A Bible Lesson on Hebrews 4:14-5:10

Scripture taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. Copyright 2000; 2001, by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

In this passage, the writer of Hebrews returns to his thesis of the utter superiority of Christ. He speaks of the priesthood of Christ in comparison to the Old Testament Levitical priesthood (and by implication, with its system of dealing with man’s fundamental problem of sin). At the end of Chapter 4, the writer states his main theme.

Hebrews 4:14 Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession.

Since we “have” … The “have” is emphatic. We have a “great” high priest. He is great in His essential nature, both truly God and truly human. And He is great in His work. What He has done is far beyond that of any other priest. And this high priest has truly ascended to the Father. He has passed through the heavens. This, is in contrast to the Levitical priests who only once a year could pass through the veil into the Holy of Holies. This great high priest now sees the Father face to face, and this high priest is the man Christ Jesus.

There is a man at the right hand of the Father. That, says the author, ought to cause us to buck up and hold fast. In light of His victory we should be encouraged to carry on. The verb is “to cling to” and indicates that determination is required on our part. Let us hold fast to “our confession.” He’s talking about something public, a public identification of oneself with Christ. We’re given the opportunity to publicly declare ourselves to be His through Christian baptism. And we are daily given opportunities to either confess or deny Him in what we do and what we say. In light of His great essential nature and His office as our high priest, we ought to be resolute and consistent in our confession. And in fact, this is not just an appeal for endurance, but a call for fearless witness.

The writer begins to lay out the qualifications of a proper high priest. A priest is one that stands between God and man, and represents humans before a Holy God. What qualifications ought a high priest then have?

15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.

A high priest must be of the same stuff as those he represents to God. What good would it do us to have a high priest that didn’t have the first idea about our condition? We’ve gone overboard in our time with the notion that between humans “unless you’ve had the exact same experiences as I have, you can’t possibly understand” and routinely use that as an excuse for wallowing in our misery and thinking our situation is uniquely tough, rather than getting on with life. But there is a truth here that if a priest is to represent men and women to God, that person must be of the same stock as us. This Jesus, both fully God and fully human, is qualified.

Christ is able to “sympathize,” literally, “to suffer along with.” With what? To sympathize with our weaknesses. He was subject to the same “weaknesses” we experience. He knew weariness. He had the thoughts “well what’s the use of going on?” He didn’t like pain (of body and of spirit) any more than you and I like pain.

Further, in sharing our humanity and weakness, He has known temptation. That’s one for pausing and thinking over carefully. If indeed, God is the very definition of all that is good and right and true, it would be a contradiction in terms for Him to be tempted. The Father (or pre-incarnate Son, or Spirit) being tempted to evil is nonsense. For the One who is the first cause and center of all things to be tempted to be or do something else is silly. But, the Son chose to share our condition, and as such knew temptation! Yet He came through it without sin. Commentators rightly point out that indeed His temptation was more intense than ours. For one thing, we cave in as temptation is ramping up. We rarely see it at its peak intensity, because we give in early in the climb up the mountain. He did not.

16 Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

Having a high priest that is qualified as knowing “how it is” we may come to the throne of grace. Notice, by the way, that the writer has added a statement here about Christ’s qualification as priest. He is both high priest and king. There’s a throne involved! There’s royal authority here. As the catechism says, He’s prophet, priest, and king.

We need at least two things, mercy and grace. We desperately need forgiveness. And we need strength. Both of these are available to us in Christ.

Hebrews 5:1For every high priest chosen from among men is appointed to act on behalf of men in relation to God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins.

Again, a priest functions between God and man. He acts on God’s behalf among humans and upon behalf of humans before God. To do so, he must be of the same stock as those he represents. Not only must he be “from among men,” but the author will elaborate a bit later that he must be “appointed.” And a high priest must offer sacrifices to God to somehow deal with our sin. His main function is not to somehow wrangle goodies from God, but rather to deal with what is fundamental, our basic need of forgiveness.

2 He can deal gently with the ignorant and wayward, since he himself is beset with weakness.

He can deal gently. This is something that is hard to get right in translation. It means taking a middle course between apathy and anger. Our sin is serious business. It is not to be yawned or winked at. But Christ, being of the same stock as we sinners, can take this middle course and deal with us gently. This He can do, as He has experience with “weakness,” with frailty. His frailty was physical frailty. A human high priest had both physical frailty and moral frailty. So he too was in a position to deal gently with the ignorant and wayward. In fact

3 Because of this he is obligated to offer sacrifice for his own sins just as he does for those of the people.

A human high priest was in the same boat as those he represented. He was guilty by reason of weakness and giving in. And as such, he had to bring sacrifice for himself before dealing with the situation of the people.

Leviticus 16:11 “Aaron shall present the bull as a sin offering for himself, and shall make atonement for himself and for his house. He shall kill the bull as a sin offering for himself.”

The Levitical priests were in the same condition as those they presented before God. In this matter, Jesus was, a completely different case. But the point here is the solidarity between a high priest and his people.

4 And no one takes this honor for himself, but only when called by God, just as Aaron was.

So here is another point. A proper high priest doesn’t get the job because he applies for it, or because some human appoints him to the office. It is something that can only be conferred by God Himself. That was the case with Aaron and his descendants. Sadly, this was not the case in Judah at the time this was written. The high priesthood had become a corrupt thing handled by politicians. But a pious reader knew that this was not the way things should be.

So too, argues the writer of Hebrews, Jesus is qualified on this account.

5 So also Christ did not exalt himself to be made a high priest, but was appointed by him who said to him, “You are my Son, today I have begotten you”;

The writer quotes again (as in Chapter 1) from Psalm 2.

Psalm 2:7 I will tell of the decree: The Lord said to me, “You are my Son; today I have begotten you.

Paul quotes this in Acts 13:33 in his sermon at Pisidian Antioch, as he argues that the resurrection is God’s stamp of approval on Jesus, that in the resurrection, Jesus was “begotten” to a new status as the exalted Man. He is “Son” not only by virtue of His deity, but also by virtue of His status as the first raised by God to live eternally. And it is only the Son of God that can have a rightful place at the right hand of God. If this is just an ordinary man, it makes no sense for Him to be at the right hand of the Father.

6 as he says also in another place, “You are a priest forever, after the order of Melchizedek.”

The writer quotes another Psalm.

Psalm 110:4 The Lord has sworn and will not change his mind, “You are a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.”

This Messianic Psalm is quoted here to argue that Jesus didn’t campaign for the position of high priest, but was, rather, appointed by the Father. This mysterious person, Melchizedek, was the king and priest of Salem that Abram met and paid tithes to upon rescuing Lot and his family from raiders (see Genesis 14). He’s not described in Scripture as having either forbearer or a successor. He stands alone and he wasn’t of the line of Levitical priests. The author here points to him as God’s special appointment. In this, he was an Old Testament type of Christ. He didn’t get the job because of human choice or succession and he didn’t pass it on. Christ’s priesthood is not only something that came as a direct appointment from the Father, but it is an eternal/permanent matter.

7 In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence.

This is surely a reference to Christ’s agony in the Garden of Gethsemane. And He was heard. He was heard because of His reverence/Godly fear. Christ prayed recognizing that the path that the Father had set, while genuinely the best, certainly would be full of misery. But He also prayed with full commitment to follow the will of the Father. He was heard. He was heard not in that the path was altered or made less painful, but in that He was strengthened for the task. That, because His heart was one of reverence/godly fear.

8 Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered.

“Although he was a son” might be better rendered “Son though He was.” The point is that because of His Sonship, we might have not expected Him to suffer. Christ is eternally the Son. And His will has from eternity past been completely in line with that of the Father. He didn’t “learn obedience” in the sense that human children learn obedience as we train them and punish disobedience. Rather, He experienced as a human what it is like to obey in a context where there is temptation to not do so. One of the commentaries I was looking at put it this way: There is a difference between innocence and virtue.

There is a certain quality involved when a required thing has been done, that isn’t yet present before the fact, when there is only a readiness to act. Jesus carried it through, and in a sense, post-Calvary has knowledge/experience He didn’t have pre-Calvary.

9 And being made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him,

“And being made perfect” doesn’t mean that before suffering Jesus was flawed and somehow suffering purified Him. That’s silly. What it does say is that there is a difference between being ready to suffer in the doing of God’s will and the actual suffering to do God’s will. And Jesus carried it through. He carried it through, and thereby became perfect in the sense of being qualified as Savior and Priest. His suffering accomplished something real and tangible. He didn’t just “learn a lesson.” Rather, His obedience and suffering accomplished eternal salvation for you and me. His obedience learned/experienced accomplished God’s salvation for all humans who will adopt the right heart toward Him, who will bow the knee and share His attitude and continual practice of reverence and godly fear and dependence upon God.

10 being designated by God a high priest after the order of Melchizedek.

Again, He’s high priest like Melchizedek, both priest and king, without successor, being designated directly by the Father.

Here’s what Raymond Brown says in closing his chapter on this section[1]:

“Before we leave this passage with its moving description of Christ’s total submission, we need a further reminder that obedience was not only necessary for him; it is expected also of us. Salvation is for those who obey him. It is important for us to see that when Jesus surrendered himself entirely to God’s will, he obeyed not only in order to honour God but also to help us to see what obedience is all about. In his exposition of this passage, Calvin says: ‘He did this for our benefit, to give us the instance and the pattern of His own submission. . . If we want the obedience of Christ to be of advantage to us, we must copy it.’

These verses are particularly important at a time when some Christians may find themselves tempted to bypass the con­stant discipline Christ demands in favour of the ‘instant’ or ‘immediate’ holiness offered by some exponents of the Chris­tian life. This is the ‘instant’ age; if a thing is to be had, it must be had now. The idea goes something like this: The promises are there, claim them at this very moment and the prize is yours, whether it is instant sanctification, instant power, or instant healing. We live in an impatient society and the idea of humble submission, patient waiting and steady perseverance does not make a ready appeal. But the way of Christ was the way of persistent obedience. All his life was given to it. He strongly resisted the temptation to have it effected in a spectacular and supernatural moment. He re­solutely pursued the will and purpose of God. He knew that it could not be achieved in a magical minute.

Moreover, he made it clear to his followers that his way was to be their way. There was no other. The only possible route to holiness of life was by way of the cross. When the disciples expressed their horror about his cross, he told them about theirs. ‘If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.’ The act of taking up the cross may well occur initially, and decisively at a precise moment of time. In that sense there is a crisis. But following after Christ and denying oneself is a daily, painful, costly reality that cannot be achieved by a sudden crisis, but only by a lifetime of constantly renewed dedication and obedient responsiveness to all that God requires of his people and equips them to do.”

[1] From The Message of Hebrews, Raymond Brown, 1982, Inter-Varsity Press, ISBN 0-87784-289-2, pp. 101-102.

Here is a .pdf of this lesson.

Scripture taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. Copyright 2000; 2001, by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

A Bible Lesson on Hebrews 10:19-39

Scripture taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. Copyright 2000; 2001, by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Hebrews 10:19 Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus,

The writer says, “Therefore.” On the basis of the doctrine he has laid down, on the basis of the work of Christ, he urges his readers to take advantage of what has been won for them. He states as fact that believers have an amazing wonderful blood-bought confidence to approach God. Adam and Eve hid from God after the fall. Outside the work of Christ, we are still in the bushes hiding, but by virtue of what Jesus has done, we can come to God without shrinking back. It would be blasphemy if it wasn’t true that in Jesus there is privilege to approach God always in a way no high priest of Israel was allowed to come near even once a year (on the Day of Atonement). Christians come into His very presence in confidence.

20 by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh,

The way opened by Christ is “new” and “living.” It didn’t exist before the sacrifice of Jesus and it is truly effective and enduring. It lives because Jesus lives. It is provided by His real flesh-and-blood sacrifice on our behalf. He is both perfect Sacrifice for our guilt and perfect Priest.

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.

The sprinkling and washing are both perfect participles. They are done/complete once-for-all and unrepeatable things. They were foreshadowed beautifully in Ezekiel.

Ezekiel 36:25 I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you.

26 And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.

27 And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.

Believers are to come with “true”/whole-and-not-mechanical and not-in-pretense-only heart. Only wholly relying on Jesus can our consciences be clear. We’re really guilty and no game-playing with our only Hope could possibly make any sense. He really does cleanse us if we really do throw ourselves wholly and gratefully on Him. The washing of the body is usually understood as a reference to Christian baptism.

23 Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful.

Hold fast. We don’t save ourselves, He does that. But you and I must persevere to the end in taking Him at His word. The “without wavering” is a phrase describing an upright object not varying at any time from being perfectly vertical. Come what may, real Christian people cannot be blown off vertical. Thankfully, we’re not alone in this.

24 And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works,

The word rendered “stir up” here is an interesting one. It is one usually employed in a bad sense, meaning to provoke or irritate. It means to incite. Its use here suggests that love and good works don’t somehow just happen. They must be vigorously encouraged. The perseverance that is necessary is nurtured in the fellowship of the church, where Christian people quite purposely spur one another on 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.

It’s a logical impossibility to stir up each other to love and evident good works if one separates oneself from the church. This has two sides when one fails to participate in this mutual inciting to love and good works. One fails his or her fellow believers, and simultaneously puts oneself into mortal danger. The soldier who walks away from his unit harms both his unit and himself.

26 For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins,

What’s under discussion here is the case of one who deliberately walks away. He’s been part of a redeemed, sheltered and blessed people, and in cold blood decides to walk away. For these Jewish Christian believers, hard times might cause some to think that maybe it would be OK to just go back to the way things were. But the writer wants his readers to understand clearly that to do that is high treason. There is only one hope for our souls, and to walk away is death.

27 but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries.

It’s not a choice between the best and a state that is maybe suboptimal but not unacceptable. It’s the choice between life and death. The writer makes that point by an argument from the lesser to the greater.

28 Anyone who has set aside the law of Moses dies without mercy on the evidence of two or three witnesses.

29 How much 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?

If the difference between paying attention to the law of Moses and not doing so was deadly, how in the world could it be acceptable to just sort of wander off from the very center of God’s revelation and provision for humanity? It’s not some small thing. Look at the language! To walk away is to trample underfoot the Son of God. This is to treat Him with contempt, to act as He were nothing more than some insect to be stepped on. It is to profane His blood, that is, to treat it as ordinary. The blood of the cross is infinitely precious, being effective for your salvation and my own. It’s the height of insensitivity and arrogance to count that as worthless. To walk away is to “outrage” the Spirit. This is the Spirit who struck dead Ananias and Sapphira when they lied about their property sale and its disposal. Perhaps high treason might be more dangerous?

30 For we know him who said, “Vengeance is mine; I will repay.” And again, “The Lord will judge his people.”

We know Him. There is no playing dumb here. The readers can’t claim ignorance of the nature of God, they cannot expect Him to ignore apostasy.

31 It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.

God has mercy on us in Christ. But in the words the Narnia Chronicles, Aslan is no tame domesticated lion. No human being with any sense turns his or her back on mercy. It’s no light thing, in fact it’s “terrible” in the most profound sense of the word. It’s a fearful thing.

The writer has warned his readers. He’s a good pastor and turns now to encourage them. They need both warning and encouragement.

32 But recall the former days when, after you were enlightened, you endured a hard struggle with sufferings,

These Hebrew Christians have already been through the fire. If they were able to bear that, they can bear what they face now.

33 sometimes being publicly exposed to reproach and affliction, and sometimes being partners with those so treated.

They suffered and were publicly mocked. And it seems that some of them have had the experience of voluntarily standing with mistreated brethren.

34 For you had compassion on those in prison, and you joyfully accepted the plundering of your property, since you knew that you yourselves had a better possession and an abiding one.

Stand with people under persecution, and chances are you’ll get the same. But in the words of Saint Boniface some 600 years later, these people had “run towards the roar of the battle.” At that time, they had joy in it. But it seems like they have since been worn down. The writer reminds them of how they had earlier correctly counted their temporal misery of no account compared to the reality of eternity. They need to return to/hold onto that earlier opinion.

35 Therefore do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward.

There is no comparison: a bit of hardship now followed by eternal blessing or a bit of relief now and eternal misery. Don’t throw away the good! Keep on!

36 For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised.

37 For, “Yet a little while, and the coming one will come and will not delay;

Relative to eternity, Christ’s return is yet a little while.

38 but my righteous one shall live by faith, and if he shrinks back, my soul has no pleasure in him.”

This is no time to wander off. There is mercy in throwing oneself on the mercy of Christ and persevering to the end of life. And there is no partial credit here. Live by faith. Carry on. And again, like the good pastor he is, the writer balances warning and exhortation with expression of his confidence in his readers.

39 But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and preserve their souls.

We have faith, will remain steady, and thereby preserve our souls.

Here is a .pdf of this lesson.

Scripture taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. Copyright 2000; 2001, by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

A Bible Lesson on Hebrews 9:11-28 and 10:11-18

Scripture taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. Copyright 2000; 2001, by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

F.F. Bruce titles these passages “Christ’s Eternal Redemption” (9:11-14), “The Mediator of the New Covenant” (9:15-22), “The Perfect Sacrifice” (9:23-28), and “The Enthroned High Priest” (10:11-18).

As we begin in Hebrews 9:11, the writer has been telling about the Jewish tabernacle, the holy place and the most holy place, the second being where only the high priest could go, and then only once per year, taking with him the blood of a sacrifice. The writer turns then to make comparison to Jesus.

Hebrews 9:11 But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation)

There is a lovely phrase here. Christ has appeared as a high priest, not of “good things to come,” but as the high priest of “the good things that have come.” The Old Testament types have been fulfilled. Humanity is no longer waiting in anticipation of an eternal high priest and an eternal redemption, it is here in Jesus!

12 he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption.

Christ entered once for all the presence of the Father “by means of” or “by virtue of” His own blood. He entered by virtue of His gracious sacrifice on our behalf. His work is both permanent and perfect in nature and also eternal in effect.

13 For if the blood of goats and bulls, and the sprinkling of defiled persons with the ashes of a heifer, sanctify for the purification of the flesh,

14 how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God.

If we would think this one through, it only makes sense. If all there was was a system of animal sacrifices, how could it possibly accomplish anything? It would be silly on the face of it (if that was all there was)! How could the Creator of all be satisfied with the death of animals as a means of rolling back the just punishment of man’s sin? But the Old Testament revelation is that this is what God required and honored. Why? Because it meant something in and of itself? Hardly! It was because it was a teacher and pointer to the reality, the once for all sacrifice of Christ! That is, there was reality in the Old Testament sacrifices, because they look ahead to Jesus. The effect of the Old Testament sacrifices was of necessity temporary, not really permanently clearing human conscience. The work of Jesus is to really clear the slate and make us able to in reality serve the living God.

15 Therefore he is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance, since a death has occurred that redeems them from the transgressions committed under the first covenant.

For the balance of this chapter, the author is going to talk about “covenants” and “wills”/”testaments.” We find it hard to follow. That’s because our English word changes and we have two fairly distinct concepts. Apparently in Greek, there is only one word that has the comprehensive meaning of “settlement” being used here, both for what English translators typically render as “covenant” and for what they render as “will” or “testament.” The argument here is then basically “Jesus who has died on our behalf is the mediator of a new ‘settlement’ and there is one particular kind of ‘settlement’ that serves to illustrate this aspect of His ministry. That is the ‘will’ or ‘testament’ type of ‘settlement’ that requires the death of the maker in order to be effective.”

“therefore” he is the mediator. This refers to the fact that Christ offered Himself. It is His self-sacrifice that makes Him the mediator.

16 For where a will is involved, the death of the one who made it must be established.

17 For a will takes effect only at death, since it is not in force as long as the one who made it is alive.

A will or testament type of settlement is only in effect as the one who made it is dead. The effectiveness of the New Covenant in Jesus depends wholly on His death. That shouldn’t catch us completely off guard, since that was already pictured in the Old Testament type. Even it required death in its inauguration.

18 Therefore not even the first covenant was inaugurated without blood.

19 For when every commandment of the law had been declared by Moses to all the people, he took the blood of calves and goats, with water and scarlet wool and hyssop, and sprinkled both the book itself and all the people,

20 saying, “This is the blood of the covenant that God commanded for you.”

And it wasn’t only at the institution of the first covenant that there was blood. There was blood at the dedication of the tabernacle.

21 And in the same way he sprinkled with the blood both the tent and all the vessels used in worship.

There was blood at all the sacrifices for sin.

22 Indeed, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins.

Nearly everything in the Old Testament religion involved blood. And the OT picture is entirely right. Forgiveness is serious business. It comes at the highest price. Without death there is none. Only the death of Christ brings forgiveness of our sin. Again, the Old Testament law required sacrifice, but it could only be effective as it looked ahead to Jesus the perfect sacrifice that it stood for. It’s not that somehow the animal sacrifices set the standard and Jesus (being of more value than a dumb animal) filled up the quota, but rather that Jesus is the reality that the OT system pointed to, and what gave those sacrifices their meaning.

23 Thus it was necessary for the copies of the heavenly things to be purified with these rites, but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these.

Clearly, animal sacrifices aren’t going to cut it in any real sense for eternity. Again, that would be absurd on the face of it. Ultimate reality doesn’t hang on the sacrifice of dumb animals, but on the work of Christ. If there is going to be real dealing with human sin, the cure has to be more than animal sacrifice, and it has to be more universal than what goes on in an earthly temple or tabernacle. It simply must be of cosmic proportions. And indeed it is. It’s no frail human yearly entering a special room of the temple, it’s instead the eternal Christ in the very presence of the God of all.

24 For Christ has entered, not into holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true things, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf.

“Christ has entered.” The tense is aorist, that indicates a completed and historic event. The reference is presumably to the ascension. “Which are copies of true things …” We are earthbound creatures. Our default is to think that stuff of this present world is what is “real” (and the stuff of heaven is somehow unreal). But that is backwards. The genuinely true things are those that endure forever. And those are not the things of this life. The stuff of this life is but a shadow of the eternal.

25 Nor was it to offer himself repeatedly, as the high priest enters the holy places every year with blood not his own,

What Jesus has done was done once, not repeatedly. The Romans are horribly, horribly wrong on this point. They think they are repeatedly sacrificing Christ at Mass. What He did, He did once for all.

The Jewish priests came to the temple repeatedly with the blood of animals. Jesus came once to the very presence of the Father with the sacrifice of Himself. It would be absurd to think of Him dying over and over and over in the style of a repeated animal sacrifice. Human beings die bodily only once. Christ, fully divine but also fully human, could die only once.

26 for then he would have had to suffer repeatedly since the foundation of the world. But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself.

27 And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment,

The writer rightly considers any thought of Christ being repeatedly sacrificed to be obviously absurd.

28 so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.

Every ordinary human dies once and then faces judgment. Christ died once, and His work complete, brings salvation to those who love Him.

Jump now to verse 11 of Chapter 10. The writer continues to emphasize the unrepeatable nature of Christ’s sacrifice for us. In this, he appeals to the wording of Psalm 110. In Chapter 7 he has referred to this Psalm in regard to Christ as of the line of Melchizedek.

Psalm 110:1 The LORD says to my Lord: “Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool.”

Hebrews 10:11 And every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins.

12 But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God,

13 waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet.

The Aaronic priests never sat down in the temple. They were always on their feet and their work was never done. It’s as if they were manning the pumps on a sinking ship. There had to be someone always offering the next sacrifice. Not so with Christ. F.F. Bruce put it this way, “A seated priest is the evidence of a finished work and an accepted sacrifice.” And He sits at God’s right hand, at the place of highest honor and dignity.

14 For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.

The writer has said several times that the Old Testament law brought no one to perfection. It couldn’t permanently set us right with God. The repeated nature of the OT sacrifices is clear testimony to that fact. But what Christ has done is different. The writer refers to the prophecy of Jeremiah.

Jeremiah 31:31 “Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah,

32 not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the LORD.

33 But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people.

34 And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the LORD. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”

15 And the Holy Spirit also bears witness to us; for after saying,

16 “This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my laws on their hearts, and write them on their minds,”

17 then he adds, “I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more.”

18 Where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer any offering for sin.

The point is that if indeed the prophecy of Jeremiah is fulfilled in Christ, there is no more need for continual sacrifices. Real forgiveness has come once for all.

Here is a .pdf of this lesson.

Scripture taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. Copyright 2000; 2001, by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

A Bible Lesson on Hebrews 4:14-16 and 6:13-20

Scripture taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. Copyright 2000; 2001, by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

The previous ARP lesson concerned warnings/admonitions given by the writer of Hebrews to not turn back from faith in Christ to Judaism in the face of persecution and difficulty. This lesson is comprised of two short passages that approach this situation from another direction. They give encouragement/assurances to those suffering believers as means of strengthening their resolve to stand fast. The first concerns the nature of our Priest.

Hebrews 4:14 Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession.

15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.

16 Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

A priest represents one to God and represents God to one. Jesus is this amazing person who is both fully God and fully man. How else could a priest be a perfect intermediary except in this way … but then who could have ever seen it coming?!? There’s a Man in heaven who, being a man, can perfectly represent us to God, and being God can perfectly represent God to us. He’s passed through heaven to the right hand of the Father. If He wasn’t man, how could humanity be sure that our weakness is understood? If He wasn’t God, what good would it do us to have just another just like ourselves representing us? What could you bring to God on my behalf, or me to God on your behalf? That would do us no good at all! I might as well be my own priest as to rely upon you and vice versa. And gut level we know that to be utterly hopeless. We need a perfect One to stand for us. And the wonder of it is that God in Christ has given us exactly that!

So the first assurance of this lesson is the wonder of this unique Savior Priest. His nature gives us reason to hold fast. Having once understood who He is and what He’s done, His absolutely unique person and nature, the hearer of this letter ought to “hold fast” and “with confidence draw near” and “receive mercy and grace in time of need.” There’s help in persecution and all the difficult stuff of life. And really, where else is there to turn? Do we want to go it alone or with the mercy of the only One who could help?

Now we jump to Chapter 6.

Hebrews 6:13 For when God made a promise to Abraham, since he had no one greater by whom to swear, he swore by himself,

14 saying, “Surely I will bless you and multiply you.”

15 And thus Abraham, having patiently waited, obtained the promise.

16 For people swear by something greater than themselves, and in all their disputes an oath is final for confirmation.

17 So when God desired to show more convincingly to the heirs of the promise the unchangeable character of his purpose, he guaranteed it with an oath,

18 so that by two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled for refuge might have strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us.

The God of the Bible, the only true God, is a Maker and Keeper of promises. He made promises to humanity beginning in the Garden of Eden and notably to Abraham, fundamentally concerning Messiah, a Savior. He made the promises and the argument of the writer is that He even went so far as to guarantee them with an oath. The reference is to Genesis 22:16 and the instance of God’s promise-making to Abraham after Abraham had been willing to sacrifice Isaac and trust Him in spite of the apparent command to essentially kill the promise in the person of his Isaac. The reader of Hebrews can take heart and carry on, because God doubly makes and keeps His promises. (He makes them and then swears to them.) The reader of the letter has a fixed point in all difficulty.

19 We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain,

20 where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf, having become a high priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.

Again, it is a wonderful and astonishing thing that Christ is eternal Priest on your behalf and mine. That’s consistent with the promises of God. The writer would have his readers persevere because of the nature of Christ, and His sure promises. There is warning to keep on. There are also these wonderful assurances of God’s good intentions toward His people. Thanks be to God.

Here is a .pdf of this lesson.

Scripture taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. Copyright 2000; 2001, by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

A Bible Lesson on Hebrews 3:12-4:13

Scripture taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. Copyright 2000; 2001, by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

This lesson concerns parts of Hebrews 3 and 4. The writer has been stating the surpassing superiority of Christ, superiority to all angels and humans, including the great Moses, the one the Jews looked to as the giver of God’s law. He has warned against ignoring the great salvation provided by Christ. In the verses immediately before the ones treated here, he has then quoted from the Greek Old Testament version of Psalm 95:7-11 and begins to fashion an extended argument for his readers not turning back to Judaism around a theme of “rest” brought up in that Psalm.

Psalm 95:7 For he is our God, and we are the people of his pasture, and the sheep of his hand. Today, if you hear his voice,

8 do not harden your hearts, as at Meribah, as on the day at Massah in the wilderness,

9 when your fathers put me to the test and put me to the proof, though they had seen my work.

10 For forty years I loathed that generation and said, “They are a people who go astray in their heart, and they have not known my ways.”

11 Therefore I swore in my wrath, “They shall not enter my rest.”

The writer argues with converts from Judaism on the basis of the Old Testament quote.

Hebrews 3:12 Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God.

This is exhortation of the strongest kind. These believers are hard pressed, almost surely persecuted for their acceptance of Jesus as their Messiah and King, Son of God and Son of Man. But there is no option of backing off to their former lives in Judaism. To turn from Christ is to fall away from the living God. What would lead to that turning? It would be an evil, unbelieving heart. At the core of things, a person either puts final confidence in God in Christ or does not. The sin that is unforgivable, that is the very essence of evil, is steadfast refusal to put one’s trust in Christ. Return to Judaism is not some half-measure that is sub-optimal but OK. Rather, implies the writer, it would flow from an evil misplaced final confidence and trust.

13 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.

The writer urges these readers to continually exhort one another to keep on in the faith. The urgency/immediacy of the matter is emphasized in the reference to the word “today” in the Psalm. Christianity/real faith in God can only be lived in the today … everyday … constantly. So the present is the time to encourage one another. This life in Christ is not only individual, it is seriously communal, and the charge is to constantly encourage others to persevere in the Faith. Again, to drop out is to show that one’s basic confidence is not in Christ, and that’s as bad as it gets. Help each other to not get suckered and fall away.

14 For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end.

To start well in Christ is wonderful and necessary, but not sufficient. Only holding full confidence in Christ to the end of life is sufficient. And that just makes sense. How could it be that a bit of flirting with God in Christ would be all that God really wants or requires? Life confidence in Christ alone to the end is what saves. Look, says the writer, to the situation treated in the Psalm for an Old Testament type of the current situation faced by these converts from Judaism.

15 As it is said, “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion.”

16 For who were those who heard and yet rebelled? Was it not all those who left Egypt led by Moses?

17 And with whom was he provoked for forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies fell in the wilderness?

18 And to whom did he swear that they would not enter his rest, but to those who were disobedient?

The Exodus from slavery in Egypt is the prime Old Testament type of the final deliverance from sin, hell, and the grave, provided in Christ. The experience of the Israelites in that Exodus serves as instruction for Christian people. After a glorious start, the going got tough out in the desert, and there was rebellion and a desire to turn back. “Better slavery and food in our bellies than death in the wilderness!” was the heart of the Israelites. But that was repudiation of the provision and promise of God.   That was declaration of “no confidence” in God. And that is rebellion and most serious sin.

What was the end of it? It was dead carcasses in the wilderness, failure to gain/enjoy the “rest” promised by God. There was no entrance into the promised land for those who changed their minds about the provision and leading of God. That is plainly called disobedience. The application to the situation of Jewish converts to Christianity is clear. To go fail to keep on trusting Christ is to wish to go back, is to die in the wilderness.

19 So we see that they were unable to enter because of unbelief.

The impossibility of life with God is, of course, a consequence of having no confidence in Him. There is no possibility of relationship between humans where there is no mutual trust. How could there be relationship between God and man with no trust evident in obedience on the part of man?

Hebrews 4:1 Therefore, while the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us fear lest any of you should seem to have failed to reach it.

The writer emphasizes that the promise of God still stands (at the present time). Now is the time for reverent, serious attention to the Gospel. Speaking to the persecuted believers, the writer says that despite the difficulties they face, nothing about God’s gracious provision has changed. That is a good word for all time, as is the admonition to reverence and urgency in response to the statement that the promise stands.

2 For good news came to us just as to them, but the message they heard did not benefit them, because they were not united by faith with those who listened.

The Israelites had the promise of freedom and a land of their own, but didn’t mix that promise with reliance upon God. Hearing the Gospel is essential. Hearing the Gospel without transferring all one’s confidence to Christ accomplishes nothing.

3 For we who have believed enter that rest, as he has said, “As I swore in my wrath, ‘They shall not enter my rest,'” although his works were finished from the foundation of the world.

4 For he has somewhere spoken of the seventh day in this way: “And God rested on the seventh day from all his works.”

The writer begins to consider another Biblical usage of the notion of “rest” and its relationship to God’s promise of good for His people. That is the completeness of what He did in the beginning. God “rested” at the end of creation in the sense that His purposes were set, His “works” were “finished” in the sense of being ordained. So He ordained good for His people, and the fact that some lost confidence in Him and thereby chose death in the wilderness didn’t cancel His promise of a land for Israel. Neither did it cancel His long term promise of final and eternal good to those who trust Christ.

5 And again in this passage he said, “They shall not enter my rest.”

6 Since therefore it remains for some to enter it, and those who formerly received the good news failed to enter because of disobedience,

The kids of the rebels did enter the promised land and His grand promise that all will be finally set right in the Kingdom of His Son carries on … and it remains when the writer writes, and now as we read. But the warning that was given in the Psalm is also presently relevant.

7 again he appoints a certain day, “Today,” saying through David so long afterward, in the words already quoted, “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.”

8 For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken of another day later on.

9 So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God,

The “Sabbath rest” surely refers to this ultimate final eternal destiny in the presence of God, promised to those who love and obey His Son. Possession of the promised land and rest from desert wandering is a type of what Christ’s people are to experience at the end of the hard stuff that is mortal life. That remains unshaken.

10 for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from his.

I’m not altogether sure I know exactly what is intended here. But there is at least the understanding that finally even pious and appropriate human service to God will be swallowed up in God’s good eternity. The end of proper effort is not some plan of man, but the good provision of God from before time began. F.F. Bruce said, “In other words, he has completed his appointed work in accordance with God’s will.”

11 Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience.

All that can short-circuit participation in God’s rest for an individual is failure to persevere to the end, failure to maintain confidence in the gracious provision of God to the end of life.

12 For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.

This is a verse that is often quoted individually. In context, “the word of God” is surely the exhortations to preserve. F.F. Bruce said, “For God’s word—that which fell on disobedient ears in the wilderness and which has been sounded out again in these days of fulfillment—is not like the word of man; it is living, effective, and self-fulfilling; it diagnoses the condition of the human heart, saying “Thou ailest here, and here”; it brings blessing to those who receive it in faith and pronounces judgment on those who disregard it. … It is ‘discriminative of the heart’s thoughts and intents.'” Again, the response to the exhortation to carry on is the difference between life and death. By the exhortation we learn our condition, whether or not our confidence is in Him alone.

13 And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account.

God knows our hearts. He knows those who trust Him and He knows those who have ultimate confidence in something else. In light of that, let us carry on.

Here is a .pdf of this lesson.

Scripture taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. Copyright 2000; 2001, by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

A Bible Lesson on Hebrews 1:1-4 and 2:1-18

Scripture taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. Copyright 2000; 2001, by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

This is the first of a short series of 5 lessons from the book of Hebrews. Hebrews itself doesn’t name its author. There are good reasons why some think that Paul wrote it and others thinks that he didn’t. Barnabas is the other named serious contender for authorship. But it may well have been someone else entirely. Ultimately it doesn’t make much difference who God used to write it. What is important is that we recognize it for what it is, the inspired word of God.

The best guess is that the letter was written fairly early, before the destruction of the Jerusalem temple in 70 AD. It is pretty clearly written to Jewish Christians, some of whom seem tempted to throw over their faith in Christ as Messiah and Savior and return to Judaism. As the author carefully lays out the foolishness of such a move in light of what really is, he gives us a rich statement of the absolute superiority of Christ in every realm of life and in comparison to every being and institution. The book thus stands as a pivotal link between the Old and New Testaments, explaining clearly and comprehensively who Christ is and what it is that He has done for us

The first four verses of Hebrews constitute a single sentence in the Greek that powerfully introduces the author’s thesis of the comprehensive superiority of Christ.

Hebrews 1:1 Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets,

 Note first that it is God who is the subject of this sentence. It is He who has spoken. It is He who is the beginning point.

The author jumps right to his thesis, and it is one of both continuity and discontinuity. Contrary to post-modern thinking, what has happened in the past is relevant. God spoke in the past. That’s relevant to now, but incomplete, says the author. The Old Testament is full of examples of “at many times and in many ways.” There was the preaching of Noah and the flood, the dream of Joseph, the burning bush in the desert and the plagues on Egypt, the still small voice to Elijah after the storm, the prophetic acts of Jeremiah, Ezekiel lying on his left side for 390 days, etc. Indeed God spoke in many different ways and at many different times. Those were all relevant, but incomplete.

2 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.

The final and complete revelation is in His Son. That is not to downplay the importance or relevance of the things that God spoke to the forefathers, but the fact is that the revelation of Jesus is something else entirely. All that went before pointed ahead to Jesus. Jesus points ahead to no one. Instead, He reveals the Father as clearly as He can be revealed to us humans.

Think a bit about what we should hear in the language here. In the phrase “a Son” we ought to hear “of the same essence.” Prophets are creatures like you and me. A “Son” is of the same nature as the Father. As “heir,” all things exist for Him. But it is not as if Christ is somehow going to come into these things when the Father gets tired and decides to retire. Instead, Christ was intimately involved in the creation of all that is. It’s been His from the start!

The next verse goes on to say a series of magnificent things about the Son, things that make it abundantly clear that while there is continuity with the former things, Jesus is something else entirely.

3 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,

He is the radiance of God’s glory. This is the outshining of God’s glory, His brilliance visible to us. The picture is that of light bursting from a brilliant lamp. And that light is God’s. This person, Jesus, is being described as the dazzling shining forth of the one true and living God. Remember that this is almost surely before 70 AD, and the author already sees clearly the eternal deity of Christ in a way that ought to completely silence a liberal theologian.

Jesus is the exact imprint of the Father’s nature. The picture here is that of a stamp and a corresponding impression. As far as you and I are concerned, if we have seen the impression, we know what the stamp looks like. We shouldn’t push this figure further than is intended. There is not a sense in which the Father is the original and the Son is derivative from Him. That’s not what’s being said. Rather, the emphasis is on the perfection of Christ’s representation of the Father to us.

He upholds the universe by the word of His power. This is not the pagan picture of a “god” like Atlas with the world on his shoulder. This is the Biblical picture of Christ holding together the very essence of all that is. The Jews knew much more clearly than post-modern man that if God for a micro-second ceased to work at sustaining the universe, it would cease to be. This is miles from the deist/clock-maker picture of God and His creation. And it is Jesus, the crucified and risen Messiah, who is seen to be at work in this.

The text says “after making purification for sins.” The Greek tense here is such that this is to be understood as a finished and complete work. It’s completely done. Glory to God! Every halfway honest human being must face this matter somehow: we’re guilty and we know it. And the author says of the Son that He has made provision for our most fundamental need, not only to somehow escape wrath, but to have things made genuinely right and pure. The Son has made that possible.

He sat down at the right hand of majesty on high. Jesus, God’s final word to us, His work complete, now sits in the place of highest honor in heaven. Jesus of Nazareth, eternal Son of God, born a human being of the Virgin Mary, Messiah, crucified and risen, now is in the first place. How in the world, the author asks, can even the wonderful things of the Old Testament stack up to this? How can anyone be tempted to turn back to Judaism?

4 having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs.

This sounds strange to us because we really think very little about angels. But the Jews held them in highest regard. For one thing, they held that angels were somehow intermediaries in the giving of the Old Testament law. The point here is that both by virtue of who Christ has been from before the beginning of time, and by virtue of what He has done in time and space, Jesus is infinitely superior to both human prophets (verse 1) and angels.

Again we should not hear the “became” and “inherited” to imply that in the past Christ was inferior to beings He created. That is a silly impossibility. The emphasis is on what is now evident.

The “name” here is almost certainly “Son.” What is greater, to be God’s Son or to be a created being like a man or an angel? The writer goes on to hammer this point home. The contrast he makes is between angels at work carrying out the will of the Father on the behalf of men and women, and the Son, His work of redemption completed, sitting at the right hand of the Father.

We jump to the beginning of Chapter 2.

Hebrews 2:1  Therefore we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it.

2 For since the message declared by angels proved to be reliable and every transgression or disobedience received a just retribution,

3 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,

4 while God also bore witness by signs and wonders and various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will.

The argument here is that if, properly enough, a Jew would pay attention to the Jewish law and religion, how much more should he pay attention to the salvation provided by God in Christ. We too must pay closer attention, lest we drift away from it. Our fallen hearts tell us that we can coast, that we can rest this side of the grave, that things really don’t have to be taken all that seriously. But that simply isn’t true. If the picture of Christ that the writer has painted is correct, we dare not be indifferent.

5 Now it was not to angels that God subjected the world to come, of which we are speaking.

The writer returns to the contrast between Jesus and angelic beings begun in Chapter 1. He says that glorious though they are, and though they presently are in administration over our world, angels will have no administrative role in eternity. That role is for Christ alone. (It’s worth noting that the word rendered “world” in Hebrews 2:5 by the ESV is not the word “cosmos” which would put the focus on the “world as a system,” but rather one that focuses on the “world inhabitants.” The writer is primarily and rightly concerned about the personal rather than the abstract.)

To make his point, he refers to Psalm 8:4-6.

Psalm 8:4 what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him?

5 Yet you have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor.

6 You have given him dominion over the works of your hands; you have put all things under his feet,

 

6 It has been testified somewhere, “What is man, that you are mindful of him, or the son of man, that you care for him?

7 You made him for a little while lower than the angels; you have crowned him with glory and honor,

The original meaning of “man” the Psalm was surely “mankind.” The writer of Hebrews applies the Psalm to Christ. It’s He who was made for a little while lower than “the angels.” It is the Septuagint’s rendering of the Psalm that is being quoted/followed here. It’s interesting that contrary to that rendering, the most natural reading of the Hebrew version of Psalm 8 is having been made for a little while lower than God.

8 putting everything in subjection under his feet.” Now in putting everything in subjection to him, he left nothing outside his control. At present, we do not yet see everything in subjection to him.

The description of mankind provided in verses 6-9 here follows from Genesis 1:26.

Genesis 1:26 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.”

That, of course, applied originally to the first Adam. The writer of Hebrews sees it applying perfectly only to Christ, the 2nd Adam. But we don’t yet see it completely. What we do see is

9 But we see him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.

Angels don’t die, that’s for fallen man and other earthbound creatures affected by the fall. And angels don’t suffer. Jesus did both. The writer has to deal with these issues of suffering and death if he’s going to convince the Jews to whom he writes of the supremacy of Christ. He insists that 1) the suffering and death of Christ were only for a little while (they were temporary) and 2) far from being any indication of low position, they are glory. The glory that the writer said in the first chapter belongs to Christ, is intimately related to the suffering and death. Jesus is the outshining of God’s brilliance and glory, and that glory is evident in His mercy and kindness. That He would take your place and mine is brilliant outshining of the Creator alone.

10 For it was fitting that he, for whom and by whom all things exist, in bringing many sons to glory, should make the founder of their salvation perfect through suffering.

It was fitting, it was consistent with the way things are. It was consistent with the nature of our God, that He would qualify Christ as Savior through suffering. We should not hear in this the writer giving his opinion about what God should or should not have done. That would be silly. All God’s ways are perfect. The statement is, that whether or not we naturally find suffering to our liking, the suffering of Christ tells us fundamental things about the heart of our Creator. Christ was brought to perfection in the sense that the perfect Creator and Son of God became the perfect Savior of His people. And the revelation of His nature and great love were made complete.

Many sons are brought to glory. Christians reflect the glory of their God. The glory of Christ is shared with His people, and the heart of God is seen in His people.

Jesus is the founder/captain/pathfinder/pioneer of their salvation. He provided the way, and that was through suffering.

11 For he who sanctifies and those who are sanctified all have one origin. That is why he is not ashamed to call them brothers,

He shared our humanity and suffered as one of us. He is the Son of God and by His work we are adopted into the family of God. The priest who consecrates and the people who are consecrated are of the same stock. We share with Christ a common humanity and a common place as children of the Father. Three quotes follow that show the close relationship between Christ and His people.

12 saying, “I will tell of your name to my brothers; in the midst of the congregation I will sing your praise.”

This is from Psalm 22:22.

Psalm 22:22 I will tell of your name to my brothers; in the midst of the congregation I will praise you.

It’s part of the triumphant conclusion of the Psalm. Though in the Psalm the Psalmist suffers, at the end He breaks into praise for God. The writer of Hebrews points to the Psalm and the suffering there as Messianic, and implies that the praise at the end of the Psalm comes as the Messiah sees His suffering in light of the glory His people/church bring to God.

13 And again, “I will put my trust in him.” And again, “Behold, I and the children God has given me.”

The second quote is from Isaiah 8:17.

Isaiah 8:17 I will wait for the Lord, who is hiding his face from the house of Jacob, and I will hope in him.

The context is one where Isaiah’s prophecies have been ignored by both people and king, and he seals them up and gives them to disciples, trusting in God for later vindication. Christ, rejected by officials and nation, has entrusted His disciples with the Gospel. This, implies the writer of Hebrews, awaits God’s vindication. The situation concerning Christ and His suffering is parallel to Isaiah’s situation.

The third quote is from Isaiah 8:18.

Isaiah 8:18 Behold, I and the children whom the Lord has given me are signs and portents in Israel from the Lord of hosts, who dwells on Mount Zion.

In the original context this referred to Isaiah and his natural children. Here the writer applies it to Christ and His people, His brethren. Jesus, crucified Messiah, and His people are signs to the world. In dealing with the issue of Christ’s suffering and death, the writer sees praise for God as Jesus finished the work, he sees the final vindication yet in the hands of God, and he sees Christ and His people as signs to a world that presently is blind.

14 Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil,

So Jesus is intimately related to His people. They are flesh and blood and He too became flesh and blood. They are flesh and blood by creation, by nature. He became flesh and blood voluntarily. Why? For the express purpose of dying. Remember that the discussion here is the supremacy of Christ to angels, and the “problem” is that humans are mortal and angels are not. Christ was human and Christ died. But, says the writer, Jesus became what He wasn’t for the very purpose of dying. This is not weakness, this is purpose and glory. And the purpose was the end of death.

15 and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery.

16 For surely it is not angels that he helps, but he helps the offspring of Abraham.

This is of no use to angels, but it is liberty and deliverance for all who like Abraham, are friends of God. Literally, “it is not of angels he takes hold but, but of the offspring of Abraham that he takes hold.” This is an active, strong thing that is being described. This is intervening on our behalf and taking us by the hand and leading us from death to life.

17 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.

The principle is that a priest must be like those for whom he intercedes. Jesus was qualified on that account to be a great high priest for all mankind. He was qualified to in Himself satisfy the righteous and just anger of a Holy God.

18 For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.

This is a different thought, but a wonderful one. Because “He’s been there,” He can provide help for us in temptation. Not only did He have to deal with what comes our way as ordinary human beings, but He was tempted in ways we cannot appreciate: to use His divine powers to avoid the road to Calvary.

Did He die? Was He human? ABSOLUTELY! But that is not in any way indication that He is not superior to all created beings, including angels.

Here is a .pdf of this lesson.

Scripture taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. Copyright 2000; 2001, by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

A Bible Lesson on Hebrews 1:1-2:4

Scripture taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version.  Copyright 2000; 2001, by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers.  Used by permission.  All rights reserved.

This is a lesson not in the current ISSL cycle.  It, like lessons from Colossians 1 and John 1, concerns a passage providing a grand and substantial statement of who Christ is.  The passage is important basic historical orthodox Christology.

The best guess is that the letter to the Hebrews was written fairly early, before the destruction of the Jerusalem temple in 70 AD.  It is pretty clearly written to Jewish Christians, some of whom seem tempted to throw over their faith in Christ as Messiah and Savior and return to Judaism.  As the author carefully lays out the foolishness of such a move in light of what really is, he gives us a rich statement of the absolute superiority of Christ in every realm of life and in comparison to every being and institution.  The book thus stands as a pivotal link between the Old and New Testaments, explaining clearly and comprehensively who Christ is and what it is that He has done for us.

The first four verses of Hebrews constitute a single sentence in the Greek, that powerfully introduces the author’s thesis of the comprehensive superiority of Christ.

Hebrews 1:1 Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, 

Note first that it is God who is the subject of this sentence.  It is He that has spoken.  It is He who is the beginning point.  Had He remained silent, you and I would be in a world of hurt, in darkness and confusion, with no means of sanity or light.  But God spoke.  It’s not that man reasoned and inquired, but that God spoke.

The author jumps right to his thesis, and it is one of both continuity and discontinuity.  Contrary to post-modern thinking, what happened in the past is relevant.  God spoke in the past.  That’s relevant to now, but incomplete, says the author.  The Old Testament is full of examples of “at many times and in many ways.”  There was the preaching of Noah and the flood, the dream of Joseph, the burning bush in the desert and the plagues on Egypt, the still small voice to Elijah after the storm, the prophetic acts of Jeremiah, Ezekiel lying on his left side for 390 days, etc., etc., etc.  Indeed God spoke in many different ways and at many different times.  Those were all relevant, but incomplete.

2 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. 

“in these last days” means much more than just “recently.”  The sense we should have in light of the usage of this kind of language in the Old Testament is “once for all at the consummation of the ages,” the final and complete revelation is in His Son.  That is not to downplay the importance or relevance or trueness of the things that God spoke to the forefathers, but the fact is that the revelation of Jesus is something else entirely.  All that went before pointed ahead to Jesus.  Jesus points ahead to no one.  Instead, He reveals the Father as clearly as He can be revealed to us humans. F.F. Bruce said “The progression is one from promise to fulfillment …”

Think about what we should hear in the language/word choice here.  In the phrase “his Son” we ought to hear “of the same essence.”  Prophets are creatures like you and me.  A “Son” is of the same nature as the Father.  As “heir,” all things exist for Him.  But it is not as if Christ is somehow going to come into these things when the Father gets tired and decides to retire.  Instead Christ was intimately involved in the creation of all that is.  It’s been His from the start!  That is, He is “through whom he also created the world.”

The next verse goes on to say a series of magnificent things about the Son, things that make it abundantly clear that while there is continuity with the former things, Jesus is something else entirely.

3 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, 

He is the radiance of God’s glory.  This is the outshining of God’s glory.  His brilliance visible to us.  The picture is that of light bursting from a brilliant lamp, and that light is God’s.  This person Jesus is being described as the dazzling shining forth of the one true and living God.  Remember that this is almost surely before 70 AD and the author already sees clearly the eternal deity of Christ in a way that ought to completely silence skeptical modern liberal theologians.

He is the exact imprint of His nature.  The picture here is that of a stamp and a corresponding impression.  As far as you and I are concerned, if we have seen the impression, we know what the stamp looks like.  We shouldn’t push this figure further than is intended.  There is not a sense in which the Father is the original and the Son is a derivative from Him.  That’s not what’s being said.  Rather, the emphasis is on the perfection of Christ’s representation of the Father to us.  He is the exact representation and embodiment of what the Father is.  To see Christ is to see what the Father is like.

He upholds the universe by the word of His power/by His enabling word.  This is not the pagan picture of a “god” like Atlas with the world on shoulder.  This is the Biblical picture of Christ holding together the very essence of all that is (as in Colossians 1:17 And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.)  The Jews knew much more clearly than modern man that if God for a micro-second ceased to work at sustaining the universe, it would cease to be.  This is miles from the deist/clock-maker picture of God and His creation.  And it is Jesus the crucified and risen Messiah who is seen to be at work in this.

“after making purification for sins …”  We pass from what Christ has done and is in the cosmos to what He’s done and is in relation to mankind.  The Greek tense here is such that this is to be understood as a finished and complete work.  It’s done.  Glory to God!  Every halfway honest human being must face this matter somehow.  We’re guilty and we know it.  And the author says of the Son that He has made provision for our most fundamental need, not only to somehow escape wrath, but to be made genuinely right and pure.  The Son has made that possible.

He sat down at the right hand of majesty on high.  Jesus, God’s final Word to us, His work completed, now sits in the place of highest honor in heaven.  He is our seated high priest and king.  The Aaronic priests would still be standing, their work incomplete, in fact never capable of being complete.  Jesus of Nazareth, eternal Son of God, born a human being of the Virgin Mary, Messiah, crucified and risen, now is in the place of highest honor in heaven, figuratively seated, His salvation work done.  There is a wonderful contrast in this verse.  Jesus is ceaselessly the radiance of God’s glory, He continuously upholds the universe by the word of His power, but He once for all at a single point in time gave Himself for your salvation and mine, and that work completely finished, He sat down.  His cry on the cross was “It is finished.”

4 having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs.

This sounds strange to us because we really think very little about angels.  But the Jews held them in highest regard.  For one thing, they held that angels were somehow intermediaries in the giving of the law.  The point here is that both by virtue of who Christ has been from before the beginning of time and by virtue of what He has done in time and space, Jesus is infinitely superior to both human prophets (verse 1) and angels.  Angels are messengers of God in both name and function.  Christ is God.  There simply is no comparison.

Again we should not hear the “having become” and “inherited” to imply that in the past Christ was inferior to beings He created.  That is a silly impossibility.  The emphasis is on what is now evident.

The “name” here is almost certainly “Son.”  What is greater, to be God’s Son or to be a created being like a man or an angel?

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

The writer begins a series of Old Testament quotes.  The first is Psalm 2:7 I will tell of the decree: The Lord said to me, “You are my Son; today I have begotten you.  This was understood by early Christians to be Messianic, to apply to David and the son of David, God’s Messiah … on the other hand, it cannot apply to an angel.  The “I have begotten” might originally have referred to the coronation of David.  In the present context, it may refer to the incarnation or the resurrection.  It certainly does not refer to any kind of creation, and the fundamental intent is to show the present relationship as superior to that of a Creator/creature relationship.

The second quote of the verse comes from 2 Samuel 7:14 I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son.  The original context is God promising to build David an everlasting dynasty.  Again, here the emphasis is the relationship of the Father to the Son.  It is one of sameness of essence.

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

This is in all likelihood a reference to the birth of Christ.  The right place of angels at the birth of Christ was to worship.  On the other hand, some commentators think that the reference is to the 2nd coming and that a better rendering here might be “And when he again brings …” Either way, God’s angels and all of us ought to worship Christ.

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

“he makes his angels …”  Angels were created, created to serve.  The Son’s place is different.  He is to rule.  Creatures serve, the Son, of the same essence as the Father, rules.

8 But of the Son he says, “Your throne, O God, is forever and ever, the scepter of uprightness is the scepter of your kingdom.

9 You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness; therefore God, your God, has anointed you with the oil of gladness beyond your companions.”

The quote in verses 8 and 9 is exactly Psalm 45:6-7  Your throne, O God, is forever and ever. The scepter of your kingdom is a scepter of uprightness; you have loved righteousness and hated wickedness. Therefore God, your God, has anointed you with the oil of gladness beyond your companions;

Messiah’s kingdom, the kingdom of Christ, is forever and ever.  It is beyond the realm and influence of time.  It is not subject to change or decay.

Messiah’s kingdom is characterized by righteousness and uprightness.  It’s the hallmark of Christ’s reign.  Why?  Because righteousness is central to His nature and His affection.  He loves righteousness.  It’s who He is.  The One who perfectly fulfilled the law, of necessity hates lawlessness.  He is personally the embodiment of righteousness, and both the Father and the Son take great  joy in the Son’s perfection and vindication of uprightness.

10 And, “You, Lord, laid the foundation of the earth in the beginning, and the heavens are the work of your hands;

11 they will perish, but you remain; they will all wear out like a garment,

12 like a robe you will roll them up, like a garment they will be changed. But you are the same, and your years will have no end.”

Verses 10-12 are a quote from Psalm 102:25-27  Of old you laid the foundation of the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands. They will perish, but you will remain; they will all wear out like a garment. You will change them like a robe, and they will pass away,  27but you are the same, and your years have no end.  In the original context this description concerns the Father.  The writer of Hebrews applies the verses to the Son.  He understands, with John, that the Son was there at creation, that the Son is eternal, that the universe is passing, but the One who made it is “the same,” that He is unshakable and unchangeable.  We are to understand that that which is created is simply not in the class of its Creator.

13 And to which of the angels has he ever said, “Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet”?

This is a quote of Psalm 110:1 The Lord says to my Lord: “Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool.”  The picture here is one of enthronement, sovereignty, and absolute power.  It is not a picture rightly applied to any created being, including an angel.  At no time are angels ever seen as sitting.  Rather, they are at work serving.  Christ is thus superior.  It is this Psalm to which Jesus alluded at His trial and which allusion was condemned as blasphemy.  Mark 14:62 And Jesus said, “I am, and you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven.”

14 Are they not all ministering spirits sent out to serve for the sake of those who are to inherit salvation?

The contrast is between angels presently at work carrying out the will of the Father on the behalf of men and women, and the Son, His work of redemption completed, sitting at the right hand of the Father.

2:1 Therefore we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it. 

2 For since the message declared by angels proved to be reliable and every transgression or disobedience received a just retribution, 

The argument here is that if, properly enough, a Jew would pay attention to the Jewish law and religion, how much more should he pay attention to the salvation provided by God in Christ.  We must pay closer attention, lest we drift away from it.  Our fallen hearts tell us that we can coast, that we can rest this side of the grave, that things really don’t have to be taken all that seriously.  But that simply isn’t true.  If the picture of Christ that the writer has painted is at all correct, we dare not be indifferent.

3 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, 

4 while God also bore witness by signs and wonders and various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will.

Here is a .pdf of this lesson.

Scripture taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version.  Copyright 2000; 2001, by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers.  Used by permission.  All rights reserved.