A Bible Lesson on James 1

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 in the first of several from the book of James. Which James? This can’t be answered with certainty, but the majority opinion is that it is James, the half-brother of Jesus. This is a book/letter that has sometimes wrongly been set in opposition to the writings of Paul, for example in Romans. We humans always enjoy being purposely dense and making things that are not contradictory into choices between them so as to avoid responsibility or to make ourselves look wise/spiritual. So we play games with “works” and “faith,” insisting on one against the other. “Paul,” we say, “taught faith not works.” “James,” we say, “taught works.” If we emphasize “faith” we both get to be “spiritual” AND get to goof off. If we emphasize “good works,” we get to be self-righteous. In both cases we are terribly wrong. These things are not opposites.

J.A. Motyer said, “To Paul the question was ‘How is Salvation Experienced?’ and the answer ‘By Faith Alone.’ To James, the question was ‘How is this true and saving faith recognized?” and the answer ‘By its fruits.'” This is put well in the 39 Articles of Religion of the Anglican Church of 1563:

XI. Of the Justification of Man. We are accounted righteous before God, only for the merit of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ by Faith, and not for our own works or deservings. Wherefore, that we are justified by Faith only, is a most wholesome Doctrine, and very full of comfort, as more largely is expressed in the Homily of Justification.

XII. Of Good Works. Albeit that Good Works, which are the fruits of Faith, and follow after Justification, cannot put away our sins, and endure the severity of God’s judgment; yet are they pleasing and acceptable to God in Christ, and do spring out necessarily of a true and lively Faith insomuch that by them a lively Faith may be as evidently known as a tree discerned by the fruit.

 

James 1:1 James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, To the twelve tribes in the Dispersion: Greetings.

The Greek is perfectly and purposefully ambiguous. It is “James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ” and/or “James, a servant of Jesus Christ, who is God and Lord.” This James, who is possibly/probably the half-brother of Jesus describes Jesus in divine terms.

James is writing to Christians, not literally Jews in dispersion as a result of the Assyrian or Babylonian conquests. But he wants to right up front convey a sense of being pressed, not having it easy.

Verses 2-11 of this chapter make an introduction to the book/letter that is reiterated in Chapter 5 in the conclusion. They say that patience and prayer are needed in all the contrasting circumstances of life.

2 Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds,

Count it all joy when you meet many-colored, variegated trials; diversified, complex, intricate trials. Count it joy when you meet any and every kind of trial. The point here, already in verse 2 of this letter is that life is not a walk in the park and we are not to be surprised or dismayed by its twists and turns. Not because he offers some magic bullet to make handling what comes at us easy, but

3 for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.

James says “FOR YOU KNOW!” If we will be honest and think clearly, there is no news here, there’s no “easy button” for the Christian life. There is no shortcut around the reality that life is tough. But it’s good for us that tough things come. They produce strong consistency. Testing produces the real stuff of Christian faith, that which amounts to something. Faith absolutely will be tested. Otherwise, we don’t even know whether we really have any. Supposed faith that caves in when the going gets tough is not faith. Do we want to know whether we are truly saved? Let us see what happens when the trials come. Do we want to experience the reality of faith in God, real humble dependence upon Him? Then we must walk through the fires of life.

4 And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

Do you want to be less erratic and more settled in your devotion to Christ? Then let hard things have their effect. The word “steadfastness” means something like (according to Law) “active steadfastness in, rather than passive submission to, circumstances.” It means (according to Motyer) “staying power, strong constancy, endurance, stickability.” Do you want the full benefit of these wonderful qualities? Then don’t bail out in the middle of the testing/trials. Do you want to be a grownup? Do you want to truly give Christ the glory He is due? Do you want to be perfect and complete? Then, count it all joy, and persevere to the end. Count it, reckon it, add it up to be joy. James doesn’t say “go off and mediate and have a ‘spiritual experience.'” He says, “deal with the hard realities of life as they come, in humble trust in Christ, and count it not as pointless pain, but joy.”

Now this is, frankly, completely contrary to our natural minds. We want “our best life now” and an easy pleasant road. But we need to think differently. In recognition of that, James tells us to ask God for understanding about these things. (Verse 5 follows verses 1-4. It is specifically wisdom about verses 1-4 that is under discussion!)

5 If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.

The “wise” person will be able to see life as James has just described it in verses 1-4. He or she will live with the long view, headed for Christian maturity and the glory of God. And where we are weak and are tempted to falter along this path, James tells us to go to God, to God who with singleness of purpose welcomes us and gives to us, this, in spite of our failings and weaknesses. God is generous and ready to give us clarity in these things. But there is the central question of whether we are serious. Do we really want to see things God’s way, or do we want to see them our own natural way?

6 But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind.

The word rendered “doubts” here is “to be hesitant how to decide a matter.” It has the meaning of not being committed either way, not really wanting to see things God’s way, but being to some degree attracted in that direction. There is nothing here that is stable or substantial. The wind whips waves this way and that and they disappear. There is nothing permanent in a wave. It is by its very nature transitory.

7 For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord;

8 he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.

“double-minded” is “two-souled”/”with divided soul.” The problem here is not intellectual, but rather moral. We cannot hope to see things as they really are without genuine unalloyed loyalty to Christ. There’s no walking with one foot in Christianity and one foot in the world and being able to take things as James tells us to take them, from the hand of God and for His glory and our good. A person without a fixed loyalty to Christ has no source of stability, not in this business of the tests of life and seeing them as necessary, not really in ANY part of life. There will be no source of a fixed course in any part of life.

9 Let the lowly brother boast in his exaltation,

10 and the rich in his humiliation, because like a flower of the grass he will pass away.

So here’s an application of the point James is making. We may have poverty in this life or we may have wealth. They both come with trials, with temptation to stray from a humble dependence upon Christ. No matter which one we experience, we are not to look at it as the world looks at it, but are to have the long view, to have eternity in mind. What life brings us should drive us to Christ, cause us to learn steadiness, cause us to ask God for wisdom to see things aright. This is true for the poor person who feels daily pressure from lack, and the temptation to accuse God. It is also true for the rich who are tempted to foolishly depend upon riches.

11 For the sun rises with its scorching heat and withers the grass; its flower falls, and its beauty perishes. So also will the rich man fade away in the midst of his pursuits.

Do we want be rich? Do we believe Jesus when He says that it’s easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God? Do we not know there is huge danger here? In all things of life, the ones that we think look hard and the ones we figure to be easy, we need to look at them as trials/tests that will prove or disprove the genuineness of our faith. Poverty or wealth, health or sickness, blessed family life or painful loneliness, etc. etc. etc. The question is whether we will see them as tests of faith, give ourselves wholly to Christ, ask Him for wisdom, and grow to maturity in Him.

12 Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him.

It is the blessing of God/the work of God in us, that enables Christians to persevere. And it results not only in mature character, but also in eternal reward.

James turns to talk about what goes on in us when we face the hard things and the temptations they bring. For one, we are prone to blame God. But that’s bogus.

13 Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one.

While God absolutely does ordain our circumstances, it is not His doing if we fail to cast ourselves on Him and come through the tests of life in reliance upon Him. God tests us not to destroy, but to bless. There is no ulterior motive in any of His gracious dealings with us. Where we fail, it’s our own doing, not God’s.

14 But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire.

15 Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.

The problem is in us, in our fallen human nature. We naturally tend to wander off from our God and King. We take a first step in a dangerous direction, figuring that it is no big deal, and wind up in disaster. The gracious provision of God is blessing. The road is hard, but the end is wonderful. Following our fallen desires is easy, and the end is horrible.

16 Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers.

James pleads with us to not get this wrong.

17 Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.

18 Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.

19a Know this, my beloved brothers:

In verse 12, James tells us that there is eternal blessing in seeing things God’s way, counting the difficulties of life as joy, and soldiering steadfastly on. In 14 and 15 he marks the fact that on our own in this we are doomed, because our hearts are fallen. We’d naturally rather take the easy way, the selfish way, and end up doomed. But the situation is not hopeless, because God is both immutable and graciously at work on our behalf. “Know this beloved brothers!” he says. You and I are in the middle of a battle between our old natures and the gracious work of God. While on our own we would be undone, of His own will He brought us forth by the word of truth.

19b let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger;

Apparently, there is a “but” here untranslated in verse 19b, and then translated in 22. God brings us forth by the word of truth, but. But let every person be quick to hear. Be quick to hear what? The Word of God, the Word of truth by which He brought us forth. There is hope for our souls through the Word of God, BUT we must be quick to hear it.

Then James seems to jump to our relationships with humans. “Wait,” we say, “I thought we were talking about steadfast dependence upon Christ and how God works that in us through His Word. What is this about?” Well, the truth is that life is a unity. Quick speech and hot temper in human interaction is indicative of an attitude of a heart that works against hearing the Word of God. That’s just a fact. Going back to verses 1-4, do you know a person that you would describe as quick to speak and hot tempered that you also see in those verses, i.e. as patient in the hard things of life, joyous in trials and testing? I don’t. A “let it rip” manner is antithetical to the steadfast Christian maturity described in those verses. Indeed, this is just what James says.

20 for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.

Being quick to speak and hot of temper/loud of mouth is not consistent with a life of humble dependence upon Christ. If we are not decent, self-controlled people in the ordinary things of life, we will not be people ready to listen to God’s Word. Motyer rightly said, “The courts of men are our drill-ground for the courts of the Lord. Those who would listen to Him must train themselves to be listeners, and to that end, they must covet and cultivate a reticent tongue and a calm temper. For nothing must militate against—rather everything must be made an adjunct to—the great fundamental practice, hearing God’s Word.”

21 Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.

We are to hear (verse 19) to receive (verse 21) and do (verse 22). In this war we face, it is not enough to hear and even agree with the Word of God, we must do.

22 But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.

23 For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror.

24 For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like.

25 But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing.

In this business of embracing the things of life with real faith and dependence on God, trusting that He is at work in life for His glory and our good, knowing that on our own we are undone but that God comes to us with His holy Word to accomplish maturity in us, we absolutely must be obedient to what He tells us. To fail to do so leaves us without hope or help.

James tells us we have a choice. The natural man observes, goes away, and forgets. The wise one looks, perseveres, and acts. There is no difference between the two in terms of the intensity of their looking, they are both intent. But what follows that looking is different between them. The point in verse 24 is that the one who doesn’t “do” might as well have not looked. It has produced no benefit. Recognizing the vital importance of God’s intervention on our behalf in this war with ourselves, to walk away is disaster. It leaves us self-deceived.

The “perseveres” in verse 25 is more literally “continues in its company” (doesn’t go away). The believer continues in the company of the perfect law, the Word of God. We have the choice to look and walk away to our own destruction, or to look, act, and continue in the company of the Word. James calls the Word “the law of liberty.” We wrongly set law and liberty against each other as opposites. They are not opposites. Motyer put it this way: “We are truly free when we live the life appropriate to those who are created in the image of God. The law of God safeguards that liberty for us … it safeguards, expresses and enables the life of true freedom into which Christ has brought us. This is the blessing of which James speaks (25), the blessing of a full life, a true humanity. Obedience is the key factor in our enjoyment of it.”

In the balance of the letter/book James gives specifics of this obedience. The general principle is “like Father, like child.” In the last 2 verses of Chapter 1, there is a hint of what is to come.

26 If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless.

27 Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.

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.