The writer or ‘Hebrews’ was himself a Hebrew Christian. He shows a deep concern for the spiritual welfare of the people of his own race, hence it is very necessary in reading the epistle to take careful note of the people he is addressing. Sometimes he writes as a Jew to the national Jews, on other occasions he writes as a Christian to the Christian Jews. The national Jews were in danger of openly rejecting the ‘great salvation’ offered to them in Christ, but many of the professing Christians were immature and making no progress in their Christian life.
With remarkable Spirit-given insight and logic the writer takes both of these groups of people out of the temporary shadows, imagery, types, promises and covenants of Old Testament times into the eternal realities and substance of heavenly things that the everlasting salvation the work of Christ had prepared for them. The problem was, would they accept it?
1. The promises and Covenants of Old Testament times given to Abraham, Moses and the prophets related primarily to the Hebrew family
The Hebrews were a chosen race of people separated from the nations. To them God gave great and wonderful promises of a future inheritance which they could claim as their own. They were His (God’s) people, 8. 10; His brethren, 2. 12, 17; His children, 2. 14; His house, 3. 6; the seed of Abraham, 2. 16; heirs of salvation, 1. 14; heirs of promise, 6. 1 7; partakers of the heavenly calling, 3. 1. The promised covenant was with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, 8. 8.
2. The Promises and Covenants had been ratified in the Person and Work of Jesus, their Messiah, the Son of God
The promises given to Abraham and David were to be confirmed to Israel through Abraham’s son, Isaac (Christ), and David’s son, Solomon (Christ), Gal. 3. 1 6; Heb. 1. 6; Matt. 1. 1. Thus in Hebrews Jesus is seen as God’s last voice to Israel, 1. 1, announcing ‘great salvation’ to His people, 2. 3, 4. He is seen as the eternal Son of God, 1. 2, greater than angels and prophets, Israel’s Apostle and High Priest, 3. 1; greater than Melchizidek and Aaron, 7. 15-17; 5. 1-5; the Mediator of the New Covenant, 8. 6; 9. 15; the Captain and Author of their eternal salvation, 2. 15; 5. 9; 12. 2; the Great Shepherd of the sheep, 13. 20.
For the redemption of Israel:
a) He took on Himself the nature of His brethren – the Hebrews, the seed of Abraham, 2. 10; 6. 17; a ‘body’ was prepared for Him in which He could accomplish the will of God, 10. 6. 7. This involved for Him physical, mental and spiritual trials and suffering, 4. 15; 5. 7, 8.
b) He became the bearer of Israel’s sins
The redemption of Israel required a better sacrifice than all the animals offered in the old covenant, 10. 1-3, 11, 12. Sin in Old Testament times was covered (concealed), but never removed or taken away from the eye of God. The conscience of the offerer still carried the burden and guilt of sin, 10. 2-4. Final and full atonement required the death of the Son Himself, thus -
He ‘tasted death for every man’, 2. 9.
He ‘offered himself without spot to God’, 7. 27, 9. 12.
His ‘body’ was offered once for all, 10. 10.
He ‘endured the cross, despising the shame’, 12. 2.
c) God raised Him from the dead, and placed Him at His own right hand The suffering of the cross behind Him, death had no further power over Him, hence the Father honoured the Son and ‘brought again from the dead the Great Shepherd of the Sheep’, 13. 20, and placed Him at his own right hand, 1. 3, 13. He now lives by the power of an endless life, 7. 1-3; He continues for ever, 7. 24; He is higher than the heavens, 7. 26; He entered the holy place in heaven itself, 9. 24. There He appears for ever before God, 9. 24; 10. 12 crowned with glory and honour, 2. 9, Israel’s undying, unchanging, Mediator and High Priest, 1. 3, 13; 2. 17; 4. 15; 5. 6; 8. 1, 12; 10. 21; 12. 2.
3. As a Direct Result of the Finished Work of Christ in his Death and Present Heavenly Ministry
a) A great salvation is now offered to Israel, 2. 3. Sins have been purged, 1. 3; put away, 9. 26; forgiven, 10. 18. In His shed blood reconciliation with God has been effected and the ‘conscience’ of the believer set at rest for all time, 9. 14.
b) Through the offering of Christ’s body believers are sanctified and perfected for ever, 9. 13; 10. 10, 14; eternal redemption, 9. 12, and eternal salvation are offered to the believer, 5. 9; 7. 25.
c) A new and better covenant has been established, resting on better promises, 7. 22; 8. 6, 13; 10. 16; 13. 20, giving believers strong consolation and a way of refuge, 6. 18-20.
d) The true tabernacle, greater and more perfect, is now established in heaven, 8. 2; 9. 11.
e) Through Christ’s continuing intercession as High Priest, the way into God’s presence is now open, 10. 19-21; at the ‘throne of grace’ mercy and grace are found, 4. 16; 13. 10.
f) The fear of death has been conquered, 2. 14. 15.
g) Perfect ‘rest’ is found in Christ, 4. 1.
h) In heaven God has prepared a new ‘city’ 11. 10; 12. 22; 13. 14, a ‘better country’, 11. 16, a ‘better resurrection’, 11. 35, a kingdom that cannot be moved, 12. 28, and a hope of ‘better things’, 11. 40; 12. 24.
4. Some of the Hebrews had, in faith alone, accepted the Present and Future Blessings of the Salvation procured by Christ
‘We which have believed do enter into rest’, 4. 3. Without faith it is impossible to please Him (God); he that comes to God must believe that He is a rewarder of them that diligently seek Him, 11. 6; ‘the just shall live by faith’, 10. 38.
The Hebrews of old time ‘entered not in because of unbelief … the word preached did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in them that heard it’, 3. 19. But the New Testament believers followed the example of Joshua and Caleb and claimed their God-given inheritance. They had accepted the gospel and were displaying a work of faith and labour of love towards God and His people, though this brought on them suffering and persecution from the world outside, 10. 32-34.
Faith, however, is also ‘the substance (the assurance) of things hoped for’. ‘We have a strong consolation who have fled for refuge to lay hold upon the hope set before us, which hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and steadfast’, 6. 18, 19. Though complete and perfect in Christ, enjoyment of all blessings is mainly in the future, hence to faith must be added patience. The believers must be ‘followers of them who through faith and patience inherit the promises’, 6. 12. ‘After he (Abraham) had patiently endured he inherited the promises’, 6. 15. ‘Let us run with patience the race that us set before us’, 12. 1.
Chapter eleven gives a long list of men and women who, in simple faith, laid hold on things invisible, vv. 1, 27, and things future. Beyond the physical limitations of natural sight they saw an eternal city and a heavenly country: death was but a doorway into endless joy in the presence of God Himself. And for this they were prepared to wait – whatever the cost may have been – persecution, suffering, reproach, death. In the world they were but strangers and pilgrims and, with the exception of two, Enoch and Elijah, they died without receiving the promise, vv. 13, 39, in hope of a better resurrection.
5. Others were Wavering, in Danger of rejecting the Blessings laid before Them, and thus bringing on Themselves the disciplinary Hand of God
‘We ought to give the more earnest heed to the things which we have heard, lest at any time we should let them slip … how shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation?’ 2. 1, 3.
‘To day if you (Jews) will hear his voice, harden not your hearts’, 3. 7, 9. ‘Take heed … lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief, in departing from the living God, 3. 12.
‘Let us (Jews) … fear, lest, a promise being left us of entering into his rest, any of you should seem to come short of it, 4. 2. ‘Let us labour … to enter into that rest, lest any man fall after the same example of unbelief, 4. 11.
‘That which beareth thorns and briers is rejected, and is nigh unto cursing; whose end is to be burned’, 6. 8.
‘If we (Jews) sin wilfully after we have received the knowledge of the truth there remains no more sacrifice for sins but judgement that devours the adversary’, 10. 26, 27. ‘Vengeance belongeth unto me … the Lord will judge (discipline) his people’, 10. 27-31.
In Old Testament times God used heathen nations to judge or punish the Hebrews when they sinned against Him, but Deuteronomy 32, from whence these verses are taken, indicates that vengeance would eventually fall on Israel’s enemies and that God would (and will) ‘be merciful unto his people’, 32. 43, hence the encouragement to continue in faith and patience in view of blessing to come, 10. 33-38; Heb. 2. 2-4.
Chapter 12 continues the theme of discipline showing that God chastens His people for their own good – despise not thou the chastening of the Lord nor faint when thou art rebuked of him’, 12. 6. ‘Lift up the hands which hang down, and the feeble knees; and make straight paths for your feet, lest that which is lame be turned out of the way; but let it rather be healed’, 12. 12, 13.
‘See that you refuse not him that speaketh. For if they escaped not who refused him that spake on earth, much more shall not we escape, if we turn away from him that speaketh from heaven’, 12. 25.
6. Finally, all needed encouragement to grow in Spiritual maturity and live in the enjoyment of the New Life in Christ
‘Let us (believers) therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need’, 4. 16.
‘Let us go on to perfection (i.e. the perfect salvation now offered in Christ), not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works, and of faith toward God’, 6. 1.
The professing Hebrew Christians were spiritual babes, 5. 12; although instructed by the Holy Spirit concerning the present revelation, 6. 4, they were nevertheless still living in the ‘first principles’ of the doctrine of Christ, 5. 12; 6. 1, i.e. in the shadows and types of the old covenant. To turn back to the shadows was to ‘crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put him to an open shame’, v. 6, for there was no way that the Old Testament foundational ‘principles’ of ‘repentance and faith’, vv. 1, 6, could be renewed.
It is most unfortunate that so many true believers today see in the warning passages of Hebrews a threat to their eternal security in Christ and thus pass through life in a constant state of doubt, fear and uncertainty. Only in Christ is ‘perfection’ found and mature believers will make this the basis and foundation upon which to rest their faith.
‘Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith’, 10. 22.
‘Let us hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering’, 10. 23.
‘Let us lay aside every weight… and let us run with patience the race that is set before us’, 12. 1.
‘Let us go forth therefore unto him without the camp (of Israel), bearing his reproach’, 13. 13.
‘The God of peace … make you perfect in every good work to do his will, working in you that which is wellpleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ’, 13. 20, 21.
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