Study On The Book Of Hebrews
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No one should misinterpret his exhortation to spiritual maturity; the writer ended this section with a tremendous argument for the assurance of salvation. All of us Christians are not making the spiritual progress we should, but we need never fear that God will condemn us. The writer gave three arguments for the certain salvation of true believers.
Gods promise (vv. 13-15): God’s main promise to Abraham is recorded in Genesis 22:16-17. In spite of Abraham’s failures and sins, God kept His promise and Isaac was born. Many of God’s promises do not depend on our character but on His faithfulness. The phrase “patiently endured” (v. 15) is the exact opposite of “slothful” (Heb. 6:12). The readers of this letter were about to give up; their endurance was running out. We Christians today have more of God’s promises than did Abraham! So what’s keeping us from making spiritual progress?…We don’t apply ourselves by faith. To use the illustration of the farm, the farmer does not reap a harvest by sitting on the porch looking at the seed. He must get busy and plow, plant, weed, cultivate, and perhaps water the soil. The believer who neglects church fellowship, ignores their Bible, and forgets to pray is not going to reap much of a harvest.
God’s oath (vv. 16-18): God not only gave Abraham a promise, but He also confirmed that promise with an oath. God did not do this only for Abraham. He has also given His promise and oath to “heirs of promise” (v. 17). Abraham and his descendants are the first of these heirs (see Heb. 11:9), but all believers are included as “Abraham’s (spiritual) seed” (Gal. 3:29). So our assurance of salvation is guaranteed by God’s promise and God’s oath, the “two unchangeable things” (v. 18). We have great encouragement concerning the hope set before us! Hebrews is a book of encouragement, not discouragement! The phrase “fled for refuge” (v. 18) suggests the Old Testament “cities of refuge” described in Numbers 13:9 and Joshua 20. We have fled to Jesus Christ, and He is our eternal refuge. As our High Priest, He will never die; and we have eternal salvation. No avenger can touch us, because He has already died and arisen from the dead.
God’s Son (vv. 19-20): Our hope in Christ is like an anchor for our soul. The anchor was a popular symbol in the early church. However a spiritual anchor is different from material anchors on ships. For one thing, we are anchored upward – to heaven – not downward. We are anchored, not to stand still, but to move ahead! Our anchor is “sure” – it cannot break – and “steadfast” – it cannot slip. No earthly anchor can give that kind of security! The writer then clinches the argument: this Savior is our “forerunner” who has gone ahead to heaven so that we may one day follow (v. 20)! Jesus Christ is “within the veil” as our High Priest. We can therefore come boldly to His throne and receive all the help that we need. But we must not be “secret saints.” We must be willing to identify with Christ in His rejection and go “without the camp, bearing His reproach” (Heb. 13:13). The Hebrew believers who received this letter were tempted to compromise to avoid that reproach. However, if we live “within the veil,” we shall have no trouble going “without the camp.”
Don’t miss the lesson of the past three studies: believers must go on to maturity, and God has made it possible for us to do so. If we start to drift from the Word, then we will also start to doubt the Word. Before long, we will get dull toward the Word and become lazy believers. The best way to keep from drifting is – to lay hold of the anchor! Anchored heavenward! How much more can you be?
Hebrews 6:13-20 Reflection Questions:
Are you progressing to spiritual maturity?
In what ways will you expand on your “spiritual maturity” journey?
No one can escape coming into the world as a baby because that is the only way to get here. But it is tragic when a baby fails to mature. No matter how much parents and grandparents love to hold and cuddle a baby, it is their great desire that the baby grows up and enjoy a full life as a mature adult. God has the same desire for His children. That is why He calls to us, “be taken forward to maturity!” (v. 1).
It is a call to spiritual progress (vv. 1-3). If we are going to make progress, we have to leave the childhood things behind and go forward in spiritual growth. This means you don’t keep learning the basics. You use the basics to go on to better things. God enables us to progress as we yield to Him, receive His Word, and act on it. It’s normal for Christians to grow; it’s abnormal for them to have arrested growth. The writer lists six foundational truths of the Christian life. The first two items (repentance and faith) are Godward and mark the initiation of the spiritual life. The next two items (baptism and laying on of hands) have to do with a person’s relationship to the local assembly of believers. In the New Testament, a person who repented and trusted Jesus Christ was baptized and became a part of a local church (Acts 2:41-47). The last two items, the resurrection of the dead (Acts 24:14-15) and the final judgment (Acts 17:30-31), have to do with the future. The lesson of verses 1-3 is clear: You have laid the foundation. You know your ABC’s. Now go forward! Let God carry you along to maturity.
This progress does not affect salvation (vv. 4-6). These verses, along with the exhortation in Heb. 10:26-39, have given people cause for worry and concern, mainly because these verses have been misunderstood and misapplied. There are many verses in Scripture that assure the true believer that he can never be lost. In fact, one of the greatest arguments for security is the last section of this chapter! (Heb. 6:13-20; see also John 5:24; 10:26-30; and Rom. 8:28-39) Then what is the writer trying to say to us? It is probable that he is describing a hypothetical case to prove his point that a true believer cannot lose his salvation. Please keep in mind that the writer’s purpose was not to frighten the readers but to assure them.
This progress results in fruitfulness (vv. 7-10). This illustration of a field reminds us of our Lord’s Parable of the Sower (Matt. 13:1-9, 18:23), as well as Paul’s teaching about the fire testing our works (1 Cor. 3:6-23). A field proves its worth by bearing fruit; and a true believer, as he makes spiritual progress, bears fruit for God’s glory. Note that the “thorns and briars” are burned, not the field. God never curses His own! Not every believer bears the same amount of fruit as proof that he is a child of God (Matt. 7:15-20). This is the fruit of Christian character and conduct (Gal. 5:22-26) produced by the Spirit as we mature in Christ. The writer listed some of the fruit that he knew had been produced in their lives: because of their love, they had worked and labored for the Lord; they had ministered to other saints; and they were still ministering. These are some of the things that accompany salvation. But he was concerned lest they rest on their achievements and not press on to full maturity and the enjoyment of God’s rich inheritance.
This progress demands diligent effort (vv. 11-12).While it is true that it is God who carries us along to maturity, it is also true that the believer must do his part. We must not be lazy but apply ourselves to the spiritual resources God has given us. We have the promises from God. We should exercise faith and patience and claim these for ourselves! Like Caleb and Joshua, we must believe God’s promise and want to go in and claim the land!
Hebrews 6:1-12 Reflection Questions:
Do a personal evaluation of your spiritual growth; are you progressing forward every year?
“We do not want you to become lazy, but to imitate those who through faith and patience inherit what has been promised” (Heb 6:12). This verse summarizes the main message of this difficult (and often misunderstood) section of the epistle. Israel wanted to go back to Egypt; and, as a result, a whole generation failed to inherit what God had promised. They were safely delivered out of Egypt, but they never enjoyed the promised rest in Canaan. We believers today can make the same mistake. If you keep in mind that the emphasis in this section is on making spiritual progress, you will steer safely through misinterpretations that could create problems.
The writer is about to begin his explanation of the heavenly priesthood of Christ, but he is not sure his readers are ready for what he has to teach. The problem is not that he is a dull teacher, but that they are dull hearers! The word translated “dull” in Heb. 5:11 is translated “slothful” in Heb. 6:12. It refers to a condition of spiritual apathy and laziness that prevents spiritual development. What then, are the marks of spiritual immaturity?
Dullness toward the Word (v. 11): These believers started on their “backward journey” by drifting from the Word (Heb. 2:1-4), and then doubting the Word (Heb. 3:7-4:13). As a result, they were now “dull of hearing”; that is, unable to listen to the Word, receive it, and act on it. One of the first symptoms of spiritual regression, or backsliding, is a dullness toward the Bible. Sunday School class is dull, the preaching is dull, anything spiritual is dull.
Inability to share (v. 12a): The ability to share spiritual truth with others is a mark of maturity. Not all Christians have the gift of teaching, but all can share what they learn from the Word. The recipients of this letter had been saved long enough to be able to share God’s truth with others. But, instead of helping others to grow, these Hebrew Christians were in need of learning again the simple teachings of Christian life. They were experiencing a second childhood!
A “baby food” diet (vv. 12b-13): The writer defines the “milk” as “the first principles of the oracles of God” (v. 12). The “meat” of the Word is the teaching about our Lord’s ministry now in heaven as our High Priest. The writer wanted to give this “meat” to them, but they were not ready for it. The “milk” of the Word refers to what Jesus Christ did on earth. The “meat” of the Word refers to what Jesus Christ is doing now in heaven. Of course, even the maturest adult never outgrows milk. As believers, we can still learn much from our Lord’s work on earth. But we must not stop there! We must make spiritual progress, and we can do this only if we learn about Christ’s priestly ministry for us in heaven.
Unskillful in using the Word (v. 14): As we grow in the Word, we learn to use it in daily life. As we apply the Word, we exercise our “spiritual senses” and develop spiritual discernment. An immature believer will listen to any preacher on the radio or television and not be able to identify whether or not he is true to the Scriptures. Just as our physical bodies have senses without which we could not function, so our inner “spiritual man” has “spiritual senses” (see Ps. 34:8 & Matt. 13:16). As we feed on the Word of God and apply it in daily life, our inner “spiritual senses” get their exercise and become strong and keen.
The ability to discern good from evil is a vital part of Christian maturity. The nation of Israel in Moses’ day lacked this discernment and failed to claim its promised inheritance. The readers of this letter were in danger of making the same mistake. It is impossible to stand still in the Christian life: we either go forward and claim God’s blessing, or we go backward and wander about aimlessly. Most Christians are “betweeners,” they are between Egypt and Canaan – out of the place of danger, but not yet into the place of rest and rich inheritance; they are between Good Friday and Easter Sunday – saved by the blood but not yet enjoying newness of resurrection life.
Hebrews 5:11-14 Reflection Questions:
Are you a “betweener”?
Are you taking advantage of your rich inheritance?
Have you become spiritually lazy or are you spiritually active?
What a sight the high priest must have been in the bright sunlight of Palestine as he approached the tabernacle – white linen, blue robe – the gold on his turban and the chains and in the fabrics he wore, gleaming yellow in the sun – the gems on his shoulders and over his heart lit to their full colors – golden bells ringing musically with each step!
The image of the high priest is a sanctifying picture when seriously contemplated – and it surely has served as such for pious Jews over the ages. But it is also sadly true that one could don the high priestly vestments and appear outwardly qualified, but fall tragically short of the inner qualifications so necessary to effective ministry. It is these inner qualifications with which our text deals in verses 1-4 before it goes on to demonstrate in verses 5-10 how Christ, our great High Priest, meets and supersedes every qualification – proving he is the priest who will get the stressed-out little church through its stormy seas. As we consider this matter of priestly qualifications, we will do well to keep the image of the Aaronic high priest before us – because Jesus is the fulfillment of everything he symbolized. The writer opens this section by asserting in verses 1-4 the three essential qualifications for one who would aspire to be high priest – namely, solidarity, sympathy, and selection.
Solidarity, oneness with humanity, was fundamental to priestly ministry and is explicitly stated in verse 1. No angel, no celestial being, no deceased soul could function as high priest. He had to be a living human being – a mortal like everyone else. The reason of course, is that his primary function was representative – “to act on behalf of men in relation to God.” The solidarity factor was essential to effective priestly ministry, as it is today in pastoral ministry, and the universal requirement is, as it has always been, a real man with a real link to God and a real bond to man.
Sympathy; this anticipates the next quality for the human priesthood, which is sympathy or compassion (vv. 2-3). The ideal high priest had an inner disposition that enabled him to “deal gently with the ignorant and wayward.” As to why he could be so gently disposed, our text suggests that it is because of two inner awarenesses. First he was aware that he, though high priest, was a sinner for he had “to offer sacrifice for his own sins just as he does for those of the people” (v. 3). The other awareness was that he was himself “beset with weakness” (v. 2b). He shared in the universal “community of weakness” of all mankind. This of course, has primary reference to moral weakness, but it also means human weakness generally (body, intellect, emotion).
Selection; the third and final qualification is straightforward – the high priestly position must spring from divine selection (v. 4). All Israel’s priests were to come only through divine appointment. Attempts to do otherwise met with catastrophic judgment. No genuine priest ever arrogated himself to the high priestly office. All were sovereignly chosen. Therefore, a proper priest was filled with deep humility. His work was never a career. It was a divine calling. How appealing this was to the Hebrew mind, and quite frankly to us! The ideal high priest was a man of incomparable attractiveness.
Could anything or anyone ever exceed this ideal in attractiveness of efficacy? The answer is a resounding “Yes!” – Jesus Christ! He too was a product of divine selection (vv. 5-6). Not only was Christ divinely chosen, but He was chosen for two offices – the ultimate royal office and the ultimate priestly office, as shown by two Old Testament Scriptures (Ps. 2:7; Ps. 110:4). So our author gives us a stupendous truth: Jesus is both eternal King and eternal Priest. And it all came to Him by the ordaining word of God the Father. Jesus did not seek it! Neither did Jesus clutch the office of king and high priest. His only goal was to glorify God the Father. Jesus’ priesthood is therefore; far superior to that of Aaron. Aaron’s was temporal, but Jesus is a priest of the same kind as Melchizedek. There was no succession of priests and hence no “order” from Melchizedek. Jesus’ priesthood is without ending or beginning!
Not only is Jesus superior as to His divine selection to be king and priest – He is also superior in His solidarity with His people (vv. 7-9). Here we see that the prime example of Jesus’ solidarity (His participating fully in the human condition) was His agony in the garden of Gethsemane where “Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to Him who was able to save Him from death” (v. 7). Jesus placed the exercise of His omniscience, omnipotence, and omnipresence under the direction of God the Father when He came to earth in the Incarnation. This explains His flashes of supernatural knowledge and power while on earth.
So authentic was Jesus’ solidarity with human kind that He “learned obedience through what He suffered. And being made perfect… (vv. 8-9). This “does not mean Jesus passed from disobedience to obedience.” Nor does it mean that He developed from imperfection to perfection. The idea is that He became complete in His human experience. Now, in His completeness, His perfection, He is “the source of eternal salvation to all who obey Him (v. 9). His solidarity with us means He can save us to the uttermost. Christ is our triumphant, eternal Savior. His superior selection as both King and Priest, coupled with His superior solidarity with us, makes Him far superior in sympathy to the high priest of old. Can anyone miss the message to the little church on the high seas? This was their High Priest and our High Priest in life’s uncertain seas today as well. Jesus persevered in submissive prayer in Gethsemane and was heard, and our prayers will be heard also if we persevere. May we avail ourselves of Him day by day!
Hebrews 5:1-10 Reflection Questions:
What was Jesus’ response to the high priest during His time here on earth?
Why is it important for us to know about this today in the twenty first century (see 1Pet. 2:9)?
What message have you received from this study?
Moses did not lead the people of Israel into the promised rest; in fact he himself was forbidden to enter the land. Joshua led them into their physical rest, but not into the promised spiritual rest. But what about Aaron, the first high priest? Is it possible that the Aaronic priesthood, with all of its sacrifices and ceremonies, could bring a troubled soul into rest? The Hebrew Christians who received this letter were sorely tempted to return to the religion of their fathers. After all any Jew could travel to Jerusalem and see the temple and the priests ministering at the altar. Here was something real, visible, and concrete. When a person is going through persecution, as these Hebrew Christians were, it is much easier to walk by sight than by faith. Some of us have doubted the Lord under much less provocation than these people were enduring. The central theme of Hebrews is the priesthood of Jesus Christ, what He is now doing in heaven on behalf of His people. Is the high priestly ministry of Christ superior to that of Aaron and his successors? Yes it is, and the writer proves it.
Jesus Christ is the GREAT High Priest (v. 14). No Old Testament priest could assume that title. But in what does our Lord’s greatness consist? To begin with, Jesus Christ is both God and Man. He is “Jesus, the Son of God.” The name “Jesus” means “Savior” and identifies His humanity and His ministry on earth. “Son of God” affirms His deity and the fact that He is God. In His unique person, Jesus Christ unites Deity and humanity, so that He can bring people to God and bring to people all that God has for them.
Not only in His person, but also in His position Jesus Christ is great. Aaron and his successors ministered in the tabernacle and temple precincts, once a year entering the holy of holies. But Jesus Christ has “passed through the heavens.” When He ascended to the Father, Jesus Christ passed through the atmospheric heavens and the planetary heavens into the third heaven where God dwells (2 Cor. 12:2). How much better is it to have a High Priest who ministers in a heavenly tabernacle than in an earthly one!
But there is another aspect to Christ’s position: not only is He in heaven, but He is enthroned. His throne is “the throne of grace” (v. 16). The mercy seat on the Ark of the Covenant was God’s throne in Israel (Ex. 25:17-22), but it could never be called “a throne of grace.” Grace does not veil itself from people. Grace does not hide itself in a tent. Furthermore the common people were not permitted to enter the holy precincts of the tabernacle and the temple, and the priests got only as far as the veil, and only on the Day of Atonement (Lev. 16). But every believer in Christ is invited, and is even encouraged to “come boldly unto the throne of grace”! What a great throne it is because our Great High Priest is ministering there. Something else makes Him great: He is ministering mercy and grace to those who come for help. Mercy means that God does not give us what we do deserve; grace means that He gives us what we do not deserve. No Old Testament high priest could minister mercy and grace in quite the same way.
Now because of the superiority of Jesus Christ, the Great High Priest, over Aaron, two important conclusions can be drawn. First, there is no need in giving up our profession just because we are going through testing and trial (v. 14). The word translated “profession” means “confession.” These Hebrew Christians were tempted to give up their confession of faith in Christ and their confidence in Him. It was not a matter of giving up their salvation, since salvation through Christ is eternal (Heb. 5:9). It was a matter of their public confession of faith. By returning to the Old Testament system they would be telling everyone that they had no faith in Christ (Gal. 2:11-21).
The second conclusion is this: there is no need to go back because we can come boldly into the presence of God and get the help we need (v. 16). No trial is too great, no temptation is too strong, but that Jesus Christ can give us the mercy and grace that we need, when we need it. “But He is so far away!” we may argue. “And He is the perfect Son of God! What can He know about the problems of weak sinners like us?”
But that is a part of His greatness! When He was ministering on earth in a human body, He experienced all that we experience, and even more. After all, a sinless person would feel temptations and trials in a much greater way than you and I could ever feel them. Christ was tempted, yet He did not sin; and He is able to help us when we are tempted. If we fail to hold fast our confession, we are not proving that Jesus Christ has failed. We are only telling the world that we failed to draw on His grace and mercy when it was freely available to us.
Hebrews 4:14-16 Reflection Questions:
When you have been tempted and gone through trials have you held onto your confession of faith?
How often do you need the mercy and grace from Jesus Christ? Journal them so you can always remember!
Have you ever gone boldly into the presence of God to get the help you need? How has that helped your confession of faith?
In comparing the Word of God to a sword, the writer is not suggesting that God uses His Word to slaughter the saints! It is true that the Word cuts the heart of sinners with conviction (Acts 5:33; 7:54), and that the Word defeats Satan (Eph. 6:17). The Greek word translated “sword” means “a short sword or dagger.” The emphasis is on the power of the Word to penetrate and expose the inner heart of man. The mention of a double-edged sword in our text is a sober warning not to disregard God’s Word as Israel did in the wilderness. The writer therefore gives us four reasons we must not disregard God’s Word. The Word of God is: living, penetrating, discerning and reckoning. Taken positively, these are four immense reasons to celebrate God’s Word.
As the writer begins, he directly warns that God’s Word is alive (v. 12a). It lives because it endures forever (Ps. 119:89). Even more, it lives because it has life in itself. God is “living” (3:12), and the Word, as God’s breath (2 Tim. 3:16), partakes of God’s living character. It is alive! The character of the Word’s aliveness is that it is “active,” or as that word is sometimes rendered, “effective.” God’s Word vibrates with active, effectual power as it rushes to fulfill the purpose for which it was spoken. As Isaiah 55:11 so beautifully says: “so shall My Word be that goes out from My mouth; it shall not return to Me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.” Indeed, the Word of God is alive and effectual! God’s Word does what it promises to do. It regards neither age nor education. It can change you if you are 12 or 112.
God’s Word is not only living but penetrating, as verse 12b clearly states. God’s Word cleaves through our hard-shelled souls like a hot knife through warm butter. Certainly we Christians find this to be true in our lives. There are sections of God’s Word that cut through all the pretensions and religious façade, leaving us convicted. When God wills it, His Word will pierce anyone. Tragically, many of these are regular church attendees. The true hearer wittingly or unwittingly invites the divine Surgeon to do His gracious cutting.
Having established that God’s Word is living and penetrating, the writer adds: “discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (v. 12c). The root word for “discerning” is the word kritikos, which we derive critic. So the emphasis here is on the discerning judgment of “the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” The heart is the seat of human personality. It is hidden from all. Yet God’s Word sifts through its thoughts and attitudes with unerring discrimination. “The sword of the Spirit” (Eph. 6:17) will tell us what is in our hearts. Fellow-believers, if we really want to understand ourselves, we must fill our souls with God’s Word. God’s Word – read, meditated upon, and prayerfully applied – will give us brilliant discernment and profound self-knowledge. This gift of self-knowledge is no small grace because when we grasp something of the serpentine ways of our hearts, we are disposed to cast ourselves even more on God’s grace; and that is no small grace! We will also be judged by God’s Word. And herein lays the warning to those who in disobedience are falling away. His judgment will be perfectly discerning. The wise Christian invites the penetrating, discerning work of God’s Word in his life.
Now in verse 13 the discussion continues, but the focus switches from God’s Word to God as a knowing and reckoning God. Verse 13 gives us one of Scriptures great descriptions of Gods knowing. God sees everything. This can be discomforting if we have something to hide. The divine gaze is in light and darkness; He sees all (see Prov. 15:3; Ps. 90:8)! “All” – everything – everyone – is stark naked before Him. There is nothing to hide in or behind. The language here forces us to imagine ourselves naked, held helpless, exposed, in God’s grip, close to His omniscient eyes, and so we must give account. He cannot be fooled. Duplicity and hypocrisy will not work. Happily this means He will miss no good thing. But to the sinning, self-righteous heart, apart from the grace of God this brings nothing but unmitigated terror.
Of course, the author means all of this to be sanctifying instruction for the tiny house-church in the welling seas of persecution. He is calling for them not to rebel against God’s Word in disobedience, but to submit to it and find rest in the storms.
How does this double-edged sword work? First, it is the sword of judgment. Because it is “living,” it is effectually active. It accomplishes what God purposes for it to do. It is so sharp that it penetrates – “piercing” through everything. And then it discerns everything in the core of our being – leaving us “naked” and bare before our God with whom we must reckon. All of this is a gracious cutting. We see ourselves, and we see God, and we long to fly to Him and be healed. Second, for the believer it is the sword of sanctification. God’s two-edged sword, His Word, is alive and effectual in our lives. Again it penetrates and discerns our hearts, exposing them to us – leaving us uncovered and laid bare, so that “naked” we flee to God for dress. Blessed be the double-edged sword of judgment and sanctification. God cuts us deeply that we might die. God cuts us again with His Word so that we might live!
Hebrews 4:12-13 Reflection Questions:
Are you reading, meditating upon, and prayerfully applying God’s Word?
Do you invite the penetrating, discerning work of God’s Word in your life?
How does it make you feel that God’s Word leaves you “naked” and bare with whom you must reckon?
As Christians, we understand there is no rest for the soul apart from Christ. When we came to God in Christ, it was like pulling into a snug harbor from a stormy sea. There is no rest for the heart apart from Christ. However, if we are candid we will admit that the initial rest has not always been our lot, because there is a difference between the primary experience of rest and living a life of rest on life’s uneven seas. Certainly this was true of those the writer of Hebrews was addressing. Their experience of Christ was not living up to expectations. Instead of rest there was turmoil. They had given up their ancient religion but were suffering for their new faith. To some it seemed that the initial experience of rest was a cruel delusion. It is to these endangered hearts that the writer now focuses his remarks in Chapter 4 as he instructs and exhorts them on participation in the rest of God. This theme has always been contemporary and will find a responsive chord in every believer’s heart – especially if he or she is sailing into the contrary winds of the world.
Chapter 4 opens with a warning based on Israel’s tragic failure in the wilderness (vv. 1-2). Israel had heard the good news brought by Caleb and Joshua that the land was theirs for the taking, however they were listening more to the other 10 that were frightened by what they saw. They simply did not trust God and so failed to enter their rest. Many, perhaps thousands, were believers (they believed in God), but only the two really trusted God and found rest. We must keep this subtle distinction between belief and trust clear is we are to understand what kind of faith is necessary to have rest in this life. The principle is so simple: the more trust, the more rest. There is not a fretful soul in the world who is trusting. Fellow Christians, there is a rest for you. It’s not beyond your capacity. You can have it if you wish.
Note first that he twice quotes Psalm 95:11 – “They shall not enter My rest” (vv. 3, 5). His purpose is not to imply that his readers will not enter the rest, but rather to show that God calls the rest being offered “My rest” because it is the rest He Himself enjoys. This in itself is a stupendous revelation. It means that when we are given rest by Him, it is not simply a relaxation of tensions, but a rest that is qualitatively the same rest God enjoys – His personal rest He shares with us! The sublime fact that we share God’s personal rest, the rest He enjoys, ought to set our hearts racing!
The character of God’s rest is the ideal of all rests. First, it is joyous. Job 38:7 echoes the joy of the Creator that he carried into his Sabbath-rest. Second, His rest is satisfying. This is the repeated implication of His multiple assertions regarding creation that “it was good” (Genesis 1). Third, it is a working rest. God finished His great work and rested, but it was not a cessation from work, but rather the proper repose that comes from completing a great work. Jesus referred to His Father’s ongoing work in John 5:17. God’s repose is full of active toil. God rests, and in His rest He keeps working even now.
Some members of the little church had become so disheartened that they thought the rest was not available to them. It may have been available to the Israelites in the desert, they thought, or to David’s hearers when he reoffered it in Psalm 95, but rest was not really available to them in their difficult circumstances. So in verses 6-10 the author argues that the rest remains. Notice that verses 6 and 9, the opening and closing sentences of this section, assert that fact. The writer has used every angle to show his friends and us that we can know and experience this rest. If we learn anything from this text, we must understand that the rest is there is we want it (v. 9). Praise to the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit!
The writer properly closes this section with a challenge to his church (v. 11). How then, do we “strive” (or, as some translations have it, “do our utmost”) “to enter that rest”? Our passage suggests two things. First, we must do our utmost to focus on the rest. We must strive to comprehend that it is a divine rest – the rest that God personally enjoys. It is joyous, satisfying, and productive. We must do our utmost to grasp this. There is no room for mental laziness. Second, we must do our utmost to combine the hearing of the good news of the offered rest with genuine faith – that is, belief plus trust. In the midst of life’s uneven seas, we are called, as was the early church, to believe in the mighty God of the exodus, He who parted the seas, brought forth water from a rock, and fed His people with manna. Even more, we are to believe in the Bread of Heaven who gave His life for us and rose from the dead and ascended to God in mighty power. Do we believe that our God is such a God? Do we really believe it with all our heart? We must make every effort to do so!
Finally, can we add to this belief trust? This was the bottom line for the wavering church. Could they trust God to take care of them? There is no rest in this life without trust.
Hebrews 4:1-11 Reflection Questions:
When you were a new Christian did you ever experience “rough seas” like the Hebrews was experiencing?
What is the greatest problem you face? Do you believe God can meet it? Can you, will you, trust Him?
Take heed to what? To the sad history of the nation of Israel and the important lessons it teaches. The writer quotes from Psalm 95:7-11, which records God’s response to Israel’s tragic spiritual condition. God delivered His people from Egypt and had cared for them, revealing His power in many signs and wonders. Israel saw all of this and benefited from it, but the experience did not bring them closer to God or make them trust Him more. All that God did for them did not benefit them spiritually. In fact, just the opposite took place: they hardened their hearts against God! They put God to the test and He did not fail them; yet they failed Him!
The heart of every problem is a problem in the heart. The people of Israel (except Moses, Joshua, and Caleb) erred in their hearts (v. 10), which means that their hearts wandered from God and His Word. They also had evil hearts of unbelief (v. 12); they did not believe that God would give them victory in Canaan. They had seen God perform great signs in Egypt. Yet they doubted He was adequate for the challenge of Canaan. When a person has an erring heart and a disbelieving heart, the result will also be a hard heart. This is a heart that is insensitive to the Word and work of God. So hard was the heart of Israel that the people even wanted to return to Egypt! Imagine wanting to exchange their freedom under God for slavery in Egypt! Of course, all this history spoke to the hearts of the readers of this letter because they were in danger of “going back” themselves.
God’s judgment fell on Israel and that entire generation was condemned to die, and only the new generation would enter the land. God said, “They shall not enter into My rest” (v. 11). But what message does this bring to a believer today? No believer today, Jew or Gentile, could go back into Mosaic legal system since the temple is gone and there is no priesthood. But every believer is tempted to give up his or her confession of Christ and go back into the world system’s life of compromise and bondage. This is especially true during times of persecution and suffering. True believers are willing to suffer for Christ and they hold firmly to their convictions and their confession of faith. Of course, we are not saved by holding to our confession. The fact that we hold to our confession is proof that we are God’s true children.
It’s important that we take heed and recognize the spiritual dangers that exist. But it is also important that we encourage each other to be faithful to the Lord (v. 13). We get the impression that some of these believers addressed were careless about their fellowship in the local assembly (see Heb. 10:23-25). Christians belong to each other and need each other. Moses, Caleb, and Joshua did try to encourage Israel when the nation refused to enter Canaan, but the people would not listen.
It’s clear from this section that God was grieved with Israel during the entire forty years they wandered in the wilderness. The sin of Israel is stated in verse 12 – “departing from the living God.” Israel departed from the living God by refusing God’s will for their lives and stubbornly wanting to go their own way back to Egypt. God did not permit them to return to Egypt. Rather, He disciplined them in the wilderness. God did not allow His people to return to Bondage.
The emphasis in Hebrews is that true believers have an eternal salvation because they trust a living Savior who constantly intercedes for them. But the writer is careful to point out that this confidence is no excuse for sin. God disciplines His children. Remember that Canaan is not a picture of heaven, but of the believer’s present spiritual inheritance in Christ. Believers who doubt God’s Word and rebel against Him do not miss heaven, but they do miss out on the blessings of their inheritance today, and they must suffer the chastening of God.
Hebrews 3:7-19 Reflection Questions:
For all that God has done for you, has it brought you closer and closer to God or make you trust Him more?
Has your heart wandered from God and His Word?
Where are you with your relationship with God?
Next to Abraham, Moses was undoubtedly the man most greatly revered by Jewish people. To go back to the Law meant to go back to Moses, and the recipients of this letter to the Hebrews were sorely tempted to do just that. It was important that the writer convince his readers that Jesus Christ is greater than Moses, for the entire system of Jewish religion came through Moses. In the next few studies we will learn in what ways Jesus Christ is superior to Moses.
In verse 1, “holy brethren” could only be applied to people in the family of God, set apart by the grace of God. That the writer was referring to people in the church, the Body of Christ, is clear from his use of the phrase “Partakers of the heavenly calling.” No unconverted Jew or Gentile could ever claim that blessing. The word translated “partakers” here is translated “partners” in Luke 5:7, where it describes the relationship of four men in the fishing business: they were in it together. True Christians not only share in a heavenly calling, but they also share in Jesus Christ. Through the Holy Spirit, we are “members of His body, of His flesh, and of His bones (Eph. 5:30). True believers are also “partakers of the Holy Spirit” (Rom.8:9). Because we are God’s children, we also partake in God’s loving chastening. Not to be chastened is evidence that a person is not one of God’s children.
Because these people were holy brothers and sisters, and partakers of a heavenly calling, they were able to give a “confession” of their faith in Jesus Christ. It was this same confession that they were “strangers and pilgrims” on the earth that characterized men and women of faith in the ages past. It was not Moses who did all of this for the people addressed in this epistle; it was Jesus Christ! The writer did not exhort them to consider Moses, but to consider Christ.
That Christ is superior to Moses in His person is an obvious fact. Moses was a mere man, called to be a prophet and leader, while Jesus Christ is the Son of God sent by the Father into the world. The title apostle in verse 1 means “one sent with a commission.” Moses was called and commissioned by God, but Jesus Christ was sent as God’s “last Word” to sinful man. Jesus Christ is not only the Apostle, but He is also the High Priest. Moses was a prophet who on occasion served as a priest, but he was never a high priest. That title belonged to his brother Aaron. In fact, Jesus Christ has the title “great High Priest (Heb. 4:14). As the Apostle, Jesus represented God to men; and as the High Priest, He now represents men to God in heaven. Moses of course, fulfilled similar ministries, for he taught Israel God’s truth and he prayed for Israel when he met God on the mount. Moses was primarily the prophet of Law, while Jesus Christ is the Messenger of God’s grace. Moses helped prepare the way for the coming of the Savior to the earth.
The word “house” is used six times in verses 3-6. It refers to the people of God, not to a material building. Moses ministered to Israel, the people of God under the Old Covenant. Today, Christ ministers to His church, the people of God under the New Covenant (“whose house are we,” Heb. 3:6). The contrast between Moses and Christ is clear: Moses was a servant in the house, while Jesus Christ is a Son over the house. Moses was a member of the household, but Jesus built the house! By the way, the truth in these verses is a powerful argument for the deity of Jesus Christ. If God built all things, and Jesus Christ built God’s house, then Jesus Christ must be God.
There is another factor in Christ’s superiority over Moses: the Prophet Moses spoke about things to come, but Jesus Christ brought the fulfillment of these things (v. 6). Moses ministered “in the shadows,” as it were (see Heb. 8:5, 10:1), while Jesus brought the full and final light of the Gospel of grace of God.
The word “confidence” in verse 6 literally means “freedom of speech, openness.” When you are free to speak, then there is no fear and you have confidence. A believer can come with boldness to the throne of grace with openness and freedom and not be afraid. We have this boldness because of the shed blood of Jesus. Therefore we should not cast away our confidence, no matter what the circumstances might be. We should not have confidence in ourselves, because we are too prone to fail; but we should have confidence in Jesus Christ who never fails.
Because of this confidence in Christ and this confession of Christ, we can experience joy and hope (v. 6). The writer exhorted these suffering saints to enjoy their spiritual experience and not simply endure it. Jesus is the beloved Son over His house, and He will care for each member of the family. He is the faithful High Priest who provides all the grace we need for each demand of life. As the Good Shepherd of the sheep, Jesus is using the experiences in His people’s lives to equip them for service that will glorify His name. In other words, those who have trusted Christ prove this confession by their steadfastness, confidence, and joyful hope. They are not burdened by the past or threatened by the present, but are “living in the future tense” as they await the “blessed hope” of their Lord’s return. It is this “heavenly calling” that motivates the believers to keep on living for the Savior even when the going is tough.
Hebrews 3:1-6 Reflection Questions:
When the going gets tough where do you turn: yourself, the world, or to Jesus?
Do you have total 100 percent confidence in Jesus as the Good Shepherd?
Journal on a recent time you relied on Jesus.
The fact that angels are “ministering spirits” without human bodies would seem to give them an advantage over Jesus Christ who had a human body while He ministered on earth. (Today He has a glorified body that knows no limitations.) The writer gave four reasons that explain why our Lord’s humanity was neither a handicap nor a mark of inferiority.
His humanity enabled Him to regain man’s lost dominion (vv. 5-9). The quotation here is from Psalm 8:4-6, and you will want to read the entire psalm carefully. When God created the first man and woman, He gave them dominion over His Creation (Gen. 1:26-31). David marveled that God would share His power and glory with feeble man! Man was created “a little lower than the angels” (and therefore inferior to them), but man was given privileges far higher than the angels. God never promised the angels that they would reign in “the world to come” (v. 5). But we have a serious problem here, for it is obvious that man today is not exercising dominion over creation. In fact, man has a hard time controlling himself! “But now we see not yet all things put under him” (v. 8). “But we see Jesus!” (v. 9) He is God’s answer to man’s dilemma. Jesus Christ became man that He might suffer and die for man’s sin and restore the dominion that was lost because of sin. Today everything is under His feet (Eph. 1:20-23).
His humanity enabled Him to bring many sons to glory (vv. 10-13). Christ is not only the Last Adam; He is also the Captain of Salvation. The word “Captain” literally means “pioneer – one who opens the way for others to follow.” Christ gave up His glory to become a man. He regained His glory when He arose and ascended to heaven. Now He shares that glory with all who trust Him for salvation (John 17:22-24). He is bringing many sons and daughters to glory! Christ is united with us, and we are united to Him; we are spiritually one. In fact we are His “brethren” (v. 12). The writer quotes Psalm 22:22 – a messianic psalm – in which Christ refers to His church as His brethren. This means we and the Son of God share the same nature and belong to the same family! What a marvel of God’s grace! One phrase in Heb. 2:10 ought to be discussed before we move on: “Make the Captain of their salvation perfect through sufferings.” This statement does not suggest that Jesus Christ was imperfect when He was here on earth. The word translated “perfect” means “complete, effective, and adequate.” Jesus could not have become an adequate Savor and High Priest had He not become Man and suffered and died.
His humanity enabled Him to disarm Satan and deliver us from death (vv. 14-16). Angels cannot die. Jesus did not come to save angels (note v. 16); He came to save humans. This meant that He had to take on Himself flesh and blood and become a Man. Only then could He die and through His death defeat Satan. The word “destroy” does not mean “annihilate,” for it is obvious that Satan is still alive and busy. The word means “render inoperative, make of none effect.” Satan is not destroyed, but he is disarmed. The final authority of death is in the hands of God. Satan can do only that which is permitted by God. But because Satan is the author of sin (John 8:44), and sin brings death (Rom. 6:23), in this sense Satan exercises power in the realm of death. Satan uses the fear of death as a terrible weapon to gain control over the lives of people. His kingdom is one of darkness and death (Col 1:13). We who trust in Jesus Christ have once and for all been delivered from Satan’s authority and from the terrible fear of death. The death, burial, and resurrection of Christ have given us victory! (1Cor. 15:55-58)
His humanity enables Him to be a sympathetic High Priest to His people (vv. 17-18). Being pure spirits who have never suffered, the angels cannot identify with us in our weakness and needs. But Jesus can! While He was here on earth, Jesus was “made like unto His brethren” in that He experienced the sinless infirmities of human nature. He knew what it was to be a helpless baby, a growing child, a maturing adolescent. He knew the experiences of weariness, hunger, and thirst (John 4:6-8). He knew what it was to be despised and rejected, to be lied about and falsely accused. He experienced physical suffering and death. All of this was a part of His “training” for His heavenly ministry as High Priest. Jesus Christ is both merciful and faithful: He is merciful toward people and faithful toward God. He can never fail in His priestly ministries. He made the necessary sacrifice for our sins so that we might be reconciled to God. He did not need to make a sacrifice for Himself, because He is sinless. So, what happens when we who have been saved are tempted to sin? Jesus stands ready to help us! Because He defeated every enemy, He is able to give us the grace that we need to overcome temptation. The word “succor” (v. 18) literally means “to run to the cry of a child.” It means “to bring help when it is needed.” Angels are able to serve us (Heb. 1:14), but they are not able to succor us in our times of temptation. Only Jesus Christ can do that, and He can do it because He became a man and suffered and died.
Hebrews 2:5-18 Reflection Questions:
Are you ashamed to call Jesus “Lord”? Can you express it openly? Do you?
After reading this study, are you amazed at the grace and wisdom of God?
What one part of this study really stands out for you? Why?