The Danger of Drifting

 

After extolling the supremacy of Christ in the first chapter of Hebrews, the author enters into an interlude of exhortation in verses 1-4 of chapter 2 on the dangers of drifting and neglect of the message which they (we) have heard. The practical nature of this exhortation cannot be limited to the original audience of Hebrews, but must by necessity extend to us, as believers, today just as his message concerning Christ must by necessity stir our hearts towards affections for Him.

Beginning in 2:1, we see the warning that follows on the heels of the majesty of Christ

1Therefore we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it. For since the message declared by angels proved to be reliable, and every transgression or disobedience received a just retribution, how shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation? It was declared at first by the Lord, and it was attested to us by those who heard, while God also bore witness by signs and wonders and various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will.”  

In the passage quoted above we have what is often referred to as an imperative statement. Biblically, the imperative most often follows the indicative. This simply means that Scripture often indicates for us a truth, here concerning Christ, His person, and work and then proceeds to give a command based on that truth. In Hebrews 2:1 the command is to “pay much closer attention to what we have heard”. In the immediate context, what has been heard refers to all that has just been said in Hebrews chapter 1. In the broader context of Scripture, it refers to the entirety of the Gospel message that holds Christ the center. The truths about who Christ is, namely that He is the eternal Son of God, the Exalted King, His supremacy over the angels (vs. 1:5-14), His purification for sins and His sitting down at the right hand of the majesty on high. That Christ, the exclusive message about Him and His work, along with all that follows in the remainder of chapter 2, requires us to pay much closer attention. A similar warning is also given in Luke 8:18 as Jesus concludes the parable of the soils whose primary focus is on rightly hearing the word of God, Take care then how you hear, for to the one who has, more will be given, and from the one who has not, even what he thinks that he has will be taken away.”

Interestingly, the exhortations of Hebrews have often been controversial as to whom they may be speaking, believers or unbelievers.  In this case, it is clear that the author includes himself in the warning as he states “we” three times in the first verse, two more times in verse 3 and uses us in that verse as well.  It’s clear that his intention is to arouse those true believers who may be sleeping for the purpose of motivating them.  Those found with disingenuous faith will succumb to the results of the warning and drift.

This term carries with the idea of a ship that has sailed past its port and it is emblematic of the Christian life. Our lives are not to be thought of as a pontoon on a placid lake, instead we are actively engaged in a faith-based, Spirit-fueled effort to row in the swift stream of life. Drifting therefore does not take us closer to our destination, but instead leaves us further away. In fact, the argument could be made that the one who drifts is not even aware of the incremental movement, until he or she has drifted quite some distance away.

How then can we avoid drifting and ensure that we are paying closer attention to the message of Christ that we have heard? John Owen offers 5 practical solutions centered around diligent attention to the word of the gospel:

  1. Esteem the Gospel in your thoughts. “Constant high thoughts then of the necessity, worth, glory, and excellency of the gospel, as on other accounts, so especially on account of the author of it, and the grace dispensed in it, is the first step in that diligent heeding of it, which is required of us. Want of this was that which ruined many of the Hebrews to whom the apostle wrote. And without it we shall never keep our faith firm unto the end.”
  2. Diligent study of the Word. “Silver and treasure are not gathered by every lazy passenger on the surface of the earth; they must dig, seek, and search who intend to be made partakers of them, and they do so accordingly; and so must we do for these treasures of heavenly wisdom.”
  3. Mix the Word with faith. “To hear and not believe, is in spiritual life, what to see meat, and not to eat, is in the natural; it will please the fancy, but will never nourish the soul.”
  4. Labor to conform your heart and life to the express Word. “When the heart of the hearer is quickened, enlivened, spirited with gospel truths, and by them is molded and fashioned into their likeness, and expresseth that likeness in its fruits, or in a conversation becoming the gospel, then is the word attended unto in a right manner. This will secure the word a station in our hearts, and give it a permanent abode in us.”
  5. Be watchful. “Watchfulness against all opposition that is made either against the truth or power of the word in us, belongs also unto this duty. And as these oppositions are many, so ought this watchfulness to be great and diligent.”

May it never be said of us that “For this people’s heart has grown dull, and with their ears they can barely hear” but instead may Christ count us among his mother and brothers, “But he answered them, “My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and do it.”

As the argument progresses to verse 2, the intensity picks up as the author reinforces the statement he has just made by providing an argument from lesser to greater using the judgment for disobedience of the angels message (the lesser) and the judgment for those who neglect the Gospel (the greater coming up in verse 3), “For since the message declared by angels proved to be reliable, and every transgression or disobedience received a just retribution”.

The reference to angels here serves to reflect back to the entirety of chapter 1 where the superiority of Christ over the angels was established. Additionally, we gain a little insight into why the questions of Christ’s authority over the angels came up to begin with. Given Acts 7:53 and Galatians 3:19, it would appear that the role of angels in the establishment of the Old Covenant at Mt. Sinai was at least a belief held by some. Within our context of Hebrews, it becomes apparent that this is the case as the author will unfold his collective argument of the superiority of Christ over the entirety of the Old Covenant.

The fact that the message declared by angels was reliable, was transgressed, and warranted a just retribution cannot be overlooked. As the argument from lesser to greater progresses the message declared by the Lord is even more reliable (this doesn’t mean the old was untruthful; this is simply an added degree; greater validity if you will) and the punishment for transgression of His message will be more severe. “How shall we escape” then becomes rhetorical because none can escape the punishment handed out by neglecting the message of Christ.

This message of salvation, i.e. the Gospel, has been attested to by 1) The Lord Himself 2) Those who heard, believed, and subsequently proclaimed and by 3) God through various signs, wonders, miracles, and gifts distributed by the Holy Spirit.  The message therefore carries with it Trinitarian validation.  Can there be any wonder then why the author of Hebrews exhorts his listeners/readers and us on the dangers of drifting?  How can we hear such a message about Christ, testified to by the 3 Persons of the Trinity, given to men who proclaimed it and had their message validated by divine works, and expect to escape a great and just retribution for neglecting it?  Answer: There is no escape, therefore don’t neglect what you’ve heard.

The call is clear and the message should not be muted for Christians.  Yes, there is perseverance/preservation of the saints, but the warning here is very real.  There is a danger in drifting, a just retribution, therefore, don’t neglect the message of Christ that you have heard.

*Image Credit – www.dallasnews.com

Christ as Son is King

 

Hebrews 1:5-9

As I’ve studied through Hebrews chapter 1, it has struck me that in all my readings I’ve possibly been looking at it the wrong way.  Isn’t it fascinating how God can continually reveal new things about Himself through His Word when we give ourselves to diligent study and allow for more than just a passing glance.

Previously when I arrived at verse 1:5 and read, “You are my Son, today I have begotten you” my mind immediately went to the incarnation of Christ, i.e. John 3:16 “only begotten Son”. Skipping over the second half of verse 5 and landing on verse 6, I gathered confirmation for my interpretation by the phrase, “he brings the first born into the world”. Finally, in further support of reading this passage as speaking of the humanity of Christ in His incarnation the second half of verse 6 reads, “Let all God’s angels worship him,” clearly in reference to the angels at Christ’s birth right?  Together then, chapter 1 of Hebrews is simply a declaration of Christ’s incarnation, literally His first advent in human flesh, or so I’d concluded.

Not so fast.

Two particular resources helped open my eyes to the reality of what is actually being described in this passage: William Lane and Tom Schreiner, both of whom have written excellent commentaries on Hebrews with the former’s being a classic effort and the latter a new, helpful arrival.  They pair together nicely especially when a more succinct answer is desired over say, John Owen, whose commentary is magnificent, but may take days to read his exposition on just one verse.

Let’s work through the passage verse by verse and see what it is that they caught and I missed originally.

5 For to which of the angels did God ever say, “You are my Son, today I have begotten you”? Or again, “I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son”?

In this verse, the author picks up on his “hook-word” from verse 4, namely angels, and begins to develop more the idea set forth that Christ has been given a name far superior to angels. The argument begins with a quotation from Psalm 2:7, “You are my Son, today I have begotten you.” Is this then a reference to the incarnation? Not according to its Old Testament context. Turning there we find a messianic Psalm in which David, the king of Israel, is waxing eloquent under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit concerning his own enthronement by the very word of God, “The LORD said to me.” In context, God then refers to David as “son”. This is keeping with the concept of Israel as God’s “son”, but in our passage from Hebrews we see that the reference to son finds its ultimate fulfillment in The Son, Jesus Christ. It is this Sonship of Christ that gives Him superiority over the angels, grants Him the name that is greater than theirs, and forms the basis for His Kingship.

Schreiner points out that this Psalm refers to the installation of the Davidic king who fulfills the “promise made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob that the entire world be blessed through one of their offspring.”[1] It is with that context in mind that the author of Hebrews quotes the passage, only in reference to Christ, THE King of Israel and the ultimate fulfillment of all the promises of God. Christ is enthroned as the King par excellence, the King of Kings.

Following on in the passage from Psalm 2, we find that the theme shifts from enthronement and inheritance to vindication of the kingship, “you shall break them with a rod of iron.” It would be difficult to assert that the incarnation is in view from the Hebrews citation, given the contextual background of Psalm 2:7. Some have concluded that the incarnation is not in view here, rather a doctrine known as the eternal generation of the Son. Schreiner comments,

“The reference is not to the eternal begetting of the Son by the Father, though this reading is rather common in the history of interpretation. Nor is the reference to the virgin birth. The author of Hebrews actually interprets the verse in light of the entire message of Psalm 2. In context, the verse refers to the reign of the messianic king, which Hebrews sees as commencing at Jesus’ resurrection and ascension. Jesus is greater than the angels because he now reigns as the messianic king.”[2]

Further evidence of the use of Psalm 2 in reference to the resurrection and subsequent ascension of Christ to assume His throne may be found in Acts 13:32-34a where we read Peter stating boldly, “And we bring to you the good news that what God promised to the fathers, this he has fulfilled to us their children by raising Jesus, as also it is written in the second Psalm, ‘You are my Son, today I have begotten you.’ And as for the fact that he raised him from the dead, no more to return to corruption….” Again we see the connection between Christ’s resurrection, ascension, and enthronement with Psalm 2 as the backdrop of the promise.

In the second half of verse 5 we read, “I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son.” Again the theme of Father to Son, but as in the first half of this verse, the incarnation or eternal begetting of the son is not in view. This time the author of Hebrews chooses 2 Samuel 7:14 to buttress his thesis. Here we find ourselves in the middle of the Davidic Covenant given to King David, so once again our attention is drawn to kingship. In its Old Testament context, God is promising an eternal dynasty to David. By quoting this passage, Hebrews not only brings our attention to the relationship of Father and Son, but again to the relationship of Jesus’ Sonship to His Kingship. Lane writes, “Although Jesus was the preexistent Son of God…,he entered into a new experience of sonship by virtue of his incarnation, his sacrificial death, and his subsequent exaltation.”[3] In this citation it is again clear that the latter, namely Christ’s exaltation, is in view here.

That said, the next verse in the passage from Hebrews would seem to counter everything written above regarding the Kingship of Christ and would instead seem to support the concept of Christ’s incarnation from this passage. In other words, it would appear to be talking about Sonship-Incarnation rather than Sonship-Kingship. However, we need to be reminded of our context thus far in Hebrews 1) The Superiority of Christ over the Angels by way of His Sonship 2) The Kingship of Christ is specifically related to His Sonship. With that in mind, note verse 6 below:

6 And again, when he brings the firstborn into the world, he says, “Let all God’s angels worship him.”

Again Sonship is brought to the forefront of the passage by way of the phrase, “when he brings the firstborn into the world”. It would appear at first glance to support the incarnation perspective, and as most translations have pointed out this is not a clear quotation of an Old Testament passage, but is instead an allusion. The only explicit quotation occurs in the second part of the verse and it comes from Deuteronomy 32:43, but that doesn’t mean that the first part of the verse has no Old Testament basis. In Hebrews, and much of the New Testament for that matter, the authors are not only fond of using direct citations of the Old Testament, but allusions to it as well, as is the case in this verse. A dictionary definition of allusion is helpful here, “a passing or casual reference; an incidental mention of something, either directly or by implication.”[4]

In the example allusion from our verse we find correspondence in Psalm 89:26-27

26 He shall cry to me, ‘You are my Father, my God, and the Rock of my salvation.’ 27 And I will make him the firstborn,the highest of the kings of the earth.

Again in this passage we find our corresponding filial relationship (Father-Son) speaking of God to David and a reference to the firstborn, not in terms of begetting or being born, but in terms of kingship. Firstborn in Psalm 89 carries with it the idea of rank or authority. It is a term of preeminence. Similar usage of the word firstborn is found in Colossians 1:15, “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.” If we were to default to a view of Jesus’ incarnation in this passage, we’d have all sorts of exegetical difficulties because Adam was actually the firstborn of all creation. The Apostle Paul is using firstborn here to speak of Christ’s rank or authority, as in our verse from Hebrews. We may also note that in Colossians 1:16 immediately following this declaration is the assertion of Christ as Creator (pre-incarnate), supporting our conclusions thus far.

Returning to Hebrews 1:6 we can safely conclude that firstborn, in keeping with our context, is another reference Sonship-Kingship; but what are we to make of bringing the first born “into the world”? Wouldn’t this be the little baby laid in a manger? No, because again we must remember our context. There’s been nothing to change that so far and to change it here would make nonsense of the passage.

Instead, the author of Hebrews likely has a heavenly world in mind, as he does in Hebrews 2:5, “For it was not to angels that God subjected the world to come, of which we are speaking.” This is not indicative of the present material world that would’ve corresponded to Christ’s incarnation, but has the heavenly “world” in view; Christ’s session at the right of the Father which will be brought to earth in the New Heavens and New Earth (2:5). “Of which we are speaking” clues us into the prior usage of “world” from 1:6 and its intended meaning.

This brings in the objection that perhaps Christ’s second coming is in view here. The possibility for this exists, but it would seem to contradict the author’s flow of thought that Christ is NOW superior to angels. To argue for the future supremacy of Christ would negate the entirety of this section and thus undercut the basis for the exhortation coming in chapter 2 to continue believing in what has been heard concerning Christ. It seems more fitting to conclude that the “world” being mentioned here refers to Christ’s exaltation at His ascension (post-resurrection) where He is seated at the right hand of the Father. Lane agrees with this conclusion writing, “The context requires that [world] be understood as the heavenly world of eschatological salvation into which the Son entered at his ascension.”[5]

Turning our attention to the second half of verse 1:6 above, we find an Old Testament reference either to Psalm 97:7 or to Deuteronomy 32:43, or perhaps even a conflation of the two verses. Deuteronomy, which is within the context of the Hymn of Moses, reads this way:

“Rejoice with him, O heavens; bow down to him, all gods, for he avenges the blood of his children and takes vengeance on his adversaries. He repays those who hate him and cleanses his people’s land.”

Our English translations miss the connection here because of the phrase, “bow down to him, all gods.” Remember that the author of Hebrews is familiar with the Greek Old Testament (Septuagint or LXX) and sometimes there are words and nuances that are different, this being one example. The LXX translates the phrase “Rejoice, ye heavens, with him, and let all the angels of God worship him”

Similarly, Psalm 97:7 reads, “All worshipers of images are put to shame, who make their boast in worthless idols; worship him, all you gods!”

Again, keep in mind the connection between the Greek OT and our English OT and realize that the author of Hebrews is drawing on the former, which is a reference to angels (gods). Regardless of which Old Testament reference might be in view here, two conclusions may be drawn: 1) OT passages that refer to Yahweh are often made reference to Christ in the NT; this affirms the equal status as deity yet maintains the separateness as persons of the Trinity 2) Angels are commanded to worship Christ, i.e. the created beings are to worship their Creator. An additional reference to the worship of Christ by angels may be found in Revelation 4 and 5.

Moving on to verse 7 from our passage in Hebrews we read, “

7 Of the angels he says, “He makes his angels winds, and his ministers a flame of fire.”

Here the focus shifts to the angels and their qualities in order to set up the contrast that will come in the verses that follow. The citation from Psalm 104:4 highlights for us the mutability or changeableness of the angels. Likewise, it establishes their subordinate role as ministers and servants, the former being the source of our word liturgy or worship.

Verse 8 introduces for us the contrast in roles that the angels have and that of Christ by saying,

8 But of the Son he says, “Your throne, O God, is forever and ever, the scepter of uprightness is the scepter of your kingdom. 9 You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness; therefore God, your God, has anointed you with the oil of gladness beyond your companions.”

If there had been any doubt thus far that the Kingship of Christ was being established on the foundation of His Sonship, verses 8-9 firmly clarifies any lingering questions. In referencing Psalm 45:6-7 the author of Hebrews sets forth fully the enthronement and heavenly reign of Christ. In contrast to the angels who are seen as mutable servants, the Son is seen as an eternal King, unchangeable as verse 12 will assert. It is evident in this passage, which contains such themes as throne, scepter, kingdom, and anointing, that the author of Hebrews has chosen this specific Psalm for the purpose of heightening the awareness of his subject, namely the Sonship-Kingship of Jesus Christ.

For some odd reason, certain theologians refuse to recognize the current ruling and reigning of King Jesus as He sits at His Father’s right hand. Instead they prefer to defer Christ being seated on the throne until His second advent and the establishment of a millennial kingdom. That does not appear to be the majority report of the New Testament witness, as we have seen in Hebrews 1 and in the use of related Old Testament quotations such as those from Psalm 2 and 110. Jesus is King now. He will consummate His kingdom when He returns and establishes His throne on earth for eternity, nevertheless the inauguration of His Kingship has begun.

[1] Schreiner pg 64

[2] Ibid pg 65

[3] Lane pg. 26

[4] http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/allusion

[5] Lane Pg 27

*Image credit – www.brojerome.com

Reasons for Writing

 

I began this blog in January of 2009 as a way to organize and present my thoughts on particular passages of Scripture, areas of theology, and cultural issues that require a biblical worldview (and they all do!) for the purpose of edifying and instructing believers, restoring the wayward saint, and/or calling the sinner to repentance and faith.  I had no idea how long I would be writing or what would be the outcome from it, but 6 years and over 550 posts later, I’m still writing with the hopes of reaching and teaching people with the good news of Jesus Christ while expressing the importance and necessity of understanding theology and doctrine from the Word of God.

Similarly,  the Apostle John provides for his readers, several purposes for writing his first epistle.  He weaves each of his 13 reasons into the content of his letter.  As you can see below, John clearly knew his audience and wrote to them purposefully.

  • And we are writing these things so that our joy may be complete. – 1 John 1:4
  • I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. – 1 John 2:1
  • I am writing you no new commandment, but an old commandment that you had from the beginning. – 1 John 2:7
  • It is a new commandment that I am writing to you, which is true in him and in you, because the darkness is passing away and the true light is already shining. – 1 John 2:8
  • I am writing to you, little children, because your sins are forgiven for his name’s sake. – 1 John 2:12
  • I am writing to you, fathers, because you know him who is from the beginning. – 1 John 2:13a
  • I am writing to you, young men, because you have overcome the evil one. – 1 John 2:13b
  • I write to you, children, because you know the Father. – 1 John 2:13c
  • I write to you, fathers, because you know him who is from the beginning. – 1 John 2:14a
  • I write to you, young men, because you are strong, and the word of God abides in you, and you have overcome the evil one. – 1 John 2:14b
  • I write to you, not because you do not know the truth, but because you know it, and because no lie is of the truth. – 1 John 2:21
  • I write these things to you about those who are trying to deceive you. – 1 John 2:26
  • I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life. – 1 John 5:13

First John stands as a pillar for the test of true genuine faith and it’s author, the Apostle John wrote with pastoral care and concern that His people’s faith would be found true.  What an encouragement for those of us who communicate the truth’s of God’s Word to do so with brotherly love and compassion such that “our joy might be complete” and that our hearers and readers “may know that [they] have eternal life”.