Book 19 - HEBREWS: THE LETTER TO JEWISH CHRISTIANS
With people, places, definitions ......
Writer: The apostle Paul according to the tradition of the Roman Catholic church and the early Anglican church. Hebrews is credited in its title to Paul in the 1611 "King James Version" of the Holy Bible;
Date: c AD65 before the start of the Jewish War of AD66-73, and certainly before the Fall of Jerusalem in AD70;
Where written: Traditionally Italy, possibly Rome;
Reader: A small group of Jewish Christians, possibly known to the author, and living in a specific location. As "Hebrews", they may well have lived in Jerusalem, but other suggestions include Alexandria, Corinth, Ephesus, or Rome itself. They had been persecuted for their Christian faith, were losing their initial enthusiasm and in danger of falling away altogether and embracing some new form of Judaism;
Why: To prove to Jewish Christians the superiority of Jesus Christ over the Law and prophets of the Old Testament.
According to Some Modern Scholarship: Although credited to Paul for centuries, most modern scholars maintain Hebrews was not written by him, but by an unknown author at this time. Whoever the author was, he or she was certainly a Jewish Christian, knew the Old Testament well, and wrote excellent Greek. Suggestions include Silas and Priscilla, but the most likely candidates are Apollos or Barnabas.
The place of writing is unknown, but from Hebrews 13:24, it may have been from Italy. Or else it was sent to Italy, as it includes greetings from expatriate Italian Christians.
JESUS CHRIST IS FOR ALL MEN
GOD HAS SENT HIS SON, JESUS CHRIST, FOR ALL PEOPLE
Hebrews 1:1-3 - God, who gave our forefathers (of the Jewish nation) many different glimpses of the truth in the words of the prophets, has now, at the end of the present age, given us the truth in the Son (Jesus Christ). Through the Son God made the whole universe, and to the Son he has ordained that all creation shall ultimately belong. This Son, radiance of the glory of God, flawless expression of the nature of God, himself the upholding principle of all that is, effected in person the reconciliation between God and man and then took his seat at the right hand of the majesty on high ....
JESUS CHRIST IS GREATER THAN GOD'S ANGELS
CHRIST IS HIGHER THAN THE ANGELS
- Angels play an important part in God's dealings with his people in the Old Testament. The author of Hebrews uses Old Testament quotations (sometimes difficult to understand or appreciate) to prove just how much superior is Jesus Christ:
Hebrews 1:4-14 - .... thus proving himself, by the more glorious name that he has won, far greater than all the angels of God.
Scripture endorses this superiority
For to which of the angels did he (God) ever say such words as these:
'You are my Son, today I have begotten you?' (Psalm 2:7)
'I will be to him a Father, and he shall be to me a Son?' (2 Samuel 7:14; 1 Chronicles 17:13)
Further, when he brings his first-born into this world of men, he says:
'Let all the angels of God worship him' (Deuteronomy 32:43 in the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Greek Septuagint version of the Jewish Bible).
This is what he says of the angels:
'Who makes his angels spirits and his ministers a flame of fire' (Psalm 104:4).
But when he speaks of the Son, he says:
'Your throne, O God, is forever and ever; a sceptre of righteousness is the sceptre of your kingdom. You have loved righteousness and hated lawlessness; therefore God, your God, has anointed you with the oil of gladness more than your companions' (Psalm 45:6,7).
He also says:
'You, Lord, in the beginning laid the foundation of the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands; they will perish, but you remain; and they will all grow old like a garment; like a cloak you will fold them up, and they will be changed. But you are the same, and your years will not fail' (Psalm 102:25-27).
But does he ever say this of any of the angels:
'Sit at my right hand, till I make your enemies your footstool?' (Psalm 110:1)
Surely the angels are no more than spirits in the service of God, commissioned to serve the heirs of God's salvation
FIRST WARNING - DON'T DRIFT AWAY FROM THE GOSPEL OF JESUS
Hebrews 2:1-4 - We ought, therefore, to pay the greatest attention to the truth (of the Gospel) that we have heard and not allow ourselves to drift away from it. For if the message (... the Law) given through angels proved authentic (.. angels traditionally gave the Law to Moses), so that defiance of it and disobedience to it (the Law) received appropriate retribution, how shall we escape if we refuse to pay proper attention to the salvation that is offered us today (in the Gospel)? For this salvation came first through the words of the Lord himself (... the three year ministry and Gospel of Jesus): it was confirmed for our hearing by men who had heard him speak (the apostles), and God moreover has plainly endorsed their witness (the apostles again) by signs and miracles, by all kinds of spiritual power, and by gifts of the Holy Spirit, all working to the divine plan.
JESUS CHRIST THE SON OF GOD ALSO BECAME A MAN, LOWER THAN THE ANGELS
Hebrews 2:5-18 - For though in past ages God did grant authority to angels, yet he did not put the future world of men under their control, and it is this world that we are now talking about.
But someone has said:
'What is man that you are mindful of him, or the son of man that you take care of him? You made him a little lower than the angels; you crowned him with glory and honour, and set him over the works of your hands. You have put all things in subjection under his feet' (Psalm 8:4-6).
Notice that the writer puts "all things" under the sovereignty of man: he left nothing outside his control. But we do not yet see "all things" under his control.
Christ became man, not angel, to save mankind
What we actually see is Jesus, after being made temporarily inferior to the angels (and so subject to pain and death - through crucifixion), in order that he should, in God's grace, taste death for every man, now crowned with glory and honour. It was right and proper that in bringing many sons to glory, God (from whom and by whom everything exists) should make the leader of their salvation a perfect leader through the fact that he suffered. For the one who makes men holy and the men who are made holy share a common humanity. So that he is not ashamed to call them his brothers, for he says:
'I will declare your name to my brethren; in the midst of the congregation I will sing praise to you' (Psalm 22:22).
And again, speaking as a man, he says:
'I will put my trust in him' (Isaiah 8:17).
And, one more instance, in these words:
'Here am I and the children whom God has given me' (Isaiah 8:18).
Since, then, "the children" have a common physical nature as human beings, he (Jesus) also became a human being, so that by going through death as a man he might destroy him who had the power of death, that is, the devil; and might also set free those who lived their whole lives a prey to the fear of death. It is plain that for this purpose he did not become an angel; he became a man, in actual fact a descendant of Abraham (as the genealogies of Jesus in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke show). It was imperative that he should be made like his brothers in nature, if he were to become a High Priest both compassionate and faithful in the things of God, and at the same time able to make atonement for the sins of the people. For by virtue of his own suffering under temptation he is able to help those who are exposed to temptation.
HE IS GREATER THAN MOSES
MOSES WAS A FAITHFUL SERVANT, JESUS IS A FAITHFUL SON
Hebrews 3:1-6 - So then, my brothers in holiness who share the highest of all callings, I want you to think of the messenger (or apostle) and High Priest of the faith we hold, Christ Jesus. See him as faithful to the charge God gave him, and compare him with Moses who also faithfully discharged his duty in the household of God. For this man (Jesus) has been considered worthy of greater honour than Moses, just as the founder of a house may be truly said to have more honour than the house itself. Every house is founded by someone, but the founder of everything is God himself. Moses was certainly faithful in all his duties in God's household, but he was faithful as a servant and his work was only a foreshadowing of the truth that would be known later. But Christ was faithful as a loyal son in the household of the founder, his own Father. And we are members of this household if we maintain our trust and joyful hope steadfast to the end.
SECOND WARNING - STAND FIRM; REJECTING JESUS IS FAR MORE SERIOUS THAN REJECTING MOSES
- The author reminds his readers about the rebellious ways of the tribes of Israel after the Exodus from Egypt. In consequence, they were condemned to wander with Moses in the Sinai Desert for 40 years, and that generation never entered the "worldly rest" of Canaan - the promised land of "milk and honey":
Hebrews 3:7-19 - We ought to take note of these words in which the Holy Spirit says:
'Today, if you will hear his voice, do not harden your hearts in the rebellion, in the day of trial in the wilderness, where your fathers tested me (the Lord God), proved me, and saw my works for forty years. Therefore I was angry with that generation, and said they always go astray in their heart, and they have not known my ways. So I swore in my wrath, they shall not enter my rest' (Psalm 95:7-11).
You should therefore be most careful, my brothers, that there should not be in any of you that wickedness of heart which refuses to trust, and deserts the cause of the living God (... the Gospel of Jesus). Help each other to stand firm in the faith every day, while it is still called "today", and beware that none of you becomes deaf and blind to God through the delusive glamour of sin. For we continue to share in all that Christ has for us so long as we steadily maintain until the end the trust with which we began. These words are still being said for our ears to hear:
'Today, if you will hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion' (Psalm 95:7-8).
For who was it who heard the Word of God and yet provoked his indignation? Was is not all who were rescued from slavery in Egypt under the leadership of Moses? And who was it with whom God was displeased for forty long years? Was it not those who, after all their hearing of God's Word, fell into sin, and left their bones in the desert? And to whom did God swear that they should never enter his rest? Was it not these very men who refused to trust him?
Yes, it is all too plain that it was refusal to trust God that prevented these men from entering his rest.
THE ETERNAL REST OF HEAVEN IS PROMISED TO THOSE WHO REMAIN FAITHFUL TO CHRIST
Hebrews 4:1-10 - Now since the same promise of rest is offered to us today, let us be continually on our guard that none of us even looks like failing to attain it. For we too have had a Gospel preached to us, as those men (the Israelites of the Exodus) had. Yet the message proclaimed to them did them no good, because they only heard and did not believe as well. It is only as a result of our faith and trust that we experience that rest. For he (God) said:
'So I swore in my wrath, they shall not enter my rest' (Psalm 95:11);
not because the (heavenly) rest was not prepared - it had been ready since the work of creation was completed, as he says elsewhere in the scriptures, speaking of the seventh day of creation,
'And God rested on the seventh day from all his works' (Genesis 2:2).
And in the passage above he refers to "my rest" as something already in existence. No, it is clear that some were intended to experience this rest and, since the previous hearers of the message (the Israelites) failed to attain to it because they would not believe God, he proclaims a further opportunity (... a second chance for mankind) when he says through David, many years later, "today", just as he had said "today" before.
'Today, if you will hear his voice, do not harden your hearts' (Psalm 95:7,8).
For if Joshua (Moses' successor who led the new generation of Israelites into Canaan) had given them the rest, we should not find God saying, at a much later date, "today". There still exists, therefore, a full and complete rest for the people of God. And he who experiences his real rest is resting from his own work as fully as God from his.
THIRD WARNING - ACCEPT GOD'S SECOND CHANCE, AND KNOW THAT NOTHING IS HIDDEN FROM HIM
Hebrews 4:11-13 - Let us then be eager to know this (full and complete) rest for ourselves, and let us beware that no one misses it through falling into the same kind of unbelief as those we have mentioned. For the Word that God speaks is alive and active; it cuts more keenly than any two-edged sword: it strikes through to the place where soul and spirit meet, to the innermost intimacies of a man's being: it exposes the very thoughts and motives of a man's heart. No creature has any cover from the sight of God; everything lies naked and exposed before the eyes of him with whom we have to do.
JESUS IS GREATER THAN EVERY HIGH PRIEST
JESUS CHRIST THE GREAT HIGH PRIEST CONTRASTED WITH AARON, THE HIGH PRIEST OF MOSES
Hebrews 4:14-5:10 - Seeing that we have a great High Priest who has entered the inmost Heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to our faith. For we have no superhuman High Priest to whom our weaknesses are unintelligible - he himself (Jesus as man) has shared fully in all our experience of temptation, except that he never sinned.
Let us therefore approach the throne of grace (of God, freely and ...) with fullest confidence, that we may receive mercy for our failures and grace to help in the hour of need.
A High Priest must be duly qualified and divinely appointed
(Chapter 5 .....) Note that when a man is chosen as High Priest (in the Jerusalem Temple) he is appointed on men's behalf as their representative in the things of God - he offers gifts to God and makes the necessary sacrifices for sins on behalf of his fellow-men. He must be able to deal sympathetically with the ignorant and foolish because he realises that he is himself prone to human weakness. This naturally means that the offering which he makes for sin is made on his own personal behalf as well as on behalf of those whom he represents.
Note also that nobody chooses for himself the honour of being a High Priest, but he is called by God to the work, as was Aaron, the first High Priest in ancient times (appointed by Moses at God's command).
Thus we see that the Christ did not choose for himself the glory of being High Priest, but he was honoured by the one who said:
'You are my Son, today I have begotten you' (Psalm 2:7).
And he says in another passage:
'You are a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek' (Psalm 110:4).
Christ, the perfect High Priest, was the perfect Son
Christ, in the days when he was a man on earth, appealed to the one (God) who could save him from death in desperate prayer and the agony of tears (in the Garden of Gethsemane). His prayers were heard; he was freed from his shrinking from death but, Son though he was, he had to prove the meaning of obedience through all that he suffered. Then, when he had been proved the perfect Son, he became the source of eternal salvation to all who should obey him, being now recognised by God himself as High Priest "after the order of Melchizedek.
Melchizedek - The mysterious priest-king of Salem (Jerusalem), and priest of God Most High. In Genesis 14, after Abraham had rescued his kidnapped nephew Lot, Melchizedek brought out bread and wine, and blessed Abraham. In return, Abraham gave him a tenth, or tithe, of all he had.
FOURTH WARNING - MOVE ON TOWARDS CHRISTIAN MATURITY; DON'T TURN BACK; PERSEVERE
Hebrews 5:11-6:20 - There is a great deal that we should like to say about this high priesthood (of Christ of the order of Melchizedek, introduced in Genesis 14:18-20), but it is not easy to explain to you since you seem so slow to grasp spiritual truth. At a time when you should be teaching others, you need teachers yourselves to repeat to you the ABC of God's Revelation to men. You have become people who need a milk diet and cannot face solid food! For anyone who continues to live on "milk" is obviously immature - he simply has not grown up. "Solid food" is only for the adult, that is, for the man who has developed by experience his power to discriminate between what is good and bad for him.
Can we not leave spiritual babyhood behind - and go on to maturity?
(Chapter 6 ....) Let us leave behind the elementary teaching about Christ and go forward to adult understanding. Let us not lay over and over again the foundation truths (and keep going over the basic principles of Christian life, such as ....) - repentance from the deeds which led to death, believing in God, baptism and laying-on of hands, belief in the life to come and the final judgment. No, if God allows, let us go on (towards Christian maturity).
Going back to the foundations will not help those who have deliberately turned away from God
When you find men who have been enlightened, who have experienced salvation and received the Holy Spirit, who have known the wholesome nourishment of the Word of God and touched the spiritual resources of the eternal world and who then fall away, it proves impossible to make them repent as they did at first. For they are re-crucifying the Son of God in their own souls, and by their conduct exposing him to shame and contempt. Ground which absorbs the rain that is constantly falling upon it and produces plants which are useful to those who cultivate it, is ("faithful") ground which has the blessing of God. But ground which produces nothing but thorns and thistles is of no value and is bound sooner or later to be condemned - the only thing to do is to burn it clean (as in Jesus' parables about sowing the seed, and the wheat and the weeds).
We want you to make God's promise real through your faith, hope and patience
But although we give these words of warning we feel sure that you, whom we love, are capable of better things and will enjoy the full experience of salvation. God is not unfair: he will not lose sight of all that you have done nor of the loving labour which you have shown for his sake in looking after fellow-Christians (as you are still doing). It is our earnest wish that every one of you should show a similar keenness in fully grasping the hope that is within you. We do not want any of you to grow slack, but to follow the example of those who through sheer patient faith came to possess the promises.
When God made his promise to Abraham he swore by himself, for there was no one greater by whom he (God) could swear, and he said:
'Surely blessing I will bless you, and multiplying I will multiply you' (Genesis 22:17).
And then Abraham, after patient endurance, found the promise true.
Among men it is customary to swear by something greater than themselves. And if a statement is confirmed by an oath, that is the end of all quibbling. 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. 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".
JESUS CHRIST, THE GREAT HIGH PRIEST COMPARED WITH MELCHIZEDEK
Hebrews 7:1-28 - Now this Melchizedek was, we know, king of Salem and priest of God most high. He met Abraham when the latter was returning from the defeat of the kings, and blessed him. Abraham gave him a tribute of a tenth part (a tithe) of all the spoils of battle.
(Melchizedek means "king of righteousness," and his other title is "king of peace", for Salem means peace. He had no father or mother and no family tree. He was not born nor did he die, but, being like the Son of God, is a perpetual priest.)
Now notice the greatness of this (mysterious) man. Even Abraham the patriarch pays him a tribute of a tenth part of the spoils. Further, we know that, according to the Law, the descendants of Levi (one of the sons of Jacob, otherwise known as "Israel") who accept the office of priest have the right to demand a "tenth" from the people, that is from their brothers, despite the fact that the latter are (also) descendants of Abraham. But here we have one (Melchizedek) who is quite independent of Levitic ancestry taking a "tenth" from Abraham, and giving a blessing to Abraham, the holder of God's promises! And no one can deny that the receiver of a blessing (in this case Abraham) is inferior to the one who gives it (Melchizedek). Again, in the one case it is mortal men who receive the "tenths", and in the other is one who, we are assured, is alive. One might say that even Levi, the proper receiver of "tenths", has paid his tenth to this man, for in a sense he already existed in the body of his father Abraham when Melchizedek met him.
The revival of the Melchizedek priesthood means that the Levitical priesthood is superseded
We may go further. If it be possible to bring men to spiritual maturity through the Levitical priestly system (for that is the system under which the people were given the Law), why does the necessity arise for another priest to make his appearance after the order of Melchizedek, instead of following the normal priestly calling of Aaron? For if there is a transference of priestly powers, there will necessarily follow an alteration of the Law regarding priesthood. He (Jesus) who is described as our High Priest belongs to another tribe, no member of which had ever attended the altar! For it is a matter of history that our Lord was a descendant of Judah (also according to the genealogies of Matthew and Luke), and Moses made no mention of priesthood in connection with that tribe.
How fundamental is this change becomes all the more apparent when we see this other priest appearing according to the Melchizedek pattern, and deriving his priesthood not by virtue of a command imposed from outside, but from the power of indestructible life within. For the witness to him, as we have seen, is:
'You are a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.' (Psalm 110:4)
Quite plainly, then, there is a definite cancellation of the previous commandment (of the Law) because of its ineffectiveness and uselessness - the Law was incapable of bringing anyone to real maturity - followed by the introduction of a better hope (in Jesus), through which we approach our God.
The high Priesthood of Christ rests upon the oath of God
This means a "better" hope for us because Jesus has become our priest by the oath of God. Other men have been priests without any sworn guarantee, but Jesus has the oath of him that said of him:
'The Lord has sworn and will not relent, You are a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek' (Psalm 110:4).
And he is, by virtue of this fact, himself the living guarantee of a "better" agreement. Human High Priests have always been changing, for death made a permanent appointment impossible. But Christ, because he lives for ever, possesses a priesthood that needs no successor. This means that he can save fully and completely those who approach God through him, for he is always living to intercede on their behalf.
Christ the perfect High Priest, who meets our need
Here is the High Priest we need. A man who is holy, faultless, unstained, beyond the very reach of sin and lifted to the very Heavens. There is no need for him, like the High Priest we know, to offer up sacrifice, first for our own sins and then for the people's. He made one sacrifice, once for all, when he offered up himself (on the cross).
The Law makes for its High Priests men of human weakness. But the word of the oath, which came after the Law, makes for High Priest the Son (Jesus Christ), who is perfect for ever!
THE SUPERIORITY OF CHRIST IN HEAVEN OVER THE HIGH PRIEST IN HIS EARTHLY TEMPLE
Hebrews 8:1-5 - Now to sum up - we have an ideal High Priest (in Jesus Christ) such as has been described above. He has taken his seat on the right hand of the heavenly majesty (of God). He is the minister of the sanctuary and of the real tabernacle (of heaven) ....
Tabernacle - The original tabernacle was the place of worship built in the desert to God's detailed instructions (Exodus 25-27) given to Moses on Mount Sinai. Within the tabernacle courtyard was the altar where the Levite priests made the prescribed blood and other sacrifices. Beyond it was the "holy of holies" where God met with his people -
.... - that is the one God has set up and not man. Every High Priest is appointed to offer gifts and make sacrifices. It follows, therefore, that in these holy places this man has something that he is offering.
Now if he were still living on earth he would not be a priest at all, for there are already priests offering the gifts prescribed by the Law. These men are serving what is only a pattern or reproduction of things that exist in Heaven. (Moses, you will remember, when he was going to construct the tabernacle, was cautioned by God in these words:
'See that you make all things according to the pattern shown you on the mountain' (Exodus 25:40)).
A NEW AGREEMENT WITH GOD; THE ONE SACRIFICE OF JESUS CHRIST CANCELS ALL SIN
THE NEW AGREEMENT OF JESUS SUPERSEDES THE OLD AGREEMENT OF THE LAW
Hebrews 8:6-13 - But Christ had been given a far higher ministry for he mediates a higher agreement (or covenant), which in turn rests upon higher promises. If the first agreement (made with Moses at Sinai) had proved satisfactory there would have been no need for the second (of Jesus crucified on the cross of Calvary).
Actually, however, God does show himself dissatisfied for he says to those under the first agreement:
'Behold, the days are coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant ....
Covenant - A "treaty" between God and his people. In the Old Testament, God's most important covenant was at Sinai, where he gave his chosen people the Law and called on Israel to be a holy nation.
In the New Testament the covenant is God's gift of his son to both Jew and Gentile, and the call is for all people to believe in Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour -
.... with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah (from whom Jesus was descended) - not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day when I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt; because they did not continue in my covenant, and I disregarded them, says the Lord. For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel: After those days, says the Lord, I will put my laws in their mind and write them on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. None of them shall teach his neighbour, and none his brother, saying, Know the Lord, for all shall know me, from the least to the greatest of them. For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no more' (Jeremiah 31:31-34).
The mere fact that God speaks of a new covenant or agreement makes the old one out of date. And when a thing grows weak and out of date it is obviously soon going to be dispensed with altogether (.... thus the author of Hebrews declares the Jewish Law obsolete).
THE HIGH PRIEST'S EARTHLY MINISTRY IN THE TEMPLE UNDER THE OLD AGREEMENT, COMPARED WITH .....
Hebrews 9:1-10 - Now the first agreement (or covenant) had certain rules for the service of God, and it had a sanctuary (the tabernacle), a holy place in this world for the eternal God. A tent was erected: in the outer compartment were placed the lamp-standard, the table and the sacred loaves. Inside, beyond the curtain, was the inner tent called the holy of holies ....
Holy of holies - The Jerusalem Temple also had a curtain in front of the holy of holies through which the High Priest passed once a year. When Jesus died on the cross, the Temple curtain was torn in two (Matthew 27:51), symbolising that everyone can now approach God directly through Jesus Christ at any time, and not just through the High Priest once a year -
.... in which were the golden censer and the gold inlaid ark of the agreement, containing the golden jar of manna, Aaron's budding staff and the stone tablets inscribed with the words of the actual agreement. Above these things were fixed representations of the cherubim of glory, casting their shadow over the ark's covering, known as the mercy seat. (All this is full of meaning but we cannot enter now into a detailed explanation - which can be found in Exodus 25-27.)
Under this arrangement the outer tent was habitually used by the priests in the regular discharge of their religious duties. But the inner tent (with the "holy of holies") was entered once a year only, by the High Priest, alone, bearing a sacrifice of shed blood to be offered for his own sins and those of the people.
The old arrangements stood as symbols until Christ, the truth, came
By these things the Holy Spirit means us to understand that the way to the holy of holies was not yet open (except to the High Priest), that is, so long as the first tent and all that it stands for still exist. For in this outer tent we see a picture of the present time, in which both gifts and sacrifices are offered and yet are incapable of cleansing the soul of the worshipper. The ceremonies are concerned with food and drink, various washings and rules for bodily conduct, and were only intended to be valid until the time when Christ should establish the truth.
.... THE HEAVENLY MINISTRY OF JESUS CHRIST UNDER THE NEW AGREEMENT
Hebrews 9:11-28 - For now Christ has come among us, the High Priest of the good things which were to come, and has passed through a greater and more perfect tent (of God's heaven) which no human hand has made (for it was no part of this world of ours). It was not with goats' or calves' blood but with his own blood (on the cross of Calvary) that he entered once and for all into the holy of holies, having won for us men eternal reconciliation with God. And if the blood of bulls and goats and the ashes of a burnt heifer were, when sprinkled on the unholy, sufficient to make the body pure, then how much more will the blood of Christ himself, who in his eternal spirit offered himself to God as the perfect sacrifice, purify your souls from the deeds of death, that you may serve the living God!
The death of Christ gives him power to administer the new agreement
Christ is consequently the administrator of an entirely new agreement, having the power, by virtue of his death, to redeem transgressions (... to pay the price for men and women's sins) committed under the first agreement: to enable those who obey God's call to enjoy the promises of the eternal inheritance. For, as in the case of a will, the agreement is only valid after death. While the testator lives, a will has no legal power. And indeed we find that even the first agreement of God's will was not put into force without the shedding of blood. For when Moses had told the people every command of the Law he took calves' and goats' blood with water and scarlet wool, and sprinkled both the book and all the people with a sprig of hyssop, saying:
'This is the blood of the covenant which God has commanded you' (Exodus 24:8).
Moses also sprinkled with blood the tent itself and all the sacred vessels. And you will find that in the Law almost all cleansing is made by means of blood - as the common saying has it: "No shedding of blood, no remission of sin."
Christ has achieved the real appearance before God for us
- The importance of blood sacrifice under both the old and new covenants is now emphasised:
It was necessary for the earthly reproductions of heavenly realities to be purified by such methods, but the actual heavenly things could only be made pure in God's sight by higher sacrifices than these. Christ did not therefore enter into any holy places made by human hands (however truly these may represent heavenly realities), but he entered Heaven itself to make his appearance before God as High Priest on our behalf. There is no intention that he should offer himself regularly, like the High Priest entering the holy of holies every year with the blood of another creature. For that would mean that he would have to suffer death every time he entered Heaven from the beginning of the world! No, the fact is that now, at this point in time, the end of the present age, he has appeared once and for all to abolish sin by the sacrifice of himself (as the crucified Christ). And just as surely as it is appointed for all men to die and after that pass to their judgment, so it is certain that Christ was offered once to bear the sins of many and after that, to those who look for him, he will appear a second time, not this time to deal with sin, but to bring them to full salvation (when he returns).
SACRIFICES UNDER THE LAW CANNOT CANCEL SIN; CHRIST'S ONE SACRIFICE IN OBEDIENCE TO GOD, DOES
Hebrews 10:1-18 - The Law possessed only a dim outline of the benefits Christ would bring and did not actually reproduce them. Consequently it was incapable of perfecting the souls of those who offered their regular annual sacrifices. For if it had, surely the sacrifices would have been discontinued - on the grounds that the worshippers, having been really cleansed, would have had no further consciousness of sin. In practice, however, the sacrifices amounted to an annual reminder of sins; for the blood of bulls and goats cannot really remove the guilt of sin.
Christ, however, makes the old order obsolete and makes the perfect sacrifice
Therefore, when Christ enters the world, he says:
'Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but a body you have prepared for me. In burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin you had no pleasure. Then I said, Behold, I have come - in the volume of books it is written of me - to do your will, O God' (Psalm 40:6-8).
After saying, "Sacrifice and offering, burnt offerings, and offerings for sin you did not desire, nor had pleasure in them" (which are made according to the Law), Christ then says, "Behold, I have come to do your will, O God."
That means he is dispensing with the old order of sacrifices, and establishing a new order of obedience to the will of God, and in that will we have been made holy by the single unique offering of the body of Christ.
Every human priest stands day by day performing his religious duties and offering time after time the same sacrifices - which can never actually remove sins. But this man (Jesus), after offering one sacrifice for sins for ever, took his seat at God's right hand (in heaven), from that time offering no more sacrifice, but waiting until "his enemies be made his footstool". For by virtue of that one offering he has perfected for all time every one (of those Christians) whom he makes holy. The Holy Spirit himself endorses this truth for us, when he says, first:
'This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, says the Lord: I will put my laws into their hearts, and in their minds I will write them' (Jeremiah 31:33).
And then, he adds,
'Their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no more' (Jeremiah 31:34).
Where God grants remission of sin there can be no question of making further atonement.
KEEP GOING AS CHRISTIANS IN FAITH
IN FAITH, APPROACH GOD THROUGH CHRIST; AND DO SO IN FELLOWSHIP WITH OTHER BELIEVERS
Hebrews 10:19-25 - So by virtue of the blood of Jesus, you and I, my brothers, may now have courage to enter the holy of holies by way of the one (Jesus) who died and is yet alive (in heaven), who has made for us a holy means of entry by himself passing through the curtain, that is, his own human nature. Further, since we have a great High Priest set over the household of God, let us draw near with true hearts and fullest confidence, knowing that our inmost souls have been purified by the sprinkling of his blood just as our bodies are cleansed by the washing of clean water. In this confidence (that Jesus is the new high priest of the Jews) let us hold on to the hope that we profess without the slightest hesitation - for he is utterly dependable - and let us think of one another and how we can encourage each other to love and do good deeds. And let us not hold aloof from our church meetings, as some do. Let us do all we can to help one another's faith, and this the more earnestly as we see the final day drawing ever nearer.
FIFTH WARNING - WHAT HOPE DO WE HAVE IF WE REJECT CHRIST'S SACRIFICE
Hebrews 10:26-31 - Now if we sin deliberately after we have known and accepted the truth (of Christ's sacrifice), there can be no further sacrifice for sin for us but only a terrifying expectation of judgment and the fire of God's indignation, which will one day consume all that sets itself against him. The man who showed contempt for Moses' Law died without hope of appeal on the evidence of two or three of his fellows. How much more dreadful a punishment will he be thought to deserve who has poured scorn on the (crucified) Son of God, treated like dirt the blood of the agreement which had once made him holy, and insulted the very Spirit of grace? For we know the one who said:
'Vengeance is mine: I will repay' (Deuteronomy 32:35),
'The Lord will judge his people' (Deuteronomy 32:36; Psalm 135:14).
Truly it is a terrible thing for a man who has done this to fall into the hands of the living God!
HAVING COME SO FAR IN FAITH, DON'T TURN BACK, ENDURE
Hebrews 10:32-39 - You must never forget those past days when you had received the light and went through such a great and painful struggle (after conversion). It was partly because everyone's eye was on you as you endured harsh words and hard experiences, partly because you threw in your lot with those who suffered much the same. You sympathised with those who were put in prison and you were cheerful when your own goods (which moth and rust destroy) were confiscated, for you knew that you had a much more solid and lasting treasure in Heaven. Don't throw away your trust now - it carries with it a rich reward in the world to come. Patient endurance is what you need if, after doing God's will, you are to receive what he has promised.
'For yet a little while, and he who is coming will come and will not tarry. Now the just shall live by faith; but if anyone draws back, my soul has no pleasure in him' (Habakkuk 2:3,4).
Surely we are not going to be men who cower back and are lost, but men who maintain their faith until the salvation of their souls is complete!
EXAMPLES OF FAITH FROM THE OLD TESTAMENT
Hebrews 11:1-40 - Now faith means putting our full confidence in the things we hope for, it means being certain of things we cannot see. It was this kind of faith that won their reputation for the saints of old. And it is after all only by faith that our minds accept as fact that the whole scheme of time and space was created by God's command - that the world which we can see has come into being through principles which are invisible.
Faith is the distinctive mark of the saints of the old agreement
It was because of his faith that Abel (a son of Adam and Eve) made a better sacrifice to God than Cain (his brother), and he had evidence that God looked upon him as a righteous man, whose gifts he could accept. And though Cain killed him (over the gifts), yet by his faith he still speaks to us today.
It was because of his faith that Enoch (a descendant of Adam who did not die, but was "taken away" by God) was promoted to the eternal world without experiencing death. He disappeared from this world because God promoted him, and before that happened his reputation was that "he pleased God". And without faith it is impossible to please him. The man who approaches God must have faith in two things, first that God exists and secondly that it is worth a man's while to try to find God.
It was through faith that Noah, on receiving God's warning of impending disaster, reverently constructed an ark to save his household. This action of faith condemned the unbelief of the rest of the world, and won for Noah the righteousness before God which follows such a faith.
It was by faith that Abraham obeyed the summons to go out to a place (Canaan) which he would eventually possess, and he set out (from Ur of the Chaldees via Haran) in complete ignorance of his destination. It was faith that kept him journeying like a foreigner through the land of promise, with no more home than the tents which he shared with Isaac and Jacob (his son and grandson), co-heirs with him of the promise. For Abraham's eyes were looking forward to that city (of heaven) with solid foundations of which God himself is both architect and builder.
It was by faith that even Sarah (wife of Abraham) gained the physical vitality to become a mother despite her great age, and she gave birth to a child (Isaac) when far beyond the normal years of child-bearing. She could do this because she believed that the one (God) who had given the promise was utterly trustworthy. So it happened that from one man (Abraham), who as a potential father was already considered dead, there arose a race "as numerous as the stars", as "countless as the sands of the sea-shore".
All the heroes of faith looked forward to their true country
All these whom we have mentioned maintained their faith but died without actually receiving God's promises, though they had seen them in the distance, had hailed them as true and were quite convinced of their reality. They freely admitted that they lived on this earth as exiles and foreigners. Men who say that mean, of course, that their eyes are fixed upon their true home-land (not on earth, but in heaven). If they had meant the particular (earthly) country they had left behind, they had ample opportunity to return. No, the fact is that they longed for a better country altogether, nothing less than a heavenly one. And because of this faith of theirs, God is not ashamed to be called their God for in sober truth he has prepared for them a city in Heaven.
Abraham's faith once more
It was by faith that Abraham, when put to the test (by God), made (or prepared to make) a sacrifice of Isaac (his son). Yes, the man who had heard God's promises was prepared to offer up his only son of whom it had been said
'In Isaac your seed shall be called' (Genesis 21:12).
He believed that God could raise his son up, even if he were dead. And he did, in a manner of speaking, receive him back from death (when a ram was sacrificed in his place).
The faith of Isaac, Jacob and Joseph
It was by faith that Isaac gave Jacob and Esau (his own sons) his blessing, for his words dealt with what should happen in the future. It was by faith that the dying Jacob (in Egypt to escape the famine) blessed each of Joseph's sons (Ephraim and Manasseh) as he bowed in prayer over his staff. It was by faith that Joseph on his death-bed spoke of the exodus of the Israelites, and gave confident orders about the disposal of his own mortal remains (in the promised land of Canaan).
It was by faith that Moses was hidden (among the reeds of the river Nile) by his parents for three months after his birth, for they saw that he was an exceptional child and refused to be daunted by the king's decree that all male children should be drowned. It was also by faith that Moses himself when grown up refused to be called the son of Pharaoh's daughter. He preferred sharing the burden of God's people (the Hebrew slaves - the Israelites) to enjoying the temporary advantages of alliance with a sinful nation. He considered the "reproach of Christ" more precious than all the wealth of Egypt, for he looked steadily at the ultimate, not the immediate, reward.
By faith he led the exodus from Egypt; he defied the king's (the pharaoh's) anger with the strength that came from obedience to the invisible king.
By faith Moses kept the first Passover and made the blood-sprinkling, so that the angel of death which killed the first-born should not touch his people.
By faith the people walked through the Red Sea as though it were dry land, and the Egyptians who tried to do the same thing were drowned.
It was by faith that the walls of Jericho collapsed (under threat from Joshua's army), for the people had obeyed God's command to encircle them for seven days. It was because of her faith that Rahab the prostitute (of Jericho who helped Joshua's spies escape) did not share the fate of the disobedient, for she showed her faith in the true God when she welcomed the Israelites sent out to reconnoitre.
The Old Testament is full of examples of faith
And what other examples shall I give? There is simply not time to continue by telling the stories of
Gideon, Barak, Samson and Jeptha (Judges who ruled Israel, and defeated the armies respectively of Midian, Canaan, Philistia, and Amon);
.... of David, Samuel (judge and prophet who anointed Israel's first two kings, Saul and David) and the prophets. Through their faith these men conquered kingdoms, ruled in justice and proved the truth of God's promises.
....They shut the mouths of lions (... Daniel in the lion's den), they quenched the furious blaze of fire (... the three Hebrew young men in the fiery furnace), they escaped from death itself. From being weaklings they became strong men and mighty warriors; they routed whole armies of foreigners. Some returned to their womenfolk from certain death, while others were tortured and refused to be ransomed, because they wanted to deserve a more honourable resurrection in the world to come.
.... Others were exposed to the test of public mockery and flogging, and to the torture of being left bound in prison. They were killed by stoning, by being sawn in two (... possibly the fate of Isaiah the great prophet); they were tempted by specious promises of release and then were killed with the sword. Many became refugees with nothing but sheepskins or goatskins to cover them. They lost everything and yet were spurned and ill-treated by a world that was too evil to see their worth. They lived as vagrants in the desert, on the mountains, or in caves or holes in the ground.
All these won a glowing testimony to their faith, but they did not then and there receive the fulfilment of the promise. God had something better planned for our day, and it was not his plan that they should reach perfection without us.
KEEP GOING IN FAITH, ACCEPT GOD'S DISCIPLINE
Hebrews 12:1-24 - Surrounded then as we are by these serried ranks of (Old Testament) witnesses, let us strip off everything that hinders us, as well as the sin which dogs our feet, and let us run the race that we have to run with patience, our eyes fixed on Jesus the source and the goal of our faith. For he himself endured a cross and thought nothing of its shame because of the joy he knew would follow his suffering; and he is now seated at the right hand of God's throne. Think constantly of him enduring all that sinful men could say against him and you will not lose your purpose or your courage.
Look upon suffering as heavenly discipline
After all, your fight against sin has not yet meant the shedding of blood (... persecution of the Christians to whom the Letter was addressed probably had not yet reached the stage of torture and martyrdom), and you have perhaps lost sight of that piece of advice which reminds you of our sonship in God:
'My son, do not despise the chastening of the Lord, nor be discouraged when you are rebuked by him; for whom the Lord loves he chastens, and scourges every son whom he receives' (Proverbs 3:11-12).
Bear what you have to bear as "chastening" - as God's dealing with you as sons. No true son ever grows up uncorrected by his father. For if you had no experience of the correction which all sons have to bear you might well doubt the legitimacy of your sonship. After all, when we were children we had fathers who corrected us, and we respected them for it. Can we not much more readily submit to a heavenly Father's discipline, and learn how to live?
For our fathers used to correct us according to their own (imperfect) ideas during the brief days of childhood. But God corrects us all our days for our own benefit, to teach us his holiness. Now obviously no "chastening" seems pleasant at the time: it is in fact most unpleasant. Yet when it is all over we can see that is has quietly produced the fruit of real goodness in the characters of those who have accepted it in the right spirit. So take a fresh grip on life and brace your trembling limbs. Don't wander away from the path but forge steadily onward. On the right path the limping foot recovers strength and does not collapse.
In times of testing be especially on your guard against certain sins
Let it be your ambition to live at peace with all men and to achieve holiness "without which no man shall see the Lord". Be careful that none of you fails to respond to the grace which God gives, for if he does there can very easily spring up in him a bitter spirit which is not only bad in itself but can also poison the lives of many others. Be careful too, that none of you falls into impurity or loses his reverence for the things of God and then, like Esau (brother of Jacob), is ready to sell his birthright (for a plate of stew, a "mess of pottage") to satisfy the momentary hunger of his body. Remember how afterwards, when he wanted to have the blessing which was his birthright, he was refused. He never afterwards found the way of repentance though he sought it desperately and with tears.
Your experience is not that of the old agreement but of the new
You have not had to approach things which your senses could experience as they did in the old days (... the Israelites at Mount Sinai under the old covenant) - flaming fire, black darkness, rushing wind and out of it a trumpet-blast, a voice speaking human words. So terrible was that voice that those who heard it begged and prayed that it might stop speaking, for what it had already commanded was more than they could bear -
'And if so much as a beast touches the mountain, it shall be stoned or thrust through with an arrow' (Exodus 19:12-13).
So fearful was the spectacle that Moses cried out,
'I am exceedingly afraid and trembling' (Deuteronomy 9:19).
No, you have been allowed to approach the true Mount Zion (of the new covenant), the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem. You have drawn near to the countless angelic army, the great assembly of Heaven and the Church of the first-born whose names are written above. You have drawn near to God, the judge of all, to the souls of good men made perfect, and to Jesus, mediator of a new agreement, to the cleansing of blood which tells a better story than the age-old sacrifice of Abel (son of Adam, killed by his brother Cain because of his sacrifice to the Lord).
SIXTH & FINAL WARNING - LISTEN TO OF GOD: AT THE END, ONLY THOSE WHO ARE FAITHFUL TO CHRIST, WILL REMAIN
Hebrews 12:25-29 - So be sure you do not refuse to hear the voice of God! For if they (the Israelites) who refused to hear those who spoke to them on earth did not escape, how little chance of escape is there for us if we refuse to hear the one (God) who speaks from Heaven. Then his voice shook the earth, but now he promises:
'Yet once more I shake not only the earth, but also heaven' (Haggai 2:6).
This means that in this final "shaking" all that is impermanent will be removed, that is, everything that is merely "made", and only the unshakeable things will remain. Since then we have been given a kingdom that is "unshakeable", let us serve God with thankfulness in the ways which please him, but always with reverence and holy fear. For it is perfectly true that our
'God is a burning fire' (Deuteronomy 4:24).
CALL TO LIVE AS CHRISTIANS
CHRISTIAN LIVING; WARNINGS AGAINST STRANGE TEACHINGS; SHARING CHRIST'S DISGRACE
Hebrews 13:1-17 - Never let your brotherly love fail, nor refuse to extend your hospitality to strangers - sometimes men have entertained angels unawares. Think constantly of those in prison as if you were prisoners at their side. Think too of all who suffer as if you shared their pain.
Both honourable marriage and chastity should be respected by all of you. God himself will judge those who traffic in the bodies of others or defile the relationship of marriage. Keep your lives free from the lust for money: be content with what you have.
God has said:
'I will never leave you nor forsake you' (Deuteronomy 31:6; Joshua 1:5).
We, therefore, can confidently say:
'The Lord is my helper; I will not fear. What can man do to me?' (Psalm 118:6)
Be loyal to your leaders and, above all, to Christ
Never forget your leaders, who first spoke to you the Word of God. Remember how they lived, and imitate their faith.
Jesus Christ is always the same, yesterday, today and for ever. Do not be swept off your feet by various peculiar teachings. Spiritual stability depends on the grace of God, and not on rules of diet - which after all have not spiritually benefited those who have made a speciality of that kind of thing. We have an altar from which those who still serve the tabernacle have no right to eat.
When the blood of animals was presented as a sin-offering by the High Priest in the sanctuary (of the tabernacle), their bodies were burned outside the precincts of the camp. That is why Jesus, when he sanctified men by the shedding of his own blood, suffered and died outside the city gates (at Golgotha, or Calvary). Let us go out to him, then, beyond the boundaries of the camp, proudly bearing his "disgrace". For we have no permanent city here on earth, we are looking for one in the (heavenly) world to come. Our constant sacrifice to God should be the praise of lips that give thanks to his name. Yet we should not forget to do good and to share our good things with others, for these too are the sort of sacrifices God will accept.
Obey your rulers and recognise their authority. They are like men standing guard over your spiritual good, and they have great responsibility. Try to make their work a pleasure and not a burden - by so doing you will help not only them but yourselves.
PERSONAL MESSAGES AND BLESSINGS
Hebrews 13:18-25 - Pray for us. Our conscience is clear before God, and our great desire is to lead a life that is completely honest. Please pray earnestly that I may be restored to you the sooner.
Now the God of peace, who brought back from the dead that great shepherd of the sheep, our Lord Jesus, by the blood of the everlasting agreement, equip you thoroughly for the doing of his will! May he effect in you everything that pleases him through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever.
All I have said, my brothers, I ask you to accept as though it were an appeal in person, although I have compressed it into a short letter.
You will be glad to know that brother Timothy (also Paul's travelling companion, friend, and recipient of the two Letters) is now at liberty (after an unknown imprisonment). If he comes here soon, he and I will perhaps visit you together.
Greetings to all your leaders and all your church members. The Christians of Italy send their greetings.
Grace be with you all.
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