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THE PENTATEUCH --- GENESIS ---EXODUS--- LEVITICUS --- NUMBERS --- DEUTERONOMY --- THE BOOK OF JOSHUA --- THE BOOK OF JUDGES --- THE BOOK OF RUTH --- SAMUEL --- KINGS --- I & II CHRONICLES --- EZRA---NEHEMIAH---ESTHER---PSALMS 1-73--- PROVERBS---ECCLESIASTES--- SONG OF SOLOMON --- ISAIAH --- JEREMIAH --- LAMENTATIONS --- EZEKIEL --- DANIEL --- --- HOSEA --- --- JOEL ------ AMOS --- --- OBADIAH --- --- JONAH --- --- MICAH --- --- NAHUM --- --- HABAKKUK--- --- ZEPHANIAH --- --- HAGGAI --- ZECHARIAH --- --- MALACHI --- THE GOSPEL OF MATTHEW ---THE GOSPEL OF MARK--- THE GOSPEL OF LUKE --- THE GOSPEL OF JOHN --- THE ACTS OF THE APOSTLES --- READINGS IN ROMANS --- 1 CORINTHIANS --- 2 CORINTHIANS ---GALATIANS --- EPHESIANS--- PHILIPPIANS --- COLOSSIANS --- 1 THESSALONIANS --- 2 THESSALONIANS --- 1 TIMOTHY --- 2 TIMOTHY --- TITUS --- PHILEMON --- HEBREWS --- JAMES --- 1 & 2 PETER --- JOHN'S LETTERS --- JUDE --- REVELATION --- THE GOSPELS & ACTS
The actual letter gives no indication of authorship, but we know that this letter was written well before 90 AD because it was cited in Clement of Rome’s letter to the Corinthians (c.96 AD) as the equivalent of Scripture, but never as by Paul, even though he regularly cites Paul and names him. This demonstrates that it was known to have been written by an Apostolic man, someone whose words could be seen as the very words of God, and someone well known to ‘our brother Timothy’ (13.23) who was still alive. The latter reference suggests that, if not Paul himself, he probably moved in Paul’s circle.
Like 1 John it has no introduction, but moves at once into its theme. The writer does not feel a need to cite his authority to write. And yet it is clearly written to a specific group of people, and there is no evidence of it ever being circulated without that ending, thus it is not does not seem to be just a circulated sermon. Interestingly it ends with a typical Pauline ending, ‘Grace be with you all, Amen’, as though Paul, or someone who followed his example, had taken pen in hand to sign off (see 2 Thessalonians 3:17, 18), a practise not found in any other New Testament letters than Paul’s (but see 1 Peter 5.17).
Yet its style is not that of Paul, its Greek is smoother and more sophisticated, its way of introducing Scripture quotes is different, and the later uncertainty as to whether Paul wrote it or not, while suggesting Pauline connections, militates against it being directly written by Paul. He may, however, have directly given approval to it.
Its content suggests a Hellenistic Jew, with somewhat like Stephen’s viewpoint (Acts 7), or a knowledgeable God-fearer with a sound background in the Septuagint. Eusebius, citing Clement of Alexandria, connects it with Luke as an interpreter/translator of an original Pauline composition written in Hebrew. It is quite clearly not a translation from Hebrew, but perhaps Paul had gathered together some notes in Hebrew which Luke felt very suitable for this particular occasion, and after making their content his own, took and expanded on, putting them in his own words, although possibly under Paul’s guidance and approval. It would enable the bearer to cite Paul’s authority while naming Luke as the author.
As we note from the acceptance of his Gospel and the Acts of the Apostles Luke’s credentials would be accepted. Tertullian describes it as though he had received a tradition that it was written by Barnabas, but there is no further evidence of this. Whoever it was, Luke, Barnabas, Apollos, Silas (Silvanus) or the like, it was seen as sufficiently authoritative to be received and cited by a prominent elder in the church in Rome (Clement of Rome - who presumably did know who wrote it, and probably expected the Corinthians to know) at the end of 1st century AD.
It begins immediately with the emphasis that God has over the ages spoken to the world through the prophets, and then goes on to describe God’s final revelation of Himself through One who was, unlike them, a Son, One Whom He describes as a full and true portrayal of God’s glory and power, a royal figure (He sits at God’s right hand), and a High Priest (He makes purification for sins).
This One is shown to be greater than the angels, greater than Moses, greater than Joshua, and greater than Aaron, the earthly High Priest and as introducing a greater deliverance than all. Thus He is greater than all whom the Jews saw as great in their great previous deliverance at the Exodus. He is the new Deliverer. He is seen as having through the sacrifice of Himself replaced the sacrificial system, which had merely pointed ahead to His coming, making by the sacrifice of Himself a means by which those who are His can be sanctified and perfected, and providing for them a way into the presence of God.
Thus they must recognise that there is now acceptance with God by no other way. And his readers are urged to ensure that they continue their faith in Him right through to the end in order that they might be saved.
By the end of the second century AD it bore the heading ‘To The Hebrews’, and its message would certainly be applicable to Jewish Christians or converted God-fearers who were considering lapsing back to Judaism, possibly because of persecution, and because they were subsequently persuading themselves that the God-revealed religion of the Jews would surely be sufficient for salvation, while avoiding the tribulations of being a Christian. But its message rejects such an idea on the grounds that Judaism has now been replaced in Christ, which means that it is based on heavenly realities and not on earthly shadows. And being based firmly on an interpretation of the Old Testament, the letter has a message for all.
A good case can be made for it being seen as written to a small church grouping composed of mainly Greek speaking converted Jewish priests and Pharisees, who had become rather inward looking and were practising their own form of Jewish Christianity, some of whom, in the face of extreme pressure and persecution were speaking of turning from Christ and returning again to Judaism. It may well be that some who knew them had asked the writer to use his recognised authority to plead with them to think again.
That he did so on the basis of his very accurate knowledge of Old Testament teaching rather than on a general knowledge of Judaism comes out in the letter. And the lack of any mention of the destruction of the temple may well suggest a date before 70 AD.
Chapter 1 Jesus Is The Supreme Revelation of God And Greater Than, and Far Above, the Angels
God’s Only Son (1.1-4)
The prime opening message is that ‘God has spoken’, and that having spoken through the ages through revered men, He has finally spoken and given His final word through One Who is uniquely ‘of the nature of a Son’. All that had gone before had been building up to Him. This can be compared with Mark 12.1-11 and parallels, ‘He had yet one, a beloved son. He sent him last to them saying, “They will reverence my son” ’.
It can also be compared with John 1.1-18, ‘in the beginning was the Word, -- what God was the Word was, --- the true light which lights every man was coming into the word -- the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us --- we beheld His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father --- no man has seen God at any time, the only begotten Son who is in the Father’s bosom, He has declared Him’. So having first sent His servants, who had each fulfilled their missions, He has now sent His only Son. This Son is to be seen as God’s supreme word to man, for He is the Greatest of all, the very exact representation of God in all His glory and Being.
1.1 ‘By many portions and in many ways, God, having of old time spoken to the fathers in the prophets.’
God, says the writer, has spoken in the past ‘by many portions’ (polumerôs) --- ‘in many ways’ (polutropos).’ These words, which cover every aspect of Old Testament prophecy and teaching, emphasise, by their placement at the beginning of the sentence (and the letter) and by their emphasis on ‘many -- many’, the variety of God’s divine activity through the centuries, and the source from which the writer will draw in order to present his case.
For God, he says, has not in the past left Himself without a witness. He has spoken through many prophets, in many and varied ways, so that those who came after them had a growing source of material on which to draw. It was an enterprise worthy of God. And these were the Scriptures, deeply revered by men. Yet the very size and diversity of the material could only produce its own difficulties, as men sought to interpret their message and meaning.
But now, he writes, God has spoken in a greater and even more wonderful way, for He has spoken by sending to us One Who is, in relation to God, of the nature of Sonship, One Who is true ‘Son’, One Who is of the nature of God Himself. He is the One to Whom these Scriptures have been pointing.
And this Son, he will stress, is the fulfilment of all of which these prophets spoke. For it is now his intention to draw from those Scriptures in order to demonstrate that Who He is, and what He came to do, sums up the whole of their message. They were but the dawning. He is the sun. No longer need men seek to wrestle with what they say, puzzling over them, seeking to draw from them hidden meanings. No longer should they look to old institutions which were preparatory but have now been replaced. For they only provided a temporary measure, as they themselves revealed by their stress on what was coming. They looked ahead to what was to be, always in some way lacking, never finding total fulfilment.
But now here was their fulfilment in God’s true Son, Jesus Christ. The shadows had been replaced by the reality. And from now on those Scriptures must be read in that light. For He has come as the full revelation of God, the outshining of His glory, and those Scriptures therefore can no longer be read as though they stood by themselves. They must now be seen as heralds of His coming, and interpreted in those terms. They must be read in the light of Who He is. His very presence must illuminate every hidden message and explain every hidden thought, bringing to light their hidden depths and establishing that which is truly permanent.
Indeed now that He has come there is nowhere else to look. All else is but a pale reflection of the real thing. He alone is the fulfilment of their deepest meaning. For all must recognise that God has spoken through One Who is His Son, One for Whom those very Scriptures prepared. And as such He is the One Who has fulfilled, and has thus brought to final realisation, all to which those Scriptures point. And only in Him can they now have any meaning.
We must not, as he says this, overlook the pride that the Jews, and those who sought to their ancient Scriptures, had in those Scriptures. They saw them as containing ancient knowledge from the past which bore the stamp of God’s inspiration, and were a source of light in a dark world. They were treasured and carefully preserved and exalted to the heavens. When men were everywhere searching for truth, they were confident that here was that truth, if only one knew how to interpret it. And men had been, and still were, busy interpreting them, and were willing to die for them.
The writer does not deny this, as he indicates here. Indeed he too honours those Scriptures, and their diversity, and their wide coverage of divine wisdom. Through them ‘God has spoken’. But his emphasis is on the fact that they point to Someone even Greater than they Who has now come. They are truly God’s inspired revelation, but in the end their purpose has been to point to One Who was to come. And now He has come they must be interpreted in that light.
So this first verse is not intended to diminish those Scriptures in any way. Rather it is to give them due honour, as the vehicle which has prepared for the Coming One. But it is also to emphasise that a greater revelation than they are is here. In Him God’s final word to man has arrived.
And now he will go on to draw on those Scriptures in order to explain and amplify the one final way that God has now chosen to use, the manifestation of Himself through His Son! For He alone is the full manifestation of God and has brought His unique means of salvation. As he will reveal, the whole of Old Testament prophecy, including Moses and what we see as salvation history, is now to be seen as summed up in Christ. He is the whole of which all that was before revealed was a part.
So these words emphasise that God had built up through the centuries, in what we call ‘the Scriptures’, a multiplicity of different records, written at different times, and in various stages, and at distinct times in history, as a progressive revelation which had built up into a huge amount of different kinds and expressions of knowledge, but all pointing forward in the end to the One Who has now come, Who has summed it all up in Himself. They were God’s servants, He is ‘the Son’.
‘God has spoken to the fathers in the prophets.’ God, he stresses, has spoken through the prophets. He has no doubt that their words came from God. From Abraham (Genesis 20.7), through Moses (Deuteronomy 34.10), and David (Acts 2.30), and all the prophets, and on to Malachi, the prophets spoke from God to ‘the fathers’, bringing God’s word to men, to those who came before. He did not leave Himself without a witness, for through all of them God spoke in every age. The authority of the Old Testament Scriptures and of the Hebrew prophets is firmly asserted.
Mention of ‘the fathers’ does not necessarily mean that the recipients of the letter were Jews, (it does not say ‘our fathers’) for past faithful Israel could be seen as the fathers of the whole church, not just the Jews, for the church was very much seen as the new Israel, made one with them by integration through the covenant (Galatians 6.16; Ephesians 2.12-22; Romans 11.16-24), a part of the growth of the olive tree. But the content of the letter confirms his readers’ close connection with Judaism.
Indeed we should note that what came to be known as ‘Israel’ had never been limited to direct descendants of the patriarchs. It had always grown by accumulation, beginning with the servants and retainers of the patriarchs made up of a number of nationalities (Eliezer the Damascene, Hagar the Egyptian, etc.), moving on to the ‘mixed multitude’ of foreigners who had joined with them in the deliverance from Egypt (Exodus 12.38), followed by the command that they be ready to absorb ‘foreigners’ who willingly submitted to the covenant (Exodus 12.48-49), the continual influx of foreign names into Israel (e.g. Uriah the Hittite), and the absorption of Gentile proselytes, as the witness of the dispersed Israel, with their emphasis on the one God and their high moral basis, proved attractive among the Gentiles, and so on. The Jews were in fact a ‘gathering of God’ (the congregation of Israel) made up from many nations, all outwardly true to the covenant, and their true ancestry was a complicated one, and nothing like they themselves suggested.
‘Having of old time.’ As often in the New Testament time is split into ‘Then’ and ‘Now’; ‘of old time’ (in the completed past) and ‘at the end of these days’ (the final push towards the end, which results in the consummation, during which God is especially working) (verse 2). The whole of the Old Testament period is covered by these words in verse 1, ‘God has of old time spoken to the fathers in the prophets’. He spoke in Abraham, and indeed before Abraham (Luke 1.70; Acts 3.21), and on in the prophets to Malachi. Each was God’s spokesperson, God’s mouthpiece (Matthew 10.20; 2 Peter 1.21). But, he affirms, all that has been spoken and written through men of God over the past centuries, revealing truth only in part as man was able to receive it, has been preparatory to this time (compare 1 Peter 1.10-12). They have been laying the foundations for the One Who has now come.
1.2a ‘Has at the end of these days spoken to us in one who is Son.’
And now that time has come. At ‘the end of these days’ He has now spoken through One Who is ‘Son’. Away all partial understanding of God. He has revealed Himself through One Who is the very representation of Himself. He has revealed Himself through His Son. And no one better represents a father than his son. That is why He can be described as ‘the image of the invisible God’ (Colossians 1.15) for He is His full manifestation.
We are now, he writes, at ‘the end of these days’, the end of the days of preparation, the end of the days of continuing revelation (for the phrase compare Genesis 49.1 LXX; Numbers 24.14 LXX; Jeremiah 23.20 LXX). Called elsewhere ‘the last days’ (Acts 2.17), ‘the end of the times’ (1 Peter 1.20), ‘the end of the ages’ (1 Corinthians 10.11; Hebrews 9.26-28), this was the time to which God had been building up, the time when He would send into the world His own Son to bring about redemption, the end to which all the prophets had looked. The word ‘Son’ is without the article, not in order to mean ‘a son’ but in order to stress the nature of the One coming. He has come as ‘one Who is Son’. He is truly ‘Son’, of the same nature and being as ‘the Father’.
Note on the Sonship of Christ.
The question is regularly raised as to whether Christ saw the title ‘the Son’, and His reference to Himself as ‘the Son of God’, as first applying to Him when He came from God and was born into the world, with the Father likewise then coming to be seen as ‘the Father’ in that unique sense, or whether it can be related back, in terms of its New Testament use, to the very beginning.
We must emphasise that the question relates to the use of the title not to the significance behind it. The fact that the One Who came as Jesus was a coequal member of the Godhead must be decided on other bases than the use of terminology, although the use of terminology may relate to it. For the terminology was used in order to convey ideas.
Certainly in these verses it would seem that the One Who is ‘Son’ is being depicted as Creator in ‘the beginning’, and even as appointed as heir before the beginning. And the whole idea here is to relate the One who came to the One from Whom He came, as being of the same nature, essence and being. For the idea of ‘sonship’ here is precisely in order to do that. It is not the fact that He has come representing Himself as the Son that is of prime importance, but that He is ‘Son’, of the same nature and essence.
It is of interest in this connection that the writer in Hebrews does not speak of ‘the Father’, except when impelled to because it was in a quotation from Scripture that he wished to use (verse 5), the reason being that it was not an idea that he was seeking to convey. He nowhere emphasises the fact of God as Father. He speaks simply of ‘God’, as the glorious One, the transcendent One, the consuming fire. Thus his use of ‘Son’ stands alone in all its glory.
The same idea of Jesus as Son from the beginning may be also said to apply to John 1.18. ‘No man has seen God at any time, the only begotten Son Who is in the bosom of the Father, He has declared Him (made Him known).’ The idea of Him as the One Who ‘is in the bosom of the Father’, coming to declare Him, suggests ‘eternal Sonship’. And even if we accept the alternative rendering ‘God only begotten’, the thought is similar.
Again the thought that God ‘gave His only born Son’ in John 3.16 confirms that He was seen as ‘Son’ before being given. And in Galatians 4.4 God ‘sent forth His Son’, suggests that He was Son before He was sent forth. While the fact is also intrinsic in the Parable of the Wicked Husbandmen, for in that parable the son who was finally sent was sent precisely because he was already the son (Mark 12.1-11).
And Jesus constantly spoke in the Gospels of Himself as ‘the Son’ in contradistinction to ‘the Father’ in what appears to be a timeless way, setting Himself apart from all others as having a unique and permanent relationship with God.
On the other hand what is certainly true is that that ‘Sonship’ did also emphasise His coming into the world and becoming man. He came as the Son from the Father. Thus it could be stated at His baptism, ‘You are my beloved Son, in Whom I am well pleased’ (Mark 1.11), and in verse 5 here ‘You are my Son, this day have I begotten you.’ So we may distinguish His absolute Sonship, as being of the same being as the Father (as seems to be intended in its use by Jesus as He speaks of His relationship to the Godhead from man’s perspective), and His relative Sonship as representing His coming into the world from God to lead many sons to glory (2.10).
Both, however, are describing Jesus relationship with God in human terminology. How God was seen by the angels (and by Himself) prior to the creation of man was unlikely to be in terms of Father and Son. In view of the fact that among the angels there were no such relationships, for they neither married nor were given in marriage, we must doubt whether father-son relationships would have had any meaning to them. As far as we have cause to be aware father-son relationships began shortly after the creation of man (or if we prefer it the creation of reproducing creatures).
But the very fact that ‘God is love’ demands that there ever be a lover and a beloved, that there was and is always One available to be eternally loved. It must in itself be seen as requiring a plurality within God. Love could only be if there was One to be loved. But that is a totally different question from the idea of the love between ‘Father and Son’, in contrast with love within the interpersonality of the Godhead. ‘Father and Son’ was an idea which would not exist before the creation of the world because the language and concept is based on human relationships. Until humanity existed there were no grounds for thinking in terms of a son being born. As we have said, there is no hint of such among the angels, who neither marry nor are given in marriage, and thus presumably do not produce children. So it is only with regard to man that the concept of ‘Father and Son’ gains meaning, and we may see the terminological distinction made in the Godhead by these words as being made in order to help us to understand and appreciate relationships within the Godhead, not as describing the essential nature of God. It is probably safe to say that a book on doctrine written by the angels before the creation of the world would not have spoken of Father and Son.
We may see therefore that God represented Himself as ‘Father/Son’ in order for man to begin to understand Him. It was a way by which He could bring home to man that these two ‘persona’, inter-personalities, within the Godhead, were of the same nature, being and essence. But it also conveyed the idea of the One as coming forth from God, and as continually looking to God as a son would look to his father. (For in human understanding a son would not send his father. It was the father who was supreme. He would send the son). The same applies to the Holy Spirit. It was because He came to act in the world that His relationship with the Godhead had to be defined in the terms used. But all three were still of the essential nature of God.
All the titles and descriptions are thus to be seen as ‘pictures’ describing the indescribable so as to illuminate men, and must be taken as such and not be pressed beyond what is elsewhere revealed. The fact that in His eternal existence as seen by men Jesus is described as ‘the Son’ does not mean that He was as such at some stage ‘born’ as a son, as a human child is born. It is a declaration of like nature, of relationship. For He is revealed as eternal. That is until, of course, He was born into the world. Thus it is saying that, in the dealings of the Godhead with the world of men, ‘Son’ conveys something of the significance of what He essentially is, as being of one nature and being with the Father, and yet as having a part in God’s dealings which would be in an outwardly subsidiary role as ‘the Sent One’.
So we should not see ‘Father’ and ‘Son’ as descriptions of how the Godhead essentially is, but of how the Godhead is towards the world, and as a means of seeking to bring home to men certain truths about God and His interpersonal activities. In that sense therefore the question as to when the title of Son first applied is simply a doctrinal one, not an essential one.
The only question therefore is whether it is applied back in Scripture as referring to ‘before the beginning’ (but put in terms we can understand), in order to indicate the loving relationship within the Godhead in eternity, while at the same time recognising how that relationship would develop in terms of redemption, or whether it should only be referred to the incarnation. The Scriptures indicate that it refers to both.
However, this in itself warns us against overpressing the idea. ‘The Son’ is a human term and a human idea which is intended to help us, in terms of our own relationships, to appreciate that the Father and the Son are of one nature and being, while at the same time being a twoness in an eternal interpersonal relationship, and a threeness with the Holy Spirit. And as stressing the subsidiarity in position that the One Who is seen as ‘the Son’ took up in the course of the plan to redeem man. It was He Who ‘came forth’ from the Godhead, while declaring His total dependence on, and oneness with, the Godhead. ‘Father and Son’ was seen as a fitting way to describe this relationship, in the same way as it was in the Parable of the Wicked Husbandmen (Mark 12). But both the ‘begetting’ of ‘the Son’ and the ‘procession’ of the Holy Spirit are to be seen as ways of describing how God is seen as He comes into relationship with man, not as they are in ‘themselves’. They do not with full accuracy describe the essence of the Godhead which was essentially a tri-unity. This is why we have to speak of ‘eternal begetting (or filiation)’ and ‘eternal procession’ (both concepts beyond man’s understanding and experience) in order to seek partially to do so.
Eternally the Son’s relationship with the Father and the Holy Spirit is not to be seen as essentially any different from the Holy Spirit’s relationship with the Father and the Son; and the Father’s relationship with both is similarly not to be seen to be as essentially different. It is only as seen in their relationship with man and with creation that they are seen as different, and to have an order of priority, which results from the fact that Son and Spirit personally came into the world, while ‘the Father’ continually represents the triune Godhead in Heaven.
End of note.
1.2b ‘Whom he appointed heir of all things, through whom also he made the worlds (ages).’
And Who is this One Who has come? He is not only ‘Son’, but both Son and Heir. Before time began He was ‘appointed heir of all things.’ Everything has been promised to Him, whether in heaven or earth. He is destined to receive ‘all things’, everything that exists, an assurance which will come to its climax at His final coming. Nothing will be excluded, except the One Who will subject all things to Him (1 Corinthians 15.27), the One Who is the Ultimate Being.
We note that this appointment seemingly comes before the creation of the world, otherwise we would expect the clauses to be the other way round. It was in the eternal reaches of heaven, before creation ever was, that in the counsel of God this appointment was made. For nothing that was to come would take God by surprise. It was all known and purposed beforehand. Just as Jesus was ‘delivered up by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God’ (Acts 2.23; 1 Peter 1.20), so did He first come in that counsel and foreknowledge in order to be delivered up, and so was His appointment as heir one that was from eternity (Ephesians 1.4; 2 Timothy 1.9).
We note here the use of the term ‘heir’. It must be interpreted correctly. It is a reminder that, when we are describing eternal things, earthly terminology has to be considered carefully. For God would not either die or retire. Just as with the term ‘son’, where we must not ask ‘when was he born’, for He ‘was’ in the beginning from all eternity (John 1.1-3), so when He is called ‘heir’ we must recognise what it is saying, that all will be His, but not that the Godhead as a whole will cease to be over all. (Whoever heard of an heir handing everything back? - 1 Corinthians 15.24).
‘Through whom also He made the worlds.’ The word for ‘worlds’ actually originally first meant ‘ages’. But it came to mean ‘that which contained the ages’, that is the physical world (compare Hebrews 11.3 where this is specific and crystal clear). Only the context in each can therefore tell us what is being indicated in that particular context.
So the One Who was appointed ‘heir of all things’ (of the whole universe in totality) was also the One through Whom God made the worlds. They were destined for Him and He then made them. It is telling us that it was through Jesus Christ, for Whom they were destined, that He created all things and all ages. He was the Word Who spoke and it was done, and He did so in the course of His appointment as heir of all things, to give Him the more of which He would be heir. He was to be heir of both Heaven and earth. We note then that His creative act was subsidiary to His Appointment over all things, for that included all heavenly worlds as well as creation.
But why should He be heir? Was not all His from the beginning? Yes, indeed it was, as Lord and as Creator. But by the rebellion of angels and of men it had in a sense been wrested from Him. His gift of freewill had resulted in the sin of angels and of men. The establishment of morality, the ‘making and willing with determination’ of the ‘right’ choice in all freewill decisions, necessary if beings were to be truly themselves, had resulted in immorality and rebellion, in ‘knowing (by experience) good and evil’, because angels and men deliberately chose wrongly. And therefore the position had now to be restored, by the deliverance wrought by Him, through sacrifice, of those whom God chose and effectually called from among those who sinned, of His ‘elect’ (1 Peter 1.1-2), and the destruction of those who had rebelled and who refused to yield.
He could, of course, have destroyed all who failed instantly. But then His purposes to establish a freewill ‘Universe’ would have failed, and there would be none to enjoy it. Thus it was necessary for the process to carry through so that that end might be achieved for the good of all who responded.
1.3a ‘Who being the outshining of his glory, and the exact representation of his substance, and upholding all things by the word of his power.’
The ‘being’ of the coming Mighty One is now described. ‘Being’ (ôn), speaks of absolute and timeless existence (the present active participle of eimi) in contrast with genomenos (having become) in verse 4. Compare ‘was’ (ên) in John 1:1, in contrast with ‘became, was made’ (egeneto) in John 1.14, and ‘being, subsisting’ (huparchôn) and ‘having become’ (genomenos) in Philippians 2.6-7. This is thus describing the ‘being’ of God’s Son, what God’s Son essentially was, in contrast with what He ‘became’.
He ‘is’ the ‘outshining’ of the glory of God, the ‘effulgence of his glory’ (apaugasma tês doxês). Thus could John say, ‘we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only Son of the Father’ (John 1.14). The word apaugasma, is a late substantive from apaugazô, which means to ‘emit brightness’, to ‘illuminate’, in 2 Corinthians 4.4, and apaugasma is found only here in the New Testament. But it is found in the Wisdom of Solomon 7.26 where it refers to the outshining of wisdom, and in Philo, when expressing the relationship of the Logos (the eternal reason) to God. Thus it speaks of ‘revealing the essence of’. It can sometimes indicate reflected brightness, but even then it indicated the reflection of the real, for such reflections were not seen scientifically but as ‘revealing the true nature of’. So its meaning here is of the outshining of light from an original light body, and thus as being of the same nature as the light body. These ideas had already been applied to Wisdom and the Logos, of which they were partially true. But they are even more appropriate here.
For ‘outshining’ is more consonant of Christ in His relationship to God than reflected brightness. See John 1.4 with 5.21, 26; 3.16 with 19; 12.45; 14.9. The meaning "outshining" suits the context best. This is not a clinical analysis but an expression of worship. Compare ‘the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ’ (2 Corinthians 4.6) where the parallel of the glory on the face of Moses was not a reflection but the essential light of God. It was the outshining of what God essentially is.
‘And the exact representation of His substance’ (charaktêr tês hupostaseôs). Charaktêr comes from charassô, to cut, to scratch, to mark. It was first used of the tool that did the marking, then of the mark or impress which it made, the exact reproduction; compare charagma in Acts 17.29. It was used of the ‘stamped out image’ on coins, and of the impression that was reproduced by seals and dies. It thus indicates an exact representation.
The word hupostasis is used philosophically for the substantial nature, thus for the actual being or essence of God. Etymologically it is used, for example, of the sediment or foundation under a building, as that which forms the basis underneath, that which supports all, from which it came to mean the essence of a thing, what a thing is ‘underneath’. Thus the whole phrase means the exact reproduction of what God essentially is. It means that ‘what God was, the Word was’ (John 1.1).
‘And upholding (‘bearing’) all things by the word of his power.’ He not only fully represents and reveals God, He fulfils His responsibility to creation. By His powerful word, His creative and active word, He upholds all things. In Him all things consist (hold together) - Colossians 1.17. He did not just create and leave it to function on its own, He continued His activity in maintaining its functioning. It should be noted that the impression given is that this process continued even while He was on earth revealing the fullness of God. The thought of ‘bearing’ is not that of carrying a weight, but of moving all things forward so that the world does not go into decline.
1.3b ‘When he had himself made purification of sins, sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high.’
And this One Who was of the nature of an only Son, appointed the heir of all things, creator of the world, the outshining of God’s glory and the exact reproduction of what He is, ‘Himself made purification of sins’ (middle voice - He was intimately involved). We later discover that this was by the sacrifice and offering of Himself (10.10). He suffered, the righteous for the unrighteous, that He might bring us to God (1 Peter 3.18). He was indeed both priest and sacrifice.
In the words of the hymnwriter,
‘Purification for sins.’ (katharismon tôn hamartiôn). Katharismos is from katharizô, to cleanse (see 9.14; 1 John 1.7, 9) and is also found in the same sense of cleansing from sins in 2 Peter 1.9; Job 7.21 LXX. He made possible, through His sacrifice of Himself, the total and complete cleansing and purifying, of all who responded to Him, by which He has perfected for ever those who are sanctified (9.14; 10.10, 14, 17-18).
And having accomplished purification of sin He ‘sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high’. His work of atonement accomplished once for all, He took His seat of authority and power (compare 10.12), receiving again the glory which He had had with the Father before the world was (John 17.5). He became the One Who sat on the throne, the Lamb ‘in the midst’ of the throne (Revelation 5.6). The ‘right hand’ simply indicates the hand of power, the ruling hand. The earthly language (there is neither physical throne nor physical right hand) represents the fact that having accomplished His saving work He rejoined His Father in exercising His absolute power and authority (Revelation 3.21). The fact that He sat down indicates that His work, including His priestly work, was now complete. He has returned to His rightful glory (John 17.5).
‘Of the Majesty on high.’ (tês megalosunês en hupsêlois). Coming from megas (great) megalosunês is found in Deuteronomy 32.3 LXX; Psalm 79.11 LXX; 145.3 LXX; and often in LXX; and in Hebrews 8.1; Jude 1.25. We could thus call God ‘His Supreme Greatness’. And having offered Himself Christ resumed his original greatness and glory (John 17.5). The phrase ‘on high’ (en hupsêlois) occurs in the Psalms (Psalm 93.4 LXX), but only here in the New Testament. Having fulfilled His ministry of Priesthood in the offering of Himself, Jesus is here portrayed as receiving His Kingship as both Lord and Christ in Heaven (Acts 2.34-36) and enjoying the restoration of His previously manifested glory (John 17.5).
Jesus is therefore Son, heavenly High Priest in an intercessory sense (His sacerdotal work having been completed as evidenced by the fact that He is now seated) and King.
1.4 ‘Having become by so much better than the angels, as he has inherited a more excellent name than they.’
Furthermore in His exaltation He, as man, ‘has become’ (contrast ‘being’ - verse 2) superior to the angelic realm (see 2.6-9). He has received superiority (kreitton) in status and power above the angels as a result, being raised far above all (Ephesians 1.19-22), something which will now be shown from Scripture. This was important. The Jews saw the Law as having been ministered by angels (2.2; Galatians 3.19), and as therefore superior. They saw it as something which gave it its supernatural aura (see also Deuteronomy 33.2; Psalm 68.17; Acts 7.53).
This idea of Messiah’s exaltation above the angels is also found in the Rabbinical writings. For example, commenting on Isaiah 52.13, they wrote ‘he shall be exalted beyond Abraham, and extolled beyond Moses, and raised high above the ministering angels’. He was to be supreme.
Angels had an important place among both orthodox (e.g. the Pharisees) and unorthodox (the Essenes, etc.) Jews, as well as in the Gentile world (Colossians 2.18). They were seen as intermediaries and mediators, maintaining the separation of the awesome holiness of God from men. They were those through Whom God acted because He Himself was unapproachable. Others considered that there were hierarchies of them between God as pure spirit, and man as unworthy flesh, a descending order with a gradual lessening of deity as the lower ‘angels’ became less spirit-like. Through them men received ‘knowledge’ about God. Their mediation was seen as essential so that they had even been introduced into the idea of God’s dealings with Moses. In their view it had to be so. Thus the thought that Jesus as the Christ (Messiah) was in direct touch with God and reigned with Him as representative Man was awesome. It was a revelation of the fact that even in His Manhood He was superior to the angels. Who then, the writer will ask, could sensibly and rightly seek to come to God through angels, when a greater than the angels, Who is directly approachable, is here?
That Jesus Christ is already seen in His essential deity to be superior is first confirmed by the fact that the One Who came is called ‘Son’, that is, among other things, the One Who is over the house instead of just being in it (3.6), the One Who has unique rights of intimate relationship. However, the writer now describes Him as also ‘having become so’ in His manhood as a result of inheriting a ‘more excellent’ name. He will then go on to describe other indications of His superiority to the angels from Scripture.
‘Having become.’ Note the contrast with ‘being’ (1.3a). What is described in verse 3 is His essential being, what is described here is what He ‘became’ as man in the purposes of God, ‘so much better than the angels’.
‘As he has inherited (come into possession of) a more excellent name than they.’ And this is because He ‘has inherited’, perfect tense, ‘has inherited and still possesses’, ‘a more excellent name.’ In view of the following quotations where it is continually mentioned, it would appear that that more excellent name is the title ‘Son’. Although it may be that we should not lay the emphasis on a particular name, but on the significance of ‘name’ which indicates status. Thus the more excellent name also has in mind His exaltation in His manhood as ‘Lord and Christ’ (Yahweh and Messiah) which goes with the idea of His sonship (Acts 2.34-36; Philippians 2.9-11 compare Ephesians 2.20-22). For ‘the name’ refers to what a person actually is. As the appointed heir of all things (verse 2) He Who was already the outshining of the glory of God has now ‘inherited’ in His manhood that exalted status as the Son, the anointed Christ, the receiving Heir. He receives in practise what was already His.
So in these verses the writer has laid bare the full truth about Jesus Christ; His eternal Being (verse 2), His being able fully to reveal the Father (verse 2), His being appointed before time began to bring the world to Himself (verse 3), His creative and sustaining power and activity (verse 3), His becoming man and dying for our sin (verse 3), His rising and being exalted in His manhood by taking His seat at ‘at God’s right hand’ (verse 3), and His receipt as man of the name of ‘Son’ as both ‘Lord’ (Yahweh) and ‘Christ’ (Messiah) (verse 4).
The Superiority of the Son to the Angels (1.5-2.14)
He Is Now Contrasted With The Angels, the Heavenly Beings and Intermediaries between God and the world (1.5-14).
Having revealed the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ as ‘the Son’, the writer now goes on to contrast Him with all heavenly beings, although already having revealed Him as superior to the angels in His being stated by God to be ‘My Son’. He does this by means of seven quotations from the Scriptures.
There is a certain pattern to them. The first quotation affirms His crowning as God’s king and, in its context in the Psalm, also presents Him as God’s ‘Anointed’, and this leads on in the second quotation into a reign where God is His Father, and He is His Son. These two tie in with his opening statement in verse 2 that He has spoken through One Who is a Son.
In parallel to this the fifth quotation emphasises His possession of His everlasting, durable throne and His further ‘anointing’ as Supreme Ruler over His ‘fellows’, and leads on in the sixth into His supremacy over creation from its beginning to its end (as in verse 3) and His complete everlastingness and durability in all things.
The third affirms the homage of angels at His coming because He is God’s chosen and His heir (firstborn), and the seventh the submission of all His enemies at His coming. The fourth and central one defines the comparative status of the angels, as sandwiched on each side by three declarations of His authority and power (three being ever the number of completeness).
Thus we may picture this as follows;
Note how the first three relate to His appointment resulting in due honour, the second three to the manifestation of this in rulership and triumph. And these two ideas surround the description of angels as being closely connected with created things.
1.5a ‘For to which of the angels said he at any time, “You are my Son, This day have I begotten you?” ’
‘For to which of the angels.’ Angels are only ever seen singly when on direct service for God as His messengers. Otherwise they are always seen in plurality. As a class angels can be called ‘sons of the Elohim (heavenly beings/God)’ (Psalm 29.1), but ‘son’ in the singular is never used of an angel. Whereas, says the writer, the Christ (Messiah) is addressed as God’s Son in both Psalm 2.7 and 2 Samuel 7.14.
Thus to no angel has He ever spoken in terms of true sonship. When they were thought of as ‘sons of the elohim’ it was their supernatural nature that was in mind, not their divinity. The idea was that they had the likeness of the ‘elohim’, the heavenly. To Israel the description ‘sons of -’ signified ‘likeness to’ without necessarily signifying relationship, compare the ‘sons of Belial’ (1 Samuel 2.12 and often).
“My son you are. This day have I begotten you?” Note the emphasis on ‘son’. Literally it is ‘Son to me you are.’ This quotation is taken from Psalm 2 which is a psalm declaring the choice and anointing of the house of David to be ‘God’s anointed’, God’s ‘chosen and set apart one’ for ever, so as to bring about world subjugation to God and final judgment, and calling on all to respond to Him.
Initially it may well have been used as a coronation Psalm, with ‘begotten’ carrying the significance of adoption by God at the crowning of each king, but the whole Psalm was intended to be a constant reminder of God’s promise of their final worldwide dominion, clearly to be fulfilled in a super-king. It was a true ‘Messianic’ psalm from the beginning, with a vision of the ‘Messianic’ future, for it spoke of the Davidic kingship in terms beyond the ordinary as ‘the anointed’ of Yahweh for the purpose of total worldwide domination. This was His purpose in ‘begetting’ the house of David, as represented in each king, until the One came in the future Who would finally achieve the dream.
Once the house of David ceased to be relevant after the time of Zerubbabel, and even before, thoughts moved forward to the necessary coming of a greater David (so that God’s promise would not fail) who would bring in God’s everlasting kingship (Isaiah 9.6; Ezekiel 37.24-28). These developed into the explicit idea of a coming ‘Messiah’ (anointed one) which was already intrinsic in the Psalm. Thus the psalm undoubtedly has ‘Messianic’ reference, (compare Acts 13.33), depicting the eternal kingship of the house of David, and in the end, by necessity, the coming of an eternal king Who is to be ‘God’s Son’.
The writer’s main point is that He is there emphatically called ‘my Son’, which he then links with begetting by God. And it is Jesus, Who, being of the house of David, and because He was recognised as ‘the Christ’, that he depicts as finally fulfilling this role. He must necessarily then be greater than the angels. What this ‘begetting’ is to be referred to is an open question which is much disputed. Some see it as referring to an ‘eternal begetting’, although that disagrees with the idea of ‘Today’, (although, as is pointed out by many, if we have eternal begetting we can have an eternal ‘today’). That would, however, run counter to the use of ‘today’ elsewhere in the letter where it means a specific point in time (see especially 4.7).
Others therefore refer it alternately to His birth, His baptism, His resurrection or His exaltation as being the time when He is declared to be and instated as, or reinstated as, Son. All are possible. In a sense all are true, for each is a reaffirmation of His Sonship in increasing degrees, right from the beginning.
He was sent forth as the Son (Galatians 4.4), His miraculous birth pointed to His Sonship (Luke 1.35), at His baptism He was declared to be the Son (Mark 1.11), in the Transfiguration He was manifested as the Son (Mark 9.7), by His resurrection He was revealed as the Son (Romans 1.4), and in His exaltation He was established as the Son, sharing His Father’s throne (Revelation 3.21). In the end it resulted in Him being made the heavenly High Priest (5.5, 9).
In Acts 13.33-34 Jesus is described in terms of being ‘raised up’, and there too we have the problem as to whether ‘raised up (anistemi) Jesus’ in verse 33 means the incarnation, the baptism or the resurrection. We can compare Acts 13.22 where it speaks of David as being ‘raised up’ (egeiro) after the rejection of Saul. But this is in contrast with, or paralleling, the raising up (anistemi) from the dead (verse 34). The fact is that egeiro and anistemi cross over in meaning. Both have similar varieties of meaning and both can refer to the resurrection, but in Acts 33 are probably intended to differentiate between David’s ‘raising up’ and that of Jesus as being of a different nature, both in His birth/ministry and in His resurrection.
However, the point behind all is that it is God’s unique act on this One unique ‘person’, demonstrating that He and He alone is God’s Son, that thus shows Him to be superior to the angels.
1.5b ‘And again, “I will be to him a Father, And he will be to me a Son?” ’
Or ‘And again, “I will be to him as a Father, And he will be to me as a Son.” ’ ‘And again’ (kai palin), signifies the introduction of a further witness from Scripture. This quotation is taken from 2 Samuel 7.14. Note the use of eis (unto) in the predicate with the sense of "as" like the Hebrew (an LXX idiom), not necessarily needing to be preserved in the English. See Matthew 19.5; Luke 2.34.
The same passage is applied to the relationship between God and His people see 2 Corinthians 6.18; Revelation 21.7, but not there with Messianic implications except in so far as they are spoken to the Messianic community.
These words were spoken after David had determined to build a Temple for Yahweh and God had come back with the reply that He did not want a temple, only a tent, but that in view of David’s faithfulness He would build for David an everlasting house, a living house of successive kings so that his throne would be established for ever. And this would begin with his son.
Yahweh then promised that He would be his father and would adopt him as His son (2 Samuel 7.5-16). And this relationship, along with the right to the throne, would then go on for ever in his descendants (verse 16). It would therefore also apply to the final everlasting king (Ezekiel 37.25). Intrinsic within the promises is potential for the kings who follow David to have a special relationship with God as appointed by Him, with a recognition of a greater Messianic fulfilment.
Again, once the Davidic house faded this became firmly attached to the necessary idea of a future coming king (which is intrinsic in the words) which eventually resulted in the words specifically being applied Messianically (as witnessed in the Dead Sea Scrolls). Thus, says the writer, God promised to the Messiah that He would be His Father, and He would be His Son.
So in both promises we have the assurance that the Messiah would be greater than the angels for He would be God’s Son, and God would be His Father. Such a relationship is never suggested of angels, and makes clear that the Sonship is no earthly expedient.
1.6 ‘And when he again brings in the firstborn into the inhabited earth he says, “And let all the angels of God worship him.”
The idea of sonship (and heirship - verse 2) continues under another title, the firstborn. ‘When He again brings in the firstborn into the inhabited earth ’. The firstborn is another title for the unique son. Israel had been His son, even His firstborn (Exodus 4.22), but had then come to be represented by the King whom they saw as ‘the breath of our nostrils, the anointed of Yahweh’ (Lamentations 4.20), so that the Davidic king is described as God’s ‘firstborn’ in Psalm 89.27. There the idea is of high favour and honour, which is very much in mind there. The idea behind the use of ‘firstborn’ (of a king) is of prestige and authority. Colossians links the title to creation indicating the One Who is the pre-existent non-created source Who has authority over creation (Colossians 1.15), ‘pre-born’ not created, and to the resurrection (the new creation) indicating the One Who as the initial Resurrected One, raised in honour and power, is the Giver of life to God’s people (Colossians 1.18), and thus He is the Firstborn twice over. All contain the thought of authority and power and relationship.
But the idea of the firstborn also contains within it that the firstborn is the heir. This ties it in here with verse 2 where He is declared to be the heir of all things. So as the Firstborn He is the One Who was before all things, the One for Whom all things are destined, and the One Who was raised as the Source of all true life.
‘Again.’ The question here is as to whether we translate ‘again’ as indicating a second ‘bringing into the world’ of the Firstborn (‘again brings’), thus looking to His second coming, or whether ‘again’ is to refer back in contrast and conjunction with the previously quoted verses, as with ‘again’ in verse 5. This latter is superficially attractive in the English rendering but the opening construction in Greek is very different. It is not kai palin as in verse 5 but ‘otan de palin’, representing not a simple continuation but a specific break. The natural reading is to take it as ‘again brings’.
Such a reference to His second coming as the Firstborn to finalise His creative and life-giving purpose, following the description of His first coming as ‘Son’, gives added significance to the passage, indicating an advancement in idea rather than it being just a string of quotations all with the same point, and significantly it parallels the similar idea in the seventh. It also fits in with the use of firstborn in Colossians 1.18 as ‘the firstborn from the dead’. He Who was the firstborn from the dead, the first to arise and the Lord of resurrection, now comes again to the inhabited world for His own to raise them too, whether by resurrection or rapture (compare 9.28). It also explains the emphasis on the ‘inhabited earth’. The idea then is that He is called Son or its equivalent, firstly at His anointing, and then on His return to bring all to its consummation.
‘He says.’ Compare the use of the present tense with ‘He said’ (aorist - verse 5), thus giving a differing emphasis. Verse 5 was referring to a once for all event. This refers to something that is to be said continually. Thus God’s command comes over continually, ‘let all the angels of God worship Him’.
“And let all the angels of God worship him.” This could be a paraphrase of Psalm 97.7 where we read, ‘Worship Him all you heavenly beings (elohim - LXX ‘angels’)’, the Him referring to ‘the Lord’ Who ‘reigns’, and this would fit the quotation reasonably well.
But the almost (but not identical) exact phrase may be seen in Deuteronomy 32.43 LXX, where it is shown as an addition which is not found in the Hebrew text, (but is now actually confirmed as in a Hebrew text found at Qumran). The LXX version reads, ‘Rejoice, you heavens, with him, and let all the sons of God worship him; rejoice you Gentiles, with his people, and let all the angels of God strengthen themselves in him.’ This is spoken of the Lord Who comes to judge His people (Deuteronomy 32.36), and would therefore naturally be applied to Him Who is called Lord, and to Whom judgment has been committed (John 5.22, 27).
But the important point here is that all angels will pay Him homage, confirming that He is to be superior to the angels at the second coming (Mark 13.26-27 and often in the Gospels) as He was at the first (compare Philippians 2.9-11; Ephesians 1.19-21).
This is now followed by a series of quotations which are clearly interpreted Messianically, and thus as referring to the Son, in line with previous verses. But first we have one which contrasts the transitory work of angels. Note that this one is placed in the middle of the seven. The angels in their anonymous tasks are sandwiched within the authority and power of the Son as He fulfils His destiny, in order to indicate the secondary and derived nature of their authority and power.
1.7 ‘And of the angels he says,
Firstly he takes a quotation to demonstrate what the angels are. They are powerful. They are made winds and a flame of fire (Psalm 104.4 compare 148.8), but they do not represent God directly.
We note first of all that they are said to be ‘made’ not ‘begotten’. Then that they have specifically allocated functions and do God’s will. ‘Winds’ refers to invisible but powerful activity, ‘a flame of fire’ to glory and judgment.
It may also be that we are to see them as carrying on their ministry through natural forces which are transitory and not lasting, affecting the world but not permanently transforming it. (The movement between spiritual activity and physical activity is not always made plain. The two were seen as going closely together). Certainly when connected with their attendance on Yahweh these descriptions are often connected with storm phenomena. Thus they are described in terms of created things, not as creating.
Their tasks, however, are many and varied as required, but like wind and fire they reveal no permanence. Like winds and fiery flames they arise and then disappear. They are here today and gone tomorrow. They are servants who do God’s will.
And yet that does not indicate that they must be looked on lightly. While invisible they are effective, and even devastating. They can make an impact in the world. We must not underestimate or dismiss them as unimportant. Their activity is, for example, indicated in Daniel 10. And we can indeed compare all the Psalms where such phenomena signal the approach of God Himself accompanied by His attendants. But in the end, however great, that is all they are, servants of Yahweh. Compare in Jewish literature 2 Esdras 8.21-22, ‘before whom the hosts of angels stand with trembling, at whose bidding they are changed to wind and fire’ (probably also based on the Psalm). Then he moves on to show what the Son is, the One to Whom God has in contrast given a permanent and everlasting purpose over all universes.
We should note therefore that this verse does not stand by itself but is specifically contrasted with the idea of the Son’s permanent rule. They are set individual but temporary tasks as servants. He rules on an everlasting and permanent throne. Their tasks are physical. His go to the root of morality. They are many, but He is the Anointed one, anointed as over all. Thus he now makes this contrast.
1.8-9 ‘But of the Son he says,
This fourth quotation parallels ideas in the first. There He was crowned, here He has his everlasting throne. There He became God’s Anointed. Here He is anointed as supreme ruler. And central to the idea is His perfect righteousness and uprightness.
‘But of the Son.’ There is a direct contrast here of ‘the Son’ with the angels.
His supreme greatness is emphasised in that He Who is the Son, the Messiah, is either called ‘God’, or has ‘God as His throne’ (Psalm 45.6-7). If we translate in the first way it was originally a courtesy title, flattering the Davidic king as being almost like one of the elohim (heavenly beings), or indicating his unique position as God’s prime representative and adopted son, and the description is kept in its rightful place by referring almost immediately to ‘your God’. In that case the writer has no hesitation in seeing it as an unconscious prophecy (compare John 11.51) concerning the greatest of the Davidic kings, and of the Messiah. The One Who is Son is described as ‘God’, as One Who will sit on an eternal throne. As such He will reign under the Heavenly Rule of God.
However the equally possible translation ‘your throne is God’ (compare ‘Yahweh is my rock’ (Psalm 18.2), ‘You are my rock’ (Psalm 31.3) so that they could equally well have said a parallel, ‘My rock is God’) would equally indicate the Son’s unique status. It could be seen as the equivalent of sitting at God’s right hand (verse 13), but even more so, as sitting in God’s hand, so that God is giving full support to Him in his rule. He acts totally as God’s viceroy, and is seated in God as the one who is in God’s hand. In the initial Psalm it might indicate the divinity, the heavenly status, of the king’s throne as indicating that he is the favourite of Yahweh.
(It is in fact difficult to think of the Davidic king in the Psalm, who was originally an ordinary king, even though Davidic and therefore adopted by God, and in the Psalm in process of being married, being called ‘God (elohim)’. It is true that it could be seen as meaning ‘godlike’, or even ‘glorious representative of the true God’, but it is only used in this sense in the plural, and such a description in the singular would be unique in the Old Testament, and this is especially significant in the light of the fact that an alternative translation is equally possible. It is very different from the reference which Jesus does use, ‘I have said you are elohim’ (Psalm 82.6) for there the plural is referring to a plurality and the use is explained and defined. The use of Mighty God in Isaiah 9.6 is different because it refers to a unique, miraculously born person. Had Jesus interpreted the Psalm as describing the king as elohim would He not have used that against the charges of blasphemy that were brought against Him? It would have been the perfect riposte. That being so, however, many translators and interpreters do prefer the rendering ‘O God’, and it certainly ties in with the progression ‘Son’, ‘God’, ‘Lord’ in the quotations.).
‘And the sceptre of uprightness is the sceptre of your kingdom.’ The sign of His kingly office will be uprightness, which will be the symbol of what distinguishes His kingdom, for his throne is God. That would mean that we have the parallels, ‘his throne is God’ and ‘his sceptre is uprightness’. This in direct contrast to the winds and flames of fire, where they but act as servants and ministers.
‘You have loved righteousness, and hated iniquity. Therefore God, your God, has anointed you with the oil of gladness above your fellows.’ And it is because of His truly righteous rule, and especially because of His love for righteousness and hatred of iniquity, that ‘God His God’ (the equivalent of ‘Yahweh your God’), has anointed Him with the oil of gladness, the special anointing that makes glad the heart because it is the anointing of the supreme king. No joy is like the joy of being supreme.
‘Above your fellows.’ In the Psalm initially this probably signifies other kings. But it possibly has in mind here both the whole of mankind and of the angels as his ‘fellows’ over whom He is set. So again He is set above the angels. (For if the king is elohim, so can be the angels, who are also elsewhere called elohim, but the overall point is rather that He is the One chosen as supreme king on the everlasting throne and above all His ‘fellows’ of whatever kind). So His deep love and concern for righteousness is what has set Him apart from all others. It is seen to exceed that of all, even that of the angels, of kings and of his fellow-men. He is uniquely the King of Righteousness, the Righteous One (7.2; 1 Peter 3.18), the One Who is ‘apart from sin’ (9.28).
This next quotation is taken from Psalm 102.25-27. Having described His supremacy over all rulers and powers, the writer now stresses His supremacy over creation. If ‘God’ can be seen as a suitable address for ‘the One Who is Son’ (verse 8), so certainly can ‘Lord’ (as found in the text of the Psalm in LXX), a regular ascription by the writer to Jesus Christ (Hebrews 2.3; 7.14; 13.20). The Psalm is here quoted as having in mind the Son’s upholding of all things by His powerful word (verse 3). Once He withdraws His word they perish and He ‘rolls them up’. For He is here seen as Lord of creation, and controller of its destiny. Both heavens and earth will be taken off like a cloak and rolled up, or stripped off like used clothes and changed, while He remains the same and goes on for ever, never growing old, and having no beginning or end. As such He is superior to the angels, who while they could devastate the earth with wind and fire, were unable either to create the earth or to effect its final destiny. (And once the world ceased there would be no more wind and fire for them to control).
We note also that in the fifth quotation reference was made to His enduring throne. Here in the sixth reference is made to His own enduring. He is the Enduring One.
In the original Psalm the One addressed is Yahweh. But the writer has already made clear that Jesus is the outshining of Yahweh, and the express image of what He is. And Paul also makes clear that Jesus bears the name of Yahweh (Philippians 2.9-11). So that as Jesus is constantly called ‘Lord’ (Yahweh) regularly in the New Testament, and therefore in the early church, and is regularly depicted as the Creator in the New Testament (1.2; John 1.3; Colossians 1.16), this action with regard to creation can be assigned to the Son. The writer has no difficulty in applying the words to Him.
1.13 ‘But of which of the angels has he said at any time,
It will be noted that this is the seventh quotation, a number seen as the number of divine perfection in all nations from the time when numbering was first invented. The sevenfold witness is thus seen as divinely decisive. This quote is taken from Psalm 110.1 and refers to God’s king being told by God to take His seat at God’s right hand while God makes His enemies His footstool. The placing of the foot on a conquered king’s neck may well have been an evidence of his submission, but the thought may simply be to picture submission. To which of the angels, the writer asks, did God ever say that? So do we have the sevenfold witness to the superiority of Christ over the angels.
To sit in the presence of God was the Davidic king’s prerogative (2 Samuel 7.18; Ezekiel 44.3). It was in itself a clear indication that He enjoyed God’s favour and was God’s viceroy. To have all enemies ( here both of heaven and earth) His footstool is an indication of His guaranteed final triumph.
So we note here the advancement in thought of the quotations:
And within it all is set the contrast with the angels. This contrast between the Son and the angels (verses 4, 5, 6, 7-8, 9, 13) is then brought to its conclusion by a positive declaration of what the position and responsibilities of the angels are.
1.14 ‘Are they not all ministering spirits, sent forth to do service for the sake of those who will inherit salvation?’
What the angels are is now made clear. They are spirits who serve God, who are sent by Him to do service for those who are to inherit salvation, that is, for those who are His, and destined for final salvation, God’s elect, in order to keep them and help them as they walk in God’s ways. Rather than being Lord over God’s people the good angels are His servants and theirs. This is noble service indeed, but not enjoying the same dignity as the status of the Son, Who is made Lord of all.
We must beware of reading too much into the words in this verse. The task of angels has been defined in verse 7 as to be that of being like winds and flames of fire, and it is as such that they serve the heirs of salvation. This would seem to point to invisible yet physical help, rather than to spiritual sustenance. Elsewhere specifically seeking to angels is frowned on (Colossians 2.18), and there is nowhere a suggestion that we look to the angels for help. They are not at man’s bidding, but at God’s. We may, however, draw lessons from past angelic activity which involves their going invisibly before God’s people as they obey God (Exodus 23.20, 23 compare Numbers 20.16), protection (Psalm 91.11; Daniel 6.22), deliverance (Acts 12.7), and strengthening (Luke 22.43), as well as occasional judgment (2 Samuel 24.16, 17; Acts 12.23), and acting as God’s messengers (often). And Revelation makes clear the powerful background activity of angels. But all solely as God wills. We should be looking to the Son, not to angels.
Chapter 2 A First Warning To Take Heed To His Words - Followed By The Revelation That This One Who Is Son Is Now Revealed As Jesus Who Has United Himself with Mankind Through Being made Lower Than The Angels And Crowned As True Man So That Through Suffering He Might Save All Who Believe Making Them His Brothers And Destroying The Fear of Death (2.1-18)
The First Warning - We Must Take Heed To What God Has Said For God’s Salvation Is What Is Involved And Especially As We Have Learned It On The Greatest Possible Authority, That Of The Son Himself (2.1-4).
2.1 ‘Therefore we must give the more earnest heed to the things that were heard, lest it be that we drift away.’
Therefore, because the things that we have heard have come to us, not on the authority of angels, but on the authority of the Son, we must (it is necessary to) take the more earnest heed to them, for otherwise the danger is that we may drift away from them, like a boat loses anchor and drifts from its moorings, or like a pilot misses His way through neglect and takes his charge away from the harbour, and thus by carelessness lose sight of them. That would indeed be a great loss when we consider the importance of the One who brought them.
Note that he speaks of ‘we’. He includes himself along with them because he wants to be identified with them and wants them to feel included within the whole church of Christ. He does not want them to feel that they have been selected out as especially weak.
‘Give the more earnest heed’ contrasts with ‘neglect’ (verse 3). We cannot just mark time in the things of God. We either go on growing by giving determined consideration to the truths that we have heard, and to our response to them, or we begin to drift away because of neglect, for the tide is certainly against us. There is no standing still. We must go on. This is a theme of the letter (e.g. Hebrews 6.1). Note the strength of the phrase, ‘the more earnest’. It requires effort and dedication.
‘The things that were heard.’ The message of Christ and His Gospel in all its fullness. It is not enough just to believe one or two simple facts. We must enter ever more deeply into its truths, for they keep us close to Christ, and it is He and His promises Which are our anchor and prevent us from drifting (compare 6.19).
2.2 ‘For if the word spoken through angels proved steadfast, and every transgression and disobedience received a just recompense of reward,’
For if the word that was spoken by angels proved true in what it said, which was that every failure to keep it and every disobedience to it would receive its just punishment, (that is, what it justly deserved as a result of breaking it), as it did, then those who have received an even greater word and who neglect it can certainly have no hope.
And that is what history proved. Israel reaped what it sowed. It heard, it sowed disobedience, it reaped disaster. The Old Testament is packed with examples of those who transgressed and suffered punishment, even Moses. How much more then will the word spoken by the Son have such a result for those who disobey or neglect it. Note that he does not speak of ‘the Law’ but of ‘the word’, both softening its harshness and paralleling it with the word spoken by the Son. It is seen as a word from God (as it was) rather than a harsh law; as a resultant of salvation for those who would respond to His saving covenant. But they were destroyed by the very means that had been intended as a blessing. And observing the ‘word’ now from God is equally important. Failing to observe it can also only bring the same harsh consequences.
‘The word spoken through angels.’ Both Paul (Galatians 3.19) and Stephen (Acts 7.53) mention the part played by angels in the giving of the law, but the Old Testament is almost silent about it. All took place behind a cloud. Deuteronomy 33.2 and Psalm 68.17 provide what are references to angels as present at Sinai, but without amplifying them. The idea arose from a recognition that God was so holy that He could not be dealt with by the people face to face, but that everything had to be mediated through angels.
‘Every transgression and disobedience.’ The former word emphasises more the sins done positively by breaking the Law, a crossing of the boundary, the latter the failure to obey, a falling short in obedience.
‘Received a just recompense of reward.’ It was the sin that brought the punishment. Man was to receive the due reward for his sins. This was a necessity because of what God is, because of His aversion to all that is sin. The punishment was not arbitrary, but in accordance with the crime. It is just that when we consider it we underestimate the crime, often not realising the consequences, while God does not.
2.3 ‘How shall we escape, if we neglect so great a salvation? Which having at the first been spoken through the Lord, was confirmed to us by those who heard,’
That being so how can we hope to escape judgment if we neglect an even greater offering of salvation, ‘so great a great salvation’, such as is revealed in the words of the Son, Who is a far more wonderful deliverance vehicle than anything the Old Testament could produce? If we neglect this new ‘word’ that was originally taught directly by the Lord Himself, and which we have heard confirmed to us by eyewitnesses, that is, by those who personally heard it and knew Him, what hope of escape from just punishment can we possibly have?
For to neglect a message is to treat it with contempt, but to neglect such a message delivered by such a Person is to be in total contempt of God Himself. This is in fact the great sin of the majority of the world. It is not that they reject the truth out of hand, it is that they simply do not bother with it. They neglect it. They often claim to honour Jesus but they disregard His word as ‘Lord’.
‘So great a salvation.’ In considering its greatness we should consider certain factors.
‘Having at the first been spoken through the Lord, was confirmed to us by those who heard.’ Central to Christian truth is that its source is in Jesus. Only what is in conformity with His words can be accepted as ‘Gospel truth’. This was why Paul himself stressed that what he taught came directly from Him, and this was why the Apostles were inspired by the Holy Spirit to later fully remember His teaching.
Much is often made of this verse as though it required that the writer had not himself heard the teaching of Jesus personally. But while the writer does use ‘we’ (emphasised, in contrast with those who were not Christians) he may well be using it rather loosely, signifying by it the group to which he was writing of which he saw himself a part, and continuing the use of ‘we’ with which he had begun the chapter. Thus he may simply be saying that while his readers had not heard it directly from the Lord, they, along with the whole church, had nevertheless heard it from eyewitnesses, from those who were actually there and heard His words, without necessarily saying anything about himself. But it is not characteristic of Paul who tended to stress his own special reception of revelation.
For it was ‘the Lord’ Who spoke it, and reliable eyewitnesses confirmed it, as they all know, and the authority of it is therefore unquestioned, and its certainty assured. What hope then can there be for them if they neglect it, when it has such authority behind it?
‘The Lord.’ We become so used to using the term glibly that we can easily not notice its force. It was because it was spoken by the Lord of glory, God’s true Son, the Creator and Sustainer of the world, the One Who is higher than the angels, that it was to be heard.
2.4 ‘God also bearing witness with them, both by signs and wonders, and by manifold powers, and by gifts of the Holy Spirit, according to his own will.’
And not only did the word come directly from the Son through impeccable witnesses, but God also Himself bore witness to it among them, through those very witnesses, providing a further witness which came by signs and miracles and by many revelations of power wrought by them and among them, and by the gifts of the Holy Spirit given to those who heeded Him in accordance with His will.
The witness was both from without, in outward manifestations, and from within, through gifts of the Spirit (Romans 12.5-11; 1 Corinthians 12.7-11; 28-31; Ephesians 4.11-12). He had thus given them every opportunity to heed it, and it had been as He Himself had determined. It had been directly in accordance with His will. For He had wanted them to have full evidence of the truth that was being taught, and His assurance that He was behind it.
‘Both by signs and wonders, and by manifold powers, and by gifts of the Holy Spirit.’ Compare here Acts 2.22. Jesus had Himself given evidence of Who and What He was by ‘mighty works and wonders and signs’; by His control over nature, by turning water into wine, by stilling the storm, by multiplying bread, by raising the dead, by healing the sick, and by casting out evil spirits. And this had continued on with the Apostles, and in the early church (see Galatians 3.5).
Signs, wonders, and manifold powers as mentioned in this verse bring to mind the miracles by which God at certain points in history confirmed His message to man at crucial times. Moses appeared before Pharaoh in a series of amazing signs and wonders at the time of the deliverance from Egypt, followed by Joshua on entry into Canaan; Elijah, followed by Elisha, was involved in a number of signs and miracles at a time when belief in God was at its lowest, and the coming of Jesus, followed by His disciples, was a further time of signs and miracles as the Gospel first began to spread. There is a clear pattern. But outside of those times miracles have been rare.
We should not therefore be surprised that after the early church had been established miracles became a rarer phenomenon. It follows the pattern of history. And it was also in full keeping with that pattern that the new revelation preached to people through the Jesus and His Apostles should have been corroborated and confirmed in the beginning by certain signs and miracles.
The very birthday of the church at Pentecost saw the apostles speaking with known tongues so as to understood (Acts 2.1-11). The gift of prophetic foretelling was exercised by Agabus (Acts 11.28; 21.10), and by Paul himself when he prophesied that all on board the shipwrecked vessel would be spared alive (Acts 27.34). The disciples rejoiced at their being able to cast out evil spirits and heal the sick while Jesus was on earth (Luke 10.17), and that continued with the disciples after Pentecost (Acts 3.1-10; 4.33; 5.12; 6.12) and with Paul and the girl at Philippi (Acts 16.18), while the power to inflict divine punishment on the wicked, as in the case of Elymas who was blinded (Acts 13.11) and that of Ananias and his wife who were stricken with death (Acts 5.1-10), was a reminder that God was not to be dallied with. Thus the confirming miracles that established the word of the Apostles of Christ as being truly that of God Himself were numerous. But it is apparent that even then they died down to a lesser level, for they are rarely mentioned later, although see Galatians 3.5; 1 Corinthians 12.10, 28-30, both comparatively early letters. By the time of the death of the Apostles they appear to have almost, but not completely, ceased.
Note the contrast between Sinai and Christ. At Sinai the voice of angels, the manifestations of power and glory, both coming from the mountain; here signs and wonders and manifold powers and gifts of the Holy Spirit directly present among them and revealed before their very eyes, and even manifested through them. At Sinai God before them in veiled glory as their sovereign Lord, compared with God among them here as their Saviour and within them as their ‘Helper’.
The Son Is Now Declared To Be Jesus Who Has Been Made Lower Than The Angels In Order To Be Crowned As True Man So That He Might Suffer For Mankind And Make Them His Brothers Through Saving Them From Sin And Bringing Them To Glory, Destroying The Fear of Death, And Becoming Their Effective High Priest (2.5-18).
Having revealed the glory of the Son and His superiority to angels, the writer now develops the theme of how low He stooped in order to help mankind and what the result will be for those who respond to Him. For God did not choose out angels to be His assistants, He decided to choose out sinful men, paying for them a huge price that He might deliver them. The angels indeed have no great part to play in His plan (see the repeated ‘not to angels’ - verses 5 and 16). While they do in their own way minister to the heirs of salvation (1.14), they are very much in the background. The central players are God, Jesus and redeemed men. (So is the importance of angels thrust into the background as far as men are concerned. For in the writer’s day too much emphasis was being laid on angels).
2.5 ‘For not to angels did he subject the world to come, of which we speak.’
For let them consider that it was not to angels that God gave authority over ‘the world to come’, it was to the Lord and to these witnesses who received His word, those through whom these signs and wonders were done. When God decided to act it involved His Son and those men who were chosen by Him and had responded to Him. The angels had no part to play in it.
The word for ‘world’ is oikoumene. This can signify the inhabited world, or one section of the world subjected to order and discipline, in contrast to another. Thus the Greeks used it of their own ‘ordered world’ in contrast with the world of Barbarians, and it was used of ‘ordered world’ of the Roman Empire in contrast with the world outside. In this case therefore ‘the world to come’ means ‘that world forecast as coming in the Scriptures, and now here, which is under the control of God’, in contrast with the world in general, and thus signifies the coming and arrival of the Kingly Rule of God in Jesus, in contrast to the world outside that Rule. It refers to that sphere of Kingly Rule which was under the sway of the King and His followers (Colossians 1.13), and subject to the law of Christ (1 Corinthians 9.24), in Jewish terminology, to the coming days of the Messiah and His Kingdom.
Thus the ‘world to come’ here indicates ‘the world’ known from Scripture ‘to be coming’, and which had now arrived in the coming of Jesus and the establishing of the ‘worldwide’ Christian community, the sphere of the Kingly Rule of God, and is to be seen as including all that follows from it. It represents the new stage of God’s purposes in its totality. The old ‘world’ was passing. The new had come.
It had arrived at ‘the end of these days’ (1.2), that is, ‘in the last days’ (Acts 2.17), which are in Acts very closely connected with signs and wonders and gifts of the Spirit (verse 4; Acts 2.17-20). For this use of ‘to come’ compare 6.5; 9.11; 10.1. In other words it is speaking of the Christian presence on earth in these final days before the end (the days from the first coming of Christ to the rapture, and then to the end of time) as new creatures in Christ, living ordered lives under the King, followed by their continual existence in glory. It is the result of the presence in the world of the Kingly Rule of God as proclaimed by Jesus and manifested in power. Such an ‘ordered world’ was not subjected to angels, it was subjected to the Son and His followers. And they had come manifesting that kingship with all the outward and inward signs of God’s presence and power. Thus those in it are without excuse if they drift away to the world outside.
This is in contrast with the world in general. In Deuteronomy 32.8 (LXX) we read,
The idea is that once the nations were separated at Babel and languages became confused, angels took authority over the different sections into which the world of men was split. Man had lost his authority over creation. This is confirmed further in Daniel 10.20, which speaks of angelic beings such as "the prince of Persia" and "the prince of Greece," as having sway in those areas, and Daniel 10.21 and 12.1 which speak of Michael as "the great prince" who champions the people of Israel. Man had lost his dominion through sin, and was swayed by heavenly powers, although God kept a special watch on His own.
The result was that the ‘present world’ (compare 2 Timothy 4.10; Galatians 1.4) was seen as no longer under the sway of man but as under the sway of angelic forces, the majority of them seemingly evil. However, the ‘coming world’ (now come) is different. It is under the sway of the King and His disciples, and angels have no part in its rule. The kingdom of the Son of His love is in vivid contrast with the power of darkness (Colossians 1.13).
Others, however see ‘the world to come’ as indicating the afterlife when Christ will rule over all along with His own, and this is not to be excluded, but the idea is surely more immediate than that. For ‘the world to come’ is to be seen as that promised by the prophets, in contrast with ‘this present world’, the new world under the rule of the promised King, and is to be seen as beginning at Christ’s first coming with the advent of the Kingly Rule of God. Then there came a new world (oikoumene) within the world (kosmos). It covers the life and activity of God’s people under His Kingly Rule in this world, although it then moves on to embrace all God’s future purposes and plans for His people. In other words the ‘world to come’ is all embracing. It is the new God-ordered ‘world’ introduced in the coming of Christ. For that is central to the whole passage, that Jesus has come and established that new world for those who are His own.
2.6-8a ‘But one has somewhere testified, saying,
The writer confirms his position by quoting Psalm 8.4-6 (LXX) which states that God’s original intention was that the world would be ruled by man, who was made ‘only a little lower than what was heavenly (the elohim)’, so that all on earth would be subjected to him. His plan was for great things for man. And he sees this as not only so in the past but as something yet to be realised.
‘But one has somewhere testified, saying.’ This did not mean that the writer did not know who had written it (the Psalmist), but was a way of stressing that what was spoken was of God. It was God Who in the final analysis was the author of Scripture, and the name or title of the testifier was of little importance.
‘What is man, that you are mindful of him? Or son of man, that you visit him?” This is spoken of mankind in general as descended from Adam. In the Hebrew it depicts mankind as weak and frail man (enosh) and as a ‘son of man (Adam)’ (ben-adam). In the Greek here it is ‘man (anthropos) and ‘son of man’ (huios anthropou) as in LXX. ‘Son of man’ was simply another way of saying ‘man’ (‘son of man’ is without the article). It could be a simple questioning of man’s status, ‘where does man stand in the order of priority?’, or hold within it the idea of man’s inferiority, ‘when you consider the heavens, what after all is man?’. But the overall emphasis is on the fact that God is mindful of man, and acts on his behalf even in his frailty, and intends for him rulership over creation.
‘Mindful -- visit--.’ God both has man in mind and acts on man’s behalf (visits him), as the coming of Jesus witnesses.
Man’s status is then declared. ‘Made a little lower than the angels (Hebrew: elohim)’, that is, of heavenly beings. So although frail man is the next step down from the heavenly, being lower than the angels, as regards earth, he is potentially ‘crowned with glory and honour’ and set over all living creation, so that all is to be in subjection under his feet. Man was made God’s crowning glory on earth. To be but a little lower than the angels was to be given great honour. It meant that in all creation as described in Genesis 1 man was supreme, first in line after the angels, after what was ‘heavenly’. He was thus, as regards the earth, the supreme lord of all. He was the one who was ‘crowned with glory and honour’, and, says the Psalmist, the one who will find all things put under his feet.
(To translate as ‘for a little while’, while possible in the Greek, is to overlook the whole context in the original. The thought of the Psalmist was not of a short while but of a position which was only a little short of the elohim, a position as man made in God’s spiritual image, heavenly as well as earthly. This whole passage is about status).
‘You crowned him with glory and honour, and set him over the works of your hands. You put all things in subjection under his feet.’ Herein is confirmed man’s potential supremacy over all things on earth. Man was gloriously crowned with great honour. He was given total dominion on earth. He was set over all things, and especially all living creatures. Everything was subject to him. He was supreme (Genesis 1.28-30). So ‘crowned with glory and honour’ here indicates the triumphant rule of man as God intended him to be.
That the Psalmist is looking at a future hope based on what man had lost in Genesis 1-3 is clear. Seeing man as potentially this, for he must have been well aware that it was not so in his time, he looks to what will be when God has restored His people and established His true King.
2.8b ‘For in that he subjected all things to him, he left nothing that is not subject to him. But now we see not yet all things subjected to him.’
Indeed God did not intend to withhold anything from man. He intended to give him all, He would have omitted nothing. His purpose was to subject ‘all things’ to him. Man on earth was to be ‘lord of all’. Nothing was to be left which was not subject to him.
And that was how it was in the beginning. Man was lord over all creation. But through his folly man had lost much of what he had. ‘All things’ became no longer subject to him. The snake became his enemy. The earth was apportioned to angels (see on verse 5). Man’s rule over living creatures, and over the fruit of the world that God gave him, was partially lost. So now we no longer ‘continually see’ all things subjected to him, even though there are still traces of his one time rule in that animals still cannot look him in the eye, some animals are domesticated and part of the earth is still cultivated.
But the writer sees a deeper significance in the words, in the light of what he knows. He notes that here in the Psalm ‘all things’ is not qualified in any way. And ‘all things’ can include both heaven and earth (verse 10). So he writes that while God did subject all things on earth to man (Genesis 1.28-30), and left nothing that was not subject to him, He had not yet subjected ‘all things’ without exception to him, even when he was in innocence. For God’s purpose for man was greater than he knew. Man’s final triumph still awaits. There was not only to be a restoration, but an exaltation. His real destiny still lies before him. And this, he next points out, is to be through Jesus.
2.9 ‘But we behold him who has been made a little lower than the angels, even Jesus, because of the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honour, in order that by the grace of God he should taste of death for everyone.’
Before looking at this verse in detail we must consider the phrase ‘crowned with glory and honour’ for it helps to determine the meaning of the whole passage, and is regularly misunderstood. Now the temptation, if we ignore the context, is undoubtedly to see it as signifying Christ’s resurrection and exaltation and then to try to fit around it the other phrases, which in truth then fit rather strangely. And that is done by most commentators. But that is totally to ignore the context. Reference to His exaltation, except in a secondary, inclusive way, is out of place here. And the Greek in its obvious sense is against it.
For had this been its meaning we might have expected the whole sentence to be constructed differently (as commentators tend to confirm by constantly switching it around), especially by so consummate an author as we have here, for the natural reading here is to see ‘crowned with glory and honour’ as leading on into ‘in order that by the grace of God He should taste death for everyone’, as though the one resulted in the other, as though the crowning preceded the suffering and was necessary for it, and if that is so it bars us seeing in it simply a direct reference to the resurrection and exaltation. Is there then any alternative, which actually avoids the manipulation of the verse required for that view?
Firstly we should note that the same words are also cited in verse 6. There they indicate that (as a result of his creation in ‘the image and likeness of the elohim (or ‘God’)’ (Genesis 1)) man was ‘crowned with glory and honour’ by being made the earthly lord of creation, so that all creation was subjected to him. This was what pinpointed what man was. He was placed there from the very beginning. He was ‘crowned with glory and honour’, with authority over all things. And it was from this exalted position that he fell, so that creation became no longer subject to him and only a small part, the domestic animals and the cultivated fields, still did his bidding. As fallen man he had become a king without a kingdom, He had been uncrowned as lord of creation.
Now if we consider that, in order for Jesus to be fitted to be a substitutionary and perfect sacrifice for man, it was necessary for Him to become ‘perfect man’, to become what man originally was, we will recognise that this required that He too in His lifetime be ‘crowned with glory and honour’ in relation to creation, so that as man He became overlord of creation, as man was, and man should be.
And that this was so is in fact evidenced in two ways. Firstly by the declaration at His baptism, ‘You are my Son’ (Mark 1.11), when He was endued with the Holy Spirit. For these words were probably used at the coronation of the kings of Israel/Judah, and certainly used in some way of the kings of the house of David in their special relationship to God (Psalm 2.7). By them Jesus was marked off as unique, and as representing God on earth in a unique and glorious way, fulfilling the destiny that man had failed to fulfil, and manifesting His rule. This was then confirmed at the transfiguration when His full glory was momentarily revealed, and God said of Him ‘This is my Son’, and He spoke of His coming death in Jerusalem (Luke 9.31, 35). Here His humanness was seen as veiling the divine glory of the representative Man.
And secondly by His life in which He demonstrated His lordship over creation and superiority to angels. He was ‘with the wild beasts’ and angels ministered to Him (Mark 1.13), the evil spirits obeyed Him and were cast out (Mark 1.25-26 and regularly), the water turned into wine at His will (John 2.1-11), the fish moved at His command (Luke 5.4-6; Matthew 17.27; John 21.6), the wind and waves did His bidding (Mark 4.39), the sea provided Him with a pathway through the storm (Mark 6.48), the storm ceased at His presence (6.51), the unbroken ass walked quietly into Jerusalem through noisy crowds, responsive to His hands (Mark 11.2, 7-9), (which made a jockey cry out when he read it, “what hands He must have had”), the fig tree withered at His command (Mark 11.14, 20). Indeed He could have commanded the mountain to fall into the sea and it would have obeyed Him because of His total faith in God (Mark 11.23). All this emphasised the restoration of the crowning with glory and honour.
And it was this overlordship of creation that revealed that He was perfect man as God had intended man to be, and it was this that made Him fitted to ‘taste death for everyone’, because it revealed that He was truly ‘the second man’, ‘the last Adam’, (1 Corinthians 15.45-47) man restored to what he should be. So was He seen as ‘crowned with glory and honour’ in His lifetime, as Man restored to his lost status, that status given by God from the beginning. And thus could it be that as perfect man He would offer Himself, the One for the many. (Neither in Genesis 1 as expanded in Psalm 8, nor here, is the crowning necessarily to be seen as literal. The point is that that was His status).
And in this lies explained the mystery of His suffering. When He came He was here as lord of creation, all of which obeyed Him. He was declared to be crowned with glory and honour as God’s Son. Creation was under His sway. It was only man who was in rebellion and was antagonistic, and opposed His rule. It was thus man, guilty rebellious man, out of tune with creation, who brought about His sufferings, and the sufferings of all who would follow Him, as they made clear their total rejection of what God is. From the world came glory (‘even the stones would cry out’ - Luke 19.40), from rebellious man, overwatched by sinister angels, came persecution and suffering.
So as Jesus walked the world as Lord of Creation, crowned with glory and honour, He called men to come under the Heavenly Rule of God, to submit to Him even as nature submitted. And in their refusal and rejection, apart from the few, was made clear the need for Him to die. They were in rebellion against God’s purpose in creation, and only through His death on their behalf could a way be made for them back to God.
Nor should we overlook the fact that, with the exception of the crown of thorns, Jesus is never elsewhere depicted as undergoing a process of being crowned. He is ever depicted as already being King (Matthew 2.2; 21.5; John 1.49), depicting Himself as such when He entered Jerusalem on an ass (John 12.13), depicting Himself as such to a cynical Pilate (John 18.37; Luke 23.3 compare 23.38) and in His parables (Matthew 18.23; 22.2). His message was that the Kingly Rule of God was here, and the implication He gave was that He was here as the king. He was here as God’s anointed (Luke 4.18-21; Acts 10.38). If we wish to see a moment of crowning was it not at His baptism when God declared, ‘You are My Son’ and anointed Him with the Holy Spirit? What greater glory and honour could there be than that?
But there was also this physical crowning, a recognition that that overlordship was established and confirmed, as He went on to face His final sufferings. For a mock crown was placed on His head, and in that too He was in the eyes of Heaven crowned with glory and honour, and Pilate too confirmed in writing somewhat cynically that ‘this is the king of the Jews’ (Luke 19.38). For as He faced up to the suffering and death which was the direct result of man’s rebellion against God He faced it because He was the king, and because He was the true representative of what man should be, and because only man was rejecting Him as such. And He declared that He was to be glorified in that suffering too (John 12.23, 27-28). He was to face His death as He had faced His life, as the One Who was crowned with glory and honour, and Who was Himself receiving great glory as he crushed all the forces that were against Him.
This is especially brought out in the fourth Gospel where one of John’s aims was to bring out that in all the events that took place He was sovereign. The soldiers, for example, fell back before Him until He again spoke; and they let the Apostles go free because He commanded it (John 18.6-8). He was in charge of events, and they proceeded at His will. And all the Gospels essentially agree on the same, for Matthew’s Gospel tells us that twelve legions of angels waited to do His will and could have prevented all that happened, but did not do so because it was not His will (Matthew 26.53).
So the stress throughout this whole passage in Hebrews is not on His final exaltation, but on what He was when He came into the world lower than the angels, and on the necessity for His being prepared for what He had to face, and on the recognition that He was publicly acclaimed by God as the supreme Man Who did His will, and on the necessity for Him to face suffering as a result of man’s rebellion, because they no longer did His will, and then, following on that, on what the consequence would be for His own as they too faced a hostile world. And part of that preparation was in His being ‘crowned with glory and honour’ in God’s eyes (and in the eyes of angels and evil spirits) so as to be truly what man should be and so fitted to suffer on man’s behalf. Indeed by itself the idea of the exaltation fits oddly here. While what we have suggested fits completely adequately into the whole context.
Our problem is that we often overlook His earthly glory and concentrate on His humiliation. But while this picture is in accordance with Scripture from one point of view (Isaiah 52.13-53.12; Philippians 2.6-11), we must remember that when He was made a servant it was as the Servant of Yahweh, and that while He walked in submission to God He was still a Colossus on earth, for He always prevailed until the time came for Him to die.
So that being how we might see his words here, let us then consider the passage as a whole.
‘But we behold him who has been made a little lower than the angels, even Jesus, because of the suffering of death.’ But look! says the writer. Here is One Who has been made man, and thus made a little lower than the angels, and Who has been declared to be God’s Son, and ‘crowned with glory and honour’ as man was at his first creation, as One Who has all things under Him. Here is One Who is even now true representative man.
And why was He made lower than the angels? It was because of the need for a sacrifice, ‘because of the suffering of death’, something that was required for man’s redemption. That is the very reason why He came as One ‘lower than the angels’, although in His case, because of Who He is, the ‘making lower’ was a humiliation, not a privilege to rejoice in. The Psalmist could proclaim that man had been privileged to be made a little lower than the angels, but for this One that was a humiliation not a privilege, for He was the outshining of the glory of God, the Lord over all. And the purpose of it was simply in order that He might be able to fully identify with those He had come to save, that as representative man He might suffer death on their behalf and in their place, that He might be able to become their saving sacrifice and their great High Priest. Without His lowering Himself to become man this could not have been.
And the context supports this. For it was only through such humiliation, suffering and death, which followed His crowning with glory and honour as true man, that He could become the author, the source and worker out, of our salvation (verse 10; Isaiah 53; Mark 10.45), leading many sons to glory. It could only be through His becoming truly man and suffering as man, that, as the One Who in Himself represented all mankind, He could be ‘the second man’ and ‘the last Adam’ (1 Corinthians 15.45-47), The One Who could as man’s representative and substitute offer Himself as a ransom for many (Mark 10.45), making many to be accounted righteous (see Romans 5.12-21; Isaiah 53.11). The emphasis all through is on Christ’s perfect manhood, resulting from His choosing to humble Himself below the angels.
And so as Adam had been the first man, representing all mankind, and had been ‘crowned with glory and honour’ but had then brought sin into the world, and had dragged man down from his status, so was Jesus also ‘crowned with glory and honour’ in His life on earth, as the second man, the sinless man, so that as such He might live triumphantly in this world as lord over creation, remaining free from sin, and thus be in a position to endure death for the sin of ‘everyone’, and restore all who would come to Him.
Here then was the full explanation of why the Lord of glory became man, why He was seen in His humiliation as lower than the angels. It was not because He was so in Himself, but because He had in eternity chosen to humble Himself and become man, so that He could be in a position to die for us (Philippians 2.6-8). And it was as the sinless and representative man who had come into the world, that He was ‘crowned with glory and honour’, that is, was reinstated into the place that man had forfeited as lord of creation (verse 7), so that He could as their accepted representative, as lord of creation, die on man’s behalf. And as we have seen, the fact that He was indeed, as man, lord of creation came out in His being with the wild beasts without being harmed, in His turning water into wine, in His lordship over fish, in His stilling of the storm, in His riding of an untrained ass amid a frenzied crowd, and in the withering of a tree at His command. Wild beasts, domestic animals and fish, and even inanimate nature, all did His bidding. Only man rebelled.
‘Because of (through) the suffering of death.’ Why then was He made lower than the angels? It was in order that He might become truly mortal, as God made man, ‘because of the suffering of death’. That was why He had to do it. It was because of the necessity for a death for sin that would satisfy the requirements of a holy Law. There had to be a sufficient death, and there therefore had to be a humiliation of One Who could die that death and yet be sufficient to save the world. For the presence of sin in the world demanded death, and it had to be either the death of all of us, or the death of Another sufficient to bear it for us.
This then was why it was necessary for Him to die, indeed, came in order to die. And the stress on His death in the Gospels emphasises the truth of this. In other men’s biographies their life is stressed, and death is but the end, but in the case of Jesus it is His death that takes the prime place. There had to be a death, and that necessity for death is emphasised. But it was only because He was truly made man, and that as man restored, that He could thus die, and so offer Himself as a sacrifice for the sins of the world.
In their superior existence angels are not mortal, and will not and cannot die, for they are heavenly beings. No angel or above could fulfil this requirement to die, even had they been sufficient for it. There was only One Who was supreme enough to become lower than the angels and Who could do so. So, for Jesus, although He was the outshining of the glory of God and the express ‘stamped out’ image of His substance, being made ‘lower than the angels’ was essential in order that He might be made truly mortal and suffer. And this was also why He had to receive on earth the ‘crowning with glory and honour’ which was man’s right through creation, but which had been previously forfeited, constituting Himself thus as ‘reinstated man’, able to suffer for mankind.
So here we ‘behold’ Him as ‘crowned with glory and honour’, firstly as representative, sinless, and reinstated man, revealing His lordship as man over creation, and fitted by what He was for the task of salvation, and secondly as triumphant, victorious man, defeating even the angels in achieving His victory through suffering. In His manhood He is truly established as lord over ‘all things’. And the purpose behind this humiliation and glorification through suffering was so that He might be fitted to ‘taste’ (experience to the full) death for everyone. That is, as restored Man He was to experience death to the full, to absorb it to the full, so that we who are His might not have to finally die, and He could only do this because He was ‘crowned with glory and honour’ as the last Adam. So central to His humiliation and exaltation as man was that as true representative man He would thus truly die. For it was finally through His death that He was able to become the perfect means of salvation.
‘We behold Him.’ That is, we behold Him as described by eyewitnesses, we behold Him in our hearts by faith, and we behold Him in the testimony by the Spirit through chosen men of God (including this writer), as they speak of what He accomplished. We behold Him as we take heed and consider Him and receive Him within out hearts in responsive faith. As John said of those who walked with Him, ‘we behold His glory’ (John 1.14)
‘Who has been made a little lower than the angels.’ We behold that He Who was in the form of God, humbled Himself to become a servant and to be made in the likeness of men, thus being made for a time lower than the angels (Philippians 2.5-8). The Son of Man came down from Heaven, He Who is in Heaven (John 3.13), and became Man. And so we behold Him.
‘Even Jesus, because of the suffering of death.’ And to Whom did this happen? We behold what happened to ‘Jesus’, to the One born of Mary by the Holy Spirit, to Him Who walked as a man among men in order that He might truly suffer death. Without such humiliation, death as a human being would have been impossible, as would also the resulting accomplishment of men’s salvation. It was by becoming a human being that He became qualified to die for the sins of the world.
‘Crowned with glory and honour.’ And we behold that in His coming as sinless man He had to be ‘crowned with glory and honour’ as man had originally been in order to be true man. He had, as sinless and truly obedient Man, firstly to be reinstated into man’s destiny (verse 7) as lord of creation, and secondly, He had to be accepted as a sufficient sacrifice, so that He could suffer, in order that all who respond to Him might be reinstated. And God confirmed this at His baptism, and at the mount of transfiguration, and through His signs and wonders, and through His power over creation.
And in the end we behold that God had openly declared His status, although in a partly hidden way known only to His elect, through the mockery of men. For He was literally at this time given a crown. It was a crown of glory, even though a crown of suffering; it was a crown of honour, even though a crown of thorns. No greater glory and honour could have been suggested than by this crown of thorns, the crown that revealed that the Creator was offering Himself up to suffer for His creatures, that the Lord was offering Himself up to suffer for His servants, that the Son was offering Himself up to suffer for His slaves, so that they might be redeemed. It laid bare the very heart of God. And were not the thorns in themselves a reminder that Jesus was bearing man’s curse on Himself? For thorns were a part of man’s curse. How symbolic was this, that perfect man, the Lord of creation, was crowned with thorns.
For this crown of thorns, and what it portrayed, revealed that sacrificial, self-giving love lay at the very heart of the Universe. It revealed that true morality (part of what God is in Himself) was fully and permanently established as a prime concern within it. No more could morality be passed over as unimportant, for it was established as vital through the suffering and the death for sin of this perfect Man. By it was revealed that He Who is love is also light, and that He Who is light is also love. That He is both light and love (1 John 1.5; 4.8, 16). For His light shines and necessarily condemns mankind, and in that light mankind are revealed for what they are, while His love seeks to win mankind to Himself and makes provision for that purpose, and for their sin, through His own Son’s suffering. And because His crowning is ‘over all things’ it is finally also over the angels. As the Man, crowned with thorns, He would be made Lord of all, rising triumphantly from the dead and taking His seat on His Father’s throne because of Who He was, the One Who was already crowned with glory and honour. Compare the ‘Lamb as it had been slain’ Who ruled in Heaven (Revelation 5.6).
‘Crowned with glory and honour, that by the grace of God he should taste of death for everyone.’ We should note carefully how this ‘crowned with glory and honour’ is sandwiched between two references to His sacrificial death, and intimately connected with them, which must in our view, as we have seen, suggest that we are to see His crowning, not as being the result of, but as being the essential groundwork for, and included within, His suffering. He was crowned that He should be fitted to be a sacrifice, as on a par with first-created man, and even above him. That He should be revealed as ‘the second man’, the One Who replaced and followed the first. He was crowned that He might taste death for those who had ‘lost’ their crown, and admitted it, that is, ‘for everyone’, men of all races, who would hear and respond. And it was His suffering that was His triumph, the revelation of the fullness of His glory and honour, as by it He defeated sin and death and the forces of darkness who held sway in the world.
Just as hidden behind the living earthly Man was the glory of the transfiguration, unseen, so hidden behind the suffering Man was the glory of the triumphant King, unseen. This comes out in the use in John’s Gospel of the words ‘being glorified’ as including His being glorified in death (John 12.23-24 compare 7.39). It was when the crown of thorns was placed on His head that the first stage in His glorification by suffering began (Matthew 27.28-29; Mark 15.17), that He entered into His glorification. It was then paradoxically that He was revealed by the crown of thorns as crowned with glory and honour, as being the suffering Servant and Messiah, Who could ‘taste death for everyone’. (For the son of man who entered into triumph in Daniel 7.13-14, 27, had first been ‘perfected’ in suffering (Daniel 7.21-22, 25)).
While the soldiers mocked, and the angels worshipped, standing by for God’s command and perplexed that it never came, for even they did not understand, it was God Who, unknown to all, put that crown upon His head. He overruled man’s mockery. It was the next stage in His victory. It was a crown of honour. The One Who had been crowned with glory and honour in life was now crowned with glory and honour in facing death. For in the final analysis that crown was the declaration that the King was here, and was highly honoured, and was entering into the battle that would determine the destiny of the world, mocked it is true by man, but honoured by God (see Isaiah 50.5-8; John 18.37). It was the declaration of the way that victory and salvation would be achieved, through suffering (see Isaiah 52.13-53.12).
By that crown He was crowned with glory and honour, even while the ‘royal’ robe was put upon Him, and the ‘royal’ sceptre placed in His hand. Even while He turned His back to the smiters, and to those who plucked off the hair, and did not hide His face from shame and spitting (Isaiah 50.6). The world intended it to symbolise His humiliation. But God intended that it should symbolise His path through suffering to glory. It was a crown declaring the victory to be achieved through suffering. It symbolised the fact that the crowned Messiah was on the way to His heavenly throne, initially to face His destiny and win the victory in triumphant suffering (Isaiah 53.3-10), after which He would be lifted up and be ‘very high’ (Isaiah 52.13), seated at God’s right hand.
For while His death seemed to much of the world to be a pointless tragedy, in reality it was a triumph which brought Him great glory even while it was in process. For a brief while the powers of darkness thought that they had won. Angels shook their heads in perplexity. Disciples wept and felt ashamed. But the crown of thorns was the perfect revelation of what He was about to do. It was Messiah’s crown, and it led on to the cross and victory. It was the crown of His glory and honour which was now being manifested. Through His royal suffering He thrust off the principalities and powers of evil, making an open show of them and triumphing over them in the cross (Colossians 2.15), defeating them for ever so that although they retired to carry out their activities from ambush, they knew that their power was broken. For even in His death He was revealed as superior to the angels. Through it also He broke the power of sin to destroy men. Through it He took away the fear of death for those who are His own. And through it, as the crowned One, He bore the sin of many and was raised in the glory and honour with which He had been crowned.
In many ancient festivals men were selected out to be brought to the gods in one way or another, and in preparation were crowned and robed. And thus was Jesus crowned and robed by God in preparation for that moment when He would offer Himself to God. And by it He was glorified. It was through the cross that He triumphed and was made glorious and received the ultimate honour. Now was the judgment of this world. Now was the prince of this world cast out (John 12.31). And while the resurrection was its firstfruit (1 Corinthians 15.20, 23), and the final proof of victory, it occurred because the victory had already been won, and the crowning had already taken place on the victorious field of action, in the glorious but persecuted life of the Son of Man, and on the battleground of the cross.
‘That by the grace of God he should taste of death for everyone.’ And His life, and His suffering, and His crowning and His triumph at the cross were so that by the grace of God, the unmerited love and favour of God active on our behalf, He should be fitted for and finally taste fully of death ‘for everyone’, that is, potentially for all, and effectually for all those who believe. He offered Himself as the Saviour of all men, but He was essentially so only for those who believe (1 Timothy 4.10). The idea behind ‘tasting death’ is not of simply having a sample, it is of tasting it to the full. None but One Who was perfect, the crowned Lord of creation, could truly taste of death to the full, because for no other could it be so awful and so real. Only One Who enjoyed full and perfect life and was crowned with glory and honour could then move on to appreciate the awfulness of death.
‘By the grace of God.’ And this was by the compassion and love of God reaching out through Him to the undeserving, to those who merited nothing. It was all of grace. Who can ever begin to measure the depths and height of that grace? In this was love, not that we loved God but that He loved us, and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins (1 John 4.10; John 3.16). Was ever love like that?
(The alternative choris theou - ‘apart from God’ - found in some few witnesses has little early support in manuscripts, although some see it as original because of its unusualness, often seeing it as a marginal note incorporated by a copyist. But in view of the widespread and overwhelming nature of the early manuscript evidence against it this seems unlikely. It may equally well have been an emendation in order to separate God from the possibility of being directly associated with Jesus’ dying, although some do see it as referring to His sense of forsakenness from God as depicted in Mark 15.34. It is even possible that someone who was thinking in those terms, while they were copying, ‘saw’ choris even though it was not there. It would not be the first time that someone read a different word than was actually there because that was the way in which their minds were working).
So when He rose from the dead, and ascended to God, and took His place on God’s throne, He was not being ‘glorified’, He was not being crowned with glory and honour, He was rather manifesting the glory and honour (as the transfiguration had previously done) that was already His through His anointing by God, His glory as Lord of creation, and finally through the cross, the glory and honour which He had already achieved when He cried out ‘it is finished’ on the battlefield. His receiving of dominion (Daniel 7.13-14) was but the confirmation of His crowning during His life of warfare. No other crowning of Jesus is ever described in Scripture than the crowning of Jesus in mockery by the world. And that was the greatest possible symbol of His triumph achieved through suffering. No other crown would fit His brow. The crown of thorns, like the living ‘slain Lamb’ (Revelation 5.7), is the symbol of all that He is. All His other crowns arise from that (Revelation 14.14; 19.12).
Note on ‘Crowned with glory and honour.’
To summarise briefly. As we have seen, in the passage this phrase has a number of facets, each of which is important.
2.10 ‘For it became him, for whom are all things, and through whom are all things, in bringing many sons to glory, to make the author of their salvation perfect through sufferings.’
The continual stress on the preparation of Jesus for His supreme task now continues. His crowning with the crown of glory and honour, received during His lifetime as He was ‘anointed’ and took His place as ‘the second man’ and received all the privileges of the first man before he fell, and was manifested at the transfiguration, and which He lived out in the midst of His suffering and endurance during His lifetime, and especially so in His last hours, was all part of the process of making Him ‘perfect through suffering’, perfect that is for what He had to achieve.
And it was that which enabled Him to accomplish the victory, and which depicted His fitness to be the Saviour. For this way of suffering was the way which was ‘becoming’ to God, ‘becoming’, that is, in the eyes of men and angels once they recognise the significance of it all, and ‘becoming’ in terms of the requirements of the Law and of morality. For once men see the truth they recognise that there was no other way. It was through living and suffering at the hands of rebellious man as the true Man that He was made fit to be the perfect sacrifice, and to lead His own to glory through suffering, and it was through suffering that He bore our sins (Isaiah 53.3). And this tied in with what the Scriptures had said must be (Psalm 22; Isaiah 50; 53).
So when God ‘for Whom are all things’, as the Goal of Creation, and ‘through Whom are all things’, as the Architect and Upholder of Creation, sent forth Jesus as the ‘Author and Trek Leader of men’s salvation’, in order that through Him He might bring many sons to glory, He made Him perfect for His task through suffering, because He was taking the place of rebellious man. It was ‘becoming’, because it was necessary in the nature of things. For He must be both the victor and the victim. The victor because He had to triumph in life over adversity and walk the pathway of obedience in order to be fitted to be the victim, and the victim because He then bore in Himself the sins of others, dying in their place, while at the same time still being the victor because through the offering of Himself He triumphed. Triumph could not result until the sacrifice was made fit, and the price of sin was paid. And this will be explained in more detail throughout the chapters to come.
So in order to bring about salvation for men it was necessary for Him to be equipped and made suitable (‘made perfect’), it was necessary for Him to take on Himself the qualities required. And this was accomplished by Him being made fully man and by Him suffering as a man. As He endured the contradiction of sinners against Himself (12.3), as He was tempted in all points just as we are (4.15), as He was reviled (1 Peter 2.23) and persecuted (John 5.16; 15.20), so was He being prepared as the perfect sacrifice. And, as the final battle approached, so the sufferings multiplied. For only thus could He become the ‘author and trek leader’ of salvation, the One Who produced it, and researched it, and brought it about, and bestowed it, and would Himself lead us on to final salvation.
‘In bringing (leading) many sons to glory.’ For God’s aim in all this was to bring ‘many sons’ to share in the glory that Jesus Himself had received, to restore them to what they once were, and more. As in one man many had sinned (Romans 5.12), so from One Man would come the many who would be righteous (Romans 5.19), many sons. And as in one man sonship with God was lost (Luke 3.38; Genesis 5.3), so from One only Son would come ‘many (adopted) sons’. And they, who had once been ‘crowned with glory and honour’ and had sadly forfeited it, would once again be crowned with glory and honour, sharing in His glory (John 17.22), and being reinstated, not only as lords of creation but as lords of all creations, and being enhanced as those who are more fully ‘crowned with glory and honour’ in Him. They would become His ‘brothers’, those whom He called to share with Him, Who was Himself the heir of all things (1.2), in those all things.
There is here a slight play on words, for the writer tells us that in ‘leading’ (agagonta) many sons to glory He made their ‘Leader’ (archegon) perfect through sufferings. The ‘ One Who led’ provided the perfect Leader.
‘‘In bringing (leading)’. The aorist active participle sees the whole of salvation as one completed process.
‘Many sons.’ This is the wonder of the Gospel, not only that Jesus humbled Himself to become man, but that He, through His sacrifice, exalted men who believed, so that they might become ‘sons’ of God, so that they might receive adoption as sons (Galatians 4.4-7; Romans 8.15), a position which He had foreordained for them from the foundation of the world (Ephesians 1.4; Romans 8.29) . Thus do they become God’s grown up sons, a part of His family. And we rejoice and wonder in the fact that it was for ‘many’ (compare Isaiah 53.11, 12). His work was not in vain or receiving of miserly reward.
‘The author of their salvation.’ ‘The author’ is ton archêgon, a compound of archê and agô. It means one controlling an enterprise, one leading off, a trek-leader, a file-leader or a prince (Acts 5.31), one blazing the way, a pioneer in faith (12.2), an author or source (Acts 3.15). Any of the senses suit here, and while ‘author’ might be seen as most suitable because the idea seems to be of Him as the initiator, the play on words with God’s ‘leading’ of them points to ‘Leader’. Thus Jesus is both the author of our salvation, and our file leader in the process (so arose the translation ‘captain’) so that we may see a wider meaning as included. We need not limit it. A caravan or trek leader can fulfil all these functions both of initiating, making ready and seeing through the whole of the trek. He can be the one in overall control from start to finish.
‘Perfect through suffering.’ This is not referring to being made morally perfect, as though suffering had purged Him, for He was already that. It refers to His being made perfect and complete for the task that lay ahead, by being made truly man, by facing up to all that man had to face up to and overcoming it, by being crowned with glory and honour in His reinstatement as the lord of creation as man was originally intended to be, and by being ‘crowned with glory and honour’ with a crown of thorns and suffering as He faced up in death to all the power of sin and of the Enemy and his forces. Thus was He fitted for the task that was His.
2.11 ‘For both he who sanctifies and those who are sanctified are all of one, for which reason he is not ashamed to call them brethren.’
For the wonderful fact is that the One Who was to be their Sanctifier, setting them apart for God and making them holy, had Himself become one with those who were to be sanctified, had necessarily taken on like nature and had suffered along with them, and was therefore ready to call them brothers and sisters.
And as the Author of their salvation He is their Sanctifier (the ‘One Who is sanctifying’ - present participle - a continuing process of sanctifying more and more people to God as time goes on). He it is Who through His death ‘sets them apart’ to God, and marks them off as His, providing for their ‘cleansing’ and fitness (1.3), so that they are presented as perfect before Him, perfecting for ever those who ‘have been and therefore are sanctified’ (10.14). ‘Those who are being sanctified.’ Again a present participle recognising that He is choosing more and more, a growing number, to be sanctified as time goes on.
It should be noted here that in Hebrews ‘sanctification’ (setting apart to God and making holy and acceptable to Him) is partially parallel to ‘justification’ elsewhere. It is in one sense a once-for-all event that makes a man continually acceptable with God (10.10, 14, 29). By it the blood of Christ effectively cleanses so that all that is contrary to God is removed (see 1 John 1.7 where it then continues also as a process). Christ becomes their sanctification ‘by one offering for ever’ so that they may be presented perfect before God, and then continues to sanctify them (10.14).
But in view of the context it is possible that we should also see the use of the present tense here as signifying the continuation of that sanctifying process throughout out lives as, being our Trek leader, ‘He is leading many sons to glory’. He sanctifies once for all, and then works out the process within us and for us continually.
‘Are all of one.’ And He is able to sanctify them through His sacrifice of Himself because He has Himself been made one with them through becoming man, and what is more, representative man. Thus could He incorporate into Himself those who believed. They are in Christ, and He is in them. They are all, as it were, of one ‘piece’, of one close-knit, united family conjoined in Him. They are one in Him. And this is why He is not ashamed to call them ‘brothers and sisters’. For they are united with Him in the unity of His perfection and of His death and resurrection. (It should be noted that the word for ‘brothers’ includes sisters as well, just as the word ‘man’ can mean all ‘man and womankind’). That is why we can sing quite truthfully, ‘the love wherewith He loved His Son, such is His love for me’.
Alternately we might translate ‘are all of one origin’ in God, the Father of the Messiah. And the result of that one origin is that we have been united with Him and share His life. The final significance is the same.
2.12 ‘Saying, “I will declare your name to my brethren, In the midst of the congregation will I sing your praise.”
And this can clearly be demonstrated from Scripture, says the writer. See Psalm 22.22. For is the Psalm not said to be referring to the scion of the house of David? And does it not speak of the Messiah gathering with His brothers and sisters as co-worshippers, to whom He reveals the fullness of God (His Name) and testifies about God and His worthiness, and sings His praise, seeing those gathered as His brothers and sisters? So are they acknowledged as the brothers and sisters of the coming triumphant Davidic King, gathered in triumph.
The Psalm is very apposite as the original person in mind was probably seen as a scion of the Davidic house who underwent, or envisaged undergoing, suffering of the kind described, possibly as he defended the nation against is enemies. Some of the vivid language was probably what he envisioned the enemy would do to him on his being defeated, described in morbid anticipation. Resulting victory then resulted in rejoicing and the declaration of the certainty of God’s future worldwide rule.
Thus did Jesus see it as portraying His own battle against the Enemy as he fought to bring in the everlasting kingdom and the inflictions envisaged were remarkably prophetic and fulfilled in His death. Compare Mark 15.34 where words from the Psalm are made personal by Jesus in His hour of need. The reference to the establishing of God’s world rule gives the Psalm Messianic status, as does Midrash Pesikta Rabbata Piska 36.1-2, which also identifies the individual spoken of in this Psalm as the Messiah.
A similar idea of such a relationship, for those who have been chosen by God, to Jesus Christ, is found in Romans 8.29 where we are told that He has ‘foreordained’ us ‘to be conformed to the image of His Son that He might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters’.
2.13a ‘And again, “I will put my trust in him.” ’
This quotation (Hebrew ‘look to/for’; ‘hope for’) is from Isaiah 8.17 LXX ; 12.2; Psalm 18.2; 2 Samuel 22.3. The idea is of complete trust and expectation, the trust of God’s true people in Him. Thus is He identified with His ‘brothers’.
If we take Isaiah 8.17 as the source then it may be seen as describing the closest possible relationship, as of a son to his father, with the Messiah superseding Isaiah (who was a ‘sign’ of the future of God’s people - 8.18) as the One Who, as God’s Son, looks to God, both on His own behalf and on behalf of His ‘family’ (2.13b). In that future the greater representative of God is seen as replacing the lesser. It should be noted that the context of Isaiah’s words is in the section of his work concerning the expectation of the Messianic king, the child who is born, the son who is given (Isaiah 7.14; 9.6).
What a remarkable thing was this, that the One Who shared the glory of the Father, should so lower Himself to be a servant, that He would share with mankind the need to look, in His humanness, to God, looking to Him and not to His own divine resources.
Others, on the grounds of the division revealed by ‘and again’, see it as pointedly taken from a different source (although no doubt having the connection with 8.17 in mind), being then seen as referring to Psalm 18.2, a Psalm which refers first to David in his continual trust in God, and then to all who will spring from David, and especially to the final great Davidic king later to be known as the Messiah. The general idea is the same, trust in the fatherhood of God. But the division by ‘and again’, can be equally seen as bringing out two points from the same source.
2.13b ‘And again, “Behold, I and the children whom God has given me.” ’
This further quotation from Isaiah 8.18 relates back to the 2.13a, demonstrating that the trust there is both by the Messiah and His ‘family’. Note the link in context with ‘signs and wonders’ of the future. The ‘and again’ here separating two successive verses in Isaiah is to bring out the double points of ‘trust’ in God and ‘close family relationship’.
2.14 ‘Since then the children are sharers in (partake of in common - kekoinoneken)) blood and flesh, he also himself in the same way partook (meteschen) of the same, that through death he might bring to nought him that had the power of death, that is, the devil,’
So as these ‘children’ were/are all ‘blood and flesh’, sharing human nature in common, it was necessary that He Who would be their Messiah-Deliverer should also become, voluntarily and deliberately, blood and flesh. He fully partook by choice of what they essentially were in their original state of innocence. He had to become fully man for the purpose. ‘Blood and flesh’ (compare ‘flesh and blood’ Matthew 16.17; 1 Corinthians 15.50 (which cannot inherit the future Kingly Rule of God); Galatians 1.16) simply describes being a true human, as being made up of those constituents. Sin was not included for it was foreign to man in his perfect state. And His final purpose in this was in order that through death He might ‘bring to nought’, render powerless, the one who had the power of death, that is, the Devil.
But how did the Devil have ‘the power of death’? One explanation is that death is the wages of sin (Romans 6.23), and in true Pauline fashion here means eternal death. The power of death was thus effected by bringing men into sin. Once man sinned he became liable to death, permanent death. The Devil used this power when he tempted Eve to sin and dragged down Adam along with her (for the idea in Jewish thinking compare Wisdom of Solomon 2.24, ‘by the envy of the Devil death entered into the world’). He continues to use the power of death by blinding men’s eyes to the truth of the Gospel (2 Corinthians 4.3-4), and by constantly keeping men in trespasses and sins, and in the lusts of the flesh and of the mind (Ephesians 2.1-3). Those who are not in Christ ‘live in death’ (1 John 3.14).
But its power is brought to naught ‘through (His) death’, by means of Christ’s perfect sacrifice and provision of the means of forgiveness and sanctification before God. Once the benefit of that is received, man’s conscience for past ‘dead works’ is clear (9.14; 10.22). They have been borne by and put aside in Christ. He is delivered from eternal death which has become but ‘sleep’. Thus is the Devil rendered powerless for those who are in Christ (compare John 12.31; Colossians 2.15). He can deceive them no longer.
Another explanation is that ‘the power of death’ should be seen as a similar expression to ‘the power of darkness’ (Colossians 1.13). In Colossians 1,13 ‘the power of darkness parallels ‘the kingdom of His beloved Son’. In other words ‘power’ is almost equivalent to ‘kingdom’, but with a greater emphasis on the force applied to keep its subjects within that kingdom. They are held in darkness by his power. So here we may see it as referring to the ‘kingdom of death’ in which the Devil holds mankind. They are held prisoner in the sphere of ‘death’, kept away from light and life. They live in death (1 John 3.14). They lie in the arms of the Evil One (1 John 5.19). Thus as he is brought to naught, so are men released from his kingdom of death and darkness, through receiving the light of life.
‘Blood and flesh.’ This is the reading of the best witnesses. ‘Blood’ may well be put first because of the emphasis on His death in this passage. He came to shed blood.
2.15 ‘And might deliver all those who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage.’
And the result is that for those ‘in Christ’ death is no longer fearful. It is the way to life, and no longer the way to eternal loss. Men are perpetually held in bondage by the fear of death, but those who are in Christ are freed from that fear because of their certain hope of eternal life. For those who are His, life can be lived freely. Death’s tyranny has gone. But, for those who are not in Christ, death is something to be avoided and feared. All men at one stage or another fear death.
2.16 ‘For truly not of angels does he lay hold with help, but he lays hold with help of the seed of Abraham.’
He now stresses the ones to whom help is given, who ‘are laid hold of in order to give them help’. The idea of the ‘help’ given is strong, as revealed by the word ‘laid hold with help’. He gives saving help, leading many sons to glory. And it is not angels that He thus seeks to help, it is the seed of Abraham (compare Isaiah 41.8).
(The basic meaning of the verb is ‘to lay hold of’, but it developed into also meaning ‘to lay hold of in order to help’, and therefore came to mean ‘to help’).
‘For truly not of angels does he lay hold with help.’ ‘Not to/of angels’ is a theme of the passage. Compare verse 5. Having demonstrated that the Son was superior to the angels, he is now stressing His graciousness in stooping below the angels in order to ‘lay hold with help’ of men, and redeemed man’s new superiority over the angels. He stooped low that redeemed man might be exalted above the angels.
Note first the inference that He might theoretically have given help to the angels. Thus they are inferior to Him. We do not know whether he means the good or the evil angels. Perhaps he means both according to their need. But the former need no saving help, and for the latter Scripture offers no hope.
‘But he gives help to the seed of Abraham.’ These words are pregnant with significance. They define those to whom His saving help comes. Abraham was the one called by God to leave the world for a land that He would give him, dwelling in tents because he looked for his permanent inheritance from God (11.8-10). Out of fallen mankind he was especially chosen in order to bring ‘blessing’ to that world which he had left (Genesis 12.3), a blessing which would come through his true seed (Genesis 22.18). Thus are separated out to be given His help those who are to be blessed, those who are called out of the world and chosen by God to be the true seed of Abraham, His elect. It is those who are of faith who are the sons of Abraham (Galatians 3.7 in the context of the whole chapter; Romans 4.1-22). So the seed of Abraham indicates all who have responded to, and are faithful to, God, those who are truly like Abraham and have left the world in order to seek God’s inheritance (11.8-10).
(It should be noted that the Old Testament salvation history makes abundantly clear that no nation is simply blessed as a nation, regardless of response and behaviour. At Sinai Israel were potentially blessed, but they soon discovered that if they were faithless and disobedient their blessing turned into a curse. The same was true throughout their history, as is also true that those who desired to come within the covenant from the world outside were welcome to do so on the same terms as those already within the covenant.
Thus the seed of Abraham were at all times seen as those who responded fully to the covenant, whether true born Israelite, or adopted covenanter, the latter of whom, if we think of a true born Israelite as being directly descended from Jacob/Israel, actually outnumbered the former, consisting of the servants of Abraham and their descendants who remained faithful to the patriarchs, the mixed multitude of Exodus 12.38, others who joined with them when they were settled in the land who were not Canaanites but belonged to related groups, and many witnessed to by their names as coming from a foreign source, and so on. Paul sees this as occurring also when Gentiles who become Christians are grafted into the olive tree - Romans 11).
2.17 ‘For that reason it was an obligation to him in all things to be made like to his brethren, that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation (reconciliation through sacrifice) for the sins of the people.’
And because He would help the sons of Abraham He felt the obligation (the literal meaning of the verb) of being made like them, like ‘His brothers and sisters’, so that He might perform for them the most important of all functions, that of, as a true human being, acting on their behalf as High Priest so as to remove the barrier between them and God, the barrier which consisted of the sin that condemned them. Compare here 1.3 where He is said to have made purification for sins so satisfactorily that He was able to sit down, His priestly work accomplished.
The term ‘obligation’ speaks powerfully. His obligation was not to us but to His own nature and to God. It was a divine necessity driving Him on to the fulfilling of God’s purposes, a necessity to be true to Himself. Hebrews never speaks of the love of God, but it makes it quite clear here.
There is no more important function conceivable for the One Who would benefit mankind than that of acting as a successful mediator between man and God, and then of achieving the means by which what causes God’s aversion to man could be removed. For this function reaches to the centre of man’s very deepest need. And both these are achieved by One Who acts to remove the consequences of sin and their effect on man’s relationship with God, so as to bring men back to God and within His covenant.
Propitiation involves the bringing about of the cessation of anger by the removal of its cause, that is, by the removal of the sin which is an essential part of fallen man, but which causes God’s aversion to man in his sin, an aversion revealed towards those who are still in their iniquity. And that is the duty of a High Priest. Yet none on earth could properly fulfil that function, for they are not sufficient, both because of their own sins, and because of what they are in themselves. They were therefore defective as mediators (as we will be shown later - e.g. 7.11, 23, 27). They can function in a symbolic way but not in a genuinely effective way. Thus was it necessary to produce One Who Himself was perfect, and Who was without sin Who could function fully effectively.
‘A merciful and faithful High Priest.’ The idea of Jesus as High Priest was briefly signified in 1.3 (having made purification for sins) where it goes along with His royal authority. It now suddenly comes in and is emphasised (see 3.1). And the foundation laid here is of the fact that it is as Man that He becomes High Priest. This was necessary for His ability to function successfully. Although this will later be expanded to include the idea of His eternal High Priesthood.
The One Who would fulfil this task must be both merciful and faithful. ‘Merciful’ because He has compassion on, and feels, on behalf of His people, and sympathises deeply with their weakness and failure, and ‘faithful’ because of the necessity of His faithfully carrying out His function on their behalf. Alternately it might be describing the general qualification for a High Priest, being merciful and faithful in all his ways before God and man so that He is fit to be High Priest. Both are true. But the former may be seen as all important.
What a contrast with the High Priests of Jesus’ time. The Sadducean High Priests, Annas and Caiaphas, were political and ecclesiastical tools and puppets out of sympathy with the people. They ruled on the basis of expediency (John 11.50). But this One is merciful and faithful in things pertaining to God.
2.18 ‘For in that he himself has suffered being tempted, he is able to succour those who are tempted.’
The reason that He can adequately fulfil this role is because as a human being He knows and has experienced the powers of temptation to human flesh, and the awfulness of being tested by intense persecution and the many troubles of life. He has suffered, being tempted and tested. Every day he felt the disturbances to the spirit caused by living in a sinful world, he knew its disappointments and sorrows, its physical pains and the frustrations of life.
He grew weary and sore, hungry and thirsty, and often longed for rest and comfort. He was argued with, lied to, falsely reproved, disliked and deceived by others. He knew to excess the temptations of the Devil, and constantly faced the opposition of men (compare 12.3), including sometimes even that of his own disciples. He was tested to the full. Thus He is able to bring to men succour and help when they too are tested in the fires of persecution, or facing the desires of flesh and mind or the problems of a sinful world.
‘He is able to succour.’ Let this be our confidence, that He is able to provide all the help, sustenance and enablement that we will ever need as we seek to serve Him.
So we may summarise the activity of the Son in exalting men above the angels as follows;
Chapter 3 Jesus Is Greater Than Moses, Let Them Therefore Beware of Failing to Follow Jesus, As Israel Failed To Follow Moses.
Having shown that Jesus is both the very likeness of God and His glorious Messiah, and therefore far superior to the angels. And that the reason that He humbled Himself and became man, and was established as ‘the second man’ (crowned with glory and honour), was in order to die to save men and women and raise them to new heights in ‘the world to come’, that new world which had now come in Him, and which would continue for ever. And that He is our Sanctifier, our Trek Leader and our great High Priest. He calls on his readers to consider Him for what He is, the One Sent Forth (Apostle) and High Priest to Whom we point and Whom we confess.
He especially contrasts Him with Moses and Joshua, the architects of Israel’s great deliverance, the very foundation stones of the Jewish faith. It is almost impossible to overstate the importance that was placed on Moses by the Jews. The angels were seen as hugely important, but they were in Heaven and we are on the earth. Here, however, was one on earth who above all had proved himself the very friend of God, and had delivered Israel from bondage in Egypt, and had brought to Israel the great covenant of Sinai, commencing a theocracy which had established them as a people with Yahweh as King. And they placed their faith totally without reserve in the Instruction (Torah) that Yahweh had given them through Moses, remembering that it had come through him by the mediation of angels. He above all had been the true servant of Yahweh, the God-appointed man for the reception of God’s unique word, followed immediately by Joshua (the only two who were ever specifically titled ‘the servant of Yahweh’).
Thus those who would follow the Messiah Jesus needed to see Him in relation to those two great figures, those two giants of their faith.
A Comparison Between Jesus and Moses, The One The Son Over The House, The Other The Servant In The House (3.1-6)
3.1 ‘For this reason, holy brethren, partakers of a heavenly calling, consider the Apostle and High Priest of our confession, even Jesus.’
Because of all he has said about the superiority of Jesus the writer now calls on his ‘holy brothers and sisters’ to consider Him. ‘Holy’ reminds us of His act of sanctifying (making holy) them and making them brothers and sisters (2.11). If they are His He has made them ‘holy’, set apart for God by the power of His working. Compare Ephesians 2.19, ‘fellow-citizens with the holy ones (His people)’. ‘Brethren’ reminds us of the fact that they are one together with Him as ‘brothers’. The writer thus confidently hopes that he is speaking to those who are true believers.
‘Partakers of a heavenly calling.’ Their being sanctified by Jesus has made them partakers of a heavenly calling. This is in contrast with Moses’ call to an earthly Utopia, a ‘land of milk and honey’. They have been effectually called by Him and set apart to a heavenly life, both through enjoying ‘eternal life’, the life of ‘the world to come’, already in this life (John 5.24; 1 John 5.13), and by living by faith now in the heavenlies, in the spiritual realm, in Christ (Ephesians 1.3; 2.4-7), as citizens of Heaven (Philippians 3.20), setting their minds on things above and not on things that are on earth (Colossians 3.2), until they are ‘led to glory’ (2.10) and finally reach Heaven itself (12.22). For that is where they are now destined for, the city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God (11.10), the heavenly Jerusalem (12.22).
‘Consider the Apostle and High Priest of our confession, even Jesus.’ Having this wonderful privilege they are to fix their thoughts on Jesus as the Apostle and High Priest of the faith they confess. We note here that Jesus combines the two positions of authority and priesthood, something that Moses could not cope with.
He has already in the first two chapters given us a vivid word picture of the glory and status of Jesus in all that He is as the Son and in all that He has done for us, and now he says ‘consider Him, gaze on Him (‘behold’ - 2.9), weigh Him up, take Him into your hearts, meditate on Him, and never cease having Him in your thoughts’.
‘The Apostle.’ Using this word of Jesus may suggest that most of the Apostles were now dead so that he sees Jesus as the Apostle supreme, the heavenly Apostle, Who is, in His heavenly presence, as it were, taking their place. But not because He is their successor but because He is their predecessor, and superior. It is as though he were saying that there would be no new Apostles to look to, for those who knew Jesus in the flesh were dying out, but that they still have Jesus, Who is always there, Who is greater than them all, alive from the dead and living in their hearts. Let them therefore now look directly to Him. For He was the original Sent One Who chose the Apostles and sent them out, and while they have ceased, He ever remains.
The word has deep significance. It is literally ‘One sent forth’, and could be used of an ambassador or an authoritative messenger, and is a reminder that Jesus was sent forth from the Father as the ‘Sent One’ (Matthew 21.37; Luke 4.18, 43; 10.16; John 3.17, 34; 4.34; 5.23, 24, 30; 5.36-38 and in every chapter to chapter 17; 20.21). The word thus links Jesus closely with the Father in a unique relationship and firmly establishes Him as God’s chosen. He is God’s direct ‘Sent One’, with no intervention of angels. He has come directly from God.
‘And High Priest.’ As God’s sent One He has become the High Priest of His people, as the writer has already stated in 2.17, and will expand on later on (7-10). For that was why He was sent, to make the way of forgiveness and reconciliation available to those whom God has chosen. Thus does He combine within Himself that which had been too great a burden even for Moses. He is greater than both Moses and Aaron.
‘Apostle and High Priest.’ He was sent from God to His people from Heaven (John 3.13, 16-17, 31, 34; 5.36-38; 6.29 etc.) as the Sent One (Apostle) that He might act on God’s behalf towards His people, and He was appointed High Priest that He might act on behalf of His people towards God. Thus was His ministry two-way. It was a complete ministry. He was the complete Deliverer.
But why should the High Priesthood be mentioned here when the writer is about to compare Jesus with Moses? It is certainly partly in order to confirm that He is the complete Deliverer but it surely also has in mind that before Sinai Moses was both Trek Leader and ‘High Priest’ of Israel. And the aim is therefore surely to undergird the verses which follow with the reminder of Jesus’ High Priestly work. It is because of His High Priestly work that they can be His house and enter into rest.
‘Of our confession.’ He is the One Whom they confess before the world as their God-given Saviour and Lord, and in Whose name they live out their lives in the world revealing His glory, the One Whom they proclaim as the revelation of God in all His fullness, and the One Whom they declare to be the Master of their destinies.
‘Even Jesus.’ There must be no doubt of Whom he is speaking, it is of Jesus, about Whom he has spoken in all that has gone before, the One crowned with glory and honour throughout His ministry on earth (2.9), and now crowned with glory and honour in Heaven.
This was in contrast with Moses. Moses also was ‘sent’ (Exodus 3.12-15; 4.28). But he came from the wilderness not from Heaven, and he was too weak to bear the burden alone so that Aaron became the High Priest.
3.2 ‘Who was faithful to him who appointed him, as also was Moses in all his house.’
But he does not want to them think of this as a battle between Jesus and Moses. Indeed there can be no such battle. Both were appointed by God, and both were faithful to God. Both must be honoured for fulfilling God’s will. Any contrast therefore is between them as seen in this light. He intends to bring no dishonour on Moses, or to depreciate him in any way, even though he must now demonstrate the superiority of Jesus even to Moses.
For the truth is that Moses was faithful ‘in all his house’ (compare Numbers 12.7). By ‘his house’ is meant the people to whom he belonged and over whom he was appointed. Among all of them he was the one who was so faithful that God spoke to him mouth to mouth. He was from his beginning one with them, and yet it was from among them that he was called out to serve them by being in authority over them. And it was for this that his people honoured him.
He was, as one of that people, chosen out from among his people, almost from birth, in order to be God’s representative to, and on behalf of, his people. In his own way he was a ‘sent one’ (apostello - compare Exodus 3.12 LXX (exapostello); 3.13, 14, 15; 5.22 (apostello); and 7.16 (exapostello)), sent by God for the fulfilling of his purpose in the deliverance of Israel from Egypt, but while acting as priest on behalf of the people prior to the appointment of Aaron, he was never officially appointed High Priest under the Law. He was the lesser of which Jesus was the Greater.
For, as the writer has already demonstrated, Jesus was greater. He was not chosen from among His people, working on behalf of a people who were already in existence. He was rather chosen by God long before any people existed, before all ages, and sent forth from Heaven itself to act on behalf of those whom He then made His people, building His own house, drawing together His people to Himself so that they were ‘in Christ’. Thus was He deserving of the greater honour.
3.3 ‘For he has been counted worthy of more glory than Moses, by so much as he that built the house has more honour than the house.’
Thus was He counted as worthy of more glory than Moses. Because it was He Who ‘built’ the house of which Moses was a part. It was He who created the world and brought it into being (1.2). It was He Who upheld it by His powerful word (1.3). It was He Who established Abraham and had brought him into being and had taken hold of him and his seed (2.16). It was He Who had established Abraham’s grandson Jacob/Israel and had thus brought Israel into being. Thus Moses himself was a part of that people established by Jesus. Jesus had built the house, and had therefore more honour than the house and all those who were of the house, even their greatest leader. And in the end He built His own house, made up of all true believers, built on the foundation of the Apostles and prophets, being Himself the chief cornerstone (Ephesians 2.20).
Note the use of the two nouns ‘glory’ and honour’, the same as were previously applied to Jesus in 2.9. Here is an example of His glory and honour which were His from the beginning, and which He received as ‘the second man’, glory as a Man greater than Moses, and honour as the builder of the house, as Man. The commencement of the building occurred from the beginning, but a new commencement began while He was Man on earth (Matthew 16.18).
3.4 ‘For every house is built by some one; but he who built all things is God (or ‘divine’ - theos without the article).’
These words may indicate the writer’s extreme awareness that he is writing to men who were prickly about anything that might in any way diminish God. He recognises how quickly their hackles might rise because God has not been brought into the situation, and thus he adds these words. Although it was Jesus Who built the house, he assures them that he acknowledges that it is through God, for ‘He Who built all things is God.’ He wants them to see that he sets God as over all, that he does not separate Jesus in His working from God, and he then leaves them to think through how this connects with Jesus being the builder of the house, and the One described in 1.1-3, drawing it out by a reference to His Sonship in the following verses. This necessary tact helps to confirm that he is writing to people with a Jewish background who are sensitive to anything that might somehow diminish Yahweh.
3.5-6a ‘And Moses indeed was faithful in all his house as a servant, for a testimony of those things which were afterward to be spoken, but Christ (Messiah) as a son, over his house.’
So, he declares, Moses was indeed great. As the servant of Yahweh (one who ‘renders willing service’ - therapon) he was faithful in his responsibilities to the nation from which he sprang, and from which he was called by God in order to be over them. And it was as so faithful that he gave forth a testimony of the things which were to be afterwards spoken, that is, of God’s Instruction and God’s covenant, and was a mediator in establishing that covenant, and could testify to all that was connected with it, and as to what was its true meaning. Truly Moses was great. He was the great Lawgiver, the great revealer of God’s ways, the great spokesman. He was the great Trek leader who called God’s people and both initiated and then led the great Trek towards deliverance. But another (Joshua, but even he failed - 4.8) completed the Trek for he proved insufficient. And his insufficiency was demonstrated in that he pointed ahead to another yet to come, another like himself (Deuteronomy 18.18-19), and to a vision of a greater future (Genesis 49.10-12; Numbers 24.17). He did not see himself as the be all and end all. Everything did not point to him
For even greater than Moses was the Messiah. He, as the writer has already revealed, was not a servant in the house but a Son over His house. He came not from the wilderness but from Heaven. He is the One, as he has already demonstrated, Who works all things on behalf of the house, He is their Source and Trek Leader from the beginning who will complete the Trek by bringing many sons to glory, He is their Sanctifier, their High Priest, and their Saviour, and in a unique sense their Elder Brother, and all as One Who as Son came from God. He is not of the house, but One Who is established over the house, that He might save them and thereby make them His house by uniting Himself with them.
3.6b ‘Whose house are we, if we hold fast our boldness and the glorying of our hope firm to the end.’
And we who are his are His house, one with Him and in receipt of all His saving benefits, as long as we are truly responsive to Him, as long as ‘we hold fast our boldness and the glorying of our hope firm to the end.’ His house includes the house of which Moses was a part, and over which Moses had authority, for He built it, but His house has expanded far beyond that of Moses.
We should note that it is not a question of comparison between Moses’ house and Messiah’s house. Moses was a part of the house, which could be called ‘his’ because of that fact, because he belonged to it. But Messiah was over the house, and it was totally His, and is called ‘His’ because it belonged to Him. The house is true Israel, the Israel of God, for the early church also saw themselves as the true Israel and the unbelieving Jews as having broken off from the true Israel (Romans 11.13-32; Galatians 6.16; Ephesians 2.11-22).
We should note also that here in a second major exhortation he stresses the human side of salvation, ‘if we hold fast our boldness and the glorying of our hope firm to the end.’ For the test of whether we are truly His is that we remain, not necessarily perfect, but faithful. Let them therefore so consider Him that they do remain faithful. That they continue to boldly proclaim Him in the face of persecution, that they continue to glory in the certain hope which they have in Christ and His sacrifice for us (6.18-20) and in the eternal future which is theirs, and retain that hope to the end. Let there be no going back.
We must remember as we consider this that he has already emphasised the divine side in chapter 2. He has already spoken of the Sanctifier, the Trek Leader, the High Priest, and he knows that they cannot fail. But he is also aware of how men can deceive themselves, and imagine they are what they are not. A devout Christian was once asked, “Do you believe in the perseverance of the saints?”, and he quietly replied, “No, I believe in the perseverance of the Saviour”. It was that too in which the writer believed. While he wants to stir them against thinking of ‘going back’, he has no doubt in his heart that if they are truly Christ’s He will fulfil His work within them, working within them to will and do of His good pleasure (Philippians 2.13). He will make them holy before God. He will Trek-lead them to glory. He will assure their acceptability to God through His own sacrifice. But he nevertheless understands the need for a firm warning. He does not forget Jesus’ teaching which clearly linked being true believers with lives that revealed the fact in obedience to God’s word and satisfactory behaviour (compare Matthew 7.21-27).
We should, however, carefully note that important early witnesses (for example P13, P45; B) omit ‘firm to the end’, although the phrase is still implied by the sense, which may be why it was added from verse 14.
‘If we hold fast our boldness and the glorying of our hope firm to the end.’ Here is the test of whether someone is truly His. They are known by their fruits. They remain bold, they continue glorying in their hope. There may be hiccups, there may be times of failure, but in the end they remain firm because God is at work within them. This now leads on to an example of those who did neither, and the warning that Christians should not be like them but should enter into God’s rest.
A Warning Against Turning Back On The Basis of an Example From Israel’s Failure In The Wilderness (3.7-4.13).
Having compared Jesus Christ with Moses and Aaron (Sent One and High Priest), and especially with the great Moses, the writer now takes the example of the behaviour of Israel under Moses and Aaron, against God (Psalm 95.9) and against Moses (Exodus 17.1-7), and warns against similar behaviour by professing Christians against Jesus Christ. The faith which perseveres is the condition of God’s blessing while unbelief can only result in losing the promises (3.7-19). For God now has a Rest for His people, and we must not fail to enter into it (4.1-13).
That this is intimately connected with the saving work of Christ as God’s Sent One (Apostle; including Sanctifier and Trek Leader) and especially as High Priest, which is all intimately connected with His suffering (2.9-11, 17), comes out in that the idea of High Priesthood both introduces it (2.17-3.1) and finalises it (4.14 onwards), leading on to more detail about His High Priestly work. What is said must therefore be seen in the light of His saving and High Priestly work.
This Psalm quoted here, Psalm 95, was central to synagogue worship, and thus engraved deeply into the memory of every Jew, and may well also have featured importantly in Christian gatherings. Certainly it would be well known to his readers.
The Illustration (3.7-11).
3.7-9 ‘Wherefore, even as the Holy Spirit says, “Today if you will hear his voice, do not harden your hearts, as in the provocation, at (or ‘like as on’) the day of the trial in the wilderness, where your fathers tried me by proving me, and saw my work forty years.” ’
‘Wherefore,’ because they are the house over which Christ is the Son, and because of what He has been revealed to be, let them remember the words of the Holy Spirit, by responding to Him in faith.
‘Even as the Holy Spirit says.’ Notice how he calls the words of Scripture, ‘what the Holy Spirit says’. (Compare 2.4; 9.8; 10.15; Matthew 22.43; Mark 12.36; Acts 1.16 see also 1 Corinthians 2.13). The words are taken from Psalm 95.7b-9. The present tense ‘says’ stresses that the Holy Spirit continually speaks through the Scriptures.
‘Today’ is intended to be emphasised, see verse 13. He wants them to apply it to their own day and recognise its immediate urgency, as we can apply it to ours. If the people suffered judgment because they failed to listen to Moses, how much more if they fail to listen to their Messiah and High Priest. And this is true ‘Today’ and on every ‘Today’.
The Holy Spirit through Scripture then warns against them hardening their heart. We need to hear when His voice speaks, or there may come a time when it is silenced because out hearts are hardened against it by sin. Let them remember ‘the provocation’, ‘ the day of trial’, that time when, after the great deliverance from Egypt, and after He had wonderfully provided sweet water from bitter, and manna and quails, Israel were in the wilderness and were tried by being thirsty for water and murmured against Yahweh, provoking God that little bit too far. It was not just that they grumbled, they harshly criticised God.
The verse is quoted virtually from LXX. In the Hebrew ‘in the provocation’ is ‘as at Meribah (strife)’, the time when Israel provoked and tested Yahweh, saying, “Is Yahweh among us or not?” (Exodus 17.7 compare Numbers 20.13). While ‘at the day of the trial in the wilderness’ is, in the Hebrew, ‘as in the days of Massah (trial) in the wilderness’ again referring to Exodus 17.7. The LXX translates the meaning of the place names rather than citing them (or it may be that the Greek words were intended as place names).
But the warning in both cases is against provoking God in the face of testing, by murmuring and not trusting Him in such times of trial, and turning at such times against the leaders of God’s people. In spite of all that God had already done, they turned against Him and His servants Moses and Aaron. It was the precursor of, and symbolic of, all the future murmuring that would yet be to come, which would lead on to their final failure to obey God about entering the land, which brought God’s curse on them so that they could not enter the land. And it was a warning that the recipients of Hebrews also beware of behaving in the same way.
‘And saw my work forty years.’ The ‘forty years’ is transposed from the following verse as compared with the original Hebrew, emphasising that for forty years they saw the work of God in the wilderness. And what was that work? It was the resulting hardship under which He put them because of their disobedience. They were displeasing to God for ‘forty years’ (verse 17), and suffered hardship accordingly. Instead of a quick transition into the land promised to them, the land of Canaan, which they could have entered after two short years, they suffered in the wilderness for these ‘forty’ long years until the murmurers had died out. (If we take the whole passage together this is necessarily the significance). It should be noted that little is spoken of those final thirty eight years in Numbers apart from rebellion, deaths and catastrophes, and a repetition of the sin of Meribah at a new Meribah (Number 15.1-20.13).
But assuming that Hebrews was written in the early seventies AD some see the forty years as intended to parallel the period from when Christianity commenced, either at the crucifixion and resurrection or at Pentecost, to the time of writing, and thus interpret ‘saw my work forty years’ as meaning His general activity on behalf of His people. If this be so then the writer is calling on his readers to look back over the forty years of Christian history and take note of its lessons. Both great persecution and great blessing had been experienced, and they must learn from it. But if this was so it would mean that the application did not quite tie in with the illustration. For the forty years since Pentecost had not been specific times of God’s displeasure, whereas the forty years in the wilderness were (verse 17). On the other hand, it must be agreed that illustrations must never be overpressed.
It should be noted that the murmuring at ‘Meribah’ occurred at both ends of the period in Exodus/Numbers (Exodus 17.7; Numbers 20.13), the same name being given to two separate places where similar events took place (compare Deuteronomy 33.8), but the emphasis in the Psalm is on the first one.
Interestingly the Jews also connected the period of forty years in the wilderness with the times of the Messiah based on this verse. Rabbi Eliezer says, “The days of the Messiah are forty years, as it is said, Forty years long was I grieved with that generation”.
3.10 “Wherefore I was severely displeased with this generation, And said, They do always err in their heart, but they did not know my ways.”
As a result of their murmuring and their provocation of God, God’s severe displeasure came on that whole generation, because, as He said, ‘they erred in their hearts and did not know His ways’. First their hearts were wrong, and then it resulted in wrong behaviour. The inference is that his readers must beware lest the same thing be true of them. Note those two downward steps. First their hearts went astray, and that was followed by a failure to acknowledge His ways. Unbelief results from a straying heart not a doubting mind, the doubting mind follows to make it respectable. By ‘the heart’ is meant spiritual and moral responsiveness from within, from what a man essentially is, and includes both mind and emotion. As a man thinks in his heart, so is he.
3.11 “As I swore in my wrath, They shall not enter into my rest.”
And the result was that God turned against them because of their permanently set attitude of heart, with the result that He swore in His reaction to their behaviour (humanly speaking described as ‘in His anger’), ‘They shall not enter into my rest’. In the case of Israel that rest was Canaan (Deuteronomy 12.9), the place where they were to enjoy peace, and rest, and security. In other words they lost their future hope of life in a sphere of blessing and protection by disobedience. Beware, the writer is saying, lest you do the same.
It should be noted that this is not talking about the final destiny of the people of Israel as determined before God. Some who died in the wilderness no doubt died in the mercy of God. But the point is that almost none reached Canaan.
The General Application (3.12-15).
So his readers are to look to their hearts to ensure that in contrast their faith is strong so that they do enter into their rest.
3.12 ‘Take heed, brethren, lest haply there shall be in any one of you an evil heart of unbelief, in falling away from the living God.’
The first thing that they are to do is to ‘take heed’. They are to examine their hearts to see whether they have within them ‘an evil heart of unbelief in falling away from the living God.’ Compare 2 Corinthians 13.5. Unbelief is the evidence of an evil heart for it testifies to a heart in rebellion against, and contrary to, the living God. It is to take up a position exactly the opposite of that of Jesus and Moses who were faithful (verse 2). And the inference is that to fall away from Jesus Christ is so to rebel against the living God. Thus men and women should constantly, (without overdoing it), test themselves to see whether their hearts are remaining true to Jesus Christ, or whether some interest, or pleasure, or temptation, or emphasis, is causing a barrier between Him and them.
(On the one hand we are to test ourselves regularly whether we are maintaining our obedience to what God requires of us, but on other we must remember that overmuch self-examination is not good. In the end we should be looking constantly and positively to Christ and not at ourselves. But there are times when such self-examination is very necessary).
The phrase ‘evil heart’ is found in Jeremiah 16.12; 18.12 and describes a stubbornness of heart and mind which is set against obedience to God. It is a set of mind which deliberately turns away from God for its own intrinsically selfish reasons.
The phrase ‘living God’ is popular with the writer (9.14; 10.31; 12.22) and emphasises the character of God. Among other things it draws attention to His awareness of, and living presence among, men, and His active interest and concern. It reveals Him as One Who is there to act, and is indeed acting on behalf of His own, but also, in warning, as One ready if necessary also to bring judgment on men. It shows Him as One intimately concerned with world affairs, in contrast with dead idols. To fall away from Him is not to reject an absent landlord, but to spurn a present Friend and Guide.
3.13 ‘But encourage (‘exhort’) one another day by day, so long as it is called ‘Today’, lest any one of you be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin,’
So important is this that they are to exhort and encourage (parakaleo - comfort, exhort, encourage) each other ‘from day to day as long as time exists’, lest any among them be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. It is a reminder that while time exists we must ever be on our guard. There can never be a let up in the battle against sin. And we therefore need to ‘encourage and strengthen’ one another (compare 10.25).
Note the phrase ‘the deceitfulness of sin’. Compare ‘the deceitfulness of riches’ (Mark 4.19); ‘deceitful desires’ (Ephesians 4.22), things that we crave after which lead us into sin. Sin is seen as something which is out to trap us, like a hunter taking us in his snare, by its enticement and allurements (compare Romans 7.11). It is a reminder that often our sin is not open and deliberate but something that we are lured into because we allow ourselves to be persuaded that it will be good for us or benefit us, being influenced by our strong desire for it. We are led astray. Elsewhere we learn that both our own desires (James 1.14), and men (Ephesians 5.6; 2 Timothy 3.13), and the Devil (Revelation 12.9; 20.7) deceive us into sin. For sin is the Devil’s ‘power of death’ (2.14)
For we should be aware that, looking at it from the point of view of the long run, sin is never good for us, nor does it benefit us. That is why it is ‘sin’. God does not forbid pleasure, He forbids what will harm us. It may seem to offer present benefit, but we will pay in the end. And once we sin we become more hardened, and if we allow it to go on we become more hardened still. For this is the effect of sin. And sadly for some it may result in simply proving that their faith was not genuine at all, otherwise sin would not have been able to take them over. For those who are His have a Saviour from sin, and sin will not have dominion over them (Romans 6.14).
In the case of the recipients of the letter sin was seeking to deceive them into thinking that they could return to the old ways without it harming them. And they were allowing themselves to be deceived because of peer pressure and fear. So let them beware, for it is the path to disaster!
3.14 ‘For we are become partakers of Christ, if we hold fast the beginning of our confidence firm to the end.’
Following through the earlier quotation this would suggest that entering into rest (verse 11) is to be seen as the equivalent of ‘being partakers of Christ’.
In 2.14 Jesus partook of ‘flesh and blood’. He was made one with it, and it became very much part of what He was. This is a reversal of that position. Those who are His have become partakers of the Christ (Messiah). They have been made one with Him, and become very much what He is. They have entered into His rest. And the test of whether we have so become partakers of Christ, and are now partaking in His life and saving power, is that we will hold fast our first confidence in Him to the end (compare 1 Corinthians 1.8). That is the final proof as to whether we are partakers in Christ, sharers in Christ as the One Who is over the house, Whose house we are (3.6). As Jesus said in John 10.27-28, the sheep reveal that they are His by following Him and by keeping on following. Thus they may sometimes wander, but they do not wander away so far that they perish, because He will not allow it, nor does anything from outside snatch them from Jesus’ protection. His protection ensures their eternal security within the flock that is following Him. And the proof that they are His sheep is that they continue in the end to follow Him because of His faithful shepherding.
‘The beginning of our confidence.’ That is, the seed from which our confidence will grow. But Jesus elsewhere warned of the seed that sprang up quickly but was not firmly planted and therefore withered and died (Mark 4.16-17). They must consider whether their confidence, their faith and trust in Christ, is genuine enough, so that it will survive to the end. Does it have depth of earth? Is it truly founded in Christ? The difference is between those who enthusiastically follow Christianity as some new and attractive thing (Acts 17.21), and those who genuinely follow Christ because they have truly come to know Him.
3.15 ‘In that it is said, “Today if you will hear his voice, Harden not your hearts, as in the provocation.”
The quotation is a repetition of verse 7. ‘In that it is said’ perhaps refers back to ‘exhort one another’ (verse 13), giving a reason for the exhortation. They are to exhort and encourage one another because the Holy Spirit has said, ‘Today if you will hear His voice, do not harden your hearts, as in the provocation.’ They are to work together to obey Him. Or it may refer back to the ‘confidence’ to which they were to hold fast.
The point is that the provocation took place in the face of God’s great and wonderful deliverance. Their past experience of God should have bolstered their faith for the present. But because hardship came, instead of encouraging each other to trust their great God in the midst of their difficulties they looked at their present hardships and hardened their hearts, and encouraged each other to murmur. In spite of the wonders they had previously seen in Egypt and at the Reed Sea, they murmured against God. They revealed an evil heart of disbelief and disobedience, not a heart of trust and faith in God, resulting in faithfulness in response. They demonstrated that instead of being caught up in love for God in view of what He had done for them, so that all else was seen in that light, they were just taken up with themselves and their own short term advantage. Let anything go wrong and His past goodness was forgotten immediately. This also was what the recipients of the letter were set on doing, and, if they went through with it, it would demonstrate where their confidence lay.
The Widespread Nature of The Punishment; The Majority Can Be Wrong (3.16-19).
3.16 ‘For who, when they heard, did provoke? No, did not all those who came out of Egypt by Moses?’
And who of those who heard these words, provoked God? Was it not all those who came out of Egypt through the activity of Moses? The situation was appalling. It was not the few who provoked God, but the many. Indeed (nearly) all of them. Let his readers not think that, because they were all agreed, it proved that what they were thinking of doing was right. For Israel had all been agreed in provoking God and murmuring against Moses, even though it was through Moses that they had been delivered, and they were all in the wrong.
‘No, did not all --’. The first question gave the impression that it might have been just some, so he firmly asserts, no, it was not only some, but all.
‘All.’ That is the large majority sufficient to be seen as almost all, a regular use of all.
3.17 ‘And with whom was he displeased forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies fell in the wilderness?’
And let them consider with whom He was displeased for forty years, a displeasure revealed by their not being able to enter Canaan, their longed for rest. It was with those who sinned whose bodies fell in the wilderness. That was their fate. And it was what happened to almost all of them. They did not enter into what they had set out from Egypt to obtain, the land of milk and honey. They dropped dead one by one in the wilderness, and were buried there, away from the land of promise. They were left behind in ‘no-man’s land’, with nowhere to call their own. They never enjoyed what God had purposed for them. And it was because they had provoked God by murmuring and disobedience and unbelief, because they had forgotten how they had been delivered. It was because they chose to sin that they lost all that faith in God would have given them.
3.18 ‘And to whom swore he that they should not enter into his rest, but to those who were disobedient?’
For God swore to those who were disobedient that they should not enter into His rest. This refers mainly to the later incident when faced with the obstacles to entering the land their faith failed and they refused to go. They forgot all that had happened in the past. They forgot Who and What God was. They thought only of their own temporary safety. And they thus excluded themselves from the land and from the ‘rest’ that He had promised them, and even determined that they would return to Egypt.
It had been a serious time indeed, and it had had serious consequences. For their behaviour resulted in God’s oath (Numbers 14.28-35) that they would never themselves enter the land, and their subsequent fate had resulted from God’s oath, an oath made because of the seriousness of their disobedience. And because of that disobedience they were barred from their hope, from the land of rest and promise. Their ‘rest’ was lost through disobedience. They were left stranded in the wilderness. See Numbers 13-14.
3.19 ‘And we see that they were not able to enter in because of unbelief.’
Note the sequence. They provoked (verse 16), they sinned (verse 17), they were disobedient (Verse 18), they were guilty of unbelief (verse 19). Their hearts became harder and harder. And thus they could not enter into God’s rest (Deuteronomy 12.9; Exodus 33.14). To enter God’s rest was to be settled in the land and delivered from surrounding enemies (Deuteronomy 3.20; 25.19; Joshua 1.15; 21.44; 22.4; 23.1).
So the lessons up to this point are on the danger of being entrapped by sin and allowing it to develop within; and the danger of assuming that the majority is always right; and the danger of disobedience and unbelief; and the danger of turning away from God’s appointed deliverer; all of which in Israel’s case had resulted in God’s judgment. All these will cause us to fail to enter into His rest, a rest obtained by becoming partakers in Christ (verse 14).
Chapter 4. We Must Therefore Seek To Enter Into God’s Rest, Avoiding The Failures of Israel, For We Have A Faithful High Priest Who Will Enable Us.
This chapter deals with God’s rest into which we can enter, and must enter, escaping from dead works (6.1; 9.14), and concludes by again reminding us of Christ’s High Priesthood through which it is made possible.
The nature of this rest is much disputed, as to whether it refers to a present rest of faith on earth, or the Christian’s future rest in Heaven. The rest referred to in chapter 3 was certainly a rest of faith on earth. It was a rest of freedom from enemies round about, a rest of confidence in Yahweh. The theory was that they would enter into the land flowing with milk and honey and have a life of contentment and security through faith in Yahweh in an everlasting kingdom of blessing.
We Must Beware Of Failing To Enter Into Rest For The Word Of God Searches All Things Out (4.1-13).
In what follows the writer now takes up chapter 3 and applies it to his readers. He make a specific contrast between ‘rest’ and ‘works’ which is constantly drawn out, with the emphasis being on ‘rest’. Christians are intended to leave ‘works’ behind and enter into ‘rest’.
In Hebrews four types of ‘works’ are described, God’s ‘works’ in creation (1.10; 2.7), and His ‘works’ in judgment in the wilderness (3.10), both of which can be discounted; ‘dead works’ which need to be repented of (6.1), and from which our consciences need to be cleansed (9.14); and ‘good works’ (10.24) which are encouraged. Thus the ‘works’ that are to be left behind are clearly the ‘dead works’ which are sinful works and unacceptable to God. They are the works that men seek to do in order to make themselves acceptable to God and which fail in their purpose (see Romans 9.32; Galatians 2.16; 3.2, 5, 10). They are the works that lead to death. They need to be repented of and cleansed.
4.1 ‘Let us fear therefore, lest haply, a promise being left of entering into his rest, any one of you should seem to have come short of it.’
Although they had received God’s conditional promise Israel did not enter into their rest because of unbelief (3.19), and we are to take note of the lesson. Professing Christians are also therefore to be afraid lest they too fail to enter into God’s promised rest, by coming short of God’s promise, by failing to benefit from it. It is sadly something that can happen even to those who seem genuine. Note that he is not talking of them all, but of the possibility of individuals coming short, and even that as doubtful. It may happen but he hopes that it will not. The promise that each can enter into God’s rest is there. He hopes that none will come short of it.
‘Seem to come short of it.’ That is, appear in God’s eyes to have come short of it.
We must bring to mind here that Jesus spoke of a twofold rest in Matthew 11.28-29. The first was a rest of soul given by Him to those who came to Him. This would arise from a consciousness within them that they need no longer be concerned about their ‘labours’ and ‘burdens’ as they followed Him. They would be able to cast them off. In mind in those labours and burdens was the yoke of the restless conscience, and the yoke of the Law as interpreted by the Pharisees (in contrast with the yoke of Christ). It demanded from them much that had to be done that was very burdensome and required much toil, and which with failure brought heavy guilt. But He had come to deliver men from such things. Through following Him they could find forgiveness and acceptability with God. They could learn to rest in Him. And they would no longer be under the yoke of the demanding and unceasing requirements of an expanded Law.
The second was the rest that they could obtain when they took His yoke on them and learned of Him to walk in trust and humility before God, at which they would find rest to their souls. The Pharisee’s yoke was very heavy. His yoke and burden were in contrast easy and light. Thus there was a once-for-all entering into rest by coming to Christ in faith and trust, followed by a continuing entering into rest by walking with God. And this became theirs by ‘partaking in Christ’ (3.14).
Note also that this is not something new. ‘Rest’ in God was an Old Testament theme. See, for example, Psalm 116.7, where it resulted from His saving activity; 132.14 where the psalmist desired to rest in God’s presence; Isaiah 28.12, where it was offered to God’s professing people, and they rejected it; Isaiah 30.15, where it spoke of an attitude of heart required of God’s people, which they again rejected; Isaiah 32.17-18, where it was to be a part of a life of confidence, quietness and peace, the result of the pouring out of the Spirit from above; and Ezekiel 38.11, where it spoke of the assured confidence and blessing of God’s people who rest securely in Him and under His protection so that no other is needed.
‘A promise being left of entering into his rest.’ Now the writer speaks of ‘His’ rest. So the question is, what is this rest as far as believers are concerned? The following information is provided.
But the early church did not as a whole think in terms of death but of the second coming. Would the writer then have laid such emphasis on the dead? This would suggest that it refers to a rest available to the living. On the other hand it could be argued that the writer had possible death through persecution very much in mind as in Revelation (but see 12.4 where it is tribulation rather than death that is seemingly in his mind).
We should note further that there is a great emphasis in the passage on ceasing from works. In 3.9 (quoting Psalm 95) God’s works were those He carried out when He punished unbelieving Israel in the wilderness. God had to work again there because man had sinned. To those who have entered into rest those are no more. For God, and potentially for those who are His, their ‘works’ ceased from the foundation of the world. God’s intention for both Himself and for His own after creation was ‘no more works’. But if his readers returned to Judaism they would be returning to works, to ‘heavy burdens grievous to be born’ (Matthew 23.4), to ‘works done to be seen of men’ (Matthew 23.5). That was why Israel failed to attain righteousness because they sought it by ‘works’ (Romans 9.32; Galatians 2.16; 3.2, 5, 10), which the writer in Hebrews calls ‘dead works’ (6.1; 9.14). In contrast for God’s people there is rest, and was intended to be from the beginning. They were not to be bound up in meritorious works.
Summing up these seven points might suggest that the rest is that of the one who truly puts his trust in Christ and His saving work, becoming one with Him and partaking of Him and His sacrifice on his behalf; who ceases from all attempts at his own ‘saving’ but ‘dead’ works because all is completed; who is believing and obedient and rests in God’s faithfulness; who responds to the Good News that that rest is available; and who ceases from his own works because nothing remains to be done, all having been done by His great High Priest.
This would point to it signifying the situation of the truly believing person, whose full faith is in what Jesus Christ has accomplished, so that he recognises that there is nothing left for him himself to do but partake in Christ, because Jesus Christ has done all. He trusts fully in Christ’s sacrifice for him and knows that he cannot and need not add anything to it. He rests in Christ.
The point is not that they cease doing anything, but that they are able to rest from the particular labour in view, that of striving to build up righteousness in order to be saved (they cease from dead works which produce death - 6.1; 9.14), entering rather, as those who are saved by Him, into joyful service which is no labour. Here ‘works’ would seem to indicate the ‘labour’ that a man puts in, in order to attempt to secure his own salvation, his ‘dead works’.
So a person who enjoys this rest of faith rests in the security of Jesus Christ and His sacrifice on the cross, and as a partaker of Christ, will have peace, and joy, and rest, and confidence, and certainty (e.g. Psalm 16.9; 37.7; 116.7; 132.14; Isaiah 28.12; 30.15; 32.17-18; Ezekiel 38.11; 2 Thessalonians 1.7). He knows that Jesus Christ his great High Priest has done and will do all that is required for his salvation (verses 14-16 in the light of what follows in the letter). And all such have boldness and access with confidence into the presence of God through faith in Him (Ephesians 3.12).
It is the rest described in Matthew 11.28-29, a rest of heart, soul and spirit, which results in finding deeper rest as they take Christ’s yoke on them, and will of course result in their final rest with Him beyond the grave (John 14.1-3; Revelation 14.13).
If his readers had this certainty and this confidence there would be no thought in their hearts of turning back. Thus they must ask themselves wherein their confidence lies, and whether they enjoy this certainty. Are they resting in Christ, and what He has done for them, or restless because they are still in the wilderness of sin?
Others refer it to the afterlife and see this rest as something to be enjoyed on death (compare Revelation 14.13, but note that the verb is slightly different). However, while we emphasise death as the Christian’s end it was not so in the early church. To them the rapture was the expected end for the Christian and death an unfortunate and temporary requirement for some (compare 1 Thessalonians 4.13-18), and there is much in the atmosphere of the passage (admittedly a subjective judgment, but nevertheless to be considered) to suggest that an immediate entry into rest is in mind in this Hebrews passage.
4.2 ‘For indeed we have had good tidings preached to us, even as also they. But the word of hearing did not profit them, because it did not meet with faith in the hearers (or, per a variant reading, ‘was not united by faith with those who heard’).’
The ancient Israelites, just like we do, received Good News of a rest that could be theirs (e.g. Exodus 6.6-8 and often). But the good news did not produce faith and trust in their hearts, and thus it did not profit them. Rather they provoked God and finally perished. We also have had Good news proclaimed to us by a greater than Moses. Have we then entered into that rest of which He spoke and become partakers of Him, or has it not met with faith in us as well?
Essentially the ‘good news’ was the same, God’s offer of grace and mercy available in response to faith. Those who trusted Him would find life transformed for them in the sphere of future blessing.
4.3-5 ‘For we who have believed do enter into that rest. Even as he has said, “As I swore in my wrath, They shall not enter into my rest.” Although the works were finished from the foundation of the world, for he has said somewhere of the seventh day in this way, “And God rested on the seventh day from all his works. And in this place again, “They shall not enter into my rest.” ’
The argument here is somewhat complicated in presentation.
‘For we who have believed do enter into that rest.’ For we who have truly believed and recognise that all that needed to be done has been done in Christ, ‘do enter’ into rest continually by being partakers in Christ, a rest which is like the rest of God on the seventh day of Creation, a rest of contentment and satisfaction and joy, and which we know will lead on to our final rest. Legally nothing further is required of us. The present tense supports the idea of a present rest although some see it as a futuristic present signifying ‘will certainly enter into it’.
‘Even as He has said, “As I swore in my wrath, They shall not enter into my rest.”’ Here there is a contrast between ‘we’ and ‘they’. The entering into rest of ‘we Christians’ is in direct contrast to ‘they’, those who are in sin, disobedience and unbelief who do not enter into it. The fact that they do not enter it confirms that there is a rest to be entered into. But they cannot enter it because they are still under His wrath. They are still in unbelief. They have refused the means of propitiation and reconciliation. It is therefore left for ‘us’ to enter.
‘Although the works were finished from the foundation of the world, for he has said somewhere of the seventh day in this way, “And God rested on the seventh day from all his works.” ’
And this refusal is sad because in fact that rest has been available to God’s people from the very beginning, from when the world was first made. God did not intend that mans should have to engage in ‘works’. Such were all performed by God in preparation for man and completed so that they ceased on the seventh day. He did not want His own to labour, His desire for them was continual rest. (So that the ‘works’ He had to carry out against Israel in the forty year period (3.9) meant that the ‘rest’ of creation had been disturbed by sin). God’s works were finished and His rest was available. Life was not intended to be a life of ‘works’ because God’s works were finished. It was intended to be a life of ‘rest’. And the rest that the believer enters into is like the rest on the seventh day of Creation, a rest where all works are completed and only God’s provision remains to be enjoyed (as we shall see later, all works are completed for us through our Great High Priest Who will cleanse us from ‘dead works’ - 9.14) and nothing further remains to be done.
And this rest was intended to be enjoyed by Adam and his seed after him, had they not sinned. For them the Garden was to be a place of rest (timewise Genesis 2 is seen as taking place before the seventh day as the preparation of the Garden must have preceded the creation of man). They were to engage in activity but it was never to be seen as ‘labour’. Their subsequent requirement to ‘work’ resulted from sin. The ‘rest’ is thus that of Paradise, and a restored Paradise, beginning with our new creation (2 Corinthians 5.17) and resulting finally in the new Heaven and the new earth (Revelation 21.1-22.5; Isaiah 11.6-9). (Note how all ‘creatures’ are to subject to strict examination in verse 13, both old and new). And it was later to be seen as enjoyed by those who became reconciled to Him through the genuine offering of sacrifices and of a believing heart, as the Psalmists and Prophets declare (e.g. Psalm 16.9; 37.7; 116.7; 132.14; Isaiah 28.12; 30.15; 32.17-18; Ezekiel 38.11).
‘And in this place again, “They shall not enter into my rest.” ’ But those who are under His wrath because of their disobedience and disbelief, still fail to benefit from that rest, as the Scripture in mind has further said.
Thus from the beginning there are two types of people. Those who have believed and enter into rest, and share God’s rest, ceasing from their own law-works and efforts, and trusting in His merciful provision. They partake of Christ, and by taking His yoke on them find rest along the way (Matthew 11.28-29), and become a new creation (2 Corinthians 5.17). See verse 13 where human ‘creatures’ old and new are in mind. And those who have not entered into rest because of their unbelief, who are pictured in terms of the failure to enter Canaan. Of them (those who refuse to believe) God has sworn that they will not enter into His rest, life will be a constant struggle, and indeed if they will not respond in faith they cannot, nor will. But now, as the writer will soon demonstrate, that rest is available, but only through the great High Priest. Those to whom men once looked for it will no longer be able to give it, for what they offer are but shadows now replaced.
4.6-8 ‘Seeing therefore it remains that some should enter into it, and they to whom the good tidings were before preached failed to enter in because of disobedience, he again defines a certain day, “Today”, saying in David so long a time afterward (even as has been said before), “Today if you will hear his voice, Harden not your hearts.” For if Joshua had given them rest, he would not have spoken afterward of another day.’
The original offer to enter into His rest, as described in the Psalm, referred to the good news of Canaan. But because of disobedience they failed to enter into it, even though the offer was made clear to them. And the reason that they failed was because they did not believe.
But this Psalm in the book of David (‘David’ - The book of Psalms was often called ‘David’ because so many psalms in it were attributed ‘to David’) demonstrates that there was still an offer being made of entering into rest in the psalmist’s day, (compare Psalm 16.9; 37.7; 116.7; 132.14), and also demonstrates the same for the writer’s day (and for our day), for the Psalms were a continual offering of God’s mercies. They did not just refer to the past, but to the past as it affects the present. Thus the fact that the Psalms can still say ‘today’ in a way that is relevant to those who use it for worship, demonstrates that the rest is still one that was available ‘today’, in whatever day the Psalm was written, and indeed in any day in which it is used.
‘For if Joshua had given them rest, he would not have spoken afterward of another day.’ His argument is that had Joshua given rest to the people of Israel the Psalm would have had no relevance for today, indeed would never have been written, it would not have given the impression of a possibility of entering into rest. But the Psalmist speaking by the Holy Spirit (3.7) clearly considered it relevant to the ‘today’ in which he wrote it, and all ‘todays’ thereafter. Thus it is clear that God still offers a rest to His people.
(The Greek here says ‘Jesus’, but that is simply because ‘Jesus’ is the Greek for the Hebrew ‘Joshua’. In Hebrew ‘Jesus Christ’ is ‘Joshua Messiah’).
It is not without significance that what the first Joshua was unable to give, the second Joshua now gives. He is a greater than Joshua. The first Joshua strove to give the people rest, but failed. But where he failed the second Joshua has been successful. For He offers His people rest (Matthew 11.28-29).
4.9 ‘There remains therefore a sabbath-rest for the people of God.’
That being so there therefore remains for God’s people a ‘sabbath-rest’ (sabbatismos). This is a late word from sabbatiz“ (Exodus 16.30) and means here a ‘keeping of the rest as described in Genesis 2 and later symbolised in the Sabbath’. It may have been coined by the author. Here it is paralleled with katapausis (‘rest’ - compare verses 1, 3, 4 etc. and Acts 7.49). In Revelation 14.13 a similar verb (anapauo) refers to the Christian’s ‘rest’ after death, as they leave the tribulation of the world, which is the final fulfilment of the present rest, the same verb in fact as is used in Matthew 11.28-29 where it refers to present rest.
But what is this sabbath-rest (shabath means ‘to stop working’). It is another way of speaking of God’s rest on the seventh day when He ceased activity in creation, a rest also intended originally to be enjoyed by man, illustrated from the Sabbath which was based on it, which in itself was a foretaste of that rest and a guarantee that one day it would be man’s again (Exodus 20.11). It is the rest of One for whom all that He wanted to do has been satisfactorily completed so that only a glorious future remains of watching over what He has made. No further works would be needed to put it right. It is the rest into which Adam entered when the world was ‘very good’ and which was marred by his disobedience. But once he had disobeyed no longer was everything ‘very good’. He was now destined to work. Works were the sign of fallen man. It is the rest now made available by the One Who became the true restored Man, the ‘second man’ (2.6-9) for those who are in Him. For with Him we are seated in heavenly places ‘in Christ’ and enjoy His triumph (Ephesians 2.6). We have entered into rest. We have ceased from ‘works’ (Ephesians 2.9). Rather do we live out His life (Galatians 2.20).
Here the present tense together with ‘sabbath-rest’ clearly does mean the present, probably suggesting a present experience, although it could admittedly here be seen as simply referring to its present availability on death.
4.10 ‘For he who is entered into his rest has himself also rested from his works, as God did from his.’
It is true that this could refer simply to one who has died in Christ, but it is then semi-redundant. Why introduce this idea at this stage? But the immediacy of the whole passage suggests rather a living present experience, which contrasts with a past experience of ‘dead works’, and furthermore God did not enter His rest by dying, but by having completed His creative work. In God’s case it resulted from the completion of creation, in the Christian’s case from the completion of his new creation (2 Corinthians 5.17; Galatians 6.15), when all is supplied that is necessary for his rest and he ceases from law-works. No longer does man need to strive after righteousness. The works are complete. The thought is surely of a living positive experience, not of something that befalls on death. They ‘rest’ as in a new creation along with God the Creator, leaving their old works behind them. And we know that the One Who actually performed the creative work was the Son (1.2). So they rest in Christ, partaking of Him. They have ceased trying to save themselves by their works. They have put aside all such efforts. They rest in what He has done and is doing in them and what He is for them, and thus they find rest and are assured of eternal rest.
Some see the change of pronoun (from ‘they’ to ‘he’ as signifying that this is a direct reference to Christ Himself, suggesting that through what He has accomplished He entered into His rest, and because it was accomplished there is nothing further for Him to do. His work is complete. Thus as we partake in Him we too enter that happy position. But it seems more likely that the change of pronoun personalises to individual believers, in the light of the exhortation to come, the idea which is the continual thought of the passage, otherwise we would expect the writer to draw attention to the change more specifically.
4.11 ‘Let us therefore give diligence (arouse endeavour) to enter into that rest, that no man fall after the same example of disobedience.’
His concern for his readers is twofold. Firstly to ensure that they have entered into that rest, and secondly to ensure that they fully enter into it, rather than being disobedient like the Israelites. It is so important that they are to use the utmost endeavour.
For it is incumbent on all to ensure that they have entered into that rest and also that they fully enter into it, and continue to experience it by finding their rest in Christ and keeping His yoke on them and learning of Him (Matthew 11.28-29). The writer tactfully names himself as also needing to exercise the same diligence. They must ensure that they do enter fully into that rest, so that they do not fall like Israel did, through similar disobedience. And it is necessary also to fully enter that rest so that they will be fitted to face the examination of their hearts by the word of God.
But, it may be asked, if the ‘rest’ is the rest of salvation and of partaking in Christ, how can those who have already been saved enter into it? The answer is that the rest is the sphere of salvation, the resultant position of receiving salvation in Christ, the sphere of partaking in Christ, to be enjoyed continually by faith. In one sense all have rest once they become His and partake in Him, resting in His finished work, in another they have to learn to rest, to ‘find rest’ (Matthew 11.39) as they walk with Him, to attain to confident assurance and peace, otherwise they will fall into disobedience. ‘In returning and rest you will be saved, in quietness and in confidence will be your strength’ (Isaiah 30.15), God told His people. Salvation is a free gift and results from the working of God within but from a human point of view it requires a lifetime’s diligence to enter into it and obtain its full benefit, ‘to go on being saved’ (1 Corinthians 1.18), moving from one degree of glory to another, enjoying the rest that it offers. We have partaken of Christ once-for-all, but we are also to partake of Him continually and more and more effectively, finding rest in Him. But to have finally turned away from Christ would be to lose that rest for ever, and to return to a life of ‘works’, which would soon be shown up for what they are. It would be to leave the peace of the Garden of Eden to return to a life of work and labour and would result in death.
4.12 ‘For the word of God is living, and active, and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing even to the dividing of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and quick to discern the thoughts and intents of the heart.’
For let them be in no doubt, there is no escaping the word of God which searches out the whole inner man. He knows who is in His rest and who is not, who are right with Him and who are not. He knows the truth about our ‘works’. This ‘word of God’ (compare Mark 7.13) is that which the writer has constantly cited previously in order to search them out, but seen as a part of the whole Scriptures. It also includes that word as proclaimed by God’s messengers. It tests out all men to see what they are. It is ‘living’, that is, it is still powerfully effective day by day, and it bestows life on those who respond to it; it is active, that is it does its work of ‘discerning the heart’ vigorously and without stint; and it is sharper than a two-edged sword, that is, devastatingly effective in its cutting work. Nothing can hinder its application. It searches out everything leaving no part unrevealed and untouched. It cuts into the most innermost being. It immediately (‘quick to discern’) knows a man as he really is in the intents of his heart in both his spiritual and physical aspects.
It is only if ‘entering into rest’ is a present experience that this really enters specifically into the narrative as a composite part of it, the thought being that the word of God as quoted searches out belief in contrast with unbelief, partaking in Christ in contrast with falling away, and being in God’s rest, having rested from ‘works’, in contrast with those who labour to establish themselves by works and reveal thereby their continued disobedience which deserves just recompense of reward (2.2).
‘Even to the dividing of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow.’ We are not intended to analyse this literally. The point is that the whole of man is available to its examination in every detail, with nothing hidden from its view. We may tend to speak of man as ‘body and soul’. That too recognises that there is a complexity to God’s make up. But all this fails to recognise the true complexity of man who is a unity made up many different aspects which are beyond our understanding.
4.13 ‘And there is no creature that is not manifest in his sight: but all things are naked and laid open before the eyes of him with whom we have to do.’
And not only is all of man open to Him, but all men, and indeed all His creatures (including especially human creatures). They are all openly revealed in His sight. They cannot hide from Him. They are laid bare before Him, and they have to have dealings with Him because He is the Creator. There is nothing that is not open to Him.
This mention of creatures supports the idea that entering into rest has to do with our being new creatures in Christ Jesus (2 Corinthians 5.17). With regard to the ‘old’ creatures he knows their unbelief and disobedience. He knows them for what they are. With regard to the new He knows them as acceptable in His sight because of the work of their great High Priest (verse 14; 2.17), and their constant walk with Him under the yoke of Christ (Matthew 11.29). He knows that they are enjoying His rest, and are resting from their old works.
We Have A Great High Priest Who Will Maintain Us In Our Rest (4.14-16).
The account, having dealt in some depth with the question of man’s response to God, and the need for the readers to ensure that they are partakers of Christ who have entered into God’s rest, now returns to the subject mentioned in 2.17-3.1, our great High Priest. It is because of our great High Priest that the rest is attainable. Thus 3.2-4.13 is sandwiched in between those two references to the work of our great High Priest so as to draw attention to that fact.
Many criticise the chapter division here, suggesting that these three verses should commence chapter 5, but that is to miss the fact that they are very essential to the closing of 2.17-4.13. They both close that section, generally re-emphasising what was said at its opening in 2.17, as well as preparing for the next. But we would agree with the one who chose where to end the chapter as it is, for we feel that its closest and most necessary connection is with the former section. For Christians enter into their rest precisely because of His having offered Himself as a once-for-all sacrifice, and because they have access to Him on His throne where his gracious and merciful activity is available on their behalf.
For we should note that reference to the High Priest does not commence here. In fact the High Priesthood of Jesus the Son of God has been spoken of in every chapter. In 1.3 it is the High Priesthood of ‘the Son’, and His work is seen as completed, He has made cleaning for sin; in 2.17 it is the High Priesthood of ‘Jesus’ Who is concerned with making propitiation for the sins of the people; in 3.1 He is closely compared with Moses with His being seen as the builder of the house consisting of His people to whom He offers rest; and here the ideas of ‘Son’ and ‘Jesus’ are combined in the term ‘Jesus the Son of God’, the Man Who is God, but where the thought is similar to 1.3. All aspects are combined.
As the great (superior to the earthly) High Priest He is greater than the angels, He has been humbled in order to become restored Man and be like His brothers and sisters, and He has been concerned with establishing His house and granting His people rest. Now again He is seen as having passed through the heavens to be seated at God’s right hand (1.3), His priestly work having been completed, in order to grant rest to His people continually.
4.14 ‘Having then a great high priest, who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us keep on holding fast our confession.’
While the verb ‘hold fast’ is different here in the Greek from 3.6, 14, the idea is the same. It ties in with 3.6, ‘if we hold fast our boldness and the glorying of our hope’, and 3.14 ‘if we hold fast the beginning of our confidence firm to the end’. The first is the requirement of our being His house, and the second the requirement of our being partakers of Christ. Both require that we are faithful in witness and faith from start to finish. And this is again stressed here, again bringing out that 3.2-4.13 are finally wrapped up in these verses.
Here we learn that this ‘keeping on holding fast our confession’ results from having our great High Priest, Jesus the Son of God, as the One Who has passed through the heavens. He has passed into the very presence of God. He is there in the Heaven of heavens itself, in His capacity as our High Priest, as the Son of God. And yet as no ordinary High Priest but as the eternal Son of 1.1-3. His being ‘great’ emphasises His superiority to earthly High Priests. And yet He is as High Priest also the Man Who did Himself hold fast to His confession (2.17). He is Jesus as well as Son of God. He it is Who has ensured that through His offering of the sacrifice of Himself once-for-all we are made His house (3.6) and partakers of Him (3.14), and enter into His rest (4.1-11). Thus will we maintain the faith that we confess, for it is based on this solid foundation, and is in the hands of One Who fully understands what we have to face.
‘Jesus the Son of God.’ In chapter 2 Jesus is the One made lower than the angels as Man, and Who was made representative, restored man by being crowned with glory and honour. In chapter 1 the Son is the One Who is the perfect revelation of God Himself. Here the two are combined. As Jesus He can act as High Priest because He acts on behalf of those He represents, but without having sinned, and as ‘the Son of God’ He can pass through the heavens into God’s presence to represent us there.
4.15 ‘For we do not have a high priest who cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities, but one who has been in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin.’
He is a heavenly High Priest and far above us, but that does not mean that He is not aware of our temptations and our needs. For this great High Priest is not one who can have no sympathy with us in our weaknesses, rather He can empathise (sympathise more deeply because He has experienced it Himself) with us because He Himself was tested and tempted in all the ways in which we are. He was made Man. He suffered testing and temptation. And yet through it all He did not sin (compare 2 Corinthians 5.21; 1 Peter 3.18). Thus He bore temptation to its fullest limit, a limit that we rarely reach, for we so often give way before the temptation has attained its full power.
Thus when we come in prayer to the Father we should not only consider Christ’s glory, but also His close relationship with us. He knows and understands why we come, He is aware of what needs we will have, and He has experienced them Himself. Thus can we be sure of a sympathetic hearing. As we approach He says, ‘My brother, My sister, I know. I understand. I remember when it happened to Me as well, and I remember how hard it was. I will intercede for you’
‘Cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities, but One who has been in all points tempted like as we are.’ It is often asked whether Jesus could genuinely be tempted like this. Scripture is quite clear on the matter. He could and He was. The fact that we cannot understand how is really irrelevant. What we should rejoice in is that He can be touched with the feeling of our infirmities.
4.16 ‘Let us therefore draw near with boldness to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy, and may find grace to help us in time of need.’
And because of this we can draw near to the throne of grace with boldness (compare 10.22), for One is seated there Who has done all for us and totally understands and empathises with us in our weaknesses. And there we can be sure that we will receive mercy (see 1 John 1.7-10) and find God’s unmerited favour granted to us, through His Holy Spirit, to help us in times of need.
‘The throne of grace.’ Note that it is firstly His throne. There He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on High. Having obtained full and final purification for sins (1.3), He was exalted as Lord of all (Matthew 28.19; Ephesians 1.19-22). But He sits there as the One Who has offered the complete and final sacrifice, as the One of Whom we partake (2.14), and Who has faced all that we have to face, and He is therefore there to offer mercy, and compassion, and strengthening. He is there as our Trek Leader and our Elder Brother.
What a wonder is this. On earth the earthly High Priest stood as a suppliant before God. He offered sacrifices for himself first and then for the people, never ceasing to ‘stand’, never with the sense that all was now done. And then he retired from the scene until the next offering was due, still standing. But this One sits on the throne of God. His offering of Himself once-for-all is behind Him. All is perfectly complete. And as the heavenly High Priest Who has the means of offering full forgiveness and cleansing continually, He dispenses Kingly mercy and grace to all who come.
‘That we may receive mercy, and may find grace to help in time of need.’ Mercy for the past, God’s gracious help for the future. As we go on both are constantly needed. Without the first we would face judgment and constant shame and self-reproach, without the second we would crumble in times of need. It represents full provision for our lives.
The idea of a High Priest seated on a throne and no longer offering sacrifices would be foreign to the way of thinking of Jews. Yet this is the great contrast that the writer wants to make. We, he says, do not need to provide an offering and bring it to the priest, and then wait for him to offer it on our behalf. This High Priest has offered one sacrifice for sin for ever and therefore simply awaits our approach on the very throne of God that He may bring us blessing in response to all our spiritual needs. He is High Priest and King.
Introduction to Chapter 5
One central theme running through the letter to the Hebrews is the thought of Jesus Christ the Son of God as our Great High Priest. Along with the reigning son of David the High Priest was the theocratic power in the land. And together they represented Israel before God. Thus when Jesus is revealed as Son of God, son of David and great High Priest, we find in Him the One Who is totally complete to represent us. And when we add to this the revelation of Him as restored Man, the second man replacing Adam, the picture is complete.
The idea of Jesus Christ as our great High Priest is first indicated when the writer is describing Him as ‘the Son’ Who reveals all the fullness of what God is (1.1-2). There He is declared to be the One Who, as the glorious revealer of God, ‘makes purification for sins’, a priestly action, and sits down at the right hand of the Majesty on High (1.3)
The idea is then taken up again in chapter 2 following a passage where His death and saving work has been described, stressing that He is High Priest as supreme Man. There the idea is completed by a description of Jesus as our ‘merciful and faithful High Priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people’ (2.17). So in both places emphasis is laid on His priestly work connected with the offering of a sacrifice for the purpose of atonement, both to cleanse and to propitiate, in the first case as the ‘Son’ from Heaven, and in the second as ‘Jesus’, the perfect Man.
This is taken up in 3.1 where Jesus is described as ‘the Apostle and High Priest of our confession’ and emphasis is there laid on His faithfulness and accomplishment as being greater than those of Moses. His purpose is revealed as to bring us into ‘rest’, and this is confirmed in 4.14 where after the description of that rest we are told of ‘a great High Priest Who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God’, Who can sympathise with us in all our needs and from Whom we can find help in all our testings and temptations, and Who awaits our approach to His throne (compare 1.3), which is a place where mercy and grace are to be found.
Thus in Him is found cleansing, propitiation, and gracious, empathetic response to our needs. Of what sort then is this Great High Priest, for He is certainly unlike the High Priests who are (or have been) active in the world? In this chapter we learn that He is a High Priest Who has also been appointed God’s Son, Who is of the house of David, and is therefore ‘a priest after the order (likenesss) of Melchizedek’. He is a royal priest, of a priesthood older than that of Aaron, and superior to both Moses and Aaron.
Preliminary Note on The Order of Melchizedek.
In the account in Genesis 14 where Abraham is revealed as the deliverer of both Lot, and the captives and wealth of Sodom, from the hands of the kings from the north, Melchizedek is revealed as the priest-king of Salem (Jerusalem), a royal priest who presided over all parties involved, both as a superior, and as having special privilege before the Most High God. He appears suddenly, and disappears equally as suddenly, and in his status ministers to Abraham and receives tithes from him.
The idea of the Melchizedek priesthood is then taken up in Psalm 110.4. The Psalm would later have Messianic connections but it firstly had in mind the Davidic kingship. We must remember that David captured Jerusalem and made it his own city. That is why the people of Jerusalem always saw themselves as separate from Israel and Judah. And it appears that as a result he would have conferred on him by the people of Jerusalem the position as priest-king of Jerusalem, the ‘royal priesthood of Melchizedek’, as the successor to the previous priest-kings. He took the place of the former priest-kings. This need not necessarily mean that he offered sacrifices. Indeed he specifically introduced the Levitical priests into Jerusalem for that purpose, along with the Tabernacle, for he was too good a Yahwist to go against the Law. But he almost certainly in his exalted position took part in major religious ceremonies, in recognition of his royal priestly connections and status. Later Davidic kings, not so scrupulous, might even have gone further, but we have no specific evidence of it in relation to Yahwism. We can also compare the special privileges of the Davidic prince in Ezekiel’s temple (Ezekiel 44.1-3). There too he was to have a unique place. Here was one uniquely in a position to intercede on behalf of his people, which indeed David often did, both in the salvation history (see 2 Samuel 24.17) and in the Psalms.
Psalm 110.4 reveals that this unique position of David also reflected God’s view of him. God swore by an oath that David’s unique privilege as representing his people in a special way before God would stand for ever. He would be seen as a priest after the order of, in the likeness of, Melchizedek.
With regard to this we must remember that in ancient days kings were regularly seen as representing their people in religious events, and as having special influence with their divinities. They had a special sacral role which varied from the full deity of the Pharaoh, and the semi-deity of Mediterranean kings, to an exalted priesthood of lesser royalties like Melchizedek. David too enjoyed this special status, and it was linked with him being a priest after the order of Melchizedek through being king of Jerusalem. But by taking the Tabernacle into Jerusalem David prevented a division in the mind of the Jerusalemites over which priesthood was the most important cultwise, for he established and oversaw the Levitical priests for ritual purposes connected with sacrifices (1 Chronicles 16.1-2 - note the ‘they’) and he himself carried out intercessory functions and set up worshipping functions (1 Chronicles 6.31; 16.4-6), and thus he and the Levitical priesthood were conjoined in the minds of the people.
The use of the title ‘priest after the order of Melchizedek’ in Psalm 110.4 confirms that it was a recognised part of his royal status, and seen as approved by God. It was seen as making him very much someone who was close to God in a unique non-sacrificing priesthood, having a special religious status before God, and special access in prayer, both on his own behalf and on behalf of the people (see 2 Samuel 24.17), without necessarily himself directly offering sacrifices. And this was closely linked with his kingship and his coming worldwide rule. Thus it could be said of him by God, 'You are my son, today I have begotten (by adoption) you' (Psalm 2.7) in relation to that priesthood (5.5-6) which was an essential part of his being the anointed king. Kingship and priesthood went together. He was seen as the 'firstborn' of Yahweh, supreme among kings because of his special relationship with God (Psalm 89.27), and this included his position as priest after the order of Melchizedek. The title ‘after the order of Melchizedek’ was thus representative of his royal priestly status and of his unique position with God as a priest-king ‘begotten’ by God. This link is specifically made here in Hebrews 5.5-6.
The whole Psalm later became recognised as Messianic (an advance on Davidic), as referring to the future king Messiah who would come to bring about God's purposes, who was thus portrayed as both priest after the order of Melchizedek, and as God’s anointed king. The title and function was therefore particularly apt for application to Jesus. (It was also taken up in later Jewish tradition as referring to a heavenly figure, but there is no suggestion of this in Scripture).
End of Note.
It is these ideas which are taken up by the writer to the Hebrews. Jesus is here depicted as the royal priest of a better priesthood than that of the Mosaic law, 1). Because it was more ancient (already established in the time of Abraham), 2). Because it continued for ever in the King, and 3). Because what he offered was heavenly intercession.
And he later draws attention to how Melchizedek, priest-king of Salem, source of the Davidic priesthood, was described as not limited by genealogy and without recognised antecedents. Nothing was known about him. He was simply accepted by God without any such evidence. So from the point of view of the tradition in Scripture how he emerged mysteriously, and disappeared equally mysteriously, was thus a good illustration of the eternal heavenly priesthood. Unlike the Levitical priests, who rooted themselves firmly to earth by their ancestral claims, he was not required to produce a pedigree. There is no mention of birth, no mention of death, but a continuing for ever of his priesthood, as is shown by his reappearance in Psalm 110.4 in connection with the everlasting Davidic kingship (2 Samuel 7.13, 16). The writer was drawing out the idea, not expressing a verdict on the original Melchizedek.
We must remember the importance of descent and genealogy to the Jew. Each priest assiduously traced his ancestry back (whether accurately or not) to prove his legitimate descent, and as one generation died so another replaced it. This was what gave him his status. He was firmly connected to an earthly source. But this Melchizedek was firmly in place as priest-king, without genealogy, without such claims, and yet he was of such superior status that Abraham acknowledged him, and submitted to him, and there was no record of his being replaced. He stands there as a seemingly eternal, heavenly figure.
He was manifestly greater than Abraham, for Abraham offered him tithes, whereas Abraham never offered tithes to the Levitical priests, for they came from the loins of Abraham, that is were descended from him, and Abraham was thus superior to them. So the Melchizedek priesthood is represented as superior to the Levitical priesthood. He was a royal priest, associated with righteousness and peace which are elsewhere royal attributes of good kings (Melchizedek indeed means 'my king is righteousness'. Compare Isaiah 11.4-5 for the ‘righteous’ king and Isaiah 9.6 for 'the Prince of Peace' . See also Psalm 72.7.
So all this indicated that the new priesthood of Jesus as the Davidic heir, had good and ancient antecedents, was distinctive from the Levitical priesthood and was far its superior, and yet had close enough connections, confirmed by God in Psalm 110, for Him to replace the Levitical priesthood as the heavenly royal priest, taking over the role of the earthly servants with a better sacrifice than theirs, a sacrifice which the earthly priests could not offer. It signified His eternity, His royalty and His sufficiency to offer the perfect sacrifice, a superior priesthood in every way.
Note on Messianic.
In describing Psalms as Messianic we must recognise what is meant by that. In one sense all psalms which referred to the house of David were ‘Messianic’, in that they referred to the experiences and future prospects of the house of David, of those who were God’s anointed’, and thus also were necessarily applicable to the final, great, everlasting coming king of the Davidic house. But it was only later that this developed into the full blown ideas of ‘the Messiah’ from the house of David that we find later. Many Psalms prepared for such an idea and can therefore be seen as ‘Messianic’ from the start, in intent if not in name. But certain of them later actually became depicted as Messianic.
End of note.
Chapter 5 Our Great High Priest After The Order of Melchizedek.
This chapter begins by outlining the characteristics of the earthly High Priesthood, and goes on to show the superior High Priesthood of Jesus. This then leads on to another digression and exhortation as the writer feels the difficulty of expressing his case before those who through neglect have become babes in doctrine. He is not sure that they can cope with what he has to say, and gives a strict warning in chapter 6 of the dangers of faltering and falling away from the truth.
Characteristics of the Earthly High Priesthood (5.1-4).
The earthly High Priest,
So, to summarise, he is taken from among men, he is an earthly priest, both weak and sinful, he is appointed by God, on men’s behalf, and it is for the offering of gifts and sacrifices, which are for both himself and the people. As one from among them, although specially chosen, he acts for men before God in an earthly sanctuary.
But in contrast Jesus Christ is shown as having come from Heaven (1.3), as having humbled Himself but as not being sinful (2.9-18), was totally faithful (2.17-3.6) and while being appointed by God for the offering of a once-for-all sacrifice, did not have to offer it for Himself, but did it only for the people (7.26-27), finalising the procedure in Heaven (4.14 compare 1.3; 9.24; 10.12). It is clear therefore that He is of a superior, heavenly priesthood, so that returning to submission to an earthly priesthood can only be seen as blasphemous.
5.1 ‘For every high priest, being taken from among men, is appointed for men in things pertaining to God, that he may offer both gifts and sacrifices for sins.’
The nature of the high priesthood is defined. The high priest is taken from among men. He is one of the run of men. He is appointed to act for men. Yet his position is exalted in that he is appointed to act for them in relation to God and in things pertaining to God. He is the earthly mediator between man and God. He acted from men to God in the sphere of offering gifts and sacrifices for sins, as very much a man approaching God seeking mercy. ‘Gifts and sacrifices for sins’ covers the whole range of Old Testament offerings (compare 8.3; 9.9). He did also, however, also receive God’s word to man by the use of Urim and Thummim. But this is never taken up in this letter.
‘Things pertaining to God.’ That which pertains to true relationship with God. ‘Ta pros ton theon.’ Literally ‘the (things) towards God.’ Pros ton theon is found in John 1.1 where ‘the Word was with God’, that is, face to face with God in personal relationship and fellowship. Thus the High Priest acted in ‘that which is towards God’ in order to maintain man’s relationship with God.
5.2-3 ‘Who can bear gently with the ignorant and erring, in that he himself also is compassed with infirmity, and by reason thereof is bound, as for the people, so also for himself, to offer for sins.
But in this he has one advantage that must not be despised. As a man he can identify himself with men. Because he himself is ‘compassed with infirmity’, is weak and sinful and aware of his humanness and unworthiness, he can bear gently with, empathising with, those who are the same, those who are ‘ignorant and erring’, lacking in knowledge of God and straying from His ways. (This excludes deliberate, high handed sin).
The High Priest must therefore be compassionate. He must be able to restrain his natural disgust at what he might see as unforgiveable behaviour, must maintain constant and compassionate patience with those who frequently fall, must avoid taking in aversion those who appear to him to be hypocrites or superficial, and must not take up attitudes of disfavour against sinners of any kind. Rather he must see their approach as genuine unless he has good reason to think otherwise, because he is aware of how he too so often reveals himself as contrary to what he should be; and that if his inner heart were known, few would seek him out; and because his concern for them all is that they be reconciled to God.
This ideal of the compassionate High Priest who entered into the feelings and needs of those he acted for had in fact become totally unrealistic. Their main thought had become what they could get out of it. But this emphasis here stresses the necessity that there was, for our great High Priest to also have experienced what it was to be human, (see verse 7; 2.17-18; 4.15).
Note his obligation. ‘He is bound to -- offer for sins.’ It is the responsibility and duty of his office.
‘So also for himself, to offer for sins.’ And as well as offering sacrifices for the sins of the people the earthly High Priest had constantly to offer them for his own sins. He too was a failing sinner, the one qualification that Jesus Christ did not have. On the other hand Jesus had experienced depths of temptation which sinful men knew nothing of.
5.4 ‘And no man takes the honour to himself, but when he is called of God, even as was Aaron.’
And finally he is God-appointed. It is not something that a man can choose to do himself, his appointment comes from God, for he has to act towards God and it is finally to God that he is responsible. This is of course the ideal of priesthood. The later earthly priesthood had manifested few of these characteristics, apart from artificially. The writer is portraying priesthood at its best.
‘When he is called of God.’ It is a divine calling which comes from God and which he cannot refuse. He is in that position simply because God required it; and because God required it, He had no choice in the matter.
‘As was Aaron.’ Aaron, the brother of Moses, was appointed ‘the priest’ in accordance with God’s instructions to Moses (Exodus 28.1 following).
The Superiority of Christ’s Priesthood (5.5-10).
Christ is therefore now revealed also to be God-appointed, experiencing humanness and weakness, and learning obedience (although never once getting less than 100%). But nothing is said here about sacrifices offered for sin. For that had already been fulfilled in His death on the cross and there would be no more meaningful sacrifices for sin.
5.5 ‘So Christ also glorified not himself to be made a high priest, but he who spoke to him, “You are my Son, This day have I begotten you.” ’
He emphasises that Christ also did not choose Himself. He did not glorify Himself. In His High Priesthood He was not self-appointed. He was declared to be so by God. The same words that indicated His true Sonship (taken from Psalm 2.7, see on 1.5) also indicated His true Priesthood. As the appointed heir of David, chosen and begotten by God, He was automatically both a king and a priest after the order of Melchizedek, but His official appointment by God as such is now described.
‘Christ.’ The writer is careful with his use of names. This is the first mention of Christ. The One appointed and glorified is ‘the Christ’, the anointed of God, the Messiah. He received the kingship and the priesthood at the same time. We may well be intended to see this as indicating His anointing with the Holy Spirit (Acts 10.38) at His baptism. He is the One sent from God as His anointed King.
5.6 ‘As he also says in another place, “You are a priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek.” ’
And this was confirmed by the psalm in which God said, ‘you are a Priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek’ (Psalm 110.4). Thus there could be no doubting His priestly credentials. The superiority of this position in Scriptural eyes will be established later.
To be such a priest was depicted in the Psalm as being a position of great honour. He is such a one as is set at the right hand of God with his enemies to be brought into submission (verse 1; compare Hebrews 1.3). As such he will rule as priest-king (verse 2), and as a result of taking His place at God’s right hand as priest-king he will bring kings into submission and the nations into judgment (verses 5-6). The priest after the order of Melchizedek was seen as an important royal personage with a unique position which rendered him especially acceptable to God.
We should note here how easily the writer moves from ‘priest’ to ‘High Priest’. In his kingship Melchizedek was automatically ‘high priest’ in the eyes of his people.
‘In another place.’ A further example of the writer’s supreme trust in Scripture as the very words of God.
5.7 ‘Who in the days of his flesh, having offered up prayers and supplications with strong crying and tears to him who was able to save him from death, and having been (‘was’) heard for his godly fear.’
And yet He was also a human being, subject to all the trials of a human being. While in the flesh He feared death, and because of it He prayed and appealed to God, strongly and with tears, seeking the help of the One Who could save Him from death, and was heard for His godly fear (or ‘reverent submission’). For an angel came and strengthened Him (Luke 22.43). It was a reminder that He was not alone. The aim of these words is to demonstrate that He was truly a man among men, and that His trust was in God. He did not need to offer sacrifices for Himself, but He did need the means of prayer and supplication. The one would have been to admit to sin, and was unnecessary for One Who was without sin, the other was to admit to humanness, and was very necessary. It may well be that this example was as much for us as for Him, that we might learn the folly of standing alone without full reliance on God.
It is salutary that after the angel strengthened Him His suffering went even deeper, but the moment of crisis had passed. He was now ready to face it alone.
‘The days of His flesh’ may be intended to indicate His whole life’s ministry. He constantly prayed, and He constantly faced the threat of death almost from the beginning (Mark 2.20; 3.6; 8.31; 9.33; John 5.18; 7.1, 44; 8.40, 59; 10.31; 11.50). But it is generally agreed that it most fits Jesus’ suffering in the Garden of Gethsemane and that that is especially in mind here with the remainder as a shadow behind it.
In the Garden he prayed earnestly with tears that the cup that He had to face might pass from Him. It was not so much death that He feared, but all that was involved in His own particular death. And yet He was also fearful of death itself, for it would be the very extinguishing of all that He was. It is impossible for us to begin to conceive what dying must have meant to One Who was the source of life itself, Who throbbed with life, Who knew life in its fullest sense. Death was thus foreign to His very nature, to all that He was, as it could never be to us. It was so alien that in His manhood He feared it. And on top of that it was a death for sin, not His own but the sin of the whole world. He was to die for the sins of men, and Himself take the full impact of God’s aversion to sin. No wonder He recoiled from it.
But He was constantly delivered from death during His ministry, and His prayer in Gethsemane was specifically subject to the will of God and was in the last analysis a prayer for strength to face what God willed. And in this His prayer was successful. He was heard for His godly fear, because of His reverent submission, and sustained through what lay ahead. He went into death, and through it, and emerged again as the Lord of life. He had been saved from death. Death had lost its sting.
5.8-10 ‘Although being Son, yet he learned obedience by the things which he suffered, and having been made perfect, he became to all those who obey him the author of eternal salvation, named of God a high priest after the order of Melchizedek.’
The writer now sums up what He achieved at the cross. Though He was of the nature of ‘Son’ (see 1.1-14), yet He learned obedience by the things that He suffered (2.9), and having thus been made perfect (2.10), He became to all those who similarly obeyed Him (4.1-11), the author of eternal salvation, in His appointment by God as High Priest after the order of Melchizedek. As King-Priest He too was High Priest.
‘Though he was of the nature of God’s Son.’ Incomprehensible the thought that the One Who was the outshining of the glory of God and the exact representation of what He essentially was, the Creator and Sustainer of all creation, should learn obedience by suffering, and especially the suffering of death. ‘Tis mystery all, the immortal dies’, who can begin to understand it?
‘Yet learned obedience by the things which he suffered.’ For Him this was a new learning curve. He had always been ‘He Who must be obeyed’. But He emptied and humbled Himself. He became the servant Who humbly obeyed like the Servant in Isaiah 53, even to the level of his extensive suffering. And in living out a humble life He learned what it meant to obey. And He was totally successful, for He obeyed fully (Romans 5.19; Philippians 2.5-8). Thus did He reveal Himself as truly the perfect man, fully obedient man, obedient to the will of God, and nowhere more so than in the Garden of Gethsemane where He revealed His absolute obedience to the will of God in the face of the utterly unbearable, which He expressed Himself as yet willing to bear, and went forward triumphantly to do so.
‘Learned (emathen) -- by what He suffered (epathen).’ Note the play on words.
‘And having been made perfect.’ His obedience and His suffering, which He chose, made Him perfect, prepared in every way, for the task that lay before Him, to bring eternal salvation to man. It made Him the perfect Sanctifier (2.11), the perfect Trek Leader (2.10), the perfect Sacrifice (2.14), the perfect Deliverer from the fear of death (2.15). His exaltation to God’s right hand completed His perfect preparation.
‘He became to all those who obey Him the author of eternal salvation.’ Note that the eternal salvation is only for those who obey Him (compare John 3.36). He became the source of and the One responsible for bringing about the future salvation promised in the Old Testament to those who responded in obedience.
‘The author’ (aitios), the One who is finally responsible for bringing about, the One who causes, the One Who is the root cause. Compare its use in 1 Samuel 22.22 LXX ‘I am the cause of/the one responsible for bringing about, the death of the house your father’. It is often found in Greek with soterias (in Aeschines, Philo, Demosthenes) with the idea of the one responsible for bringing about salvation in one way or another (Philo uses it of the brazen serpent). It is not quite the same idea as Author/Trek Leader (archegos - 2.10) where the thought is more on the activity involved. Here the thought was of total responsibility for bringing it about.
‘Of eternal salvation.’ The salvation of the coming age (as with ‘eternal’ life, the life ‘of the coming age’), the future everlasting salvation promised by God in the Old Testament (compare Isaiah 45.17 LXX).
‘Named of God a high priest after the order of Melchizedek.’ This reference here, following verse 6, demonstrates that all that has gone between in verses 7-9 lay behind His unique High Priesthood. This High Priesthood was revealed in His powerful prayers and supplications which achieved victory over death, it was prepared for by His being made perfect through suffering. Compare 2.10-11 where the Author/Trek Leader of their salvation, Who also ‘sanctifies’ them, a priestly activity, is made perfect through suffering. And it ended up with Him seated at the right hand of God, the bringer about of eternal salvation for His own.
Note that when quoting the Psalm directly the writer retains ‘priest’ but when referring to it speaks of ‘High Priest’, because He was the royal supreme priest.
The Writer Rebukes His Readers For Not Being In A State To Understand His Message And Warns Of The Danger Of Falling Away From The One Whom He Is Describing (5.11-6.12).
The introduction of Christ’s High Priestly work constantly results in admonition. 2.17-3.1 resulted in the long warning passage from 3.7-4.13. Its mention here now results in 5.11-6.12. Mention of it will also result in 10.26-31. His readers must choose between the old, now superseded, priesthood, or the new Priesthood of Christ. Christ’s exaltation as High Priest faces all men with a choice, either positive and glad response to Him in faith, or judgment.
He commences here with regret that his readers are in no state to hear what he would say to them because of their lukewarm state, having allowed their senses to atrophy. He then declares his intention to advance to this higher teaching, but warns that those who have turned away from Christ will be in no state to respond, although he then expresses his confidence that his readers are mainly not of this number.
5.11 ‘Of whom we have many things to say, and hard of interpretation, seeing that you are become dull of hearing.’
He stresses that he has much more to say to them, which they may find somewhat difficult to understand, simply because they have become spiritually deafened. These men who should have been teaching others are themselves not in a position to be taught.
‘Of whom (or ‘which’) we have many things to say.’ Many things to say, that is, about God’s great High Priest, or about His ministry, which he will in fact continue to say in 7.1 onwards.
‘Hard of interpretation.’ Difficult to teach clearly to the spiritually immature, and difficult to be understood by them.
‘Seeing that you are become dull of hearing.’ They have lost their first spiritual understanding and eagerness to hear and have become bogged down. This may be because this group had sought to reconcile the new message with the old Judaism, using a new patch to repair an old garment (Mark 2.21), and had simply found that it was not possible, and that both were thereby spoiled.
5.12 ‘For when by reason of the time you ought to be teachers, you have need again that some one teach you the rudiments of the first principles of the oracles of God, and are become such as have need of milk, and not of solid food.’
This has resulted in the fact that while they had been Christians long enough to have been able to be teachers, they in fact needed again to learn the old truths that they had believed in the beginning when they had claimed to accept Christ. They needed again to be taught ‘the rudiments of the first principles of the oracles of God’. They needed to be bottle fed rather than given solid food.
For the truth was that they were all mixed up, and it remained to be seen whether ‘His anointing’ would restore them to the truth, or they would reveal themselves as unanointed (1 John 2.20) by turning from that truth. He will in fact point out that he still has much hope for them because previously they have given clear indications of fruitful service (6.9-12).
‘By reason of the time.’ Either referring to the fact that such long-time Christians should by now surely be mature in Christ, or to the dangerous times then present which meant that mature Christians should be ready to teach.
‘You have need again that some one teach you the rudiments of the first principles of the oracles of God.’ It has been a common problem through the ages that men can learn the simplicity of the true Gospel and then allow it to become blurred by incorporating other teachings and philosophies so that the Gospel is drowned out. The fascination of new ideas, or the desire to be well thought of, can be very deceptive. Here almost certainly it was their desire to incorporate Judaism into their form of Christianity which was blurring the Gospel and leading to their downfall. So the writer’s solution is that they return to the first principles of the Gospel.
‘The rudiments of the first principles of (the beginning of)’, the very basics of the basic teaching as expressed by Paul in 1 Corinthians 1.17-18; 2.1-2). ‘The rudiments’, or as we would put it the ABC, the first steps in a subject.
‘First principles/beginning’. They need to start at the very beginning again, considering the first principles, not because they have not learned them but because they have neglected them. All teachers must ensure that they do not neglect the first principles, otherwise their congregations may become moribund.
‘The first principles (beginning) of the oracles (diminutive of logos - ‘words’) of God.’ Almost certainly signifying the Old Testament (compare Acts 7.38; Romans 3.2). They needed to discern in it the new from the old, for pedantic interpretation could lead them astray. They needed to get to the heart of its true message. Compare ‘the first principles of Christ’ in 6.1.
5.13 ‘For every one who partakes of milk is without experience of the word of righteousness, for he is a babe.’
Being those who are partaking of milk and not meat demonstrates that they are without experience of the ‘word of righteousness’. ‘The word of righteousness’ is probably intended to cover all aspects of righteousness as it pertains to God and His people. For God’s purpose is that His people be both accounted righteous and made righteous. Both are in the end part of one process, part of the righteousness of God. Those who but drink milk have no experience of the teachings concerning the righteousness of Christ as it applies to His people, both as imputed and imparted. They know nothing of justification, sanctification and growth in righteousness, of the deeper significance of the cross as a provider of righteousness and crucifier of the flesh, and thus no knowledge of the High Priesthood of Christ. They only know about the very basics of such things as sin and repentance, and general faith towards God, and outward ceremonies, and general resurrection and judgment (6.1-2). And this demonstrates that they are still totally dependent babes at the breast. Compare Ephesians 4.13-16; 1 Corinthians 3.1-3.
5.14 ‘But solid food is for fullgrown men, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern good and evil.’
For solid teaching is for fullgrown adults who constantly use their minds and are thus able to discern between right and wrong, and what teachings are good and what are evil. Compare 1 Corinthians 2.9-16.
6.1-2 ‘Wherefore having left the doctrine of the first principles of Christ, let us press on to perfection, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works, and of faith toward God, of the teaching of washings (baptisms), and of laying on of hands, and of resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment.’
So he intends not to deal with simpler ideas, ‘the first principles of Christ’, the foundation ideas of Christ, but to move on to more mature teaching. He will not deal with the question of repentance from dead works or of faith towards God. He has indeed already dealt with them in principle in 3.7-4.13. Nor will he deal with questions about baptisms (washings), laying on of hands, resurrection from the dead or eternal judgment. All these teachings were basic and could equally be taught by the Pharisees were they so minded. They were simply basic Old Testament teaching.
It may be asked, why are they then described as (literally) ‘the word of the beginning of Christ’? And the answer is simply that they were part of Christ’s teaching before His death and resurrection, before the events that had changed the world. ‘Repent and believe in the Good News’ (Mark 1.15) was His opening cry, and He went on to point men and women to the need for true faith in God. Repentance and faith in God were the Old Testament foundation laid down in preparation for the coming of the Messiah, which Jesus re-emphasised and expanded on, and on which the new teaching would be built. That is not to diminish their importance, but to stress the fact that they did not include the more advanced teachings which resulted from His death and resurrection. Repentance and faith in God are essential. External ordinances may be useful. The resurrection of the dead and the eternal sentence on man’s state are important teaching. But in their basic significance they come short of expressing the full Gospel. They are merely a beginning.
Thus his readers are to recognise that there is a need to go on from the basic teachings of Judaism.
‘Dead works.’ These are either works which are lifeless because done for the wrong reasons (not revealing ‘life’) or because done in a desultory manner (lifeless), or works which are dead because proceeding from one dead in spirit (Ephesians 2.1). Or they may indicate works seeking merit which only result in death. All reflect works done either for the purpose of meriting favour with God, or from a rebellious heart, and not from a loving and faithful heart in response to the covenant.
It was the sin of the majority of Israel and of certain types of Pharisee that they observed the letter of the law but ignored its spirit. They were not so much concerned with pleasing the God Who loved them and had had mercy on them, as with bribing the God Who might otherwise get in the way, or might make life difficult for them, or even judge them and reject them (although they would not have put it like that). Their thoughts were not on the true doing of good and a wholehearted and joyous response to the covenant, recognising that they were in the mercy of God, but either on doing as little as possible to get by, assuming they could fob God off, or doing enough to earn sufficient merit to ‘deserve’ God’s favour. They treated God as though He was impersonal. They drew near with their mouths but their hearts were far from Him.
They saw the Law not as a means by which those who were truly God’s could live a full and rich spiritual life because they were His covenant people secure in His forgiveness (the Law was intended to enable men to live truly - Leviticus 18.5), but as a standard to be grudgingly attained with the hope of a pass mark. They hoped ‘to live by them’. The laws thus brought death on men because they failed to fulfil them all. Such attitudes and sins rightly needed to be repented of, but he has earlier made that clear. To repent of such means in order to turn from them into God’s rest provided through partaking in Christ was part of his message (4.1-11).
‘Faith towards (epi) God.’ This probably has in mind a general belief in God as the One God, a turning from idols to the true God. It was essential that men knew the One God. But of this James 2.19 says, ‘well done, the devils also believe and tremble’. Coming to the One God was initially important, but it missed out on the deeper truths about Christ. That was why Jesus began to point men to Himself, and why the message after the resurrection centred on Christ. Men had to move on to Christ, the outshining of the One God.
‘Of the teaching of washings (baptisms) and the laying on of hands.’ Having referred to basic response he now turns to outward rites. These were Old Testament rites which had possibly been reinterpreted and Christianised and put into practise by this group to whom he is writing. (He clearly knows them well). Like repentance and faith in the one God both ordinances were well known from the Old Testament. They represented outward forms to which the teachings about Christ could provide the inner meaning.
The word baptismos refers to washings of various kinds. We can compare its use in 9.10. Josephus used it of John’s baptism because he misunderstood that to be a ritual washing. It is used elsewhere of ‘dipping’ and in Mark 7.4, 8 of the ‘washing’ of dishes. The plural form and the word used both confirm that it means other than just Christian baptism. It was such washings that Jesus had in mind when He turned water into wine (John 2) to signify that something better had come, and when He spoke to His disciples of those who, having bathed, needed only to wash their feet (John 13.10).
In view of the fact that he is writing to people in danger of being caught up in Judaism again the idea of purifying by washing, and suchlike, may well be in mind, as having been taken up into Jewish-Christian practise. Such washings continued in certain parts of the church in which Jewish Christians predominated.
Or there may have been a controversy about whether baptism could be repeated, or how it compared with other washings and other baptisms, or whether John’s baptism and Jesus’ baptism were similar, and what they signified. Whichever it was referring to ‘baptisms’ probably signifies such baptisms seen as external ordinances, and therefore but shadows of the truth. It is distinctly not just referring to baptism. Indeed ‘teaching of washings’ better suggests ‘what washings teach us’ when compared with other genitives used with didache.
‘Laying on of hands’ has in mind the laying on of hands in blessing and identification, regular Old Testament practises. It was taken up by Jesus and the early church, with the laying of hands being used for healing, and being seen as an indication of identification, which eventually came through into a means of setting aside men for ministry of various kinds. The early church clearly laid emphasis on such laying on of hands (see Matthew 19.13; Acts 6.6; 8.17; 9.12, 17; 19.6).
‘And of resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment.’ As we have pointed out all these basic ideas mentioned could have equally been taught to Jews, and indeed were, including these two. They were basic Jewish teaching and did not involve any specific reference to Christ. Resurrection from the dead and eternal judgment (the sentence of judgment, not the action), while important doctrines, were both in their basic form teachings of the Pharisees as taught in the synagogues. What the writer is seeking to do is point out that it is necessary to leave behind these basics, important though they may be, and move on to specific Christian teaching, which would amplify them and give them solidity, bringing out the lesson that the teaching of Judaism was but basic and lacked the essential added ingredients provided in Christ.
‘Let us be carried on to the perfection.’ Note the contrast between ‘the beginning of Christ’ and ‘the perfection’. It is the difference between basic Old Testament teaching and the full revelation of Christ. His desire is that they move on to the mature truth of Christianity, that they ‘be carried on’ by God as a ship is carried on by the wind. We can compare, ‘you believe in God, believe also in Me’ (John 14.1), This does not of course suggest that we have no part in the matter. Indeed we must give all due diligence. But in the end it is God who bears us on, revealing to us spiritual truth.
6.3 ‘And this will we do, if God permit.’
This sentence comes like a hammer blow. He acknowledges that for some it may be too late to deal with these matters. Their hearts may have become too hardened. Only if God permits will it be possible to broach the true teachings of Christ. And to some it might not be permitted.
Alternately it may just be a reference to the fact that the writer recognises that his life and abilities are in God’s hands, and that time is short (compare James 4.13-15), but the connection with verse 4 suggests the former.
6.4-6a ‘For as touching those who were once enlightened and tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of (or ‘sharers in’) the Holy Spirit, and tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the age to come, and then fell away,’
He now describes here in detail those for whom his message might have come too late, although claiming to be confident that they are not of them (verses 9-10).
There are few verses which have caused more controversy. The question at issue is as to whether these verses necessarily refer to men who have been true Christians, who are then thought of as repudiating it all and being finally lost, or whether they can refer to outwardly professing Christians who gave all the appearance of being true Christians, and participated fully in God’s activity by His Spirit through the churches, but whose hearts were not truly won, and who were therefore never truly His. Before considering them it should be noted that he says of his readers, ‘we are persuaded better things of you, and things that accompany salvation’. This might then suggest that these things do not necessarily ‘accompany salvation’.
We should also note, as we see in the later illustration, that he illustrates the situation by speaking about two types of land, good land and bad land, the one which produces fruit the other, which produces thorns and thistles. Both received the ‘rain’. But while one was fruitful the other was not. It only produced ‘thorns’ and ‘thistles’ as in Genesis 3.18. That being so we may see these people described here as being like those in Jesus’ parable who proved to be unsuitable ground for the seed. It seems likely to us that in that example at least, people who were such bad ground were not true Christians. But that should not make us diminish the seriousness of the warning, for in the end the Scripture makes clear that men are known by their fruits. Those who are unfruitful can have no confidence in their Christian standing (Galatians 5.16-21).
In considering these words we must remember that in those early days when the presence of the Spirit was so strongly experienced among believers, and so strongly at work, and the contrast between Christians, and non-Christian pagans and Jews, was so vivid, the church may well have described the experience of professing Christians who came under the umbrella of the Spirit-filled church in a similar way to this. It may well have been terminology used of all in the church who professed Christ, whether genuine or not (something which they could not after all know until it was revealed by their behaviour).
This is especially so in view of the fact that both Jesus and Paul spoke of people whose outward lives seemed to demonstrate gifts and activities of the Holy Spirit, when they were not in fact genuine (Matthew 7.15, 22-23; 24.24; 1 Corinthians 12.3; 13.1-3; 1 John 4.1-3). Judas no doubt performed miracles and cast out evil spirits, even though Jesus knew the truth about him from the beginning. And the others would see him as a partaker of the Holy Spirit, which in a sense he was.
The next problem is as to how we are to split the experiences described. Are we to read ‘those who were once enlightened and tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Spirit’ as conveying one amplified description of the coming to them of the Holy Spirit, or are we to see each item as significant on its own? The Greek is not decisive. The same applies to ‘and tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the age to come.’
We shall first consider each phrase in some detail in order to lay a foundation.
He speaks of those who were ‘once enlightened’. They were ‘enlightened’ at one particular time in what seemed like a once for all experience as they heard the new teaching, their eyes were in a sense opened. The word of God was pressed home on their hearts. Outwardly at least they turned from their old ways, they had become ‘converted’. Intellectually at least they became aware of the new truth. The Greek word for "enlightened" here signifies "to give light or knowledge by teaching". It is so rendered by LXX in Judges 13.8, 2 Kings 12.2, 17.27. The apostle Paul uses it for "to make manifest", or "bring to light" in 1 Corinthians 4.5, 2 Timothy 1.10. But the question is, was this necessarily a saving receiving of saving truth? Certainly later being baptised was described as ‘being enlightened’, but that is a second century idea, a deterioration in thought.
In John 1.9 the verb is used of the Word as ‘enlightening’ every man who comes into the world (or as enlightening every man because He was coming into the world). There clearly men were enlightened who did not become Christians. The same applies in Ephesians 3.9. The idea there would seem to be of a generality of people and of angels being ‘enlightened’ without necessarily becoming responsive to God.
On the other hand in 10.32 the writer does seem to use it to signify those who being enlightened became Christians, but as that is only one example it cannot be seen as determining a trend. It is clear therefore that the word could have either meaning. It could mean that they were enlightened and ‘persuaded’, or enlightened but not necessarily finally persuaded. It could mean that they ‘saw’ the truth in their minds but did not necessarily respond fully from the heart. Or it could mean that they were savingly enlightened. But the main point is that they had known a good level of enlightenment.
It should be noted that it is doubtful whether the early church would have consented to baptise people unless they had seen them as ‘enlightened’, even if afterwards some were seen not to have been savingly enlightened.
‘And tasted of the heavenly gift.’ To ‘taste of’ something is to fully savour a part of it. It signifies taking enough of it so as sufficiently to appreciate what it is, although when Jesus ‘tasted death’ He experienced it fully (2.9). It does not signify a quick sip (although see Matthew 27.34), but nor does it necessarily signify total absorption of the whole. There would be a case for suggesting that often it described a deliberate intention of testing out adequately, without actually partaking of the whole, before making a final decision, or a partaking of it without partaking fully and finally. Its full significance can only be determined in context (as with so many words). Here the idea is of a partaking in some significant way of part of ‘the heavenly gift’.
It may be that it is to be linked with the next phrase, with the two ideas being combined, in which case it would be the Holy Spirit Who is seen as the heavenly gift (see Acts 2.38; 10.45) in which they have had a part through His work on them. Others see it as the gift of Christ (John 4.10; probably 2 Corinthians 9.15), but if that was intended here we might have expected the writer to indicate the fact, given the context. Yet others see it as the gift of eternal life (John 10.28), or the gift of salvation or the gift of righteousness (Romans 5.15, 17), or the gift of the Gospel (which would tie in with 6.5), or as tasting of the graciousness of the Lord (1 Peter 2.3). They had entered into the heavenly community and at least outwardly experienced their blessings.
And still others see ‘the heavenly gift’ as being the Lord’s Supper, the feast of which we partake, where we enjoy the heavenly gift which signifies to the true believer participation in the cross. Matthew tells us that Jesus ‘gave’ both bread and cup to the disciples. They could certainly be seen as a heavenly gift. And in Acts 20.11 we read of ‘having broken bread and having tasted’, linking ‘tasting’ with the broken bread. The communion bread may well also have been linked with ‘the corn of heaven’ (Psalm 78.24) through ‘the true bread that came down from Heaven’ (John 6.32-33), God’s heavenly gift to man. The phrase ‘tasted of the heavenly gift’ would certainly fit well with early church views of the Lord’s Supper, and all professing Christians would have partaken of it.
But as it is to the Old Testament that the writer has generally looked when giving his exhortations, it may be that we are looking in the wrong direction. It may therefore be from the Old Testament that he took the idea of the heavenly gift. Such a gift is spoken of in Ecclesiastes 3.13 where we read, ‘And also that every man should eat and drink, and enjoy the good of all his labour, is the gift of God.’ In other words God’s gift to His own is a life of quiet confidence and rest in faith. This would tie in with the idea of the Christian’s rest in 4.1-11, and could have been spoken of as ‘tasting the heavenly gift’, that is tasting the good life of being in the heavenly community. They gave the impression of enjoying the heavenly rest. And that would be possible even to one whose commitment was not total.
Other possibilities are tasting of God’s gift of peace (Haggai 2.9), or of the former and latter rains seen in spiritual form (Joel 2.23), or of the gift of ‘beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that they might be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that He might be glorified’ (Isaiah 61.3), or the gift of ‘power to the faint, and to those who have no might He increases strength’ (Isaiah 40.29), or the pouring out of the Holy Spirit from Heaven (Isaiah 32.15; 44.1-54).
The idea of ‘tasting’ might also suggest Psalm 34.8, ‘O taste and see that the Lord is good. Blessed is the man who trusts in Him’, where the gift would be the Lord, or Psalm 119.103, ‘How sweet are your words to my taste! Yes, sweeter than honey to my mouth!’ where the gift would be the Scriptures. These might suggest tasting the Lord by walking with Him (but that is not really a gift as such, except indirectly), or tasting His words as revealed in His word, which could certainly be seen as a heavenly gift (6.5).
So there are a considerable number of possible alternatives, although a number of them co-relate. But while we can enjoy the thought of each one, especially where they co-relate, we cannot be dogmatic about any as being specifically in mind here. No doubt the phrase was known to his readers who would have known. The main point is that they have experienced ‘something of the heavenly as given by God’, and such a description could refer to either genuine or professing Christians, the latter of whom receive certain ‘heavenly’ benefits and experience ‘heavenly’ things from being among true Christians. For example, the seed on rocky ground could be said to have ‘tasted of the heavenly gift’ - Mark 4.16-17 as could the unfruitful land which was rained on in verse 8.
Whichever gift we select he is saying that these people in mind have participated in such things to the extent that they can be said to have ‘tasted’ of them, to have had such experience of them as to say that they should now be in a position to really appreciate them. Whether that indicated saving faith might depend on which option we lean towards. Men may appreciate Christ and honour Him and be affected by Him and even follow His teaching, and thereby obtain much benefit, without being converted, they may experience the power of the Holy Spirit without being converted as the Holy Spirit powerfully works in the church which is their environment and even convicts them within. They may become involved in the Gospel and Christian teaching without being converted. They may even live a life of apparent rest and faith in God’s goodness without truly being His. The point here is that they have been involved with ‘the heavenly gift’, whatever that is seen as being, sufficiently for others to have been convinced that they were Christians, because that was what they professed. And that leaves them without excuse.
‘And were made partakers of (sharers in) the Holy Spirit.’ This can be compared with being ‘partakers of Christ’ in 3.14. In that passage whether they were partakers of Christ or not would not be discernible to the end. They were outwardly partakers. They saw themselves as partaking of Christ but that would be finally proved by their perseverance. The same might therefore be true here. They appear to have been made partakers of the Holy Spirit, but were they? In one sense yes in that they were involved, at least externally, in the working of His power in the church. They ‘partook’ or ‘shared in’ along with the whole church. But how real it was individually, as with the partaking in Christ, only time would tell.
For there are probably good grounds for suggesting that ‘partaking of (or ‘sharing in’) the Holy Spirit’ may simply have signified experiencing His working along with the whole church. Their very presence in the church necessitated contact with the power of the Spirit’s working, and being in a Spirit charged atmosphere. They were surrounded by the Spirit’s wondrous activity. And this view is supported by the following illustration where both the good and the bad land received the rain. Each type of land receives the benefit and influence of the rain, both the good and the bad (verses 7-8). Thus while these described here were in some way looked on as ‘partaking (or sharing) in the Holy Spirit’, it may be that their final apostasy revealed that such partaking, such sharing, was mainly external, and had not reached to the heart. For they had in the end produced thorns and thistles, in a similar way to those who pleaded with Christ that they had prophesied and done miracles in His name, but were rejected, not as having once been His but now rejected, who were described as those whom He had ‘never known’ (Matthew 7.21-23). And in the same way as the ‘believers, mentioned in John 2.23-25.
‘And tasted the good word of God.’ Not only had they benefited by being in a place where the Holy Spirit was powerfully at work, they had also feasted on the good word of God. They had absorbed much teaching which came from God through a word (rema) of teaching or a word of prophecy in the church. It had spoken to their hearts. But sadly it had not found a true response that lasted. Their hearts had proved to be unreceptive ground. And their failure was the greater in that it was a ‘good’ word of God. Compare Jeremiah 33.14 where the ‘good word’ of God was closely connected with the coming of the righteous Branch of the house of David. It was not the word that was at fault, but their hearts.
We can compare Herod who listened to John the Baptiser and ‘feared John, knowing that he was a just man and a holy one, and observed him. And when he heard him, he did many things, and heard him gladly’ Up to a point his heart responded to John’s teaching until it began to encroach too much on his own life (Mark 6.20).
‘And the powers of the age to come.’ As we have seen earlier the ‘age to come’ is what we call this present age, seen from the point of view of the Old Testament prophets (compare 2.5). As they looked ahead they spoke of the coming age when the Kingly Rule of God would come. And in Jesus that Kingly Rule, that ‘age to come’, had arrived and had been even more firmly established by His resurrection and exaltation. And part of its manifestation was through signs and wonders and miracles taking place first through Jesus Christ and then throughout the churches (2.4).
Here were the ‘powers of the age to come’ manifested among His people and all had tasted of them in one way or another. Furthermore it may well have been that in those churches were those of whom Jesus warned, those who would manifest such wonders that they might deceive even the elect. They prophesied in His name, they did wonders in His name, they cast out devils in His name, but He did not know them. Thus did they manifest the powers of the age to come without really being His.
So careful examination of these descriptions indicates the real possibility that these people were professing Christians but without a genuine life transforming experience. Note that the whole emphasis is on that which comes from without (enlightement, heavenly gift, Holy Spirit, prophetic word, powers, and not on inward fruit such as love, joy, peace, etc. (He will later use love as the evidence that his readers probably are genuine believers - verse 10). Like many in the church today they professed a kind of faith, they convinced others of the genuineness of their faith, they even convinced themselves, but it was not faith in Christ. It was rather faith in a church which revealed certain powerful experiences and a belief in that church and its leaders, and possibly a faith in baptism and certain basic teaching, but a faith which had not penetrated the heart. They had been members of these living churches for a long time. They had been enlightened, had partaken of the Lord’s Supper, had experienced the heavenly gift of blessing and rest and peace in the church, had experienced the power of the Spirit’s working and had indeed convinced their fellow church members that they had the Holy Spirit within them, had fed on the words of prophecy and had enjoyed the powerful working of the Holy Spirit in the signs and wonders performed in the church, perhaps even spoken in tongues and prophesied themselves. And yet they turned away because of persecution. Thus was it demonstrated that although they had given every impression of being so, they were not true partakers of Christ.
‘And then fell away.’ These dread words express so succintly the dreadful possibility. They had enjoyed experience of all this and they then ‘fell away’ from the right path, from the profession that they had made. So what excuse had they? Thus do all need to ‘test yourselves out whether you be in the faith’. And the test is as to whether Jesus Christ is genuinely in them (2 Corinthians 13.5). Whether their commitment to Him from the bottom of their hearts is real. And if He is and the commitment is real then their fruit will reveal the fact, and there will be no danger of their finally turning back.
6.6b ‘It is impossible to renew them again to repentance, seeing that they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put him to an open shame.’
But their action of apostasy in the light of all the blessing that had been theirs would be a considered denial of all that they had seen and experienced. This was not just a falling into sin. That could be repented of. Their apostasy would reveal that their hearts were totally hardened. That while they had outwardly ‘repented’, turning to some extent from their old ways, it had not resulted in saving faith, and it had thus only hardened them. They had not truly known Christ, for had they done so they could not turn away. And after such a turning away there could be no way of repentance open to them for they would have received, and deliberately and knowingly rejected, the light shining fully on them over a long period of time, and the testimony of the Holy Spirit, which had included the evidence of the casting out of evil spirits, and they would have declared it all false. They would have blasphemed the Holy Spirit.
Having themselves professed to serve the crucified One over a long period of time, if they now publicly rejected Him, they would thereby be declaring that His crucifixion was what He deserved, and that He had not been fit to live. By their attitudes they would in their own minds, by having fallen away (aorist tense), be crucifying Him afresh, and that continually (present tense), and continually putting Him to open shame in the eyes of the world. In the light of such determined rejection and hardening of heart, they would be like Israel in their murmuring in the wilderness, continually disobedient after so many wonders. God would say of them ‘they shall not enter into my rest’.
‘They continually crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh.’ Note the title used, not ‘Jesus’ but ‘the Son of God’. Their crime is worse than that of the Jewish leaders and Pilate, for they know with Whom they have to do. They have for a long time declared Him to be the Son of God. But now they will be declaring Him fit only to be crucified again. In their minds they take up a continuing position in their minds that it was right that He should be crucified. They pass the same verdict as their predecessors, and continue to maintain it, but with even less excuse. The title also brings out the depths of their crime. In intent they will crucify not only Jesus but ‘the Son’.
‘It is impossible to renew them again to repentance.’ To such people there is no point in reiterating the need for repentance or to attempt to seek to enlighten them as to the Gospel. They know all about it, possibly more than the evangelist. Thus to spend time teaching them the fundamentals that they already know would be to cast pearls before swine. The evangelist would be essaying a useless task, and the writer does not intend to attempt it. (Had it said ‘for them to be renewed’ it would have been stronger, for then it would have included God in the exclusion. But it does not).
We have all experienced situations where there is no point in talking to people any longer, because we recognise that in their present state nothing will move them. But this is not necessarily saying that people that we consider to be in such a state cannot repent even if they want to, and must therefore be rejected even if they give the appearance of repenting. If they want to repent it in fact shows that they are not in such a state, and we must therefore seek to help them, trusting that it is genuine.
Nor does it state that even God could not do it, although we may certainly suggest that God will not do it without repentance on their side. It is never for us to say what God can or cannot do. What the writer is concerned basically to say is that they have gone beyond anything that we can hope to remedy, and that we may therefore decide not to waste any more of our precious time on them, but to leave them in the hands of God. (Such people can take up too much of a godly man’s time, resulting in more worthy recipients of their message losing out).
To any who fear that they might be in this sad situation we can only say that the very fact that you fear it suggests that you are not in it. So not be afraid. If you truly repent God will receive you, for by it you will have demonstrated that your repentance is not unrenewable.
6.7-8 ‘For the land which has drunk the rain that comes often upon it, and brings forth herbs meet for those for whose sake it is also tilled, receives blessing from God. But if it bears thorns and thistles, it is rejected and nigh to a curse, whose end is to be burned.’
He now compares those who are truly Christ’s with such apostates. True Christians are like land which constantly experiences the rain of the Holy Spirit. They are ‘tilled’ by the Holy Spirit through God’s servants, and they produce good vegetation and herbs, they are fruitful, and such land receives the blessing of God, it is blessed and fruitful .
In contrast apostates are like land which bears thorns and thistles. They too drink of the rain that comes on them through the Holy Spirit’s working, but all they produce in the end is thorns and thistles. They are nigh to a curse, for it is certain shortly to come upon them, and their end is to be burned. We note here that both experience the work of the Holy Spirit, but in the latter case it is finally fruitless. They have shared in the Holy Spirit, but have chosen to receive death and not life.
They would prove themselves as being like the land which the first Adam would cultivate after he had fallen, for that land would also for him produce ‘thorns and thistles,’ and that land was cursed (Genesis 3.1-18). But those who were blessed were the children of the second man, the last Adam, who would produce fruit a hundredfold, because for Him there was blessing and no curse. He was crowned with glory and honour (2.9).
So in good Old Testament fashion there is the contrast between blessing and cursing, the choice that was regularly laid before God’s people. ‘Nigh to a curse’ could describe their present state, and refer to any considering apostasy at the present time, as not yet having taken the final step, the final renunciation, and who are therefore near to being cursed, but have not yet been so. Should they choose to do so their end will be to be destroyed, as thorn infested ground is burned, both to clear it of the weeds and stubble and possibly as a curse and judgment on it. Or it may signify that the sure curse is awaiting the land, although not yet having been applied, and that it will then result in its final fiery end
This comparing of what was fruit bearing and what was not is regularly used both by John the Baptiser and by Jesus. In the end it is by men’s fruits that what they are is really known. Fruits are regularly seen as necessary testimony to true faith (Matthew 3.8, 10; 7.19-20; Mark 4.3-20; Luke 13.6-9; John 15.1-6).
‘Brings forth herbs meet for those for whose sake it is also tilled.’ Note how the good land is not only itself blessed but it provides blessing to others. Through God’s help it provides for God’s people an all-sufficiency. And he will now point to the ministry of those to whom he is writing which seemingly does this and thus gives him hope that they are truly good land.
6.9 ‘But, beloved, we are persuaded better things of you, and things that accompany salvation, though we thus speak.’
However, the writer assure his readers that in spite of the way he has spoken he expects better things of them than to produce thorns and thistles because they are barren land. He is persuaded of those better things, things which go along with and accompany salvation. He looks for fruit and faithfulness, and the blessing of God on them. And he does so because he believes that he has seen genuine fruit in their lives.
‘Beloved.’ He is not just speaking cold doctrine. His heart it reaching out to them.
‘Accompany salvation.’ The word "accompany" signifies "conjoined with", or inseparable from, that which has a sure connection with "salvation". The things that accompany salvation are a true faith in Christ, a commitment to His service, and a life of love lived out in the Holy Spirit.
6.10 ‘For God is not unrighteous to forget your work and the love which you showed towards his name, in that you ministered to the saints, and still do minister.’
For, he assures them, he is certain that God will not forget what they have done in His name. He is not unrighteous. And therefore there is no danger that He will overlook their work, and their ministry to the saints, to His people, and the love that they show for His name in continual ministry to His people even to the present time. He cannot believe that it is not genuine.
We are reminded here especially of the words, ‘inasmuch as you have done it to the least of these My brothers, you have done it to Me’ (Matthew 25.40). God sees what people do for those who are His, and takes regard of it. Even a cup of cold water given in Christ’s name to a disciple will not lose its reward (Mark 9.41).
6.11 ‘And we desire that each one of you may show the same diligence unto the fullness of hope even to the end.’
And so his desire and longing for them is that each one of them will continue to show the same diligence as they have done in the past, with their eye on the future hope, so that they will be ready when the fullness of their hope becomes a reality in the second coming of Christ, kept faithful until the end.
6.12 ‘That you be not sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises.
For his longing is that they will not be sluggish, but will faithfully imitate (behave similarly to) those who through faith and patient endurance inherit the promises. They have manifested love and hope, now he trusts that they will manifest faith and patient endurance. Others have faced persecution and have suffered or died gloriously (see chapter 11) from the time of Abraham (see verses 13-20 following) right up to this present day. His longing is that if necessary they will do the same. And his hope in the end rests not on them but on the faithfulness of God, and on the faithful High Priest after the order of Melchizedek (verse 20).
We should note here that being sluggish may well be an indication of those whose faith is not genuine. One sign of a true heart is diligence in the things of God. We must give diligence to make our calling and election sure (2 Peter 1.10). Many Christians sadly are sluggish, but if we are not diligent we need to examine ourselves to see whether we really are in Christ.
‘Inherit the promises.’ The Christian’s hope is in God’s promises for the future life that are to be theirs with Him, which they will one day inherit (see 9.15; 11.8), promises which are confirmed by God’s unchangeable oath made to Abraham (verses 13-20). The idea behind ‘inheritance’ is the lawful receiving of what is not deserved.
God’s Sure Promise To Those Who Are Truly His (6.13-20).
And the assurance of salvation that His own can know is emphasised by the greatness of His oath to Abraham, and in respect of His oath sworn that the Messiah would be the High Priest according to Melchizedek. For our hope is established on this firmest of foundations, an oath made on His own Name, and an oath which was unchangeable. It is thus founded on two unchangeable things in which it is impossible for God to lie, and is for us like an anchor of the soul, which enables us to enter into the very presence of God where our great High Priest is there to act on, as our Intercessor on our behalf, and our Forerunner as true and representative Man. His presence there is the assurance that one day All Who are His will be there, for they are already there in Him (compare Ephesians 2.6).
6.13 ‘For when God made promise to Abraham, since he could swear by none greater, he swore by himself,’
For when God commenced the process of salvation history, of restoration, with Abraham, He made an irreversible oath. His promise to him was sworn on Himself because He could swear on no greater (Genesis 22.16).
6.14 ‘Saying, “Surely blessing I will bless you, and multiplying I will multiply you.’
And that promise was that He would certainly bless him, and would certainly multiply him, so that throughout the whole world God’s own chosen ones would be brought into being, those who would become sons of Abraham, who would walk as Abraham walked, and would be blessed through him (so that if necessary He would and could turn stones into sons of Abraham - Matthew 3.9). His purpose was set and fixed and nothing could stop it. Thus those who enter into the blessing of Abraham through becoming God’s children by faith (Romans 4.12-13, 24; Galatians 3.7-9, 14, 29), have the assurance that they have come within the unchangeable promise of God, a promise which will never fail. When God made His oath to Abraham He made it to all who are His own.
6.15 ‘And thus, having patiently endured, he obtained the promise.’
And as a result of His promises Abraham patiently endured, and through faith obtained the promise, an example to us all. So that we who are in Abraham should also patiently endure in order to obtain the promise (compare verses 11-12).
‘He obtained the promise.’ He was promised numerous seed, but for a long period in his life no child was born to Sara, until at last hope grew dim and he resorted to a number of expedients. But his faith was at last rewarded and Sara bore a son. He obtained the promise, for in Isaac lay the whole future. Isaac was the guarantee of the countless seed that would look back to Abraham as their father. As a result of that remarkable birth Abraham then knew that all the other promises would be fulfilled. Thus did he have assurance that the One Who would finally bring all things together under God would also be born (John 8.56). He saw Jesus’ day and was glad.
And yet his final inheriting of the promise awaits the future. He has obtained it in faith but not in final fulfilment. That is yet to come, and we have our full part in it (11.39-40).
6.16 ‘For men swear by the greater, and in every dispute of theirs the oath is final for confirmation.’
For as is well known the greater a man’s oath, the greater the object on which it is sworn. And when men have a dispute a most solemn oath firmly establishes the truth and confirms what a man says, and put all other considerations aside.
6.17 ‘Wherein God, being minded to show more abundantly to the heirs of the promise the immutability of his counsel, interposed with an oath,’
And that is why, when God determined to show in the most certain manner to those who were the heirs of promise the unchangeableness of what He had determined to do, He did it by means of an oath in order to demonstrate that there was no way in which He would alter what He had determined.
The impression given here is that those heirs of promise were already fixed and determined in the mind of God, and that His oath was being made to them as well as to Abraham. He was speaking to them as much as to Abraham. Those who are His now can look back and see themselves as there in Abraham, receiving the promise. And that is why they can have full assurance of God’s faithfulness to them.
‘The immutability of His counsel.’ He wanted all to know that what He had determined to do He would do, that what He promised He would perform, because it was His unchangeable will. Thus do we recognise that it was not left to chance, or to the will of man, but was determined by God in every detail.
6.18 ‘That by two immutable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we may have a strong encouragement, who have fled for refuge to lay hold of the hope set before us.’
And this is guaranteed by two immutable things, two totally unchangeable things by their very nature, in which it is impossible for God to lie. This may be seen as referring to, firstly His solemn promise to Abraham, and secondly His solemn oath. Having such a solid basis for believing God we who have fled for refuge to the hope set before us, may have a strong encouragement to be steadfast, because they were made to us.
Alternately we may see the two immutable things as the two oaths in mind in the whole passage, the oath concerning Abraham and his seed and the oath concerning the appointment of the Davidic house as High Priest according to the order of Melchizedek, which is mentioned in Psalm 110.4, the verse partly cited in 5.6 (see 7.20-22 where this oath is emphasised). They thus see the writer as declaring that in accordance with God’s oath to Abraham, and in accordance with God’s oath to the Davidic house, which includes the Messiah, God will secure Abraham’s chosen spiritual descendants for ever and will protect them through the God-appointed High Priest, appointed by firm oath (see verse 20).
‘We who have fled for refuge.’ We who have thereby entered into His rest by fleeing from sin and disobedience and unbelief, and all the constraints of the world and of Satan, and all that would destroy us, in order to seize the hope set before us. There may well be in mind here the desperate fleeing to the cities of refuge of accidental menslayers seeking to escape from the avengers of blood (Numbers 35.9-34), or of sailors fleeing for refuge to a harbour from a great storm, where they can safely drop anchor.
‘To lay hold of the hope set before us.’ This hope is the hope of eternal life (Titus 1.2), the hope of final salvation (1 Thessalonians 5.8). But finally it is hope in Christ.
6.19-20 ‘Which we have as an anchor of the soul, a hope both sure and steadfast and entering into that which is within the veil, whither as a forerunner Jesus entered for us, having become a high priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek.
And that hope, which is like an anchor of the soul, is fixed on Jesus Who has entered (compare 4.14) as our Forerunner ‘within the veil’, that is into the very presence of God, as our eternal High Priest. It is both sure and steadfast.
It should be noted that it is our hope in Him that is the anchor of the soul, not Jesus Himself, although Jesus is the One in Whom our hope is fixed. And therefore our anchor is grounded in Him. It is our ‘certain hope’ that anchors us to Jesus, and to all that He is for us. Such an anchor will not slip (is sure) or lose its grip (is steadfast) It is thus a hope sure and steadfast for it is fixed on and anchored in our Forerunner Jesus, the perfect representative of Manhood and Great High Priest appointed on our behalf Who has gone ahead on our behalf. But it is not suggested that this is the point at which He became High Priest, for the High Priest’s entry within the veil followed sacrifices. And thus we may see Jesus as High Priest as having first offered up Himself in sacrifice before His entry. At what point He did become High Priest is never clearly stated, but there are grounds for suggesting that it was when He was declared to be God’s Son and Servant at His baptism.
The picture of the anchor is vivid. An anchor is cast out into the sea where it sinks and is lost to sight in invisibility, and reaches out to the bottom of the sea where it takes hold on some invisible strength. So is our anchor of hope cast out and disappearing into invisibility in the great Beyond is caught up in our great Forerunner Who will hold us firm to the end. We can thus live our lives in the full confidence that we are safely anchored to Jesus. The anchor in fact became a recognised Christian symbol, being found engraved on Christian funeral memorials in the catacombs.
The use of the name ‘Jesus’ emphasises that in mind is Jesus as perfect, reinstated representative Man (2.9), but the whole sentence indicates that as such He has also become our eternal High Priest, not one bound by Levitical ordinances, but as a High Priest after the order of Melchizedek, and thus free from earthly restraint, and made higher than the heavens. As the next chapter will reveal (7.26), His ministry as High Priest is superior to that of Aaron in every way.
‘Forerunner.’ One Who has gone before as Man to prepare the way and lead us into glory (2.10). And yet He is not only perfect man but also perfect High Priest (7.26-27), Who has offered a perfect Sacrifice on our behalf (7.27; 9.28; 10.12, 14) and makes perfect intercession for us (7.25; 9.24), ‘a High Priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek’. And because he is our Forerunner, we will eventually follow Him within the veil into the very presence of God Most High. Nothing could be more amazing to a Jew than this, for to him that within the veil was for ever barred.
‘Within the veil.’ The veil separated the part of the sanctuary into which the priest could enter from the Most Holy Place where none could enter, except the High Priest once a year on the Day of Atonement after certain complicated special sacrifices, and where he could only remain for a short while (Leviticus 16). To enter within the veil at any other time would be blasphemy of an extreme kind, for God was envisaged as being there, usually invisibly, in all His awful holiness. (Although the belief also grew that in the Most Holy Place shone the Shekinah, the glorious light that depicted God’s presence unseen by man).
‘A High Priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek’. He will not die as earthly High Priests did. The death of a High Priest was no ordinary event. It was seen by Israel as an event having great significance a reminder of man’s frailty and itself a kind of atonement for the manslayers, an atonement no longer required now that the great Atonement has been made (Numbers 35.25; Joshua 20.6). Nor will He be required to come out from within the veil after a short period, as an earthly High priest was compelled to do, His ministry is perfect and heavenly and unceasing and triumphant for ever. He remains within the veil.
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THE PENTATEUCH --- GENESIS ---EXODUS--- LEVITICUS --- NUMBERS --- DEUTERONOMY --- THE BOOK OF JOSHUA --- THE BOOK OF JUDGES --- THE BOOK OF RUTH --- SAMUEL --- KINGS --- I & II CHRONICLES --- EZRA---NEHEMIAH---ESTHER---PSALMS 1-73--- PROVERBS---ECCLESIASTES--- SONG OF SOLOMON --- ISAIAH --- JEREMIAH --- LAMENTATIONS --- EZEKIEL --- DANIEL --- --- HOSEA --- --- JOEL ------ AMOS --- --- OBADIAH --- --- JONAH --- --- MICAH --- --- NAHUM --- --- HABAKKUK--- --- ZEPHANIAH --- --- HAGGAI --- ZECHARIAH --- --- MALACHI --- THE GOSPEL OF MATTHEW ---THE GOSPEL OF MARK--- THE GOSPEL OF LUKE --- THE GOSPEL OF JOHN --- THE ACTS OF THE APOSTLES --- READINGS IN ROMANS --- 1 CORINTHIANS --- 2 CORINTHIANS ---GALATIANS --- EPHESIANS--- PHILIPPIANS --- COLOSSIANS --- 1 THESSALONIANS --- 2 THESSALONIANS --- 1 TIMOTHY --- 2 TIMOTHY --- TITUS --- PHILEMON --- HEBREWS --- JAMES --- 1 & 2 PETER --- JOHN'S LETTERS --- JUDE --- REVELATION --- THE GOSPELS & ACTS