|Series Theme: Meditations in Hebrews|
15. Warning Number 1 - Heb 2:1-3
16. Multiple Witness - Heb 2:3,4
17. Who is this ruler - Heb 2:518. Perfect through Suffering - Heb 2:10
19. Identifying with us - Heb 2:14,15
Meditations in Hebrews 2: 15. Warning Number 1
Heb 2:1-3 We must pay more careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away. For if the message spoken by angels was binding, and every violation and disobedience received its just punishment, how shall we escape if we ignore such a great salvation?
Moving into chapter 2 brings us face to face with the first of a number of warnings that the writer brings to his readers. If this had been the apostle Paul, his style tended to be several chapters of doctrine which are then followed by the practical teaching and exhortations, but this writer having written our chapter 1, now pauses before he brings any more doctrine (which will be integrated into the exhortations).
Pastoral Concern: Having just shown that Jesus is so much greater than angels, that raises a concern in his mind as he reflects on the Law brought by Moses and the salvation now brought by Jesus. He reveals his pastoral concern in verse 1: “ We must pay more careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away.” i.e. I know there is always this temptation to drift away (after all, it was what the Israelites had done time and time again) and so the means of stopping this possible drift is to “pay more careful attention… to what we have heard.” i.e. hold onto it, go back over it, make sure you fully take it in and understand it so it impacts you. I like the Message version on this verse: “ It's crucial that we keep a firm grip on what we've heard so that we don't drift off.”
Message by Angels: But then he gives another reason for holding firmly onto the truth that has been conveyed to us by Jesus: “For if the message spoken by angels was binding, and every violation and disobedience received its just punishment, how shall we escape if we ignore such a great salvation? This salvation, which was first announced by the Lord, was confirmed to us by those who heard him.” (v.2,3) i.e. the Law was conveyed by angels and those who disobeyed were punished, so how much more serious is it when God speaks to us through His own Son?
Angels on Sinai? Now we perhaps ought to pause up here and note this reference to angels. There is no mention of angels in the historical accounts within Exodus of angels but it is clear that the modern Jews believed that they had been involved. For example Stephen declared that (Acts 7:35,38,53) as did the apostle Paul (Gal 3:19). This may be because of Moses' final words to Israel before he left them and died (Deut 33:2). The present writer picks up on this common belief and simply uses it here as a warning not to ignore the salvation proclaimed by Jesus.
Jesus' Good News - Matthew: Now again it might be worth just reflecting on what Jesus did say that we might be able to call the Gospel, the good news of Jesus Christ. His opening words in Matthew are, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.” (Mt 4:17) or as the Message puts it, “ Change your life. God's kingdom is here.” Matthew was the gospel writer concerned about the Jewish viewpoint and knew they were waiting for God's kingdom. Matthew then records, “ Jesus went throughout Galilee , teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people.” (Mt 4:23) i.e. kingdom word AND power. That IS good news!
Jesus' Good News - Mark: Mark records, “The time has come," he said. "The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!” (Mk 1:15) Mark, it is believed, was helped in his writing by the apostle Peter, who had come to see the wonder, the good news of everything to do with Jesus. Although this proclamation is followed by power activity you are left feeling how good it was, this was really very good news. Shortly Jesus delivered a demon possessed man in the local synagogue (Mk 1:23-26) and this left the watchers amazed at this brilliant teacher (v.22) who also had power (v.27).
Jesus' Good News - Luke: Luke, after his early days passages, after the genealogy and temptation, has Jesus in the local synagogue reading and applying to himself the words of Isaiah: “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor.” (Lk 4:18,19) This is packed full of good news but unlike our wishy-washy four rules type of proclamation of the Gospel, Jesus' Gospel goes beyond words to actually setting people free and letting them know that “This is God's year to act!” (Message Version) or “the time has come for the Lord to show his kindness,” (Easy to Read version)
More from Matthew: Matthew's equivalent to this is Jesus speaking to John the Baptist's disciples, “Go back and report to John what you hear and see: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor.” (Mt 11:4,5) Jesus' Gospel is a doing Gospel.
John's Contribution: John concurs with this view of Jesus' Gospel: “Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” (Jn 20:30,31) i.e. the signs point to the man, the Son of God. Belief follows signs for those with eyes to see.
The Hebrew writer's contribution: Our present writer to the Hebrews is completely in line with this as he continues, “God also testified to it by signs, wonders and various miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will.” (v.4) although he uses the word ‘testifies' applying the signs, wonders and miracles, to all those things we've read above. But not only that, He has imparted divinely supernatural gifts of the Spirit to Jesus' body – the single body and now the body that is his church.
And Today? I wonder if this same message should be the primary message we hear in today's church? Instead of teaching theory, shouldn't our leaders be teaching power-practice, for didn't Jesus say, “anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing .” (Jn 14:12). It is shear unbelief, I would suggest, to try and wash this verse out of the Scriptures by coming up with flim-flam that says these things have passed away. Everything we have been reading in this study points in the same direction: “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” (Heb 13:8) We demean him and his message if we are content with a mere words-only Gospel. It has served us well and many of us are the proof of it but that is not an excuse not to be the church Jesus spoke about, a church that brings the good news which is both words and transforming power. Without the ‘double-package' we might ask is that why so much of the Western world is rejecting us?
But the thrust of the start of chapter 2 is, with all this evidence of the wonder of the Gospel of Jesus, we should learn it and live it to stop us drifting away and make it real and obvious so that others will not reject it. That is the message here.
Meditations in Hebrews 2: 16. Multiple Witness
Heb 2:3,4 This salvation, which was first announced by the Lord, was confirmed to us by those who heard him. God also testified to it by signs, wonders and various miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will.
How the message came: We did briefly mention something of these verses in the previous meditation but there we were focusing on the message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, noting how it was good news that came with both words and power but, as we said, the emphasis was on the message itself. Now we want to focus on how the message came and open up even more what we have previously seen. There are, as the heading above suggests, multiple witnesses to the truths we have been recently considering about the coming of Jesus Christ, the eternal Son of God.
Jesus' Testimony: The first of these witnesses was Jesus himself: This salvation, which was first announced by the Lord. The apostle John picked up on this when he reflected on Jesus ministry: “ Jesus said to them, "My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I, too, am working." For this reason the Jews tried all the harder to kill him; not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God.” (Jn 5:17,18) Jesus brought this very oblique testimony and yet the Jews clearly recognized what he was saying – I am God. When they objected, Jesus spoke of another witness: “If I testify about myself, my testimony is not valid. There is another who testifies in my favor, and I know that his testimony about me is valid. You have sent to John and he has testified to the truth.” (Jn 5:31-33)
Yes, the Law required two witnesses for a testimony to be valid, so Jesus pointed out that John had testified to Him. But Jesus wasn't satisfied with that: “I have testimony weightier than that of John. For the very work that the Father has given me to finish, and which I am doing, testifies that the Father has sent me. And the Father who sent me has himself testified concerning me.” (Jn 5:36,37) i.e. the very things Jesus was doing testified to who he was. Consider the lists of what we saw Jesus doing in the previous meditation and you realise this is no mere man. In that sense the Father testified to Jesus, empowering him, but the Father had also testified to His Son at his baptism. (see Lk 3:22) That same voice testified to him on the Mount of Transfiguration (see Lk 9:35) and a third time on Psalm Sunday (Jn 12:28)
The Disciples' Testimony: But then the second witness were the disciples: “confirmed to us by those who heard him.” The Gospel writers, first of all, collected the testimonies of those who had been with Jesus. Luke, for example, wrote, “Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word.” (Lk 1:1,2) John would eventually write at the end of his Gospel, “This is the disciple who testifies to these things and who wrote them down,” (Jn 21:24) and who write in his first letter, “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched --this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us. We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard .” (1 Jn 1:1-3) Yes, this is language of witnesses.
God's Testimony: But then there was the third witness: “God also testified to it by signs, wonders and various miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will.” (v.4) We have already briefly referred to the Father's testimony in the work of Jesus but this is familiar language used by the early disciples, for example Peter on the Day of Pentecost: “Men of Israel, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know.” (Acts 2:22) Again the Easy to Read version says it most simply: “My fellow Israelites, listen to these words: Jesus from Nazareth was a very special man. God clearly showed this to you. He proved it by the miracles, wonders, and miraculous signs he did through Jesus. You all saw these things, so you know this is true.” ‘A very special man' accurately records it but understates it. ‘Proved it' – the language of evidence.
Why Believe? Now remember this is all about ‘the salvation' conveyed through these witnesses. Out salvation is the key end issue here. How can we believe what we are told? Because Jesus said it, his disciples confirmed it and God the Father backed it up by signs and wonders and gifts of the Spirit manifested through the Son and then through the disciples and the early church and the church down through the centuries. We can believe because the evidence is so strong. More than that, we must believe otherwise we will fall away and that's what the writer to the Hebrews wants to avoid. Thus the warning not to drift away comes with a reminder that we have so much supporting evidence as to the truth about Jesus and our salvation, that no one really has any excuse if they reject these things.
Meditations in Hebrews 2: 17. Who is this ruler
Heb 2:5 It is not to angels that he has subjected the world to come, about which we are speaking.
Jesus is eternal: It seems as we continue in this chapter that the writer, having used various Old Testament verses to highlight just who Jesus is, realises that he is talking about the future, hence now he refers to “the world to come”. We need to look back into chapter 1 to clarify that. Remember the main point he was making, that Jesus is eternal: “In the beginning, O Lord, you laid the foundations of the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands. They will perish, but you remain; they will all wear out like a garment.” (1:10,11) The world is not infinite, it has a limited life-span. Thus he carried on, “You will roll them up like a robe; like a garment they will be changed. But you remain the same, and your years will never end.” (1:12)
Jesus in the future: Yes, there will come a time when Jesus returns and brings everything in subjection to him (Rev 19) and then later will wind up all we know and there will be a new heaven and new earth (Rev 21). As we see in Revelation 5 all of this end time history is given into the hands of the Son of God to oversee. As we have noted before, the apostle Paul had this revelation: “But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the first-fruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. But each in his own turn: Christ, the first-fruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him. Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power.” (1 Cor 15:20-24) It is important to understand this: Christ demonstrated resurrection and all his followers who die at the end of their natural lives will one day be resurrected to be with him as he conquers all his enemies and hands back the kingdom, the control of everything, to his Father.
Jesus' Position: That is what is behind the verses we are now looking at, a period and end that had been referred to in the quote back in 1:13 – “To which of the angels did God ever say, "Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet.”? That is what he is referring to when he says, “ It is not to angels that he has subjected the world to come, about which we are speaking.” (v.5) But, yes, he is back comparing Jesus to the angels and when he does so, he is not afraid of confronting the human element of the work of the Christ.
God's concern for humanity: Again he cites from the Old Testament: “But there is a place where someone has testified: "What is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him?” (v.6 quoting Psa 8:4) It is a strange wording - “someone” - but he is obviously referring to David writing Psa 8 for the next two verses fill out the whole of the quote that is almost word for word Psa 8:4-6 “You made him a little lower than the angels; you crowned him with glory and honor and put everything under his feet.” (v.7,8 quoting Psa 8:5,6)
But what is the point of using this quotation? What does it say that he wants to apply to Jesus? Verse 6 in the Message version puts it well: “What is man and woman that you bother with them; why take a second look their way?” i.e. it is amazing that God actually bothers with these tiny figures on this tiny planet in this massive galaxy in this incredibly big existence. But the Message version continues, “You made them not quite as high as angels, bright with Eden 's dawn light; Then you put them in charge of your entire handcrafted world.” That's lovely isn't it! The fact is that when God made mankind they didn't appear to have the glory of the angels and yet – amazingly – God put them in charge of the whole world (Gen 1:28), everything was put under the feet of mankind. That is how much God thinks of mankind, part of His creation that in the very beginning were ‘very good' (Gen 1:31).
Mankind's Fall: That's how it had been at the very beginning, but it didn't continue like that so the writer is now able to say, “In putting everything under him, God left nothing that is not subject to him. Yet at present we do not see everything subject to him.” (v.8b) We might reasonably assume this is an indirect reference to the Fall. Because of the Fall we did not reach our potential and are not reigning in the way God originally instructed.
So take note of this: God designed mankind to rule, but we threw it away. That was mankind as a whole. Now see what follows: “But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, now crowned with glory and honor because he suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.” (v.9) Note first the ‘BUT'. That was mankind but now see the contrast in Jesus who, yes, came in human form. Yes, in human form he too appears lower than the angels BUT now he is “crowned with glory and honour” as he is seated at the Father's right hand in heaven, as we have seen before. And why is he there like this? “because he suffered death.” The Son of God came down and experienced in human form all that we experience, and that included death, but it wasn't just any death, it was “for everyone”. Awesome! Having completed the work given him by the Godhead before the foundation of the world, he returned to heaven and is seated beside the Father ruling over all of existence.
Recap: We won't push on; all that follows needs careful reading, but let's just take in again what these verses have told us. In continuing the argument that Jesus is greater than the angels, the writer acknowledges that he has apparently been made in human form which is lower than the glory of the angels, but through his work, the Son has achieved a glory that is greater than any other except his Father. It is a glory that comes through having died as the Saviour of mankind, so that now he has returned to his place in heaven where he oversees all of the end time history. This he will do until the time when he will return, bring all his enemies into subjection, and then hand the completed kingdom back to the Father, for a new heaven and new earth to be brought forth. Could all this be said of any angels? No way!
Meditations in Hebrews 2: 18. Perfect through Suffering
Heb 2:10 In bringing many sons to glory, it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the author of their salvation perfect through suffering.
The flow of the argument: There is a unity or a natural flow in these verses and we do ourselves a disservice if we do not see them together as we focus on one. We have just observed in the previous meditation, “But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, now crowned with glory and honor because he suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone,” (v.9) and we said through his work, the Son has achieved a glory that is greater than any other except his Father, a glory that comes through having died as the Saviour of mankind.
Perhaps we should also note in passing the reference to “taste death” which we may take to mean not that died like more ordinary people but his rising from the dead meant his experience of death was a short, temporary thing, just a taste so to speak.
The grace of God: Again before we pass on we should note the words, “by the grace of God.” Jesus' ‘suffering death' was the outworking of the plan of the Godhead before the foundation of the world. The word ‘grace' usually means the attitude of God that is good towards mankind which results in His resources being available to mankind. God's attitude from the outset, knowing that Sin would enter the world, was to provide a way back and that way back involved Him taking a human body and living through it and experiencing death on a Cross. It was only by the resources of heaven that Jesus could suffer not only the pain but the indignation of mankind turning on the very Son of God.
Jesus & Mankind: But now this introduces a new thought in the mind of the writer, that Jesus is different from the angels because of his relationship with mankind. In verse 9 he has just touched on Jesus' work as Redeemer of mankind when he says, “he might taste death for everyone”. This word ‘everyone' is going to act as a key to open up the following thoughts. “In bringing many sons to glory” (v.10a) speaks of the many who respond to the Gospel and share in the wonder of God's glory in their lives and on into eternity.
Perfect through Suffering: Now we come to the big verse with its difficulties: “In bringing many sons to glory, it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the author of their salvation perfect through suffering.” (v.10) The heart of the verse is God Himself, “for whom and through whom everything exists,” seen as the Lord over all and who, as the Father, had agreed with His Son on the way to bring that salvation to sinful mankind, a way involving the Son giving his life. The ‘suffering' that is referred to in this verse not only includes the pain and anguish of physically being crucified, but also the emotional pain of being rejected or abandoned by the world and his very followers, as well as the pain of being separated from his Father in heaven. So, yes, Jesus suffered, but what is this about being made perfect through it?
Jesus Perfectly doing the will of God: In another context I have suggested that ‘perfect' means complete or ‘cannot be improved upon'. Now imagine the Godhead before they create the world, discussing the means to bring salvation to a sinful mankind, and they have a checklist with tick-boxes of things that must happen:
We'll stop it there but you get the idea.
‘The Plan' involves all of those things. If any one is missed, the plan is incomplete, but no step is missed and so the plan is complete and the Son has perfectly fulfilled the will of the Father. As you gaze upon the Son in heaven, he is complete, he is perfect, in no way has he fallen short of fulfilling the will of the Godhead laid out all that time back before Creation. When you look at him you could not say there is anything about him to complain about, there is no shortcoming, there is nothing lacking, nothing to be added. He is indeed, perfect! Why? Because every box was ticked!
OT Confirmation: We said earlier that Jesus is different from the angels because of his relationship with mankind and we have just seen how that came about, but the writer wants to emphasise this relationship; he has identified how it came about but he wants to emphasise it using more quotes from the Old Testament. Thus he continues with, first of all, a general statement: “Both the one who makes men holy and those who are made holy are of the same family. So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers.” (v.11) Jesus is and was holy (utterly different, the crucial characteristic of God) and he makes all his followers holy by putting his HOLY Spirit within them.
Unity with Jesus: There is therefore a tremendous unity between the Son and his followers, they are now part of his family (brothers and sisters) So to press home the point, “He says, "I will declare your name to my brothers; in the presence of the congregation I will sing your praises.” (v.12 quoting Psa 22:22) and then again, “And again, "I will put my trust in him." And again he says, "Here am I, and the children God has given me.” (v.13 quoting Isa 8:17,18) The emphasis of these two quotes is on the plurality of what he has achieved by his death – MANY brothers, many children for God.
Conclusions: Remember the purpose of all this: no angel or group of angels even, could say anything like this, no angels had given their lives to save mankind, no angels had a following as a consequences, no angel could say that all these ‘children of God' existed because of them. No, it's all to do with the Son! Hallelujah!
Meditations in Hebrews 2: 19. Identifying with us
Heb 2:14,15 Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death--that is, the devil-- and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.
Recap - the flow: I started the previous study noting that there is a natural ongoing flow in the writer's thoughts. At the very start of the book he had painted this amazingly compact picture of who Jesus was and what he did, then showed us that he was doing this to show us how much greater than angels the Son was. At the beginning of chapter 2 he nudged us to be careful to hold on to all this so that we would not drift away in our faith. To continue to provide fuel for us, if you like, he then took us down the path of thinking about Jesus' humanity and how he had come to save us human beings. I noted at one point that Jesus is different from the angels because of his relationship with mankind . He came and died and suffered for us and what the writer is going on to do is open up this idea of Jesus identifying with us. He has already started doing that by speaking of us who are believers as his family, his brothers and his children, all language of intimacy of relationship, which is what this is all about.
The Son sharing our humanity: But then he says something that perhaps we don't often think about: “Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity.” (v.14a) Imagine the Godhead, before the foundation of the world, reflecting on the fact that giving humanity free will would mean the introduction of Sin into the perfect world. How to deal with that sin, how to deal with their guilt which naturally justice would demand should be punished? That is the big question. He, God, would have to take that punishment Himself because no individual could do it on their own and multitudes of individuals would not be able to do it either; no it had to be God Himself. But if it was to have effect He couldn't do something out in eternity, it had to be here in time-space history, He had to come and be one with us.
And thus the person of Jesus Christ came onto the world stage in the form of a tiny baby who, like most tiny babies, grew up into adulthood. He experienced what we experience – including pain and including death. His coming in human form was not just to take our punishment, it was also to identify with us to confront the two biggest enemies we have – death and Satan. “he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death--that is, the devil-- and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.” (v.14b,15)
Considering Death: Death is the great unknown and all sorts of legends and ideas have grown up throughout history about what happens. Yet we have this survival instinct that doesn't want to die and in reality we fear what might follow. And there in the background is Satan, inciting these humans that God has created, inciting them to sin so that the end outcome WILL be death as it has been ever since the first two sinned in the Garden of Eden. And so Jesus came and identified with us, showing us that he went through all we go through, including death, and then came back to show us he has a place for us the other side of death, and thus our fears can be removed.
Jesus came for us: And then he pushes the point a little more: “For surely it is not angels he helps, but Abraham's descendants.” (v.16) The Son didn't come down to the earth to help out the angels, but us human beings, those who would come to him by faith, just like Abraham had done. So he's called us his family, his brothers, his children, and we are that as we receive what he's done for us. But the writer wants to enlarge the analogy to put it into the context of the Old Testament so the Jewish believers could have greater understanding. In the Old Testament, there was a person, a figure, whose role was to be there for the people, the high priest: “For this reason he had to be made like his brothers in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people.” (v.17)
When Jesus came in human form he did it so that he could act like the high priest of old and step in and make atonement for the people. Now he is going to go on to explain that Jesus was both high priest AND the offering, but for now, as this is just the opening mention of the role of the high priest, he leaves it at this, for his emphasis for the moment is how Jesus was identifying with his people.
Jesus as our high priest: The high priest was a slightly awesome figure whose role was to stand between the people and God and make offerings for them but at the heart of it, he was still very much a human being and that is what the writer focuses on at this moment: “Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.” (v.18) Yes, the high priest was a frail human being just like we are and so Jesus, if he was to fully take that role, had to become fully human like we are, and that involves being part of the spiritual warfare that goes on, on earth, being tempted and resisting the temptation, that is a very human thing.
Recap Chapter 2: So as we come to the end of the chapter, let's remind ourselves what we have seen:
Jesus who came accredited by the Father by signs and wonders,
Jesus made a true human being,
Yet, Jesus who overcame and now sits at the Father's right hand ruling,
Jesus who tasted death on our behalf to take our punishment,
Jesus who identifies with us and calls us family, brothers, his children,
Jesus who had to take human form to bring that about
Jesus who thus identifies in this way with us
Jesus who takes the role of a very human high priest
Jesus who experienced everything we experience
And all this to show another way he is so different from the angels.
He is Saviour of the human world!
20. Two Sent Ones - Heb 3:1,2
21. Bombshell Warning No.2 - Heb 3:7,8
22. The Realities of Unbelief - Heb 3:19
Meditations in Hebrews 3: 20. Two Sent Ones
Heb 3:1,2 Therefore, holy brothers, who share in the heavenly calling, fix your thoughts on Jesus, the apostle and high priest whom we confess. He was faithful to the one who appointed him, just as Moses was faithful in all God's house.
Think on Jesus: The idea of Jesus being our high priest has already arisen in the previous chapter. Now the writer adds another concept or role that Jesus fulfilled, but it comes within a very simple exhortation: “fix your thoughts on Jesus”. You might wonder why the writer says this because everything in this letter-book that we have been considering has been about Jesus. Perhaps the intent of what he is saying is, ‘Think some more, think a bit more in-depth about Jesus.' He is going to take us down a new path to enlarge our understanding of just who Jesus is and what he has achieved.
The Link: But before we follow that thread, notice the ‘Therefore' that starts off this new passage. ‘Therefore' is a link word that takes us from one passage into the next; it challenges us to think about where we have just been. In the second half of chapter two, the writer was making us think about how Jesus is superior to angels because of the relationship he has formed with us, a relationship that has come about as he has fulfilled his Father's will, come to earth, revealed the Father, died for our sins, and rose again and ascended back to heaven to rule beside his Father. Because of all that we have been able to enter a relationship with God whereby we are part of His family, His children and brothers and sisters of Jesus.
Related to God: Because of all that, it is worth thinking more about Jesus and indeed, the writer is going to use this to lead us into a second even more serious pastoral warning shortly. He is going to challenge our obedience but to do that he prepares the way and calls us “holy brothers who share in the heavenly calling.” We are not just people, not just human beings, we are those related to God through the work of His Son, and we have a heavenly calling on our lives. We have been called to God so that one day that calling will be translated into a calling into heaven. In the meantime we have a relationship with heaven and all our resources come from heaven. We've come to this position because we ‘confess' Jesus, we accept him as our Lord and Saviour.
Gentle reminders: So there are all these things he is subtly stacking up by gentle reminders, things to ensure we hold a right perspective and it is a perspective brought about by Jesus and therefore we should clarify and strengthen it by thinking even more about Jesus. Let's push these things home even more to clarify our understanding where this writer is going:
We are what we are because of the work of Jesus on the Cross for us.
We are now members of God's family, his children and brothers of Jesus.
We entered into that relationship when we confessed Jesus as our Saviour and Lord.
We have a calling that will culminate in heaven.
To stand strong in all this and not drift away into disobedience, we need to think more of Jesus and understand even more what he has done and what he has achieved.
Jesus, the faithful apostle: And that is where we come back to see how he now describes Jesus: “the apostle and high priest whom we confess.” (v.1b) Well, the high priest part we have started to consider and the writer will take us there in more detail later in the letter, but for now he also calls Jesus an apostle. Now an apostle simply means ‘a sent one', one who God has sent with a mission, and that sums up Jesus' coming to earth. As we have noted before, the Godhead planned it before the foundation of the world and so now the writer concludes, “He was faithful to the one who appointed him.” (v.2a) Now this is important because subtly he is again going to differentiate between Jesus and angels. Jesus was sent with this unique task that we have been considering again and again over these past verses. He was a sent one, and an obedient and faithful sent one, obedient and faithful to the plans of the Godhead we just referred to.
God's house: And here comes the new thread: “just as Moses was faithful in all God's house.” Hullo, where did that comes from? What has the writer got in his mind? What point is he going to make about Moses? Now there were two key figures in Israel 's history – Abraham (because he was the father of faith) and Moses (because he was the deliverer from Egypt and the giver of the Law). To understand the line of argument that follows it might be better to start at the end. The writer says we are God's house, His dwelling place on earth. The apostle Paul also taught this a number of times, we are indwelt by the Holy Spirit. So hold the idea of us all comprising God's house, all God's people that is. Now who is more significant, the owner or the builder of the house? But also which is more significant, the house or the builder? In what follows, we, God's people, are the house, God (Father and Son) is the builder, Moses was the servant to the builder and a part of the house, but Christ is the Son of the owner-builder.
Now see the text. “Jesus has been found worthy of greater honor than Moses, just as the builder of a house has greater honor than the house itself.” (v.3) Jesus was the builder of the house (with his Father) and Moses was simply a part of it. So, to clarify, “For every house is built by someone, but God is the builder of everything.” i.e. the house we are referring to was built by God but, “Moses was faithful as a servant in all God's house, testifying to what would be said in the future.” i.e. Moses, the prophet, simply spoke about the future of the house (see Deut 18:15-18, one would come greater than him, another ‘prophet').
So, yes, Moses was faithful as God's mouthpiece to Israel (but it was God building the nation, building the people who could become His children, His house), “But Christ is faithful as a son over God's house. And we are his house, if we hold on to our courage and the hope of which we boast.” (v.6) We are part of ‘the house' because of Christ's work on the Cross and Christ was faithful in bringing this ‘house' into being and now in ruling over it as the Son of the Father who ultimately owns it.
Note the little nudge at the end there: “And we are his house, if we hold on to our courage and the hope of which we boast.” (v.6b) We only are part of this house if we hold on – and keep on – with the grace we have for today (courage) and what we expect to get in the future (our hope). Now that is really all the preliminaries to the major warning that is about to drop like a bomb. To summarise: Jesus has greater honour than Moses because Moses was simply a mouthpiece for God to use while the Father and Son worked to build this house (the nation of God's people) and Jesus' contribution to the building was dying on the Cross to both deal with our sin and provide a focus for our faith. Clearly Jesus should receive much greater honour than Moses. Now hold on to your seats for what is about to come!
Meditations in Hebrews 3: 21. Bombshell Warning No.2
Heb 3:7,8 So, as the Holy Spirit says: "Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as you did in the rebellion, during the time of testing in the desert,
Introduction to a warning: There had been this gentle call to “fix your thoughts on Jesus” (v.1) and then a reminder that we are part of the ‘house' that Jesus has built. Yes, there had been that element about Moses, but it almost seemed an aside that perhaps left you wondering why he was going in that direction. Now he drops what I always tend to feel is a bombshell of a warning, a mighty reminder and declaration of what had happened to Israel after the Exodus with Moses and it happened because of their failure to be obedient.
The warning: So, let's observe first of all what the warning is against, in these verses that follow. First, it is “ do not harden your hearts” (v.8) and then expanding on that, “ See to it, brothers, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God,” (v.12) and then, “hold firmly till the end the confidence we had at first.” (v.14) Back at the beginning of chapter 2 he had come with a first warning which was really the same thing but in much milder tones: “We must pay more careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away.” (2:1)
But note that to bring real force to this warning, he brings it in an historical context when he speaks of ”during your time in the desert,” (v.8c) referring back to the Exodus. Moreover, he spells out Israel 's failure back then when he uses such language as “in the rebellion,” (v.8b) and “when your fathers tested me.” (v.9a) He also reminded them of God's response to His people's rebellion: “I was angry with that generation, and I said, `Their hearts are always going astray, and they have not known my ways.” (v.10) and the divine judgment that followed it: “So I declared on oath in my anger, `They shall never enter my rest.” (v.11) Thus verses 8 to 11 are a direct quote of Psalm 95:7-11. Let's let the power of it come again as we read it in full:
“So, as the Holy Spirit says: "Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as you did in the rebellion, during the time of testing in the desert, where your fathers tested and tried me and for forty years saw what I did. That is why I was angry with that generation, and I said, `Their hearts are always going astray, and they have not known my ways.' So I declared on oath in my anger, `They shall never enter my rest.'”
Catastrophe: All the Israelites over the age of twenty died in the wilderness and never entered the Promised Land (the Lord's ‘rest', His place for their future home). It was a catastrophe of history which overshadows the wonder of the Exodus itself. If they had obeyed the Lord and just gone in, as they eventually did forty years later, this blot would not have been there on their history. In one sense, it was not as bad as if God had wiped out the entire people over the age of twenty, but He had known that if that had happened then the remaining generation below 20 would not have been strong enough in wisdom or human strength to take the land. No, that generation had to grow up in the desert while their older families just died from old age until eventually the new nation would have had a full age spectrum again from 0 to 60.
Exhortation: So the warning comes through the historical reminder, with the conclusion: “See to it, brothers, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God.” But he adds a second part: “But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin's deceitfulness.” (v.13) i.e. we can help overcome any tendency to drift away by encouraging one another, to remember and to hold fast to the faith. We will eventually see similar language in chapter 10 where he continues to bring warnings to encourage: “Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another--and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” (10:23-25) Note in both passages a warning that the future will not always be the same: “as long as it is called Today” (3:13 which he will expand on in 4:7) and “as you see the Day approaching.” (10:25 warning of Jesus' return.)
Conditions: And then he adds a subtle nudge as he had before: “We have come to share in Christ if we hold firmly till the end the confidence we had at first.” (v.14) which is similar to what we saw earlier, “And we are his house, if we hold on to our courage and the hope of which we boast.” (v.6b) In both of those verses observe the word, ‘if' which suggests our salvation is conditional on holding firm. He is going to give another serious warning in chapter 6. Now there are those who suggest “once saved, always saved.” Whether these two verses here apply to our entire salvation or just the outworking of it, I leave up to you. However, note the strength of what they are both implying. If we fail to hold on to the confidence of the Gospel we had at first, we will NOT share in Christ. If we do not hold on to our courage and hope, we can NOT be considered part of Jesus' house.
Options: Now, as I say, whether you take that to mean we lose our entire salvation or we lose the experience of it on earth, I leave up to you, but even if you subscribe to the latter approach it is a cold, morbid, lifeless experience you can expect for the rest of your life, in no way entering into, and enjoying, the privileges of the heavenly resources (grace) and the goodness of God. Indeed, one might go further, if we move away from these things and no longer hold on to what you had at first, it is probable you will lose it all because you go back to the ways of the world and they produce the anger of God and are self-destructive.
It is a severe warning that we have been looking at and the options are clearly a) entering into God's goodness (His rest, the Promised Land) or b) wandering lifelessly in the desert. No wonder the warning come – don't drift away, don't let your hearts become hard and unbelieving, but hold firm and encourage one another to hold firm. May we do that.
Meditations in Hebrews 3: 22. The Realities of Unbelief
Heb 3:19 So we see that they were not able to enter, because of their unbelief
The warnings: It is a legitimate question to ask, why is this writer to the Hebrews bringing these warnings to his readers? He started it, we said, back in 2:1 – “ We must pay more careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away ,” and then he hinted at the same thing in 3:6 – “we are his house, if we hold on to our courage and the hope of which we boast,” and then he came with that big quote from Psa 95, concluding with “See to it, brothers, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God.” (3:12) Then there was that final nudge, we saw, “We have come to share in Christ if we hold firmly till the end the confidence we had at first.” (3:14) So, four times there have been indirect and direct warnings to hold onto our faith. Why?
But why? There is, I suggest, a very simple reason: it is so easy to drift away IF our hearts are not firmly committed to Christ. Having said that there will always be three forces or resources that God will use to stop this happening, three POSITIVE forces at work – His own Holy Spirit, who speaks and seeks to convict us when we get it wrong or get into wrong thinking, His own word, the Bible, which He uses to challenge and teach us (see 2 Tim 3:16,17) and indeed the church and its ministries, and other believers. So, in one sense it is not so easy because God will always be seeking to use all these things to draw you back to himself.
Negative forces: However, we also need to be aware that although there are these three positive forces that God seeks to use to keep us on the right tracks, there are also three NEGATIVE ‘forces' at work that will seek to draw us away from God. First, the Bible shows us, there is Satan who seeks to tempt us into wrong, distract us from our path and lead us away from God. Second, there is what the New Testament simply refers to as ‘the world', not the physical planet on which we live, nor all the people who live on it, but the ungodly outlook that sin brings about. We live with this all around us and so we are constantly bombarded by expressions of unbelief through, say, the media. Third, there is our own Sin. Now when we came to Christ we died to that and were revived by the power of the Spirit, to help us live new lives, but the truth is that Sin, which I define as self-centred ungodliness, is always lurking there in the background, which was why the apostle Paul taught, “(You) put to death therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature,” (Col 3:5) and “(You), do not let sin reign in your mortal body.” (Rom 6:11) Now I have inserted the word ‘You' in both those quotes because Paul is asking us to make an act of will and we need to make the effort to do that.
Free Will & the reality of Sin: But that is when we confront this thing called free will because we have the choice, always, how we will act. We can choose not to act badly. So it is that the writer to the Hebrews keeps on pressing this point by referring back to the experience of Israel . Israel 's history is tragically littered with unbelief seen in disobedience. So he now says again, “As has just been said: "Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as you did in the rebellion.” (v.15) Note the expression, ‘the rebellion'. What rebellion, because there were many in different forms throughout the Old Testament? Researching this some time back, I concluded that the whole of the Old Testament history is there to make us realise the reality of Sin and our need for the salvation which comes in the New Testament.
Think about the Exodus: He wants his Jewish readers to think about the time between leaving Egypt and entering the Promised Land, a time that should have been a matter of a few months but turned out to be forty years! Stop and think about this, he implies, think about what went on back there as recorded in the Pentateuch (Gen to Deut). He asks a series of questions, starting with, “Who were they who heard and rebelled?” (v.16a) We may take this for granted when we read the Bible but there is something incredible here. So who were the rebels? Answer: “Were they not all those Moses led out of Egypt ?” (v.16b)
Now stop and think about those people. They had witnessed ten incredible plagues, they had witnessed God drowning Pharaoh and his army in the Red Sea , they had witnessed God cleansing water in the desert, providing fresh water in the desert, providing a constant supply of food in the desert, and had known God help them overcome an attack of the Amalekites in the desert. Then they had come to Mount Sinai and had a series of the most incredible experiences of God there. On their traveling to the Promised Land they had again known God's provision, as well as His chastising. Again and again and again and again they had experienced the powerful presence of God, there for them, guarding them, guiding them and providing for them AND YET they rebel and refuse to follow God into the Land (and it was ‘follow' because He had said He would drive out the inhabitants before them) but STILL they were rebellious and refused to enter.
Folly: So the writer presses home the point: “And with whom was he angry for forty years? Was it not with those who sinned , whose bodies fell in the desert? And to whom did God swear that they would never enter his rest if not to those who disobeyed ? So we see that they were not able to enter, because of their unbelief .” (v.17-19) This is the harsh reality. Israel sinned in disobedience born out of unbelief DESPITE their incredible experience of the Lord and as a result the Lord refused to let them try to then force their way into the Land and so that entire generation died of old age, but still in the desert – all because of their unbelief.
And Us? Now this is the scary reality: you and I can choose to be foolish, choose not to believe, choose to be disobedient and choose to be recipients of God's discipline. We too have no excuses. We have the Bible, we have the testimony of the Church over two thousand years, and we have the Holy Spirit, and we have one another. I do not have a problem with people who have a problem with poor church life epitomized by the church in Laodicea (See Rev 3) but if any of us struggle with unbelief and make excuses for just drifting away, I have to say, please, please, look at these things, listen to these things, heed these things. It is down to you. Our unbelief is not God's fault; it is our choice. Remember God has three resources or forces working to help you stay on track (I may be part of one of them), so listen to His Holy Spirit, read His word with an open heart, listen to your brothers and sisters, because this writer to the Hebrews knows his people, and the Jews are no different from the rest of us; we all have this tendency to drift away and so we must be aware of it and resist it. A men? Amen!
23. The ‘Rest' God has for us (1) - Heb 4:1
24. The ‘Rest' God has for us (2) - Heb 4:8,9
25. God has spoken and sees - Heb 4:12,13
26 Jesus is there for us - Heb 4:19
Meditations in Hebrews 4: 23. The ‘Rest' God has for us
Heb 4:1 Therefore, since the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us be careful that none of you be found to have fallen short of it.
"Rest": In chapters 3 and 4 the word ‘rest' comes up ten times, twice in chapter 3 and 8 times in chapter 4. We need to understand what it means. However, the explanation is spread out over the next eleven verses so we are going to have to do a large passage study, which unravels as the writer goes on. But be warned, this is, in our opinion, one of the most complex arguments in this book and it will take some thinking through. We will, however, do all we can to work through it to explain it clearly and then at the end, produce a summary of our findings. Now as we come to these verses, I know I usually use the NIV but in this instance that version is, I believe, confusing and commentators and interpreters have struggled with it, so I am going to use the ESV which I think is more straight forward.
The ‘Therefore' links us with the previous chapter that he ended with this reminder of what had gone on after the Exodus from Egypt . The ‘rest' referred to in 3:11 and 3:18 was clearly the Promised Land which, through lack of faith, that earlier generation failed to take.
Warning: So now our writer starts with a warning which he assumes at the outset we will understand: “Therefore, while the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us fear lest any of you should seem to have failed to reach it.” (v.1) Now I warned just now that this is a difficult argument to follow so let's put out front what the writer is going to prove from the Old Testament Scriptures, that “entering his rest” has its origins at the end of the days of Creation, but was a term used to apply to Israel entering the Promised Land, BUT ALSO at any other subsequent time when God challenges and calls us.
Defining 'rest': Let's just assume to start with that this ‘rest' is in general terms ‘God's goal for each one of us'. When ‘rest' is used as ‘the goal of our salvation', he tells us that the promise is still there, that it IS possible to enter a similar state that God entered when He finished Creation, so, says our writer, don't miss the goal.
Receive the Gospel by faith: In case we haven't understood the jump between the OT and NT goals, he links that Goal with the Gospel: “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.” (v.2) The ‘us' is us who are now Christians and the ‘they' refers to the Israelites under Moses. The implication is that they were told there was a land that God had for them, but it needed taking by faith. The only trouble was that they didn't have that faith. There is a subtle indirect warning behind this, for us not to be casual about the Gospel. Be careful that you haven't fully received it, is what he is saying.
OT Example: Now in verse 3 he first reassures us because we have believed, and reminds us (by way of warning) what happened to those in the OT who didn't believe: “For we who have believed enter that rest, (so we're OK, in contrast with them) as he has said, “As I swore in my wrath, ‘They shall not enter my rest'”, (even though that ‘rest' existed from after the Creation) although his works were finished from the foundation of the world.” i.e. God's rest – His own goal achieved, Creation and rest – existed thereafter and He is telling us that we too can enter into that experience of rest if we come to Him by faith.
Different applications: The words, “my rest” he referred to in the quote back in 3:11 and now here in 4:3 suggest that it is as if the Promised Land isn't the only thing God means when he speaks about us not entering HIS rest. When he writes, “And yet,” it's as if the writer means, “But don't forget the Creation story where God finished His work and then rested,” and so he goes on to speak of that, “For he has somewhere spoken of the seventh day in this way: “And God rested on the seventh day from all his works.” (citing Gen 2:2) That was God's rest, the completion of Creation. God had done His part. When he now refers back to that warning of Psa 95: “And again in this passage he said, “They shall not enter my rest.” (v.5) it was simply to remind us that although God has a rest (a position of having achieved His goal of Creation and thus now being able to relax, so to speak) that particular group of unbelieving people did not enter into it. That's what the prophetic warning was in that Psalm.
The ESV arrangement of verses 6 and 7 show us a “this-then argument” i.e. IF one group of people failed to enter THEN God sets up a new way of thinking about it: “Since therefore (IF) it remains for some to enter it, and those who formerly received the good news failed to enter because of disobedience, (THEN) again he appoints a certain day, “Today”, saying through David so long afterwards, in the words already quoted, “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.”
The Message Version explains it well: “God keeps renewing the promise and setting the date as today, just as he did in David's psalm, centuries later than the original invitation: Today, please listen, don't turn a deaf ear . . .” or as the Easy to Read Version puts it, “So God planned another special day. It is called “today.” He spoke about that day through David a long time later using the words we quoted before: “If you hear God's voice today, don't be stubborn.” i.e. merely because that one group of people failed to enter into the ‘rest' God had for them, that was not the end of the story. God applies the word again and again in history so it can apply numerous times, just as he did in that Psalm of David's.
Application: Do you see what the writer is saying? It seems complicated but is, in reality, very simple. The warning came first of all to those Israelites to enter the ‘rest' God had planned for them, the Promised Land, but when they failed to do that, it didn't annul the fact that after the Creation God rested and used that ‘rest' as an illustration of what everyone who came to Him by faith could experience – rest, in a completed world, with all of God's provision!
The goal of God's plans from before the beginning of time, is a ‘rest' that means being at peace with God and at rest in His will, with all that He now has available for us.
There is more to come but we'll leave it until the next one. There has been a lot to take in and you may need to reread the whole of the study to catch it. (We will do a recap in the next study) The outworking of all this? God has an experience that He wants for all of His children, all those who will come to Him by faith, an experience whereby we can be at complete rest in the knowledge that we have received the end goal of God's plans – His salvation through Jesus Christ that reconciles us to Him, so no more striving, no more worry, no more wondering, ‘Am I good enough for God?' As Jesus said on the Cross, “It is finished!” Hallelujah!
Meditations in Hebrews 4: 24. The ‘Rest' God has for us (2)
Heb 4:8,9 For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken later about another day. There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God
Recap: Let's start by recapping the conclusions we saw in this complicated passage:
God rested at the end of His work of Creation.
That ‘rest' meant His goal of completing Creation was fulfilled.
It also meant He had no more to do in respect of it – hence He ‘rested'
When He lead Israel out of Egypt He referred to the Promised Land as their ‘rest'.
Once they had taken that Land, they would be at ‘rest' as far as God's plans were concerned. However that had to involve faith – which they lacked and why the original generation failed to enter it.
Both those two pictures – of God resting after Creation and Israel entering the Promised Land – were pictures or analogies of what God intends for each of us.
The call and the warning may come many times through history and apply to each and every person who hears the call and, we believe, all do although many do not realise what it is.
When we respond to His call to return to Him, His desire is for us to come to a place of rest, a place to be received by faith.
Rabbinical teaching again: If you have found this a difficult passage to take in, don't be to surprised for we have been ‘suffering' rabbinical teaching which was often a complex, disciplined, logical in-depth attempt to discover all the various senses implicit in the biblical verses, which often took it beyond our simple surface understanding. Remember this Hebrew writer was writing to other Jews who would be familiar with this process. What, perhaps, we struggle with, is the logical depth that the writer goes to as he takes and almost manipulates Old Testament verses.
Various applications again: So, for example, having been speaking about the different ways of thinking about this ‘rest' (God's at Creation, Israel's in the Promised Land, us through gospel salvation) he now goes back to the Promised Land illustration: “ For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken later about another day. There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God.” (v.8,9) To follow this logic we must see that the writer is saying that even though the next generation of Israelites DID enter the Promised Land, nevertheless the warning was coming at a later date when David wrote his psalm and we've already seen the writer home in on the word ‘Today'.
The Repeated Warning: The original warning said, “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as you did in the rebellion, during the time of testing in the desert.” (3:7,8) and that was repeated in 3:15 and then picked up in chapter 4 just before our current verse: “Therefore God again set a certain day, calling it Today , when a long time later he spoke through David, as was said before: "Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.” (4:7) i.e. the same warning needed to be applied in David's time. But if the warning comes, it must infer that there is a ‘rest' to be taken and a ‘rest' that could be missed, otherwise what is the point of a warning. This is where his logic now goes in verses 8 & 9 where he points out that there must be another ‘rest' after Joshua. There STILL IS a rest to be received is the point he is making at laborious length!
The Nature of the Rest: He then seeks to emphasise something of the nature of that rest, which we already commented upon earlier: “for anyone who enters God's rest also rests from his own work, just as God did from his.” (v.10) Just as God rested from His activities of creating the world, so now entering His rest means we stop struggling and striving to get back to a place before the Fall. This ‘rest' means we no longer have to try to be religious, try to be spiritual, or try to get right with God, because the truth is that Jesus has achieved all that us in his work on the Cross.
To receive it is a matter of faith which excludes any boasting of personal achievement (see Rom 3:27) Jesus justified us, we couldn't do it. We just have to be at rest and receive what he provides for us. This is why Paul also wrote, “It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God--that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. Therefore, as it is written: "Let him who boasts boast in the Lord”. (1 Cor 1:30,31) The whole salvation package is a gift of Christ and so when we receive it, we enter into the experience of ‘rest', no longer trying but just receiving and enjoying. That is the wonder of the ‘rest'.
Effect - a warning: It is because he has seen the reality of this that our writer makes this warning and this appeal to his Jewish readers (and to us): “Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will fall by following their example of disobedience.” (v.11) Yes, there is effort required but it is to enter the rest, not once you are in it.
Effort? But how do you make an effort to receive salvation? May we use the illustration of the Israelites? In study no.22 I wrote, “They had witnessed ten incredible plagues, they had witnessed God drowning Pharaoh and his army in the Red Sea, they had witnessed God cleansing water in the desert, providing fresh water in the desert, providing a constant supply of food in the desert, and known God help them overcome an attack of the Amalekites in the desert. Then they had come to Mount Sinai and had a series of the most incredible experiences of God there. On their traveling to the Promised Land they had again known God's provision, as well as His chastising. Again and again and again and again they had experienced the powerful presence of God, there for them, guarding them, guiding them and providing for them.” In other words, they had so much evidence, so much testimony about their experiences with God that really they had no excuses for their subsequent unbelief.
Today? Now what about us, living today? In that same study, I wrote, “We have the Bible, we have the testimony of the Church over two thousand years, and we have the Holy Spirit and we have one another.” The Bible which, if you investigate and learn about its origins, CAN be trusted, is the source for 98% of what we can learn about God and there are probably copies of it in most homes. We have no excuse if we ignore it. Within it we are confronted with the incredible records of Jesus Christ, THE most substantial and profound testimonies to build faith. IF we want to find out, Church history is worth researching and will build faith. Listen to the testimonies (indeed get people to talk out their testimonies) and faith will grow. All of these things build faith to receive the salvation that is being spoken about here. There are no excuses. This is why the teaching of this Hebrew writer is so important, so significant, so challenging.
Addendum: More on this ‘rest'.
To perhaps try and get hold more fully of this idea of this ‘rest' God wants us to have, may we identify again some of its characteristics:
Meditations in Hebrews 4: 25. God has spoken and sees
Heb 4:12,13 For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. Nothing in all creation is hidden from God's sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.
The flow? The two verses before us now give us even greater pause for thought. They are ones often quoted in respect of the Bible or God's word, and because of that may appear familiar, but the question arises, why are they here, how is this part of the ongoing flow of the writer's teaching and argument?
The link: The starting word, ‘For' is another of those link-words we so often come across that show us that in the writer's thinking this is a logical ongoing flow of thought. The use of the word, ‘word' has not been seen except very briefly in the opening prologue in chapter 1 but as we have noted as we have gone along, this writer's teaching has been full of references from the Old Testament, mostly from prophetic psalms.
The prophetic and alive word: Now we tend to think of ‘the word of God' as written words in the bigger text which evangelicals believe is actually all the word of God, but in the writing of Hebrews there has been this constant use of Old Testament quotations which, we emphasise, are prophetic in nature and the writer uses them in that sense; they were spoken by God specifically referring to His Son who would one day appear on the earth. But here is the thing, the writer considers ‘the word of God' to be vibrant and alive, active and having effect and they come directly from God and cannot be seen separately from God, they are God expressing Himself.
At Creation: In the beginning at Creation we see, “God said, "Let there be light," and there was light.” (Gen 1:3) It is God speaking by fiat, He speaks it and immediately it is done. His authorization also creates. There is no distinction between Him, His authorization (His word), and His act of creating. And so it is, that the writer has been placing all these ‘words' before us, spoken by God prophetically through His servants in the Old Testament.
Peter's contribution: The apostle Peter clearly caught something of this process when he wrote, “the prophets, who spoke of the grace that was to come to you, searched intently and with the greatest care, trying to find out the time and circumstances to which the Spirit of Christ in them was pointing when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow. It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves but you, when they spoke of the things that have now been told you by those who have preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven.” (1 Pet 1:10-12) but that tends to show more the yearning that the prophets found within themselves that brought forth the divine utterances of what would come. In his second letter he wrote, “For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” (2 Pet 1:21) This was God urging His people to speak out His word, and when it is spoken as from Him, it comes with power and effect.
When God speaks, listen and act: So, to emphasise it yet again, this book so far has been peppered with prophetic quotes from the Old Testament and the writer is pointing that out, somewhat indirectly, as he speaks of the general effect and power of God's words, and the implication must surely be that if this is so – and it is – then we should surely pay all the more attention to it. This is not just a nice little theological treatise that he is writing, but a call to faithfulness because of what has been revealed by God.
The work of the Living Word: Look what it does: “For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” (v.12) Let's do it the easy way and see how the paraphrase version put these all too familiar words: “ For the Word that God speaks is alive and active; it cuts more keenly than any two-edged sword: it strikes through to the place where soul and spirit meet, to the innermost intimacies of a man's being: it exposes the very thoughts and motives of a man's heart.” (JBP version) and “God means what he says. What he says goes. His powerful Word is sharp as a surgeon's scalpel, cutting through everything, whether doubt or defence, laying us open to listen and obey. Nothing and no one is impervious to God's Word. We can't get away from it—no matter what.” (The Message version) Wow! God's words penetrate to the innermost being, cutting through our defences like a surgeon's scalpel or we might say today, like a hot knife through butter.
Nothing hidden: Yes, this is the point, we may put up all these defensive barriers, making excuses galore, reasons why the truth should not apply to us and God speaks and it goes like an arrow and pierces deep in our hearts and we are changed. Indeed, says the writer, “ Nothing in all creation is hidden from God's sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.” (v.13) i.e. not only does God's word penetrate to the depths, but it can do that because God can see to the depths, He knows exactly what we are like on the inside.
The Samuel example: Perhaps the greatest illustration of this truth is seen on the story of Samuel being sent to Bethlehem to anoint a new king who God will reveal, from Jesse's family. When Samuel started assessing by size and age the Lord told him, "Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The LORD does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.” (1 Sam 16:7) God looks on the inside and He sees and knows what we are like and He sees and knows the excuses we make and so speaks a word that penetrates and pierces the excuse and we fall in submission.
No forcing: That is the power of the word of God, but sometime God speaks it and still we fend it off and sometimes we shrug it off by lack of concern (and what is terrifying is that the Lord allows us to do this!) and so it is almost as if the writer is saying, “Look, I've been presenting you again and again with the word of God and those words should be impacting you and releasing faith in you, but if you are just reading them casually, God will not force you, it's up to you!” Hence such words as we saw in verse 11 – “make every effort.” i.e. YOU do it. Or there was “let us be careful,” in 4:1 or “See to it,” in 3:12 and “fix your thoughts,” in 3:1 and “pay more careful attention,” in 2:1. All of these were calls to heed the word of God that had been coming and DO something about it. May we do it!
Meditations in Hebrews 4: 26. Jesus is there for us
Heb 4:14 Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, ( or gone into heaven) Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess.
Jesus, the high priest: And so we come to the third reference to Jesus as our high priest. The first was, “ he had to be made like his brothers in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God.” (2:17) and the second was even more brief, “Jesus, the apostle and high priest whom we confess .” (3:10) The first pointed out his means of identifying with us taking human form and the second simply noted that in this role Jesus is the core of our confession.
Now again the writer returns to this idea as a means of both challenging and reassuring us. “Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess.” (v.14) Note he isn't expounding on the actual role or activity of the high priest – that will come later – but simply on his humanity and divinity.
The Heavenly High Priest: This high priest, the writer says, has “gone through the heavens” or, as the alternative shows, “gone into heaven”. I quite like the “through the heavens” for it reminds us of the human body that ascended up into the clouds (the heavens) and disappeared as he returned to heaven (Acts 1:9). The ascension is very much a picture where the human is transformed before the very eyes of the disciples, into a miraculous – flying – Son of God returning home. “Gone into heaven” simply reminds us of the end product but thus puts the emphasis on where he now is – as against where he was previously, with us – with full access to the Father and (implied) able to speak up on our behalf: “we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense--Jesus Christ, the Righteous One.” (1 Jn 2:1)
Encouragement/Exhortation: It is because of this assurance that the writer exhorts us, “Let us hold firmly to the faith we profess.” i.e. Jesus is doing his part on our behalf, speaking up for us to the Father and sending his Holy Spirit to help us, very well, let us make sure we play our part in this as well. That is what he is doing here. It is yet another of these warnings or exhortations to play our part in holding on to our faith and the reason or encouragement we are given to do that is that Jesus is rooting for us in heaven and is there with all the resources we need.
The Humanity of Jesus: To help us grasp the wonder of this he reminds us yet again that it is the human Jesus who is now in heaven at his Father's right hand speaking up for us: “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are--yet was without sin.” (v.15) This high priest, this representative of ours, isn't cold-hearted and uncomprehending about what we are like, he is not like some stern headmaster who has no feelings, he is not like some callous judge who cares not what happens to us, one way or another.
Oh no, Jesus has been here, lived the life, knows what it is like, knows what it is like to get tired and weary, knows what it is like to be hungry or thirsty, no doubt knows what it is like to go without sleep, knows what it is like to have people against you. Oh yes, in all these ways Jesus has been here and lived the life. Indeed, just like us, he has been through temptations, so he knows what it is like to have the enemy come against you with suggestion after suggestion of how to live another sort of life. Oh yes, he knows the pressure of temptations, the pressure to give way – but he didn't give way, he didn't sin. That is the one big different between him and us, but the truth nevertheless remains, he knows and understands all that we have gone through and are going through.
Again, see how this is an encouragement to conform to the exhortation to hold firmly to our faith. We can do this because, as I said earlier, Jesus is rooting for us, a Jesus who knows what it is like to live down here on this Fallen World, and he knows the sort of weaknesses we suffer and he sympathizes and understands and is for us!
The Throne of Grace: So, with all that he gives us a further gentle exhortation: “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” (v.16) That's where Jesus is, on a “throne of grace”. His throne, his rule, is a rule of grace which, in this context means warm, loving acceptance and provision. He is there for us with everything we need.
First of all this “throne of grace” is a source of his mercy which simply means loving acceptance based, not on what we deserve or have earned but, simply on his good will towards us. Mercy involves loving understanding and forgiveness and a desire to bless us and restore us. That all flows out of God's love for us.
But this “throne of grace” is also a place where there is an endless supply of his grace “to help us in our time of need”, i.e. it is his unlimited resources to provide absolutely everything we need in life to help us cope in this Fallen World. This “time of need” encompasses all those times when you and I find ourselves stretched, times when it all seems to be going wrong, times when people appear against us, times when we seem to have got it wrong. These are not times when God stands there laughing or deriding us for our weakness or condemning us for our folly; these are times when Jesus feels with us (sympathizes and empathizes) and is there for us, not to push us down but to lift us up, not to condemn us but to encourage us. This IS the truth, this is why you and I can, with the readers of this letter, “hold firmly to the faith we profess”, because he is there to help us. All we have to do is “ approach the throne of grace with confidence.” Do it.
27. The Nature of the High Priest - Heb 5:1,2
28. Slow Learners? - Heb 5:11,12
Meditations in Hebrews 5: 27. The Nature of the High Priest
Heb 5:1,2 Every high priest is selected from among men and is appointed to represent them in matters related to God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins. He is able to deal gently with those who are ignorant and are going astray, since he himself is subject to weakness.
The High Priest's Humanity: I think I have said before that I am not comfortable with the concept of the High Priest in the New Testament but it may be because he is a figure at the heart of the Jewish Law there in the Old Testament but he is a figure the writer to these Jewish Christians uses to speak more about Jesus. In the previous chapter the writer had said, “we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses,” (4;15) and now he emphasizes again the humanity of the High Priest and how that humanity is there for us as we might have encountered him: “Every high priest is selected from among men and is appointed to represent them in matters related to God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins. He is able to deal gently with those who are ignorant and are going astray, since he himself is subject to weakness.” (v.1,2) i.e.
That was the human high priest of the Old Testament period and it was because of his humanity that, “he has to offer sacrifices for his own sins, as well as for the sins of the people.” ( v.3) Now there is also something else about this man which is of great significance: “No one takes this honor upon himself; he must be called by God, just as Aaron was.” (v.4)
Jesus appointed as High Priest: Now he is going to apply this teaching to Jesus: “So Christ also did not take upon himself the glory of becoming a high priest.” (v.5a) i.e. Christ did not choose of his own accord to act as our high priest, and to ‘prove' that from Scripture (in continuing rabbinical teaching style that we noted earlier) he is going to quote yet again from the prophetic psalms: “But God said to him, "You are my Son; today I have become your Father .(or ‘today I have begotten you', v.5b quoting Psa 2:7 again). We've seen that quote before (1:5) and he simply uses it to establish the direct relationship between the Father and Son and the fact that the Son is obeying the calling of the Father who is supreme in the Godhead.
Melchizedek? So he shows the Son called by the Father, and so now he is going to link him to the priesthood, but it is NOT the Aaronic priesthood: “And he says in another place, "You are a priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek." (v.6 quoting Psa 110:4) Now we encounter here, yet again, a slightly frustrating approach of our writer in this book because again he makes a brief comment and does not explain it yet. We'll have to wait two chapters before he explains this. He's already done this is the way that several times before he mentioned Jesus being our high priest but didn't explain it at all. Indeed we are going to have to wait some time before he is really going to open up on that thought.
Jesus operating as High Priest: Having said that, he does now give us a small glimpse of the activity of the high priest, and specifically Jesus as our high priest as he goes on, “During the days of Jesus' life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission.” (v.7) We assume this has got to be a reference to Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane where Jesus cried out in prayer so passionately that he literally sweated (see Mt 26:38-39 and Lk 22:44) and possibly on the Cross as he prayed (Mt 27:46) anguishing over the burden of carrying the world's Sin.
The writer explains more fully what was happening: “Although he was a son, he learned obedience from what he suffered and, once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him and was designated by God to be high priest in the order of Melchizedek.” (v.8-10) The JBP paraphrase version puts it well: “His prayers were heard; he was freed from his shrinking from death but, Son though he was, he had to prove the meaning of obedience through all that he suffered. Then, when he had been proved the perfect Son, he became the source of eternal salvation to all who should obey him.”
The first part of that is particularly helpful – that Jesus prayed that he might not have to face an awful death, but was given the grace to do that. He had already declared, “Not my will but yours be done” and in that sense he had backed off backing away from or refusing death, but his prayers were answered in that he was given the ability to face this most terrible of times.
We have already covered references to him being perfect – see the previous meditation where that comes up (2:10) and will be seen again (7:28) and amazingly he will go on to say we too have been made perfect through Jesus' suffering.
Recap: So to recap what we have seen so far: The role of high priest was to bring man to God. The human high priest was able to do this with a measure of compassion because he himself was also a weak human being. Jesus did it when he came to earth and prayed as part of the process of going to the Cross which was for us, and the writer will expand on that later. Note that the writer has moved away from proving that Jesus was and is greater than angels, or even Moses, and moved on to explaining in Jewish terms Jesus' ministry. All the while he is doing this, in the background, from time to time comes the explanation that he is doing this so that our faith might be strengthened by this understanding and we be less likely or less vulnerable to fall away. It is the use of theology to build confidence in Christ and faith in the believer. May that be what it does in us.
Meditations in Hebrews 5: 28. Slow Learners?
Heb 5:11,12 We have much to say about this, but it is hard to explain because you are slow to learn. In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God's word all over again.
Teachers in my life: Our writer is a theologian of sorts, at least a man of understanding but he is also pastoral and as such is aware of the people who might end up reading this letter. I, as an aging Christian writer in the UK , am aware that I have lived through a period, during which in the earlier part at least, there was a proliferation of excellent Christian teachers. I have no trouble remembering the ministries of a large number of men, Spirit-filled leaders who had insights, who took us into the truths of the body of Christ back in the 1970's before the concept was truly understood. Similarly, through a period during which understanding and experience of the gifts of the Spirit expanded from merely the Pentecostals. Then came teaching on discipleship which, as so often happens initially, went over the top. And there, scattered along the way were a variety of incredibly godly and gifted men (and one or two similar women) who brought a depth and breadth to our teaching which is rare today. Several years ago, one of my grown up Christian sons said to me, “You know Dad, the trouble with my generation is that we are just not so well taught as your generation was.” I found that an amazing insight at the time but as I have reflected on it, it worries me that he was right.
A Challenge to his Readers: The writer to the Hebrews was speaking about Jesus' high priestly ministry and adds, “ We have much to say about this, but it is hard to explain,” (v.11a) and I have commented earlier in this series that, certainly by today's standards, some of his rabbinic teaching has already seemed quite complex and difficult. But he isn't taking captives, he is quite in your face about it: “because you are slow to learn.” Whoops! That's unkind. But he wouldn't say it unless he knew something about his readers.
So what does he mean, what does he really think about them? “In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God's word all over again. You need milk, not solid food!” (v.12) These people that he has in mind are clearly not new converts as indicated by his words, “by this time”. In what follows there is an assumption that many in today's church might struggle with – that the Christian life is all about change, about growing up and about coming to maturity so we no longer sit there like sponges taking in, but are out there serving God, blessing others. “ You ought to be teachers.” Do you prefer just sitting in the pews to that thought because if we are to mature it means a) we have learnt and b) we are available.
My Testimony: Within the first year of coming to Christ in my early twenties I was leading seven different Bible studies a week. It was the natural thing to do and there were other young people who were hungry for God's word. I learned as I went along. Yet I am aware of how limited I was. I became a church leader and a number of years later found myself in a position where I was invited to teach in a church in Malaysia for three weeks on “The New Covenant.” I am not quite sure what I taught and how I got away with it but they seemed blessed. I suspect I am much more well equipped today to teach on such things. Yes, it can be a nervy thing to step out but that's how we learn – by doing it.
The Challenge again: He presses it in: “you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God's word all over again.” Now he is going to list some of those things he thinks are ‘elementary truths' when we get to chapter 6 so it will be interesting to see what we feel about those things because, remember, he is saying we ought to be past those things. Then he says something interesting: “Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness.” (v.13) That is fascinating! Do you see what he is saying? All of that other stuff we'll see in chapter 6 is ‘the basics' and we should NOT keep on going over and over those things but move on and teach and learn how to live rightly (righteousness) i.e. how to live in this world as one of God's children and how to serve in the kingdom of God, ‘doing the stuff' as John Wimber used to say.
And in case we didn't take it in he goes on, “But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil.” (v.14). Solid food is a wider understanding of Scripture, knowing how it applies to everyday life so that it produces lives of righteousness, lives that live to the glory of God, revealing the goodness and compassion and love of Christ, lives that are holy, utterly different from those living in the way of the unbelieving and ungodly world.
The Challenge to us today: In the so-called Great Commission, Jesus taught his followers to go out and make disciples, followers in the mold of Jesus, “teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you,” (Mt 28:20) and ‘obey' is the same as “do”, so why don't we do a few little checks before we finish. As we said before, this is to be a ‘doing' faith.
Jesus said, “Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (Jn 13:34,35) Jesus showed love by being with his disciples, accepting them and blessing them, guiding them and teaching them and pushing them out to do the same things he did. Is this what our church community is like? Do we major on relationships and how they can build a strong, secure, genuinely loving ‘body of Christ' that risks ministering in word and power as Jesus did?
Jesus said, “seek first the kingdom of God,” and “Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me” (Matt 6:33 & Jn 15:4) and so we might ask, do we put God's will first and do we seek to draw near to Jesus and know him in all we do in his name? This has very practical outworkings. For instance, many churches have prayer meetings, so suppose yours does, what is it like? Have you learnt (been taught) to listen to God, to be sensitive to His Holy Spirit, to hear His heart so that prayers flow out of that and come with a confidence that is born in heaven?
We could go on with many similar examples. These two speak of a community of God's people who have learned what a Jesus community means and have learned to be a people who know and respond to Him and are thus able to be used by Him. Consider our weekly preaching and teaching. Yes, we need basic Bible exposition but if that is all we have, we produce a bunch of nice and good people (which is not to be despised) but who are just that and nothing more. Is our preaching the same stuff over and over again, or do we seek maturity in the people of God, a people who both ‘know' and ‘do'?