Tag Archives: Hebrews

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

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.

 

The Supremacy of Christ

 

1Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs.” Hebrews 1:1-4

In the majestic passage quoted above, the author of Hebrews, under the Divine inspiration of the Holy Spirit, seeks to establish the supremacy of Christ on the basis of the revelation of God. While most Pauline epistles begin with a greeting of introduction and the establishment of Paul’s apostolic authority, the Author of this epistle begins with the authority of God in revealing Himself first by means of the prophets and “in these last days” by means of His Son. This calls to mind the Parable of the Tenants (Matthew 21:33-43) where God first sent the prophets, which were killed, and then sent His Son, Whom they also killed.

Having established the foundation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ as a fuller or greater revelation, that of the Son, in the second part of verse 2 we begin to see in what ways Christ is superior. First, we see that Christ has been appointed heir of all things. This is His Sonship. This is the Father granting inheritance to the Son. We may ask, what is included in this inheritance? The Author here has placed no limits upon this inheritance; it does include all things, namely the universe and all that is in it. Secondly, we see that it is through the Son that God has created the world. In John 1:3 we read, “All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.” Paul in his letter to the church at Colossae provides even more detail, “For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him.” Col. 1:16 So we may conclude with these apostles that it was through Christ and for Christ that all things were made. It was He that was in Genesis forming the universe ex nihilo.

In verse 3, having established the Sonship, eternality, and creatorship of Christ, we begin to see something of an introduction into the nature of Christ. The Divine Author of Hebrews purposes here to introduce the audience, of largely Jewish origin, to the supremacy of Christ as God. He begins by stating, “He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature.” Here we see first that Christ is declared to be the radiance of the glory of God. Some commentators have described this as the relationship between the sun and the sun’s rays. We may speak of the sun in reference to the visible rays that warm our skin and brighten our path. In this sense, the sun and it’s rays are indistinguishable. Similarly, Christ radiates all that the Father is, namely His glory. “We have seen His glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father.” John 1:14 Secondly, we see a related phrase that Christ is “the exact imprint of his nature”. This may be understood with the analogy of a ring or signet to a seal. As in past times where a letter or decree was sealed with wax and the ring of a king was impressed upon the wax seal to give it authority so that all would know that this word had come from the king. So it is too with Christ. “Whoever has seen Me has seen the Father.” John 14:9 Within these two phrases we see the unity between the Son and the Father, but likewise a distinction in their persons. Though distinctly One God, yet uniquely separate in their Persons. “I and the Father are One.” John 10:30

Continuing on in verse 3, which acts as a thesis statement for the book, the Author next asserts the sovereignty of Christ, not only acting as Creator but here described as Sustainer, “He upholds the universe by the word of his power.” Christ as sovereign ruler over His creation upholds the universe by His word. Just as creation was spoken into being (Gen. 1:3), here too it is the Word of God that sustains the universe. This again speaks to the eternality of Christ, “The Word was with God and the Word was God” (John 1:1) and certainly indicates that He has at no time handed the keys of His sovereign rule over creation to another. Meaning that through both His incarnation, as a babe in a manger, and His death in suffering at the hands of man but moreso under the wrath of God, He at all times was upholding the universe by the word of His power. Certainly this must give us reason to pause at the majesty of Christ, “Who, though He was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied [humbled] Himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.” Philippians 2:6-7.

As though intending to press home the point of Christ’s supremacy even further into the consciences of His listeners, the Author next directs the Jewish mind to the Levitical priesthood with the following statement, “After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high.” Though merely a preview of the exposition to come regarding Christ as the Great High Priest, this introductory statement is sufficient to see the superior relationship between Christ and the high priest after the order of Levi, set forth under the Old Covenant, and given regulation through much of the book of Leviticus (note the special relationship between Leviticus and Hebrews, particularly as it relates to holiness, i.e. clean vs. profane). Christ made purification for sins as both the Priest and the sacrifice through His penal, substitutionary atonement on the cross, namely His death in the place of sinners suffering the punishment that they deserved. (see Lev. 16) though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool.” Is. 1:18

The posture of Christ is significant here, as seated at the right hand of the Majesty on high. This is a position of power and it is a unique activity for a priest, for the work of a priest was never finished under the Old Covenant as he continually made sacrifices. Christ, once again far superior, made the sacrifice once for all (Romans 6:10; Hebrews 7:27; 9:12; 9:26; 10:1; 10:10) and sat down, the purification for sins having been accomplished Christ now begins His heavenly session at the Father’s right hand to Mediate a new covenant which is much better than the old (Hebrews 9:15; 12:24). It is here that He makes intercession for believers, acting on their behalf in the presence of the Father. It is here that the Father sees His children through the perfected righteousness of Christ having cleansed their sins and restored the relationship. Christ now lives to make intercession for them (Heb. 7:25).

Finally in verse 4, the supremacy of Christ over the angels is introduced and will be expounded upon in the remaining verses of chapter 1, “having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs.” As will be shown by the Author, angels held a special place of reverence in the Jewish world. This can be seen in (Gen. 16; Ex. 3:2; Job 33:23, Matt. 1; Matt. 28:5; Luke 1; 2 Cor. 11:14; Gal. 1:8; Revelation). Angels, as divine ambassadors were believed to even play a role in the given of the Mosaic Law (see Acts 7:53; Galatians 3:19). So here, the Author makes a special mention of the superiority of Christ over these angelic beings. We should call in mind that Christ created the angels, sovereignly rules the angels, and as has been indicated here, is far superior to the angels.

The second part of this passage serves to magnify the name of Christ as excellent above all others. “At the name of Jesus, every knee will bow.” How precious is the name of Jesus, the name that He has inherited is far more excellent than man’s, as if that were in question, and far superior to angelic beings who minister in heaven to the Father and Son daily having witnessed the majesty of God first hand. God has called Him Son. (Psalm 2:7) “Therefore God has highly exalted Him and bestowed on Him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” Phil. 2:9-10

“You shall call His name Jesus, for He shall save His people from their sins.” Matthew 1:21

“…so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in His name.” John 20:31

From these verses in Hebrews Christ is:

  • The Revelation of God
  • The Heir of All Things
  • The Creator of the world
  • The Radiance of God’s Glory
  • The Exact Imprint of His Nature
  • The Sovereign upholding the Universe
  • The Greater High Priest
  • The Greater Davidic King
  • Superior over all heavenly beings

How then can we not worship this Christ who is set forth in the pages of Scripture from Genesis to Revelation and placed under magnification in these verses from Hebrews? How then can we fail to truly surrender to Him, knowing that all things are under His rule? How then can we drift from Him, knowing that it is He that is seated at the right hand of the Father? How then can we walk through this life in fear and anxiety, knowing that Christ upholds all things and that He lives to make intercession for the saints?

This is the Christ; the radiance of God’s glory and the exact imprint of His nature; the Messiah, Immanuel, the Son of God and the Son of Man. He is worthy of the worship due His name.

How then can we escape if we neglect so great a Savior?

Solus Christus!