Category Archives: Typology

Hebrews Warnings, the Old Testament, and the Challenge of Chapter 6

 

The heart of the third warning passage in Hebrews lies in chapter 6 verses 4-6 and it is undoubtedly one of the more difficult and disputed passages in Scripture.  That being said, clues to its proper interpretation lie not only in the surrounding verses of the passage, but in the way that the author uses the previous and subsequent warnings in his exposition.  The latter will be addressed first before moving on to the context of the surrounding verses, followed by exposition of the 3 verses in question.

As previously stated, this particular warning is the 3rd of 5 warnings.  The first occurs in verses 2:1-4.  Various efforts to identify the components of this, and the other warnings for that matter, have been made and generally involve 1) audience 2) sin 3) exhortation and 4)consequences, however an element often missing is the Old Testament component.

In interpreting the book of Hebrews, it’s important to keep in mind one of the major themes is the argument from the lesser to the greater.  This is particularly true in how the author uses the Old Testament, more specifically elements under the Old Covenant as the lesser, in comparison to Christ as the greater  This is most clearly seen in references to the prophets, angels, Adam, Moses, the Aaronic (High) Priesthood, Melchizedek, the tabernacle of the Wilderness Generation, etc.

However, this same principle seems to generally hold true in the warning passages. Here there is also a principle of lesser to greater that flows from the relationship of the Old Covenant to the New Covenant, namely the experiences, expectations, and punishments for each respective covenant community.   Bear in mind that this relationship is not 1:1, meaning that the experiences or punishments under the Old Covenant are not equal to those under the New Covenant. Rather, the relationship is one of type (lesser) to antitype (greater). A thematic example of this is the judgment that God so often promises and then ultimately unleashes on the Kingdoms of Judah and Israel. Their sin is spiritual adultery, yet the punishment is often indicated in terms of physical death, famine, and disease. Conversely, this punishment by way of typology is pointing forward to a far greater punishment, namely eternal damnation, for those who are idolaters at heart.

In Hebrews, particularly the warning passages, the lesser often represents the experiences of the Israelite Wilderness Generation under the mediated Old Covenant who are by external association part of its covenant community. On the other hand, the greater are the experiences of the audience of Hebrews who are by way of external association OR internal membership under the mediated New Covenant.  This will become more clear as we survey the examples below, but let me briefly explain how there are two possibilities under the New Covenant because this is likely the source of confusion for not only the book of Hebrews, the warnings, and typology in general, but also understanding the nature of biblical covenants.

Entrance into the Old Covenant was by way of external sign, namely circumcision. There was a divine expectation of obedience to the law of the covenant, but there was no divine assistance afforded the Old Covenant community to help in their obedience, thus the sacrificial system and very visible, physical punishments for those who “apostatize”. Entrance into the New Covenant is also by way of circumcision, but of the heart not the flesh. So where the Old Covenant was external the New is internal. This internal circumcision of the heart is what’s called regeneration, a new heart, or being born again. With it, God has provided to those in the New Covenant all the divine assistance needed, by way of His indwelling Holy Spirit, for obedience. [Edit: Keep in mind that there were those under the Old Covenant who also received the benefits of the New Covenant by way of prospective faith in Christ.] Not only that, but as we will see in Hebrews He has provided the final sacrifice, namely His Son, toward which all of the Old Covenant sacrifices were pointing. Not only that, but Christ satisfied the demands of the law for us. Not only that, but Christ took the punishment for disobedience that we deserved. It is not difficult to see then how much greater this New Covenant really is, yet how the Old Covenant informs us of this superiority.

However, just as there were those during the ministry of Christ who were interested in seeing signs, wonders, and miracles, but not truly interested in believing in Him, there are those who by way of external association attach themselves like barnacles to the New Covenant community. They may travel through the same waters, share the same experiences, and may even look like they belong on the ship, but they are not part of it. [Edit: Summarily, this is the distinction between the visible/invisible Church] When the warning bell sounds forth from these passages it is a divine grace for both groups. The true hear the warnings and press on to perseverance by the power of the Holy Spirit. The false may have their eyes open to the fraudulence of their profession or they may suffer the punishment for apostasy that is so clearly warned about.

With this in mind, Hebrews 2:1-4 provides the Old Testament example, or better the Old Covenant example, as being the reliable message declared by the angels. Likewise, the just retribution that was received by those who disobeyed or transgressed it.  It’s most likely that this message declared by angels is the Law (Mosaic Covenant), see Deut. 33:2, Acts 7:53, Gal. 3:19.  Obviously, those who transgressed or broke the law of the Old Covenant were punished accordingly.  This is the lesser, as seen so clearly in the comparative statement from verse 3, “how shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation.”  This latter message was not declared by angels, but by the Lord Himself, attested by those who heard, given evidential support by God through signs, wonders, miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit.

Keeping this framework before us, we now turn to the second warning, that from Hebrews 3 and 4.  Technically, the warning begins in 3:7, however we see elements of warning and exhortation in 3:1, “consider Jesus” and “hold fast our confidence” before the introduction of the Old Covenant example, namely that of the Wilderness Generation.  They provide for us the lesser example through the rest of God that was offered to them upon entrance into the Promised Land and the judgment that fell on them by way of their physical death preventing them from entrance. Though they received the same good news (gospel) that we have (4:2), their failure was to receive this good news by faith followed by obedience, which the author specifically warns his audience against. The greater punishment is failure to enter the eschatological rest of God as a result of neglecting the same word of good news, not uttered by prophets, but by the Lord Jesus Himself (Heb. 1:1-2).

Before looking at the specific warning passage under our consideration from chapter 6, a brief observation of the final two warnings will be made to see if the Old Testament pattern of examples are present in them as well, those occurring in Hebrews 10 and 12 respectively.  In the former, the Old Covenant example is “anyone who has set aside the Law of Moses”, corresponding well to those examples listed earlier, while the judgment or punishment was that they die “without mercy on the evidence or two or three witness.” Heb. 10:28  Perhaps the clearest evidence of the lesser to the greater argument being employed in these warnings can be seen in the verse that follows this Old Covenant example, “How much more worse punishment do you think, will be deserved by the one who has trampled underfoot the Son of God, and has profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has outraged the Spirit of grace?” Heb. 10:29  Setting aside the truths of the Covenant that Christ mediates is a worse crime and is deserving of the greater punishment, namely falling into the hands of the living God.

Finally, In Hebrews 12 we arrive at the last warning and find a couple of older examples, beginning first with Esau, in verse 16, who sold his birthright and found no chance to repent (more on this later) and secondly those who trembled at the foot of Mt. Sinai, bringing up for us again the context of Moses and the Wilderness Generation.  The third example held up before us is that of Mt. Zion, far superior to Sinai, and the mediator of this New Covenant, namely Jesus, is far superior to Moses, the mediator of the Old Covenant.  The warning of lesser to greater judgment occurs in Hebrews 12:25, “See that you do not refuse him who is speaking. For if they did not escape when they refused him who warned on earth, much less will we escape if we reject him who warns from heaven.”

Understanding the way the New Testament uses the Old Testament will go a long way in helping us to interpret especially difficult passages, not to mention those which on the surface appear to be more immediately clear.  As it relates to Hebrews, it more than any other New Testament book (except perhaps Revelation) relies on an implicit understanding of the Old Testament, specifically the time of Moses the mediator of the Old Covenant and the Wilderness Generation.

In each of the warning passages mentioned above, there is an Old Testament example held up as a mirror before the faces of the Hebrew audience that informs them of the danger in hearing the word of God, seeing His miraculous works, even participating in His many benefits, yet it is clear that these associations are unable to overcome their unbelief, hardness of hearts due to sin, and disobedience.  Surely this is a witness for us that a mere association with church, or believers, or even participation in ministry or programs is insufficient for salvation.  God has never been interested in external worship, “For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.” Hos. 6:6 Keeping these thoughts and interpretive principles before us will allow for a more accurate understanding of the third and most disputed warning of Hebrews and it is towards this warning that we will turn our attention next time.

The Typology of Hebrews 9

 

Perhaps more than any other book of the Bible, Hebrews highlights for us what is known as biblical typology. Typology in the Bible is a method of interpreting Scripture in the light of Scripture itself wherein a relationship is established between people, places, events, or institutions and other people, places, events or institutions. The relationship represents an argument from the lesser to the greater and is often found in discussion of how the Old Testament relates to the New Testament. Usually, the lesser (type) points to the greater (antitype) and most often refers to either Christ or His work on the cross.

Typology has sometimes been accused of being allegorical, but this is a misrepresentation because typology finds its foundation in actual, historical people, places, events, or institutions. Sometimes typology is clearly spelled out for the biblical student such as in John 3:14-15 where Jesus says, “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.” So Jesus identifies the event of Moses lifting up the serpent in the wilderness as the type, and the event of His crucifixion as the antitype. Likewise, the representation of the serpent being “lifted up” finds its greater reality in the “lifting up” of Christ on the cross. In typology, much like in the reading of parables, it’s important not to force every single detail from the lesser into the reality of the greater. So in this example, there is no reason to force meaning of the use of the serpent onto Christ beyond what is expressed by Scripture.

Sometimes, typology is not quite as clear as the explicit example mentioned above and this is perhaps where some have entered into a zone of speculation, which unfortunately has likely led to criticism of typology as means to biblical interpretation. One classic example of this erroneous use of relationships is the scarlet cord hung from Rahab’s window during the Israelite’s siege on Jericho (see Joshua 2):18). Some have ventured into the realm of allegory by suggesting that the cord represents the blood of the Passover lamb and ultimately the blood of Christ. As this reasoning goes, Rahab and her family were saved on the basis of Christ’s blood, which is symbolized in the scarlet cord. As interesting as this sounds, it’s highly speculative and has difficulty connecting the lesser to the greater.

With these examples and warnings in mind, we come to the book of Hebrews and find typology consolidated for us by the author. Typology in Hebrews really comes to the forefront in chapter 3, so there is much that could be said concerning the wilderness generation, Moses, the Sabbath rest of God, not to mention the typological relationship between Christ and the Levitical priesthood and Christ and Melchizedek. Leaving those discussions for another day, we come to Hebrews chapter 9 to find the consolidation of many Old Testament types with their greater reality, their antitype, the Lord Jesus Christ.

Note how this chapter begins:

“Now even the first covenant had regulations for worship and an earthly place of holiness. For a tent was prepared, the first section, in which were the lampstand and the table and the bread of the Presence. It is called the Holy Place. Behind the second curtain was a second section called the Most Holy Place, having the golden altar of incense and the ark of the covenant covered on all sides with gold, in which was a golden urn holding the manna, and Aaron’s staff that budded, and the tablets of the covenant. Above it were the cherubim of glory overshadowing the mercy seat. Of these things we cannot now speak in detail.

These preparations having thus been made, the priests go regularly into the first section, performing their ritual duties, but into the second only the high priest goes, and he but once a year, and not without taking blood, which he offers for himself and for the unintentional sins of the people. By this the Holy Spirit indicates that the way into the holy places is not yet opened as long as the first section is still standing (which is symbolic for the present age). According to this arrangement, gifts and sacrifices are offered that cannot perfect the conscience of the worshiper, 10 but deal only with food and drink and various washings, regulations for the body imposed until the time of reformation.”

The first 10 verses of the chapter lay the groundwork for our discussion by presenting the details of the sacrificial system under the Old Covenant. The author has spent the previous chapters highlighting the superiority of Christ as the new and better High Priest, superior over the Levitical priesthood, as well as His superiority over the Melchizedekian priesthood which was the basis for the oath of Christ’s own Priesthood (Psalm 110). In this chapter, he builds upon the superiority of the New Covenant over the Old Covenant by reminding his readers of the bloody, repeated sacrifices that were commanded under the Old Covenant.

Though summarized above, the details of the sacrifices under the Old Covenant can be found in the books of the Law, namely Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers. Obviously a reading of those books would only aide in our understanding of what is being discussed in the introduction to chapter 9 of Hebrews; more on that in a minute. Without going into great detail, we may observe that the Old Covenant sacrificial system involved a priest, a tabernacle (later a temple) divided by a veil into an outer (Holy Place) and inner (Most Holy Place) section, sacrifices (bulls, goats, lambs, etc.), and various appurtenances such as an altar, the ark of the covenant, cherubim over the mercy seat, lampstand, table, and showbread.

The process of sacrifice is summarized in verses 6-10 as the priest is said to have gone in regularly into the first section. These were the daily sacrifices as required under the law. Only the high priest, once a year, could enter into the Most Holy Place with blood; first for himself and then for the unintentional sins of the people. Even within this description we see the narrowing of the process from priests to priest, from the outer area to the inner area and from regular sacrifices to once a year. Entering into the Most Holy was an exclusive, rare occasion and is so described by the author of Hebrews.

Key to our discussion here and to the meaning of the passage, particularly the mention of the Old Covenant sacrificial details are verses 8-9a, “By this the Holy Spirit indicates that the way into the holy places is not yet opened as long as the first section is still standing (which is symbolic for the present age).” The author here, under the divine inspiration of the Holy Spirit has indicated for us that all the Old Covenant sacrifices, tabernacles, priesthoods, etc. were “symbolic for the present age.” The actual word being used here is parabole (ESV renders this – symbolic), from which we get our word parable. As it relates to our discussion of typology, often times Scripture uses different words to express this relationship, whether it be type (Romans 5:14), shadow (Col. 2:17), copy (Hebrews 8:5), or parabole meaning symbol as in this passage; other words used include: prefigured, symbolizes, representation, or pattern, to name a few. So then we see that the summary given in verses 1-7 is actually a cliff-notes version of the Old Covenant sacrificial system which collectively pointed towards Christ in a typological manner and individually certain features (people, places, events, institutions) were a type, literally a parable, pointing forward to Christ.

This should radically transform how we read our Old Testaments. Instead of getting bogged down or even avoiding books such as Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, or even Deuteronomy, we should rejoice as we read through them knowing that the pictures being painted through the brushstrokes of the Holy Spirit leave us with the expectation of something far greater than the blood of bulls and goats, the imperfection of the priests, the repetitive nature of the sacrifices, or the restricted access to the presence of God in the Holy of Holies. All of those things (and more) are but a shadow or type of the greater reality that is in Jesus Christ. When you read these Old Testament books, fight against the desire to get lost or to let your mind wander. Instead, ask how the bloody sacrifices are insufficient and conversely how Christ’s is far superior. Take note of the endless work of the priests in contrast to finished work of Christ who is now seated at the right hand of the Father after making His sacrifice once for all. Observe how God was so detailed in His description of the tabernacle and know that its beauty pales in comparison with the True Tabernacle, the one made without human hands. All Scripture is God-Breathed, not just the parts we may prefer or find interesting and all Scripture points to Christ because all of the promises of God find their yes and amen in Him.

 

Salvation in the Old Testament – A Second Dispensational Perspective

 

It’s never fun when one’s beliefs are misrepresented or when straw men are used in an attempt to undermine a particular conviction that one may have.  Even still, it falls under the category of misrepresentation to say that a person who holds to a particular view or conviction necessarily represents everyone else who holds to the same view.

Now, while the video shown here indicates clearly that the perspective being presented regarding salvation in the Old Testament is dispensationalism, I wanted to give another example of a dispensationalist that rightly views salvation in the Old Testament.  I believe this is fair, so as to avoid any unfair criticism.  Below is a video of the well-respected Tommy Nelson.  I interacted briefly with his understanding of dispensational theology here.

In this video, Nelson, himself a dispensationalist, rightly points out salvation in the Old Testament and makes particular mention of the types that point forward to Christ.  As a side, it’s interesting to hear him conclude that God’s true religion has always and only been Christianity, i.e. faith in Christ.  He even goes so far as to call Christianity the right expression of Judaism, i.e. that it is Christ that has come from the line of Judah.  Not to undermine Dr. Nelson’s explanation here, but this should go to show that there exists a wide-range of views which identify themselves under the umbrella of dispensational theology.