I love the book of Hebrews. I’ve written more posts devoted to expositions from Hebrews than any other book of the Scripture. You can read them here: Scriptural Index I first began studying Hebrews in a small group setting, verse by verse in 2014. Before we finished in mid-2015, I had already started teaching through it verse-by-verse in a workplace lunch Bible study. In 2018, I returned to Hebrews with a Sunday morning men’s group going verse by verse yet again through its entirety while meeting in a local McDonald’s. I once mentioned all this to a former pastor of mine to which he replied, “The Lord doesn’t want you to fall away.” Amen and thank goodness that is true! One of the many benefits of Hebrews is certainly to exhort us unto perseverance in the faith. On a final note, earlier this year I was invited by a church to preach four sermons. While wrestling through what God would have me to preach, you guessed it, Hebrews. Four sermons devoted to the first two chapters of the book. None of this means I’m at all an expert. What it does mean is just how easy it is to miss the obvious even after going through a passage so many times.
Recently, Hebrews has been thrust front and center into the mainstream eye of Big Eva (evangelicalism) for all the wrong reasons, with all their church closings, re-openings, state rebellions, and what not. The verse of interest from this book comes from Hebrews 10:25 and is typically used in isolation and out of context. From this passage, the small phrase, “not neglecting to meet together” is held up as a proof text for why churches should reopen despite the fact that most, if not all, of the various churches involved in this brouhaha, closed for an extended period of time during the COVID-19 mandates. Using the verse as they do, i.e. a proof text for the command forbidding the neglect of meeting in a Sunday morning church service, it’s tempting to say the argument is moot because all those who shuttered their church building doors and/or “neglected to meet” would be guilty of violating the command. However, this verse is not necessarily a proof text for mandating Sunday morning church meetings, and if it is, those who use it in this way have left a major portion of the verse out, as well as blatantly neglecting the context.
The ContextThe author of Hebrews is writing to a predominantly Jewish audience in order to encourage them to remain faithful in the midst of persecution. Writing around 65-66 A.D., the author’s audience was faced with a very real temptation to fall back into the Judaism of priests, sacrifices, and the temple, all items that they could physically see and touch. For this reason, the author labors to establish Christ as the Greater Priest, Greater Sacrifice, Greater Tabernacle – choosing instead the pilgrim wandering place for the Israelite sacrifices, and Greater Mediator of a Better Covenant. In reality, the grand scope of Hebrews is the proper Worship of God in Christ by the New Covenant people of God.
Therefore, when we arrive at Hebrews 10:25, exhorting the reader to not neglect to meet, it is specifically addressing those in the context of persecution who, because of this, have neglected to meet with one another. Perhaps either out of temptation to fall back into Judaism or a desire for self-preservation, the Holy Spirit inspired author found it necessary to urge his audience to continue meeting with one another. Within the structure of the book, a similar phrase as ours from chapter 10 can be found in chapter 3
But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. Hebrews 3:13Given this, one must wonder if those volleying Hebrews 10:25 around take this verse from chapter 3 just as serious. Do the MacArthur’s, Phil Johnson’s, Jonathan Leeman’s, Mark Dever’s, and those others who have entered the fray flying the banner of Hebrews 10:25 belong to a congregation that encourages the daily exhortation of one another, including allowing themselves to be exhorted? In other words, are these men both exhorting and submitting themselves to be exhorted regularly? I suspect not. Hopefully I’m wrong about this, but typically the clergy-lay distinction that still exists, despite the efforts of the Reformation, leads to a one-way, top-down exhortation and any effort from the ‘lay’ to exhort the ‘clergy’ is seen as either insubordination or dismissed outright.
19 Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, 20 by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. 23 Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. Hebrews 19-25The passage under our consideration is much broader than a sampling phrase from an isolated verse. Instead, the context of the passage really begins in Hebrews 10:19 and actually builds upon what has come before. This should highlight the danger of stripping a verse from its context and using it as a proof text for anything.
As the passage begins, we see the familiar Therefore, which is used frequently throughout Hebrews as a transition and bridge between what has been said and what will be said. Perhaps more than anything, this single word shows the integrated way that the book unfolds as the author continually builds ideas and themes upon on another. As a Master Craftsman, or we might say a Master Weaver, Hebrews integrates seamlessly from beginning to end thereby highlighting the wisdom and majesty of God, the Ultimate Author. Following the therefore, we find a summary repetition of the section that was previously discussed at the beginning of chapter 10, which itself is a summary of the once-for-all sacrifice of Christ. This provides the basis for the “therefore”.
Beginning in verse 19, we find the application, what we are to do (imperative), based on the summary, what Christ has done (indicative). First, we read that we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus. This confidence is literally a boldness, or better a fearless freedom, to enter the holy places. By this phrase, holy places, we ought to be thinking of temple/tabernacle language, though as previously mentioned Hebrews is concerned with making connections with the tabernacle. Jesus’ blood, His once-for-all sacrifice, better than the blood of bulls and goats, has literally paved the way for us to have access to God the Father. Verse 20 supports and builds upon this by asserting this access is new and living through the flesh of Jesus Christ, as opposed to the old and ‘dead’ way of access to God through the tabernacle veil, which was limited to priests alone.
Second, as just mentioned this limited accessibility to God under the Old Covenant, held out exclusively for a priest – first from the tribe of Levi and then from the line of Aaron for high priesthood, has been removed on the basis of Christ’s High Priesthood over the house of God. This pulls forward Hebrews chapter 3, house of God, and chapter 7, Christ as a High Priest after the order of Melchizedek. Summarily, verses 19-21 establish Christ as the Greater and Final sacrifice, the Greater Tabernacle, and the Greater High Priest. Interwoven with these indicative statements on the work of Christ are imperatives, which begins with the statement of believers fearless freedom to enter into the presence of the all-holy God.
This entrance discussion begun in verse 19 is resumed in verse 22 with the first of three, ‘let us’ statements. Here we read, let us draw near. To draw near, with the implied ‘let us’ supplied in the ESV, is a hook word found throughout Hebrews. The author frequently employs the use of hook words in order to introduce a topic or theme only to expound upon it later in the book. For instance, the first hook word is angels, found in Hebrews 1:4, which is subsequently detailed in the remainder of chapter 1. For our purposes, draw near is found also in Hebrews 4:16, 7:25, 10:1, 10:22, 11:6, 12:18, and 12:22.
By drawing near, particularly when seen here in conjunction with holy places and curtain, we ought to see this as indicating the believer’s status as priests of God, not because of being born of Levi or Aaron, but because of being born of God in Christ. Therefore, the first of these ‘let us’ statements is specifically informing the role and duty of believers as priests of God to draw near, as an Old Covenant priest would, to God in His heavenly tabernacle, through the sacrifice of Christ, and by means of His High Priesthood. Further, the character of God’s priests that would draw near is here said to be that from a true (or sincere) heart such that the drawing near is in full assurance (also used in Heb. 6:22).
Following this, two indicative statements about the condition of these believer’s as New Covenant priests are given: hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and bodies washed pure with water. Both of these descriptions are used in priestly contexts from the Old Covenant. The sprinkling, used here of the heart, ties back to Hebrews 9:13, 19, and 21, where it has reference to the blood of bulls and goats, now superseded by the blood of Christ. In other words, our hearts have been sprinkled clean from a defiled conscience by the blood of Christ. An additional reference to sprinkling in order to make clean, could tie back to the New Covenant passage of Ezekiel 36:25, however, the next phrase regarding bodies washed with pure water is a more likely correlation. It is unlikely that the reference to washing with water in this passage from Hebrews refers to baptism, though I suppose it could. The reason is that baptism is more than just an outward cleansing of the body, in fact, as we learn in 1 Peter 3:21, baptism has nothing to do with outward cleanliness.
Next, in verse 23 we arrive at our second ‘let us’ statement, this time an exhortation for believers to hold fast to their confession of hope, which is grounded in the faithfulness of God. Holding fast, also used in Hebrews 3:6, 14, carries with it the idea restraining or hindering. Perhaps in our modern vernacular we might even say “put a choke hold on your confession of hope,” in other words restrain it such that it can’t escape. What is the hope here spoken of? Whatever might be in view is founded upon the faithfulness of God. Therefore, it seems reasonable to initially conclude that our confession of hope is in the promises of God, which He will be faithful to fulfill. Similarly, hope is also used in Hebrews 3:6; 6:11, 18; 7:19. When those passages are considered, particularly chapter 6, we find that indeed the hope of believers is in the fulfillment of the Abrahamic promises which are bookended by hope in Hebrews 6:11 and 6:18. Immediately following this, in Hebrews 6:19, we find a supplied use of hope, referencing back to the previous verse, which is here grounded in the finished work of Christ as a sure and steadfast Anchor of the soul, who has gone ahead as a forerunner on our behalf into the inner place, behind the curtain, where He now serves as our High Priest. The context of hope from chapter 6 is a near exact parallel with hope used here in chapter 10 as hope in the fulfilled Abrahamic promises and hope in Christ as our Forerunner into the heavenly tabernacle of God, thereby granting us access to Him by faith in His Son.
This leads us to our third and final ‘let us’ statement from our passage, which contains the phrase concerning meeting together. This imperative begins with a focus among believers to consider how to stir up one another to love and good works. Like other key words in Hebrews, this too was previously mentioned in 3:1. Just as in that verse where the consideration is given to Jesus, here too it is not optional; it is not like the familiar use of consider where the options are weighed and then you may/not decide to stir up one another. Instead, it is to consider by way of fixing attention of the eyes and mind. In essence it is to consume us. In other words, fix your mind’s eye, your mental gaze, upon the duty of stirring up. Literally we are to provoke one another, though not in a negative sense, rather it is to be a good and godly irritation unto love and good works. These two are essentially the summation of the Christian life, love – which is a fulfillment of the commandments, and good works – which is action derived from faith.
THIS is the point and purpose of this third let us statement, which is then followed up by a negative prohibition concerning believer’s neglecting to meet, for the likely reason of persecution which we highlighted above. When held together in context, it is crystal clear that meeting together is for the purpose of considering how to stir one another up unto love and good works. Not only that, but as this third exhortation wraps up we read that these actions are for encouraging one another. One another begins and ends this third statement highlighting the significance. The final phrase in this verse informs us of the duration for such actions, essentially it is to be a continuous action until Christ returns.
THE SUMMARYThis has been a little longer post than normal, but if you’re still hanging in there or if you skipped the exposition to get to the summary, here we go. In Hebrews 10:19-26, we have three exhortations grounded in the finished work of Christ and His present heavenly session as High Priest (King-Priest). Each of these begins in English with the phrase, ‘let us’: faith, hope, and love, in that order. Looking at these another way, the first ‘let us’ is a duty call Godward, the second is inward, and the third is manward. Collectively, they form a unit that describes the Christian life, each bearing its own significance but inseparable. The third and final exhortation, which led to this post, is bracketed through the use of two one anothers. Typically, the main idea is included inside brackets, which for this verse would be not neglecting to meet together. Despite this as the primary emphasis in this exhortation, it cannot simply be stripped from its context like so many in mainstream evangelicalism are doing today when they use it as a proof text for Sunday morning worship services. Instead, the meeting together says nothing about when and nothing about where, but everything about what. Whenever believers meet, though we certainly have the “every day” from the aforementioned Hebrews 3:13, and wherever they meet, though the ownership of property is never condoned in Scripture, they are to make it their primary focus to stir one another up to love and good works, to encourage one another. THAT is the point of meeting! Brothers and sisters, this isn’t an add-on 5 minutes before “worship services” nor is it an afterthought walking on the way to the car. Instead, it IS the main purpose for meeting. Those who would lob this passage from Hebrews 10:25 around to support their decisions to meet or not meet have completely stripped it from its primary context and definitive meaning.
By all means, meet together; defy the State if you must, but we desperately need to recapture the purpose for why we are exhorted to meet. Perhaps, maybe, just maybe, God is calling us through all that is happening in the world to reexamine the Scriptures and find out what He says about why believers were to gather together in the first place, particularly – especially, in times of persecution.
Soli Deo Gloria