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Hebrews 4

 

PARAGRAPH DIVISIONS OF MODERN TRANSLATIONS

UBS4 NKJV NRSV TEV NJB
A Rest for the People of God   Warning and Exhortation A Rest for God's People How to Reach God's Land of Rest
(3:7-4:13) The Promise of Rest (3:7-4:13) (3:7-4:13) (3:7-4:13)
4:1-11 4:1-10 4:1-11 4:1-7 4:1-11
  The Word Discovers Our Condition   4:8-11  
  4:11-13      
4:12-13   4:12-13 4:12-13 4:12-13
Jesus the Great High Priest        
  Our Compassionate High Priest The Theme of Jesus Our High Priest Jesus the Great High Priest Jesus the Compassionate High Priest
(4:14-5:10)   (4:14-5:14) (4:14-5:10) (4:14-5:10)
4:14-16 4:14-16 4:14-16 4:14-16 4:14-16

READING CYCLE THREE (from "A Guide to Good Bible Reading")

FOLLOWING THE ORIGINAL AUTHOR'S INTENT AT THE PARAGRAPH LEVEL

This is a study guide commentary, which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

Read the chapter in one sitting. Identify the subjects. Compare your subject divisions with the five translations above. Paragraphing is not inspired but it is the key to following the original author's intent which is the heart of interpretation. Every paragraph has one and only one subject.

1. First paragraph

2. Second paragraph

3. Third paragraph

4. Etc.

 

CONTEXTUAL INSIGHTS

A. The author moves back and forth between the superiority of Jesus and warning to hold fast to Him.

 

B. Jesus' superiority (new covenant) over the old covenant

1. He is the superior revelation (the prophets, 1:1-3)

2. He is the superior mediator (angels, 1:4-2:18)

3. He is the superior servant (Moses, 3:1-6)

4. He is the superior priest (Aaron, 4:14-5:10; 6:13-7:28)

5. He is the superior covenant (OT, 8:1-13; 9:15-22)

6. He is the superior sanctuary (temple, 9:1-11, 23-28)

7. He is the superior sacrifice (animals, 9:12-14; 10:1-18)

8. He is the superior mountain (old covenant as Mt. Sinai and new covenant as Mt. Zion, 11:18-29)

 

C. In light of Jesus' superiority there is a series of warnings against rejecting His gospel (i.e., the New Covenant, cf. Jer. 31:31-34; Ezek. 36:22-38) or reverting to Judaism (i.e., Old Covenant).

1. 2:1-4

2. 3:7-4:13

3. 5:11-6:12

4. 10:19-39

5. 12:14-29

 

WORD AND PHRASE STUDY

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: 4:1-13
 1Therefore, let us fear if, while a promise remains of entering His rest, any one of you may seem to have come short of it. 2For 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. 3For we who have believed enter that rest, just as He has said,
 "As I swore in My wrath,
 They shall not enter My rest,"
although His works were finished from the foundation of the world. 4For He has said somewhere concerning the seventh day: "And God rested on the seventh day from all His works"; 5and again in this passage,
 "They shall not enter My rest."
 6Therefore, since it remains for some to enter it, and those who formerly had good news preached to them failed to enter because of disobedience, 7He again fixes a certain day, "Today," saying through David after so long a time just as has been said before,
 "Today if you hear His voice,
 Do not harden your hearts."
 8For if Joshua had given them rest, He would not have spoken of another day after that. 9So there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God. 10For the one who has entered His rest has himself also rested from his works, as God did from His. 11Therefore let us be diligent to enter that rest, so that no one will fall, through following the same example of disobedience. 12For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. 13And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are open and laid bare to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do.

4:1

NASB, NKJV"fear"
NRSV, TEV"take care"
NJB"Beware"

The verb is an aorist passive (deponent) subjunctive ("let us fear"). The warnings of Hebrews (cf. 2:1-4; 3:7-13; 4:1-13; 5:11-6:12; 10:26-39; and 12:14-17) elicit a sense of dread (cf. v. 11). These warnings touch ultimate issues of salvation and assurance.

▣ "while a promise remains of entering His rest" This is a continuing word play (i.e., "His rest," cf. vv. 1,3,5,8,9,10,11) in which the author uses rabbinical hermeneutical methodology to talk about four parts of the people of God's history and hope.

1. Gen. 2:2, God's rest on the seventh day of creation

2. Num. 13-14, Joshua's rest which was the Promised Land

3. Ps. 95:7-11 God's rest was still available in David's day

4. vv. 1 and 10-11 the day of rest as a reference to peace with God and life with God (heaven)

 

NASB, NKJV"to have come short of it"
NRSV"to have failed to reach it"
TEV"to have failed to receive that promised rest"
NJB"that he has come too late for the promise of entering his place of rest"

This reflects a Hebrew term chatha ("miss the mark") translated as hamartia by the Septuagint, meaning "fall short" or "come short" (cf. 12:15; Rom. 3:23). A related meaning is "come too late" (cf. NJB).

4:2 "we have had good news preached to us" This refers to the gospel about Jesus Christ, who all may accept by faith. Before Christ it referred to God's Word, which was given in the OT in different ways (i.e., "do not eat of the tree"; "build an ark"; "follow Me to a land"; "keep the law"; "enter the Promised Land," etc.). Each person or group had to believe God and respond by faith (i.e., act on) His Word to them. In the Exodus the ones believing were Joshua and Caleb. They believed God's promise about the Promised Land; most Israelis did not.

▣ "just as they also" This refers to the Israelites who listened to the ten spies' negative report. Joshua and Caleb, however, did not doubt God's promise about conquering the Promised Land (cf. Numbers 13-14), but had faith, so they could enter Canaan, but their unbelieving contemporaries could not.

NASB"because it was not united by faith in those who heard"
NKJV"not being mixed with faith in those who heard it"
NRSV"because they were not united by faith with those who listened"
TEV"they did not accept it with faith"
NJB"because they did not share the faith of those who did listen"

There is a Greek manuscript variation in this phrase. The best attested reading has a perfect passive accusative masculine plural participle, which would refer to the faith of Joshua and Caleb (cf. NASB, NKJV, NRSV, REB). The other option is a perfect passive nominative masculine singular participle, which would refer to faith in the message heard (cf. TEV, NJB, NIV).

The theological issue involves the faith (salvation) or lack of faith of the Israelite adults (20 years and up) who participated in the exodus. Did their lack of faith in the spies' report mean that (1) they were not allowed to enter Canaan or (2) they were not allowed to enter heaven? This question is not easy to answer because of the author's word play on the term "rest." It seems best to affirm their initial faith in YHWH (i.e., salvation), but admit they lacked the faith to trust His every promise (i.e., taking Canaan). This is the very question related to the first century readers. Was their lack of persistence a sign they were never saved or did it show their weak faith? In his commentary on Hebrews in The New International Commentary Series, F. F. Bruce says, "The practical implication is clear: it is not the hearing of the gospel by itself that brings salvation, but its appropriation by faith; and if a genuine faith, it will be a persistent faith" (p. 73).

4:3 "just as He said" This is a perfect active indicative, which is repeatedly used to refer to inspired Scripture (cf. 1:13; 4:3,4; 10:5,9; 13:5), which can refer to God the Father or God the Son.

This is a quote from Ps. 95:11 (as are v. 5 and 3:11), but also an added OT allusion back to Gen. 2:2, God's Sabbath (the seventh-day rest of creation).

4:4 "For He has said somewhere" This reflects a rabbinical idiom of belief in the inspiration of the entire OT (cf. 2:6). The "where" (i.e., the exact location of the text) and "who" (i.e., the human author of the text), were not as important as God's authorship of all Scripture. This does not imply the author forgot where the OT reference was to be found.

▣ "seventh day" The rabbis asserted that God's Sabbath (i.e., "the Day of Rest") never ceased because the regular formula of Genesis 1, "there was evening and there was morning, day. . .," is never mentioned in connection with this seventh day of creation in Gen. 2:2,3 (cf. Exod. 20:11).

4:5 This is a quote from Psalm 95:11.

4:6 "because of disobedience" Faithlessness is evidenced by disobedience (cf. 3:18; 4:6,11). The larger context of chapter 4 reflects the events recorded in Numbers 13-14, but the specific scriptural reference is Ps. 95:7-11, which relates to Israel's experience at Meribah.

The term "disobedience" is in the ancient Greek uncial manuscripts A, B, D, while "unbelief" is in the papyri manuscript P46, and the ancient uncial manuscript א.

4:7 "fixes a certain day, "Today," saying through David" The Greek term "fixes" is the English term "horizon," which means a setting of bounds. "Through David" is not in the Hebrew text of Ps. 95:7-8, but the Septuagint correctly interprets and inserts the traditional author of the Psalm. The author's argument is based on God's rest still being open even during David's reign.

Psalm 95:7-11 has been quoted several times in the context of chapters 3 and 4. Each time a different part of the OT passage is emphasized (like a sermon).

1.  3:7-11 emphasizes "do not harden your hearts" of Ps. 95:8

2.  3:15 emphasizes "when they provoked Me" of Ps. 95:9

3.  4:3,5 emphasizes "they shall not enter My rest" of Ps. 95:11

4.  4:7 emphasizes "today" of Ps. 95:7

 

4:8 "if" This is a second class conditional sentence, which is often called "contrary to fact." Joshua did not bring all of the children of Israel into rest. This is using the term "rest" not in the sense of Canaan, but God's spiritual rest (cf. vv. 9-10). From vv. 8-10 it is obvious that the author of Hebrews is using "rest" in three historical/theological senses:

1. the Promised Land of Canaan (v. 8, Joshua's day, Num. 13-14)

2. the opportunity to trust God (cf. v. 9 i.e., David's day, Ps. 95)

3. the Genesis 2 (v. 4) rest of God at creation (v. 10)

4. heaven (vv. 1 and 11)

 

"hearts" See Special Topic at 3:8.

▣ "Joshua" The King James translation has "Jesus," which follows the Geneva and Bishops Bibles' translations, but the context demands the OT "Joshua." Both names are spelled the same (i.e., Joshua - Hebrew; Jesus - Aramaic)! The early church often used Joshua as a type of Jesus (cf. Acts 7:45, where the same error in translation is made).

"He" This must refer to the Divine author of Psalm 95.

4:9 This is the summary of the author's exposition of Psalm 95. There was first an initial promise of rest (cf. Gen. 2:2); there was second a historical fulfillment (Joshua); there was third a later opportunity (David's day); and there is still a fourth opportunity for anyone who chooses to exercise faith in God's promises. Notice the author is using the title "the people of God" for those who believe in Christ (not just Jews).

4:10,11 All of the verbals of vv. 10-11 are aorist, which either (1) point to a completed action or (2) view all of life as a whole. Verses 10 and 11 make it clear that the "rest" of v. 10 refers to heaven. Believers will one day cease their diligence (cf. Rev. 14:13), but v. 11 clearly asserts that while physical life remains, believers must continue in faith, repentance, obedience, and perseverance. Verse 11 is a strong warning. Salvation is absolutely free in the finished work of Christ. It is a gift of grace from the Father and the convicting work of the Spirit. However, the sovereign Triune God has chosen to deal with humanity in a covenant relationship. Mankind must respond and continue to respond. Salvation is not a ticket to heaven nor a fire insurance policy, but a day-by-day faith relationship with God which issues in progressive Christlikeness! The covenant has benefits and obligations.

4:11

NASB, NKJV"Let us be diligent to enter that rest"
NRSV"Let us make every effort to enter that rest"
TEV"Let us do our best to receive that rest"
NJB"Let us press forward to enter this place of rest"

In English this seems to advocate human performance in attaining God's rest, but the Greek word means "to be eager," "to make haste" (cf. II Thess. 2:17; II Tim. 4:9).

"lest anyone fall through following the same example of disobedience" See 3:18 and 4:6.

4:12 "word of God" Verses 12 and 13 form one sentence in Greek. The term word (logos) does not refer personally to Jesus, as it does in John 1:1, but to God's spoken (cf. 13:7) or written message either through the OT Scriptures or NT revelation. God's self-revelation is described in three ways:.

1. it is personified as having a life of its own

2. it is like the penetrating power of a sword

3. it is like an all-knowing judge (cf. v. 13)

In his book Jewish Christianity, H. E. Dana makes the suggestion based on Egyptian papyri usage that "word" (logos) means "reckoning" or "calling into account." He asserts this fits the original author's overall argument, that there will be a divine reckoning through examination, using the metaphor of a surgeon (p. 227). Therefore, this text is not a description of the revealed word of God, but the discerning judgment of God. This is interesting, but the author of Hebrews used logos often for God's word (cf. 2:2; 4:2; 5:13; 7:28; 13:7) and also the Greek term for the spoken word, rhēma (cf. 6:5; 11:3).

▣ "living and active and sharper" This reflects the Hebrew concept of the power of the spoken word of God (cf. Gen 1:1,3,6,9,14,20,24,26; Ps. 33:6,9; 148:5; Isa. 40:8; 45:23; 55:11; 5:17-19; Matt. 5:17-19; 24:35; I Pet. 1:23).

▣ "sharper than any two-edged sword" This speaks of the penetrating power of God's word (cf. John 12:48 and Rev. 1:6; 2:12,16, where it is used of Jesus).

"soul and spirit" This is not an ontological dichotomy in mankind, but a dual relationship to both this planet and to God. The Hebrew word nephesh is used of both mankind and the animals in Genesis, while "spirit" (ruah) is used uniquely of mankind. God's word penetrates mankind's inner self. This is not a proof-text on the nature of mankind as a two-part (dichotomous) or three-part (trichotomous) being (cf. I Thess 5:23). Mankind is primarily represented in the Bible as a unity (cf. Gen. 2:7). For a good summary of the theories of mankind as trichotomous, dichotomous, or a unity, see Millard J. Erickson's Christian Theology (second edition) pp. 538-557 and Frank Stagg's Polarities of Man's Existence in Biblical Perspective.

▣ "and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart" In Hebrew thought the "heart" represents the entire person and their inner motivation. See Special Topic at 3:8. God knows true faith and fake faith.

4:13 "but all things are open and laid bare" God knows us completely (cf. I Sam. 16:7; Ps. 7:9; 33:13-15; 139:1-4; Prov. 16:2; 21:2; 24:12; Jer. 11:20; 17:10; 20:12; Luke 16:15; Acts 1:24; 15:8; Rom. 8:27).

NASB"to the eyes of Him"
NKJV"naked and open"
NRSV"naked and laid bare"
TEV"exposed and lies open"
NJB"uncovered and stretched fully open"

This metaphor literally means "to expose the neck by lifting the chin." This OT metaphor was a warning to judges; here it refers to meeting God face-to-face on judgment day, who has full knowledge of our motives.

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: 4:14-16 (fuller literary unit to 5:10)
 14Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. 15For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin. 16Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

4:14 "a great high priest" The author first mentions Jesus as high priest in 3:1-6. After the warnings and exhortations of 3:7-4:13, he now returns to the topic. This same pattern is followed in the warnings in 5:11-6:12 and in the discussion of Jesus' priestly functions in 6:13-10:39. See Special Topic at 2:17.

Hebrews is the only book in the NT that calls Jesus the "high priest." The author's comparison of the Mosaic covenant and the new covenant continues. This would have been hard for the Jewish people to accept and understand. Jesus was not of the priestly tribe of Levi. However, Jesus is called "a priest" in 1:3; 2:17,18; 3:1. In the OT the Messiah is referred to as priest in only two contexts: Ps. 110 and Zech. 4, both of which have both royal and priestly aspects.

"who has passed through the heavens" This is in the perfect tense. Jesus has passed through the heavens (whether there are 3 or 7), He returned to the Father's presence, and the result of His coming (incarnation) and going (ascension) remains. Therefore, believers can now, through His agency, also pass through the heavens. In Gnostic thought, the heavens are angelic barriers (aeons), but in the OT they are

1. the atmosphere where birds fly

2. the windows of heaven where rain comes from

3. the starry heavens of the sun and moon

4. the very presence of God

There has been much discussion by the rabbis as to whether there are three or seven heavens (cf. Eph. 4:10; II Cor. 12:2). This phrase was also used by the rabbis to describe the heavenly tabernacle, which fits this context best (cf. 9:23-28).

SPECIAL TOPIC: THE HEAVENS AND THE THIRD HEAVEN

▣ "Jesus" It is possible that this is a typological play on Jesus as the new Joshua. Their names are exactly the same (i.e., Joshua - Hebrew; Jesus - Aramaic). The author of Hebrews alludes to the Exodus material extensively. As Joshua brought God's people into the rest of the Promised Land, so too, will Jesus bring them into heaven.

▣ "the Son of God" This is both an OT divine title applied to Jesus of Nazareth and also the author's continuing emphasis on Jesus as "son" (cf. 1:2; 3:6; 5:8; 7:28). It is not by accident that the humanity and deity of Jesus are emphasized together (cf. Ezek. 2:1 – human; Dan. 7:13 – divine). This is the main pillar of NT truth about the person of Christ (cf. John 1:1,14; I John 4:1-6).

▣ "let us hold fast our confession" This is a present active subjunctive. This is the continuing emphasis on the need for perseverance (cf. 2:1; 3:6,14). We must balance our initial decision (cf. John 1:12; 3:16; Rom. 10:9-13) with ongoing discipleship (cf. Matt. 7:13-27; 28:19-20; Eph. 1:4; 2:10). Both are crucial! Faith must issue in faithfulness! For a discussion of the term "confession," see note at 3:1.

SPECIAL TOPIC: THE NEED TO PERSEVERE

4:15 "sympathize with our weakness" A. T. Robertson gives another possible alternative translation, "suffer with our weakness" (cf. 2:17-18). Jesus never had a sin nature and never yielded to sin, but He was exposed to true temptation because of mankind's sin.

▣ "tempted" The term (peirazō) has the connotation of "to tempt with a view toward destruction" (cf. 2:18; 3:9; 11:37). It is a perfect passive participle, which emphasizes a finished state by means of an outside agent, such as the tempter. This term is a title for Satan ("the one tempting") in Matt. 4:3 (also notice Mark 1:13). See Special Topic at 2:18.

▣ "in all things as we are yet without sin" Jesus is both fully God and fully human, and yet He understands us! However, He does not participate in fallen mankind's rebellion and independence from the Father (i.e., the innocent, sinless One, cf. 2:17-18; 7:26; Luke 23:41; John 8:46; 14:30; II Cor. 5:21; Phil. 2:7-8; I Pet. 1:19; 2:22; 3:18; I John 3:5).

4:16 "Therefore let us draw near" This is a present middle (deponent) subjunctive, which emphasizes the subject's continual involvement, but with an element of contingency. This is a technical term in the Septuagint (LXX) for a priest approaching God. In Hebrews this term is used of fallen mankind's ability to approach God because of Jesus' sacrifice (cf. 4:16; 7:25; 10:1,22; 11:6). Jesus has made His followers a "kingdom of priests" (cf. Exod.19:5,6; I Pet. 2:5,9; Rev. 1:6).

▣ "with confidence to the throne of grace" The term "confidence" means "freedom to boldly speak." We have freedom, and therefore, boldness, to approach the very presence of God through Jesus Christ (cf. 10:19,35). This is similar to the symbol of the torn veil of Herod's Temple in Jerusalem on the day that Jesus died (cf. Matt. 27:51; Mark 15:38; Luke 23:45). Through Jesus, sinful people can come before a holy God where they receive mercy and grace, not condemnation.

▣ "to the throne of grace" This may be a circumlocution for God, like the use of the passive voice. The author of Hebrews views heaven as a spiritual tabernacle (cf. 9:11,24), but also a heavenly throne (cf. 1:8; 4:16; 8:1; 12:2).

"to help in time of need" The context speaks of warnings against not holding fast our confession. God will surely help us in times of trials and temptations (1) through Jesus and (2) by His own character.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

This is a study guide commentary, which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

These discussion questions are provided to help you think through the major issues of this section of the book. They are meant to be thought provoking, not definitive.

1. Why is this chapter so hard for us to understand?

2. Why is the emphasis to "hold on" so recurrent in Hebrews?

3. Is there any theological significance to Jesus being called both "Jesus" and "Son of God" in v. 4?

4. What does it mean that Jesus "passed through the heavens"?

5. How does perseverance relate to the security of the believer?