Christ our Forerunner, Hebrews 6. 18-20
Malcolm Horlock, Cardiff, Wales
The writer to the Hebrews tells of two things which are "set before us". Immediately, there is a "race", 12. 1. Beyond that, and ultimately, there is a "hope", 6. 18.
In both contexts, the writer directs our attention to the Lord Jesus. Concerning the race, He is our pattern and example: concerning the hope, He is our guarantee and assurance. While running the race we are invited to concentrate our gaze upon Jesus as the One who carried faith through to its loftiest triumph, 12. 2-3. But beyond the race lies the hope.
As indicated by the expression "set before us", the writer does not use the word "hope" of a feeling or emotion. He points to the future and uses it to describe the object of our expectation, that which is hoped for. Compare Titus 2. 13, and consult the article "Hope" in W. E. Vine's Expository Dictionary and the foot of page 369 of Treasury of Bible Doctrine.
The Christian's hope enters into that which is "within the veil", 6. 19. This expression draws on the typical significance of the tabernacle, and indicates "the Holiest of all", 9. 3; cf Lev. 16. 2. That is, the phrase denotes the immediate presence of God.
The New Testament does not often describe the believer's hope in terms of a place; more commonly it is seen to centre and consist in a Person. Note "with Christ", Phil. 1. 23; "with the Lord", 1 Thess. 4. 17; "with me", John 17. 24; "Christ Jesus our hope", 1 Tim. 1. 1 lit. We find that, to see Jesus, the wise men journeyed, Matt. 2. 1-12, Simon waited, Luke 2. 25-30, Zacchaeus climbed, 19. 3-4, Herod longed, 23. 8, and the Greeks asked, John 12. 20-21. But the thrilling prospect before us is that "we shall see him", 1 John 3. 2.
Occasionally, however, the scriptures do speak of our hope in terms of a place. We learn that it is a place (i) "prepared" for us, John 14. 2-3, (ii) "reserved" for us, 1 Pet. 1. 4, and (iii) "entered" for us, Heb. 6. 20.
Our assurance that we shall enter finally into God's immediate presence rests on the fact that Jesus has already entered there, and that He has done so as our "forerunner". That is, our hope enters there, v. 19, because our Saviour already has, v. 20.
What, we ask, is the significance of the word "forerunner" (Gk, prodro-mos)} It means one who runs before, who goes in advance. Its use in the Greek Bible is confined to Num. 13. 21(0) (the days of spring), Isa. 28. 4 (early figs) and Heb. 6.20. Its use in secular Greek, however, is of interest.
"Prodromoi" (plural of "prodromos") was largely a military word, and was often used to describe those troops sent before the main army to scout the territory ahead. Such were the advance guard, who often made lightning attacks on enemy forces to discover the real strength of these forces. Alexander the Great, one of the world's finest military commanders, had a special corps of cavalry who acted as mounted scouts and skirmishers. These were his "prodromoi", and their function was to ensure the safety of the main army which followed behind.
The word was also used in naval contexts. It was employed to describe small, swift craft sent before the main fleet. Their purpose was to strike unexpected blows at enemy ships so as to make it relatively safe for their own larger vessels to follow. Again, there is evidence that the word was used to describe the pilot boat which led large ships along the channel into the harbour of Alexandria, a harbour which was notoriously difficult to navigate.
One thing is certain. The word "forerunner" signified one who went in front to make it safe for others to follow. Possibly for this reason scripture never uses it as a description of John the Baptist.
In the context, the writer mentions our Lord's office of high priest, 6. 20. But, on its own, this office failed to convey all that was in the author's mind. As our (high) priest, the Lord Jesus could offer the sacrifice of Himself "to make propitiation for the sins of the people", 2. 17 lit, could intercede with God for us, 7. 25, and could represent us before God. It was not the role of the priest, however, to lead others into God's presence. It was unthinkable that Aaron should have entered the Holiest on the day of atonement at the head of a file of men! The author therefore supplements the title "priest" with the description "forerunner".
Christ rose from the dead as the "firstfruits", 1 Cor. 15. 20, 23. This is the guarantee that, if we die, we too shall rise to victory. He has entered heaven as the "forerunner". This is the guarantee that we also shall enter the place where He has gone.
Several passages in Hebrews speak of Christ as having "entered" heaven. As we have seen, chapter 6. 18-20 looks forward and tells us something about the future. Chapter 9. 12 looks backward and tells us something about the past; He entered "having obtained eternal redemption". Chapter 9. 24 looks upward and tells us something about the present; having entered, He appears "now" in God's presence. Putting these three passages together, we learn that ''''for us" (i) He has obtained eternal redemption, 9. 12, (ii) He intercedes, 9. 24, and (iii) He has entered heaven as our forerunner, 6. 20. Note that the writer often employs the past, present and future tenses to describe the glories of the Lord, 2. 8-9; 9. 24-28; 13. 8.
The believer's hope, we are told, functions as an "anchor", 6. 19. The readers of the Epistle were tempted to apostasize on many scores. They had a real need for something to keep their souls secure amidst the many storms. "It behoves us", the author insisted, "to give more abundant attention to the things which we have heard, lest we drift away", 2. 1 lit. There was the constant danger that the readers should be "swept away1' from their Christian profession, 13. 9 lit.
The writer countered the splendour and impressiveness of the Jewish system by speaking of those things which the Christian has which are "better". But what answer did he have to persecution and suffering? For, make no mistake, the readers had already endured considerable reproach and affliction — indeed, everything short of actual martyrdom, 10. 32-33; 12. 4. His answer was the hope of the Christian! This was the "anchor" his readers so sorely needed.
To us also the writer's exhortation is, "Let us go on", 6. 1. In the light, then, of "the hope set before us", 6. 18, let us run with endurance "the race that is set before us", 12. 1.