Hebrews has one resounding theme, the absolute supremacy of Christ. He is the Son of God, which is to say He is God, the Second Person of the Triune God who is One, yet Three. As the Son of God He is God’s final and ultimate revelation. In times past God has spoken through the prophets. To them He gave visions and visitations and signs and wonders. But Jesus is the final Message of God. The prophets wrote of Him. The visions, signs, and wonders were given to guide Israel toward the fullness of time when Christ would appear and begin to bring all things together under Himself. Therefore, Christ is superior to visions and signs. They are actually superseded by Him. They are no longer needed. God spoke to us in His Son, who gave His word to the Apostles, who recorded it in the Bible. Thus, the Bible is our authority. We should not expect more visions or prophecies or signs or feelings. We should not expect God to speak to us through such measures. We have a much surer way of knowing God; He is revealed in the Bible. To seek to know the will of God apart from the Bible is to treat the Bible as insufficient, and that is the same as saying Christ is insufficient.
This Word of God, the Son of God, is the brightness of His glory and the image of His person (3). “Image” in the Greek is the word from which we derive our English word, “character.” It means Christ is not an image of God as a portrait or statue is an image of a person. Christ is the living expression of God. He is the “character” (nature) of God in a living, human form. Therefore, He is superior to angels. Angels are great and powerful beings. They are good, they are strong, and they dwell in the immediate presence of God. They serve Him and worship Him and do His will. Yet they are nothing in comparison to Christ. He is their Lord. He is their Creator and Master. He gives their powers to them. He gives their existence to them. He can take it away in less than an instant if He wants to.
If an angel were to appear to you at this very moment, you would probably be filled with fear. If the angel told you to do something, you would probably obey immediately. Yet One far greater than all the angels has appeared on earth, and bids you believe in Him and keep His commandments, therefore you should give your utmost to hearing and obeying His Word. This is the point of Hebrews 1, and it begins in the very first verse. The One who is greater than the angels is Christ Jesus, the character of God in human form. Christ is the heir and creator of all things, who purged our sins by His own blood, and now is seated again at the right hand of the Majesty on high (2). God has spoken to us in Him, a revelation that is complete and full and above every other communication from God. The other revelations looked forward to Him, and He is the completion of their story (1).
Hebrews 2 reminds us again that God became a real, living human being. This theme begins in verse 9 and culminates in verse 16. Christ was made “lower than the angels” (9) and of the seed of Abraham (16). It is necessary to have this fact firmly in mind to understand the main point of this passage because an angel could not accomplish what Christ accomplished for us. If an angel had become human and gone to the cross his death would be as unable to atone for our sins as the blood of bulls and goats. Why? Because God must bear the cost of our sins, just as we must bear the cost of sins against us if we are going to continue in relationship with other people. So God, somehow remained God, yet also became fully human and participated fully in the human condition even to the point of death. He allowed Himself no special privileges. He had to live by faith, He had to live by the power of the Spirit, and he had to obey the Scriptures just as we all have to do. “Wherefore in all things it behooved him to be made like unto his brethren” (17). But unlike us, He accomplished it all without sin.
Having made the point that Christ always was/is/will be nothing less than God who became flesh, we are now told why He did so, “that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make reconciliation for the sins of the people” (2:17). His full experience of the human condition allows Him to know by experience what we face in life. He was tempted. He knew physical weakness, hunger, weariness, and sickness. He was constrained by time and space. He suffered these things, and having experienced them, He is able to succour us (2:18). “Succour” summarises this whole passage, for it summarises the work of Christ. It means to have empathy and to feel our sorrows and needs. But it also means to apply healing and help to our wounds. Our wound is our sin and the wrath of God. He heals that wound by bearing it in Himself on the cross, reconciling us to God. But His work does not end there. It continues, as He calls His people unto Himself, builds up His Church, leads us into God by His Word and Spirit, and, finally, places us in His immediate presence in that land where sin and sorrow will never touch us again, forever.
The Old Testament is filled with the works of great prophets. Isaiah, Ezekiel, and Samuel, were great men and great leaders, whose works have influenced the world for thousands of years. Yet none of them can compare to the work and influence of Moses. No other human being has left a stamp upon the mind and fabric of humanity that compares to that of Moses. No philosopher, no religious leader, no political leader or empire has had the global historical influence of Moses. Yet One has come among us who is far greater than Moses. This One is Christ Jesus, the Apostle and High Priest of our faith (3:1). He is superior to Moses as the builder is greater than the building (3:3). He is the builder of all things (3:4), and He is the builder of the Church, which is His house (3:6). Moses was a servant in His house (3:5), but Christ is the owner, the Son to whom the house belongs (3:6). Thus, the book of Hebrews emphasizes again the Divine identity of Christ. He is not just a prophet and not just a man. He is the One who sent the prophets. Moses was His servant. He created the world and all the people, and He is the owner as well as the creator of all things.
Verses 7-19 remind us to give unto Christ the honour and obedience that is His due. The verses remind us that those who disobeyed Moses suffered death in the wilderness. They were brought out of Egypt by the power of God, yet they did not enter into the Promised Land. Their unbelief sealed their fate forever, for they did not make it to the Heavenly Promised Land any more than they made it to Canaan (38). Verse 14 is an important verse, for it tells us only those who continue in Christ to the end will be partakers of His eternal Kingdom in Heaven. This is a conclusion based on the illustration of those who died in the wilderness. They did not continue in faith in God, therefore, they did not enter Canaan. Those who appear to begin to follow Christ, but do not continue in Him to the end, will not make it to Heaven. Therefore, “Harden not your heart as in the provocation, in the day of temptation in the wilderness: when your fathers tempted me, and saw my works forty years” (8&9). But exhort one another, and yourself, “lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin” (13). Make no mistake, sin is deceitful, and can convince you that you are in Christ even when you are far away from Him. Please abide in Him, steadfast to the end (14).
Hebrews 4:1-13 continues the theme begun in verse 7 of chapter 3, namely, love and obedience to Christ. This is a pattern of the book of Hebrews. Chapter 1 tells us Christ is the Son of God who is far greater than angels. Chapter 2 tells us that since He is greater than angels, He is more worthy of our love and obedience than they. Chapter 3:1-6 tells us Christ is greater than Moses. This is followed by an exhortation to honour and obey Him more than Moses. Verses 1-13 are part of that exhortation.
Verses 1-6 use a word we don’t hear much anymore, “fear.” “Let us therefore fear.” And what does it tell us to fear? Coming short of entering into His rest. The Bible is using the experience of the Hebrew people, who were freed from Egyptian slavery, yet did not make it into the Promised Land. We remember that they came to its borders, but failed to enter out of fear of the Canaanites. According to Hebrews, their fear was the sin of unbelief. They simply did not trust God enough to put their lives in His hand. Therefore, they died in the wilderness rather than obey God. The point being made is that many people will appear to start the journey of faith in Christ, but will not make it to Heaven because they will not really trust God with their lives and their souls. They will go astray. They will love the things of the world more than they love God. They will pursue the things of the world, to the exclusion of God, because they will not trust God to provide for them in this life. And if they cannot trust God with their lives, they cannot trust Him with their souls. Therefore, they will be lost. They will not make it to Heaven. These people may be very religious. They may keep the outward forms of the faith carefully. They may pray and worship and read the Bible, and give money, but their hearts belong to them, not God. You can see it in them that they are afraid to trust God. They are afraid to give up their pleasures and amusements to serve Him. They find their life’s meaning in toys and recreations rather than God, and when they face challenges in life, they turn to their amusements rather than God, to see them through. At one time they “tried Jesus.” At one time they started the journey of faith in Him. But at some point they stopped trusting Him. They couldn’t face the giants, so they entered not into the Promised Land, and if they do not return to God they will not enter Heaven.
Thus, verse 7 exhorts us to follow Christ “today.” It is not to be put off. The longer we wallow in sin the harder it becomes to get up and walk in faith. The longer we put our trust in money, or things, or amusements, the harder it gets to put our trust in God. The more we love these things, the more we fear losing them, and the less we trust God to be worth more to us than they are. What if God takes them away from us? What if I have to give up my Saturday night out or my Sunday morning golf to go to Church? What means more to me, these things, or God? Today is the day to choose. In fact you will choose today. You are choosing now. Today, harden not your hearts as the Hebrews did in the wilderness. Do not turn away from God. Today trust Him with all your heart, and enter into His rest.
Verse 12 is often quoted but seldom understood. It means that the word of God sees into your soul and makes it plain whether you are following God or not. It cuts through your defenses and the make-believe world you create to insulate yourself from God. They are coverings of fig leaves, but to God your soul is naked, for He discerns your thoughts. He knows whether you are following Him or turning back away from Him.
The rabbi was a highly honoured man in the Jewish community. Known for learning and wisdom, he was often asked to settle disputes and give counsel on a wide range of issues. And his word was usually followed gladly. Yet beloved and respected as he was, the High Priest was much more so. He lived in palatial grandeur, oversaw the services of the Temple in Jerusalem, and was the spiritual leader and symbol of the entire Jewish religion and nation. The book of Hebrews has already told us Christ is greater than angels and Moses, now it tells us He is greater than the High Priest.
He is greater because He has passed into the heavens and because He is the Son of God. Yet He is also aware of our human trials because He experienced them Himself. He is touched by our infirmities and was in all points tried and tempted as we are, though without sin (4:15). Therefore He is merciful and welcoming to those who continue with Him, steadfast to the end (3:14). We may come to Him boldly, not arrogantly nor flippantly, but in reverence tempered with confidence in His grace, knowing that in Him we will find mercy, grace, and help (4:16).
He is greater than the human High Priest because He Himself is without sin, therefore, every aspect of His work is for His people, not Himself. The human High Priest had to offer sacrifices for his own sins, and to spend time in prayer and confession for himself (3), but Christ is without sin, and His ministry was given entirely for our sake.
He is greater than the High Priest because His Priestly Order is greater than the Human High Priest’s. He is of the Order of Melchisedec (10). We will see more about Melchisedec later. The point of today’ reading is that Melchisedec was the Priest of God long before the institution of the Temple, the sacrificial system, and the order of priests that conducted the services, including the High Priest.
Therefore, let us go on with Christ into mature faith. That means there must be more to our faith than simply repeating “Christ died for my sins, so I am saved.” We must move into fully trusting Christ with our lives and souls. We must move into finding in Him our life’s meaning, our joy, our pleasure, our hope, and our comfort. In other words, our belief that Christ died for our sins must transform and direct every other aspect of our life, else it is not real faith.
Hebrews 6 continues to warn us not to neglect the salvation purchased for us by God in Christ. The heart of this warning is terrible and frightening, for its message is that those who appear to begin to follow Christ in the life of faith, but stop following Him, will not become followers of Christ again. “It is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost, and have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come, if they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance” (4-6).
Most people don’t pay much attention to these verses because they immediately call up all their defensive tactics that tell them once saved always saved, and that such people were never saved in the first place. That is true, but that is not the point, because they believed they were saved, and they made a start at living the Christian life. But at some point and for some reason, they quit. They either found out that they really don’t believe, or they decided they aren’t really willing to live the Christian life. They were probably quite happy to believe Jesus died for their sins, be baptized, and do a few churchy things as long as it was convenient and easy for them, but when following Christ began to require trusting Him in difficult situations and sacrificing personal goals and desires to live for Him, they simply quit. Such people will probably continue to convince themselves they are Christians, but in reality, they are not. So the “moral of the story” is found in verse 12, “be not slothful, but followers of them, who through faith and patience inherit the promises.”
Abraham is an example of a person who inherited the promises through faith and patience (15). He patiently endured in the faith, though it was not always easy for him. He inherited the earthly Promised Land through his descendants, but he inherited the Kingdom of Heaven as the promise of God. Canaan was but a symbol of the Heavenly Promised Land.
The promises of God are immutable. In verse 17 it says the counsel of God is immutable, but the counsel of God includes His promises. We could interpret the verse as saying the word of God is immutable, meaning the word of God is His bond and He will not break it. His word is confirmed by an oath. God swears by Himself, making it evident that His word is indeed a promise. He binds Himself to keep His promise, that those who trust in Christ in Biblical faith, will inherit the promise, and those who do not trust in Him to the end, will not.
This promise is an anchor of hope in a sea of troubles (19). It gives us faith to continue on, steadfast to the end. It keeps us anchored in Christ, and Christ Himself is “within the veil” the Holy of Holies, which is the right hand of God in Heaven.
Chapter 6 closed with a quote from Psalm 110:4 and a reference to Genesis 14:18-20. Hebrews 7 explains how Christ is a Priest of the order of Melchisidec. The identity of Melchisidec is a topic of much discussion among students of Scripture. He is noted as the King of Salem, which means King of Peace, and the inference in the book of Hebrews is that he is an appearance of Christ in the Old Testament. Thus, verse 2 calls Him the King of Righteousness to whom Abraham offered a tithe. He is also noted as being without parents and without descendants. Christ is eternally God, so God the Father is not His parent in the same sense that our human fathers and mothers are ours. He has no “beginning of days nor end of life; but made like unto the Son of God; abideth a priest continually” (3).
Melchisidec is a greater priest than the Levitical priests of the Old Testament because they paid tithes to Him through Abraham (5). Note also that Melchisidec predates the Levitical priesthood (6) and that His office did not pass to another at His death. Finally, His priesthood brings His people to perfection, which the Levitical priesthood could never do.
The major point being made in Hebrews 7 is that the Old Testament priesthood was a temporary institution, while the priesthood of Christ is eternal. Just as the priests themselves were not permanent, but passed their office on to another at death, so their order of priesthood was also temporary, and would be passed on to another who will continue in it forever. Melchisidec is eternally a priest, Aaron was temporary.
The ministry of the order of Melchisidec supersedes the Old Testament priests’ ministry. Their ministry has ended, but the ministry of Christ continues. Even now He “ever liveth to make intercession” (25). His ministry surpasses theirs because He accomplished it with a single sacrifice, while theirs required daily sacrifices (27). His ministry surpasses theirs because He is able to save to the uttermost (25). His ministry accomplished our salvation, theirs symbolized it.
Chapter 8 begins to state the sum, or, conclusion, of what has been said in previous chapters, especially chapter 7. The sum is that the Old Testament office of priesthood ended when Christ, the Priest of the order of Melchisidec, appeared. Equally important, the Old Covenant ended when the New Covenant began (13). In future studies we will consider the nature of the relationship between the Old and New Covenants (Testaments). For now let us simply say that the Old Testament parts that have ended are those which foreshadowed the ministry of Christ. They have ended, but they are not dead. They continue in their fulfillment in Christ Jesus and in the New Israel, which is the New Testament Church. Thus, for example, we no longer call people clean or unclean because of the food they eat, for those in Christ are clean by virtue of His atoning death, and those outside of Christ are unclean in their souls, regardless of what they eat. Our spiritual cleanness in Christ fulfills the symbolic cleanness of foods in the Old Testament. So the Old Covenant is waxed old and vanishes away not because it is useless, but because it is fulfilled in Christ. Both are important to us because both chronicle the history of Redemption.
Christ fulfilled the Old Testament priesthood and now resides at the right hand of the Heavenly Majesty (1). The Heavenly Majesty is God, and the meaning is that Christ has returned to the place of honour in the Divine glory of the Trinity. His true work was and is accomplished in the Heavenly Sanctuary, of which the Temple was a symbol, or shadow (2-5).
Christ, the substance of which the Old Testament was the shadow, has a more excellent ministry than the Old Testament priests because He is the mediator of a better covenant (6). The Covenant is the fulfillment of the Old Covenant. Verse 8 refers to Jeremiah 31:31, but the New Covenant is promised in other verses also. The New Covenant people will have the law of God in their hearts (10) and they will all know God (11). Verses 6-13 tell us much about the New Covenant, all building upon the truth stated in 7:25, that Christ’s Covenant and dying gift to His people is their complete salvation and restoration to God.
Hebrews 9:1-5 describes the Tabernacle as God directed it to be built in the wilderness of Sinai. The plan of the Tabernacle was given directly to Moses, and was followed strictly in the Temple built by Solomon. The point of this passage is the temporary nature of the Tabernacle and its services. This is shown in verses 6 & 7, which tell of the repetitive nature of the services. The priests entered daily into the holy place, and the high priest entered annually into the Holy of Holies to conduct the services and worship of God. So, the temporary effects of the service illustrate the temporary nature of the entire system.
Verses 9 and 10 make another important point; access to the presence of God, symbolized by the Holy of Holies, is no longer prevented by a physical barrier. In Christ the veil, which acted as a barrier to separate the Holy of Holies from the rest of the Sanctuary, is removed and access to God is open to anyone who will come to Him. Meat and drink offerings and washings (10 & 13) are now irrelevant to the real worship of God. Under the Old Covenant, they had their place and function, but the sacrifice of Christ alone can purify the heart and bring a person into the true Holy of Holies. Verse 14 makes an excellent point about the Old Testament sacrifices and services. They did what God wanted them to do, and they did it effectually. They made a person symbolically clean and allowed him to participate in the covenant community of Israel. If such small sacrifices could accomplish their purpose, then the surpassing value of the sacrifice of the Son of God is also able to accomplish its purpose, the complete forgiveness of our sins and the complete restoration of our souls to God. If this has been accomplished for us in Christ, we are free from the need for meat and drink offerings (dead works) to serve the Living God through faith in Christ (14).
This point is made first by comparing the Old Covenant to a will, which takes effect at the death of the person making the will. The point is that the promises of the Old Testament become the possession of God’s people at the death of the One making the will, God. Thus, when Christ died, the promises became ours. The Church no longer lives in anticipation of the promises, but in the reality of them.
The point is made second by showing that the people and Tabernacle of the Old Covenant were “purified” with the blood of animals, but the New Covenant and its Tabernacle, which is the true Tabernacle in Heaven, is purified with the blood of Christ Himself. The old Tabernacle was a pattern (copy) of the true Tabernacle (23), and Christ entered into the true Tabernacle and holy place with His own blood to bring us into God.
Hebrews 10 continues to emphasise the finality and supremacy of the life and work of Christ in accomplishing His peoples’ redemption. The Old Testament ceremonies and sacrifices were but a shadow of Him. Verse 1 makes the point that a shadow is not even a full image or replica. It is but an outline, a silhouette. Christ is much more than just an image; He is the very presence of the good things to come. They have arrived in Him. In Him we have received eternal redemption. In Him, we are in God, and God is in us. Verses 1-8 explain the temporary nature of the Old Testament ceremonial and sacrificial laws. The very fact that they needed to be constantly repeated shows their temporary status. If they had been able to accomplish redemption they would not have needed to be repeated.
Christ accomplished full and eternal redemption by His one sacrifice of Himself. Verses 9-14 are about the full salvation purchased for us by His one, full, perfect, and sufficient sacrifice. The conclusion of this section is that “by one offering he hath perfected forever them that are sanctified” (14).
The chapter can be summarized under three headings. First, found in verses 1-18, reiterates the theme of verse 14, the absolute redemption accomplished by the one sacrifice of Christ. Verse 15 refers to the words of the Old Testament Scriptures as the Holy Ghost bearing witness. The Holy Ghost inspired and directed the prophets and authors of the Old Testament, so it is perfectly natural and right to say that in them the Holy Ghost testifies to the truth of what we read in Hebrews. Several passages from the Old Testament are quoted, bringing us to the point, stated in verse 18, that there is no more offering for sin. The Bible is saying God will no longer remember our sin under the New Covenant. That means He will not hold us responsible for its penalty. How can this be? It is only possible if God bears the cost of our sin in Himself, instead of requiring it from us. In other words, God must suffer for our sins in our places. This was accomplished in Christ on the cross. In Him God made the one full and sufficient sacrifice that is able to bear the cost of our sin, forever. There is no more offering for sin because the price has been paid in full and no more offerings are needed.
Second, made in verses 19-21, is the point that we now have boldness to enter into the holiest (presence of God, vs. 19) because our sins are forgiven through the one full and sufficient sacrifice of the blood of Christ. Compare our boldness in coming to God with the fear and temerity of the people under the Old Covenant. They came with blood offerings lest God take their own blood. They came not into the Holy of Holies, knowing they would die if they dared enter into the direct presence of God it symbolised. Even the High Priest feared to enter the Holy of Holies, lest God may be displeased with Israel, and strike him dead. But we, confident that our sins have been forgiven completely because of the sacrifice of Christ, dare to call upon God and enter His presence with confidence and boldness. Our boldness is not irreverent or glib. Our entrance into the presence of God is reverent and respectful. It is not arrogance; it is faith. It is our confidence that Christ has washed away our sins and made us acceptable unto God that allows us come to Him as His beloved children to our Father.
Having taught us of the supremacy and sufficiency of Christ, the book of Hebrews turns again to an exhortation to faithfully trust and obey Him fully and forever. The exhortation begins with a dire warning, found in verses 26-31. These verses teach the terrible consequences of falling away from Christ. Sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth (26) does not refer to the constant failures and sins we commit in our daily battle to conquer sin and live for Christ. The sin of verse 26 is willfully deserting the faith. It is turning away from Christ and returning to the life of self-indulgence and self-direction. It is to remove Christ from the throne of your life, and to re-enthrone yourself as king and god of yourself. It is to live in unrepentant rebellion against God. It is, to draw back from Christ and return to perdition (39). What happens to a person who has professed Christ, but now has turned away from Him? Is that person “saved?” No. verse 26 says such a person now has no sacrifice for sin. That person has rejected the only sufficient sacrifice, the only one that can cleanse the soul and make him acceptable unto God. That person, therefore, has no way to atone for his sins. He will stand before God in his sins, and for his sins he will be lost. Thus verse 27 says he has only a certain, fearful expectation of judgment. “Certain,” in this verse, means absolute. There is no question about it. It will happen as surely as God exists. Verses 28 & 29 prove this by the Old Testament, which records that people perished for disobeying the law that was given through Moses. If disobeying that law was a grievous crime, surely the rejection of Christ, Immanuel, God with us, is more heinous and more worthy of wrath. Such a person has trodden underfoot the Son of God, and counted the blood of the covenant (the blood Christ shed on the cross) as unholy. He counts the blood of Christ as not the blood of the Most High given for our sins, but as common and defiled and without value. Verse 30 quotes the words of Deuteronomy 32:35 and applies them to the one who has treated the Son of God so despicably. Verse 31 concludes the warning; it is a fearful thing for such people to fall into the hands of the living God.
Now the passage moves into a word of encouragement. It is based on the confidence of 10:39, “we are not of them who draw back unto perdition; but of them that believe to the saving of the soul.” The heart of this passage is verse 35, “cast not away therefore your confidence.” We could restate this verse as, hold fast to Christ in faith. The original recipients of this epistle had faced serious opposition and persecution when they became Christians (32-34). This opposition came from family and friends as well as the larger community. Yet they did not desert Christ. Nor did they desert the Apostle Paul, who was often in chains and prison for his faith in Christ (Heb 10: 34). Just as they stood firm in the faith then, they are encouraged to stand firm now, that they may receive their reward.
Having taught us of the supremacy and sufficiency of Christ, warned us against apostasy, and encouraged us to trust in Christ to the very end, St. Paul now shows several examples of faith in the Old Testament. Their example is given to encourage us to be faithful as they were, but they are also given to show that their salvation was the gift of God received by faith, not something they earned through good deeds or keeping Old Testament ceremonial laws. Many of these people actually antedated the ceremonial laws, but were received by God because they trusted in Him. In other words, they were saved by grace through faith, not of works, lest they boast of their accomplishment (see Eph. 2:2-9). One commentator has captured the essence of the meaning of this passage, especially verse 1. He wrote:
“In Old Testament times…there were many men and women who had nothing but the promises of God to rest upon without any visible evidence that these promises would ever be fulfilled; yet so much did these promises mean to them that they regulated the whole course of their lives in their light. The promises related to a state of affairs belonging to the future; but these people acted as if that state of affairs were already present, so convinced were they that God could and would fulfill what He had promised. In other words, they were men and women of faith. Their faith consisted simply in taking God at His word and in directing their lives accordingly; things yet future so far as their experience went were thus present to faith, and things outwardly unseen were visible to the inward eye. It is in these terms that our author now describes the faith of which he has been speaking” (F. F. Bruce, The Epistle to the Hebrews, p. 277).
The people named in verses 4-12 are often called heroes of faith, but they would probably rather be known as people who were saved by grace. And salvation by grace is the point of this passage. By grace, God promised them an inheritance. That inheritance was symbolized in things like children and land, but it was far more than these things. It was God Himself. Thus, even though Abraham did not technically own the Promised Land, He did inherit a better country, which is the country, or city, of God (16).
By faith these people believed God and directed their lives as if what God had promised was already theirs. This is just what we are called to do as New Testament believers. By grace God has promised full forgiveness and reconciliation with Him. By faith we act like forgiven people. By grace God has given Christ to be the propitiation for our sins. By faith we trust Christ to remove all our sins as far from us as the east is from the west. By grace God has promised to take us to a land where the troubles of earth, the temptations of sin, and the barriers between ourselves and God will be only dim memories, and we will enjoy His glory forever. By faith we conduct and order our lives in the light of that promise.
Looking at Abraham, let us be clear that God is not telling anyone to sacrifice someone as a test of faith today. It may seem odd to see such an obvious statement in this commentary, but it is here for the same reason hand lotion containers have to have warnings; “Not for internal use.” So, “Don’t try this at home.”
Trusting God applies as much to us as to Abraham. Though not called to literally sacrifice children or people to God, we are called to trust God’s promise and providence when it comes to the people and things we love most in this world. Do we love God enough to trust Him with these things? Do we trust Him with our children, grand children, parents, and siblings? Do we trust Him with life as well as eternity? Will we live our lives with faith in the Promise of God in Christ, as Abraham lived with faith in the promise of Genesis 21:12 and Hebrews 11:18, “in Isaac shall thy seed be called”?
This roll call of the faithful is intended to show two things. First, faith is the substance of things hoped for and the evidence of things not seen (1). We see God by faith, not by signs and wonders. We walk with God by faith, not by religious experiences. We know God is with us because we have faith, not because we “feel His presence.” Signs and wonders, religious experiences and feelings are not proof God is working in your life, faith is.
Second, the people of Hebrews 11 lived in the era of promise; we live in the age of fulfillment (39-40). Through faith they followed God according to the light given them by the Old Testament. But that light only gave shadows of the Promise, which is Christ. We live in the days of the Promised One. He has come to earth and accomplished His great work of salvation. The Old Testament saints saw this only dimly, as shadows on a wall. Yet they lived in faith. Yet they followed God, even at great cost. We have seen the Light. We see not shadows but the very form of God in Christ. Let us therefore walk in faith also.
The people of Hebrews 11 now become a great cloud of witness. Their witness is first one of watching us who are now running our race. The word picture given in verse 1 is of the stadium with athletes on the track running a race. Those who have already finished their courses now witness those on the track, cheering and encouraging them. Second, they are those who bear witness to the absolute reliability of God. They show that God was faithful to them; thus, we can expect Him to be faithful to us. Third, and more importantly, they are witnesses as examples of living by faith. In this sense, it is we who are doing the watching. We watch them run their race by reading about them in the pages of Scripture. By their example, we learn what it means to live by faith in our generation, as they lived by faith in theirs. Fourth, and most importantly, they are witnesses in the sense of one who tells another about Christ. They lived in the promise of Christ. They looked forward to that great Day when the Son of God would appear on earth and accomplish His great work of Redemption.
Still using the analogy of the athletic arena, Paul encourages us to lay aside anything that will hinder us from running the course. As the athlete lives an athlete’s life of training, diet, and dedication to the sport, the Christian lives a Christian’s life of self-discipline, prayer, worship, Bible study, and purity, trusting God just as the people in chapter 11 also trusted Him.
In verse 2 we see Christ as our example. As the Author of our faith it is He who begins it in us. As its Finisher, He brings it to completion. He brings us into faith and into God, by enduring the cross. He was called to be our Saviour, and He was true to that calling unto death. He endured the cross and the shame to gain the crown. He ran His race. He completed the course. We who would be His must also be like Him. We must not allow our faith to grow weak. We must not give up. The passage goes on to say our trials have the effect of chastening us. We should no more expect a life without trials than a father without chastening. Trials, then, are not a sign that God has deserted us, but that He loves us and is guiding us in His ways and growing us in faith.
To desert the faith over trials is to be like Esau (15-17), who sold his birthright for a bowl of stew. How little he valued the calling and grace of God; a bowl of stew was worth more to him. As he gave his birthright away, and was unable to regain it, so the “Christian” who turns away from Christ and returns to habitual and intentional sin, will be unable to gain the Heavenly Kingdom, though he seek it with tears.
The consequences of transgressing the law were terrible. Even an animal accidentally touching the Mountain of God was to be killed (20). Likewise, the consequences of transgressing the New Covenant of the Gospel are terrible. And if people could not escape the consequences of breaking the Old Covenant given at Sinai, no one will escape the consequences of breaking the Covenant in Christ given in Heaven (25) for our God is a consuming fire (29).
Since, therefore, we are given, in Christ, a promise and Kingdom that cannot be “moved,” “let us have grace whereby we may serve God acceptably."
We are entering the closing paragraphs of the epistle to the Hebrews. Having taught us about the nature and work of Christ, the Apostle now encourages us to be diligent about the everyday things of living for Him, especially in our relationship with one another in the fellowship of the Church. The theme of today’s reading is Christian love. Because Christ loved us and gave Himself for us, we love Him, and His people, and our love shows itself in the way we live (1). In love we entertain (show kindness and mercy to) the needy. We give aid to those being persecuted for the faith, and to those suffering adversity (2-3). We conduct ourselves honourably in the home and keep ourselves sexually pure (4). We conduct ourselves honourably towards one another’s possessions, not coveting, but being content with what we have, especially since we know we have the presence of God with us, and promises of the Gospel for our inheritance (5-6). We conduct ourselves honourably toward those called by God to minister in the Church (7-8). We remember that they have authority from God to preach and lead the Church, and we will treat them with due reverence as they lead us according to the Scriptures for our good and God’s glory. The end of their conversation, meaning the goal and the result of their ministry, is to bring us into Jesus Christ (8).
13-16 are the conclusion and point of this section, and also serve to summarise the entire book. Verse 13 states it well, “Let us go forth therefore unto Him without the camp.” Using the fact that Christ was crucified outside of Jerusalem (12), and Moses met God outside the camp, verse 13 says Christianity must also go outside (without) of Judaism. No more are we to keep the Jewish ceremonies. Our sacrifices are works of kindness and thanksgiving, not animals (14-16).
Furthermore, the Church is not anarchy. It has structure and organisation, which includes men called to shepherd and teach the flock. Every person in the Church is a servant of Christ, and, in that sense, is called to minister to the body. Some are ordained to a unique ministry of teaching and preaching the word and leading the Church for the perfecting of the saints and the edification of the Body (Eph. 4:11-14). Thus we are told to "obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves" (17). We are to conduct ourselves in such a way that when they give an account of their ministry among us it will be a joyful report of our progress in Christ, not a sad report of our refusal to follow them. We are also to pray for our ministers to have a good conscience and live honestly (18). A minister's authority is not absolute. He is not the Shepherd: he is an undershepherd. The flock does not belong to him, it belongs to Christ. So he only has authority to lead the flock according to the clear teachings of God as revealed in Scripture. Hebrews ends with an exhortation to honour the ministers of the Church, and a greeting from Christians in Italy.