably have orchestrated a ticker-tape parade. His motives don’t appear to be particularly pure, but then what would we expect from the king of Sodom?

This is the point at which Abraham encounters Melchizedek.

18 Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine. (Now he was the priest of the Most High God.) 19 He blessed Abram, saying, “Blessed be Abram by the Most High God, Creator of heaven and earth. 20 Worthy of praise is the Most High God, who delivered your enemies into your hand.” Abram gave Melchizedek a tenth of everything (Genesis 14:18-20).

It appears as though Melchizedek ministers to Abram and leaves before the king of Sodom arrives. These two men – Melchizedek and Bera, king of Sodom – are just about as different as any two men could be. Granted, they are both kings, but Melchizedek is (as we shall see in Hebrews) “king of righteousness,” while Bera is the sovereign of a city that will soon be destroyed for its wickedness. Bera will appeal to Abram’s ego, no doubt praising him for his military genius and hoping for the return of the captives from his city. Melchizedek will point Abram to God as the true source of the victory, and he will leave with a tenth of the spoils.

We are told that Melchizedek was the king of Salem (which means peace) and a priest of God Most High. He came with bread and wine, something which has been the source of considerable speculation.3 What is significant is that he blessed Abram and then blessed God Most High as “Possessor of heaven and earth” (verse 19) and as the “One who delivered Abram’s enemies into his hand” (verse 20). This is all that is recorded of what Melchizedek said to Abram, and it is that which Moses, the author of Genesis, thought to be most important to the reader. When you think about it, there is really nothing more that needs to be said. It all boils down to this:

God owns it all – everything in heaven and earth.

Abram is blessed by God.

God gave Abram the victory over his enemies.

When you think about it even more, Melchizedek’s words and actions are a confirmation of the covenant God had made with Abram. The God who promised to bless Abram has done so. He promised that Abram would be a blessing to others, and he surely was to those whom he set free, including Lot. He also promised to curse those who cursed Abram. And now God has just given Abram’s enemies into his hand.

But Melchizedek’s words were not merely a divine reflection of what had just happened; they were also instructive to Abram in light of what was going to happen, almost immediately (it would seem) after Melchizedek and he parted ways. The king of Sodom no doubt sought to flatter Abram for his great military victory: “What a military genius you are, Abram!”4 Let Abram take the credit for what God has done. How the king of Sodom would have turned Abram from God, just as Melchizedek turned him to God.

We know from our text that Abram has done at least two things in response to the ministry of Melchizedek. First, he swore an oath to the Lord God Most High that he would not take anything from the king of Sodom (verse 22). And second, Abram gave Melchizedek a tithe of all the spoils he had acquired (verse 20). Abram got the message Melchizedek came to deliver: this was all about God and His faithfulness to His covenant. It was not about Abram’s military genius. To God be the glory!

And so as Melchizedek fades from the scene, the king of Sodom appears. He requests from Abram only the people of his kingdom that had been taken captive by Chedorlaomer. Abram could keep all the spoils for himself. I find this both interesting and amusing. Of course the spoils belonged to Abram. That is why Abram had already given a tithe of these spoils of war to Melchizedek. They were no longer the property of Bera (king of Sodom) to give to Abram. But Bera wanted to give the appearance that he was blessing Abram with this “gift,” and that is exactly why Abram refused it. God had given Abram the victory over his enemies. God had promised to bless Abram in many other ways, with many descendants, with much land, and (presumably) with much wealth. Abram would not allow this heathen king to think he had enriched Abram. He would not allow Bera to take the place of God. And so he refused these riches, choosing to wait for God’s blessings in God’s time. No doubt Bera went his way scratching his head.

Note finally that while Abram refused any of the spoils of war, he did not impose his beliefs or convictions on his allies. Aner, Eschol, and Mamre were to take their fair share of the spoils. It was Abram (and not Bera) who blessed these men, and that was what God had promised. God would bless Abraham, and he in turn would be a blessing to others. And so his allies went away enriched for their friendship with Abram, but his enemies were dead. (The king of Sodom would live for a time, but soon he would be dead as well.)5

A Priest after the Order of Melchizedek
Psalm 110

1 A psalm of David.

Here is the Lord’s proclamation to my lord:

“Sit down at my right hand until I make your enemies your footstool!”

2 The Lord extends your dominion from Zion.

Rule in the midst of your enemies!

3 Your people willingly follow you when you go into battle.

On the holy hills at sunrise the dew of your youth belongs to you.

4 The Lord makes this promise on oath and will not revoke it:

“You are an eternal priest after the pattern of Melchizedek.”

5 O sovereign Lord, at your right hand he strikes down kings in the day he unleashes his anger.

6 He executes judgment against the nations;

he fills the valleys with corpses;

he shatters their heads over the vast battlefield.

7 From the stream along the road he drinks; then he lifts up his head (Psalm 110:1-7).

About a thousand years have passed since Abram returned victorious from battle and he was met by Melchizedek. The name of this mysterious fellow has not occurred again in Scripture, until Psalm 110. The author of Hebrews has already cited verse 1 of this psalm in Hebrews 1:13 and verse 4 in Hebrews 5:6. Verses 1-3 of this psalm speak of Messiah as the King of Israel, while verses 4-7 speak of Him as the Great High Priest, after the pattern of Melchizedek. Verses 1-3 are an oracle spoken to the Son by the Father,6 declaring Him to be King Messiah. Verses 4-6 are God’s declaration with an oath that the Son is also a new order of High Priest, after the order of Melchizedek. These verses assume that Melchizedek is a prototype of Messiah.

There is much that could be said of this psalm, but let us recognize that we are essentially dealing with one verse, as we were dealing with only three verses in Genesis 14. Several points of correspondence between Genesis 14 and Psalm 110 are evident. First, both Melchizedek and Messiah are kings and priests. This could not have happened under the Law, for we recall all too clearly the consequences for king Saul usurping the function of Samuel in 1 Samuel 13. It can and will happen with Messiah, for He inaugurates a new order of priest:

12 “Then speak to him, saying, ‘Thus says the LORD of hosts, saying:

“Behold, the Man whose name is the BRANCH!

From His place He shall branch out,

And He shall build the temple of the LORD;

13 Yes, He shall build the temple of the LORD.

He shall bear the glory,

And shall sit and rule on His throne;

So He shall be a priest on His throne,

And the counsel of peace shall be between them both”’ (Zechariah 6:12-13, NKJV, emphasis mine).

Second, we can see from both Genesis 14 and Psalm 110 that the enemies (of Abram or Messiah) will be destroyed, while the friends and followers of Abram and Messiah are blessed. Third, in both Genesis 14 and Psalm 110, there is a period of waiting that is required. We know, of course, that Abram had to wait for God’s blessings (rather than to grasp what the king of Sodom offered immediately). Likewise, in Psalm 110:1, we find the Father instructing the Son to be seated at His side and to wait until the time when He subjected His enemies. Fourth, there may be a “Jerusalem connection” here as well.Melchizedek is called the“king of Salem.” We know that “salem” means peace, but in Psalm 76 we read:

1 For the music director; to be accompanied by stringed instruments; a psalm of Asaph, a song.

God has revealed himself in Judah;

in Israel his reputation is great.

2 He lives in Salem;

he dwells in Zion (Psalm 76:1-2).

In Psalm 110:2, we read that the Messiah’s scepter will extend from Zion (Jerusalem). Fifth, in Genesis 14:22, Abram swears an oath, while in Psalm 110:4, God swears an oath that Messiah will be a priest after the order of Melchizedek.Finally, it is hardly necessary to point out that the main connection between Genesis 14 and Psalm 110 is Melchizedek.

Is Melchizedek a Theophany?

I know there are some who feel strongly that Melchizedek is a theophany, an Old Testament appearance of the Second Person of the Trinity – Christ in the Old Testament. The first thing we should note is that there is no clear indication of a theophany, as there appears to be in Judges 13, where the Angel of the Lord appears to Manoah and his wife, foretelling of the birth of a son. David does write that the Messiah, like Melchizedek will be a priest “forever,” but the way the author of Hebrews validates this from Genesis 14 would give us pause for thought as to whether Melchizedek was divine. I would have to conclude that thinking of Melchizedek as a theophany is probably speculative.

Melchizedek in Hebrews 7:1-10

1 Now this Melchizedek, king of Salem, priest of the most high God, met Abraham as he was returning from defeating the kings and blessed him. 2 To him also Abraham apportioned a tithe of everything. His name first means king of righteousness, then king of Salem, that is, king of peace. 3 Without father, without mother, without genealogy, he has neither beginning of days nor end of life but is like the son of God, and he remains a priest for all time. 4 But see how great he must be, if Abraham the patriarch gave him a tithe of his plunder. 5 And those of the sons of Levi who receive the priestly office have authorization according to the law to collect a tithe from the people, that is, from their fellow countrymen, although they too are descendants of Abraham. 6 But Melchizedek who does not share their ancestry collected a tithe from Abraham and blessed the one who possessed the promise. 7 Now without dispute the inferior is blessed by the superior, 8 and in one case tithes are received by mortal men, while in the other by him who is affirmed to be alive. 9 And it could be said that Levi himself, who receives tithes, paid a tithe through Abraham. 10 For he was still in his ancestor Abraham’s loins when Melchizedek met him (Hebrews 7:1-10).

The first ten verses of Hebrews 7 divide into two main parts: verses 1-3, and verses 4-10. In verses 1-3, the author dwells on those things that we know about Melchizedek from Genesis 14. Verses 4-10 focus on Abraham’s response to Melchizedek and its implications. In particular, the author focuses on the fact that Abraham offered a tithe to Melchizedek. Let’s look at how the argument develops, leading the reader to the conclusion that Melchizedek is a prototype of Messiah, and that his priesthood was vastly superior to that of Aaron and his descendants.

Verses 1-3

Verse 1 links the author’s remarks to the events recorded in Genesis 14, and specifically to Melchizedek, whom we meet there. The first point of emphasis is the titles of Melchizedek. He was “the king of Salem” and “a priest of God Most High” (verse 1). But these names were more significant than they first appeared. Their meaning pointed to the Messiah. Melchizedek is a compound word that comes from two Hebrew words, the first means “king” while the second means “righteousness.” And thus the author rightly indicates that Melchizedek means “king of righteousness.” By this we are reminded of the author’s description of “the Son” in chapter 1:

8 But of the Son he says, “Your throne, O God, is forever and ever, and a righteous scepter is the scepter of your kingdom. 9 You have loved righteousness and hated lawlessness. So God, your God, has anointed you over your companions with the oil of rejoicing” (Hebrews 1:8-9, underscoring mine).

Next, we are told that Melchizedek was “the king of Salem” meaning “the king of Peace.” Just as Abram’s victory over Chedorlaomer brought peace to the land, so the Messiah’s victory over His enemies will bring peace, as implied in Psalm 110. But in addition to this, we should recognize that Messiah is identified as the “Prince of Peace”:

For a child has been born to us, a son has been given to us. He shoulders responsibility and is called: Extraordinary Strategist, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6, emphasis mine).

Things get a bit more esoteric in verse 3:

Without father, without mother, without genealogy, he has neither beginning of days nor end of life but is like the son of God, and he remains a priest for all time (Hebrews 7:3).

I don’t believe the author is suggesting that Melchizedek was God, in that he had neither beginning nor end. I believe he is indicating that by the way he was described (or not) in Genesis 14, one can see a kind of similarity to Messiah. In Genesis 14, we are not told who Melchizedek’s parents were. We are told nothing of his birth and nothing of his death. In a sense, therefore, the description of Melchizedek in Genesis has a certain correspondence with Messiah. From what we are not told (for this is an argument from silence – not unusual for Jewish writers), therefore, Melchizedek seems similar to Messiah.

When we come to our Lord Jesus, our Great High Priest, we know that He is God (and man). He is eternal, and thus His priesthood is eternal as well. This is something our author will take up soon in his developing argument.

Verses 4-10

So, our author wishes us to view Melchizedek as a kind of literary prototype of Messiah. Both were king and priest. Both appeared to have an eternal priesthood. Both were characterized by peace and righteousness. Both will carry out their ministry from Jerusalem. Now, in verses 4-10, the author wishes to draw some conclusions from Abram’s response to Melchizedek, as recorded in Genesis 14.

The author now focuses on Abraham’s response to Melchizedek. Specifically, he wishes to dwell on the fact that Abraham offered a tithe of the spoils to Melchizedek. He does not do this as a fund-raising device; he does this because of what his tithe revealed about the relationship of these two men. He does this to prove that Melchizedek and His antitype, Jesus, are vastly superior to Abraham and his future offspring, Aaron.

Abraham was said to have offered a tithe to Melchizedek. This implies that Abraham looked on Melchizedek as his superior. It is true that Aaron’s descendants also receive tithes from other descendants of Abraham (verse 5). But the one who collected a tithe in Genesis 14 (Melchizedek) was not one of Abraham’s descendants. One could say that Melchizedek was not even Jewish. This Melchizedek received tithes from Abraham, the one to whom God had made such great and amazing promises (verse 6). How easy it would be for a Jew to think of Abraham as being superior to Melchizedek, but neither David nor our author sees it this way. Genesis 14 and Psalm 110:4 make the point that Melchizedek was superior to Abraham, and to his descendant, Aaron.

But how is it that Aaron can be said to be subordinate (inferior?) to Melchizedek? Our author reasons that, in a sense, Aaron was in Abraham’s loins when he gave a tithe to Melchizedek. Thus, not only Abraham but Aaron as well gave a tithe to Melchizedek, thus acknowledging his superiority to them. The greater (Melchizedek) blesses the lesser (Abraham). The lesser (Abraham) pays a tithe to the greater (Melchizedek). The priesthood of Jesus – of the order of Melchizedek – is greater than that of Aaron. That is the point our author is seeking to prove, and in his mind, he has accomplished his task.

Conclusion

So what is it that the author wishes his readers to learn from this text? He has shown us, his readers, that the priesthood of Jesus is greater than the Aaronic priesthood because His prototype (Melchizedek) blessed Abraham (Aaron’s forefather) and because Abraham offered a tithe to Melchizedek. The implications of this will be spelled out as the next chapters unfold. For now, let’s focus on some of the lessons we can learn from the texts we have studied in this message.

First, God’s covenant promises are sure and certain.But just how can they be fulfilled? We have seen that Abraham’s “seed,” the promised Messiah, will be both king and priest. He is the “King of righteousness.” But how can a “righteous king” bless an unrighteous people? He can do so because He is also a “high priest of the order of Melchizedek.” As our Great High Priest, He offered Himself as a sacrifice for our sins. And as our High Priest, He also continues to make intercession for us, helping us in our time of need. In this way, He fulfills His covenant promise to Abraham and his “descendants” (which includes everyone who trusts in Jesus).

Second, our text helps us to understand the concept of federal headship. In Romans 5, Paul wrote:

12 So then, just as sin entered the world through one man and death through sin, and so death spread to all people because all sinned – 13 for before the law was given, sin was in the world, but there is no accounting for sin when there is no law. 14 Yet death reigned from Adam until Moses even over those who did not sin in the same way that Adam (who is a type of the coming one) transgressed. 15 But the gracious gift is not like the transgression. For if the many died through the transgression of the one man, how much more did the grace of God and the gift by the grace of the one man Jesus Christ multiply to the many! 16 And the gift is not like the one who sinned. For judgment, resulting from the one transgression, led to condemnation, but the gracious gift from the many failures led to justification. 17 For if, by the transgression of the one man, death reigned through the one, how much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one, Jesus Christ! 18 Consequently, just as condemnation for all people came through one transgression, so too through the one righteous act came righteousness leading to life for all people. 19 For just as through the disobedience of the one man many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of one man many will be made righteous (Romans 5:12-19).

Time will not permit a full explanation of this great text, but we should be able to see what Paul is saying here. Adam’s sin somehow brought condemnation upon all men. We are all sinners because Adam sinned. The good news is that Christ’s sacrificial death, burial, and resurrection makes all those who are “in Him” righteous. Christ is able to reverse the effects of Adam’s sin. But how is it that we become participants in Adam’s sin or in Christ’s saving work? We become participants by federal headship. Just as Aaron was in Abraham when he offered a tithe to Melchizedek, we were “in Adam” when he sinned. All those who trust in Jesus for the forgiveness of their sins were likewise “in Christ” when He died and rose again. Thus, we are freed from sin and are new creations in Christ. The federal headship we see in Romans 5 has been illustrated for us in Hebrews 7.

Third, we can see the author’s use of Psalm 110 in interpreting and applying Genesis 14. We have already seen how our author used Psalm 95 to interpret the events surrounding Israel’s failure to enter rest in Canaan in Hebrews 3 and 4. While we dare not attempt to interpret the Scriptures exactly as our author has (he was divinely inspired), we can see that we should employ Scripture to interpret other Scripture. The Scriptures are our best tool for interpreting any text of Scripture. I believe that we can also be stimulated to study our Bibles more thoroughly because we see again and again that the Scriptures contain much more than meets the eye at a casual reading.

Fourth, we see from our texts that both Melchizedek and Messiah are both kings and priests. While this was prohibited by the Law of Moses, it can and does occur under the New Covenant, with Christ as our Great High Priest. So we see from Psalm 110. But we should also keep in mind that we, the church, are a “kingdom of priests,” and we will “reign with Him.”7 We need to consider how we should exercise our role as a “kingdom of priests”8 now, and in eternity.

Fifth, as descendants of Abraham, we should be a blessing to others.Abraham was a blessing to many. He freed the captives, including Lot. He brought prosperity to his allies in battle. And, of course, he would be that father of Isaac, whose “seed” (Jesus Christ) would be a blessing through His kingly and priestly work on our behalf. We need to actively seek ways in which we may be a blessing to others. First and foremost, we will bless men by pointing them to Jesus as the source of forgiveness from sin and of eternal life.

Sixth, we learn from Abraham that nothing can happen that will prevent the fulfillment of God’s covenant promises to His people. Neither Abraham’s sin (in lying about his wife Sarah, calling her his sister – Genesis 12, 20), nor his weakness (too old to bear a child), nor his enemies (like Chedorlaomer) could prevent God from fulfilling His promises.

Seventh, we need to give God the glory for the victories He gives to us. We do this in giving the glory to God in worship, and in public praise before men, and in giving to God. As Abraham did, so should we.

Eighth, we should also practice separation from those wicked people who would appear to be a source of blessing to us. If our blessings come from God, then we need to look to God for those blessings. We don’t need to cut corners, legally or ethically, and we don’t need to enter into alliances with those whose trust and whose values are contrary to God and His purposes.

Ninth (and finally), we need to apply what we have learned in one experience with God to the other areas of our life.I am thinking here of what we read immediately after Abram’s encounter with Melchizedek:

1 After these things the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision: “Fear not, Abram! I am your shield and the one who will reward you in great abundance.” 2 But Abram said, “O sovereign Lord, what will you give me since I continue to be childless, and my heir is Eliezer of Damascus?” 3 Abram added, “Since you have not given me a descendant, then look, one born in my house will be my heir!” 4 But look, the word of the Lord came to him: “This man will not be your heir, but instead a son who comes from your own body will be your heir.” 5 The Lord took him outside and said, “Gaze into the sky and count the stars – if you are able to count them!” Then he said to him, “So will your descendants be.” 6 Abram believed the Lord, and the Lord considered his response of faith as proof of genuine loyalty (Genesis 15:1-6).

It seems as though Abram may have had some second thoughts when he had time to reflect on his situation. He refused the spoils of war the king of Sodom offered. He saved his nephew Lot, but he was still childless. How could he possibly be the exalted father that his name suggested? What if Chedorlaomer and his colleagues decided to return to fight again? Our Lord’s words to Abram were gentle and gracious (in them he found mercy and grace in his time of need – see Hebrews 4:16). God simply assured Abram that He was faithful. As he had blessed Abram in battle, so He would bless him with a son. God who had proven Himself faithful would fulfill all of His promises.

And so Abram believed in God, and on the basis of his faith (and the future work of Jesus, his descendant), God declared him to be righteous. It is the same today, my friend. God declares men to be righteous on the basis of their faith in the High Priestly work of the Messiah, Jesus Christ. We are not saved by striving, but by believing in God’s promises, and specifically in the work of the Lord Jesus on the cross of Calvary. Have you trusted in Him? That is the most important thing you can ever do.


1 Copyright © 2008 by Robert L. Deffinbaugh. This is the edited manuscript of Lesson 16 in the series, Near to the Heart of God – A Study of the Book of Hebrews, prepared by Robert L. Deffinbaugh on October 26, 2008. Anyone is at liberty to use this lesson for educational purposes only, with or without credit.

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the NET Bible. The NEW ENGLISH TRANSLATION, also known as THE NET BIBLE, is a completely new translation of the Bible, not a revision or an update of a previous English version. It was completed by more than twenty biblical scholars who worked directly from the best currently available Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek texts. The translation project originally started as an attempt to provide an electronic version of a modern translation for electronic distribution over the Internet and on CD (compact disk). Anyone anywhere in the world with an Internet connection will be able to use and print out the NET Bible without cost for personal study. In addition, anyone who wants to share the Bible with others can print unlimited copies and give them away free to others. It is available on the Internet at: www.netbible.org.

2 If I understand the text correctly, it would be much more than the spoils taken from the five kings of the valley near the Dead Sea. It would rather have been the spoils from all of the earlier victories which we read about in verses 5-7.

3 While bread and wine were and are the symbols employed for the Lord’s Supper (communion), they were common fare at the dinner table. They are mentioned together in a number of texts without any apparent spiritual significance. See Judges 19:19; 1 Samuel 10:3; 16:20; 25:18; 2 Samuel 16:1-2; Nehemiah 5:15; Luke 7:33-34.

4 I know I’m reading between the lines, but this does not seem too fanciful, given who this man was and what he wanted from Abram. If Abram and his allies had just defeated the army that had defeated him, the king of Sodom is not likely to be making any demands of Abram. But he can appeal to his ego.

5 So we find in Genesis 19.

6 It is unfortunate that most translations do not give any indication that the word rendered “says” (NASB) or “declared” (CSB) is not the normal word for speech. The translator’s note in the NET Bible informs us that, “The word נְאֻם (neum) is used frequently in the OT of a formal divine announcement through a prophet.”

7 2 Timothy 2:12; Revelation 20:6.

8 See 1 Peter 2:4-10; Revelation 1:6.

http://feeds.bible.org/deffinbaugh/hebrews/deff_hebrews_16.mp3
/assets/powerpoint/deff_hebrews_16.ppt
Ad Category: 
Biblical Topics: 
Passage: 
/assets/worddocs/deff_hebrews_16_sg.zip

17. From Good to Great: A Better Priest and a Better Covenant (Hebrews 7:11-25)

11 So if perfection had in fact been possible through the Levitical priesthood - for on that basis the people received the law - what further need would there have been for another priest to arise, said to be in the order of Melchizedek and not in Aaron’s order? 12 For when the priesthood changes, a change in the law must come as well. 13 Yet the one these things are spoken about belongs to a different tribe, and no one from that tribe has ever officiated at the altar. 14 For it is clear that our Lord is descended from Judah, yet Moses said nothing about priests in connection with that tribe. 15 And this is even clearer if another priest arises in the likeness of Melchizedek, 16 who has become a priest not by a legal regulation about physical descent but by the power of an indestructible life. 17 For here is the testimony about him: “You are a priest forever in the order of Melchizedek.” 18 On the one hand a former command is set aside because it is weak and useless, 19 for the law made nothing perfect. On the other hand a better hope is introduced, through which we draw near to God.

20 And since this was not done without a sworn affirmation - for the others have become priests without a sworn affirmation, 21 but Jesus did so with a sworn affirmation by the one who said to him, “The Lord has sworn and will not change his mind,You are a priest forever’” - 22 accordingly Jesus has become the guarantee of a better covenant. 23 And the others who became priests were numerous, because death prevented them from continuing in office, 24 but he holds his priesthood permanently since he lives forever. 25 So he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them.1

Introduction

“This does not bode well.” I’m sure we’ve all heard this expression, and many of us have experienced it. There are times when things just start out badly and then they continue downhill from there. That’s kind of the way I feel about Aaron and the Levitical priesthood. Aaron is no David. David’s story begins with him standing up to Goliath in the name of the Lord, and as a result of the death of this giant, he brought Israel a great military victory over their enemies, the Philistines. He is a man of character, who twice spares Saul’s life while the king is seeking to destroy him. It is not until later in David’s life that we are greatly disappointed by David’s sin against Uriah in the taking of his life and his wife.

Aaron on the other hand is a man who starts badly, and so we are not surprised to find that the Aaronic priesthood was less “weak and useless.”2 Aaron’s bad beginning began when he assumed the role of Israel’s “worship leader” at the base of Mount Sinai, where he fashioned a golden calf for the people to follow and to worship, and then led them in a heathen worship ritual:

1 When the people saw that Moses delayed in coming down from the mountain, they gathered around Aaron and said to him, “Get up, make us gods that will go before us. As for this fellow Moses, the man who brought us up from the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him!” 2 So Aaron said to them, “Break off the gold earrings that are on the ears of your wives, your sons, and your daughters, and bring them to me.” 3 So all the people broke off the gold earrings that were on their ears and brought them to Aaron. 4 He accepted the gold from them, fashioned it with an engraving tool, and made a molten calf. Then they said, “These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.” 5 When Aaron saw this, he built an altar before it, and Aaron made a proclamation and said, “Tomorrow will be a feast to the Lord.” 6 So they got up early on the next day and offered up burnt offerings and brought peace offerings, and the people sat down to eat and drink, and they rose up to play (Exodus 32:1-6).

Think about this for a moment. In Hebrews 4:14-16, the readers are exhorted to “hold fast to their confession” and to “draw near” to their Great High Priest, from whom they will “receive mercy and find grace in their time of need.” This, of course, refers to the Lord Jesus. But contrast this with what we have just read about Aaron’s role in the Israelites’ great sin at the base of Mount Sinai. The people drew near to Aaron and what did they get? He helped them plunge into sin. He did not lead them in drawing near to God, but rather in forsaking Him. This most certainly does not “bode well.”

Our disappointment with Aaron goes beyond this. There was a time when Aaron and his sister Miriam spoke against Moses, with the result that Miriam became leprous for a short time:

1 Then Miriam and Aaron spoke against Moses because of the Cushite woman he had married (for he had married an Ethiopian woman). 2 They said, “Has the Lord only spoken through Moses? Has he not also spoken through us?” And the Lord heard it (Numbers 12:1-2).

Finally, in what might be viewed as an argument from silence, I recall that Aaron did not seem to be the one who saved Israel from God’s wrath through his mediation. It was the high priest who was to mediate with God on Israel’s behalf.3 But as I think through Israel’s many failures, it would appear that in virtually every instance where God extended mercy to Israel, it was Moses who had interceded on behalf of the nation, sparing them from God’s wrath.4 Thus, it was Moses and not Aaron who was Israel’s mediator, so that they were spared from God’s wrath.

All of this prepares me for the first words of our text in Hebrews 7:

11 So if perfection had in fact been possible through the Levitical priesthood - for on that basis the people received the law - what further need would there have been for another priest to arise, said to be in the order of Melchizedek and not in Aaron’s order? (Hebrews 7:11)

There was something inherently weak and ineffective with the Aaronic priesthood. Some of this weakness was to be found in the Old Covenant (a subject to be taken up much more in depth in chapter 8), and some was to be found in the weakness of those men who were Israel’s high priests, starting with Aaron.

The Context of our Text

The subject of our Lord’s priesthood is not new in Hebrews. The author has made some reference to our Lord’s high priestly ministry in every chapter leading up to our text in chapter 7:

The Son is the radiance of his glory and the representation of his essence, and he sustains all things by his powerful word, and so when he had accomplished cleansing for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high(Hebrews 1:3, emphasis mine).

17 Therefore he had to be made like his brothers and sisters in every respect, so that he could become a merciful and faithful high priest in things relating to God, to make atonement for the sins of the people. 18 For since he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are tempted (Hebrews 2:17-18, emphasis mine).

Therefore, holy brothers and sisters, partners in a heavenly calling, take note of Jesus, the apostle and high priest whom we confess (Hebrews 3:1, emphasis mine).

14 Therefore since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast to our confession. 15 For we do not have a high priest incapable of sympathizing with our weaknesses, but one who has been tempted in every way just as we are, yet without sin. 16 Therefore let us confidently approach the throne of grace to receive mercy and find grace whenever we need help (Hebrews 4:14-16, emphasis mine).

1 For every high priest is taken from among the people and appointed to represent them before God, to offer both gifts and sacrifices for sins. 2 He is able to deal compassionately with those who are ignorant and erring, since he also is subject to weakness, 3 and for this reason he is obligated to make sin offerings for himself as well as for the people. 4 And no one assumes this honor on his own initiative, but only when called to it by God, as in fact Aaron was. 5 So also Christ did not glorify himself in becoming high priest, but the one who glorified him was God, who said to him, “You are my Son! Today I have fathered you,” 6 as also in another place God says, “You are a priest forever in the order of Melchizedek.” 7 During his earthly life Christ offered both requests and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to the one who was able to save him from death and he was heard because of his devotion. 8 Although he was a son, he learned obedience through the things he suffered. 9 And by being perfected in this way, he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him, 10 and he was designated by God as high priest in the order of Melchizedek(Hebrews 5:1-10, emphasis mine).

19 We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, sure and steadfast, which reaches inside behind the curtain, 20 where Jesus our forerunner entered on our behalf, since he became a priest forever in the order of Melchizedek (Hebrews 6:19-20, emphasis mine).

1 Now this Melchizedek, king of Salem, priest of the most high God, met Abraham as he was returning from defeating the kings and blessed him. 2 To him also Abraham apportioned a tithe of everything. His name first means king of righteousness, then king of Salem, that is, king of peace. 3 Without father, without mother, without genealogy, he has neither beginning of days nor end of life but is like the son of God, and he remains a priest for all time. 4 But see how great he must be, if Abraham the patriarch gave him a tithe of his plunder. 5 And those of the sons of Levi who receive the priestly office have authorization according to the law to collect a tithe from the people, that is, from their fellow countrymen, although they too are descendants of Abraham. 6 But Melchizedek who does not share their ancestry collected a tithe from Abraham and blessed the one who possessed the promise. 7 Now without dispute the inferior is blessed by the superior, 8 and in one case tithes are received by mortal men, while in the other by him who is affirmed to be alive. 9 And it could be said that Levi himself, who receives tithes, paid a tithe through Abraham. 10 For he was still in his ancestor Abraham’s loins when Melchizedek met him (Hebrews 7:1-10, emphasis mine).

Very early in chapter 1, the author of Hebrews calls attention to the atoning sacrifice of the Son, after which He was seated at the right hand of the Father in heaven (1:3). All of this serves as a preview to what will be a much more thorough exposition on our Lord’s work as our Great High Priest as the book progresses. In chapter 2, we read of our Lord’s incarnation, which identified the Son with mankind in such a way as to qualify Him as “a merciful and faithful high priest” (2:17-18). These first two chapters depict the adequacy of our Lord to be our Great High Priest. The next two chapters highlight man’s sinfulness, and thus our need for the Son as our Great High Priest. Chapter 3 begins by referring to the Son as “the apostle and high priest whom we confess” (3:1). The author then calls our attention to the failure of the first generation of Israelites to enter into God’s rest, in spite of God’s Word and His mighty works. At the conclusion of chapter 4, we find the author exhorting his readers to hold fast to their confession of faith and to draw near to Jesus the Son of God for “priestly” mercy and grace in our time of need (4:14-16).

The first 10 verses of chapter 5 compare and contrast our Lord Jesus, a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek, with Aaron and the Aaronic priesthood. As he prepares to delve more deeply into the priestly order of Melchizedek, the author finds it necessary to digress momentarily, due to the readers’ dullness in deeper spiritual matters (5:11-6:20). Then, when we approach chapter 7, we find ourselves once again pondering the weightier matter of Melchizedek. In verses 1-10, we are reminded of the account of the encounter of Abraham (Abram) and Melchizedek in Genesis 14. The author demonstrates from this account that Melchizedek was superior to Abraham and to his offspring, Aaron, who was yet to be born.

Now we approach our text in verse 11 of chapter 7. The author sets out to demonstrate that the Lord Jesus is a superior high priest to Aaron and to the entire Aaronic priesthood. He introduces his argument in verse 11:

11 So if perfection had in fact been possible through the Levitical priesthood – for on that basis the people received the law – what further need would there have been for another priest to arise, said to be in the order of Melchizedek and not in Aaron’s order? (Hebrews 7:11)

I like to summarize this introductory verse in this way:

If it weren’t broken, it (the Aaronic priesthood) wouldn’t have needed fixing.

If the Levitical priesthood were a success, then there would have been no need to replace it with something better.

Several things need to be clarified in verse 11. First, the “if” (“So if perfection. . .”) is stated in such a way as to indicate to the reader (of the Greek text)5 that perfection was not possible through the Levitical priesthood. This is why a new, superior, priesthood was required. Second, we are told that the Levitical priesthood was foundational to the law. It was the priests who taught the law, who interpreted and applied the law. It was the priests who declared a person clean or unclean. It was the Levitical priesthood that offered the sacrifices specified by the law. The law could not function apart from the Levitical priesthood. As we shall soon see, the law and the Levitical priesthood were inseparable. In order for the priesthood to change, there must also be a change in the law.

Third, it is important that we understand how our author is using the term “perfection.” “Perfection” does not refer to “sinless perfection,” but rather to the fulfillment or accomplishment of a task or goal. Specifically, perfection would be reaching the goal of drawing men near to God. Nearness to God is the goal, and “perfection” is reaching that goal. Our author is saying that the Levitical priesthood was not capable of bringing men near to God. We will discuss this later in the lesson, but the law and the Levitical priesthood actually distanced men from God by placing boundaries between them and God. These boundaries, like the veil of the temple, would be removed by the work of Christ and the New Covenant.6

Fourth, the replacement for the Levitical priesthood would be of an entirely different order; not the order of Aaron (Levi), but the order of Melchizedek.It wasn’t just a new (Aaronic) priest that was needed, but a whole new order of priest. Let me attempt to illustrate this. Suppose that traffic control on Interstate 45 was the responsibility of a mounted (as in “on horseback”) patrol. It simply would not be effective, no matter who the patrolman or the horse might be. What is needed is a new order of enforcement, with radar, pursuit cars, and so on.

A New Priesthood Requires a New Law, a New Tribe, a New Basis
Hebrews 7:12-17

12 For when the priesthood changes, a change in the law must come as well. 13 Yet the one these things are spoken about belongs to a different tribe, and no one from that tribe has ever officiated at the altar. 14 For it is clear that our Lord is descended from Judah, yet Moses said nothing about priests in connection with that tribe. 15 And this is even clearer if another priest arises in the likeness of Melchizedek, 16 who has become a priest not by a legal regulation about physical descent but by the power of an indestructible life. 17 For here is the testimony about him: “You are a priest forever in the order of Melchizedek” (Hebrews 7:12-17).

We have already observed from verse 11 that the Levitical priesthood and the law were “joined at the hip.” As the words of the old song go, “You can’t have one without the other.” Thus, for the priesthood to change, so must the law. Furthermore, for a new order of priest to be installed, He must come from a different tribe than Aaron. Aaron descended from Levi; the Messiah was of the tribe of Judah. No one from this tribe had ever served as high priest in Israel. If the law prescribed that high priests must come from the line of Aaron, then it is obvious why a new law (or covenant) would be required.

If our Great High Priest, Jesus, was not a descendant of Aaron, then what was it that qualified Him to be our High Priest at all? He was not a priest after the order of Aaron, but a priest after the order of Melchizedek. Psalm 110:4 tells us what it is that designates Jesus as our Great High Priest:

4 The Lord makes this promise on oath and will not revoke it:

“You are an eternal priest after the pattern of Melchizedek” (Psalm 110:4, emphasis mine).

That which sets Jesus apart from all other possible priests and identifies Him as the Great High Priest is that He is eternal. That is what the author says in verses 14-16, based upon David’s inspired words in Psalm 110:4:

14 For it is clear that our Lord is descended from Judah, yet Moses said nothing about priests in connection with that tribe. 15 And this is even clearer if another priest arises in the likeness of Melchizedek, 16 who has become a priest not by a legal regulation about physical descent but by the power of an indestructible life. 17 For here is the testimony about him:You are a priest forever in the order of Melchizedek(Hebrews 7:15-17, emphasis in verse 16 mine).

The resurrection and ascension of our Lord proved Him to be an eternal member of the Godhead. He is in a class of one, and thus it is clear (on the basis of Psalm 110:4) that He is the Great High Priest of the order of Melchizedek.

Summation and Transition
Hebrews 7:18-19

18 On the one hand a former command is set aside because it is weak and useless, 19 for the law made nothing perfect. On the other hand a better hope is introduced, through which we draw near to God (Hebrews 7:18-19).

Here our author gives two reasons why it was necessary to replace both the law and the Levitical priesthood. The first reason is set forth in verse 18 and the first half of verse 19: the law was not able to perfect anything. It was unable to fulfill God’s covenant promise to Abraham and his descendants. It was unable to fulfill the Davidic Covenant. It was unable to draw men near to God. At best, it established boundaries to keep men from getting too close to God, and dying as a result.

The second reason why the law and the priesthood must be replaced is that a better hope has been introduced (I take it by Psalm 110:4), and by this means – the priesthood of our Lord Jesus, after the order of Melchizedek – we have a better hope, and we can thus draw near to God. So, to sum it up, the law and the Aaronic priesthood needed to be replaced because the law failed to draw men near to God, and the new priesthood would do so. The Old is inferior and inadequate; the new is better because it does perfect (draw men near to God).

A Better Covenant and a Better Priesthood Replaces the Old
Hebrews 7:20-25

20 And since this was not done without a sworn affirmation - for the others have become priests without a sworn affirmation, 21 but Jesus did so with a sworn affirmation by the one who said to him, “The Lord has sworn and will not change his mind,You are a priest forever’” - 22 accordingly Jesus has become the guarantee of a better covenant. 23 And the others who became priests were numerous, because death prevented them from continuing in office, 24 but he holds his priesthood permanently since he lives forever. 25 So he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them (Hebrews 7:20-25).

These words take me back to chapter 6, where we read:

16 For people swear by something greater than themselves, and the oath serves as a confirmation to end all dispute. 17 In the same way God wanted to demonstrate more clearly to the heirs of the promise that his purpose was unchangeable, and so he intervened with an oath, 18 so that we who have found refuge in him may find strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us through two unchangeable things, since it is impossible for God to lie (Hebrews 6:16-18, emphasis mine).

In my mind, we have now come to the second thing our author has in mind which is guaranteed by God’s oath. The first is the Abrahamic Covenant, which God swore to Abraham with an oath (6:13-15). The second is the oath God swore to the Son in Psalm 110 concerning His priesthood after the order of Melchizedek:

4 The Lord makes this promise on oath and will not revoke it:

“You are an eternal priest after the pattern of Melchizedek” (Psalm 110:4, emphasis mine).

As the author points out, this oath regarding Christ’s priesthood was confirmed by God’s oath. This was not the case with the priesthood under the Old Covenant, for those priests were selected on the basis of their genealogy. Not so with the Lord Jesus. The oath God swore made this new order of priesthood certain and changeless (7:20-22).

The new order of priesthood will have but one priest, the Lord Jesus Christ, because He lives forever. This is a far cry from the old order of Aaronic priests. Over Israel’s history, there were many such high priests, and for a very simple reason – they all died, and thus they were replaced by another high priest. Our Lord is, and will continue to be, our Great High Priest forever. And so He is able to save those who draw near to Him forever.

But how does the fact that He lives forever assure us that He is able to save us forever? I believe that the author is referring to His ability to initially save us through His atoning death on the cross of Calvary, as well as His on-going preservation of the saints through His continual intercession for us as our Great High Priest.

It works something like this. When I go to the computer store to purchase a new hard drive for my computer, the store sells it to me. And when I go to the checkout counter to pay for it, I am certain that this person will attempt to sell me a kind of add-on warranty. If I pay a little more money, the store guarantees that if the hard drive fails within the warranty period, they will exchange it on the spot when I return the defective part. In a similar way, I enter into a saving relationship with Jesus Christ by faith when I trust in Him for the forgiveness of my sins and the gift of eternal life. But I also realize (soon, if not immediately) that I will still sin. It is His high priestly ministry on my behalf that assures me that the salvation I initially experienced will be secure forever. This is because my salvation depends upon Christ, and He lives forever, to save and to keep everyone who draws near to God by faith in Him.7

Conclusion

Let us begin by summing up what the author has told us in our text. The author has shown us the weakness of the Aaronic priesthood and the law, which were not able to perfect us by drawing us near to God in an intimate relationship. Indeed, rather than draw us near to God by removing the offense of our sin, the law served to expose our sin.

19 Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world may be held accountable to God. 20 For no one is declared righteous before him by the works of the law, for through the law comes the knowledge of sin (Romans 3:19-20).

Instead of drawing us near to God, the Aaronic priesthood and the law placed barriers between sinners and God, so that they would not be destroyed.

10 The Lord said to Moses, “Go to the people and sanctify them today and tomorrow, and make them wash their clothes 11 and be ready for the third day, for on the third day the Lord will come down on Mount Sinai in the sight of all the people. 12 You must set boundaries for the people all around, saying, ‘Take heed to yourselves not to go up on the mountain nor touch its edge. Whoever touches the mountain will surely be put to death!’” (Exodus 19:10-12, emphasis mine)

20 The Lord came down on Mount Sinai, on the top of the mountain, and the Lord summoned Moses to the top of the mountain, and Moses went up. 21 The Lord said to Moses, “Go down and solemnly warn the people, lest they force their way through to the Lord to look, and many of them perish. 22 Let the priests also, who approach the Lord, sanctify themselves, lest the Lord break through against them” (Exodus 19:20-22, emphasis mine).

3 Go up to a land flowing with milk and honey. But I will not go up among you, for you are a stiff-necked people, and I might destroy you on the way” (Exodus 33:3).

The priesthood was composed of a limited number of men who would stand before God on behalf of the many. Thus, the priests were able to draw nearer to God than the multitudes. But even the priests were restricted in their access to God. So, too, with the high priest, for he was permitted to enter into the holy of holies only once a year.

When the people possessed the Promised Land, the temple was built and men could approach God, but only through the priesthood, and still the holy of holies was accessible only to the high priest once a year. And remember that the Israelites did not all live in or near Jerusalem. Most Israelites lived at a distance from Jerusalem. Three times a year the men of the nation were required to appear in Jerusalem for one of the three feasts.8 This is not anything like the intimate fellowship we can have with God through the Lord Jesus on a daily, moment-by-moment, basis.

And so, as our author has shown, while the Old Covenant and the Aaronic priesthood provided a means whereby men could enter into a relationship with God, it was weak and powerless to enable sinners to draw near to God in intimate and constant fellowship with Him. Thus, a New Covenant and a new priesthood were required by the weaknesses of the Old (covenant and priesthood).

What application did all this have to the original readers of this Epistle to the Hebrews? We know that they were Jewish Christians who had trusted in Jesus as the promised Messiah. By now9 they had either withdrawn from Judaism or had been cast out by unbelieving Jews. But some were tempted to fall back into their old practices and beliefs, especially as persecution loomed on the horizon. So what did our text mean to this audience?

I was teaching a Bible study in the Gospel of John this past week, and I came across these verses in chapter 12:

31 Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out. 32 And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” 33 (Now he said this to indicate clearly what kind of death he was going to die.) 34 Then the crowd responded, “We have heard from the law that the Christwill remain forever. How can you say, ‘The Son of Man must be lifted up’? Who is this Son of Man?” 35 Jesus replied, “The light is with you for a little while longer. Walk while you have the light, so that the darkness may not overtake you. The one who walks in the darkness does not know where he is going. 36 While you have the light, believe in the light, so that you may become sons of light.” When Jesus had said these things, he went away and hid himself from them (John 12:31-36, emphasis mine).

42 Nevertheless, even among the rulers many believed in him, but because of the Pharisees they would not confess Jesus to be the Christ, so that they would not be put out of the synagogue. 43 For they loved praise from men more than praise from God (John 12:42-43).

I found it very interesting that when the people in Jerusalem heard Jesus speak about being “lifted up,” they (rightly) understood Him to be speaking of His death.10 They understood the Scriptures to teach that the Christ would live forever, and thus they struggled with Jesus’ words concerning His death. My point here is that they expected Messiah to live forever, and they much preferred this to a Messiah who merely died (as did the Aaronic priests).

In verses 42 and 43, we find another indication of the tremendous pressure the unbelieving Pharisees exerted on those who believed in Jesus. They had such power that they were able to silence some of the Jewish rulers (folks like Nicodemus – see John 7:45-53). No wonder some of the Hebrews were considering falling away from their profession of faith in Jesus as Messiah.

Our text very plainly points out the weakness of the Old Covenant and of the Aaronic priesthood. It could not perfect men by enabling them to draw near to God in intimate fellowship. It could not deliver them from sin, but could only expose them as sinners. The New Covenant and the new priesthood, however, are able to perfect men. Men and women can experience the forgiveness of sin, and thus they can draw near to God through Christ’s priestly work. To fall back into Judaism, then, was to fall away from what is superior and to settle for what is inferior. It is to fall back from Him who can save and keep to a system that can neither save nor keep. No wonder falling back is seen as such a serious matter.

So, having considered the application of our text to its first readers, what does this text have to say to Christians today? First, we should appreciate how privileged we are to live under the New Covenant, and to have the Lord Jesus Christ as our Great High Priest. We have it so much better than the ancient people of God who lived under the Old Covenant. We can draw near at any time, without fear or hesitation. And all of this is made possible by our Great High Priest, Jesus Christ. He atoned for our sins on the cross of Calvary, and He continually intercedes on our behalf with the Father. He saves and He keeps His own.

Our text underscores the absolute and complete sufficiency of the Lord Jesus. We need nothing else than that which He has accomplished and that which He continues to provide. The “old” is not better; it is inferior. We need to draw near to God and to persevere in the faith, confident in the person and work of Jesus. We need to recognize that falling back to the old is really falling away, and that it has dire consequences.

For most of us, the temptation is not to fall back into Judaism. Our temptation is to trust in some “priest” or some system of rules, rather than Jesus. If Jesus is our Great High Priest, then we dare not seek to follow any other priest. The Corinthian saints seemed to be following men, rather than Jesus.11 Sometimes, in the name of discipleship or mentoring, we are tempted to place too much trust in men, rather than in our Great High Priest. Discipleship and mentoring can be a wonderful thing, but not if it puts men before our Great High Priest. We need most of all to draw near to Him, to seek His wisdom and His guidance. Godly mentors and disciplers will always point us to Jesus, and not to themselves. John the Baptist is surely our model in this regard:

25 Now a dispute came about between some of John’s disciples and a certain Jew concerning ceremonial washing. 26 So they came to John and said to him, “Rabbi, the one who was with you on the other side of the Jordan River, about whom you testified – see, he is baptizing, and everyone is flocking to him!” 27 John replied, “No one can receive anything unless it has been given to him from heaven. 28 You yourselves can testify that I said, ‘I am not the Christ,’ but rather, ‘I have been sent before him.’ 29 The one who has the bride is the bridegroom. The friend of the bridegroom, who stands by and listens for him, rejoices greatly when he hears the bridegroom’s voice. This then is my joy, and it is complete. 30 He must become more important while I become less important.” 31 The one who comes from above is superior to all. The one who is from the earth belongs to the earth and speaks about earthly things. The one who comes from heaven is superior to all (John 3:25-31).

So, too, with counselors and shepherds. Those of us who are elders understand that we are to shepherd the flock of God, but we are to do this as “under shepherds” (1 Peter 5:1-5). We are not to usurp the preeminence, glory, or authority of our Lord. In secular psychiatry and counseling (and in some Christian versions of this as well), counselors have become the “high priests” of our age. People confess their sins to their counselors, and not to Christ, or to those they have wronged. Counseling can be a wonderful blessing, but let us always remember that Christ is our Great High Priest, and no man should dare to take His place in the life of the Christian. To Him be the glory!


1 Copyright © 2008 by Robert L. Deffinbaugh. This is the edited manuscript of Lesson 17 in the series, Near to the Heart of God – A Study of the Book of Hebrews, prepared by Robert L. Deffinbaugh on November 2, 2008. Anyone is at liberty to use this lesson for educational purposes only, with or without credit.

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the NET Bible. The NEW ENGLISH TRANSLATION, also known as THE NET BIBLE, is a completely new translation of the Bible, not a revision or an update of a previous English version. It was completed by more than twenty biblical scholars who worked directly from the best currently available Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek texts. The translation project originally started as an attempt to provide an electronic version of a modern translation for electronic distribution over the Internet and on CD (compact disk). Anyone anywhere in the world with an Internet connection will be able to use and print out the NET Bible without cost for personal study. In addition, anyone who wants to share the Bible with others can print unlimited copies and give them away free to others. It is available on the Internet at: www.netbible.org.

2 I have taken the terms “weak and useless” from Hebrews 7:18, where they apply more directly to the Old Covenant, but this surely includes the Aaronic priesthood as well, as we see in 7:11.

3 See Hebrews 2:17; 5:1-3.

4 See Exodus 32:7-14; Numbers 14:1-20.

5 This is a second class condition in the Greek text, indicating that what was proposed was not really a possibility. It would be like saying, “If I could fly to Mars, I’d stay there forever.” What is implied in English is more clearly indicated in the Greek text.

6 Just as the Levitical priesthood was “married” to the law, so the priestly ministry of our Lord was “married” to the New Covenant.

7 In the sermon which I preached, I continued on to the end of the chapter, but in this written message, I have chosen to stop at verse 25 and to take up my next message from verse 26.

8 See Exodus 23:14-17.

9 See Acts 8:1-2; 11:19ff.

10 Having said this, we must also point out that while these folks believed “lifted up” referred to our Lord’s death (by crucifixion), they did not understand that He would rise from the dead and thus be “lifted up” in His resurrection, ascension, and glorification. “Lifted up” is also used in this sense (see Isaiah 52:13).

11 See 1 Corinthians 1:10-17; 3:1-9.


http://feeds.bible.org/deffinbaugh/hebrews/deff_hebrews_17.mp3
/assets/powerpoint/deff_hebrews_17.ppt
Ad Category: 
Biblical Topics: 
Passage: 
/assets/worddocs/deff_hebrews_17_sg.zip

18. From Shadows to Substance (Hebrews 7:26-8:5)

26 For it is indeed fitting for us to have such a high priest: holy, innocent, undefiled, separate from sinners, and exalted above the heavens. 27 He has no need to do every day what those priests do, to offer sacrifices first for their own sins and then for the sins of the people, since he did this in offering himself once for all. 28 For the law appoints as high priests men subject to weakness, but the word of solemn affirmation that came after the law appoints a son made perfect forever.

Now the main point of what we are saying is this: We have such a high priest, one who sat down at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven, 2 a minister in the sanctuary and the true tabernacle that the Lord, not man, set up. 3 For every high priest is appointed to offer both gifts and sacrifices. So this one too had to have something to offer. 4 Now if he were on earth, he would not be a priest, since there are already priests who offer the gifts prescribed by the law. 5 The place where they serve is a sketch and shadow of the heavenly sanctuary, just as Moses was warned by God as he was about to complete the tabernacle. For he says, “See that you make everything according to the design shown to you on the mountain.”1

Introduction

Unexpectedly, our text led me to the story of the stoning of Stephen in Acts. It is here that Stephen spoke of the “pattern” for the tabernacle and its furnishings that was shown to Moses:

“Our ancestors had the tabernacle of testimony in the wilderness, just as God who spoke to Moses ordered him to make it according to the design he had seen” (Acts 7:44).

In reading this account, I came to see the introductory verses to the story of Stephen in an entirely different light:

13 They brought forward false witnesses who said, “This man does not stop saying things against this holy place and the law. 14 For we have heard him saying that Jesus the Nazarene will destroy this place and change the customs that Moses handed down to us.” 15 All who were sitting in the council looked intently at Stephen and saw his face was like the face of an angel (Acts 6:13-15, emphasis mine).

As I considered these words, several things came to mind that are related to our text in the Book of Hebrews. First, similar accusations were made against Jesus.2 Second, these charges are what galvanized the opposition to Stephen and to the gospel, prompting them to cast aside all restraint and to illegally execute Stephen. Third, I came to realize that these charges, even though expressed by false witnesses, were prophetic. They were prophetic in a way that is similar to the words of Caiaphas in John 11:

49 Then one of them, Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said, “You know nothing at all! 50 You do not realize that it is more to your advantage to have one man die for the people than for the whole nation to perish.” 51 (Now he did not say this on his own, but because he was high priest that year, he prophesied that Jesus was going to die for the Jewish nation, 52 and not for the Jewish nation only, but to gather together into one the children of God who are scattered.) 53 So from that day they planned together to kill him (John 11:49-53, emphasis mine).

These charges dealt with matters that would divide Christian Jews and unbelieving Jews. These would become the source of Jewish hostility toward the gospel and the church.

Fourth, the substance of these charges is the subject matter of Hebrews because this was the “bone of contention” between Hebrew Christians and unbelieving Judaism. Think about it for a moment. The author of Hebrews is affirming that the “New Covenant” will replace the “Old (Mosaic) Covenant,” and not just that, but the priestly and ritualistic religious systems of Judaism:

So if perfection had in fact been possible through the Levitical priesthood – for on that basis the people received the law – what further need would there have been for another priest to arise, said to be in the order of Melchizedek and not in Aaron’s order? (Hebrews 7:11)

18 On the one hand a former command is set aside because it is weak and useless, 19 for the law made nothing perfect. On the other hand a better hope is introduced, through which we draw near to God (Hebrews 7:18-19).

6 But now Jesus has obtained a superior ministry, since the covenant that he mediates is also better and is enacted on better promises. 7 For if that first covenant had been faultless, no one would have looked for a second one (Hebrews 8:6-7).

Thus, we understand from Acts 7 just how strongly unbelieving Jews felt about the Christian belief in the New Covenant and a whole new order of priesthood. We likewise get a glimpse of the opposition the Hebrew Christians faced, and at least some of the temptation they felt to “fall away” or “fall back” into Judaism. And what that “falling back” must include (to avoid persecution) is a denial of the New Covenant, and thus the high priestly work of our Lord on the cross of Calvary.3 In other words, to avoid persecution, they would need to deny the gospel of Jesus Christ.

In this lesson, I will begin back in verse 26 of chapter 7, and then will proceed only as far as verse 5 in chapter 8. The first 5 verses of chapter 8 deal with the “true tabernacle” as opposed to the earthly “tabernacle” that facilitated Israel’s worship in the days of their wilderness experience. Verses 6-13 of chapter 8 focus on the New Covenant, a subject which continues into and beyond chapter 9.

My Approach in this Lesson

I will begin by seeking to summarize the superiority of Christ’s priesthood over that of the Aaronic priesthood from 7:26-28. Then we will consider the author’s main point as articulated in the first 2 verses of chapter 8. We will then focus on the “true tabernacle” in 8:2-5, with special attention to his citation of Exodus 25:40 in verse 8. And we shall conclude, Lord willing, with a consideration of some of the implications and applications of the teaching of this text.

Such a High Priest
Hebrews 7:26-28

26 For it is indeed fitting for us to have such a high priest: holy, innocent, undefiled, separate from sinners, and exalted above the heavens. 27 He has no need to do every day what those priests do, to offer sacrifices first for their own sins and then for the sins of the people, since he did this in offering himself once for all. 28 For the law appoints as high priests men subject to weakness, but the word of solemn affirmation that came after the law appoints a son made perfect forever (Hebrews 7:26-28).

So here the author summarizes just what it is that makes the Son vastly superior to the Aaronic priests.

The Son

Aaronic Priests

Is undefiled by sin and thus has no need to offer sacrifices for His sin

Were obligated to offer sacrifices for their own sins (7:27; see also 5:1-3)

Has a heavenly ministry (7:26)

Had an earthly ministry (7:27-28)

Offered one sacrifice, once for all (7:27)

Offered daily sacrifices (7:27)

Offered Himself as the sacrifice (7:27)

Offered animal and other sacrifices (7:27)

Appointed by divine oath (7:28)

Appointed on basis of ancestry (7:28)

Has been made perfect forever (7:28)

Were far from perfect, and could not lead men to perfection (7:11, 27-28)

The Author’s Main Point
Hebrews 8:1-2

1 Now the main point of what we are saying is this: We have such a high priest, one who sat down at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven, 2 a minister in the sanctuary and the true tabernacle that the Lord, not man, set up (Hebrews 8:1-2).

Notice how the author reiterates what he has just said in verse 26. In 8:1, he takes up the expression, “such a high priest,” which he used in 7:26. Rather than repeating all the particulars of His superiority that we find in 7:26-28, he sums them all up in what becomes his main point: “We have such a high priest, one who sat down at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven, a minister in the sanctuary and the true tabernacle that the Lord, not man, set up” (8:1b-2). In contrast to Aaron and his descendants, who were earthly priests with all of the limitations that implies, the Son is our heavenly High Priest, with all the advantages that brings. In chapter 8, this will be spelled out both in terms of His place of ministry (“the true tabernacle” – verses 1-5) and the basis of His ministry (“the New Covenant” – verses 6-13).

The main emphasis of this message will be the “true tabernacle,” a topic that will be expanded as the argument of Hebrews continues to unfold:

. . . a minister in the sanctuary and the true tabernacle that the Lord, not man, set up (Hebrews 8:2, emphasis mine).

The place where they serve is a sketch and shadow of the heavenly sanctuary, just as Moses was warned by God as he was about to complete the tabernacle. For he says, “See that you make everything according to the design shown to you on the mountain” (Hebrews 8:5, emphasis mine).

11 But now Christ has come as the high priest of the good things to come. He passed through the greater and more perfect tent not made with hands, that is, not of this creation, 12 and he entered once for all into the most holy place not by the blood of goats and calves but by his own blood, and so he himself secured eternal redemption (Hebrews 9:11-12, emphasis mine).

23 So it was necessary for the sketches of the things in heaven to be purified with these sacrifices, but the heavenly things themselves required better sacrifices than these. 24 For Christ did not enter a sanctuary made with handsthe representation of the true sanctuary – but into heaven itself, and he appears now in God’s presence for us (Hebrews 9:23-24, emphasis mine).

For the law possesses a shadow of the good things to come but not the reality itself, and is therefore completely unable, by the same sacrifices offered continually, year after year, to perfect those who come to worship (Hebrews 10:1, emphasis mine).

19 Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the sanctuary by the blood of Jesus, 20 by the fresh and living way that he inaugurated for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh (Hebrews 10:19-20, emphasis mine).

Verses 1-5 of Hebrews 8 thus serve as an introduction to a much fuller expansion of this theme of heavenly realities that are foreshadowed by earthly prototypes or sketches. This is not something that is unique to the Epistle to the Hebrews, as we shall soon see.

“True” Tabernacle?

This expression, “the true tabernacle,” might catch us off guard, but it should not be completely foreign to those who are familiar with the Gospel of John. Several times in this Gospel, our Lord is described as something that is “true”:

6 A man came, sent from God, whose name was John. 7 He came as a witness to testify about the light, so that everyone might believe through him. 8 He himself was not the light, but he came to testify about the light. 9 The true light, who gives light to everyone, was coming into the world (John 1:6-9, emphasis mine).

30 So they said to him, “Then what miraculous sign will you perform, so that we may see it and believe you? What will you do? 31 Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, just as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’” 32 Then Jesus told them, “I tell you the solemn truth, it is not Moses who has given you the bread from heaven, but my Father is giving you the true bread from heaven. 33 For the bread of God is the one who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world” (John 6:30-33, emphasis mine).

1 “I am the true vine and my Father is the gardener. 2 He takes away every branch that does not bear fruit in me. He prunes every branch that bears fruit so that it will bear more fruit” (John 15:1-2, emphasis mine).

“True” here is not primarily contrasted with that which is false, although this can sometimes be in view.4 Here, “true” is used in reference to our Lord Jesus Christ, who is the ultimate fulfillment of some earlier prototype or “shadow.” All light illumines, but our Lord is the ultimate “light,” the “light of the world.” And so it is that Jesus can give sight (light) to blind eyes (Isaiah 29:18; John 9) or can travel at night without fear of stumbling (John 11:9-10). God gave the Israelites bread from heaven (manna) in order to sustain their physical lives, but our Lord Jesus is the “true bread,” for He gives life eternal (John 6:30-33). And so Jesus can say this regarding His atoning work on the cross of Calvary,

“For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink” (John 6:55).

So we can see from Jesus’ words in John’s Gospel that certain Old Testament people, things, or rituals serve as a prototype of an ultimate reality which is to be found only in Christ:

16 Therefore do not let anyone judge you with respect to food or drink, or in the matter of a feast, new moon, or Sabbath days – 17 these are only the shadow of the things to come, but the reality is Christ! (Colossians 2:16-17, emphasis mine)

Beyond those instances where the term “true” is employed, there are many other references to our Lord as the ultimate fulfillment of some earlier event, item, or ritual. As a prophet, Moses was a prototype of the Messiah (Deuteronomy 18:15). The exodus was a prototype of the salvation which God would bring about through Jesus (see Isaiah 43:2, 66; Luke 9:315). In John 1:29, 36 and also in 1 Corinthians 5:7, our Lord is the “true” Passover lamb. In John 3:14-15, our Lord’s death is likened to the lifting up of the brazen serpent in the wilderness. In 1 Corinthians 10:4, our Lord is identified as “the rock” which followed the Israelites in the wilderness.

All of this is to say that we should not be surprised to find our Lord as the “true tabernacle” in the Book of Hebrews. The author is about to prove this connection by citing Exodus 25:40 in Hebrews 8:5.

The Author’s Use of Exodus 25:40

5 The place where they serve is a sketch and shadow of the heavenly sanctuary, just as Moses was warned by God as he was about to complete the tabernacle. For he says, “See that you make everything according to the design shown to you on the mountain” (Hebrews 8:5).

The occasion is the giving of the Law at Mount Sinai. God has already given Moses the commandments which Moses had written down, and the people had promised to obey.

3 Moses came and told the people all the Lord’s words and all the decisions. All the people answered together, “We are willing to do all the words that the Lord has said,” 4 and Moses wrote down all the words of the Lord. Early in the morning he built an altar at the foot of the mountain and arranged twelve standing stones – according to the twelve tribes of Israel (Exodus 24:3-4).

Moses had not yet received the commandments written on stone tablets. Neither (so far as I can tell) has God revealed to Moses the instructions for the construction of the tabernacle and its furnishings. That is yet to come when Moses goes to the top of the mountain where he will remain in God’s presence for forty days and forty nights.6 But before this takes place, God is going to reveal Himself in a marvelous way to the elders of Israel, as well as to Moses, Aaron, Nadab and Abihu:

1 But to Moses the Lord said, “Come up to the Lord, you and Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel, and worship from a distance. 2 Moses alone may come near the Lord, but the others must not come near, nor may the people go up with him.” . . . 9 Moses and Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, and the seventy elders of Israel went up, 10 and they saw the God of Israel. Under his feet there was something like a pavement made of sapphire, clear like the sky itself. 11 But he did not lay a hand on the leaders of the Israelites, so they saw God, and they ate and they drank (Exodus 24:1-2, 9-11).

To me, this is one of the most fascinating texts in all of the Old Testament. Men could not look upon God, or they would die.7 God had placed boundaries around the mountain, so that no man or animal would venture too close, and thus die (Exodus 19:21-25; see also 33:18-23). And yet somehow God seems to make an exception here. From verses 9-10, one can hardly avoid the conclusion that these elders, priests, and Moses are given a foretaste of heaven. If this is what God revealed to these leaders, what more did He reveal to Moses?8

We do know that at some point in those forty days spent on the mountain with God, Moses was given a revelation of the heavenly things the earthly tabernacle would represent:

8 Let them make for me a sanctuary, so that I may live among them. 9 According to all that I am showing you – the pattern of the tabernacle and the pattern of all its furnishings – you must make it exactly so (Exodus 25:8-9).

You are to set up the tabernacle according to the plan that you were shown on the mountain (Exodus 26:30).

You are to make the altar hollow, out of boards. Just as it was shown you on the mountain, so they must make it (Exodus 27:8).

Our ancestors had the tabernacle of testimony in the wilderness, just as God who spoke to Moses ordered him to make it according to the design he had seen (Acts 7:44).

Here is the irony of it all. God revealed something of Himself to the Israelite leaders,9 as He had also revealed more of Himself to Moses.10 And in the giving of the Law, God is also revealing Himself to the nation Israel through this law. And yet, during this relatively short period of Moses’ physical absence, the people reach the conclusion that they must have some representation of God that they can see and touch. And so they find Aaron to be a willing participant in the fashioning of the golden calf and in leading the nation Israel in heathen worship (Exodus 32:1-8). The tabernacle and its furnishings, along with the priests, will enable men to draw nearer to God than would otherwise be possible. And yet God’s people create a god with their own hands, and then demand that they be left free to worship their idol.

The real question for me is this: “Just what was it that God revealed to Moses?” What did Moses see on the mountain? I don’t believe that Moses saw a “copy” of the heavenly reality, as one might see a copy of a picture, or of a document.11 It is significant, I believe, that the NET Bible translates verse 5 this way:

5 The place where they serve is a sketch and shadow of the heavenly sanctuary, just as Moses was warned by God as he was about to complete the tabernacle. For he says, “See that you make everything according to the design shown to you on the mountain” (Hebrews 8:5, emphasis by underscoring mine).

To be honest, I’m not quite certain what Moses actually saw. The author does not really seem to tell us. I am inclined to think that Moses may have had some vision of the heavenly reality, not unlike the vision which he and the 70 elders of Israel saw in Exodus 24:10. Then, I believe that Moses was also shown the design and specifications for the tabernacle and its furnishings, along with what they would look like when completed. (This is something like an architect’s design for a building, which is often accompanied with an artist’s conception –or model – of how the project will look when finished. The point being made here is that the tabernacle and furnishings, along with the sacrifices and priestly system, were but a prototype of something vastly superior, something heavenly.

Tracing the Argument of Hebrews 8:1-5

So, let us now seek to trace the flow of the argument of Hebrews 8:1-5. Our Great High Priest, unlike the Aaronic priests, is seated at God’s right hand – the throne of Majesty – which is in the heavens. We have a High Priest whose place of ministry is at the Father’s right hand. There is no place – on earth or in heaven – that is more powerful. The sanctuary in which He serves is no mere prototype of the heavenly reality; it is the heavenly reality. It is the “true tabernacle” established by Christ12 and not man.

Every high priest must offer gifts and sacrifices of some kind. Thus, this High Priest – our Lord Jesus – must also have something to offer. If He were merely an earthly priest, He would be redundant, for the Aaronic priests function in an earthy tabernacle, offering the sacrifices prescribed by the law. They serve in a tabernacle that is a kind of prototype, representing something vastly superior which exists in heaven. This is why God warned Moses to construct the earthly tabernacle so that it would reflect the greater, heavenly reality, a reality of which he was given a preview on Mount Sinai. The earthly tabernacle is thus the sketch, the shadow; the heavenly reality is the substance. And this heavenly reality is our Lord’s base of operations. Thus, His priestly ministry overshadows the ministry of the Aaronic priesthood, just as the reality surpasses the replica.

Conclusion

First, just because the shadows are inferior to the substance, we should not think of them as bad and only the substance as good.In making a point of the superiority of Christ, His priesthood, and the New Covenant over the Aaronic priesthood and the Old Covenant, I do not wish to give the false impression that the “Old” was bad. Before Christ’s coming in the flesh, the Old Covenant and priesthood enabled men to draw nearer to God than before. Consider well these words in Deuteronomy 4:

Look! I have taught you statutes and ordinances just as the Lord my God told me to do, so that you might carry them out in the land you are about to enter and possess. 6 So be sure to do them, because this will testify of your wise understanding to the people who will learn of all these statutes and say, “Indeed, this great nation is a very wise people.” 7 In fact, what other great nation has a god so near to them like the Lord our God whenever we call on him? 8 And what other great nation has statutes and ordinances as just as this whole law that I am about to share with you today? (Deuteronomy 4:5-8, emphasis mine)

The Old Covenant and its priesthood compared to Christ and the New Covenant is like a Model T Ford compared to a new Ford Thunderbird (are they still making them?). In its day, the Model T Ford was a wonder, but it has been surpassed by something vastly superior. Put differently, the Old Covenant set us on the path toward perfection (nearness to God), but it could not take us all the way. The New Covenant has brought us to perfection. In addition to this, the Old had sinful human priests who served in an earthly tabernacle; the New has a divine/human priest who serves in the heavenly sanctuary. In these ways, the New is vastly superior to the Old. But in its day, the Old was as good as any had seen up to that point in time.

Think of this first point in applicational terms. After having driven a new Ford Thunderbird, who would want to reject it and go back to driving a Model T? To reject that which is not only superior, but the ultimate perfection, for that which is preliminary and inferior, just doesn’t make sense. And so falling away from Christ to return to Judaism is contrary to all sound reason.

Second, the heavenly realities (or substance) which the “shadows” anticipated are revealed and fulfilled in Jesus Christ.

16 Therefore do not let anyone judge you with respect to food or drink, or in the matter of a feast, new moon, or Sabbath days – 17 these are only the shadow of the things to come, but the reality is Christ! (Colossians 2:16-17, emphasis mine)

I cannot think of one example of an earthly “shadow” whose fulfillment is not Jesus.

On the next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! (John 1:29, emphasis mine)

19 Jesus replied, “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up again.” 20 Then the Jewish leaders said to him, “This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and are you going to raise it up in three days?” 21 But Jesus was speaking about the temple of his body (John 2:19-21, emphasis mine).

Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up (John 3:14).

Clean out the old yeast so that you may be a new batch of dough – you are, in fact, without yeast. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed (1 Corinthians 5:7, emphasis mine).

. . . and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they were all drinking from the spiritual rock that followed them, and the rock was Christ (1 Corinthians 10:4).

19 Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the sanctuary by the blood of Jesus, 20 by the fresh and living way that he inaugurated for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near with a sincere heart in the assurance that faith brings, because we have had our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed in pure water. 23 And let us hold unwaveringly to the hope that we confess, for the one who made the promise is trustworthy. 24 And let us take thought of how to spur one another on to love and good works (Hebrews 10:19-24, emphasis mine).

Now I saw no temple in the city, because the Lord God – the All-Powerful – and the Lamb are its temple (Revelation 21:22).

What does all this mean? It means that Christ is the fulfillment of every prototype of God’s future blessings. We need no one else but Christ. We need preach none other than Christ. And if we reject Christ, we reject the One who is the ultimate provision of God for man. No wonder it is such a fearful thing to turn away from Christ and to turn back to that which was inferior and anticipatory of Him.

Third, these ultimate heavenly realities are largely unseen, but they are spoken; they are revealed in the Word of God.Several elements are involved here, so let’s take them one at a time.

A. The heavenly realities which are foreshadowed by earthly things are largely unseen:

1 Now faith is being sure of what we hope for, being convinced of what we do not see. 2 For by it the people of old received God’s commendation. 3 By faith we understand that the worlds were set in order at God’s command, so that the visible has its origin in the invisible (Hebrews 11:1-3, emphasis mine).

13 These all died in faith without receiving the things promised, but they saw them in the distance and welcomed them and acknowledged that they were strangers and foreigners on the earth. 14 For those who speak in such a way make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. 15 In fact, if they had been thinking of the land that they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. 16 But as it is, they aspire to a better land, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore, God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them (Hebrews 11:13-16, emphasis mine).

8 You have not seen him, but you love him. You do not see him now but you believe in him, and so you rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy, 9 because you are attaining the goal of your faith – the salvation of your souls (1 Peter 1:8-9, emphasis mine).

23 Not only this, but we ourselves also, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we eagerly await our adoption, the redemption of our bodies. 24 For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope, because who hopes for what he sees? 25 But if we hope for what we do not see, we eagerly wait for it with endurance (Romans 8:23-25, emphasis mine).

6 Now we do speak wisdom among the mature, but not a wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are perishing. 7 Instead we speak the wisdom of God, hidden in a mystery, that God determined before the ages for our glory. 8 None of the rulers of this age understood it. If they had known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. 9 But just as it is written, “Things that no eye has seen, or ear heard, or mind imagined, are the things God has prepared for those who love him” (1 Corinthians 2:6-9).

B. Some of what we have not seen has been seen by others, namely those who lived in Jesus’ day:

14 Now the Word became flesh and took up residence among us. We saw his glory – the glory of the one and only, full of grace and truth, who came from the Father. 15 John testified about him and shouted out, “This one was the one about whom I said, ‘He who comes after me is greater than I am, because he existed before me.’” 16 For we have all received from his fullness one gracious gift after another. 17 For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came about through Jesus Christ. 18 No one has ever seen God. The only one, himself God, who is in closest fellowship with the Father, has made God known (John 1:14-18, emphasis mine).

1 This is what we proclaim to you: what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and our hands have touched (concerning the word of life – 2 and the life was revealed, and we have seen and testify and announce to you the eternal life that was with the Father and was revealed to us). 3 What we have seen and heard we announce to you too, so that you may have fellowship with us (and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ). (1 John 1:1-3)

C. When our Lord came to earth in human flesh, He spoke for God, and His Word has been preserved for us in the Scriptures. Not only has He revealed God’s Word to us, that Word has been attested as true and as vital to our Christian lives:

1 After God spoke long ago in various portions and in various ways to our ancestors through the prophets, 2 in these last days he has spoken to us in a son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he created the world. 3 The Son is the radiance of his glory and the representation of his essence, and he sustains all things by his powerful word, and so when he had accomplished cleansing for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high (Hebrews 1:1-3).

1 Therefore we must pay closer attention to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away. 2 For if the message spoken through angels proved to be so firm that every violation or disobedience received its just penalty, 3 how will we escape if we neglect such a great salvation? It was first communicated through the Lord and was confirmed to us by those who heard him, 4 while God confirmed their witness with signs and wonders and various miracles and gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will (Hebrews 2:1-4).

12 For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any double-edged sword, piercing even to the point of dividing soul from spirit, and joints from marrow; it is able to judge the desires and thoughts of the heart. 13 And no creature is hidden from God, but everything is naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must render an account (Hebrews 4:12-13).

2 May grace and peace be lavished on you as you grow in the rich knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord! 3 I can pray this because his divine power has bestowed on us everything necessary for life and godliness through the rich knowledge of the one who called us by his own glory and excellence. 4 Through these things he has bestowed on us his precious and most magnificent promises, so that by means of what was promised you may become partakers of the divine nature, after escaping the worldly corruption that is produced by evil desire (2 Peter 1:2-4).

D. Since heavenly realities are not matters of sight, but rather things which God has revealed in His Word, we must give careful attention to His Word and believe it by faith.

1 Therefore we must be wary that, while the promise of entering his rest remains open, none of you may seem to have come short of it. 2 For we had good news proclaimed to us just as they did. But the message they heard did them no good, since they did not join in with those who heard it in faith. 3 For we who have believed enter that rest, as he has said, “As I swore in my anger, They will never enter my rest!’” And yet God’s works were accomplished from the foundation of the world (Hebrews 4:1-3).

1 Now faith is being sure of what we hope for, being convinced of what we do not see. 2 For by it the people of old received God’s commendation. 3 By faith we understand that the worlds were set in order at God’s command, so that the visible has its origin in the invisible (Hebrews 11:1-3).

6 Now without faith it is impossible to please him, for the one who approaches God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him. 7 By faith Noah, when he was warned about things not yet seen, with reverent regard constructed an ark for the deliverance of his family. Through faith he condemned the world and became an heir of the righteousness that comes by faith. 8 By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place he would later receive as an inheritance, and he went out without understanding where he was going (Hebrews 11:6-8).

24 By faith, when he grew up, Moses refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, 25 choosing rather to be ill-treated with the people of God than to enjoy sin’s fleeting pleasure. 26 He regarded abuse suffered for Christ to be greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for his eyes were fixed on the reward. 27 By faith he left Egypt without fearing the king’s anger, for he persevered as though he could see the one who is invisible (Hebrews 11:24-27).

Fourth, these heavenly realities put their earthly counterparts into proper perspective. God graciously gave the earthly shadows to meet man’s needs for the moment and to prepare the way for the vastly greater heavenly realities which would be realized in Christ. Hebrew Christians would not do well to return to the inferior prototypes, since these could never make one perfect – that is, they could never draw one into an intimate and lasting relationship with God. That could only be done in the person and work of Christ. His work of making atonement for our sins, once for all, was accomplished at Calvary. His work of continually interceding on our behalf as our Great High Priest continues until we have been perfected by our resurrection and transformation when He returns to earth to establish His kingdom. To return to Judaism is to embrace the symbols, but to reject the substance. What a terrible mistake this would be.

Finally, these heavenly realities mean that we are no longer bound to the culturally restrictive rituals that were required of the Old Testament people of God, and this has tremendous implications for our worship and evangelism.I gratefully acknowledge that this application comes from an excellent sermon by Dr. John Piper, entitled, “Our High Priest is The Son of God Perfect Forever.”13 Piper writes:

“Now let me draw out some implications of this for the life of worship. The High Priesthood of Jesus—the coming of the reality instead of the shadow—fulfills and brings to an end the physical center of Old Testament worship, the tabernacle and the temple. It fulfills and brings to an end the official priesthood. It fulfills and brings to an end the sacrificial offerings. It fulfills and brings to an end the dietary laws. It fulfills and brings to an end the priestly vestments. It fulfills and brings to an end the seasonal acts of atonement and reconciliation.

What this means, in essence, is that the entire worship life of the Old Testament has been radically refocused onto Jesus himself and has become a radically spiritual thing, as opposed to an external thing. The external is still important, but now the spiritual is so radically pervasive that virtually all of external life, not just church life, is the expression of worship. "Present your bodies as living sacrifices which is your reasonable service of worship" (Romans 12:1). That's all the time and everywhere. "Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God" (1 Corinthians 10:31)—all the time, everywhere. The money that the Philippians sent to Paul he says in 4:18 was ‘a fragrant aroma, an acceptable sacrifice, well-pleasing to God.’

In the New Testament, all the focus is on the reality of the glory of Christ, not the shadow and copy of religious objects and forms. It is stunning how indifferent the New Testament is to such things: there is no authorization in the New Testament for worship buildings, or worship dress, or worship times, or worship music, or worship liturgy or worship size or thirty-five-minute sermons, or Advent poems or choirs or instruments or candles. In fact, the act of getting together as Christians in the New Testament to sing or pray or hear the word of God is never even called worship. I wonder if we do not distort the Biblical meaning of “worship” by using the word almost entirely for an event for which the New Testament never uses the word.

But all of this makes us very free and, perhaps, very frightened. Free to find place and time and dress and size and music and elements and objects that help us orient radically toward the supremacy of God in Christ. And frightened, perhaps, because almost every worship tradition we have is culturally shaped rather than Biblically commanded. The command is a radical connection of love and trust and obedience to Jesus Christ in all of life.

There’s a reason for this radical spirituality of worship in the New Testament. And the reason is this. The New Testament is a missionary document. The message of this book is meant to be carried to every people on earth and incarnated in every culture in the world. And that is why our High Priest came and ended tabernacle, and sacrifices and feasts and vestments and dietary laws and circumcision and priesthood. The Old Testament was mainly a come-and-see religion. The New Testament is mainly a go-and-tell religion. And to make that possible, the Son of God has not abolished worship, but made it the kind of radically spiritual engagement with God in Christ that can and must happen in every culture on the earth. Worship is not trivialized in the New Testament, but intensified, deepened, and made the radical fuel and goal of all missions.

The frightening freedom of worship in the New Testament is a missionary mandate. We must not lock this gospel treasure in any cultural straitjacket. Rather let us find the place, the time, the dress, the forms, the music that kindles and carries a passion for the supremacy of God in all things. And may our communion with the living God be so real and the Spirit of God so powerfully present that the heart of what we do becomes the joy of all the peoples we are called to reach.”

John Piper’s excellent words of application turn my mind to the conversation between Jesus and the “woman at the well” in the fourth chapter of the Gospel of John:

19 The woman said to him, “Sir, I see that you are a prophet. 20 Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, and you people say that the place where people must worship is in Jerusalem.” 21 Jesus said to her, “Believe me, woman, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. 22 You people worship what you do not know. We worship what we know, because salvation is from the Jews. 23 But a time is coming – and now is here – when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such people to be his worshipers. 24 God is spirit, and the people who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” 25 The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming” (the one called Christ); “whenever he comes, he will tell us everything.” 26 Jesus said to her, “I, the one speaking to you, am he” (John 4:19-26).14

I now believe that this woman was sincere in her desire to “get it right” when it came to how one should worship God. Her (Samaritan) people believed that one must worship on Mount Gerizim; the Jews worshipped God in Jerusalem. Jesus informs her that as a result of His coming as the Promised Messiah, such matters as where one worships are now a moot question. True worshippers will worship “in Spirit and in truth” (verse 23). When the ultimate reality appears, the shadow (of tabernacle or temple) is no longer needed. And so the scattering of the disciples from Jerusalem (Acts 8:1) and the destruction of the temple (Matthew 24:1-2) were of little consequence so far as true worship was concerned. True worship is facilitated through the ministry of the Holy Spirit, and it is focused upon the person and work of the Son, whether that takes place in Jerusalem or in Juneau, Alaska.

It is all about Jesus, and not about tabernacles and veils and animal sacrifices. Now that Jesus – their ultimate fulfillment – has come, we need only worship Him, wherever that might be. We cannot worship any way that we like, but we do have considerable freedom in the Spirit to worship the Son of God, as we can see from texts like 1 Corinthians 12-14. And with this freedom, the gospel and the church are not restricted to any particular place, or to any particular culture.

It is this very thing which brings persecution to those Jews who embrace Jesus as their Messiah. They are no longer bound to the Old Covenant or to the old rituals. The preaching of the gospel is no long restricted to Jews only,15 or to those who will embrace Christ and Judaism.16 The church is now “one new man” rather than two separate entities, separated by a huge cultural and religious gap.17 This opens wide the door of opportunity for evangelism, so that men and women of every race and tribe may trust in Jesus and worship God through Him.

This brings us to the freedom and glory of the New Covenant, but this we must save for the lessons to follow. To God be the glory; great things He has done.


1 Copyright © 2008 by Robert L. Deffinbaugh. This is the edited manuscript of Lesson 18 in the series, Near to the Heart of God – A Study of the Book of Hebrews, prepared by Robert L. Deffinbaugh on November 9, 2008. Anyone is at liberty to use this lesson for educational purposes only, with or without credit.

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the NET Bible. The NEW ENGLISH TRANSLATION, also known as THE NET BIBLE, is a completely new translation of the Bible, not a revision or an update of a previous English version. It was completed by more than twenty biblical scholars who worked directly from the best currently available Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek texts. The translation project originally started as an attempt to provide an electronic version of a modern translation for electronic distribution over the Internet and on CD (compact disk). Anyone anywhere in the world with an Internet connection will be able to use and print out the NET Bible without cost for personal study. In addition, anyone who wants to share the Bible with others can print unlimited copies and give them away free to others. It is available on the Internet at: www.netbible.org.

2 For example, see Mark 14:58.

3 See Luke 22:20; 1 Corinthians 11:25-26.

4 See Luke 16:11; John 4:23; 2 Corinthians 2:12; Philippians 3:3.

5 One might easily miss the fact that the term used for “departure” can be transliterated “exodus.” This is indicated by the translator’s note in the NET Bible: “tn Grk "his exodus," which refers to Jesus' death in Jerusalem and journey back to glory. Here is the first lesson that the disciples must learn. The wondrous rule comes only after suffering.”

6 Exodus 24:18.

7 Exodus 19:12, 21, 24; Judges 13:22.

8 In addition to Exodus 25:40 and similar texts, we dare not forget Exodus 33:17—34:7.

9 Exodus 24:10.

10 Exodus 33:17—34:7.

11 We should recall that in Revelation 21:22 we are told that there is no temple to be seen in the Jerusalem which comes down from heaven because God the Father and God the Son are its temple.

12 The Greek term kurios can be used in reference to God the Father, or to God the Son. Here, it seems to refer to the Son.

13http://www.desiringgod.org/ResourceLibrary/Sermons/ByScripture/26/979_Our_High_Priest_is_The_Son_of_God_Perfect_Forever/

14 It was after I had finished this message (or so I thought) that I found these words by F. F. Bruce (and his reference to John 4), which sound a great deal like those of Piper: “To our author, the new covenant involves the abolition of the old sacrificial order because of a perfect and unrepeatable sacrifice, and a high-priestly ministry discharged in the heavenly, no longer in an earthly, sanctuary on the basis of that sacrifice by a priest of a different line from Aaron’s. True worship, ‘in spirit and in truth,’ is thus released from dependence on the externalities of religion.” F. F. Bruce, The Epistle to the Hebrews, revised edition (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1990), pp. 193-194.

15 Acts 11:1-3, 18-19.

16 Acts 15:1.

17 Ephesians 2:11-22.


http://feeds.bible.org/deffinbaugh/hebrews/deff_hebrews_18.mp3
/assets/powerpoint/deff_hebrews_18.ppt
Ad Category: 
Passage: 
/assets/worddocs/deff_hebrews_18_sg.zip

19. What's New About the New Covenant (Hebrews 8:6-13)

1 Now the main point of what we are saying is this: We have such a high priest, one who sat down at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven, 2 a minister in the sanctuary and the true tabernacle that the Lord, not man, set up. 3 For every high priest is appointed to offer both gifts and sacrifices. So this one too had to have something to offer. 4 Now if he were on earth, he would not be a priest, since there are already priests who offer the gifts prescribed by the law. 5 The place where they serve is a sketch and shadow of the heavenly sanctuary, just as Moses was warned by God as he was about to complete the tabernacle. For he says, “See that you make everything according to the design shown to you on the mountain.”

6 But now Jesus has obtained a superior ministry, since the covenant that he mediates is also better and is enacted on better promises. 7 For if that first covenant had been faultless, no one would have looked for a second one. 8 But showing its fault, God says to them, “Look, the days are coming, says the Lord, when I will complete a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah. 9 “It will not be like the covenant that I made with their fathers, on the day when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they did not continue in my covenant and I had no regard for them, says the Lord. 10 “For this is the covenant that I will establish with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord. I will put my laws in their minds and I will inscribe them on their hearts. And I will be their God and they will be my people. 11 “And there will be no need at all for each one to teach his countryman or each one to teach his brother saying, Know the Lord, since they will all know me, from the least to the greatest. 12 “For I will be merciful toward their evil deeds, and their sins I will remember no longer.” 13 When he speaks of a new covenant, he makes the first obsolete. Now what is growing obsolete and aging is about to disappear.1

Introduction

Years ago my wife and I found ourselves in a position where we needed to care for an ailing friend. We had served as witnesses to her will, and thus we were aware of how she wanted her affairs conducted. She had given me a measure of authority over her finances, and in addition, I could assume even greater authority if circumstances dictated the need. As her heath continued to deteriorate, it appeared that I might need to exercise additional authority. I wanted to be certain that I would be acting within the authority she had granted me, so I contacted the person who could interpret my friend’s will under certain circumstances. I was told that I had a copy of her will and that I should consult it. Fortunately for me, I did not have to do anything beyond what I had done up to this point in time. You can imagine my surprise after our friend’s death to learn that (unknown and unrevealed to me) a new will had been written, one which I had never seen, or had any indication that it even existed.

I suppose that some Hebrew Christians felt the same way when they began to grasp the implications of the New Covenant. For centuries, devout Jews had been operating under the Old, Mosaic Covenant, but now they were being told by Jesus and the apostles that things had changed. In their case, they could not claim to have been uninformed that such a dramatic change was coming. The Old Testament writers had prophesied that a New Covenant was coming, one that was vastly superior to the Old. One such prophet was Jeremiah, and his prophecy is cited by the author of the Book of Hebrews in our text. In fact, this citation of Jeremiah 31:31-34 is the longest Old Testament citation to be found in the New Testament. The New Covenant is the subject of our text in Hebrews 8 (and beyond). It is yet another reason why the high priestly ministry of our Lord is vastly superior to that of the Aaronic order since the high priest must carry out the terms of the covenant under which he serves.

What is a Covenant?

Since we are talking about the New Covenant, it would serve us well to understand what the Bible means by the term “covenant.” A covenant is an agreement; usually it is between two parties. In the ancient Near East, it was a kind of treaty by means of which rulers entered into a covenant relationship with their subjects. There are certain similarities in style between these secular covenants and the biblical covenants, but the content is surely different. Some covenants were bilateral in that there were obligations and commitments for both sides. We see such a covenant between Abraham and Abimelech in Genesis 21:27, 32. Marriage is described as a bilateral covenant in Malachi 2:14. Both husband and wife make covenant promises which they are obligated to keep.

The Mosaic Covenant was a bilateral, conditional, covenant:

“And now, if you will diligently listen to me and keep my covenant, then you will be my special possession out of all the nations, for all the earth is mine” (Exodus 19:5).

God promised blessings when His people kept His covenant (Deuteronomy 28:1-14) and cursing when they disregarded it (Deuteronomy 28:15-68).

We also find a different kind of covenant in the Bible. It is a covenant in which God binds Himself to do certain things, but not conditioned upon the actions of others. In the case of the Abrahamic Covenant, God promised to make a great nation of Abram, and to bless his seed greatly, and thus he and his offspring would become a blessing to others. This was an unconditional covenant, and in addition, it was a covenant that was confirmed by God’s oath. Thus, it was an unchangeable covenant. In this sense, the Abrahamic Covenant and the New Covenant consisted of promises. This is exactly what the author of Hebrews tells us:

But now Jesus has obtained a superior ministry, since the covenant that he mediates is also better and is enacted on better promises (Hebrews 8:6).

The New Covenant is a series of promises that God made to Israel and Judah, promises which are unchangeable and irreversible, since they are sealed by God’s oath. These promises make the New Covenant vastly superior to the Old Covenant, so much so that the New Covenant replaces the Old, making it obsolete.

The New Covenant is Not All That New

The New Covenant should not be new to the student of Scripture. Not infrequently, it is the subject of Old Testament prophecy:

“As for me, this is my promise to them,” says the Lord. “My spirit, who is upon you, and my words, which I have placed in your mouth, will not depart from your mouth or from the mouths of your children and descendants from this time forward,” says the Lord (Isaiah 59:21).

4 They will rebuild the perpetual ruins and restore the places that were desolate; they will reestablish the ruined cities, the places that have been desolate since ancient times. 5 “Foreigners will take care of your sheep; foreigners will work in your fields and vineyards. 6 You will be called, ‘the Lord’s priests, servants of our God.’ You will enjoy the wealth of nations and boast about the riches you receive from them. 7 Instead of shame, you will get a double portion; instead of humiliation, they will rejoice over the land they receive. Yes, they will possess a double portion in their land and experience lasting joy. 8 For I, the Lord, love justice and hate robbery and sin. I will repay them because of my faithfulness; I will make a permanent covenant with them (Isaiah 61:4-8, emphasis mine).

36 “You and your people are right in saying, ‘War, starvation, and disease are sure to make this city fall into the hands of the king of Babylon.’ But now I, the Lord God of Israel, have something further to say about this city: 37 ‘I will certainly regather my people from all the countries where I will have exiled them in my anger, fury, and great wrath. I will bring them back to this place and allow them to live here in safety. 38 They will be my people, and I will be their God. 39 I will give them a single-minded purpose to live in a way that always shows respect for me. They will want to do that for their own good and the good of the children who descend from them. 40 I will make a lasting covenant with them that I will never stop doing good to them. I will fill their hearts and minds with respect for me so that they will never again turn away from me. 41 I will take delight in doing good to them. I will faithfully and wholeheartedly plant them firmly in the land’” (Jeremiah 32:36-41, emphasis mine).

19 I will give them one heart and I will put a new spirit within them; I will remove the hearts of stone from their bodies and I will give them tender hearts, 20 so that they may follow my statutes and observe my regulations and carry them out. Then they will be my people, and I will be their God (Ezekiel 11:19-20).

60 Yet I will remember the covenant I made with you in the days of your youth, and I will establish a lasting covenant with you. 61 Then you will remember your conduct, and be ashamed when you receive your older and younger sisters. I will give them to you as daughters, but not on account of my covenant with you. 62 I will establish my covenant with you, and then you will know that I am the Lord. 63 Then you will remember, be ashamed, and remain silent when I make atonement for all you have done, declares the sovereign Lord’” (Ezekiel 16:60-63, emphasis mine).

22 “Therefore say to the house of Israel, ‘This is what the sovereign Lord says: It is not for your sake that I am about to act, O house of Israel, but for the sake of my holy reputation which you profaned among the nations where you went. 23 I will magnify my great name that has been profaned among the nations, that you have profaned among them. The nations will know that I am the Lord, declares the sovereign Lord, when I magnify myself among you in their sight. 24 “‘I will take you from the nations and gather you from all the countries; then I will bring you to your land. 25 I will sprinkle you with pure water and you will be clean from all your impurities. I will purify you from all your idols. 26 I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit within you. I will remove the heart of stone from your body and give you a heart of flesh. 27 I will put my Spirit within you; I will take the initiative and you will obey my statutes and carefully observe my regulations. 28 Then you will live in the land I gave to your fathers; you will be my people, and I will be your God (Ezekiel 36:22-28, emphasis mine).

24 “‘My servant David will be king over them; there will be one shepherd for all of them. They will follow my regulations and carefully observe my statutes. 25 They will live in the land I gave to my servant Jacob, in which your fathers lived; they will live in it - they and their children and their grandchildren forever. David my servant will be prince over them forever. 26 I will make a covenant of peace with them; it will be a perpetual covenant with them. I will establish them, increase their numbers, and place my sanctuary among them forever. 27 My dwelling place will be with them; I will be their God, and they will be my people. 28 Then, when my sanctuary is among them forever, the nations will know that I, the Lord, sanctify Israel’” (Ezekiel 37:24-28, emphasis mine).

Other than the passages we find in Hebrews,2 there are also a number of texts in the New Testament pertaining to the New Covenant.

And in the same way he took the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood” (Luke 22:20).

In the same way, he also took the cup after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, every time you drink it, in remembrance of me” (1 Corinthians 11:25).

15 Brothers and sisters, I offer an example from everyday life: When a covenant has been ratified, even though it is only a human contract, no one can set it aside or add anything to it. 16 Now the promises were spoken to Abraham and to his descendant. Scripture does not say, “and to the descendants,” referring to many, but and to your descendant, referring to one, who is Christ. 17 What I am saying is this: The law that came four hundred thirty years later does not cancel a covenant previously ratified by God, so as to invalidate the promise (Galatians 3:15-17).

24 These things may be treated as an allegory, for these women represent two covenants. One is from Mount Sinai bearing children for slavery; this is Hagar. 25 Now Hagar represents Mount Sinai in Arabia and corresponds to the present Jerusalem, for she is in slavery with her children. 26 But the Jerusalem above is free, and she is our mother (Galatians 4:24-26).3

The Better Promises of the New Covenant
Hebrews 8:8-12; Jeremiah 31:31-34

Jeremiah lived during the darkest days of the nation. The northern kingdom of Israel had already been defeated and dispersed abroad by the Assyrians. This was God’s judgment for her many sins. The southern kingdom of Judah had not learned from the experiences of her sister, Israel. She, too, had persisted in her sins and thus the prophesied Babylonian captivity drew near. Already some of the Jews had been deported to Babylon.4 Jeremiah foretold seventy years of captivity, during which the land would receive its rest. But he prophesied that after this, there was hope for restoration:

4 “The Lord God of Israel who rules over all says to all those he sent into exile to Babylon from Jerusalem, 5 ‘Build houses and settle down. Plant gardens and eat what they produce. 6 Marry and have sons and daughters. Find wives for your sons and allow your daughters get married so that they too can have sons and daughters. Grow in number; do not dwindle away. 7 Work to see that the city where I sent you as exiles enjoys peace and prosperity. Pray to the Lord for it. For as it prospers you will prosper.’ 8 “For the Lord God of Israel who rules over all says, ‘Do not let the prophets or those among you who claim to be able to predict the future by divination deceive you. And do not pay any attention to the dreams that you are encouraging them to dream. 9 They are prophesying lies to you and claiming my authority to do so. But I did not send them. I, the Lord, affirm it!’ 10 “For the Lord says, ‘Only when the seventy years of Babylonian rule are over will I again take up consideration for you. Then I will fulfill my gracious promise to you and restore you to your homeland. 11 For I know what I have planned for you,’ says the Lord. ‘I have plans to prosper you, not to harm you. I have plans to give you a future filled with hope. 12 When you call out to me and come to me in prayer, I will hear your prayers. 13 When you seek me in prayer and worship, you will find me available to you. If you seek me with all your heart and soul, 14 I will make myself available to you,’ says the Lord. ‘Then I will reverse your plight and will regather you from all the nations and all the places where I have exiled you,’ says the Lord. ‘I will bring you back to the place from which I exiled you’” (Jeremiah 29:4-14, emphasis mine).

Both Israel and Judah would be restored and forgiven, not on the basis of the Old, Mosaic Covenant, but on the basis of the Abrahamic Covenant and the New Covenant. The promises of the New Covenant are then spelled out by Jeremiah in 31:

31 “Indeed, a time is coming,” says the Lord, “when I will make a new covenant with the people of Israel and Judah. 32 It will not be like the old covenant that I made with their ancestors when I delivered them from Egypt. For they violated that covenant, even though I was like a faithful husband to them,” says the Lord. 33 “But I will make a new covenant with the whole nation of Israel after I plant them back in the land,” says the Lord. “I will put my law within them and write it on their hearts and minds. I will be their God and they will be my people. 34 “People will no longer need to teach their neighbors and relatives to know me. For all of them, from the least important to the most important, will know me,” says the Lord. “For I will forgive their sin and will no longer call to mind the wrong they have done” (Jeremiah 31:31-34).

Further confirmation follows in the next chapter of Jeremiah:

36 “You and your people are right in saying, ‘War, starvation, and disease are sure to make this city fall into the hands of the king of Babylon.’ But now I, the Lord God of Israel, have something further to say about this city: 37 ‘I will certainly regather my people from all the countries where I will have exiled them in my anger, fury, and great wrath. I will bring them back to this place and allow them to live here in safety. 38 They will be my people, and I will be their God. 39 I will give them a single-minded purpose to live in a way that always shows respect for me. They will want to do that for their own good and the good of the children who descend from them. 40 I will make a lasting covenant with them that I will never stop doing good to them. I will fill their hearts and minds with respect for me so that they will never again turn away from me. 41 I will take delight in doing good to them. I will faithfully and wholeheartedly plant them firmly in the land’” (Jeremiah 32:36-41, emphasis mine).

The author of Hebrews tells us that the New Covenant is better than the Old (the Mosaic Covenant), among other reasons because it contains better promises.5 Just what are these promises, and how are they better? The author chooses the words of Jeremiah 31:31-34 to describe them. Let’s work through them in the same order as Jeremiah wrote them. We will begin with the author’s introduction, beginning in verse 6.

Hebrews 8:6-8a

6 But now Jesus has obtained a superior ministry, since the covenant that he mediates is also better and is enacted on better promises. 7 For if that first covenant had been faultless, no one would have looked for a second one. 8 But showing its fault, God says to them, . . .” (Hebrews 8:6-8a).

In the first five verses of this chapter, the author has sought to show that our Lord’s priesthood (after the order of Melchizedek) is superior to that of Aaron because it is a priesthood that is carried out in heaven, not on earth, and in the “true tabernacle” rather than a mere prototype. Now He moves ahead to show that our Lord’s priesthood is also superior to the Aaronic order because it is based upon the better promises of the New Covenant, as compared with the Old, Mosaic Covenant. He sets forth his claim of superior promises in verse 6, and then states that the only reason for a “new” covenant is that the “old” covenant is flawed in some way.

We see this kind of argument all the time in advertisements we find in the media. A toothpaste is heralded as “new and improved.” Who would want to keep that old, inferior toothpaste after hearing this? Appliances are also “new and improved,” so that we dare not keep the old any longer. It is time to cast them aside and get the latest and the best. While this kind of advertising is suspect, the logic is absolutely true when comparing the New Covenant with the Old. If, indeed, the Old Covenant is flawed, then it should be replaced. As he begins to cite from Jeremiah 31, the author begins by informing us that the flaws of the Old are the reason why God declared a New Covenant with better promises.

Now what is the nature of these flaws? Here we are dealing with a matter that has divided the scholars. We will not delve into the technicalities, but will only point out the differences in the way verse 8 is translated:

But showing its fault, God says to them, “Look, the days are coming, says the Lord, when I will complete a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah (Hebrews 8:8, NET Bible; emphasis mine).

For finding fault with them, He says, “Behold, days are coming, says the Lord, When I will effect a new covenant With the house of Israel and with the house of Judah” (Hebrews 8:8, NASB95; emphasis mine).

But finding fault with His people, He says: “Look, the days are coming,” says the Lord, “when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah” (CSB, emphasis mine).

Nearly all the translations follow the rendering of the NASB, NAU95, and CSB, pointing a finger of accusation at the Israelites. Only the NET Bible points the finger of accusation at the Old Covenant. Both options are viable, and it seems to me that both are valid. We can hardly avoid the fact that the Old Covenant was flawed when this is the author’s point in verses 6 and 7. If there was nothing wrong with the Old Covenant, then why did it need to be replaced?

Now, was the Old Covenant a “bad covenant”? Is the fault only to be found here? To put the matter more bluntly, “Did God mess up by giving men a flawed covenant?” We know from Romans 7 that the problem is not entirely with the law, for it is “holy and righteous and good” (Romans 7:12). As the argument develops in Romans 7, we find that while the law is good, and its requirements are righteous, the problem is with sin and with the weakness of our flesh. Thus, we agree with the law in what it requires, but we nevertheless fail to obey its commands. We agree with what the Law forbids, but we do these things anyway. And so we find that the fault lies with sinful men on the one hand, and with a covenant that cannot overcome or permanently remove sin and its consequences on the other. Thus, the fault of the Old Covenant is to be found in the sinfulness of men and in the Old Covenant’s inability to remove sin.

Hebrews 8:8b-9

“Look, the days are coming, says the Lord, when I will complete a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah. 9 “It will not be like the covenant that I made with their fathers, on the day when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they did not continue in my covenant and I had no regard for them, says the Lord (Hebrews 8:8b-9).

The New Covenant is one that will be fulfilled in the future, Jeremiah assures us, for “the days are coming” when this covenant will be completed. This covenant is with the “house of Israel” and with “the house of Judah.” Since the kingdom was divided at this point in time, the two kingdoms will have to be re-united. More than this, since the northern kingdom of Israel had been carried off and dispersed by the Assyrians,6 this would be no small miracle.

Of necessity, the New Covenant would not be like the Old Covenant that was flawed. That this “Old Covenant” that was being replaced is the Mosaic Covenant is clear in the words of verse 9. This covenant was broken by the Israelites from the very beginning, something that the author of Hebrews pointed out in chapters 3 and 4. Because His people disregarded God and His covenant with them, God had no regard for them. There was no hope for Israel under the Mosaic Covenant.

Hebrews 8:10

“For this is the covenant that I will establish with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord. I will put my laws in their minds and I will inscribe them on their hearts. And I will be their God and they will be my people (Hebrews 8:10).

Initially, Jeremiah indicated that the New Covenant would be executed in the “days to come” (verse 8). Now he tells us that the New Covenant will be established “after those days” (verse 10). Which days might these be? I believe the answer is to be found in Jeremiah 30:

4 Now these are the words which the Lord spoke concerning Israel and concerning Judah: 5 “For thus says the Lord, ‘I have heard a sound of terror, Of dread, and there is no peace. 6 ‘Ask now, and see If a male can give birth. Why do I see every man With his hands on his loins, as a woman in childbirth? And why have all faces turned pale? 7 ‘Alas! for that day is great, There is none like it; And it is the time of Jacob’s distress, But he will be saved from it. 8 ‘It shall come about on that day,’ declares the Lord of hosts, ‘that I will break his yoke from off their neck and will tear off their bonds; and strangers will no longer make them their slaves” (Jeremiah 30:4-8, NASB95; emphasis mine).

I would understand the “time of Jacob’s distress” to be the time of the Great Tribulation. I believe that the church has been “grafted into” the blessings of the New Covenant, and that it will be after the “fullness of the Gentiles” is complete that God will turn, once again, to the nation Israel, bringing her to repentance and to salvation, in fulfillment of the Abrahamic Covenant and the New Covenant.

The New Covenant is not merely a set of external commands and standards. The New Covenant produces a change of heart. This is the circumcision of heart God promised in Deuteronomy 30:6. It is the work of the Holy Spirit, a work about which Ezekiel has much more to say.

24 “‘I will take you from the nations and gather you from all the countries; then I will bring you to your land. 25 I will sprinkle you with pure water and you will be clean from all your impurities. I will purify you from all your idols. 26 I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit within you. I will remove the heart of stone from your body and give you a heart of flesh. 27 I will put my Spirit within you; I will take the initiative and you will obey my statutes and carefully observe my regulations. 28 Then you will live in the land I gave to your fathers; you will be my people, and I will be your God’” (Ezekiel 36:24-28, emphasis mine).7

The New Covenant is also a subject dear to the heart of the Apostle Paul. How clear is the contrast he makes between the Old Covenant and the New:

1 Are we beginning to commend ourselves again? We don’t need letters of recommendation to you or from you as some other people do, do we? 2 You yourselves are our letter, written on our hearts, known and read by everyone, 3 revealing that you are a letter of Christ, delivered by us, written not with ink but by the Spirit of the living God, not on stone tablets but on tablets of human hearts. 4 Now we have such confidence in God through Christ. 5 Not that we are adequate in ourselves to consider anything as if it were coming from ourselves, but our adequacy is from God, 6 who made us adequate to be servants of a new covenant not based on the letter but on the Spirit, for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life. 7 But if the ministry that produced death – carved in letters on stone tablets – came with glory, so that the Israelites could not keep their eyes fixed on the face of Moses because of the glory of his face (a glory which was made ineffective), 8 how much more glorious will the ministry of the Spirit be? 9 For if there was glory in the ministry that produced condemnation, how much more does the ministry that produces righteousness excel in glory! 10 For indeed, what had been glorious now has no glory because of the tremendously greater glory of what replaced it. 11 For if what was made ineffective came with glory, how much more has what remains come in glory! (2 Corinthians 3:1-11)

The work of the Holy Spirit is internal, changing our hearts from hearts of stone to hearts of flesh. He creates in us a love for God and a desire to obey His commands. As a result, we can draw near to Him, entering into an intimate relationship free from fear and dread. How this will come to pass is yet to be seen (in verse 12). The New Covenant enables us become His people, and He becomes our God. This kind of intimacy is something that the Old Covenant could never produce.

Hebrews 8:11

And there will be no need at all for each one to teach his countryman or each one to teach his brother saying, Know the Lord, since they will all know me, from the least to the greatest (Hebrews 8:11, underscoring mine).

I must confess, of all that Jeremiah says regarding the New Covenant this verse is the most difficult for me to understand. I believe that the key to understanding this promise is the expression, “know the Lord.” This is a very common expression in the Old Testament. When God was demonstrating His power over the “gods” of the Egyptians at the exodus, He made it clear that the demonstration of His power was so that the Egyptians would know that He was God.

Thus says the Lord: “By this you will know that I am the Lord: I am going to strike the water of the Nile with the staff that is in my hand, and it will be turned into blood” (Exodus 7:17, emphasis mine).

“I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and he will chase after them. I will gain honor because of Pharaoh and because of all his army, and the Egyptians will know that I am the Lord.” So this is what they did” (Exodus 14:4, emphasis mine).

“And the Egyptians will know that I am the Lord when I have gained my honor because of Pharaoh, his chariots, and his horsemen” (Exodus 14:18, emphasis mine).

In Exodus 29, God declared that the Aaronic priesthood, the tabernacle, and the sacrifices were His provision so that He could dwell among His people and so that they would know that He was God:

43 There I will meet with the Israelites, and it will be set apart as holy by my glory. 44 “So I will set apart as holy the tent of meeting and the altar, and I will set apart as holy Aaron and his sons, that they may minister as priests to me. 45 I will reside among the Israelites, and I will be their God, 46 and they will know that I am the Lord their God, who brought them out from the land of Egypt, so that I may reside among them. I am the Lord their God” (Exodus 29:43-46, emphasis mine).

A key text is to be found in Deuteronomy 29:

2 Moses proclaimed to all Israel as follows: “You have seen all that the Lord did in the land of Egypt to Pharaoh, all his servants, and his land. 3 Your eyes have seen the great judgments, those signs and mighty wonders. 4 But to this very day the Lord has not given you an understanding mind, perceptive eyes, or discerning ears! 5 I have led you through the desert for forty years. Your clothing has not worn out nor have your sandals deteriorated. 6 You have eaten no bread and drunk no wine or beer – all so that you might know that I am the Lord your God!” (Deuteronomy 29:2-6, emphasis mine)

God had performed many miracles before the eyes of the Israelites so that they might know that He is the Lord their God. And yet, we are told, to that very day the Israelites had failed to grasp this reality. And the reason He states is that He has not given them a heart to know Him.

I believe that the same condition persisted in the days of our Lord’s incarnation. He, too, performed many signs and miracles, and yet the Israelites (by and large) refused to believe in Jesus as the Promised Messiah. Their eyes were blinded, as they continue to be to this very day:

12 Therefore, since we have such a hope, we behave with great boldness, 13 and not like Moses who used to put a veil over his face to keep the Israelites from staring at the result of the glory that was made ineffective. 14 But their minds were closed. For to this very day, the same veil remains when they hear the old covenant read. It has not been removed because only in Christ is it taken away. 15 But until this very day whenever Moses is read, a veil lies over their minds, 16 but when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed (2 Corinthians 3:12-16, emphasis mine).

Thus, throughout the Old Testament we find that with few exceptions8 God’s chosen people, the Jews, failed to know God because of their spiritual blindness, a blindness that only God could remove by changing men’s hearts. I believe this is why we find the often repeated statement in Ezekiel, “you will know that I am the Lord.”9

I understand “knowing the Lord” to be virtually synonymous with salvation. Those who are saved “know the Lord.” Those who “know the Lord” are saved. The New Covenant will achieve what the Old could not achieve, the salvation of men from their sins so that they could truly “know the Lord.” It seems clear from many New Testament texts, particularly Romans 11, that the Jews have yet to experience “knowing the Lord” as a nation. Thus, the New Covenant speaks of a future time of fulfillment when Israel and Judah will come to “know the Lord.”

We might go on to say that while we are still living in the times of the Gentiles, even we who have been drawn to faith have come to know the Lord only in part:

For now we see in a mirror indirectly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know in part, but then I will know fully, just as I have been fully known (1 Corinthians 13:12).

Dear friends, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet been revealed. We know that whenever it is revealed we will be like him, because we will see him just as he is (1 John 3:2).

The point of Hebrews 8:11 seems to be this: Under the Old Covenant, only a remnant of God’s people came to truly know God, and then only in part. The New Covenant promises that in the age to come, when the New Covenant is fulfilled, all Israel will know the Lord. Thus, there will be no need for evangelists in heaven. And since our Lord will manifest Himself fully to the saints in heaven, there will not be the need for people to teach one another. If any teaching needs to be done, our Lord will do it.

I am inclined to see a progression here. In the Old Testament days when the Israelites lived under the Old Covenant, teaching was restricted to a priestly caste – the Aaronic priesthood. So, too, priestly ministry was restricted to this same small group. But there was the promise that the nation would become a “kingdom of priests”:

“‘And you will be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words that you will speak to the Israelites” (Exodus 19:6; see also 1 Peter 2:9; Revelation 1:6).

We see the “priesthood of all believers” in the New Testament age, so that teaching is no longer restricted to a priestly caste. In the New Testament church, every believing man is granted the privilege of leading in worship and instruction (see 1 Corinthians 14). But the full and final fulfillment of this New Covenant promise is yet future.

All your sons will be taught of the Lord;

And the well-being of your sons will be great” (Isaiah 54:13, emphasis mine).

Now as for you, the anointing that you received from him resides in you, and you have no need for anyone to teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about all things, it is true and is not a lie. Just as it has taught you, you reside in him (1 John 2:27, emphasis mine).10

Hebrews 8:12

For I will be merciful toward their evil deeds, and their sins I will remember no longer” (Hebrews 8:12).

A few years ago, I preached the funeral message of a believer who had been a part of our church. We then proceeded to the cemetery, where I shared several texts that were especially meaningful to me. A godly older man who had once served as an elder in a church where I attended came up to me afterward and said, with tears in his eyes, “You saved the best for last!” That is the way I feel about the words of the New Covenant that we find in verse 12. Jeremiah has saved the best for last. And that great news is that God has shown mercy toward sinners in forgiving and forgetting their sins forever.

This is where the Old Covenant completely failed. At best, the sins of the nation could only be set aside for another year. Someday there must be a final day of reckoning, and this would not take place in the fulfillment of the Old Covenant, but in the fulfillment of the New. This is exactly what our Lord Jesus indicated in His last moments with His disciples. His sacrificial death on the cross of Calvary was to accomplish an atonement for sinners that would do away with the penalty of sin forever:

And in the same way he took the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood” (Luke 22:20).

We will not belabor this point here because the author intends to make a great deal of this as he continues his argument in Hebrews. Let me give you just a taste of this from chapter 9:

11 But now Christ has come as the high priest of the good things to come. He passed through the greater and more perfect tent not made with hands, that is, not of this creation, 12 and he entered once for all into the most holy place not by the blood of goats and calves but by his own blood, and so he himself secured eternal redemption. 13 For if the blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a young cow sprinkled on those who are defiled consecrated them and provided ritual purity, 14 how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our consciences from dead works to worship the living God (Hebrews 9:11-14).

Hebrews 8:13

When he speaks of a new covenant, he makes the first obsolete. Now what is growing obsolete and aging is about to disappear (Hebrews 8:13).

When Jeremiah prophesies that there will be a New Covenant, it is implicitly indicated that the Old Covenant will become obsolete. From his vantage point in time, the author is saying that the Old Covenant is yet to disappear altogether and that it is in the process of becoming obsolete. Some may see in this a reference to the destruction of the temple and of temple sacrifices and worship. Somehow this doesn’t fully explain the author’s words to me. I am inclined to see the ultimate fulfillment of this promise in heaven also. Consider these words that Paul wrote to Timothy:

8 But we know that the law is good if someone uses it legitimately, 9 realizing that law is not intended for a righteous person, but for lawless and rebellious people, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers, 10 sexually immoral people, practicing homosexuals, kidnappers, liars, perjurers – in fact, for any who live contrary to sound teaching. 11 This accords with the glorious gospel of the blessed God that was entrusted to me (1 Timothy 1:8-11).

There were those who fancied themselves as teachers of the law, but Paul would have none of that. They twisted and distorted the law. The law was not given to make men righteous, but to restrain sin. In heaven, when the New Covenant is fulfilled, we will no longer struggle with sin. God’s law will be written on our hearts, and it will be our delight to obey it. Thus, in our day and time, the law still has a legitimate function (of revealing sin, and of man’s need for salvation), but it must be viewed as something which is becoming obsolete. How foolish it would be to cling to something that is on its way out.

The Relationship of the Abrahamic, Mosaic, and New Covenants

Having considered the better promises of the New Covenant from Jeremiah 31:31-34, we must now explore the relationship between the Abrahamic, Mosaic, and New Covenants. The Abrahamic Covenant comes first in the Bible, where we find it first stated in Genesis 12:1-3:11

1 Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go forth from your country, And from your relatives And from your father’s house, To the land which I will show you; 2 And I will make you a great nation, And I will bless you, And make your name great; And so you shall be a blessing; 3 And I will bless those who bless you, And the one who curses you I will curse. And in you all the families of the earth will be blessed” (Genesis 12:1-3, NASB95).

The Abrahamic Covenant is an unconditional and unchangeable covenant since God sealed it with His oath.12

The Mosaic Covenant comes years later. It is a conditional covenant, and it was not confirmed by an oath, as was the Abrahamic Covenant.

3 Moses went up to God, and the Lord called to him from the mountain, “Thus you will tell the house of Jacob, and declare to the people of Israel: 4 ‘You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt and how I lifted you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. 5 And now, if you will diligently listen to me and keep my covenant, then you will be my special possession out of all the nations, for all the earth is mine, 6 and you will be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words that you will speak to the Israelites” (Exodus 19:3-6, emphasis mine).

1 But to Moses the Lord said, “Come up to the Lord, you and Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel, and worship from a distance. 2 Moses alone may come near the Lord, but the others must not come near, nor may the people go up with him.” 3 Moses came and told the people all the Lord’s words and all the decisions. All the people answered together, “We are willing to do all the words that the Lord has said,” 4 and Moses wrote down all the words of the Lord. Early in the morning he built an altar at the foot of the mountain and arranged twelve standing stones – according to the twelve tribes of Israel. 5 He sent young Israelite men, and they offered burnt offerings and sacrificed young bulls for peace offerings to the Lord. 6 Moses took half of the blood and put it in bowls, and half of the blood he splashed on the altar. 7 He took the Book of the Covenant and read it aloud to the people, and they said, “We are willing to do and obey all that the Lord has spoken.” 8 So Moses took the blood and splashed it on the people and said, “This is the blood of the covenant that the Lord has made with you in accordance with all these words” (Exodus 24:1-8).

From the very beginning, it was apparent that the Old, Mosaic Covenant was not going to be the means of man’s salvation from sin. We have a significant clue to this in Deuteronomy 28. The first 14 verses (1-14) speak of the blessings that would result if God’s people kept this covenant. The last 54 verses (15-68) speak of the curses that will come upon God’s people when they fail to keep this covenant. And thus we find in the law the prediction of man’s failure, God’s judgment, and God’s gracious provision of salvation apart from man’s efforts:

2 Moses proclaimed to all Israel as follows: “You have seen all that the Lord did in the land of Egypt to Pharaoh, all his servants, and his land. 3 Your eyes have seen the great judgments, those signs and mighty wonders. 4 But to this very day the Lord has not given you an understanding mind, perceptive eyes, or discerning ears! (Deuteronomy 29:2-4, emphasis mine)

1 “When you have experienced all these things, both the blessings and the curses I have set before you, you will reflect upon them in all the nations where the Lord your God has banished you. 2 Then if you and your descendants turn to the Lord your God and obey him with your whole mind and being just as I am commanding you today, 3 the Lord your God will reverse your captivity and have pity on you. He will turn and gather you from all the peoples among whom he has scattered you. 4 Even if your exiles are in the most distant land, from there the Lord your God will gather you and bring you back. 5 Then he will bring you to the land your ancestors possessed and you also will possess it; he will do better for you and multiply you more than he did your ancestors. 6 The Lord your God will also cleanse your heart and the hearts of your descendants so that you may love him with all your mind and being and so that you may live (Deuteronomy 30:1-6, emphasis mine).

When Joshua is about to die, he challenges the Israelites to determine whether they will follow God and keep His covenant or not. The people assure Joshua that they will follow the Lord, but Joshua does not share their optimism; he declares that they will not be able to keep the law:

14 Now obey the Lord and worship him with integrity and loyalty. Put aside the gods your ancestors worshiped beyond the Euphrates and in Egypt and worship the Lord. 15 If you have no desire to worship the Lord, choose today whom you will worship, whether it be the gods whom your ancestors worshiped beyond the Euphrates, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living. But I and my family will worship the Lord!” 16 The people responded, “Far be it from us to abandon the Lord so we can worship other gods! 17 For the Lord our God took us and our fathers out of slavery in the land of Egypt and performed these awesome miracles before our very eyes. He continually protected us as we traveled and when we passed through nations. 18 The Lord drove out from before us all the nations, including the Amorites who lived in the land. So we too will worship the Lord, for he is our God!” 19 Joshua warned the people, “You will not keep worshiping the Lord, for he is a holy God. He is a jealous God who will not forgive your rebellion or your sins. 20 If you abandon the Lord and worship foreign gods, he will turn against you; he will bring disaster on you and destroy you, though he once treated you well.” 21 The people said to Joshua, “No! We really will worship the Lord!” 22 Joshua said to the people, “Do you agree to be witnesses against yourselves that you have chosen to worship the Lord?” They replied, “We are witnesses!” 23 Joshua said, “Now put aside the foreign gods that are among you and submit to the Lord God of Israel.” 24 The people said to Joshua, “We will worship the Lord our God and obey him.” 25 That day Joshua drew up an agreement for the people, and he established rules and regulations for them in Shechem. 26 Joshua wrote these words in the Law Scroll of God. He then took a large stone and set it up there under the oak tree near the Lord’s shrine. 27 Joshua said to all the people, “Look, this stone will be a witness against you, for it has heard everything the Lord said to us. It will be a witness against you if you deny your God.” 28 When Joshua dismissed the people, they went to their allotted portions of land (Joshua 24:14-28, emphasis mine).

The Old Covenant will not save the Israelites, no matter how great their determination to keep it. It will only condemn them. What, then, was wrong with the Old Covenant? The New Testament tells us. The problem with the Old Testament law is not with the law itself, for it sets forth a standard of righteousness that is holy, righteous, and good:

So then, the law is holy, and the commandment is holy, righteous, and good (Romans 7:12).

The problem with the law is that, in my flesh, I am powerless to resist sin and to achieve the kind of righteousness God requires.

14 For we know that the law is spiritual – but I am unspiritual, sold into slavery to sin. 15 For I don’t understand what I am doing. For I do not do what I want – instead, I do what I hate. 16 But if I do what I don’t want, I agree that the law is good. 17 But now it is no longer me doing it, but sin that lives in me. 18 For I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my flesh. For I want to do the good, but I cannot do it (Romans 7:14-18).

The problem with the law is that it cannot deliver me from the power of sin and from the guilt of my sin. And so it is that Paul concludes,

Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? (Romans 7:24)

What good, then, is the law? The law establishes God’s standard of righteousness. The law (the Old, Mosaic, Covenant) shows me my sin, and my need for salvation apart from my efforts to please God.

19 Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world may be held accountable to God. 20 For no one is declared righteous before him by the works of the law, for through the law comes the knowledge of sin (Romans 3:19-20, emphasis mine).

In Galatians 3, Paul puts the law in its proper place, showing us how it fits into God’s purpose of providing salvation for lost sinners:

15 Brothers and sisters, I offer an example from everyday life: When a covenant has been ratified, even though it is only a human contract, no one can set it aside or add anything to it. 16 Now the promises were spoken to Abraham and to his descendant. Scripture does not say, “and to the descendants,” referring to many, but “and to your descendant,” referring to one, who is Christ. 17 What I am saying is this: The law that came four hundred thirty years later does not cancel a covenant previously ratified by God, so as to invalidate the promise. 18 For if the inheritance is based on the law, it is no longer based on the promise, but God graciously gave it to Abraham through the promise. 19 Why then was the law given? It was added because of transgressions, until the arrival of the descendant to whom the promise had been made. It was administered through angels by an intermediary. 20 Now an intermediary is not for one party alone, but God is one. 21 Is the law therefore opposed to the promises of God? Absolutely not! For if a law had been given that was able to give life, then righteousness would certainly have come by the law. 22 But the scripture imprisoned everything and everyone under sin so that the promise could be given – because of the faithfulness of Jesus Christ – to those who believe. 23 Now before faith came we were held in custody under the law, being kept as prisoners until the coming faith would be revealed. 24 Thus the law had become our guardian until Christ, so that we could be declared righteous by faith. 25 But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian. 26 For in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God through faith. 27 For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female – for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. 29 And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s descendants, heirs according to the promise (Galatians 3:15-29, emphasis mine).

Allow me to emphasize just the main points of what Paul is saying here in Galatians 3.

    1. God’s promises to Abraham were fulfilled in Christ (3:16). Christ is the promised “seed” through whom God’s blessings would come.

    2. The Law came after the Abrahamic Covenant and did not nullify or change it (3:17).

    3. Inheritance of God’s blessings was based upon God’s promise (to Abraham) and not the Law (3:18).

    4. The Law was a temporary measure to lead us to Christ (3:19f.). The Law was our tutor, to lead us to Christ.

    5. Now that Christ has come, we are no longer under a tutor - the Law (3:25).

This brings us to the New Covenant, which is the focus of our author’s attention in this chapter of Hebrews. From early on, it was not only clear that the Israelites would fail to keep the Mosaic Covenant, but that God would save His people, based on His covenant with Abraham. Note these words in the fourth chapter of Deuteronomy:

25 After you have produced children and grandchildren and have been in the land a long time, if you become corrupt and make an image of any kind and do other evil things before the Lord your God that enrage him, 26 I invoke heaven and earth as witnesses against you today that you will surely and swiftly be removed from the very land you are about to cross the Jordan to possess. You will not last long there because you will surely be annihilated. 27 Then the Lord will scatter you among the peoples and there will be very few of you among the nations where the Lord will drive you. 28 There you will worship gods made by human hands – wood and stone that can neither see, hear, eat, nor smell. 29 But if you seek the Lord your God from there, you will find him, if, indeed, you seek him with all your heart and soul. 30 In your distress when all these things happen to you in the latter days, if you return to the Lord your God and obey him 31 (for he is a merciful God), he will not let you down or destroy you, for he cannot forget the covenant with your ancestors that he confirmed by oath to them (Deuteronomy 4:25-31, emphasis mine).

These words in Deuteronomy come into clearer focus in the light of what our author has written in Hebrews 6:

13 Now when God made his promise to Abraham, since he could swear by no one greater, he swore by himself, 14 saying, “Surely I will bless you greatly and multiply your descendants abundantly.” 15 And so by persevering, Abraham inherited the promise. 16 For people swear by something greater than themselves, and the oath serves as a confirmation to end all dispute. 17 In the same way God wanted to demonstrate more clearly to the heirs of the promise that his purpose was unchangeable, and so he intervened with an oath, 18 so that we who have found refuge in him may find strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us through two unchangeable things, since it is impossible for God to lie. 19 We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, sure and steadfast, which reaches inside behind the curtain, 20 where Jesus our forerunner entered on our behalf, since he became a priest forever in the order of Melchizedek (Hebrews 6:13-20).

The covenant to which Moses refers in Deuteronomy 4 is a covenant that God confirmed with an oath. And according to Hebrews 6, this covenant is the covenant God made with Abraham. Thus, while the Mosaic Covenant would be broken by Israel and could never save anyone, the Israelites’ hope was to be in God, based upon His covenant with Abraham.

Now, when we come to the New Testament, we find that God’s salvation in Jesus is presented as the fulfillment of both the Abrahamic Covenant and the New Covenant, as the result of our Lord’s work at Calvary. Put differently, it is by means of the New Covenant that God’s promises to Abraham were fulfilled:

68 “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, because he has come to help and has redeemed his people. 69 For he has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David, 70 as he spoke through the mouth of his holy prophets from long ago, 71 that we should be saved from our enemies, and from the hand of all who hate us. 72 He has done this to show mercy to our ancestors, and to remember his holy covenant – 73 the oath that he swore to our ancestor Abraham (Luke 1:68-73, emphasis mine).

24 And all the prophets, from Samuel and those who followed him, have spoken about and announced these days. 25 You are the sons of the prophets and of the covenant that God made with your ancestors, saying to Abraham, ‘And in your descendants all the nations of the earth will be blessed.’ 26 God raised up his servant and sent him first to you, to bless you by turning each one of you from your iniquities” (Acts 3:24-26, emphasis mine).

20 And in the same way he took the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood (Luke 22:20, emphasis mine).

23 For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night in which he was betrayed took bread, 24 and after he had given thanks he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” 25 In the same way, he also took the cup after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, every time you drink it, in remembrance of me.” 26 For every time you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes (1 Corinthians 11:23-26, emphasis mine).

The New Covenant Was Made With Israel and Judah

8 But showing its fault, God says to them, “Look, the days are coming, says the Lord, when I will complete a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah” (Hebrews 8:8).

If the New Covenant was made with Israel and Judah, then the question arises, “How, then, did the Gentiles come to enjoy these blessings?” It is apparent from our Lord’s words in Luke 22:20 and the Apostle Paul’s comments in 1 Corinthians 11:25 and 2 Corinthians 3 that the church has entered into the blessings of the New Covenant. How, then, has this come about? How can Gentiles and the church enter into promises that were made to the people of Israel and Judah? We find important clues to the answer in the Book of Romans:

6 It is not as though the word of God had failed. For not all those who are descended from Israel are truly Israel, 7 nor are all the children Abraham’s true descendants; rather through Isaac will your descendants be counted.” 8 This means it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God; rather, the children of promise are counted as descendants (Romans 9:6-8, emphasis mine).

14 For if they become heirs by the law, faith is empty and the promise is nullified. 15 For the law brings wrath, because where there is no law there is no transgression either. 16 For this reason it is by faith so that it may be by grace, with the result that the promise may be certain to all the descendants - not only to those who are under the law, but also to those who have the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all (Romans 4:14-16, emphasis mine).13

From these two texts in Romans, we see that God’s covenant blessings are not distributed on the basis of one’s ancestry. From Romans 9, we see that not all physical descendants of Abraham are true Israelites. From Romans 4, we learn that Gentiles who, like Abraham, trust in Christ are sons of Abraham. Thus, even though the New Covenant was made with Israel and Judah, we can quite easily see how true believers could be included in the blessings of the New Covenant.

Having said this, I believe that the key biblical text is found in Romans 11:

11 I ask then, they [the Jews] did not stumble into an irrevocable fall, did they? Absolutely not! But by their transgression salvation has come to the Gentiles, to make Israel jealous. 12 Now if their transgression means riches for the world and their defeat means riches for the Gentiles, how much more will their full restoration bring? 13 Now I am speaking to you Gentiles. Seeing that I am an apostle to the Gentiles, I magnify my ministry, 14 if somehow I could provoke my people to jealousy and save some of them. 15 For if their rejection is the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead? 16 If the first portion of the dough offered is holy, then the whole batch is holy, and if the root is holy, so too are the branches. 17 Now if some of the branches were broken off, and you, a wild olive shoot, were grafted in among them and participated in the richness of the olive root, 18 do not boast over the branches. But if you boast, remember that you do not support the root, but the root supports you. 19 Then you will say, “The branches were broken off so that I could be grafted in.” 20 Granted! They were broken off because of their unbelief, but you stand by faith. Do not be arrogant, but fear! 21 For if God did not spare the natural branches, perhaps he will not spare you. 22 Notice therefore the kindness and harshness of God - harshness toward those who have fallen, but God’s kindness toward you, provided you continue in his kindness; otherwise you also will be cut off. 23 And even they - if they do not continue in their unbelief - will be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again. 24 For if you were cut off from what is by nature a wild olive tree, and grafted, contrary to nature, into a cultivated olive tree, how much more will these natural branches be grafted back into their own olive tree? 25 For I do not want you to be ignorant of this mystery, brothers and sisters, so that you may not be conceited: A partial hardening has happened to Israel until the full number of the Gentiles has come in. 26 And so all Israel will be saved, as it is written: “The Deliverer will come out of Zion; he will remove ungodliness from Jacob. 27 And this is my covenant with them, when I take away their sins.” 28 In regard to the gospel they are enemies for your sake, but in regard to election they are dearly loved for the sake of the fathers. 29 For the gifts and the call of God are irrevocable. 30 Just as you were formerly disobedient to God, but have now received mercy due to their disobedience, 31 so they too have now been disobedient in order that, by the mercy shown to you, they too may now receive mercy. 32 For God has consigned all people to disobedience so that he may show mercy to them all (Romans 11:11-32, emphasis by underscoring mine).

The blessings of the New Covenant are promised to those of Israel and Judah, but the unbelief of the Jews opened the door for Gentile evangelism. In this present period of time that we know as the “times of the Gentiles,” more Gentiles are coming to faith than Jews.14 When the “times of the Gentiles” has come to an end, God will return His focus to the Jews, and then many will come to faith in Jesus as the Promised Messiah. It appears that this will occur after the Great Tribulation.15

Conclusion

There are many lessons to learn from our text, but let me conclude by mentioning a few for your consideration.

First, the New Covenant assumes man’s sinfulness and the Law’s inability to save lost sinners and draw them near to God. There is only one reason for the Old Covenant to be set aside and to be replaced by a New Covenant: the old one doesn’t work. The Law (a.k.a. the Old Covenant) does a wonderful job of revealing man’s sin; but what it cannot do is to remove the penalty or the presence of sin.

19 Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world may be held accountable to God. 20 For no one is declared righteous before him by the works of the law, for through the law comes the knowledge of sin (Romans 3:19-20).

I recently heard the testimony of a prominent Christian author. He described the days of his unbelief as doing battle with God. In particular, this man had a problem with thinking of men as sinners. Then, in the providence of God, he met a Christian who compared Christianity to every other religion. This man said that every other religion says, “Do.” All other religious systems have a set of requirements that men must strive to keep. Granted, some set the standard much higher than others. And some, like Unitarianism, says “Do it your own way.” But they all tell men that they must “do” something.

“Christianity,” this Christian explained, “is the one religious faith that says, ‘Done.’” It is not what we “do,” but what Jesus Christ has “done.” And the author to the Book of Hebrews would add, “He has done it once for all.” The New Covenant exposes both the failure of sinful men to “do” enough to please God and the failure of the Old Covenant because it is never “done.”

Second, the New Covenant reveals the heart of God. Many people tend to think of two Gods: the “angry and vindictive ‘God’ of the Old Testament” and the “gracious and forgiving” ‘Jesus’ of the New. But the truth is that God the Father and God the Son are One, and they delight to forgive sin and to draw men near in fellowship.

8 The Lord is compassionate and merciful; he is patient and demonstrates great loyal love. 9 He does not always accuse, and does not stay angry. 10 He does not deal with us as our sins deserve; he does not repay us as our misdeeds deserve. 11 For as the skies are high above the earth, so his loyal love towers over his faithful followers. 12 As far as the eastern horizon is from the west, so he removes the guilt of our rebellious actions from us. 13 As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on his faithful followers. 14 For he knows what we are made of; he realizes we are made of clay (Psalm 103:8-14).

10 When God saw their [i.e. the people of Nineveh, who repented] actions – they turned from their evil way of living! – God relented concerning the judgment he had threatened them with and he did not destroy them. 1 This displeased Jonah terribly and he became very angry. 2 He prayed to the Lord and said, “Oh, Lord, this is just what I thought would happen when I was in my own country. This is what I tried to prevent by attempting to escape to Tarshish! – because I knew that you are gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in mercy, and one who relents concerning threatened judgment (Jonah 3:10—4:2, emphasis mine).

16 For this is the way God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world should be saved through him (John 3:16-17).

1 First of all, then, I urge that requests, prayers, intercessions, and thanks be offered on behalf of all people, 2 even for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life in all godliness and dignity. 3 Such prayer for all is good and welcomed before God our Savior, 4 since he wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth (1 Timothy 2:1-4, emphasis mine).

The Lord is not slow concerning his promise, as some regard slowness, but is being patient toward you, because he does not wish for any to perish but for all to come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9).

The New Covenant is consistent with God’s delight and desire to see lost sinners reconciled to Himself. This is not to say that (whether in the Old Testament or the New) God does not hate sin or that there is no such thing as eternal punishment for those who reject the salvation He has provided in His Son.

6 For it is right for God to repay with affliction those who afflict you, 7 and to you who are being afflicted to give rest together with us when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels. 8 With flaming fire he will mete out punishment on those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. 9 They will undergo the penalty of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his strength, 10 when he comes to be glorified among his saints and admired on that day among all who have believed – and you did in fact believe our testimony (2 Thessalonians 1:6-10).

The New Covenant expresses the grace of God and His pleasure in forgiving sinners and reconciling them to Himself, but its promises are only for those who enter into the blessings of this covenant by faith in Jesus. Those who reject Jesus and the New Covenant will endure the wrath of God. The main point I am seeking to make here is that the New Covenant offers hope for lost sinners, a hope that we do not find in the Old Covenant.

Third, the New Covenant is the gospel, and it is truly good news. In a way, this statement is merely a repetition of the first two points (above). There are a number of ways that the gospel may be presented. In recent times, the “Four Spiritual Laws” has been instrumental in bringing men to faith in Jesus. Some, like me, prefer the approach sometimes known as “the Roman Road.” This is a brief review of the presentation of the gospel that Paul unfolds in the Book of Romans. But we could also present the gospel very clearly by simply reviewing the promises (and assumptions) of the New Covenant:

Man’s great problem is that his sin makes it impossible for him to please God.

The Old Covenant – keeping of God’s commandments – does not bring men near to God.

To save men, God starts from the inside, giving men a new heart, one that loves God and loves to keep His Word.

The New Covenant is not based upon what we can do, but upon what Jesus did by dying in our place and by bearing the punishment we deserve.

The Holy Spirit enables men to do what we cannot do in our own strength.

By cleansing our sins and giving us a new heart and His Spirit, God enables Christians to draw near to Him in intimate fellowship.

Fourth, those who turn back to the Old Covenant and strive to please God by law-keeping reject the New Covenant and thus the salvation by grace which God has provided through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. In so doing, they reject God’s only provision for salvation and choose to follow a covenant which can only condemn.

Fifth, the New Covenant has greater glory than the Old, and it has the power to transform lives. Thus, it is the key to salvation. Let me put this in different words: The New Covenant is the key to evangelizing a lost world. We need to be very careful here that our evangelistic methods don’t emphasize what people do. Raising one’s hand, signing a card, walking the aisle, or repeating a prayer after someone (though not bad in and of themselves) are not what saves a person. What saves us is agreeing with God that we are lost sinners, and believing in the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus as the only means by which we may be saved.

28 So then they said to him, “What must we do to accomplish the deeds God requires?” 29 Jesus replied, “This is the deed God requires – to believe in the one whom he sent” (John 6:28-29).

“And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among people by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).

5 He saved us not by works of righteousness that we have done but on the basis of his mercy, through the washing of the new birth and the renewing of the Holy Spirit, 6 whom he poured out on us in full measure through Jesus Christ our Savior. 7 And so, since we have been justified by his grace, we become heirs with the confident expectation of eternal life” (Titus 3:5-7).

I believe we must take this a step further. Not only are lost sinners not saved by their works; they are not saved by our works either. In other words, we can’t produce faith in others. We cannot save lost men and women; only God can. It is true, of course, that God has purposed to save men by the witness of the saints:

14 How are they to call on one they have not believed in? And how are they to believe in one they have not heard of? And how are they to hear without someone preaching to them? 15 And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How timely is the arrival of those who proclaim the good news” (Romans 10:14-15).

Having said this, it is not our techniques or our cleverness of speech that changes the hearts of lost sinners. We are obligated to proclaim a simple gospel to lost sinners and to trust God to save them. For this we do not need the slick, manipulative methods of the hucksters:

1 When I came to you, brothers and sisters, I did not come with superior eloquence or wisdom as I proclaimed the testimony of God. 2 For I decided to be concerned about nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified. 3 And I was with you in weakness and in fear and with much trembling. 4 My conversation and my preaching were not with persuasive words of wisdom, but with a demonstration of the Spirit and of power, 5 so that your faith would not be based on human wisdom but on the power of God (1 Corinthians 2:1-5).

For we are not like so many others, hucksters who peddle the word of God for profit, but we are speaking in Christ before God as persons of sincerity, as persons sent from God (2 Corinthians 2:17).

1 Therefore, since we have this ministry, just as God has shown us mercy, we do not become discouraged. 2 But we have rejected shameful hidden deeds, not behaving with deceptiveness or distorting the word of God, but by open proclamation of the truth we commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience before God (2 Corinthians 4:1-2).

We have seen from Jeremiah 31 that the New Covenant is initiated by God’s work in men’s hearts through the Holy Spirit. In 2 Corinthians 3, Paul makes a great deal of the supremacy of the New Covenant over the Old, showing how the New Covenant relies upon the working of God’s Spirit, rather than by our efforts, or by focusing on mere externals.

4 Now we have such confidence in God through Christ. 5 Not that we are adequate in ourselves to consider anything as if it were coming from ourselves, but our adequacy is from God, 6 who made us adequate to be servants of a new covenant not based on the letter but on the Spirit, for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life. 7 But if the ministry that produced death – carved in letters on stone tablets – came with glory, so that the Israelites could not keep their eyes fixed on the face of Moses because of the glory of his face (a glory which was made ineffective), 8 how much more glorious will the ministry of the Spirit be? 9 For if there was glory in the ministry that produced condemnation, how much more does the ministry that produces righteousness excel in glory! 10 For indeed, what had been glorious now has no glory because of the tremendously greater glory of what replaced it. 11 For if what was made ineffective came with glory, how much more has what remains come in glory! 12 Therefore, since we have such a hope, we behave with great boldness (2 Corinthians 3:4-12).

And so we see that the New Covenant is not only good news for the lost sinner, but it is also great news for those who would share their faith with others. The New Covenant brings about salvation through the work of God in the hearts of lost sinners.

Sixth, when we celebrate the Lord’s Table each week, we are celebrating what God has done through Christ and His priestly ministry of the New Covenant.

And in the same way he took the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood” (Luke 22:20).

23 For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night in which he was betrayed took bread, 24 and after he had given thanks he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” 25 In the same way, he also took the cup after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, every time you drink it, in remembrance of me.” 26 For every time you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes (1 Corinthians 11:23-26).

The bread is unleavened (without yeast) because it symbolizes our Lord’s ongoing perfection when He took on humanity at His incarnation. As the author of Hebrews has emphasized, our Lord took on human flesh in order to be our perfect High Priest. In order to do this, He had to be completely without sin. That is why the sacrificial animals (which foreshadowed the coming of our Lord) had to be without blemish. His sacrifice at Calvary would only benefit us if the “Lamb of God” was without blemish (sin). The unleavened bread symbolizes our Lord’s sinless perfection, so that His sacrifice is for our sins, and not His own.

The wine symbolizes the blood of our Lord that was shed for us at Calvary. As the writer to the Hebrews says, it is not by the blood of sacrificial animals that we are cleansed from sin, but by the once-for-all sacrifice of our Lord’s blood (His death) that we are cleansed:

11 But now Christ has come as the high priest of the good things to come. He passed through the greater and more perfect tent not made with hands, that is, not of this creation, 12 and he entered once for all into the most holy place not by the blood of goats and calves but by his own blood, and so he himself secured eternal redemption. 13 For if the blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a young cow sprinkled on those who are defiled consecrated them and provided ritual purity, 14 how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our consciences from dead works to worship the living God. 15 And so he is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the eternal inheritance he has promised, since he died to set them free from the violations committed under the first covenant (Hebrews 9:11-15).

10 By his will we have been made holy through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. 11 And every priest stands day after day serving and offering the same sacrifices again and again – sacrifices that can never take away sins. 12 But when this priest had offered one sacrifice for sins for all time, he sat down at the right hand of God, 13 where he is now waiting until his enemies are made a footstool for his feet. 14 For by one offering he has perfected for all time those who are made holy (Hebrews 10:10-14).

The work of our Lord reconciled lost sinners to God:

18 And all these things are from God who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and who has given us the ministry of reconciliation. 19 In other words, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting people’s trespasses against them, and he has given us the message of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:18-19; see also Ephesians 2:1-10).

It also reconciled Jews and Gentiles in Christ:

11 Therefore remember that formerly you, the Gentiles in the flesh – who are called “uncircumcision” by the so-called “circumcision” that is performed on the body by human hands – 12 that you were at that time without the Messiah, alienated from the citizenship of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who used to be far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 14 For he is our peace, the one who made both groups into one and who destroyed the middle wall of partition, the hostility, 15 when he nullified in his flesh the law of commandments in decrees. He did this to create in himself one new man out of two, thus making peace, 16 and to reconcile them both in one body to God through the cross, by which the hostility has been killed. 17 And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near, 18 so that through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. 19 So then you are no longer foreigners and noncitizens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of God’s household, 20 because you have been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone. 21 In him the whole building, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord, 22 in whom you also are being built together into a dwelling place of God in the Spirit (Ephesians 2:11-22).

In New Testament times, the Lord’s Supper was actually a supper; it was partaken in the context of a full meal (see 1 Corinthians 11:17-34). Partaking of a meal around a table was one of the most intimate forms of fellowship in that culture (and in most others). Thus, as well all partake of the meal, and of the symbols, for we are celebrating our unity in the person of the Lord Jesus:

16 Is not the cup of blessing that we bless a sharing in the blood of Christ? Is not the bread that we break a sharing in the body of Christ? 17 Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all share the one bread (1 Corinthians 10:16-17).

And so my question to you, my friend, is simply this: “Have you entered into the promised blessings of the New Covenant – the forgiveness of your sins, the blessing of a new heart, and the joy of drawing near to God in Christ?” If you have not, why not do so today, by simply acknowledging your need of salvation and by trusting in the work of the Lord Jesus Christ on behalf of lost sinners, making a way of salvation possible?


1 Copyright © 2008 by Robert L. Deffinbaugh. This is the edited manuscript of Lesson 19 in the series, Near to the Heart of God – A Study of the Book of Hebrews, prepared by Robert L. Deffinbaugh on November 16, 2008. Anyone is at liberty to use this lesson for educational purposes only, with or without credit.

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the NET Bible. The NEW ENGLISH TRANSLATION, also known as THE NET BIBLE, is a completely new translation of the Bible, not a revision or an update of a previous English version. It was completed by more than twenty biblical scholars who worked directly from the best currently available Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek texts. The translation project originally started as an attempt to provide an electronic version of a modern translation for electronic distribution over the Internet and on CD (compact disk). Anyone anywhere in the world with an Internet connection will be able to use and print out the NET Bible without cost for personal study. In addition, anyone who wants to share the Bible with others can print unlimited copies and give them away free to others. It is available on the Internet at: www.netbible.org.

2 See Hebrews 7:22; 8:6-13; 9:1-20; 10:16-29; 13:20.

3 See also Luke 1:72; Acts 3:25; 7:8; Romans 11:27; Ephesians 2:12; Revelation 11:19.

4 See Jeremiah 29:20.

5 Hebrews 8:6.

6 See 2 Kings 17:1-6; 18:9-12.

7 See also Ezekiel 37:14, where I believe the reference is to God’s Holy Spirit.

8 These exceptions were the promised remnant, as we find in Romans 9:27-29.

9 This exact expression occurs 23 times, and variations of this raise this number to more than 30 times.

10 Time does not permit a full exposition of this text. This text is not seeking to deny the role of gifted teachers; it is seeking to warn believers regarding false teachers. Suffice it to say that false teachers in particular seek to convince others that they alone can expound the meaning of God’s Word. John writes that believers are now taught of God (see also John 6:44-45) through His Spirit (see 1 Corinthians 2:6-16), and thus we are not dependent upon others to know God’s Word.

11 It is later repeated to Abraham and to his descendants, often in great detail.

12 See Hebrews 6:13-15 where the author refers to Genesis 22:15-20.

13 Two examples of non-Jews (Gentiles) who entered into Israel’s blessings by faith, and not by ancestry, are Rahab the Harlot (Hebrews 11:31) and Ruth (see the Book of Ruth). In the New Testament, see Matthew 8:5-13.

14 See Luke 21:24; Romans 11:25.

15 See Jeremiah 30:1-9; see also Luke 21:24 in context.

http://feeds.bible.org/deffinbaugh/hebrews/deff_hebrews_19.mp3
/assets/powerpoint/deff_hebrews_19.ppt
Ad Category: 
Passage: 
/assets/worddocs/deff_hebrews_19_sg.zip

20. A “Tents” Situation: The Parlor or the Den? (Hebrews 9:1-14)

1 Now the first covenant, in fact, had regulations for worship and its earthly sanctuary. 2 For a tent was prepared, the outer one, which contained the lampstand, the table, and the presentation of the loaves; this is called the holy place. 3 And after the second curtain there was a tent called the holy of holies. 4 It contained the golden altar of incense and the ark of the covenant covered entirely with gold. In this ark were the golden urn containing the manna, Aaron’s rod that budded, and the stone tablets of the covenant. 5 And above the ark were the cherubim of glory overshadowing the mercy seat. Now is not the time to speak of these things in detail.

6 So with these things prepared like this, the priests enter continually into the outer tent as they perform their duties. 7 But only the high priest enters once a year into the inner tent, and not without blood that he offers for himself and for the sins of the people committed in ignorance. 8 The Holy Spirit is making clear that the way into the holy place had not yet appeared as long as the old tabernacle was standing. 9 This was a symbol for the time then present, when gifts and sacrifices were offered that could not perfect the conscience of the worshiper. 10 They served only for matters of food and drink and various washings; they are external regulations imposed until the new order came.

11 But now Christ has come as the high priest of the good things to come. He passed through the greater and more perfect tent not made with hands, that is, not of this creation, 12 and he entered once for all into the most holy place not by the blood of goats and calves but by his own blood, and so he himself secured eternal redemption. 13 For if the blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a young cow sprinkled on those who are defiled consecrated them and provided ritual purity, 14 how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our consciences from dead works to worship the living God (Hebrews 9:1-14).1

Introduction

When Jeannette and I moved to Dallas in 1967, we had to adjust to some differences in the houses in Texas. We were amazed to find that almost no one had a basement. And we were puzzled by “parlors” or “formal living rooms.” When we would visit someone’s home, we would often encounter the “parlor.” This room and its furnishings were more formal. On a few occasions, we would encounter a parlor that was almost bare. Some people (who had spent the maximum they could afford on the purchase of their home) did not have enough money left over to furnish the parlor, at least not at first. In the home we later purchased, the “parlor” had a carpeted floor, while the “den” (separated from the parlor by a wall) had a linoleum floor. Neither the parlor nor the den was large, and so almost immediately we removed the wall separating the two rooms. The reason seemed fairly obvious to us: no one ever seemed to use their parlor. You didn’t want to get the carpet or the furniture dirty, so you tended to avoid it. And pets were certainly not welcome! In theory, this was the place where you would entertain special guests.

The “den” was where people actually lived. You could expect to find a television there and a much more “lived-in” appearance. The furniture was definitely not as nice, but this was because the kids and the family pets made good use of it. This is where you would most likely find a fireplace. It was expected that food and drinks would find their way to the den, and even that some would be spilled from time to time. The den was the place where you could relax and feel comfortable.

You may be wondering what all of this has to do with the Book of Hebrews and with our text in particular. The early verses of Hebrews 9 speak of the relationship of the outer and inner chambers of the tabernacle. The outer portion of the tabernacle is where a vast amount of ministry took place, while the inner chamber – the holy of holies – was very seldom ever entered, and that by only one man (the high priest) once a year. But the inner chamber was where God dwelled. To be more precise, God’s presence was associated with the mercy seat of the arc of the covenant, and with the seraphim that hovered above it:

18 You are to make two cherubim of gold; you are to make them of hammered metal on the two ends of the atonement lid. 19 Make one cherub on one end and one cherub on the other end; from the atonement lid you are to make the cherubim on the two ends. 20 The cherubim are to be spreading their wings upward, overshadowing the atonement lid with their wings, and the cherubim are to face each other, looking toward the atonement lid. 21 You are to put the atonement lid on top of the ark, and in the ark you are to put the testimony I am giving you. 22 I will meet with you there, and from above the atonement lid, from between the two cherubim that are over the ark of the testimony, I will speak with you about all that I will command you for the Israelites (Exodus 25:18-22, emphasis mine; see also Numbers 7:89; 1 Samuel 4:4; 6:2; 2 Kings 19:15; Psalm 80:1; 99:1; Isaiah 37:16).

In this message, I am likening the outer chamber of the tabernacle to the “den” and the inner chamber – the holy of holies – to the “parlor” or formal living room. God’s presence was in the “parlor,” so to speak, but the Israelites were never allowed there, nor were the priests; only the high priest could enter, one time a year. And so how was it possible for men to enter into fellowship with God? How could men “draw near” to God under the Old Covenant, when worship was carried out by means of the tabernacle and the Levitical priesthood? In our text, the author is reminding his readers that it is not possible to “draw near” to God in intimate fellowship by means of the Old Covenant, the tabernacle, and the Levitical priesthood. Fortunately, by the end of our text, we will discover just how it is that God has made it possible for men to enjoy intimate fellowship by drawing near to Him.

I would point out that our text is part of the very heart of the message of Hebrews. His argument will reach its climax in the 18th verse of chapter 10. From there, the author will focus on the application of his message. But our text plays a very significant role in bringing the author’s argument to a conclusion. Therefore, we should see our text as crucial to gaining an understanding of this book and to drawing near to God.

Several themes have converged at this juncture of the book. One theme is that of the sinfulness of man, and thus the impossibility of man drawing near to God on the basis of his own efforts and merits.2 If man is to find forgiveness of sins and the joy of intimacy with God, it will have to come from some source outside of man – it will have to come from God Himself. And so it is that our Lord is presented as God’s final word to man (1:1-4), and as such we must listen carefully to what He has to say to us (2:1-4). In order to identify with lost sinners, to bear their guilt and punishment, and to serve as their Great High Priest, our Lord became God incarnate by adding sinless humanity to His undiminished deity (2:5-18; 4:14-16; 5:1-10). Redemption and reconciliation with God that could not be achieved under the Old (Mosaic) Covenant is thus provided as the result of a New Covenant. The better promises of this New Covenant have just been cited in chapter 8. And now (in 9:1—10:18) the author is spelling out how the New Covenant was fulfilled in the person and work of Jesus Christ.

The Structure of our Text

Our text falls into three sections. The first of these is verses 1-5, where the author calls attention to the furnishings of the inner and outer chambers of the tabernacle. Verses 6-10 concentrate on the function of tabernacle worship and the message which the Holy Spirit wants us to learn from tabernacle worship. Finally, verses 11-14 turn our attention to the superior priesthood of Jesus Christ and its consequences for Christians: a cleansed conscience which facilitates intimacy with God and service for God.

Let us begin, then, by considering verses 1-5.

The Furnishings of the Tabernacle
Hebrews 9:1-5

1 Now the first covenant, in fact, had regulations for worship and its earthly sanctuary. 2 For a tent was prepared, the outer one, which contained the lampstand, the table, and the presentation of the loaves; this is called the holy place. 3 And after the second curtain there was a tent called the holy of holies. 4 It contained the golden altar of incense and the ark of the covenant covered entirely with gold. In this ark were the golden urn containing the manna, Aaron’s rod that budded, and the stone tablets of the covenant. 5 And above the ark were the cherubim of glory overshadowing the mercy seat. Now is not the time to speak of these things in detail (Hebrews 9:1-5).

Let’s begin by observing from our text that it opens (verse 1) and closes (verse 14) with its focus on worship. It begins with tabernacle worship under the Old Covenant and ends with the much superior worship of the living God through the ministry of Jesus Christ. The author begins the chapter by calling our attention to the furnishings of the inner and outer chambers of the tabernacle in verses 1-5.

I must confess that I’ve never really been one to pay a great deal of attention to furniture. Maybe it’s a “male thing,” maybe not. But one does have to admit that the furnishings of the tabernacle would have been spectacular. Not only were they made according to a divinely revealed pattern, but they were also fashioned by craftsmen with supernatural gifting to produce what other craftsmen could only wish to create. And let us not overlook the fact that they were either solid gold3 or gold plated.4

When the Israelites pitched camp, the tabernacle tent was erected so that worship could begin. The outer room – the holy place – contained the golden lampstand,5 as well as the table on which the bread of presentation was placed.6 Beyond the holy place and behind a curtain was the inner chamber, called the holy of holies. There was placed the golden altar of incense7 and the ark of the covenant.8 Inside the ark of the covenant was a golden urn which contained a sample of the manna God provided while His people were in the wilderness.9 With it was Aaron’s rod that budded10 and, of course, the stone tablets on which the Ten Commandments were written.11 On top of the ark, facing each other, were the golden cherubim, overlooking the mercy seat.12

Much could be said of these magnificent tabernacle furnishings, and in some commentaries and sermons, much is said. But the author’s words in verse 5 give us pause, for while this is possible, and in some cases it might be profitable, this is not what the author has in mind here. Why was it not the time for the author to consider the tabernacle furnishings in much greater detail? I would suggest the following for your consideration.

First, it may well have been the beauty and glory of these furnishings that contributed to the Hebrew Christians’ temptation to fall back into the old way of worship under the Old Covenant and the leadership of the Levitical priesthood. The author’s purpose is not to glorify these furnishings or the worship they facilitated, but to emphasize the superior worship God provided through the work of the Son.

Second, the author sees these former things as shadows of the better things to come, the better things that have come due to the person and work of Jesus Christ. His intent is to focus our attention on the substance, rather than on the shadows. Let me seek to illustrate this by calling your attention to the fact that today is Jacob Abraham’s first wedding anniversary. As you know, his wife Serene has not yet received permission to enter our country, but they hope that it will happen next month. I’m sure that Jake has many pictures of Serene, and these are no doubt a source of comfort, joy, and expectation. But when Serene arrives, those pictures will not have the importance they now have. When Serene arrives, Jake will put away the pictures and rejoice in the person, face-to-face. So it is with our worship today. Why dwell on the prototypes when the reality has come?

Third, our author is not really as interested in the furnishings of the tabernacle as he is in their function. I believe that he wants our attention to be focused on the two chambers of the tabernacle – the den and the parlor, if you please – and their relationship. There is something for us to learn from these, and the author is just about to reveal what that is.

The Function of Tabernacle Worship and its Significance
Hebrews 9:6-10

6 So with these things prepared like this, the priests enter continually into the outer tent as they perform their duties. 7 But only the high priest enters once a year into the inner tent, and not without blood that he offers for himself and for the sins of the people committed in ignorance. 8 The Holy Spirit is making clear that the way into the holy place had not yet appeared as long as the old tabernacle was standing. 9 This was a symbol for the time then present, when gifts and sacrifices were offered that could not perfect the conscience of the worshiper. 10 They served only for matters of food and drink and various washings; they are external regulations imposed until the new order came (Hebrews 9:6-10).

So now the tabernacle has been set up, and the furnishings are in place so that worship can commence. Just how did worship work under the Old Covenant, implemented by means of the tabernacle? We are told how it worked in verses 6 and 7. Verse 6 describes the daily worship that took place in the holy place, the outer portion of the tabernacle. Verse 7 contrasts the daily workings of the priests in the outer chamber of the tabernacle with the once-a-year ministry of the high priest on the Day of Atonement13 which took place in the holy of holies.

The holy place (the outer chamber of the tabernacle – the “den”) was a virtual beehive of activity on a day-to-day basis. The priests14 were there to pronounce men and women clean or unclean, as prescribed by the law and as seen practiced in Matthew.15 They were also present to offer the different sacrifices that were set forth in the law.16 In addition to this, they were to teach the law to the Israelites.17 The courtyard and the outer court of the tabernacle must have been as busy as a shopping mall the day after Thanksgiving.

In stark contrast to this flurry of priestly activity in the outer chamber and the courtyard is the lack of activity in the inner chamber of the tabernacle – the holy of holies. Only one person – the high priest – could enter the holy of holies, and he could only do so on the annual Day of Atonement.18 And he dare not enter without the blood of a sacrifice. The high priest must first offer a sacrifice for his own sins and only then could he offer a sacrifice for the sins of the people.19 The author further specifies that the sacrifice which he offers for the people is for those sins they have committed unintentionally.20

I don’t know about you, but this would have made me very uneasy. My intentional (willful) sins are many; my unintentional sins seem few. And so when the high priest offered the sacrifice on the annual Day of Atonement, I would have to wonder how many sins were beyond the scope of that sacrifice.

The author is seeking to make a point here. He has focused our attention on the activities (or lack of them) in the outer and inner sanctuaries of the tabernacle. He then tells us that the Holy Spirit is teaching us something by these things that are being discussed regarding tabernacle worship.

8 The Holy Spirit is making clear that the way into the holy place had not yet appeared as long as the old tabernacle was standing. 9 This was a symbol for the time then present, when gifts and sacrifices were offered that could not perfect the conscience of the worshiper. 10 They served only for matters of food and drink and various washings; they are external regulations imposed until the new order came (Hebrews 9:6-10).

I believe the author is here speaking in reference to the Israelites in general, rather than just the priests or the high priest. Tabernacle worship restricted almost everyone from access to God’s presence. The courtyard of the tabernacle was as close as the average Israelite could get to God. The priests got a little closer because they carried out their tasks in the outer chamber of the tabernacle. But only the high priest could enter the holy of holies, once a year. One could hardly call the high priest’s relationship with God “intimate.” Thus, our author contends, as long as the tabernacle system was in place, there was no “way into the holy place” for the people of God.

I believe that this restriction from access to God’s presence was evident in the design of the tabernacle. So far as I can tell, there was no door into the holy of holies. The only way into the holy of holies seems to have been through the outer chamber, the holy place. But the outer chamber was separated from the holy of holies by a very substantial curtain or veil. This substantial and very ornate screen was the only entrance to the holy of holies, and it could hardly be called a door. It was securely connected so that no one would venture in, to their own destruction.

There was good reason why no Israelite – the priests included – could enter into intimate communion with God: sin. The high priest, all of the other priests, and the Israelites were sinners, and thus they could not draw near to God because of their sin.21 The sacrifices that the priests offered did not remove sins, they simply postponed the day of accounting for sin. And since these sacrifices did not remove sins, they could not cleanse the conscience of these sinners, so that they were rather naturally inclined to keep their distance from God.22 Tabernacle worship conducted by the Levitical priests under the Old Covenant could not perfect men, 23 and because their access to God was limited, their worship was inferior to worship mediated by our Great High Priest under the terms of the New Covenant.

We know that the source of our sin is not from outward contamination, but from a heart that is in rebellion against God. For sin to be dealt with there must be an adequate sacrifice, and it must cleanse the heart. This is precisely what was promised in the New Covenant, as we have read in chapter 8.24 The tabernacle system dealt with matters like food and drink and outward impurities. It could not solve man’s sin problem, and thus its worship would always be less than ideal. No wonder the Pharisees were always concerned about external matters:

25 “Woe to you, experts in the law and you Pharisees, hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and the dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. 26 Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup, so that the outside may become clean too! 27 “Woe to you, experts in the law and you Pharisees, hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs that look beautiful on the outside but inside are full of the bones of the dead and of everything unclean. 28 In the same way, on the outside you look righteous to people, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness” (Matthew 23:25-28).

Jesus is the Solution for Sin and the Way of Access to God
Hebrews 9:11-14

11 But now Christ has come as the high priest of the good things to come. He passed through the greater and more perfect tent not made with hands, that is, not of this creation, 12 and he entered once for all into the most holy place not by the blood of goats and calves but by his own blood, and so he himself secured eternal redemption. 13 For if the blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a young cow sprinkled on those who are defiled consecrated them and provided ritual purity, 14 how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our consciences from dead works to worship the living God (Hebrews 9:11-14).

The solution to the flaws and weaknesses of tabernacle worship is found in Jesus Christ. He is the “high priest of the good things to come.” Others render verse 11 so as to indicate that the “good things” have already come. 25 My inclination is to say that while a good deal of the promises of the New Covenant have been fulfilled by the first coming of our Lord, the complete fulfillment of these promises will not take place until after His second coming. I believe that these “good things to come” are the “better promises of the New Covenant,” as indicated in verse 6 of chapter 8:

But now Jesus has obtained a superior ministry, since the covenant that he mediates is also better and is enacted on better promises (Hebrews 8:6).

The superior ministry of our Lord was not performed in the context of the old tabernacle. No, His place of ministry is the better, perfect, tabernacle of which the old tabernacle was but a shadow. I believe that the perfect tabernacle where Christ now carries our His priestly ministry is His heavenly throne:

The Son is the radiance of his glory and the representation of his essence, and he sustains all things by his powerful word, and so when he had accomplished cleansing for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high (Hebrews 1:3).

Therefore since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast to our confession (Hebrews 4:14).

Now the main point of what we are saying is this: We have such a high priest, one who sat down at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven (Hebrews 8:1).

But when this priest had offered one sacrifice for sins for all time, he sat down at the right hand of God (Hebrews 10:12).

Having died for our sins, our Lord was raised from the dead, and He ascended to the right hand of the Father in heaven. This is the true “holy of holies,” the dwelling place of God, of which the inner chamber of the tabernacle was only a shadow. This is no “man-made” creation. Our Lord entered the presence of the Father after having secured our eternal redemption, and this not by means of any animal sacrifices, but by the shedding of His own blood. If mere animal sacrifices – the blood of goats and bulls and cow ashes – served to bring about external bodily cleansings, then how much more would our Lord achieve by His sacrifice? This was the sacrifice of Him who was without blemish, offered through the eternal (Holy) Spirit.26 And one result of His sacrifice that our author chooses to call to our attention is the purification of our consciences from dead works, enabling us to worship and serve the living God (verse 14).

Just what are these “dead works” from which our consciences are cleansed? I would understand “dead works” to include two categories of sin. The first is those sins of the flesh which lead to death, such as those described in Romans 6:

15 What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? Absolutely not! 16 Do you not know that if you present yourselves as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one you obey, either of sin resulting in death, or obedience resulting in righteousness? 17 But thanks be to God that though you were slaves to sin, you obeyed from the heart that pattern of teaching you were entrusted to, 18 and having been freed from sin, you became enslaved to righteousness. 19 (I am speaking in human terms because of the weakness of your flesh.) For just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness leading to sanctification. 20 For when you were slaves of sin, you were free with regard to righteousness. 21 So what benefit did you then reap from those things that you are now ashamed of? For the end of those things is death. 21 So what benefit did you then reap from those things that you are now ashamed of? For the end of those things is death. 22 But now, freed from sin and enslaved to God, you have your benefit leading to sanctification, and the end is eternal life. 23 For the payoff of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 6:15-21, emphasis mine).

A second category of “dead works” would include those religious works that we perform in the power of the flesh, seeking to earn God’s favor. Such works are described by Paul in Philippians 3. These are “works” that he performed in the name of Judaism which Paul did not realize were actually done in opposition to God:

1 Finally, my brothers and sisters, rejoice in the Lord! To write this again is no trouble to me, and it is a safeguard for you. 2 Beware of the dogs, beware of the evil workers, beware of those who mutilate the flesh! 3 For we are the circumcision, the ones who worship by the Spirit of God, exult in Christ Jesus, and do not rely on human credentials 4 – though mine too are significant. If someone thinks he has good reasons to put confidence in human credentials, I have more: 5 I was circumcised on the eighth day, from the people of Israel and the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews. I lived according to the law as a Pharisee. 6 In my zeal for God I persecuted the church. According to the righteousness stipulated in the law I was blameless. 7 But these assets I have come to regard as liabilities because of Christ. 8 More than that, I now regard all things as liabilities compared to the far greater value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things – indeed, I regard them as dung! – that I may gain Christ, 9 and be found in him, not because I have my own righteousness derived from the law, but because I have the righteousness that comes by way of Christ’s faithfulness – a righteousness from God that is in fact based on Christ’s faithfulness. 10 My aim is to know him, to experience the power of his resurrection, to share in his sufferings, and to be like him in his death (Philippians 3:1-10).

A Cleansed Conscience

Our text has concluded with the bold assertion that through the work of our Great High Priest, those who trust in Him have their consciences cleansed from dead works. We have considered what our author means by “dead works,” but we have not given sufficient attention to what it means to have a cleansed conscience. Let’s begin with how men’s consciences were defiled. To do this, I would first like to call your attention to Genesis 3:

7 Then the eyes of both of them opened, and they knew they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves. 8 Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God moving about in the orchard at the breezy time of the day, and they hid from the Lord God among the trees of the orchard. 9 But the Lord God called to the man and said to him, “Where are you?” 10 The man replied, “I heard you moving about in the orchard, and I was afraid because I was naked, so I hid” (Genesis 3:7-10, emphasis mine).

Can you imagine what it would have been like to live without sin, and without any sense of guilt or shame? Adam and Eve did, but apparently not for long. Without sin, they had no sense of shame in being naked, before each other, or before God. They could look forward to those times when they could enjoy fellowship with God in the garden.27 All this changed when Adam and Eve became sinners by disobeying His command regarding the forbidden fruit. They immediately covered themselves and sought to hide from God among the trees of the garden. I believe it was because they were guilty of sin, and they knew it. To put it in terms of our text in Hebrews, their consciences were defiled. And those with defiled consciences do not desire to be in God’s presence.

At the time when God was giving the law to the people of Israel, we again see how man’s sin and his defiled conscience caused men to try to stay at arm’s reach from God:

18 All the people were seeing the thundering and the lightning, and heard the sound of the horn, and saw the mountain smoking – and when the people saw it they trembled with fear and kept their distance. 19 They said to Moses, “You speak to us and we will listen, but do not let God speak with us, lest we die.” 20 Moses said to the people, “Do not fear, for God has come to test you, that the fear of him may be before you so that you do not sin.” 21 The people kept their distance, but Moses drew near the thick darkness where God was (Exodus 20:18-21; see also Deuteronomy 5:22-27; 18:15-18).

This is something that is very important for us to grasp. On the one hand, God established various barriers to keep men from getting too close, because God is holy and we are sinners. But there is a second reason why men keep their distance from God: as sinners, our consciences are defiled so that we seek to hide from God and to keep our distance from Him. In Hebrews 9:1-14, our author tells us that Christ’s atoning sacrifice through the shedding of His blood solves both sides of the problem. God’s wrath toward our sin is satisfied or appeased (the fancy theological word is “propitiated”), so that we can approach Him. But Christ’s sacrificial death and resurrection also purifies our guilt-ridden consciences, so that we no longer seek to draw back from a Holy God. Thus, the work of our Lord on the cross of Calvary not only paid the penalty for our sins, it cleansed our consciences, thus removing a significant barrier to our fellowship with God.

The Old Covenant did not permanently cleanse men of their sins, and it did not purify their defiled consciences. I believe this is evident in the reaction of the Jewish religious leaders in Acts chapter 23:

1 Paul looked directly at the council and said, “Brothers, I have lived my life with a clear conscience before God to this day.” 2 At that the high priest Ananias ordered those standing near Paul to strike him on the mouth (Acts 23:1-2).

Just what was it that made the high priest so angry? He was reacting to Paul’s claim to have a pure conscience before God. To the high priest, this was the height of arrogance and error. How dare Paul claim to have a pure conscience? In one sense, the high priest was right because under the law, there was no forgiveness of sins, and neither was there a cleansing of the conscience. Thus, a devout Jew who depended upon the “ceremonial cleansing” of the Old Covenant could never experience a purified conscience. No wonder Paul’s claim to have a clear conscience before God brought such a violent response. While Judaism (the Old Covenant, tabernacle worship, and the Levitical priesthood) could not remove the guilt of sin nor cleanse the conscience of the sinner, Christ could and did under the New Covenant.

A cleansed conscience greatly enhanced one’s worship, since the blood-cleansed believer could now boldly draw near to God:

19 Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the sanctuary by the blood of Jesus, 20 by the fresh and living way that he inaugurated for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near with a sincere heart in the assurance that faith brings, because we have had our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed in pure water (Hebrews 10:19-22, emphasis mine).

I said at the beginning of this lesson that our text begins and ends with worship. The Old Covenant made it possible for men to draw nearer to God than any ancient people ever dreamed:

5 Look! I have taught you statutes and ordinances just as the Lord my God told me to do, so that you might carry them out in the land you are about to enter and possess. 6 So be sure to do them, because this will testify of your wise understanding to the people who will learn of all these statutes and say, “Indeed, this great nation is a very wise people.” 7 In fact, what other great nation has a god so near to them like the Lord our God whenever we call on him? 8 And what other great nation has statutes and ordinances as just as this whole law that I am about to share with you today? (Deuteronomy 4:5-8, emphasis mine)

But it is good for me to draw near to God;

I have put my trust in the Lord GOD,

That I may declare all Your works (Psalm 73:28, NKJV).

But how much nearer one can now draw to God since the coming of our Lord Jesus in human flesh. He has drawn near to us. At this Christmas season, we rejoice in the coming of Immanuel – God with us (Matthew 1:23). He not only drew near to us in His incarnation, He provided a way for us to draw near to Him through His sacrificial death on the cross of Calvary. That cleansing death satisfied the wrath of a Holy God, and it also cleanses the conscience of every blood-bought sinner who has trusted in Jesus as the Promised Messiah.

Conclusion

One may read the Book of Hebrews and marvel at the fact that some of those to whom this book was written would consider forsaking Christ and turning back to Judaism.28 A modern day Christian might also wonder just what it was that was so appealing (or so terrifying) that a Hebrew who professed faith in Christ would consider turning back to Judaism. For some, it may well have been the threat of persecution (see Galatians 6:12). But for many others, it may have been the beauty and glory of the Old Covenant liturgy. Granted, the average Israelite would never have seen the furnishings mentioned in verses 1-5 of our text. But they would certainly know about them, not only from the testimony of the few priests who actually saw them, but also from their description in the law. They would know that they were solid gold or gold plated. They would know that their design was so intricate that it took men specially gifted by God to fashion them. They might be fortunate enough to see the priests’ garments and portions of the tabernacle as it was being taken down or put up.

Now think about the stark contrast of tabernacle or temple worship to that which we find described in Acts 2 or 20, or 1 Corinthians 11-14. I would infer that the vast majority of New Testament churches were “house churches” in those days.29 That is, the saints often met in one of the larger homes of some member of the congregation. There were no priests, for all believers are now priests.30 The worship was led by the Holy Spirit, rather than by a single individual.31 There were no golden furnishings, and the Lord’s Table took place around a table and a meal shared by the believers. There was no great pomp and circumstance here, but simple elements – bread and wine – which were symbols that reminded the believers of Christ’s sacrifice. Some may have been attracted by the “high church” feel of Old Covenant worship and unimpressed by the simplicity of New Testament worship. But the problem was (and is) that the Old Covenant, tabernacle worship, and Levitical priesthood could not remove sins and could not give one direct access to a holy God.

Let me try to illustrate by reminding my readers of a story I told years ago about a 1940 Ford pickup. My parents had purchased a very primitive fishing resort in Washington State. It came with a 1936 Ford pickup, which was not licensed to run on the highway, which ran only some of the time, and which had the driver’s side door removed (because the door handle had ceased to work). My father and I hitch-hiked to Portland, Oregon, where he managed to buy a 1940 Ford pickup. This one ran – did it run. It had smaller tires on the front, and larger tires on the back. It had a 1954 Ford v/8 engine (the first year that Ford put an overhead valve engine in any of its vehicles). It had a custom dual exhaust system – loud enough to impress a 14 or 15 year-old boy like me. And it was painted maroon with white scallops and pin striping.

It was a beautiful machine – the car of my dreams. There was only one problem: it was so beautiful that we would not use it for the purpose it was purchased. We needed a truck to haul fire wood and garbage. There was no way that I was going to defile that truck! And so it had to go. It was beautiful, but useless (for the purpose we needed it to function).

Israel’s worship was like that 1940 Ford pickup; it, too, was beautiful, but useless, for what needed to be done. Israel’s worship had priests and liturgy and gold furnishings, but it could not forgive sins, and it did not provide access to God. The law was focused on external purification and rituals, but it could not cleanse one from sin nor give a person a clean conscience. It could not perform the tasks that were essential, and thus it had to be replaced. The design of the tabernacle kept men apart from God, but our Lord Jesus came to men and provided a way for men to approach (draw near to) God. The shedding of animal blood may have achieved the ritual purification of external things, but it could not cleanse the conscience of its guilt. It was Christ’s death that did this.

All who have trusted in Jesus know that their sins have been forgiven, and they should experience the cleansing of their consciences. This will motivate both service and worship. We dare not seek to motivate men and women by means of guilt, once again defiling their consciences. We must rather appeal to grace, which produces gratitude, the true basis for worship and service.

As we approach the Christmas season, let us do so by appreciating what God has done for us in the person and work of Jesus Christ. In His incarnation, our Lord not only took on humanity – became a man (albeit a God-man) – and thus identified with men. Through His incarnation, our Lord was qualified to be the Passover Lamb of God whose death would atone for our sins, once for all. Thus He was also qualified to serve as our Great High Priest. God sought us in the person of Jesus, and by means of His death and resurrection, He has provided forgiveness for sins and access to intimate fellowship for all who believe in Him and accept His gift of salvation.


1 Copyright © 2008 by Robert L. Deffinbaugh. This is the edited manuscript of Lesson 20 in the series, Near to the Heart of God – A Study of the Book of Hebrews, prepared by Robert L. Deffinbaugh on December 7, 2008. Anyone is at liberty to use this lesson for educational purposes only, with or without credit.

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the NET Bible. The NEW ENGLISH TRANSLATION, also known as THE NET BIBLE, is a completely new translation of the Bible, not a revision or an update of a previous English version. It was completed by more than twenty biblical scholars who worked directly from the best currently available Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek texts. The translation project originally started as an attempt to provide an electronic version of a modern translation for electronic distribution over the Internet and on CD (compact disk). Anyone anywhere in the world with an Internet connection will be able to use and print out the NET Bible without cost for personal study. In addition, anyone who wants to share the Bible with others can print unlimited copies and give them away free to others. It is available on the Internet at: www.netbible.org

2 See Hebrews chapters 3 and 4.

3 As is the case with the lampstand, as we see in Exodus 25:31.

4 As is the case with the ark, as we see in Exodus 25:11.

5 See Exodus 25:31-39; 37:17-24.

6 See Exodus 25:23-30; 37:10-16; Leviticus 24:5-8.

7 See Exodus 30:1-10; 37:25-20.

8 See Exodus 25:10-22; 37:1-9.

9 See Exodus 16:32.

10 See Numbers 17:10.

11 See Deuteronomy 10:1-5.

12 See Exodus 25:18-20.

13 See Leviticus 16.

14 http://www.bible.org/node/3999

15 See Leviticus 14:2ff.; Matthew 8:3-4.

16 See Leviticus 1-7;

17 See Deuteronomy 33:9-10; Malachi 2:7.

18 See Leviticus 16.

19 Leviticus 9:7; 16:6; Hebrews 5:3; 7:27.

20 See Leviticus 4:22-31; Numbers 15:22-26.

21 See Exodus 19:9-13, 33:1-6.

22 See Deuteronomy 18:15-17.

23 See Hebrews 10:1.

24 See verse 10; see also Ezekiel 36:26.

25 This phrase “the good things to come” has been variously translated. The NET Bible, the NKJV and the NASB render it so as to indicate that the “good things” are yet to come. The ESV and the CSB render “the good things that have come.” The NIV translates the phrase “the good things that are already here.”

26 Some would not capitalize “Spirit” here, believing that the reference is to our Lord’s human spirit. I choose to differ with them.

27 See Genesis 3:8.

28 It is possible that some may have mistakenly assumed that they could continue to trust in Christ while also turning back to live under the Old Covenant. The Book of Galatians informs us that this is impossible. There, as elsewhere, Paul made it clear that one must either trust in law-keeping or in Christ for righteousness and salvation (see Galatians 5:2-4; see also Acts 15:6-11).

29 See, for example, Romans 16:5; 1 Corinthians 16:19; Colossians 4:15; Philemon 1:2.

30 See 1 Peter 1:9; Revelation 1:6.

31 See 1 Corinthians 14.

http://feeds.bible.org/deffinbaugh/hebrews/deff_hebrews_20.mp3
/assets/powerpoint/deff_hebrews_20.ppt
Passage: 
/assets/worddocs/deff_hebrews_20_sg.zip

21. Dealing with Death or The World's Greatest Bailout (Hebrews 9:15-28)

15 And so [Therefore] he is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the eternal inheritance he has promised, since he died to set them free from the violations committed under the first covenant. 16 For where there is a will, the death of the one who made it must be proven. 17 For a will takes effect only at death, since it carries no force while the one who made it is alive. 18 So even the first covenant was inaugurated with blood. 19 For when Moses had spoken every command to all the people according to the law, he took the blood of calves and goats with water and scarlet wool and hyssop and sprinkled both the book itself and all the people, 20 and said, “This is the blood of the covenant that God has commanded you to keep.” 21 And both the tabernacle and all the utensils of worship he likewise sprinkled with blood. 22 Indeed according to the law almost everything was purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness. 23 So it was necessary for the sketches of the things in heaven to be purified with these sacrifices, but the heavenly things themselves required better sacrifices than these. 24 For Christ did not enter a sanctuary made with hands – the representation of the true sanctuary – but into heaven itself, and he appears now in God’s presence for us. 25 And he did not enter to offer himself again and again, the way the high priest enters the sanctuary year after year with blood that is not his own, 26 for then he would have had to suffer again and again since the foundation of the world. But now he has appeared once for all at the consummation of the ages to put away sin by his sacrifice. 27 And just as people are appointed to die once, and then to face judgment, 28 so also, after Christ was offered once to bear the sins of many, to those who eagerly await him he will appear a second time, not to bear sin but to bring salvation (Hebrews 9:15-28).1

Introduction

I was fascinated by an article I read on the Internet entitled, “Final touch: A cosmetic lift for your funeral?”2 I’ve performed enough funerals to realize that some bodies may need a little “touching up” for a funeral. That said, I have never seriously considered the possibility of doing a major overhaul on someone’s face (or body?) in preparation for a funeral. Our text strongly indicates that before we die, we need to make some much more important preparations for our death. These are not outward preparations to make us look good in the casket, but preparations that enable us to face death without fear of the judgment that follows. I’m thinking in particular of an earlier text in Hebrews and its relationship to the final verses of our text:

14 Therefore, since the children share in flesh and blood, he likewise shared in their humanity, so that through death he could destroy the one who holds the power of death (that is, the devil), 15 and set free those who were held in slavery all their lives by their fear of death (Hebrews 2:14-15).

27 And just as people are appointed to die once, and then to face judgment, 28 so also, after Christ was offered once to bear the sins of many, to those who eagerly await him he will appear a second time, not to bear sin but to bring salvation (Hebrews 9:27-28).

I can guarantee that there is no more important topic for you to consider and to act upon than the subject of our text. It determines how you will look to God when you die, and where you will spend eternity. Let us listen carefully to what the inspired writer has to say about what lies beyond death and what the Lord Jesus has done to deal with death, so that it becomes the cure as well as the curse for man’s sins.

Should This Message Be “R” Rated?

In one sense, the Bible is a very “bloody” book.3 Think of all the sacrificial animals whose blood was shed under the Old Covenant. Think of the importance that is placed on the “blood” of our Lord Jesus that was shed at Calvary. The shedding of animal blood did not seem to trouble those who lived in Old Testament times, but we cannot assume the same response today. Can you imagine the outcry of the animal rights activists if they had lived in Israel in days gone by?

While there are a number of folks who would feel uneasy reading about the shedding of blood in the Bible, there is a great deal of inconsistency (some might even call it hypocrisy) regarding such matters. For example, think of all the television programs that now feature corpses in the process of an autopsy. They seem to delight in revealing all the inner organs of the human body. Many of those who strive to save the whales, dolphins, polar bears and spotted owls are silent about the bloody murder of innocent children by such methods as partial birth abortion. Why don’t they show these bloody deaths on television, or react with horror knowing that they are performed many times a day?

Well aware that the subject matter of our text may not be popular, it is nonetheless important. Indeed, it is a matter of life and death, eternal life or death. As our author says, “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness” (Hebrews 9:22). So let us pursue the subject of shedding blood (death) carefully, realizing how important this is to God, and to men.

Where We Have Been and Where We are Going

Let me attempt to briefly review the argument of Hebrews up to our text, and then indicate how we will approach our Scripture text in this lesson. The first two chapters of Hebrews focus on the Lord Jesus Christ. He is God’s final revelation to man (1:1-4). All of the qualities of deity are rightfully His, and thus the author can rightly describe Him as One whose rank is “much higher than the angels” (1:4). He is not only qualified for His role because of His deity (chapter 1), but also because of His humanity (chapter 2). At His incarnation (which we celebrate at Christmas), He added sinless humanity to His undiminished deity (2:5-16), and He is thereby qualified to serve as our Great High Priest (2:17-18).

Man’s need for a Great High Priest is demonstrated in chapters 3 and 4, which reminds us of the failures of the first generation of Israelites to receive the law. Surely during those early, pristine years of Israel’s history, the people of God would have done as well as we might expect of anyone. Yet, sadly, they set the stage for centuries of failure, as Stephen would point out centuries later (at the cost of his own life):

51 “You stubborn people, with uncircumcised hearts and ears! You are always resisting the Holy Spirit, like your ancestors did! 52 Which of the prophets did your ancestors not persecute? They killed those who foretold long ago the coming of the Righteous One, whose betrayers and murderers you have now become! 53 You received the law by decrees given by angels, but you did not obey it.” 54 When they heard these things, they became furious and ground their teeth at him (Acts 7:51-54; see also Matthew 23:29-33).

The solution to Israel’s sin was not “trying harder,” but the coming of God incarnate as Israel’s Promised Messiah. In so doing, He became God’s revelation to men,4 dwelling among men,5 whose word continues to expose and change the hearts of men (Hebrews 4:12-13). Having taken on a human body, Jesus became a sympathetic High Priest, to whom men may draw near for help in their time of need (Hebrews 4:14-16). The author then sets out to show how the Lord Jesus became a priest after the order of Melchizedek, contrasting His superior priesthood with the inferior priesthood of the Aaronic order (5:1-10). He wanted to say much more, but he could sense that the eyes of his readers were already glazing over. This was “meat,” and they were only accustomed to a diet of “milk” (5:11-14). But the author is not willing to throw in the towel and to merely cater to their immaturity (to be a “Dairy Queen” teacher rather than a “Steak and Ale” teacher). He has determined to press on with the matter of Melchizedek, but not until after he has given us a strong word of warning and exhortation (6:1-12). Those who profess Christ as Messiah and Savior dare not fall back into a works-based religion; they must rather persevere and press on to maturity by seeking a more intimate relationship with Jesus Christ by drawing near to God through Him, rather than drifting away.

Having issued this exhortation, the author now returns to his topic of a better priesthood, one which is unconditional because it is guaranteed by God’s oath (6:13-20). In 7:1-10, our Lord’s priesthood is shown to be of the order of Melchizedek, but this being the case, this new priesthood cannot be based upon the Old Covenant, but rather on the New Covenant (7:11-28). In chapter 8, we see that our Great High Priest has a better place of ministry, in the “true tabernacle,” that is in the heavens, seated at the right hand of God (8:1-5). Our Great High Priest is the mediator of a better covenant, the New Covenant, which has better promises than the Old Covenant. To illustrate, our author cites the better New Covenant promises of Jeremiah 31:31-34 (Hebrews 8:6-13).

In the first 14 verses of chapter 9, we are reminded of the furnishings of the tabernacle and of how this structure actually prevents men from drawing near to God (verses 1-10). It was only through the appearance of our Great High Priest and the shedding of His blood that eternal redemption was accomplished, thus dealing with our sins, which stand between us and a Holy God. Those who have trusted in His atoning work at Calvary now are clean before God, and more than that, they feel clean; they have cleansed consciences, so that they may confidently draw near to God in worship and service (verses 11-14).

Because of His work of atonement, our Lord has become the mediator of the New Covenant. The remaining verses of chapter 9 focus on the “better sacrifice,” the shedding of our Lord’s precious blood and Calvary. It is by this better sacrifice that our sins are dealt with once for all. These verses show us that our Lord’s death was necessary and that it offers salvation to sinners who are destined for judgment and eternal torment after death. These verses spell out the gospel and God’s only means for forgiveness and eternal life. There are no more wonderful words for the sinner who wishes (by God’s doing) to draw near to God.

The Necessity of Death
Hebrews 9:15-22

15 And so [Therefore] he is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the eternal inheritance he has promised, since he died to set them free from the violations committed under the first covenant. 16 For where there is a will, the death of the one who made it must be proven. 17 For a will takes effect only at death, since it carries no force while the one who made it is alive. 18 So even the first covenant was inaugurated with blood. 19 For when Moses had spoken every command to all the people according to the law, he took the blood of calves and goats with water and scarlet wool and hyssop and sprinkled both the book itself and all the people, 20 and said, “This is the blood of the covenant that God has commanded you to keep.” 21 And both the tabernacle and all the utensils of worship he likewise sprinkled with blood. 22 Indeed according to the law almost everything was purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness (Hebrews 9:15-22).

There is good reason for our author to establish the need for our Lord’s death. Beforehand, no devout Jew was eager to hear about the death of Messiah. This was true of the Old Testament prophets, who spoke of our Lord’s suffering and His glory. They struggled with their own prophecies in which they wrote of Messiah’s suffering and death (texts like Isaiah 52:13—53:12). They could not see how these prophecies could be compatible with those that promised triumph over His enemies and the forces of evil:6

10 Concerning this salvation, the prophets who predicted the grace that would come to you searched and investigated carefully. 11 They probed into what person or time the Spirit of Christ within them was indicating when he testified beforehand about the sufferings appointed for Christ and his subsequent glory. 12 They were shown that they were serving not themselves but you, in regard to the things now announced to you through those who proclaimed the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven – things angels long to catch a glimpse of (1 Peter 1:10-12).

I suspect that this same tension (between Messiah’s suffering and His glory) was at least part of the reason for John the Baptist’s question for Jesus:

1 When Jesus had finished instructing his twelve disciples, he went on from there to teach and preach in their towns. 2 Now when John heard in prison about the deeds Christ had done, he sent his disciples to ask a question: 3 “Are you the one who is to come, or should we look for another?” (Matthew 11:1-3)

John was in jail at the moment. The time of his death was drawing near, and it did not look as though Jesus was about to render judgment on Rome or on disobedient Jews (as John had warned).7 Had John been wrong to identify Jesus as the Messiah? Why was Jesus not fulfilling John’s prophetic words regarding the judgment Jesus would bring upon the wicked? We now know that the answer is to be found in the two appearances of Jesus – the second of which our author speaks in Hebrews 9:27-28.

John was not alone in his confusion about Jesus. The Lord’s disciples were not eager to hear their Master speak of His suffering and death at Calvary. Just after Peter’s great confession in Matthew 16, our Lord disclosed to His disciples that He was soon going to die. Peter’s reaction reveals his failure to grasp this aspect of our Lord’s messianic mission:

/21 From that time on Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, chief priests, and experts in the law, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. 22 So Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him: “God forbid, Lord! This must not happen to you!” 23 But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me, because you are not setting your mind on God’s interests, but on man’s.” 24 Then Jesus said to his disciples, “If anyone wants to become my follower, he must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. 25 For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it (Matthew 16:21-25).

Unbelieving Jews also had great difficulty with Jesus’ talk of death. It seems to be one of the reasons why they would not embrace Him as the Messiah:

30 Jesus said, “This voice has not come for my benefit but for yours. 31 Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out. 32 And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” 33 (Now he said this to indicate clearly what kind of death he was going to die.) 34 Then the crowd responded, “We have heard from the law that the Christwill remain forever. How can you say, ‘The Son of Man must be lifted up’? Who is this Son of Man?” (John 12:30-34, emphasis mine)

Nobody wanted to hear of Jesus’ death as Israel’s Messiah, which may help to explain why the author of Hebrews felt it was so important to deal extensively with the necessity of Messiah’s death.

The World’s Greatest Bailout
Hebrews 9:15

And so [Therefore] he is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the eternal inheritance he has promised, since he died to set them free from the violations committed under the first covenant (Hebrews 9:15).

The “therefore” links this statement with what has just been stated. That is, because Christ appeared and made atonement for our sins by shedding His precious blood, He has become the mediator of a New Covenant, in place of the old. Some of the particulars of this “New Covenant” have already been cited in chapter 8. It was death – Messiah’s death – that accomplished redemption for those transgressions committed under the Old (“first”) Covenant. This is truly an amazing statement because it clearly indicates that the animal sacrifices offered under the Old Covenant didn’t accomplish redemption for sins. Paul put it this way:

21 But now apart from the law the righteousness of God (which is attested by the law and the prophets) has been disclosed – 22 namely, the righteousness of God through the faithfulness of Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction, 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. 24 But they are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. 25 God publicly displayed him at his death as the mercy seat accessible through faith. This was to demonstrate his righteousness, because God in his forbearance had passed over the sins previously committed. 26 This was also to demonstrate his righteousness in the present time, so that he would be just and the justifier of the one who lives because of Jesus’ faithfulness (Romans 3:21-26, emphasis mine).

Listen carefully to what Paul (and the author of Hebrews) is saying about the Old Covenant. The Old Covenant and its Aaronic priestly sacrificial system did not put away the guilt and punishment for the sins of the ancient Israelites; it only put off the day of reckoning. Let me seek to illustrate this in monetary terms. Let’s suppose that the penalty for Israel’s sins was assessed in financial terms. Every sin put the sinner and the nation deeper into debt, and neither the individual nor the nation had any means of repaying their debt. On the annual Day of Atonement, a sacrifice was made for the “national sin debt” of the Israelites. That debt was not paid off; it was merely put off for another year. Israel’s “spiritual loan” was extended another year. And so each year the nation’s sin debt grew larger and larger. It was not until the coming of Messiah and His death on the cross of Calvary that the debt was finally paid off. This was truly the world’s greatest bailout. A debt that men could not pay was paid by God in the person of Messiah. The payment was not monetary; it was a spiritual debt, and it was paid off by our Lord’s death – by the sacrificial shedding of His blood on the cross.

Just who are the recipients of this massive bailout? The saving work of Jesus on the cross of Calvary applies to the sins of those who lived under the Old Covenant as well as to those living since the first coming of our Lord. In other words, anyone whose sins are forgiven and who inherits eternal life does so because of Christ’s saving death and resurrection. But this is not to say that everyone, past, present, or future will benefit from Christ’s saving work. Our author is very clear on this point: those who receive the promised inheritance are only those who are called. Paul put it this way in Romans 9:

6 It is not as though the word of God had failed. For not all those who are descended from Israel are truly Israel, 7 nor are all the children Abraham’s true descendants; rather “through Isaac will your descendants be counted.” 8 This means it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God; rather, the children of promise are counted as descendants. 9 For this is what the promise declared: “About a year from now I will return and Sarah will have a son.” 10 Not only that, but when Rebekah had conceived children by one man, our ancestor Isaac – 11 even before they were born or had done anything good or bad (so that God’s purpose in election would stand, not by works but by his calling) – 12 it was said to her, “The older will serve the younger,” 13 just as it is written: “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated” (Romans 9:6-13).

While we see that the doctrine of election (God’s sovereign calling) is clearly taught in Scripture, men are still commanded to believe in Jesus for salvation. Paul will underscore this in the next chapter (10) of Romans:

8 But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that we preach), 9 because if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For with the heart one believes and thus has righteousness and with the mouth one confesses and thus has salvation. 11 For the scripture says, “Everyonewho believes in him will not be put to shame.” 12 For there is no distinction between the Jew and the Greek, for the same Lord is Lord of all, who richly blesses all who call on him. 13 For everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved (Romans 10:8-13).

So, those who inherit God’s promised blessings are those whom God has sovereignly chosen and called, and also those who have believed in God’s promise. (We should remember from Hebrews 3 and 4 that the ancient Israelites failed to enter into rest because of their unbelief.) I would understand the promised blessings to be the sworn (and thus irrevocable) promises that God made to Abraham in the Abrahamic Covenant and to Israel and all men in the New Covenant.

One inference from verse 15 is hard to miss: The Old Covenant system led to spiritual bankruptcy; it is the work of Christ in fulfilling the New Covenant that has provided the bailout for sinners. If the New Covenant sacrifice of Jesus “paid it all” – which it surely did – then why would anyone place their trust in a failed system, so far as its ability to save is concerned?

The Necessity of Death for the Execution of a Will
Hebrews 9:16-7

16 For where there is a will,8 the death of the one who made it must be proven. 17 For a will takes effect only at death, since it carries no force while the one who made it is alive (Hebrews 9:16-17).

We have just seen that the redemption of lost sinners required the sacrificial death of the Messiah. Now the author is going to buttress this declaration by showing that the death is required in everyday life as well. The case in point is the execution of a will. With rare exceptions, a will does not go into effect until after the death of the one who made it (the testator). Just as our author has stated, a death certificate is required before any will is executed. Death is a prerequisite for the execution of a will.

The Necessity of a Sacrificial Death to Execute the Mosaic Covenant
Hebrews 9:18-22

18 So even the first covenant was inaugurated with blood. 19 For when Moses had spoken every command to all the people according to the law, he took the blood of calves and goats with water and scarlet wool and hyssop and sprinkled both the book itself and all the people, 20 and said, “This is the blood of the covenant that God has commanded you to keep.” 21 And both the tabernacle and all the utensils of worship he likewise sprinkled with blood. 22 Indeed according to the law almost everything was purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness (Hebrews 9:18-22).

Just as death is required to implement a will, death was also required to implement the Mosaic Covenant. When God made His covenant with the nation Israel, it was inaugurated with blood. I believe that verses 18-22 refer primarily to the events of Exodus 24:

3 Moses came and told the people all the Lord’s words and all the decisions. All the people answered together, “We are willing to do all the words that the Lord has said,” 4 and Moses wrote down all the words of the Lord. Early in the morning he built an altar at the foot of the mountain and arranged twelve standing stones – according to the twelve tribes of Israel. 5 He sent young Israelite men, and they offered burnt offerings and sacrificed young bulls for peace offerings to the Lord. 6 Moses took half of the blood and put it in bowls, and half of the blood he splashed on the altar. 7 He took the Book of the Covenant and read it aloud to the people, and they said, “We are willing to do and obey all that the Lord has spoken.” 8 So Moses took the blood and splashed it on the people and said, “This is the blood of the covenant that the Lord has made with you in accordance with all these words” (Exodus 24:3-8).

The point that our author if making is that the Mosaic Covenant was set in motion (inaugurated) by the sacrifice of animals and the sprinkling of their blood. To be more direct, the death of innocent animals was required to inaugurate the Old Covenant. Hebrews 9:19-21 does include a few additional details that are not found in Exodus 24, but these are consistent with Moses’ account and are probably just further clarification.9 What we are to glean from this reference to the inauguration of the Old Covenant is that even this covenant was commenced by the shedding and application of sacrificial blood. No wonder the New Covenant was inaugurated by the blood which our Lord Jesus shed for the redemption of lost sinners.

From these specific examples, the author reaches a general conclusion: “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness” (Hebrews 9:22b). Under the Old Covenant, sins were reckoned with (temporarily) by the shedding of the blood of sacrificial animals.10 Our Lord’s death is entirely consistent with God’s way of dealing with sin. The shedding of sacrificial blood may offend the sensibilities of some, but this was the way God had appointed to reckon with man’s sin. If we are appalled by the severity of God’s solution for sin, then surely we must begin to understand how appalled God is by our sin. We dare not take sin – or its consequences – lightly.

The Death of Christ and the New Covenant
Hebrews 9:23-28

23 So it was necessary for the sketches of the things in heaven to be purified with these sacrifices, but the heavenly things themselves required better sacrifices than these. 24 For Christ did not enter a sanctuary made with hands – the representation of the true sanctuary – but into heaven itself, and he appears now in God’s presence for us. 25 And he did not enter to offer himself again and again, the way the high priest enters the sanctuary year after year with blood that is not his own, 26 for then he would have had to suffer again and again since the foundation of the world. But now he has appeared once for all at the consummation of the ages to put away sin by his sacrifice. 27 And just as people are appointed to die once, and then to face judgment, 28 so also, after Christ was offered once to bear the sins of many, to those who eagerly await him he will appear a second time, not to bear sin but to bring salvation (Hebrews 9:15-28).

In the preceding verses, we have just seen that the people and things associated with the Old Covenant needed to be ceremonially purified by animal blood for the implementation and ongoing ministry of the Mosaic Covenant. Now the author reminds us that these things which needed purification were “sketches of the things in heaven.” The author reasons that since these earthly “sketches” needed purification, then the heavenly realities needed purification as well, but it must be accomplished by means of “better sacrifices” – better than the blood of sacrificial animals. That “better sacrifice” is the once-for-all offering of the blood of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins.

In verses 23-28, the author contrasts the better ministry of our Lord under the New Covenant with that of the priests who served under the Old Covenant. He has already set the stage by speaking of the earthly prototypes as “sketches” of heavenly realities, which must be purified by better sacrifices (verse 23). Our Lord has a superior place of ministry, seated at the right hand of the Father,11 where He now appears “for us” (verse 24). He does not need to repeatedly offer Himself as a sacrifice, as did the priests. His sacrifice was that of His own blood, and thus His one offering was sufficient once for all (verses 25-26).

Actually, our Lord will appear on earth again, but it will not be to repeat what He has already accomplished, once for all:

27 And just as people are appointed to die once, and then to face judgment, 28 so also, after Christ was offered once to bear the sins of many, to those who eagerly await him he will appear a second time, not to bear sin but to bring salvation (Hebrews 9:27-28).

Since the Lord Jesus offered Himself as the sacrifice for our sins, thus dying in our12 place, He cannot die again. It is appointed for men to die but once (verse 27), and our Lord is no exception. But there is a great difference between the one-time death of Jesus and the one-time death of man. Although Christ died to bear the sins of many He will appear again, but this time it will not be to repeat His sacrifice; it will be to bring salvation to those who eagerly await His return (verse 28).

Back to Hebrews 9:23 for a Moment

Having briefly traced the flow of the argument to verse 28, let us return momentarily to verse 23:

So it was necessary for the sketches of the things in heaven to be purified with these sacrifices, but the heavenly things themselves required better sacrifices than these (Hebrews 9:23)

It is easy to see why the earthly copies of heavenly things needed to be cleansed. It is not so easy to understand why the heavenly realities needed to be cleansed. Several explanations have been offered:

The heavens need to be cleansed because Satan has been there (see Job 1 and 2; Revelation 12:10).

Cleansing is necessary because the fallen angels were there (Ephesians 6:12).

Cleansing is required of the saints, who will ultimately be there in the presence of God.

The first two options just don’t satisfy many students of Scripture, and they don’t really satisfy me, either. For one thing, the cleansing to which the author refers seems to refer more to those things that pertain to the New Covenant and to the ongoing high priestly ministry of our Lord. For another, the cleansing of which our author speaks is viewed as something accomplished in the past – at Calvary – rather than as something future. If I read the Scriptures correctly, Satan and his fallen angels are still in heaven and are yet to be cast down.13

The third option seems to be the most popular among the commentators that I consulted. As much as I respect these men, I just can’t see how this explanation fits our text. Let me mention several problems I have with this view. First, it seems clear to me that our author is speaking about the cleansing of a place and of heavenly things more than he is of people. Second, from 1 Corinthians 15:50-55, we know that “flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God” (15:50). As Paul goes on to explain (and as we see in 1 Thessalonians 4), we will leave these corrupted bodies behind and will enter heaven in new, transformed, bodies. So why do these bodies need to be purified?

I would be inclined to suggest a fourth explanation for the purification of the heavenly things. I look at the purification of the tabernacle, its furnishings, the high priest, and the people as an initiation or inauguration. In just a few days, Barak Obama will be officially installed as the president of the United States by means of an inauguration ceremony. It is the beginning of a new regime, a new administration. Just as the Old Covenant was inaugurated by the sprinkling of blood, so too it was fitting for the New Covenant (and all its associated elements) to be inaugurated with blood as well. The shedding of Christ’s blood on the cross of Calvary was the inauguration of the New Covenant ministry of our Lord. It redeemed men from the penalty of their sins, but it did more. It commenced a whole new ministry in the heavenlies, at the right hand of God, and blood shedding was an essential requirement for its inauguration.

Conclusion

We are at the heart and soul of the Book of Hebrews, and we dare not miss the message that is here for each of us. Let me suggest a few of the lessons which our text has for us.

1.Death and judgment are certainties, but so is the offer of forgiveness and eternal salvation. We cannot, we dare not, miss the warning in verse 27. But neither should we miss the blessed offer of Salvation that is also found in verse 28.

27 And just as people are appointed to die once, and then to face judgment, 28 so also, after Christ was offered once to bear the sins of many, to those who eagerly await him he will appear a second time, not to bear sin but to bring salvation (Hebrews 9:27-28).

The warning is straightforward: it is appointed for mankind to die once, and then comes judgment. With a few exceptions, every human being has, or will, experience physical death.14 Everyone (except the Lord Jesus) is born spiritually dead, due to the sin of their original parents, Adam and Eve,15 and as a consequence of their own sins, for “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). Death and judgment are not subject to our will, but are the outworking of divine appointment. It is appointed for men to die once, and then the judgment.

The words of verse 28 are God’s truth, plainly exposing Satan’s lie, which we first see in Genesis 3:

1 Now the serpent was more shrewd than any of the wild animals that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Is it really true that God said, ‘You must not eat from any tree of the orchard’?” 2 The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit from the trees of the orchard; 3 but concerning the fruit of the tree that is in the middle of the orchard God said, ‘You must not eat from it, and you must not touch it, or else you will die.’” 4 The serpent said to the woman, “Surely you will not die, 5 for God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will open and you will be like divine beings who know good and evil” (Genesis 3:1-5, emphasis mine).

Knowing that Satan “is a liar, and the father of lies” (John 8:44), we would expect him to refute God’s Word and to assure sinners that they need not fear the consequences of sin, which are death and judgment – the very things our text in Hebrews speaks about.

If God’s word is true, and it surely is, then any belief system which denies the certainty of death and judgment is a lie. Our text rules out the possibility of reincarnation and its promise of another chance after death. It also prohibits us from assuming that once one dies, all is over. Because of the resurrection of our Lord, all men will be resurrected to live forever; some will live in everlasting bliss,16 while others will live in eternal torment.17

The good news of the gospel is this: While death is a curse, the consequence of sin, it is also the cure for sin. How tragic it would have been for Adam and Eve (or anyone else) to live forever as condemned sinners, separated from fellowship with God. That is why God banned them from the garden and from eating of the tree of life.18 Death requires the setting aside of our fleshly bodies, but for the Christian, this means the putting on of a new, resurrection body.19 When the Lord Jesus tasted death at Calvary, He bore the penalty for sin, and when He rose from the dead, He rose to newness of life. All those who trust in Jesus for salvation are identified with Christ in His death, burial, and resurrection, and thus they, too, have died to sin and have risen to newness of life.20

Those who reject the good news of the gospel and the atonement Jesus accomplished at Calvary have everything to fear. But those who acknowledge their sin and trust in Jesus for salvation have no need to fear. Thus, men need not fear death if they have trusted in Jesus. This is what our author has already indicated in chapter 2:

14 Therefore, since the children share in flesh and blood, he likewise shared in their humanity, so that through death he could destroy the one who holds the power of death (that is, the devil), 15 and set free those who were held in slavery all their lives by their fear of death (Hebrews 2:14-15).

Which brings us full circle to the topic of our introduction – looking good when you die. Our text instructs us that death, while a curse for sin, is also the cure for sin. But it is only the death of Jesus Christ for lost sinners that saves. His death made atonement for sin once for all. Thus, it is vastly superior to the blood of sacrificial animals. His death cleansed the heavenly sanctuary and inaugurated the New Covenant. His death not only cleanses sinners, but it cleanses their consciences from dead works, so that they will boldly draw near to God. It is not wrong to look good in your casket, but the only way that you will “look good” to God is by means of the shed blood of His Son. His shed blood cleanses us of all our sins, and He makes us righteous before God. He is at work in His chosen saints to purify and prepare us for eternity in His presence. And even now we may draw near because the Lord Jesus is our Great High Priest who has taken on our humanity, and also our sins. He is a sympathetic High Priest to whom we can draw near for help in our times of need. To reject Christ and His sacrifice and to return to Judaism and the Old Covenant is to return to a bankrupt system. Christ is our only hope, and the best “bailout” anyone could ever hope for. Have you trusted in Jesus for your eternal future, starting now and continuing after death?

2. The value of blood. Our text and its emphasis on the shedding of blood reminds us of the value of blood in God’s eyes. It also reminds me of these words of Peter (who so strongly resisted the shedding of our Lord’s blood at Calvary):

13 Therefore, get your minds ready for action by being fully sober, and set your hope completely on the grace that will be brought to you when Jesus Christ is revealed. 14 Like obedient children, do not comply with the evil urges you used to follow in your ignorance, 15 but, like the Holy One who called you, become holy yourselves in all of your conduct, 16 for it is written, ”You shall be holy, because I am holy.” 17 And if you address as Father the one who impartially judges according to each one’s work, live out the time of your temporary residence here in reverence. 18 You know that from your empty way of life inherited from your ancestors you were ransomed - not by perishable things like silver or gold, 19 but by precious blood like that of an unblemished and spotless lamb, namely Christ. 20 He was foreknown before the foundation of the world but was manifested in these last times for your sake. 21 Through him you now trust in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God (1 Peter 1:13-21, emphasis by underscoring mine).

I have pondered just what the attraction of Old Covenant worship was to Hebrew Christians, tempting them to turn from Christ and back to the old worship. I think that some of it may have been the beautiful liturgy involved. Think of the beauty and splendor of the tabernacle, of the priestly garments, and the like. I wonder if some of the attraction was not the gold that was so skillfully fashioned into the tabernacle furnishings. What could be more valuable than gold? Peter tells us: blood, the shed blood of Jesus. Nothing is more precious than it. Only His shed blood can forgive our sins and give us the assurance of eternal life. Only His shed blood enables us to draw near to God.

The Old Covenant and its worship was bloody, and so is the worship of the New Covenant. Blood is precious. One might even say that there is nothing more precious than blood (life). So when man’s sin necessitated the wholesale shedding of animal blood, we are given a clue as to how much our sin offends a holy and righteous God. New Covenant worship does not have all the fancy dwellings like the tabernacle or the temple, and it does not require the use of much gold. (Indeed, gold becomes of so little eternal value that it is used to pave the streets of heaven. It is heavenly asphalt.) There is no elegant liturgy required for worship in the New Testament. Indeed, all that is needed is a little bread (representing our Lord’s sinless body, taken on at His incarnation) and a little wine (representing His precious blood). No wonder, then, that God takes it so seriously when these elements are taken in a drunken and disorderly way (see 1 Corinthians 11:17-34, especially verses 27-30). And no wonder that God is so offended when we reject or disregard the shed blood of Jesus:

26 For if we deliberately keep on sinning after receiving the knowledge of the truth, no further sacrifice for sins is left for us, 27 but only a certain fearful expectation of judgment and a furyof fire that will consume God’s enemies. 28 Someone who rejected the law of Moses was put to death without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. 29 How much greater punishment do you think that person deserves who has contempt for the Son of God, and profanes the blood of the covenant that made him holy, and insults the Spirit of grace? 30 For we know the one who said, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay,” and again, “The Lord will judge his people.” 31 It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God (Hebrews 10:26-31).

Think, too, of the offense of those who dare to suppose that God will accept whatever means by which men seek His approval. If God purposed to provide salvation through the shed blood of His Son – something infinitely precious to Him – then how would you expect Him to respond to those who seek His approval and favor by law-keeping and their best efforts to please Him? Nothing is more offensive to God than for men to seek His favor apart from the shed blood of Jesus.

As the words of the hymn inform us: “What can wash away my sins? Nothing but the blood of Jesus.” Have you received the payment Christ has already made for sin? Do you value His shed blood above all else? Do you joyfully celebrate His sacrifice for your sins often by observing communion? Our text should help us to get our values straight and to live accordingly.


1 Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the NET Bible. The NEW ENGLISH TRANSLATION, also known as THE NET BIBLE, is a completely new translation of the Bible, not a revision or an update of a previous English version. It was completed by more than twenty biblical scholars who worked directly from the best currently available Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek texts. The translation project originally started as an attempt to provide an electronic version of a modern translation for electronic distribution over the Internet and on CD (compact disk). Anyone anywhere in the world with an Internet connection will be able to use and print out the NET Bible without cost for personal study. In addition, anyone who wants to share the Bible with others can print unlimited copies and give them away free to others. It is available on the Internet at: