|Series Theme: Meditations in Hebrews|
29. Elementary Teaching? Heb 6:1-3
30. A Second Repentance? (1) Heb 6:4-6
31. A Second Repentance? (2) Heb 6:7,8
32. Hang on in there Heb 6:12,15
Meditations in Hebrews 6: 29. Elementary Teaching?
Heb 6:1-3 Therefore let us leave the elementary teachings about Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again the foundation of repentance from acts that lead to death, and of faith in God, instruction about baptisms, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead , and eternal judgment. And God permitting, we will do so.
I commented and challenged in the previous meditation as to the state of today's church, as to how these verses would apply to us today. The writer had just commented how he felt his readers were lacking and we considered that. As we move on into chapter 6 we have another of these “Therefore” link words. i.e. because of what he has been saying, we now need to move on. He then gives us six, what he considers, ‘elementary teachings' about Christ, with the challenge that we need to move on from these, and we have to question, are these six things the things that we teach to new converts so that we can move on to meatier matters? Are we each familiar with these ‘elementary' teachings? Let's consider each of them.
a) The Teachings
1. Repentance: t his is all about the fundamental change of mind that causes one to turn away from sin and the old life, that is necessary in every believer if they are to fully come through to a place where Christ is both Saviour and Lord. Is that a basic understanding in each of us?
2. F aith in God: this is the positive requirement of trusting in all God says. It is the counterpart of repentance. As repentance is turning away from sin, faith is turning to God. Faith is all about a life of listening to God. Is this also a basic understanding for each of us?
3 . Instruction about baptisms : the plural probably refers to different baptisms with which the Jewish believers would be familiar, such as Jewish baptism of proselytes, John the Baptist's baptism, and the baptism in water as commanded by Jesus (Mt 28:19) and also the baptism in the Holy Spirit (Mt 3:11/Acts 1:5) Again, part of our understanding and experience?
4. L aying on of hands: although this s ometimes followed baptism (Acts 8:16-17; 19:5-6) or when commissioning ministries (see Ac 6:6; 13:3; 1Ti 5:22; 2Ti 1:6), or when healing the sick (see Mk 6:5; 16:18; Lk 4:40; Ac 28:8) and bestowal of blessing (see Mt 19:13-15), the big emphasis is on the impartation or passing on of power or anointing in this act. Is hids a common part of our church life?
5. Resurrection of the dead : this is the doctrine of the resurrection of all people in the last days (see Jn 5:25-29; 11:25; 2Co 4:14). Is that part of our hope for the future?
6. Eternal judgment: this is the doctrine of the destiny of those who reject God's saving grace and persist in their sinful ways. A warning to be aware of.
We perhaps should comment that the first two are about essentials for coming to salvation, the next two about various ‘procedures' within the life of the church, and the last two about bringing understanding and hope and warning about life after death. All of them should have very practical outworkings. Let's consider them to emphasise and ensure understanding:
b) The Outworkings
1. Repentance: repentance brings us to a place of surrender to God. Without it we cannot do that and then go on to receive all He has for us.
2. Faith in God: this opens to door for us to receive all of the goodness that He has for us. Without it we fail to receive our inheritance.
3 . Instruction about baptisms : this challenges us to follow Jesus' pattern and receive the public act of immersion for the washing of sins and receiving the new life, as well as being filled by the Spirit as we are immersed in Him. Without both of these we again come short of receiving all the blessing that God has for us.
4. L aying on of hands: this takes us into a constant awareness of the power and presence of the Spirit and challenges our availability to Him to move in faith to bring ‘tangible' blessing to others. Without it, corporate church life lacks the dynamic of the Spirit's ongoing impartation.
5. Resurrection of the dead : this brings a measure of hope and assurance for our life after death. Without it we are left wondering about life in eternity.
6. Eternal judgment: this is the warning and reminder to all that ALL will stand before God and be held accountable. It is only reliance on the work of Christ on the Cross that can give us peace of mind about this future encounter. Without this warning, there is simply casual indifference and failure to realise the awful possibility of hell after death.
So these, he says are basics, elementary teachings, things that should be imparted and understood early in your Christian walk and although we all need reminders, they should not be all that we ever hear (even if we hear this much) for there is so much more for us to learn and experience and do that all comes under the heading of ‘learning'. May we not settle, may we always have a teachable heart, a heart that is open to learn all that God wishes to teach us. Amen? Amen!
Meditations in Hebrews 6: 30. A Second Repentance?
Heb 6:4-6 It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit, who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age, if they fall away, to be brought back to repentance
Multi-warnings: Remember, our writer has been warning again and again of the possibility of drifting away from God, of allowing your heart to be hardened, and moving back into unbelief. He did this,
first of all, by pointing out how great our salvation was (Ch.2),
then by reminding us of the failure and consequences of the Israelites in respect of the Promised Land (Ch.3),
then by explaining there is a ‘rest' still to be taken by faith (Ch.4),
and finally by portraying Christ as our high priest who is there for us and understands us (Ch.5).
ALL of this teaching has this background motive, to encourage his readers not to allow themselves to drift away from the Faith.
Real Conversion: In our present passage, he now gives a warning that if you drift away from the Faith it is impossible for there to be a second repentance. Let me explain that. When a person comes to Christ – truly comes – as we have noted before, repentance, true repentance, must be an ingredient inf the coming about of their salvation. A true awareness that they are lost and need Christ to save them is an absolute essential for the new birth to follow.
The outcome is clear cut; they are clearly born again, new people, and the new life that then follows is clearly utterly different from what it was before. There is a new purpose, a new direction, a new power, a new love. It is all utterly new and it all came about following repentance. Without that repentance, that utter conviction, the Holy Spirit would have been unable to do His work of transformation. His guidance, His direction, and His teaching will only be received on ground that has been cleared through repentance. Now this, in the light of our heading over this study, I might call in this context the ‘first repentance'.
A Possible Second Repentance? The question that those who support the ‘once saved, always saved' position has to be, do you believe in the possibility of a second repentance? Salvation only flows to and in a life of repentance. It is pure semantics, I would suggest, to say that a person is saved when they have purposefully moved into a place of apostasy where they utterly deny any belief and may even mock their former position. Speaking of such people our writer says, “It is impossible for those ….. if they fall away, to be brought back to repentance.” (v.4,6) Note the word impossible. Now in what follows the writer explains what “falling away” entails and then why a return is impossible.
What has to be rejected: First of all then, what “falling away” entails. He speaks of a) “those who have once been enlightened, b) who have tasted the heavenly gift, c) who have shared in the Holy Spirit, d) who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and e) the powers of the coming age.” (v.4,5) Now let's look at each of these, but let's look at what they mean but also actually how each one can be used to encourage us.
a) Enlightened: the reality always is that the person who has been convicted by the Holy Spirit, comes to see the reality of who they are and who Jesus is and what he has done for them. They come to see these truths – they are enlightened. Now when we look back we should remind ourselves of just what took place, the wonder of the revelation we received that brought us to Christ.
b) Tasted heaven : the truth is of course that something of heaven comes down to us – Jesus the Son of God, the Holy Spirit who we'll come to in a moment, the goodness and love of God that is revealed to us. Once we came through to Christ, this is what we experienced. Again we need to remind ourselves of the reality of this experience; we were not merely enlightened but suddenly everything appeared new, it was like heaven was shining down on us.
c) Shared in the Holy Spirit : being born again' is a work of the Spirit, being led by Him is a work of the Spirit, being filled is a work of the Spirit. These are not make-believe things, they really happened and we have been transformed and we should not take that for granted but remind ourselves of it again and again.
d) Tasted the goodness of the word of God: from being a dead book, the Bible came alive. There were times when it spoke to us, there were times when it almost shouted the truth at us. We saw the reality of God and His dealing with His people and the wonder of the life of Jesus. It was all there before us on the pages of the Bible, and it thrilled us. Dare we pray for it to do that again?
e) Experienced the power of heaven for the future: previously we had been fearful of death but as we received the revelation from God, as we tasted something of the wonder and goodness of heaven, as the Spirit and the word came alive, so we found ourselves with a strange reassurance about our eternal future, knowing that the present is but a glimmer of the future. Dare we thank Him for that reality and let Him bring it to us afresh?
And Us? Now I wonder how you respond to this list? Are these realities for you or do they suggest that in fact you have not actually ever been born again because each of these things – which should be familiar to every real Christian – are in fact alien to you? Have you been convicted that you need to know the reality of this path, truly coming to Christ through real surrender?
It may be that these things are now somewhat of a shadow of what they have once been. If that is so then the writer's calls are calls to you to renew your knowledge of Him so all these things become a reality again. The fact that you are reading these words would suggest that you are NOT someone who has fallen away, however shallow your present experience of Him may be. But the warning is there that “ It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened, (etc.) if they fall away, to be brought back to repentance.”
I think we'll pause there because there is perhaps much yet to say about the reasoning of this which we'll go into in more depth in the next study. The challenge of the book is to face the reality of our Christian lives in the light of each of these experiences and ensure they are realities for each of us today. May they be real.
Meditations in Hebrews 6: 31. A Second Repentance (2)
Heb 6:7,8 Land that drinks in the rain often falling on it and that produces a crop useful to those for whom it is farmed receives the blessing of God. But land that produces thorns and thistles is worthless and is in danger of being cursed. In the end it will be burned.
Again, a reminder of where we have come to in this book. The writer has given several warnings or encouragements to his readers about holding on to their faith, the last one we are considering now is making the point that once you completely drift away it is impossible to get back. We have seen, in verses 4-6, the five things he says they must have experienced but turned away from. It is a contentious passage with some saying that such people who do, could not have been regenerated to start with. That is possible and yet if I am honest, in respect of both these descriptions in verses 4-6 and what I have witnessed in the lives of apparently godly people who have fallen away, this says that it is possible for genuine Christians to turn away. Yet the bigger issue here in these verses is the warning to each of us who say at the present we love the Lord, to do all we can to make sure we do not drift away. We'll consider later how we can do that.
Let's see what the writer says such people are doing “ to their loss they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace.” (v.6b) The Living Bible puts it, “ You cannot bring yourself to repent again if you have nailed the Son of God to the cross again by rejecting him, holding him up to mocking and to public shame.” The writer is saying that when you turn away and reject Christ (because this is what you do when you drift right away) it is tantamount to you joining all the multitudes both in Jesus' day who rejected him and left him to be put to death and effectively put him out of their lives. It's like they join with those (and add to them) who mock and deride Christ like some of the modern crusading atheists do. That, he says, is the reality of what this person is doing.
Then he uses a little analogy about what God expects and how God responds to what He finds: “ Land that drinks in the rain often falling on it and that produces a crop useful to those for whom it is farmed receives the blessing of God. But land that produces thorns and thistles is worthless and is in danger of being cursed. In the end it will be burned.” (v.7,8) Verse 7 reveals the Christian who receives of the Holy Spirit and produces the fruits of righteousness, goodness and love and this person pleases God and is blessed by Him. The other person has all the potential of being a fruit bearer but only brings forth harsh rejection and is in danger of being cursed by God and being burned up at the end.
Whether we think it applies to a person who was saved and then lost, or a person who was saved but lost the joy of their faith experience, the warning is still the same. The writer, like us, doesn't want to leave this warning on a sour note and so adds, “Even though we speak like this, dear friends, we are confident of better things in your case--things that accompany salvation.” (v.9) i.e. we know you'll heed these warning and go on to experience the goodness of God. Indeed, he is mindful of their recent past: “God is not unjust; he will not forget your work and the love you have shown him as you have helped his people and continue to help them.” (v.10) i.e. you ARE bearing good fruit so these strong warnings don't need to scare you.
It is perhaps worth saying at this point (and perhaps we should have said it earlier) that this ‘falling away' that we have been speaking about doesn't mean just the occasional failure, for that happens to all of us from time to time, but it means what I called apostasy, a positive turning away. It may start with a casual drifting away but ends up as a positive rejection of all it had previously known. Thus, to these people he now says, I know it is OK in your case, because you ARE bearing the fruit of a godly life.
Then he presses in once more, with an encouragement (or warning) to keep going for it, and he does it in two ways, one positive and one negative. First, the positive: “We want each of you to show this same diligence to the very end, in order to make your hope sure.” (v.11) I like the JBP version of this: “It is our earnest wish that every one of you should show a similar keenness in fully grasping the hope that is within you.” i.e. positively, go all out to confirm the hope that you have, to build up your faith and godliness. But then comes the negative (followed by a positive): “ We do not want you to become lazy, but to imitate those who through faith and patience inherit what has been promised.” (v.12) Laziness in respect of your faith can be a cause of a downward slide. Neglect church, neglect the word, neglect prayer and before you know where you are, everything seems boring, God seems distant and your grace resource seems absent. Oh no, watch others who are getting it right and go for it, but note the two things mentioned there – faith and patience. Faith is about listening to God (so keep an open ear) and then doing what you hear, and patience is about hanging on when answers seem slow in coming (they will come).
It is easy to let life (and church life) just meander on like a lazy river, with little happening from week to week, and it is in those times we need to heed these warnings. At such times, we can resolve to put aside time to wait on God and listen for Him. At such times, we can look around to see who we can bless. At such times we can settle with the Bible and resolve to purposefully read and study something we've never got to grips with before. At such times, we can sit with a Christian friend and say, “Tell me how you came to the Lord, and I'll tell you how I did.” At such times you can say to your family, “I want to make a fresh point of praying for each of you each day. Are there any things you want me to specifically pray for – short term or long term?” These are ways we can stir our faith, these are ways we can resist the easy-going nature of life, if that is how it has been for you. Try it out.
Meditations in Hebrews 6: 32. Hang on in there
Heb 6:12,15 We do not want you to become lazy, but to imitate those who through faith and patience inherit what has been promised…… so after waiting patiently, Abraham received what was promised.
This letter (?book) to the Hebrews is a strange mixture of theology and pastoral care – but then perhaps the two should always go together. Theology on its own becomes intellectual sterility that leaves people uncared for, and pastoral concern without explanation becomes ‘nice', warm, fuzzy, pat-you-on-the-back encouragement that fails to build foundations for faith. Theology is explaining the ways of God, and true pastoral care is caring for people in the context of Biblical truth.
So we finished the previous meditation at this point in verse 12 where there is a challenge to overcome the tendency to laziness by looking to, and following the example of, those who have gone before and walked the path of faith, faithfully. It is that reason that causes the writer to start referring to Abraham. As a good pastor he is aware that people so often have a variety of things with which they struggle and one of those struggle-issues is having to wait to see fulfilment of God's word. I am in a phase at the moment of having a longing for something in God but it is not yet coming and therefore the call has to be one for patience, the ability to hang on in there, remaining faithful while waiting for the outworking of God's word.
It may be in respect of a whole variety of things. You may have a loved one who does not know the Lord and yet you have a sure sense that they will come through – one day – but it doesn't seem yet. A call for patience. Maybe you have a vision for something to do with the kingdom and it doesn't seem to be coming about, even though you feel you've done all you should but it still doesn't seem like it's coming. A call for patience. Perhaps you are longing for a partner, or maybe even a child and you have sought the Lord and received reassurance, but still nothing is happening. A call for patience. You see bad circumstances and are challenged by them but seem unable to do anything about it but pray and it has gone on and on. A call for patience.
So here is God and Abraham as the example we have to consider: “ When God made his promise to Abraham, since there was no one greater for him to swear by, he swore by himself, saying, "I will surely bless you and give you many descendants.” (v.13,14 quoting Gen 22:17) What a situation that was! Abraham, who had left his home at God's prompting with a wife who was barren (Gen 11:30), a man of faith who followed God, and the Lord promised him descendants, again and again – and he believed God – but the years passed and nothing happened. Eventually Saria his wife started making suggestion about how that word might be interpreted, maybe he would be a father via one of his servant girls, and so Ishmael was born and Jew and Arab have not been comfortable with each other ever since! But he still waited and waited and eventually – yes, eventually – Isaac was born to Sarah. But what a period of waiting – 25 years! Possibly one of the greatest examples of impatience followed by patience we have: “And so after waiting patiently, Abraham received what was promised.” (v.15) It happened.
The writer starts thinking about this in more depth, about how God had gone about reassuring Abraham: “Men swear by someone greater than themselves, and the oath confirms what is said and puts an end to all argument.”( v.16) In human experience, making an oath, swearing by something greater than yourself, has always been a way of adding weight to your promise. “Because God wanted to make the unchanging nature of his purpose very clear to the heirs of what was promised, he confirmed it with an oath.” (v.17) Abraham had Isaac, had then had to sacrifice him – but was stopped – and then we read in respect of his descendants, “The angel of the LORD called to Abraham from heaven a second time and said, "I swear by myself, declares the LORD, that because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore. Your descendants will take possession of the cities of their enemies, and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, because you have obeyed me.” (Gen 22:15-18) The Lord did this because He did not want Abraham to live out his final years with any doubt that God would do it. Now note this: The Lord had said to Abraham several times that he would have a child – and Abraham believed him – and also that he would become a great nation – but this far on in his life there were few signs of that!
So here's the theology, the thinking behind this story: “God did this so that, by two unchangeable things in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled to take hold of the hope offered to us may be greatly encouraged.” (v.18) The JBP version puts this well: “ So in this matter, God, wishing to show beyond doubt that his plan was unchangeable, confirmed it with an oath. So that by two utterly immutable things, the word of God and the oath of God, who cannot lie, we who are refugees from this dying world might have a source of strength, and might grasp the hope that he holds out to us” i.e. you can utterly trust God because He doesn't lie. That is point 1. But then God swore by Himself as if to say, “I want you to understand that this is ABSOLUTELY true; if you can't trust this, you can't trust me!” That was point 2. i.e. the honour of God's name hangs in the balance when He used it as a guarantee. If He failed to honour this promise using His own name, then you could never trust God with anything. That is how powerful this is. Two things that UTTERLY CONFIRMED God's will for Abraham. Absolutely no room for doubt left!
Now why is he saying all this? Because he is now apply it to us: “ we who have fled to take hold of the hope offered to us may be greatly encouraged.” We fled from our sin and our lost-ness to take hold of the salvation that was being offered to us by God and so now we can utterly trust all that God has said – even if we have presently having to wait for it to be worked out. So, he says, “ We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain,” (v.19) Our hope is rooted in heaven, “where Jesus, who went before us, has entered on our behalf. He has become a high priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek.” (v.20) This closing verse of the chapter opens the door into the next phase of understanding which we'll consider in the next meditation. Again the JBP version puts it all together well: “ This hope we hold as the utterly reliable anchor for our souls, fixed in the very certainty of God himself in Heaven, where Jesus has already entered on our behalf, having become, as we have seen, “High Priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek”. Our hope is assured because it comes from God and Jesus comes from God with the message for us. But he also carries us to God in heaven and as such he acts as this great high priest. More to come!
33. Melchizedek? Heb 6:20, 7:1-2
34. Why the Need? Heb 7:12
35. The Certainty of the New Priesthood Heb 7:20,21
Meditations in Hebrews 6/7: 33. Melchizedek?
Heb 6:20, 7:1-2 He has become a high priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek.” This Melchizedek was king of Salem and priest of God Most High. He met Abraham returning from the defeat of the kings and blessed him, and Abraham gave him a tenth of everything. First, his name means "king of righteousness"; then also, "king of Salem " means "king of peace."
We finished the previous study with those words, “ He has become a high priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek.” and so now arrive at the writer's explanation of this reference to a high priest who he has already referred to twice (5:6, 5:10) before these present verses.
The Rabbinic style: Because the approach we find here is probably alien to that which most of us are used to, we again need to refer to the rabbinic style of teaching found among Jewish teachers of that day. They used four approaches to handling Scripture. The first was to work on the basis that the text has a literal, plain meaning that the author wants to convey. (that is always our starting point). But second they would use an approach best described as considering a word, phrase or other element in the text hinting at a truth not conveyed by the plain meaning. The third approach searches for an allegorical sense within a verse or verses. There was also a fourth approach that involved numerical values of Hebrew letters but that need not concern us here. Bear this in mind in what follows.
Abraham & Melchizedek: We find the story of Abraham encountering Melchizedek in Gen 14:18-20 and the writer makes the point that he was both a king AND a priest: “ This Melchizedek was king of Salem and priest of God Most High. He met Abraham returning from the defeat of the kings and blessed him, and Abraham gave him a tenth of everything.” (v.1,2) He goes on to explain, “First, his name means "king of righteousness"; then also, "king of Salem" means "king of peace.” (v.2b) But then the writer uses the hinting-allegorical approaches because that is all we know about Melchizedek and so he interprets that to imply something else, something quite significant: “Without father or mother, without genealogy, without beginning of days or end of life, like the Son of God he remains a priest forever.” (v.3) In the account we are told nothing of this king-priest's background, or indeed his end and so in the account at least he appears as a priest without beginning or end, just like Jesus.
But then he picks up on the fact that Abraham gave him a tenth of his goods which is what the Law required for the Levites: “Just think how great he was: Even the patriarch Abraham gave him a tenth of the plunder! Now the law requires the descendants of Levi who become priests to collect a tenth from the people--that is, their brothers--even though their brothers are descended from Abraham.” (v.4,5) Note the emphasis – the ‘patriarch Abraham'. Abraham was considered a major character in Israel's history as a ‘friend of God ‘ (2 Chron 20:7, Isa 41:8, Jas 2:23) and clearly the father of the nation (Isa 51:2) so he is pointing out his greatness, yet he gave a tithe to Melchizedek: “This man, however, did not trace his descent from Levi, yet he collected a tenth from Abraham and blessed him who had the promises.” (v.6)
Strange elements: So, he concludes, there is something strange in all that. First, Abraham was Levi's great grandfather and so perhaps could be considered an earlier member of the priestly caste, yet he gave the tithe to the other(which he will expand on in a few verses time). Second, Abraham had received all the blessings of God (Gen 12) which would, you might suppose, make him greater but he treats Melchizedek as greater. Third, Melchizedek had blessed Abraham, which seems the wrong way round because, “without doubt the lesser person is blessed by the greater.” (v.7). Yet, he adds, there is a fourth strange thing: “In the one case, the tenth is collected by men who die; but in the other case, by him who is declared to be living.” (v.8) and he stretches this rabbinic approach even further: “One might even say that Levi, who collects the tenth, paid the tenth through Abraham, because when Melchizedek met Abraham, Levi was still in the body of his ancestor.” (v.9,10) i.e. because Abraham is Levi's great grandfather it is almost like saying the Levitical priesthood paid a tithe to this other priesthood.
(The Message version puts it in an interesting way: “ Ultimately you could even say that since Levi descended from Abraham, who paid tithes to Melchizedek, when we pay tithes to the priestly tribe of Levi they end up with Melchizedek.”)
Recap: Now the argument carries on with even more complexity so I think we'll stop there and simply recap what is already an unusual line of arguing for us:
1. Melchizedek was both a king and a priest.
2. When Abraham met him, Melchizedek blessed him and Abraham gave Melchizedek a tenth of all of his plunder.
3. If you think of Abraham, as Levi's great grandfather, it is like he is an early representative of the Levitical priesthood.
4. The fact that the ‘representative' of the Levitical priesthood was blessed by the other priest and then gave that other priest a tithe, suggests that the other priest is superior to the representative of the Levitical priesthood.
5. We know already that the writer has referred to Jesus as a priest after the order of Melchizedek and so we conclude that the writer is making the fairly complex point that Jesus is superior to Abraham.
6. The question will shortly be asked, why was there a need for another priesthood, and the answer will be that that the Levitical priesthood couldn't get people into a good place with God, but we'll wait to the next study to open that up.
Remember, it is all about showing Jesus to be the most superior person in the Jewish culture and history. That is what this is all about.
Meditations in Hebrews 7: 34. Why the Need?
Heb 7:12 For when there is a change of the priesthood, there must also be a change of the law.
Why all this? The writer has taken us into a series of thoughts about Jesus being a priest after the order of Melchizedek who was both a king and a priest. As the odds are that you are non-Jewish, you might be wondering why he is taking us down this particular path? Well, previously he had spoken of Jesus as our high priest, and he will go on to talk about his high priestly work in some detail in the chapters ahead, but there is a problem in the back of his mind and he realises it may also be in the back of the minds of his Jewish Christian readers, and it is that the high priest always came from the tribe of Levi – but Jesus comes from the tribe of Judah. How to reconcile these two things? He does it by reference to this priest-king, Melchizedek we have been considering.
He has paralleled Jesus with Melchizedek, first on the basis that nothing was known about that priest's ancestry or subsequent history, he appears mystical and eternal. Next, he points out that Melchizedek blessed Abraham and so was greater than him. Abraham gave him a tithe of all his battle spoils and being the great grandfather of Levi, it was like the Levitical priesthood was submitting to this new priest. We concluded the previous study by noting the question that will shortly be asked, why was there a need for another priesthood, and the answer will be that that Levitical priesthood couldn't get people into a good place with God. So, let's see how that works out in the following verses.
Failure of the old order: “ If perfection could have been attained through the Levitical priesthood (for on the basis of it the law was given to the people), why was there still need for another priest to come--one in the order of Melchizedek, not in the order of Aaron?” (v.11) i.e. if the working and service of the Levitical priesthood could make people perfect in God's sight that would have been fine, but it didn't. That priesthood, says the Message version, “provided the framework for the giving of the Law.” The Law and the subsequent priesthood both came through Levi (Moses & Aaron were both Levites) and were the means for administering God's plans for Israel, yet all the offering of sacrifices could do was appease the conscience of the offender but that did little to make he or she a better person. It put them on a right footing with God but that was all.
The Law and the Levitical priesthood, as the Message version puts it, “ didn't get the job done.” Now, goes on our writer, because the Law and the priesthood are so intertwined, “ when there is a change of the priesthood, there must also be a change of the law.” (v.12) i.e. if we start talking about another priesthood, we are also going to have to be talking about another Law because Moses' Law only spoke about the Levitical priesthood.
Jesus from Judah : Now, before going further, he backtracks to consider Jesus: “He of whom these things are said belonged to a different tribe, and no one from that tribe has ever served at the altar. For it is clear that our Lord descended from Judah , and in regard to that tribe Moses said nothing about priests.” (v.13,14) As we said before, the problem is that Jesus came from the tribe of Judah, not the tribe of Levi, and the Law said nothing about Judah .
The Melchizedek analogy: Of his own argument, he continues, “And what we have said is even more clear if another priest like Melchizedek appears, one who has become a priest not on the basis of a regulation as to his ancestry but on the basis of the power of an indestructible life. For it is declared: "You are a priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek.” (v.15-17) The Message version puts it well for us: “ But the Melchizedek story provides a perfect analogy: Jesus, a priest like Melchizedek, not by genealogical descent but by the sheer force of resurrection life—he lives!—“priest forever in the royal order of Melchizedek.” i.e. Melchizedek as a mystical figure who just turns up once and then disappears, seems to have no beginning or end. Jesus, because he has risen from the dead, also continues to live on and on, and is thus available today to act as our high priest of a new order.
So, he continues, “ The former regulation is set aside because it was weak and useless (for the law made nothing perfect), and a better hope is introduced, by which we draw near to God.” (v.18,19) i.e. the coming of Jesus replaces the Law and the Levitical priesthood, which really just didn't work, didn't enable people to have a living relationship with God.
Impact on the Jews: Now perhaps we should pause there and continue in the next study for there is something here that is highly significant. Who is our writer writing to? The Jewish Christians. What does the New Testament show us is the main problem the Jewish Christians (for that is all there was to start with) faced? How to reconcile their new faith with the Law of Moses which had been their foundation of life for many centuries? More than that, the Levitical Priesthood was still there operating and would continue to operate until AD70 when the Temple was destroyed and Israel scattered and the sacrificial system ended.
What this present writer is doing here is the equivalent of removing the Monarchy in the UK and substituting it with something else, or removing the Presidential system and Congress in the USA and substituting it with something else. By putting Jesus forward as a new high priest of a completely new priestly system, he is saying to his readers, the old system – Law and priesthood – has been replaced. That is possibly the most dramatic thing that could possibly happen to their culture and way of living, but that is exactly what God did when He sent Jesus. This is about as dramatic as you can make things. This new faith is not to be run alongside the old, it is to replace the old.
Practically for us today, we might suggest that many of us had a religion that existed on rules – things you should do and shouldn't do. That is what made you a good person. Then along comes the Christian faith with Jesus at its head and says, sorry that is all gone. You are justified not on the basis of what you do, but upon who you believe in. Got it? Awesome! An entirely new way of living and looking at life!
Meditations in Hebrews 7: 35. The Certainty of the New Priesthood
Heb 7:20,21 And it was not without an oath! Others became priests without any oath, but he became a priest with an oath
We concluded the previous study by reflecting on the fact that the writer of this book is saying that the coming of Jesus replaced the Law and the Levitical Priesthood, and that was a major cultural and intellectual change being put before these Jewish Christians. Now our writer is aware of this and so he knows he has really got to set this on concrete, so to speak, if his readers are to really accept this. He does this in a number of ways.
1. Priest by Oath: Earlier in this book the writer spoke about God confirming His will by making an oath based on Himself. In fact the word ‘oath', in this context, comes up 9 times in these chapters of Hebrews. It is a big thing for this writer that God confirms His will by making an oath. There can be no more profound or intense way of conveying His will. So, for the fifth time, he uses the word: “And it was not without an oath! Others became priests without any oath, but he became a priest with an oath when God said to him: "The Lord has sworn and will not change his mind: `You are a priest forever.'” (v.20,21) Jesus becoming a priest was done in a much more solemn way to the ways that all other priests were brought into that role; he came with an oath.
Now we need to realise that again and again he is citing Psa 110:4 so we had better have it before us: “The LORD has sworn and will not change his mind: "You are a priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek,” and we should also observe that was a prophetic psalm where David the psalmist sees the Messiah before God and these verses apply to the Coming One, who is also revealed, as we have seen earlier, as the Son of God. He now, therefore, emphasises the fact that this prophetic word had God swearing an oath, the most solemn way possible of confirming His will, that His Son will operate as a priest for ever in the same way that Melchizedek operated.
He then makes a further loaded comment: “Because of this oath, Jesus has become the guarantee of a better covenant.” (v.22) Notice the words, “a better covenant”. The writer has already inferred that it was the Old Covenant instigated on Mount Sinai that had “not done the job” and thus he is speaking of nothing less than that covenant being replaced by a new covenant based upon Jesus.
2. An Undying Priest: He explains: “Now there have been many of those priests, since death prevented them from continuing in office; but because Jesus lives forever, he has a permanent priesthood.” (v.23,24) i.e. all previous high priests died and had to be replaced by yet another one who would pick up the baton, so to speak, to carry on the ministry, but Jesus, having been raised from the dead, lives for ever and so, “Therefore he is able to save completely (or forever ) those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them.” (v.25) i.e. Jesus is always there for us!
3. A Perfect Priest: The third thing he points out is that although we may have doubts about some of the men who stood in the role of high priest, you need have no doubt whatsoever about Jesus: “Such a high priest meets our need--one who is holy, blameless, pure, set apart from sinners, exalted above the heavens. Unlike the other high priests, he does not need to offer sacrifices day after day, first for his own sins, and then for the sins of the people. He sacrificed for their sins once for all when he offered himself.” (v.26,27) The priest stands before God on our behalf. We may wonder if some of the men who took that role really had God's approval because they were so imperfect (consider Eli, for example in 1 Samuel), but when it comes to Jesus it is completely different. He satisfies all our doubts – meets our need first of all from an intellectual standpoint – because he is holy, blameless and pure and, even more, he is now exalted at God's right hand, as we've seen before. Unlike the other priests of history, he doesn't need to offer sacrifices for his sins because he never sinned. Even more, he doesn't need to keep on offering sacrifices for our ongoing failures, because he did it once for all by dying on the Cross for us. In that way he also meets our moral needs as well.
Summary: He summarises what has happened: “For the law appoints as high priests men who are weak; but the oath, which came after the law, appointed the Son, who has been made perfect forever.” (v.28) Let's look at this verse carefully:
“ For the law appoints as high priests men who are weak.” The Levitical priesthood established by the Law of Moses had to rely on frail human beings to perform the role. That was the Old Covenant.
“….but the oath, which came after the law…..” David's prophetic word from God (which came long after the Law of Moses) instigated an oath to establish God's will. There can thus be no question as to God's intent in all this.
“…appointed the Son, who has been made perfect forever.” The New Covenant came into being through the Son of God dying on our behalf, once and for all, on the Cross at Calvary , to deal with all our sins, past, present and future.
Recap the Argument: Now a good teacher is like a lawyer who works his way through the text in great detail to ensure everything has been covered. Our writer started the book showing the greatness of the Son, a Son infinitely greater than the angels, a Son greater than Moses, a Son who has been exalted to the Father's right hand where he rules over all things, because he had perfectly carried out God's will by coming to the earth, revealing the Father, and then dying for us, before being raised from the dead and then lifted back to heaven where he now reigns.
In doing this he acted as a high priest but his ‘priesthood' is different from the Levitical Priesthood, more like that of Melchizedek with no beginning and no end, but superior to the previous priesthood. He is confirmed in this superior priesthood by his Father prophetically through David confirming it with an oath, and thus there is no doubt about him. He acts as our high priest by offering the ultimate sacrifice for sins – himself – and then being there at the Father's right hand to intercede for us.
It is, rather like we used the illustration earlier, the writer has this check list that he has been working through to ‘cover all the bases':
The previous old covenant failed “to do the job”
It has been administered by frail human beings
The new covenant is based on Jesus operating as a new high priest with an eternal priesthood, presenting his own body as a sacrifice for sins
Operating with the eternal will of God confirmed by a prophetic oath
Thus we can be assured that our sins have been dealt with perfectly and the way is open for us to experience that ‘rest' spoken of earlier in the book, where everything has been done by Jesus so all we have to do is receive the fruits of it.
Now it may have been a bit of a struggle to work through all this argument, but wasn't it worth while! Live in that ‘rest', completely at peace with God, free from striving and struggle and guilt. Hallelujah!
36. The Heavenly ‘Sanctuary' Heb 8:1,2
37. The Second Covenant of the Old Testament Heb 8:8b
Meditations in Hebrews 8: 36. The Heavenly ‘Sanctuary'
Heb 8:1,2 The point of what we are saying is this: We do have such a high priest, who sat down at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven, and who serves in the sanctuary, the true tabernacle set up by the Lord, not by man.
Continuity: We always try to understand the continuity or flow of argument as a book moves on chapter by chapter. The writer feels he needs to emphasise where he's got to in this somewhat complex theology: “ The point of what we are saying is this:” (v.1a) The link to the present argument goes back to v.24-26 where he declared, “because Jesus lives forever , he has a permanent priesthood. Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them. Such a high priest meets our need--one who is holy, blameless, pure, set apart from sinners, exalted above the heavens .” I have underlined the key words.
Jesus the Intercessor: These words put Jesus above any existing priesthood: he is eternal and he lives in heaven where he intercedes on our behalf to the Father: “We do have such a high priest, who sat down at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven,” (v.1b) The apostle John was later to write, “if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense--Jesus Christ, the Righteous One.” (1 Jn 2:1) Our present writer now reconfirms where Jesus is, that he is able to do this: “and who serves in the sanctuary, the true tabernacle set up by the Lord, not by man.” (v.2) He wants to draw a parallel while making a distinction between the old priesthood and Jesus. “the true tabernacle” obviously refers to heaven so while the human priesthood had operated in an earthly man-constructed tabernacle (and later Temple ), Jesus operates from within heaven.
Distinctions: But then he says something which at first sight appears confusing but then you realise he is again emphasizing the distinction between the heavenly ministry and the earthly ministry: “Every high priest is appointed to offer both gifts and sacrifices, and so it was necessary for this one also to have something to offer.” (v.3) Now this is quite significant because as he looks back on the earthly priesthood, he realises that its entire function was to bring people to God in an acceptable manner according to the Law, and that was by presenting sacrifices for sins and offerings to maintain fellowship. That's what the earthly priesthood did.
But then he turns to Jesus: “If he were on earth, he would not be a priest, for there are already men who offer the gifts prescribed by the law.” (v.4) The temptation is to rush on by but each of these verses is significant in what it says. If Jesus was back on earth, there would be no need or no point in him bringing offerings because the existing priesthood was already doing that.
Representatives or Reflections: That priesthood and their function though, were simply doing something that reflected what goes on in heaven – what Jesus has done. “They serve at a sanctuary that is a copy and shadow of what is in heaven. This is why Moses was warned when he was about to build the tabernacle: "See to it that you make everything according to the pattern shown you on the mountain.” (v.5 quoting Ex 25:40) The Tabernacle design originated in heaven, it was God (or His angels) who conveyed it to Moses and it is supposed to be a simple representation on earth of what goes on in heaven.
This is a big thing to understand. The sacrifices for sin were a physical representation of what Jesus has done; they pointed forward. The destruction of the Temple in AD70 by the Romans after the Jewish revolt, may have been allowed by God because the reality is that it was no longer needed and this book is the treatise that should have convinced the Jews that sacrifices (which is what the Temple was all about) were no longer needed because of what Jesus had achieved.
A Superior Covenant: The writer is relentless in pursing his argument. “But the ministry Jesus has received is as superior to theirs as the covenant of which he is mediator is superior to the old one, and it is founded on better promises.” (v.6) He is about to embark on a fresh path of application of Old Testament scriptures, which we will start to look at in the next study, but his point or purpose is laid out here in verse 6. The key words are ‘ministry and ‘covenant' and so he will be pointing out that there already actually was a second covenant highlighted in the Old Testament (the first covenant being that established on Mount Sinai (Ex 19-23) and Jesus mediates or applies that second covenant which is a much superior covenant.
Why is it superior? Because of what God promised in it. If you have never walked this particular path before you are about the enter a new world of wonders. This is the covenant that you and I live by and we do it because God promised it in the Old Testament. Jesus died to establish the basis of it, and then the Holy Spirit administers it. We are about to embark on a journey which is easier going than the recent ones, but which in many ways is more profound and more wonderful. Stay with me.
Meditations in Hebrews 8: 37. The Second Covenant of the Old Testament
Heb 8:8b "The time is coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah .
We concluded the previous study at verse 6 noting, “the ministry Jesus has received is as superior to theirs as the covenant of which he is mediator is superior to the old one, and it is founded on better promises.” It speaks about Jesus' ministry as mediating or administering a second covenant that God promised in the Old Testament. In fact the writer is going to take up to a passage in Jer 31:31-34 which contains those ‘promises' he has just referred to.
A Faulty Covenant: But before he does that, he paves the way for it : “For if there had been nothing wrong with that first covenant, no place would have been sought for another.” (v.7) i.e. the fact that a second covenant is mentioned indicates that the first was inadequate or, as have quoted from the Message version a couple of times, ‘not up to the job'. This is made clear as he leads in to the Jeremiah passage: “But God found fault with the people and said….” (v.8a) i.e. the old had been kept by God but had been broken by the people. It was clearly not up to the job of helping the people maintain a relationship with the Lord.
The OT Quote: “The time is coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah .” (v.8b) There it is, a bald statement of intent. The “time” which was coming would in fact turn out to be somewhere a little over 500 years, the period from Jeremiah's prophecy to the death of Christ. Then he distinguishes the new form from the old: “It will not be like the covenant I made with their forefathers when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt , because they did not remain faithful to my covenant, and I turned away from them, declares the Lord.” (v.9) The old had been established at Mount Sinai after He had delivered them out of Egypt (To see this in detail go to our series on the Exodus)
The Nature of the New Covenant: He (our writer quoting Jeremiah) now explains how the New Covenant will be so different: “This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after that time, declares the Lord. I will put my laws in their minds and write them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people.” (v.10) The new will be all about an inner working. No longer will His people just be keeping external rules, but they will be changed from the inside. Their minds and their hearts will be truly changed. They will contain the will of God. It is left to other prophets to spell out that this will be because of the work of the Holy Spirit who will come into every new believer at the new birth, and witnessed on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2) and in the house of Cornelius (Acts 10). This inner transformation will knit them to God and so when He says “I will be their God and they will be my people”, He means they will truly by His people by hearts knitted to His, not merely by following a set of rules. That is how the two covenants are so different.
The Inner Transformation: He continues to explain the significance of this inner transformation: “No longer will a man teach his neighbor, or a man his brother, saying, `Know the Lord,' because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest.” (v.11) This covenant will not rely on outward teaching (as Moses did with Israel ) but the indwelling Holy Spirit will teach each of us individually. How can such a thing come about? “For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.” (v.12) The work of Christ on the Cross will mean that our failures, our transgressions, our sins have been forgiven and when we come to him we will have them forgiven and removed. The moral reason why the old people could not stand before a holy God has been removed. Christ has dealt with our sins.
Replacement: He concludes with this ‘dam-buster' of a conclusion: “By calling this covenant "new," he has made the first one obsolete; and what is obsolete and aging will soon disappear.” (v.13) The Old Covenant is now outdated, superseded, outmoded and so will soon disappear! In that last comment he was perhaps speaking prophetically because in AD70 when the Temple was destroyed it ended the sacrificial system for ever. The Temple was the only place where sacrifices could be offered and as that has gone sacrifices cannot be brought. It was as if God was sealing off that period of history.
The Power of the New Covenant: The first big difference between old and new covenants was that the old system of sacrifices was merely typifying what Jesus would one day do, provide a real and genuine way of sins being properly dealt with according to justice. The second big different is that in the Old Testament (Covenant) the Holy Spirit would just come upon individuals to empower them for specific tasks. In the New the Holy Spirit comes an indwells EVERY believer.
In the Old Testament the prophet Joel said, “I will pour out my Spirit on all people.” (Joel 2:28). In the New Testament, Jesus said, speaking of the Holy Spirit, “he lives with you and will be in you .” (Jn 14:17). The apostle Paul taught, “Don't you know that you yourselves are God's temple and that God's Spirit lives in you?” (1 Cor 3:16,) and, “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God?” (1 Cor 6:19)
The teaching is clear an unequivocal, God lives IN every believer and so the difference is that in the Old, teaching was done by rabbis while in the New it is by the Holy Spirit (but we reinforce that by our own ‘rabbis' !!!) But this is the thing, if you ask Him, HE will bring His word alive and He will teach you all things. That is the wonder of this new covenant. Yes, we do have our teachers (and that is right) and we do have our books (as expressions of the teachers) but above all that we each have the Holy Spirit within us and He, said Jesus, “will teach you all things.” (Jn 14:26) Hallelujah!
38. The Old Order Heb 9:1
39. The New Order Heb 9:15
Meditations in Hebrews 9: 38. The Old Order
Heb 9:1 Now the first covenant had regulations for worship and also an earthly sanctuary
Tabernacle Ministry: Our writer goes on to compare what went on in the earthly tabernacle (the earthly sanctuary) with what goes on in the heavenly one. In the earthly one the high priest carried out the ‘regulations for worship' which comprised instructions for sacrifices and offerings. That was what the Tabernacle, and later the Temple , was all about. He reminds us that it was set up with a lamp-stand, a table and consecrated bread in the first room, the Holy Place (v.2) Then behind the curtain was the curtained off area called the Most Holy Place in which were the golden altar and the ark which contained a jar of manna, Aaron's staff and the stone tablets of the Ten Commandments. (v.3,4) Above the ark were the cherubim but, he says, “we cannot discuss these things in detail now,” (v.5) so we likewise will simply move on.
He then reminds us that “the priests entered regularly into the outer room to carry on their ministry, but only the high priest entered the inner room, and that only once a year, and never without blood, which he offered for himself and for the sins the people had committed in ignorance.” (v.6,7) So, two rooms, the inner one only being entered once a year by the high priest, ad the outer one where daily service to God was provided.
He explains, “The Holy Spirit was showing by this that the way into the Most Holy Place had not yet been disclosed as long as the first tabernacle was still standing.” (v.8) i.e. there wasn't general access to that inner room and to God's presence as long as that Tabernacle or Temple service continued under the Law. But then he shows its further limitations: “This is an illustration for the present time, indicating that the gifts and sacrifices being offered were not able to clear the conscience of the worshiper. They are only a matter of food and drink and various ceremonial washings--external regulations applying until the time of the new order.” (v.9,10) i.e. the priests and the people did these things because they were told to, but they still felt guilty. Their obedience to the Law was good but it still didn't leave them with any understanding that in fact justice had been done and punishment taken for their wrongs - apart from by the animals they sacrificed. It DID provide a means of providing an obedient response to God showing the heart had turned but it DIDN'T appease their conscience. That was the old system, the old order, purely external things until the new order came and showed the reality.
Christ's work: He then turns to what Christ has done: “When Christ came as high priest of the good things that are already here, (or ‘are to come') he went through the greater and more perfect tabernacle that is not man-made, that is to say, not a part of this creation.” (v.11) We have to wait until later on when he explains, “Christ did not enter a man-made sanctuary that was only a copy of the true one; he entered heaven itself, now to appear for us in God's presence.” (v.24) Christ's activity on our behalf was acted out here on earth (although I don't think ‘acted out' is a good description of his dying on the Cross!) but the reality of it and what it achieved was brought about in heaven. Then comes the key verse: “He did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood , having obtained eternal redemption.” (v.12)
‘The Blood': For the new believer, references to “Christ's blood” may seem strange but it is simply shorthand for “his death on the Cross for our sins”. Having said that, ‘blood' was a key feature of the sacrificial system or, to be more precise, shedding it by killing the animal, and scripture declares that “the life of a creature is in the blood.” (Lev 17:11 and a number of other verses). We know that when our heart stops pumping blood around our system, life ceases. Remove the blood and you remove the life; it was that simple.
The Impact of a Sacrifice: Without doubt the sacrificial system was horrible, the taking an animal into the Tabernacle or Temple, placing your hand on its head and then having its throat cut so that the blood poured out so you could literally see the life ebbing away out of this creature, but I am certain that people would realise the seriousness of sin in a much greater way than any of us do today. Once you had done it once, you would resolve not to sin and have to do it again! (In comparison to modern Western societies it would certainly be almost crimeless!)
Christ the Offering: He explains that the sinner who was sprinkled with blood under some of these rites would be declared ceremonially clean and if that was so, how much more would Christ's death on the Cross, “who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God!” (v.14) That is rather a heavy verse we had better delve into.
“How much more, then.” If the old order was able to declare a person ceremonially clean how much more can a ritual involving the Son of God.
“will the blood of Christ.” i.e. his death on the Cross.
“who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God.” This was God himself, the One who is Spirit, who died, perfect without sin.
“cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death.” i.e. our sinful acts are dealt with, acts that lead to spiritual death.
“so that we may serve the living God!” The end outcome of Christ's death is that we are left knowing we have done what God laid on for us, i.e. accepted HIS way of salvation, and knowing that justice has been served and our sins properly dealt with.
Us Today? The next verses are also information-packed so we'll leave them to the next study. Today we may be grateful that we do not have to trek miles to a place where we are required to take an animal to be put to death. Today – and it is almost too easy and therein there is a danger that we become casual about it – we simply turn to God in prayer, confess our sins and declare our acceptance of Jesus as our Saviour and are forgiven and cleansed immediately.
The old was making a primitive people aware of the seriousness of Sin as far as God and people are concerned. The fact that we do not have to follow through those rituals should not make us casual. Perhaps that is the main reason the writer to the Hebrews spells it out as he does; it is another of his warning-encouragements that he keeps on bringing to encourage us to stay on track. Being reminded and being aware of the seriousness of Sin and the wonder of what Christ has done for us, should truly be a motivating factor to keep us in the Faith. Amen? Amen!
Meditations in Hebrews 9: 39. The New Order
Heb 9:15 For this reason Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance--now that he has died as a ransom to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant.
The Link: Ah, we have another of those link phrases, “For this reason.” Verse 13 had spoken of the blood shed under the old covenant and verse 14 had brought us through to the parallel work of Christ whose blood was shed on the Cross at Calvary so that our consciences could be freed from guilt-laden striving to appease God by self-centred works of religion, and freed to be able to relate to and serve God without fear and trepidation.
The Cross Opens the Door to our Inheritance: So, because Christ has done this on the Cross he can now be, “the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance.” (v.15a) i.e. he can now mediate or administer this new covenant so that we who God calls (and we respond to Him) may be able to receive an inheritance that has been promised by God from long ago, an inheritance that has an eternal dimension to it.
Just in case we hadn't followed the link between what Christ has done on the Cross and what he now does helping us enter into our inheritance, he backs up the reason with, “now that he has died as a ransom to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant.” (v.15b) He can now work on getting us to receive our inheritance because his death has meant that we have been freed from both the guilt of our sins and the sinful habits that produce the individual sins, which were still products of that old covenant.
Jesus, the Ransom: Before we pass on, note the word, ‘ransom'. Jesus taught, “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many .” (Mk 10:45) A ransom is a price paid to set a prisoner free. We were prisoners to guilt and to Sin and so, by giving his life to take the sentence of death that justice demands for lives of sin, that life dealt with all the problems of justice and so acted as a ransom that released us prisoners from our constant sense of guilt and our ongoing sinning.
The Working of a Will: Now, having spoken about our inheritance, he piles on the teaching by talking about wills: “In the case of a will, it is necessary to prove the death of the one who made it, because a will is in force only when somebody has died; it never takes effect while the one who made it is living.” (v.16,17) Interestingly the Greek word for ‘will' is the same word as ‘covenant', but we use ‘will' here because we are familiar with the procedure that follows a death and the will being administered. The will of a person only becomes operative once the person dies. A death has to be involved. “This is why even the first covenant was not put into effect without blood.” (v.18) This is his rabbinic teaching kicking in again. To receive the inheritance of freedom from condemnation under the old covenant, a sacrifice had to be offered, a life given, a death involved.
Blood & Covenant: He explains how Moses, after having proclaimed all the laws of the Sinai covenant, ratified the covenant with the blood of calves (v.19) and then declared, “This is the blood of the covenant, which God has commanded you to keep.” (v.20) Of course there is a similarity here to Jesus' words at the Last Supper: “This is my blood of the new covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” (Mt 26:28) If Moses had known what was coming, he might have inserted the word ‘first' in front of the word ‘covenant'. He emphasises the role of blood in the establishing of a covenant: “In the same way, he sprinkled with the blood both the tabernacle and everything used in its ceremonies. In fact, the law requires that nearly everything be cleansed with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.” (v.21,22) Although we normally see this as applying to the Levitical Law, it is interesting to note that when God and Abram entered into a covenant, animal death and shedding of blood was involved – see Gen 15:8-19. To create a sense of solemnity, the creatures were cut in two and two lines made between which the participants to the covenant walked – walking between death to acknowledge a new life agreement.
Blood = Life: Perhaps we should emphasise this matter of ‘the blood'. I believe talk about ‘the blood' when sharing with non-Christians is highly inappropriate, but it is the language of the Old Testament that is used symbolically to refer to ‘life'; when the blood was shed, the life was given. Ultimately the message of the Bible is that a life of sin deserves to be forfeited and, as we are ALL sinners, all of our lives deserve to be forfeited.
Lives of Sin: I deliberately refer to a ‘life of sin' because before we came to Christ that was the sort of life we lived, one that is characterized by self-centred godlessness; we elevated ‘self' to the level of deity and took God's place as the arbiter of right and wrong and we determined the sort of life we considered acceptable. Because it was ours, we made excuses, but nevertheless it was a life that was self-centred and godless, and a life where, if you watched it second by second throughout however many years it lived, you would see example after example of thoughts, words and deeds that were not only self-centred and godless but they also harmed other people and the world, and of course they rejected God. The ways we do these things are innumerable and the impact we have on people and sometimes the world itself, is immeasurable.
The Penalty = Forfeiture of Life: Oh, someone cries, but do any of these things, even all together warrant, as you put it, someone's life being forfeit? You miss the point in the big picture and we saw this at the very beginning of this book, that ‘life' comes from God. He alone is the source of life and without His word and His power and His presence, ‘life' as we know it ceases. Now my definition of Sin has been self-centred godlessness and both parts speak to rejecting the presence of God, rejecting the provider of life. So imagine the picture of the dock in a courtroom that we have used before. The charge is that you have rejected THE Life-giver and therefore you should be allowed to follow that through and take the effects of that – and die. That is the sole case that justice presents. You chose that, so live with it – and die! You rejected the Life-giver so trying living without Him in eternity – you won't.
The New Possibility: But, says God, the Son has already died for you, believe that and I will channel you into a new existence where all your self-centred and godless choices are transferred to my Son's account and your account is cleared of any such folly. There is no reason why you should not live in harmony with me and receive my ‘life' and experience eternity – and thus we receive His Holy Spirit and ‘live' and keep on living in what is called ‘eternal life'. That, I believe, is how it really works.
Meditations in Hebrews 9: 40. A One-off in Reality
Heb 9:23,24 It was necessary, then, for the copies of the heavenly things to be purified with these sacrifices, but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these. For Christ did not enter a man-made sanctuary that was only a copy of the true one; he entered heaven itself, now to appear for us in God's presence.
Another Link: We have yet another link word, four words into verse, ‘then'. i.e. it was necessary because of what we have just been saying for the following to have happened. The Old Covenant had been about external regulations (v.10) but Christ came to bring a new covenant dealing with realities. He didn't enter into the old with blood of animals (v.11,12) like that used in the old (v.13) Blood was an important ingredient of old-time serious agreements (v.18-22) but these earthly things are merely copies of the heavenly realities. The earthly things were purified by the sacrifices (shedding of blood) but the heavenly reality knew a better sacrifice, (v.23) Christ himself.
The Heavenly Sanctuary: But, he reiterates, “Christ did not enter a man-made sanctuary that was only a copy of the true one; he entered heaven itself, now to appear for us in God's presence.” (v.24) Heaven was the ‘tabernacle' reality, the place where God really resided and it was there, having died on our behalf, an eternal sacrifice, to which Christ returned to be able to speak up on our behalf as our high priest.
A One-off Offering: But here is an important point: “Nor did he enter heaven to offer himself again and again, the way the high priest enters the Most Holy Place every year with blood that is not his own.” (v.25) In this reality – heaven – Christ did not have to keep on offering himself again and again like the high priest on earth had to do with the blood of animals. Let's see the big statement all in one go: “Then Christ would have had to suffer many times since the creation of the world. But now he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to do away with sin by the sacrifice of himself. Just as man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him.” (v.26-28) Right having seen it all in one go, let's see it bit by bit.
“Then Christ would have had to suffer many times since the creation of the world.” If Christ had just been a mere human then, if his blood was to be used as a sacrifice, it would need to have happened time after time after time covering every sin since the world began. But he's not a mere human being, he is the eternal Son of God.
“But now he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to do away with sin by the sacrifice of himself.” But, as the eternal Son, he gave himself and that was a once-and-for-all offering. The end of the ages? The end of the period of the sacrificial system in the environment that was Israel . That period was rapidly coming to an end, as we have mentioned already, when the Temple was destroyed in AD70. Because he is eternal, his death can have an eternal effect.
“Just as man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment….” This is the order for mankind. We will all pass through death just once and then face judgment just that once.
“so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people.” This is the parallel emphasis. Christ's death, as he has already said, was a one-off and the effect was seen in heaven.
“and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him.” But that is not the end of it, the end of the plan of God. His death was the final act in the play of redemption, but it is not in the overall play of salvation for Christ has yet to return again to wind all things up, which includes taking to be with him those who are still on the earth waiting for him.
Recap the Purpose: Because it is a long-winded argument, we can easily forget the main purpose that the writer has in mind – to encourage his readers and challenge them to hold on to their faith. He has been doing that by:
Reminding us that at the heart of Christ's activity which elevates him above any other being, apart from his heavenly Father, is the matter of Christ giving his life to redeem our lives.
His activity had been prefigured by the Levitical priesthood but that was only a shadow or copy of the reality that was Christ's work culminated in heaven.
The earthly copy had involved a man-made tabernacle, human high priests, human regulations and the blood of animals.
Their work had to be repeated again and again and failed to completely cleanse the conscience of the sinner.
Christ's activity on the Cross had heavenly impact; it was the work of the eternal Son giving his life to appease justice by, in a very real way, taking the punishment that could be claimed was due to every human sinner and only he could do that because only he was eternal.
His activity was thus the reality of the imagery seen in the earthly human rites.
In every way, his activity – in heaven – was so, so much superior to the Levitical sacrificial system.
His activity resulted in justice being satisfied and human beings being transformed.
No one else has ever conceived such a plan, let alone fulfilled it. Hallelujah!
No one else is worthy of our worship. Our faith is well founded and is so wonderful that, when we think through these things, they should help make it ever stronger. Amen.
41. The Inadequate Law Heb 10:1
42. The Waiting Priest-King Heb 10:12,13
43. Confidence and Exhortations Heb 10:19,22
44. Exhortations (Continued) Heb 10:19,22
45. Devastating Warning No.3 Heb 10:26,17
46. What a Testimony Heb 10:32
Meditations in Hebrews 10: 41. The Inadequate Law
Heb 10:1 The law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming--not the realities themselves. For this reason it can never, by the same sacrifices repeated endlessly year after year, make perfect those who draw near to worship.
A Repetitive Argument: The writer to the Hebrews comes like a demolition ball used by a demolition contractor, crashing against the wall again and again until eventually the old building falls down in a pile of rubble. He started back in chapter 7 : “The former regulation is set aside because it was weak and useless (for the law made nothing perfect), and a better hope is introduced, by which we draw near to God.” (7:18,19) The law was “weak and useless” and “made nothing perfect” and hence God introduced a “better hope”. Then in chapter 8 , speaking about the Jeremiah prophecy he declared, “By calling this covenant "new," he has made the first one obsolete; and what is obsolete and aging will soon disappear.” (8:13) The old covenant, laid out in the Law of Moses, was obsolete and aging and about to disappear. Then in chapter 9 he said, “the gifts and sacrifices being offered were not able to clear the conscience of the worshiper. They are only a matter of food and drink and various ceremonial washings--external regulations applying until the time of the new order.” (9:9,10) The reason he had previously said the Law was “weak and useless” was that it was not able “to clear the conscience of the worshipper” and they were mere external regulations.
The Argument Repeated: So here he now comes again: “The law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming--not the realities themselves.” (v.1a) The Law simply gave an impression of what was to come. The worship regulations pointed towards what Christ would do on the Cross. The rules for society pointed towards the society that would be Holy Spirit indwelt and motivated by love for God and Jesus. Thus, he concludes, “For this reason it can never, by the same sacrifices repeated endlessly year after year, make perfect those who draw near to worship.” (v.1b)
The Failure of the Old: That is the sad truth – and God knew that – that people would sin, offer a sacrifice, and then sin again and so have to offer another sacrifice and so on. It was there to highlight the problem of Sin that we have and keep on having. So, he adds, “If it could, would they not have stopped being offered? For the worshipers would have been cleansed once for all, and would no longer have felt guilty for their sins.” (v.2) If keeping the sacrificial regulations cleansed once for all and removed any and all guilty feelings, then they would have stopped making offerings (because they no longer needed to) but they didn't. He adds, “But those sacrifices are an annual reminder of sins, because it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.” (v.3,4) The Day of Atonement rolled round year by year and every time the High Priest went in and offered sacrifices for his own sin and the sin of the people. They knew they were not perfect.
And then Christ came: Having got to that point, he turns back to Christ by quoting from and applying Psa 40:6-8 to Christ. It is worth reading the whole of that part of that psalm: “Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but my ears you have pierced; burnt offerings and sin offerings you did not require. Then I said, "Here I am, I have come-- it is written about me in the scroll. I desire to do your will, O my God; your law is within my heart.” Now instead of the reference to be a slave to God – having a pierced ear – the Septuagint (that Greek version we referred to earlier in the book) has “ but a body you have prepared for me,” which he quotes from. Similarly there is an alternative possibility to “it is written about me in the scroll,” as “ with the scroll written for me,” which would be the scroll of God's will or instructions written for him.
Closer Scrutiny: Let's take the quote our writer uses and consider it bit by bit, first verses 5-7:
"Sacrifice and offering you did not desire” – as he'll say in a moment the Law required them but God was looking for heart changes not mere religious ritual.
“but a body you prepared for me” – Christ's human body to be used as a sacrifice was the only one that could satisfy justice.
“with burnt offerings and sin offerings you were not pleased” – the repetitive Hebrew style reiterating that ritual cannot replace reality.
“Then I said, `Here I am--it is written about me in the scroll-- I have come to do your will, O God.'” – Christ's coming was to do God's will and achieve what animal sacrifices would not achieve. This was clearly David moving in prophetic mode.
Confirming Explanation: Then he does his own explanation: “First he said, "Sacrifices and offerings, burnt offerings and sin offerings you did not desire, nor were you pleased with them" (although the law required them to be made). Then he said, "Here I am, I have come to do your will." He sets aside the first to establish the second. And by that will, we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.” (v.8-10) So twice more the demolition ball crashes in. Sacrifices and offerings were in the Law but God wanted a corresponding heart response, not merely a religious ritual. Christ came to present his body so that his sacrifice would replace all those previous sacrifices so that, as a result, a new holy people could be formed, a people won by love, a people who respond in love. Love, not religious ritual; that was the big difference between the outworkings of the two covenants.
Meditations in Hebrews 10: 42. The Waiting Priest-King
Heb 10:12,13 But when this priest had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God. Since that time he waits for his enemies to be made his footstool,
The Futility of the old: We have already noted how this writer has been bringing argument after argument to pull down the edifice which is reliance upon the Law, and as a good teacher he repeats again and again the things he says, slightly varying them to enlarge the argument. So, yet again, he shows the futility of the old order: “Day after day every priest stands and performs his religious duties; again and again he offers the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins.” (v.11) The best you could say was that they were being obedient, it was a sign of their desire to follow God, but on the other side these offerings were mere animals and as such they did nothing to satisfy justice and they did nothing to appease the sense of guilt that the giver had.
Contrast Jesus: And then comes the contrast with Jesus: “But when this priest had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God. Since that time he waits for his enemies to be made his footstool, because by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.” (v.12-14) Now there is quite a lot there, so we should take it piece by piece.
“But when this priest had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins” – ‘this priest' refers to Jesus. He, by contrast with the Levitical priests, just offered one sacrifice, his own body, but that one offering operated for all time, i.e. as long as there is time-space history Jesus work on the Cross will be there for any person to draw on; there is no second method or alternative to come. That was it. Sufficient.
“he sat down at the right hand of God” – he swaps role from priest to king.
“Since that time he waits for his enemies to be made his footstool.” Since that moment he reigns over the last days – the period from his ascension to his coming again – and works through his Church to set prisoners free, overcome the works of Satan, destroy the power of sin, and remove the fear of death. His ‘enemies' are anything and anyone who opposes love and goodness and righteousness, and victory means those three things overcoming the works of evil. What has not submitted by the time of his second coming, will then fall before his power (see Rev 19 on). Until that time comes, he waits at his Father's side, ‘ruling in the midst of his enemies' (Psa 110).
“because by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy” – this is amazing! Do you realise that in God's sight you have been made perfect? When God looks at those who have come to Christ, He sees first and foremost Jesus dying on the Cross for their sins. As He looks past that He sees those sins have been removed from you and put on Christ.
The Change: Remember my definition of Sin – self-centred godlessness. When you came to Christ you ceased to be self-centred to be God-centred and instead of being godless you are now godly as, with the indwelling Holy Spirit, your life is now focused on Him – to please Him, enjoy Him, respond to Him, be led by Him, blessed by Him.
Completed: Yes, you may on occasion stumble and still think, say or do something wrong, but that is an exception to the rule for the rule is that indwelt by the Holy Spirit the power of Sin is broken and you do no HAVE to follow a pattern of sin any longer. Another word for ‘perfect' is ‘complete'. You are complete in the sense that all of the work of Christ on the Cross, as far as your salvation is concerned, has been completed and you have everything you need to be His child, walking out His life on this earth.
A holy people: But did you notice the last words of that verse? “ who are being made holy”. In one sense, Scripture tells us, you have been made holy, you are holy because the HOLY Spirit indwells you, but holiness is an attribute that is unique to God and when we speak of a thing, place or person as being holy, we are simply referring to God's presence that is there. So we have been made holy and are being made holy. How can it be past and present? The apostle Paul said we “are being transformed into his likeness,” (2 Cor 3:18) and this is the work of the Spirit. So, as your life grows spiritually you will become more and more like Him. It is a gradual process; it started when you came to Christ and were ‘born again' and were indwelt by the Holy Spirit and it will continue until you see him face to face in eternity.
OT Support: He supports all this, as he has done again and again, with references to Old Testament scriptures: “The Holy Spirit also testifies to us about this. First he says…” (v.15) he starts setting up two citations. First, “This is the covenant I will make with them after that time, says the Lord. I will put my laws in their hearts, and I will write them on their minds.” (v.16 citing Jer 31:33) He has used the Jeremiah quote before as he shows that the new covenant involves a new inner change in us.
The Past Forgotten: But, “Then he adds: "Their sins and lawless acts I will remember no more.” (v.17 citing Jer 31:34) Because they are new people and have been changed internally, so they are no longer self-centred and godless, God has also said that, because of Christ's work on the Cross (we might imply) He no longer sees their past sinful acts. As he said previously, in God's sight we are perfect.
To round it off, he adds a further little logical conclusion: “And where these have been forgiven, there is no longer any sacrifice for sin.” (v.18) i.e. if Christ has dealt with our sin you no longer have to go to the temple to offer a sacrifice.
The Jewish Change: I know we have said it before but it bears repeating and emphasizing, but this teaching was literally life-changing and culturally devastating for the Jews. It set them free from a world of ‘having to do', a world where they could never be absolutely sure that they had God's approval and so had to keep on and on the Temple service. Now Jesus comes and the teaching is that all of those has been swept away by Christ's one-off death as an eternal sacrifice for sins. There is now no need to make offerings to cover guilt. IF the Jews as a whole had received Christ as their Messiah-Saviour then temple worship would stop making sacrifices, and simply become opportunities for praise and worship – which is what the Christian church ‘service' is all about; it is NOT about getting God's approval; He has given it to all who come to Him through Christ. Hallelujah!
Meditations in Hebrews 10: 43. Confidence and Exhortations
Heb 10:19,22 Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus….. let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith
Our writer has just shown how Jesus died once and for all so that we could enter a new covenant whereby God's Holy Spirit would indwell us and transform us from inside-out. These verses are very logical (which is why I have referred to his writing as an ongoing argument – not the hostile sort, but the sort that seeks to convey a point of view with logical outcomes) So it comes as no surprise that we come to another link word, “Therefore” or, if you like, “As a consequence therefore” which says, “Because it is clear that God has done everything He could through the Cross of Christ, to put us right with Himself, A ND because we have confidence to come into God's presence because of what Jesus has done for us, THEREFORE the logical outworking of all this is that we can ‘draw near to God with the assurance that faith brings.”
This Confidence: But he has two things to say about this confidence which is referred to in verse 21: “ Therefore , brothers, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus….” It is a confidence to enter what had been a shut away place of God's presence that only the high priest had been able to enter and that only once a year.
But then, the first of the two things he has to say about it, he says HOW this is possible: “by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body,” (v.20) There had been a massively thick and high curtain that divided off the innermost place where God was said to reside but Christ had earned a way through that curtain and it was, of course, by offering his own body as a sacrifice. (Note: some commentators link ‘curtain' and ‘body' and say when the curtain was torn open (Mk 15:38) that was symbolic of Jesus body being ‘torn open' on the Cross. I do not like that interpretation because no where else is his time on the Cross described in such a way and it is more logical to speak of his work on the Cross earning a way into God's presence, which is what this section is all about.)
But then he says a second thing, about WHY we have this confidence to come into God's presence: “and since we have a great priest over the house of God,” (v.21) We can come to God confidently not because of a method but because of a person. This has all been achieved by God's own Son, Jesus Christ, who has done it all for us in his love for us and he's the one, sitting at his Father's right hand who can speak up for us as we have seen previously.
Now make sure you are absolutely clear about this because many Christians live a life of uncertainty. We have confidence to come to God as His children, NOT because of anything we have done or not done, but first because the penalty had been paid or the sentence carried out in respect of the guilt we carried because of our sins and, second, because it is the very Son of God who does this for us. He is FOR us!
Five “Let us” exhortations: Now, as a consequence or outworking of these things that establish our salvation and enable us to come into God's presence, the writer, still with his ‘pastoral' hat on, exhorts us to do five things, each one starting with ‘Let us' as he seeks to stir up our faith and our Christian lives:
1. Draw near to God: “let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith.” (v.22a) We have ‘sincere hearts', open, honest, truthful hearts, hearts all out for God, ever since we surrendered our lives to God when we first came to Him, and as we now life by faith that faith assures us, we can do this!
Two riders: But there are two riders that go with this ‘Let us': i) “having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience” i.e. we've been washed by his blood, to use Old Testament Levitical language, and made clean in His sight so we can have a clear conscience and ii) “having our bodies washed with pure water.” Water washing was another process of the Tabernacle worship.
Ezekiel speaks of washing: Now Ezekiel, in the Exile context, spoke a prophetic word that went much further than the Exile: “For I will take you out of the nations; I will gather you from all the countries and bring you back into your own land. I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.” (Ezek 36:24-27) What an amazing passage with its seven (perfect number or number of completion) “I will”s, the third of which was to wash and cleanse them. The apostle Paul wrote, “Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word.” (Eph 5:25,26) The inference there is that God's word cleanses but I would suggest that this refers to the truth of the work on the Cross. The ‘hearts sprinkled' and ‘bodies washed' refer to the work of the Cross to cleanse the believer internally and to also bring about a cleansing externally, a transformed life.
And So: So this is the first of the five exhortations and it is very simple – as one of God's children, take time out to sit quietly and draw near to Him in prayer (because that is where almost certainly it will happen) or maybe worship, and know Him. You CAN do this because of what Christ has done on the Cross for you and because he is working today for you. By his work on the Cross he has cleansed you internally so that your outer life will be transformed and cleansed as well. You ARE God's child and you ARE precious to Him, so put life aside for a while and draw near to Him. We will consider the remaining four in the next study.
Meditations in Hebrews 10: 44. Exhortations (Continued)
Heb 10:19,22 Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus….. let us …..
The Way Opened: So, there we are, he says, we now have a confidence to be able to get in close to God where He dwells and we have this way in because Jesus, when he died on the Cross, earned this way in for us. God's ‘Presence' had been hidden away behind a massively thick curtain in the Temple, inaccessible to all except the high priest who was allowed in there once a year to present a sacrifice for all the people, but beyond that God was inaccessible. But now, now the curtain has been torn in two and a way in made by the Son of God himself, and he still acts like a priest for us, saying, “Come in, let me introduce you to my Father.” That was what we saw in verses 19 and 20 of chapter 10.
Five “Let us” exhortations: But then we saw that in the verses that follow there are five exhortations, each one beginning with, “Let us….” The first one we saw, was “Let us draw near to God.” If the way has been made open to allow us in to the innermost sanctuary where God dwells, we would be foolish not to make the most of that opportunity. As long as we have a whole-hearted faith, we're in! But there are four more.
2. Hold to your hope: “Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess.” (v.23a) Not only do we have an opportunity, we have a life outlook that constantly looks forward; it's called hope. It's not only about what happens after I die, but it's all about tomorrow. Tomorrow Jesus will be exactly the same as he was yesterday or today or two thousand years ago.(Heb 13:8) I can trust him. He will still be there working to draw me ever closer to the Father, to be ever more like himself, with a power that will be everlasting. That is the hope we've been told about and of which we now profess, and it is another of those means that enable us to stand strong in our faith.
Why? But then there is a rider to this exhortation. Why can we hold to it, how will it work out for us? The answer is simple: “for he who promised is faithful.” (v.23b) The Father is faithful to His promises and will not change His mind and suddenly withdraw His offer of ongoing life salvation. Moreover Jesus is faithful and will not suddenly change his mind and stop speaking up on our behalf. Oh no, we can hold on to this hope because the Ones on whom it is based are unchanging.
3. Encourage more love, more goodness: “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds.” (v.24) This life of faith is not to be about just hanging on, it is about developing it in both me and in you. Why am I writing these studies? Partly to build and bless me, but I've found I have a watching audience and so I want to bless and encourage you as well, and this is one of the best ways to do that. This Christian life isn't just about sitting around waiting until we get called to heaven. I am sure many of us think we are just sitting in a heavenly waiting room, waiting to get called. No, it's about receiving and taking hold of that inheritance we read about earlier, and that involves me being changed and me being involved in bringing change to others and to the world about me. More love, more goodness, let's change and let's change the world with it! Even as we age, may we become more Christ-like and by the time comes when we are called home to heaven, may there be signs all around us of a world that has been changed by our presence, our activities, a world with more love, more goodness!
4. Get with others: “Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing.” (v.25a) What an apt word today, for those who know these things say that all around us are people who have become disenchanted by church and who have stopped going. Now I actually believe the ‘disenchanted movement' (it is not something recognized as a movement) is actually a work of God as He stirs many to face the reality of church life that so often just seems to be full of ritual. Turning up at church and church meetings to work to a program and go through a series of things that tend to be the same week by week, is not what church is all about. But this isn't the place to suggest what church should be, as much as I would like to, it's the place to challenge the ‘disenchanted stay away' group and say, life flows through people, Holy Spirit life flows between Christians and if we are to “spur one another on toward love and good deeds,” we can only do that when we are together with other Christians. There appears to be a completely unstructured and informal movement, in the UK at least, of Christians meeting together in new groups (while still going to church many of them) to fellowship, worship and minister together. And how would I summarise what I see they are doing? See the last of these five exhortations:
5. Encourage each other: “but let us encourage one another.” (v.25b) How simple. That is what we all need. How does it happen? We meet together, share together, eat together, fellowship together, get to know one another like we've never known before, pray for one another, and perhaps worship together as we allow the Holy Spirit to inspire and lead. The result? A bunch of encouraged stronger believers who realise afresh the wonder of what it means to be the body of Christ. And just in case all that doesn't do it for you, he gives one last prod: “and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” (v.25c) i.e. remember that as every day passes it draws us nearer to the time when Christ will return. I always bear in mind Jesus' words, “when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?” (Lk 18:8) I don't know about you but even if Jesus came with a gentle smile on his face, I don't want him to be able to say, “what haven't you been doing that my Spirit put on your heart but your faith failed to rise to?” How can I avoid that? By meeting with other Spirit-empowered believers who can challenge me, stir me up and keep me going forward.
On a personal note, I am not enamored by ritualistic, unreal Christianity, but I am really blessed when I can join with brothers and sisters who want Jesus to be Lord and want to give his Holy Spirit free reign, and fellowship, feed, worship, pray and minister together. When that happens I go away blessed and stronger. That is what our writer to the Hebrews wants for his readers I believe. Let's not disappoint him!
Meditations in Hebrews 10: 45. Devastating Warning No.3
Heb 10:26,17 If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God.
Variety of Warnings: We have noted in this book previously, two major warnings. The first in 2:1-3 was a warning not to ignore the wonderful salvation that is presented to us. The second in 3:7-12 was to not let a sinful unbelieving heart develop so you fall away. There were also a number of secondary or implied warnings that we noted as we went along, e.g. “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.” (4:1) In chapter 6 we encountered a chiding of those who couldn't take in more mature teaching and that came with a not-so-subtle warning that it was impossible to bring back to repentance someone who has tasted all the goodness of God but then fallen away (6:4-8)
What we are now confronted, what in chapter 10 is an extension of that last warning and it comes over even more strongly. In what follows, that we will see in the next study, is that it is clear that the church in the middle of that first century had been going through harsh and difficult times and that maybe the reason why so many times in this book the writer brings these warning to hold on to the faith and not fall away. So let's consider the detail of what he now says.
The warning: 1. Purposeful intent: “If we deliberately keep on sinning.” (v.26a) Note the word ‘deliberately'. This isn't spoken to someone who accidentally, stumbles or falls to a temptation but it is someone who purposefully decides they are going to turn away from God. Now note that the writer doesn't go into particular reasons why someone might do this. Jesus' parable of the Sower shows different sorts of ground, and the second ground showed people who fall away when trouble or persecution comes, and the third ground speaks of the person where the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth stop faith growing. In the light of the advent of the writing of the crusading atheists of the early part of the 21 st century, I would also suggest that the faith of some people was too shallow and so shallow opposition from these writers has indeed uprooted some.
The warning: 2. Knowing the truth: “after we have received the knowledge of the truth” (v.26b) This is the second element of this warning and it counters the argument that some put forward that, “Well, these backsliders probably weren't real Christians to start with.” Well, yes they were. The had received the knowledge of the truth. They knew what it was but they decided (for whatever reason) to reject it. If you have never realised the fickleness of the human heart, don't be surprised by this. We CAN fully know the truth about God but still turn away. It happens!
The warning: 3. No sacrifice left: “no sacrifice for sins is left.” If you reject God's salvation then obviously there is nothing left for you to rely on when it comes to the matter of facing the guilt of your sins. There is NO other means of salvation; reject this one and you reject any possibility of being saved.
The warning: 4. Only judgment left: “but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God.” (v.27) Look, part of the gospel is that there is something to be saved from – judgment on sins. The whole of the Bible points to the truth that God holds people accountable for their lives and if they refuse the goodness that He offers through the salvation that comes through Christ, then they are left, standing naked before the God who sees all and holds us accountable.
Moses example: He reminds these Jewish Christians what the Law stated, that for certain sins the penalty on the unrepentant was death: “Anyone who rejected the law of Moses died without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses.” (v.28) So he parallels this with this modern apostate: “How much more severely do you think a man deserves to be punished who has trampled the Son of God under foot, who has treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified him, and who has insulted the Spirit of grace?”
Three elements of apostasy: Note those things: First, “who has trampled the Son of God under foot.” What a horrible way of describing their rejection of Christ's work on the Cross, but it is true. It's like they just walk over the truth counting it for nothing. So, second, “who has treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified him.” i.e. they have said there is no value in the work on the Cross, it is meaningless, Then, third, “who has insulted the Spirit of grace.” The Holy Spirit had worked to draw them into the kingdom of God and had then taught them, but ultimately they turned their back on him and rejected all He said and had done.
Additional Warnings: And then, as if to drum this home he reminds them of the God with whom they have to deal, citing various references from the Old Testament: “For we know him who said, "It is mine to avenge; I will repay," (v.30a citing Deut. 32:35) and “ again, "The Lord will judge his people.” (v.30b citing Deut. 32:36; Psalm 135:14) and concludes, “It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” (v.31) What is he saying? God holds sinners accountable for their sins. He has provided a means of salvation through His Son, Jesus Christ, but if you reject that salvation you are still accountable and there is only one option left for you.
If we think these warnings are unduly harsh, it means a) we have failed to see the seriousness of sin and b) we have failed to observe the alternative that God constantly holds out to sinners and c) we forget that these warning of the unpleasant consequences come to people who deliberately choose that path. The fault is entirely theirs. The optional paths are made very clear in Scripture. The wonder of the path of salvation is made ultra clear, but then so is the awfulness of eternal judgment. Be clear about both.
Meditations in Hebrews 10: 46. What a Testimony
Heb 10:32 Remember those earlier days after you had received the light, when you stood your ground in a great contest in the face of suffering.
The writer to the Hebrews has warned and cajoled his readers again and again. They are clearly living in perilous times when the pressures upon them all had been great. For those of us living in the West, where for the most of the time life is comfortable as a Christian, it is difficult for us to comprehend the strength of the pressure upon the early believers in that first century after Christ.
The Great Contest: The writer now refers to life in that period as “a great contest”. There were many others competing for the truth and some of them – the authorities with the power – used persecution to try to hold down the Faith. Yet, he says, they had ‘stood their ground' and held on to their beliefs and (mostly) their lives. The apostle Paul in his famous spiritual warfare passage in Eph 6 said, “Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil's schemes, “ (Eph 6:11) and later added, “put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground , and after you have done everything , to stand . Stand firm then.” (Eph 6:13,14) These Jewish Christians had done just that: “Remember those earlier days after you had received the light, when you stood your ground in a great contest in the face of suffering.” (v.32)
The Opposition they overcame: He then reminds them of the level of opposition that had overcome: “Sometimes you were publicly exposed to insult and persecution; at other times you stood side by side with those who were so treated. You sympathized with those in prison and joyfully accepted the confiscation of your property, because you knew that you yourselves had better and lasting possessions.” (v.33,34) Note the four things they had done as they had stood against early opposition.
1. Publicly Opposed: “publicly exposed to insult and persecution – there was nothing hidden about the opposition they received, it was outright and obvious. They were derided and physically opposed as well.
2. Empathized with others Opposed: “at other times you stood side by side with those who were so treated.” But it wasn't just them. The Gentile believers obviously went through the same thing and these Jewish Christians had stood alongside them, encouraging them.
3. Stood alongside those imprisoned : “You sympathized with those in prison.” Their hearts were with their brothers and sisters who the authorities threw into prison for their faith. The apostle Paul had been doing this in the early days (see Acts 8:3) and Herod had also done it (see Acts 12:1) but it had already happened from the earliest days of the new Church (see Acts 5:18, 16:23,)
4. Lost Properties: “joyfully accepted the confiscation of your property.” Obviously part of that persecution they endured meant having their property confiscated, and this they had coped with as part of all that was happening to them, but not just coped, they had known the joy of the Lord as they suffered.
The Big Picture: How had they coped? It was “because you knew that you yourselves had better and lasting possessions.” (v.34b) There are early echoes here of what will come up again in the hall of faith in Heb 11. They had stood knowing the reality of their inheritance, knowing that what they had in Christ was better than any earthly fame, wealth or possessions. This was another of those times when seeing the bigger picture helped them cope with the specific difficulties at the moment. Later on in chapter 12 he will give another: “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross.” (Heb 12:2) Jesus had seen the big picture and looked beyond the Cross to what would follow it and that helped him cope with the whole awful experience of the Cross.
The Exhortation: Remember, this is all part of his encouragements-warnings-challenges that keep coming to these people So here it comes again: “So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded. You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised.” (v.35,36) See yet again, an exhortation followed by a reason. The exhortation is “do not throw away your confidence”. i.e. don't let go of the truths you have learned in which you now stand secure. Hold on to them. And why? What reason does he put forward as yet another encouragement to them to stand? You “will be richly rewarded…. You will receive what he has promised.” Both on this world and in the life after death there is much more to come. Much more of our inheritance to receive but it can only be received by those who will persevere and hold on to the will of God.
He then gives a final encouragement: “For in just a very little while, "He who is coming will come and will not delay. But my righteous one (or the righteous ) will live by faith. And if he shrinks back, I will not be pleased with him.” (v.37,38 quoting from Hab 2:3,4) Again it is a reminder of God's expectations of His people. Then he finishes the chapter with a faith declaration: “But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who believe and are saved.” (v.39)
In these verses we have seen a remarkable testimony of these early Jewish Christian believers who had stood in the face of persecution. Indeed their testimony was one of the means of encouraging them to stand firm and press on. It is good again and again to remind ourselves what God has done for us. Reminding ourselves of our testimony is a good way of stirring faith in us for today. Again and again this writer has sought to do that for these believers.
He is now going to do it by expanding this last thought to consider the testimonies of many of the saints in the Old Testament period who stood by faith. Now we have covered chapter 11 in a 49 part series called ‘Focusing Faith', the first 37 parts of which take us through chapter 11. Out next study will, therefore, pick up on in Chapter 12.