Category Archives: Hebrews

The Builder of the House

 

In Hebrews chapter 1 we saw the Supremacy of Christ, the Son of God, in His exaltation as King (Son-King), a position superior to angels. In chapter 2 we read of the Humiliation of Christ, the Son of Man, in His suffering as the Last Adam. Now in chapter 3, the tide shifts to a strong exhortation based God’s revelation of who this Jesus is, followed by the entrance into the superiority of Christ over the elements of the Old Covenant, namely its mediator, Moses.

“Therefore, holy brothers, you who share in a heavenly calling, consider Jesus, the apostle and high priest of our confession” Hebrews 3:1

The Author’s exhortation begins appropriately with “therefore” signaling yet again the continuity with what has been expressed earlier and serving to link the previous exposition with the current one. Remember that in the original composition of this letter (or sermon), there were no chapter breaks, so, often the author is actually expressing a continuous thought and simply uses “therefore” to emphasize or reiterate a point to his audience. Though this audience of Hebrews, particularly their identification in the warning passages, has often been debated, here there is clear evidence that the intended audience, the recipients of the warnings, are believers, i.e. “holy brothers”.

This familial language introduced in chapter one between Father and Son and expanded in chapter two to include believers as the family of God and brothers of Christ, is evident yet again as chapter 3 develops. However here, this reference serves a two-fold purpose, first in identifying the recipients of the warning among the family of God, but it also serves to unite the theme of sanctification (holiness) alluded to in 1:3 and expressly stated again in 2:10-11.

Adding to this statement as a further modification of the family of God, or brothers, is that they “share in a heavenly calling.” This calling from heaven is a calling from God and a calling to God. It is an effectual, gracious call that does not extend to everyone and cannot be answered by anyone, apart from the work of the Holy Spirit in the heart. Likewise, this heavenly calling accomplishes all that God intends, namely in bringing many sons to glory. Similar language, for example to share, to partake, or even better to partner in, is used elsewhere, as in 1:9, and related in origin to the word used in 2:14. Likewise, it is the same word used in 3:14 (see also 6:4 and 12:8) and it highlights the various ways in which believers are partakers with Christ or better stated, in union with Him. Believers are literally united by a heavenly calling, the Gospel call, issued forth by the Spirit of God that is received by faith.

The exhortation of this section begins with the admonition to “consider Jesus”, followed by the reason for doing so, namely that He is the “apostle and high priest of our confession.” This is the only time in Scripture that Christ is referred to as an apostle, fitting though because apostle actually means “sent one”. He commissioned His own disciples in their apostleship, similarly He was commissioned for His own apostleship by His Father. When held in conjunction with the office of High Priest, we will see in subsequent verses that Christ in His official capacities were granted them by oath of God the Father.

In the verse that follows, the Author begins a series of comparisons and contrasts, similar to that of chapter 1 between Christ and angels, but here the object of comparison is with Moses, the fundamentally superior character on the pages of Old Testament Scripture. Moses stands head and shoulders above anyone else because he is viewed as the great redeemer and law giver. He is the one who met face to face with God on the mountain and in the tabernacle. He is the one who so often interceded to God on behalf of Israel for food, water, and God’s mercy. So then, when the author sets up the comparison and contrast of Christ with Moses, we must realize the significance of this, particularly from the perspective of Jewish tradition.

The comparison begins with the faithfulness of Christ, “who was faithful to him who appointed him, just as Moses also was faithful in all God’s house.” This mention of Christ faithfulness picks up on the mention of His “merciful and faithful” high priesthood from 2:17 giving the reader an indication of its importance and the attention it will be given in subsequent chapters. We see that the object of Christ’s faithfulness was toward God the Father, “who appointed him.”

This appointment ties back with the earlier statement of Christ’s apostleship and high priesthood. Christ did not appoint Himself, nor did He come on His own authority, as He so often proclaimed during His earthly ministry, but came at the direction of the Father to do His will. The language of appointment is likely intentional to draw the readers minds back to 1 Samuel 2:35:

“And I will raise up for myself a faithful priest, who shall do according to what is in my heart and in my mind. And I will build him a sure house, and he shall go in and out before my anointed forever.”

and 1 Chronicles 17:14

“but I will confirm him in my house and in my kingdom forever, and his throne shall be established forever”

Additionally, the reference to appointment serves as a springboard into the citation of Psalm 110 by the Author in chapter 5, which will serve as the introduction to the discourse on the Priesthood of Christ.

The comparison then is the faithfulness of Christ with the faithfulness of Moses, who, as we are told, “was faithful in all God’s house”. This statement will eventually set up the first point of contrast in the following verse, but we should pause to ask, what is this house of God that Moses was faithful in? In Numbers 12:6-8 we find perhaps the foundation upon which this statement is made in Hebrews, “And he said, “Hear my words: If there is a prophet among you, I the Lord make myself known to him in a vision; I speak with him in a dream. Not so with my servant Moses. He is faithful in all my house. With him I speak mouth to mouth, clearly, and not in riddles, and he beholds the form of the Lord.”   The house in reference here is sometimes referred to in two ways, the first being the House of Israel and the second being the House of God, i.e. the tabernacle. Both statements are true, but as Schreiner points out, “’house’” in this context refers to the people of God. As a member of God’s people Moses was faithful.”[1] This seems to correspond with the context, as we will see.

Continuing into the contrast, “For Jesus has been counted worthy of more glory than Moses—as much more glory as the builder of a house has more honor than the house itself,” we see that Christ is worthy of more glory than Moses. Why? To answer that, the Author establishes a contrast by way of analogy, “the builder of a house has more honor than the house itself”. The implication here is that Jesus is the Builder of the house and that Moses is the “house”. Not that he is the house alone, but is a member of the house, as will be clarified in verse 6.

In verse 4 we read the following parenthetical statement, “For every house is built by someone, but the builder of all things is God.” When held in combination with the previous verse that established Jesus Christ as the Builder of the house, this verse declares the deity of Christ by saying all things are built by God and that Christ is that God. The syllogism reads like this: Christ built the house::All things are built by God::Therefore Christ is God. Perhaps it has Hebrews 1:2 in mind, or perhaps it isn’t a reference to creation in general, but to building the house of God specifically. Nevertheless it is a syllogistic statement setting forth the truth that Jesus is God.

The author of Hebrews then steps back into his contrast by positively stating the role of Moses, “Now Moses was faithful in all God’s house as a servant, to testify to the things that were to be spoken later”. Here we get a further statement concerning Moses’ position in the house, i.e. that of servant. In fulfilling his duty, he testifies to the “things that were to be spoken later.” What things are these? The things of Christ, i.e. the coming of the Messiah, i.e. the Gospel. Luke 24:44 says, “Then he said to them, ‘These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.’”  There is much more that could be said regarding this, such as John 3:14-15; John 6:31-51; 1 Corinthians 10:1-5, 9-10; Moses spoke and testified of Christ and despite some more modern theological systems claiming otherwise, the Gospel was present and preached in the Old Testament. This becomes more explicitly stated in Hebrews 4:1-2.

Continuing in our passage, verse 6 is the culminating verse that states the superiority of Christ, as Son, who in His position over the house is greater than Moses who serves in the house. If any lingering questions remain at this point regarding the substance of this house, whether it be a physical structure or in reference to a spiritual structure, that is cleared up in the remaining portion of this verse, “And we are his house if indeed we hold fast our confidence and our boasting in our hope.” As we have seen, the author has included himself in the introduction of this warning statement and again, he aligns himself with his audience, “we are his house if indeed we”.

Believers are the temple of God; the place where God resides and dwells within (2 Corinthians 6:14-18). The Old Testament temple was but a type of the temple of Christ’s body (John 2:19-22). The New Testament uses this imagery to paint a picture of our relationship in union with Christ, the true temple.

The “if” used here is not necessarily a conditional statement, but is a statement of perseverance, “If we persevere, we are His house”. The second clause is not necessarily dependent, as in an if/then statement, but more so is clarified by the first statement. In other words, our inclusion in the house of God is evidenced by our perseverance, which is here referred to as “holding fast our confidence and our boasting in our hope”, all of which point to Christ as its source.

Moses was a member of the house of God and a faithful servant in it. Christ, as Son, built the house giving Him more glory and honor than a servant. We, like our first century brothers and sisters receiving this message, are called to consider this Jesus. Apostle. High Priest. Builder. Son. Merciful and Faithful in all these. Our Confidence and our Hope. Let us therefore persevere as members of the House of God built in Christ.

 

[1] Schreiner, Thomas R., “Biblical Theology for Christian Proclamation: Commentary on Hebrews”. Nashville: B&H Publishing, 2015. Pg 115

*Image Credit – Wikipedia

The Suffering of the Son

 

Hebrews 2:14-18

Continuing in Hebrews 2, we reach another transitional section following the author’s discussion of Christ’s humanity in verses 5-9 and the family of God in verses 10-13, to now the suffering of the Son, alluded to in verse 9 and expanded upon in the remaining verses of this glorious but challenging chapter. In connecting the humanity of Christ with His death, it then becomes apparent that the chief purpose of our Lord’s incarnation was His subsequent death. Our Lord lived in order to die.

What a staggering and profound truth that the King so splendidly described in chapter 1 as the Supreme Being in the universe, the high and exalted One, the Son of God, should come to earth, suffer, and die. It hardly seems believable, yet it’s true, and in verses 14-18 we begin to see several of the purposes behind His suffering unto death.

In setting forth these purposes, we find in verse 14 the familiar transitional formula that is so often utilized in the book of Hebrews, namely the conjunction “therefore.” This is an important marker for Bible readers to pay close attention to because it most often serves to 1.)Maintain the continuity of an idea established earlier by transitioning to an explanation of why an earlier statement was made or 2.)To summarize a previously lengthy section with a more succinct statement. In verse 14a we have the latter, “Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things”. This part of the verse serves to restate the solidarity in the flesh that Christ shares with His “brothers”.

In the second part (b) of verse 14 we find the first purpose statement for Christ’s incarnation and subsequent death, i.e. “that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil”. Christ came to destroy the works of the devil, namely his power over death. In 1 John 3:8 we read, “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil.” A similar sentiment is conveyed in Colossians 2:15, “He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him.” Finally, we read the words of Jesus heralding His imminent triumph over the devil, “Now is the judgment of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” John 12:31-32

The sentence begun in verse 14 continues into verse 15 and provides for us the second purpose statement for Christ’s incarnation and subsequent death, i.e. to “deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery.”  Destroy and Deliver, the twin themes of our Lords earthy purpose.

Those who were subject to lifelong slavery because of the fear of death is author’s eighth way of defining the “everyone” from verse 2:9. He has employed the terms: sons (vs.10), those who Christ leads or Captains (vs.10), those who are sanctified (vs.11), brothers (vs.11), brothers (vs.12), children (vs. 13), children (vs.14) and now those who have been set free from fear of death by the death of Christ. Or as John Owen so clearly stated, “The Death of Death in the Death of Christ.”  Why should there have been slaves to a fear of death?  Our Lord tells us in 1 Corinthians 15:56 that “The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.”  It becomes apparent then that slavery to a fear of death is directly related to the law, specifically punishment that the law demands because it has been violated.  Those identified in this passage are no longer subject to the fear of death because Christ has perfectly fulfilled the requirements of the law on their behalf thereby setting them free.

Keeping those recipients of Christ’s death in mind, we arrive at verse 16 and find the contrast once again between angels and the children of God, this time referred to as the “seed of Abraham.” This verse has seemed a mystery to commentators and translators alike throughout history. The King James Version translates the verse as, “For verily he took not on him the nature of angels; but he took on him the seed of Abraham.” Here they have offered a bit of interpretation into their translation, to which John Owen agrees. He interprets verse 16 similarly and sees it not as a reference to helping or giving aid (the verb used here) to the seed of Abraham instead of angels, rather he sees the verb meaning “to take hold of” or “appropriating” and therefore associates it with Christ’s incarnation.  In other words, for Owen and the KJV translators, Christ took on the nature of Abraham’s seed, not the nature of angels.

Taken this way, this verse provides a further polemic against those who deny the humanity of the Son of God (established in verses 2:6-9) and likewise is a sufficient rebuke for those who say that Christ was a spirit being or angel prior to His incarnation (Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons for example). Surely this interpretation is biblically valid, for in the Gospel of Matthew we see that Christ’s lineage was traced back to Abraham. Additionally, this builds upon the context of the humanity of Christ, from Adam, that has been the subject since verse 6 of chapter 2, by making Him the physical seed of Abraham that was promised in the giving of the Abrahamic Covenant (see Genesis 12-22; Galatians 3:16).

A second option follows the ESV translation of this verse, “For surely it is not angels that he helps, but he helps the offspring of Abraham”. Since the verb, here  translated helps, is elsewhere translated to mean offering a hand to, i.e. Matthew 14:31 with reference to Peter sinking in the water, this translation has in view the helping or saving of the seed of Abraham instead of angels. We know this to be biblically true as well (see discussion below). This too would seem to fit the context and further define everyone in verse 9, i.e. children, brothers, sons, etc. thus making Christ the helper of Abraham’s spiritual seed.

Both of these interpretations are biblically valid and supported elsewhere in Scripture, leading one to wonder if the Divine Author of Hebrews doesn’t have both options in mind when He pens this verse.  This is the direction I’m inclined to take, concluding that both Owen and the modern commentators are correct.  Due to the dichotomous nature of the Abrahamic Covenant, i.e. promises to his physical seed and promises to his spiritual seed, Christ came from the physical seed of Abraham (Gal. 3:16) in order to save the spiritual seed of Abraham (Romans 4:9-12; Gal. 3:9,14,29) thereby becoming the Inheritor of the promises made to Abraham and the Distributor of those promises to all who have faith in Him.  Important to note here is that the humanity of Christ as the second Adam has already been established in chapter and this verse narrows the help that Christ gives from the universality of Adam’s children to specifically Abraham’s seed, literally the children of God, keeping with the familial motif established throughout several verses of this chapter.  One additional note, Schreiner points out that the author is possibly drawing from Isaiah 41:8-10:

8But you, Israel, my servant,
    Jacob, whom I have chosen,
    the offspring of Abraham, my friend;
you whom I took from the ends of the earth,
    and called from its farthest corners,
saying to you, “You are my servant,
    I have chosen you and not cast you off”;
10 fear not, for I am with you;
    be not dismayed, for I am your God;
I will strengthen you, I will help you,
    I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.

Much more is left to be said regarding the seed of Abraham, but for now we move on to verse 17 and find continuity (therefore) with our previous conclusion, Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people.Explicitly tied to the humanity of Christ, in becoming like His brothers, is His qualification and appointment as “High Priest in the service of God”.  We may conclude that this is a third purpose for the humanity of Christ, namely to serve in the office of High Priest as intercessor between God (faithful) and man (merciful) and as we will see, to mediate the New Covenant established in His blood (this is the first of 17 references to Christ as High Priest and more will be developed in the coming chapters).  Christ not only serves as a merciful and faithful High Priest who makes a sacrifice, as typified under the Levitical system, but IS the sacrifice, truly “the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world” (John 1:29).

Additionally, we find in this verse one of the specific functions of Christ as the High Priest is to “make propitiation”.  Typically, the word propitiation carries with it a dual concept of the removal of guilt or forgiveness of sins (expiation) and the appeasement or satisfaction of God’s wrath (propitiation).  The Old Testament type for this can be found in Leviticus 16 where we find the high priest commanded by God on the Day of Atonement (note some translations use the phrase “sacrifice of atonement” instead of propitiation, see NIV) to place their hands on the head of a live goat symbolizing the transference of the people’s sin and guilt (expiation).  Likewise, we see the command from God to the high priest to kill a second goat and sprinkle its blood on the mercy seat (the root of the word propitiation).  Therefore, we find biblical precedence from this passage that our concept of propitiation should include both ideas.  As previously stated, the high priestly function is fulfilled through our Lord Jesus Christ who is both the sacrifice AND the High Priest.

Finally, in verse 18 “For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted” we find a fourth reason for the incarnation of our Lord, namely the Sympathetic Resonance of Christ with His brothers.  The term sympathetic resonance refers to a harmonic phenomenon wherein an instrument, such as a tuning fork, is struck and another instrument of like kind resonates with the sound that is made and offers a corresponding sound.  This expression is fitting for describing our Lord’s humanity in relating, literally resonating, with His brothers who are tempted, so that we may be reminded that He was tempted in every way as we are and is yet without sin (Hebrews 4:15).

Also, found in this verse is the second use of the word help, which would seem to be in line more with “giving aid” (assumption #2 from above) though we must remember He is able to do so because He shares the same flesh and blood (assumption #1 from above).

Jesus’ humanity qualifies Him to serve as our merciful and faithful High Priest.  This, along with several other purposes for His incarnation, were identified in this passage, namely His deliverance of the saints from fear of death, destruction of the works of the Devil, providing propitiation, and having sympathetic resonance with those for whom He mediates the better covenant.  What is man that our Lord would condescend Himself from the glory and exaltation that He shared with the Father, to the humiliation and suffering as a man among sinners. Truly He is an awesome God, worthy of all praise and honor.

Solus Christus!

 

*Image credit: http://cmda.org/resources/publication/the-suffering-and-death-of-christ

The Humanity of the Son

 

As Hebrews chapter 2 unfolds, the author returns to his polemic discussion of Christ by transitioning out of his exhortation to pay attention to what has been said and to avoid drifting brought about from neglect. This transition occurs in verse 5 as is made evident from the conjunction, “For”. Likewise, we see that angels again come into view picking right up where he left off at the end of chapter 1 verse 14. The two verses are below; observe how the thought in the author’s mind is continuous, only interrupted by the brief warning of exhortation.

For it was not to angels that God subjected the world to come, of which we are speaking.” Hebrews 2:5

“Are they [angels] not all ministering spirits sent out to serve for the sake of those who are to inherit salvation?” Hebrews 1:14

The point that the author wishes to address in this section is, “To whom has the ‘world to come’ been subjected?”  Though he will define it more fully in the verses to follow, perhaps at this point we may ask, “What or When is this world to come?”  By implication, it obviously is a future world.  However, the language of the passage indicates that God has already made a determinative action in subjecting this future world to Someone.   Summarizing: this future world has already been made subject to Someone, but it has not yet come into its fullness in time, hence the already/not yet theological concept utilized by the author of Hebrews.

As we read in the verse above, this future world has clearly not been made subject to angels. It has already been established for us in chapter 1 what their role was under the Old Covenant and what their role is now as ministers to those who are to inherit salvation under the New Covenant. To answer the question of “To Whom has it been subjected to” the author again appeals to the authority of Scripture and once again to the Psalms.

In introducing the passage, it’s interesting to note how he calls the reader’s attention, not by writing David said, or in the Psalms we read, instead he leaves the citation with a vague reference, “It has been testified somewhere.” It isn’t that he’s ignorant about the location of the passage, rather his intention is to highlight the Scriptures and allow them to be authoritative on the basis of their divine revelation alone (perhaps this is insight into why the book of Hebrews has an unnamed author?). He then proceeds to cite Psalm 8:4-6 (From the Septuagint – Greek OT). Psalm 8 (from the MT – ESV tradition) has been included below:

O Lord, our Lord,
    how majestic is your name in all the earth!
You have set your glory above the heavens.
    Out of the mouth of babies and infants,
you have established strength because of your foes,
    to still the enemy and the avenger.

When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,
    the moon and the stars, which you have set in place,
what is man that you are mindful of him,
    and the son of man that you care for him?

Yet you have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings
    and crowned him with glory and honor.
You have given him dominion over the works of your hands;
    you have put all things under his feet,
all sheep and oxen,
    and also the beasts of the field,
the birds of the heavens, and the fish of the sea,
    whatever passes along the paths of the seas.

O Lord, our Lord,
    how majestic is your name in all the earth! Psalm 8:1-9

In reading the original context of this Psalm we find David extolling the majesty of God above all His creation. As he enters into verse 3 we read, “When I look at your heavens, the work of you fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place.” This puts the passages that follow specifically in the context of creation. After meditating on the wonder of God’s creation and comparatively seeing man as a speck in the universe, the psalmist then poses the God-ward question, “What is man that you are mindful of him, or the son of man that you care for him?”.

To answer this question, he again turns to creation and finds man created in the image of God, given dominion and power from His Creator (Psalm 8:5-6). Note the background that the Psalmist is likely drawing from, Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” Genesis 1:26

In the created order, as earthly beings, mankind is lower than the heavenly beings, yet nevertheless it is man that has been created in the image of God, not angels. It is man that has been crowned with glory and honor and given dominion over creation, not angels.  The dignity of man is inextricably linked to being made in the image of God.

This is the context on which the author of Hebrews is drawing as he steps outside the Old Testament citation to offer commentary in verse 8, “Now in putting everything in subjection to him, he left nothing outside his control.” We are still in the context of the dignity of man, who was originally created to be a vice-regent of God, exercising dominion over creation on His behalf. As we look around our world today, does that seem to be the case? Does man currently have dominion over all things? Over disease, or death, or demons, or dominion over the animal world? Hardly. It would seem that man’s dominion is not quite what it once was, or at least what it was intended to be at creation.

This is precisely the point the author of Hebrews draws upon in the latter part of verse 8, “At present, we do not yet see everything in subjection to him.” At present is both contrasted with the future, i.e. “the world to come” from verse 5 and the past, i.e. the implication of the psalmist as he meditates on creation in its Edenic state. The answer to the implied question of why we do not presently see man with the dominion that he was created with is based solely on the presence of sin. Both the psalmist and the author of Hebrews recognize that the disturbance in the created order has been caused by the in-breaking of sin in the world from Genesis 3. The fall of man in Adam has caused man’s dominion to be absent in the present. Though still created in the Imago Dei, this image is now distorted, corrupted as the product of sin, and longing for all that is wrong to be made right. The glimmer of hope offered for us in verse 5 of our Hebrews passage, the anticipation of a future world, comes into full view in verse 9, “But we see him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus.” This brings Christ humanity into view as the last Adam; the God-Man through whom a New Creation will come; the one through whom reconciliation of the world will happen.

Summing up the author’s intention here, we see him use an Old Testament reference, Psalm 8, in order to establish the humanity of Christ and to allude to the restoration of all things in Him that have been distorted and destroyed because of sin.  Man regains his dignity and dominion on the basis of Christ, the last Adam. Created order regains its intended purpose through the reconciliation and redemption that has come through the work of Jesus Christin fulfilling God’s law and being obedient unto death on the cross. The intentions of God were that man would have dignity because only man was created in the image of God.

  • Man’s created dignity finds its origin in the Imago Dei.
  • Man’s present dignity is tarnished through the corrupting influence of sin.
  • Man’s future dignity can only be restored on the basis of Jesus Christ and it is only through union with Him by faith that this can occur.

As we saw in chapter 1 of Hebrews, the supremacy and superiority of the Son of God was put clearly on display. The great condescension of this Supreme Christ is made evident in these verses from chapter 2, where we see the anticipated restoration of created order and the vindication of fallen man by way of the incarnation of the Son and most notably through His death. While man received his crown and glory via life at creation, Christ received His crown and glory via death at the cross. It is therefore only through union with Christ by faith that man can regain life and recapture the former glory that once was, being crowned again with glory as co-heirs with Christ.