How to Persevere in Your Faith, part 3 (Hebrews 3:5-6)

Jesus is superior to Moses.  That is the theme of Hebrews 3:1-6.  Moses was the most highly respected person to the Jews—their liberator from Egypt, the giver of the law, the tabernacle and the sacrificial system.

According to Leon Morris, the ancient Rabbis considered Moses to be the greatest man ever, greater than the angels. The writer to the Hebrews does nothing to criticize Moses, but he looks at Moses in his proper relation to Jesus.

In Hebrews 3:1-6, the author of Hebrews identifies some similarities between Jesus and Moses, but also points out some vital differences.

1 Therefore, holy brothers, you who share in a heavenly calling, consider Jesus, the apostle and high priest of our confession, 2 who was faithful to him who appointed him, just as Moses also was faithful in all God’s house. 3 For Jesus has been counted worthy of more glory than Moses–as much more glory as the builder of a house has more honor than the house itself. 4 (For every house is built by someone, but the builder of all things is God.) 5 Now Moses was faithful in all God’s house as a servant, to testify to the things that were to be spoken later, 6 but Christ is faithful over God’s house as a son. And we are his house if indeed we hold fast our confidence and our boasting in our hope.

Moses received much glory from God.  This is seen in his shining face after spending time with God (Exodus 34:29-35), in his justification before Miriam and Aaron (Numbers 12:6-8), and before the sons of Korah (Numbers 16).

But Jesus received far more glory from the Father, at His baptism (Matthew 3:16-17), at His transfiguration (Mark 9:7), and at His resurrection (Acts 2:26-27 and Acts 2:31-33). He is “my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17).

Moses was a member of an “house;” but Christ was the Builder of one (v. 3).  Moses was connected with a single house, Christ “built all things,” being the Creator of the universe (v. 4).  Moses was a man; Christ, God (v. 4).  Moses was but a “servant” (v. 5); Christ, the “Son.”  Moses was a “testimony” of things to be spoken after (v. 5), Christ supplied the substance and fulfillment of what Moses witnessed unto.  Moses was but a servant in the house of Jehovah, Christ was Son over His own house (v. 6).

Both Moses and Jesus were faithful in their God-given mission, there was no arguing that (3:2).  Moses was part of the house (of Israel), but Jesus was the builder, the creator.  In fact, verse 4 affirms that God is “the builder of all things.”  Back in Hebrews 1:3 we get more clarification when he says, “through whom [Jesus] also he created the world.”  God created the world through Jesus’ direct creative involvement.

So, besides being our faithful apostle and high priest (Hebrews 3:1-4), Jesus also possesses an exalted status and position.  This is found in verses 5-6:

5 Now Moses was faithful in all God’s house as a servant, to testify to the things that were to be spoken later, 6 but Christ is faithful over God’s house as a son.  And we are his house if indeed we hold fast our confidence and our boasting in our hope.

Among the Jews, Moses was the top guy.  Moses was faithful; Jesus was faithful.  But that faithfulness was expressed in different spheres and different statuses.

In verse 5, we see that “Moses was faithful in all God’s house as a servant.”  First, as to the sphere, he was faithful “in all God’s house.”  And he was faithful as a “servant.”

Christ, on the other hand, “is faithful over God’s house as a son.”  Moses resided in the house, but Jesus presides over it.  Moses was a servant, but Jesus was a son.  Jesus has a higher status.

Now, the word for “servant” here is not the familiar diakonos, nor the more serious doulos (bond slave).  This is the word therapon, which as a noun is used only here in the New Testament.  It can mean an “attendant” or even a “comrade in arms.”  It refers to a “personal service freely rendered.”  So, it was an honored place in the nation of Israel.  But wonderful as Moses is, he never had the status of being a son, or the Son.

You want to compare the two?  Fine.  It’s the difference between an exalted son and an honored servant.  In that culture, much more than in our more egalitarian society, those statues were totally different and uncrossable.

Why should Jesus, rather than Moses, be the object of your steady preoccupation?  Because He’s the one who occupies the most esteemed, exalted status and position; He is the Son who rules over the household of God.

It is interesting that the very nature of Moses’ ministry as stated here was anticipatory.  He was “faithful as a servant in all God’s house…”  And how did that faithfulness express itself?  By “testifying to what would be said in the future.”

In other words, Moses’ ministry was preparatory.  What Moses did and wrote about anticipated Jesus.  It all points to Jesus.  The law, the sacrificial system, the tabernacle, the priesthood—all of it was to point people to Jesus Christ.

So, in John 1, Philip says to Nathaniel, “We have found him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph” (John 1:45).

Jesus told the unbelieving Pharisees in John 5: “For if you believed Moses, you would believe me; for he wrote of me” (John 5:46)

And following His resurrection from the dead, what an incredible gift Jesus gave to His disciples.  In Luke 24, He took His disciples through a seminar showing how the Old Testament, from beginning to end, talked about Him.

44 Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.”45 Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, 46 and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, 47 and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.

When you read Genesis through Deuteronomy, the books that Moses wrote, you must look for Jesus Christ, for He is there.  All that Moses wrote was aiming toward Jesus Christ.  He was pointing to Jesus.  Moses displayed supreme human faithfulness as a servant, “to testify to the things that were to be spoken later.” But he was not a son.

“But Christ,” says our text, “is faithful over God’s house as a son” (v. 6).  He faithfully fulfilled every Old Testament prophecy.  He faithfully and joyfully became incarnate, perfectly becoming a human in body, mind, and emotions.  He faithfully submitted his “omnis”—his power, his presence, and his knowledge—to the will of the Father.  He faithfully underwent temptation and suffered terribly, never giving in.  He faithfully went to Gethsemane.  He faithfully yielded his hands to the nails.  He faithfully became sin for us, as wave after wave of the world’s sin was poured over his sinless soul.

Again and again during those three hours on the cross his soul recoiled and convulsed as all the lies of civilization, the murders of a thousand “Killing Fields,” the whorings of the world’s armies, and the noxious brew of hatreds, jealousies, and pride were poured on his purity.  Finally, he became a curse: “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree’” (Galatians 3:13).  In the darkness Jesus bore it all in silence.  Not a word came from his lips.  Can you see him writhing like a serpent in the gloom (see John 3:14, 15)?  And, of course, he faithfully died for us—“Jesus uttered a loud cry and breathed his last” (Mark 15:37).  Such was the ministry of our faithful apostolosthe sent one (R. Kent Hughes, Hebrews, Volume 1, p.

So fix your attention and affection on Jesus Christ and keep it there.  If you want to enjoy Jesus you have to stay with Him until you learn to enjoy Him.  Stay there until your Christian life is one thrill after another.  Until every waking moment of every day is joy upon joy upon joy.  Consider Him.  Focus your attention on Him.  (John MacArthur Jr., The MacArthur NT Commentary: Hebrews, 77)

Will you give up Jesus Christ for Moses—or any other thing or person?

Why should we stay focused on Jesus?  Because he is (1) a faithful apostle and high priest, the very best, and (2) because he has an exalted status and role and (3) Jesus should be our steady preoccupation because to lose sight of Him is to put our eternity in jeopardy.

The last part of verse 6 says

And we are his house if indeed we hold fast our confidence and our boasting in our hope.

Moses was Christ’s “house” (or part of it) in the Old Testament.  Now we who believe in Christ are “his house,” but under condition.

He says we are His house, we belong to Him IF “we hold fast our confidence and our boasting in our hope.”  That’s a big IF.  This “if” statement is what is called a third class conditional sentence in Greek.

Daniel Wallace, in his Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics, says that the third class condition encompasses “a broad range of potentialities in Koine Greek.  It depicts what is likely to occur in the future, what could possibly occur, or even what is only hypothetical and will not occur” (p. 696).

In other words, our author holds out the possibility that they will hold fast their confidence and boasting in their hope, but they may not.  In other words, they may or may not persevere.

Now, that is not very encouraging.  It reminds us not to take our salvation for granted, but to be vigilant.  I do want you to understand: perseverance does not save you, but it does prove that you are saved.

When someone falls away fully and finally, it is not that salvation has been lost; rather it was never there to begin with.  God’s children do endure to the end.

This is the corollary to eternal security.  Eternal security is the objective reality that having been united with Christ I shall be forever.  Assurance is our subjective grasp of that, which can be strong or weak.

We cannot drift (Hebrews 2:1), we’ve got to hold fast (1 Corinthians 15:1-2; Colossians 1:21-23; Hebrews 3:6; 6:11-12).

One Baptist pastor said: “There may not be a more needed word among Baptists than the one of this verse.  While Southern Baptists claim 14 million adherents, less than half of this number is actively involved in a fellowship of believers.  Yet the remaining 7 million glibly claims to be Christian under the guise of ‘once saved, always saved.’  This verse removes the mask.  There is no hiding.  If there is no evidence of a persevering faith then there is no evidence of faith at all.

Some object and say that this amounts to works for our salvation.  No indeed.  According to our writer, it is the evidence that we are part of “His house.”  We “hold fast our confidence” in Christ and his sufficiency, we “boast of our hope” in Christ “firm until the end.”  A compass’s needle always points north.  You can shake the compass, twist it around, so that momentarily it points another direction, but eventually the needle finds its way back home.  The believer might fall into sin.  He might grieve the Lord.  He might bring shame to his life and to his church.  But if his faith is sure, then that inward spiritual needle points back to his boast and hope, Jesus Christ.  Does this describe you?

(Phil Newton, http://archive.southwoodsbc.org/sermons/hebrews_03.01-06.php).

This is not the only warning from our author about the potential of falling away from our faith.

Notice that our author puts himself in this category.  He says “we are His house.”  He, too, needs to persevere.

First, we need to “hold fast our confidence.”  Then, we are to “boast of our hope.”  Our “confidence” and our “hope” are the same thing—that salvation is found fully and only in Jesus Christ.  Confidence is parrhesia and it means “boldness” or “assurance.”  It describes a perspective that carries no doubts.  It is used four times in Hebrews.  Here and in 4:16; 10:19 and 10:35.  Hebrews 10:35 encourages us “do not throw away your confidence.”  We are to hold fast that confidence.

We are to “boast of our hope.”  Again, our hope is Jesus Christ and all He has done for us in His active obedience of perfectly obeying His Father and in His passive obedience dying on the cross.  Hope is a confident expectation that the faith we have put in Christ is well invested and will pay off. 

In the Scriptures we have to be very careful what we boast in.  We should never boast in ourselves and our own abilities.  Instead, we are to boast in Jesus Christ.  If there is one thing God hates it is human pride.  It is the one thing that keeps us from receiving grace from God.

Pride is…

  • It is boasting in self and not the Lord.
  • It is taking credit ourselves for what God alone can do.
  • It is relying on self and not God.
  • It is feeling sufficiency in our own strength and not in God’s.
  • It is the disinclination to admit that we are mere earthen vessels so that another gets the glory.
  • It is the unwillingness to admit weaknesses that may accent the power of Christ.

Rather,

  • He loves the heart that boasts in the Lord.
  • He loves the heart that gives him credit for what he alone can do.
  • He loves the heart that relies on his power.
  • He loves the heart that wants him to get the glory in all things and that wants the power of his Son to shine in our weakness.

Perseverance functions as evidence of an existing right relationship with God.  Our author doesn’t say that a person will become a part of God’s people if they persevere.  Neither does he say that a person will remain a part of God’s people if they persevere.  Rather he says: this is how you can know if someone already is a part of God’s people – does he or she hold fast their confidence and their boasting in hope in Christ all the way to the end?  In other words, he is less concerned with whether or not they profess to believe and more with whether or not they persevere in believing.

So, how do you persevere?

The hymn writer was right, we are “prone to wander…prone to leave the God I love.”  Our hearts are naturally faithless and only God’s Word and God’s Spirit can move our hearts to stay preoccupied with and passionate about Jesus Christ.

We persevere by keeping our eyes on Christ.  Not a glance every now and then, but consistently gazing upon Him, seeing and savoring all that He is and has done for us.  As you keep your eyes on Jesus you will find Him pulling you to Himself.

Christ must be the consistent focus in our teaching, our preaching, our communion, our fellowship, our personal quiet times and Bible reading, our prayers and worship, our service and evangelism.  If we don’t keep setting forth Jesus Christ to our attention we will be distracted.  Satan will make sure of it, the world will provide many opportunities and our flesh will jump at it.  Why?  Because meditating on Christ is difficult.  It isn’t easy to stay focused.

George Mueller, the great prayer warrior and a man who started and maintained multiple orphanages, said:

“I saw more clearly than ever, that the first great and primary business to which I ought to attend every day was, to have my soul happy in the Lord.  The first thing to be concerned about was not, how much I might serve the Lord, how I might glorify the Lord; but how I might get my soul into a happy state, and how my inner man may be nourished…I saw that the most important thing I had to do was to give myself to the reading of the Word of God and to meditation on it.”

That’s why the Psalmist says that meditating on the Word makes us like a fruitful, stable tree and prospers us in life.  Meditate on Jesus Christ.  Stay focused on Him.

How to Persevere in the Faith, part 2 (Hebrews 3:1b-3)

The author of the book of Hebrews is very concerned about his congregation and the possibility that they may not persevere in the faith—that they might turn back to the familiar and comfortable arms of Judaism.

All of us face this possibility too—not returning to Judaism, but going back to our old life.  Paul tells us to “put off, as regards your former manner of life, the old man” (Ephesians 4:22), but that old life has a magnetic draw.  Many of our old friends still live that way.  It seemed so fun.

Peter (2 Peter 2:20-22) says…

For if, after they have escaped the defilements of the world through the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overcome, the last state has become worse for them than the first. For it would have been better for them never to have known the way of righteousness than after knowing it to turn back from the holy commandment delivered to them. What the true proverb says has happened to them: “The dog returns to its own vomit, and the sow, after washing herself, returns to wallow in the mire.”

It may sound like these people have lost or forfeited their salvation, but in reality their nature never changed.  The dog and pig are acting in accordance with their true nature.  These people obviously had some moral reformation of their lives, but becoming entangled in the old life so that “the last state has become worse for them than the first” shows that they had never been born again and given a new nature.

So the author of Hebrews is concerned.  He starts out in Hebrews 1 reminded these Christians of who they were

1 Therefore, holy brothers, you who share in a heavenly calling,

And we talked about that last week.  Now our author focuses on the key thought.  We not only need to think accurately about our new nature, but we need to think accurately about Jesus Christ.

We don’t just need to have the right theological understanding of who Christ is, but we need to fix our thoughts on Jesus Christ.

consider Jesus, the apostle and high priest of our confession, 2 who was faithful to him who appointed him, just as Moses also was faithful in all God’s house. 3 For Jesus has been counted worthy of more glory than Moses–as much more glory as the builder of a house has more honor than the house itself. 4 (For every house is built by someone, but the builder of all things is God.) 5 Now Moses was faithful in all God’s house as a servant, to testify to the things that were to be spoken later, 6 but Christ is faithful over God’s house as a son. And we are his house if indeed we hold fast our confidence and our boasting in our hope.

Consider Jesus—that is the focal point of this paragraph.  We are to stay focused on Him.  This imperative carries with it the full apostolic weight.

The Greek word here is katanoein.  It is an intensified expression of thinking, applying the mind.  “It does not mean simply to look at or to notice a thing.  Anyone can look at a thing or even notice it without really seeing it.  The word means to fix the attention on something in such a way that its inner meaning, the lesson it is designed to teach, may be learned.” (Barclay) 

There are no less than eleven Greek words in the NT all rendered “consider,” four of them being simple ones; seven, compounds.  The one employed by the Holy Spirit in Heb 3:1 signifies to thoroughly think of the matter, so as to arrive at a fuller knowledge of it.  (Arthur W. Pink, An Exposition of Hebrews, 154)

It means to give consistent, concentrated attention and deepest regard to Jesus Christ.  It means considering Him deeply and thoughtfully.  One author says, “To attentively weigh His dignity, His excellency, His authority, to think of what is due to Him.”

We live in a world that is so easily distracted.  It is hard to give 10 seconds of serious, concentrated thought to anything.  We are bombarded with information and we have learned to skim it.  We don’t know anything deeply; we know a little (a very little) about a lot of things.  We think we know a little about a lot of things.

This word is the exact opposite.  Considering Jesus requires focus over time.  It is not a momentary glance, but a lingering gaze.  And it is the key to perseverance in the Christian life.

Keep your attention focused on Jesus!

Here is the simple principle:  The successful perseverance of the Christian is the consequence of a steady preoccupation with Jesus Christ.

Don’t keep your eyes on yourself.  Don’t put your eyes back on Moses.  Keep focused on Jesus.

There are really two ways to apply this to our lives.  One is negative, it is what we should keep our minds away from.  We must stay away from having as our model anyone other than Christ.  Don’t put your focus on your pastor, or a Christian celebrity.  We can be encouraged by them, but it is not our goal to be like them or to put our hope in them.  They will likely disappoint us.

But the positive side is this—not what we must not do, but what we must do.  That is to explore the depths of Jesus Christ, to see and savor everything about Jesus Christ, making Him the burning center of our hope and our life. 

Everything in life will try to keep you from fixing your attention on Jesus.  Sports, grades, boyfriends, our kids, a better job.  The Bible says, fixate on knowing Christ and learning how much more valuable and pleasing and sweet He is than anything else.

John Piper says it like this: “If your mind is like a compass moving through a world of magnets, making it spin this way and that, make Jesus the North Pole of your mental life that your mind comes back to again and again through the day” (“Jesus Worthy of More Glory Than Moses”).

Focusing on Jesus this way begins with desire.  This is what David said in Psalm 27:4: “One thing have I asked of the LORD, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD and to inquire in his temple.”  Paul expressed his desire in a passionate prayer: “I count everything as loss . . . that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death” (Philippians 3:8–10).

But desire is followed by concentration, of applying the mind in dedicated attention.

A brilliant mathematician, Norbert Wiener, was walking across the campus of MIT.  He was so absorbed in thought that when a student greeted him, he failed to respond.  But after a few steps he turned and said, “Pardon me, could you tell me which way I came from?”  The student pointed and answered, “That way, sir!”  “Thanks,” said the prof.  “Now I know I’ve had lunch!”  This is extreme, to be sure, but no one’s thoughts can be said to be fixed without concentration. And no one will ever learn anything about the subject being considered without it.  Isaac Newton said the key to his understanding was, “I keep it before me.”

The third element involved here is discipline.  We’ve got to keep at it.  God’s Word (through which we know Christ) will only yield its riches to those who persist in disciplined meditation.  It will take time, therefore it will take discipline.

These are the people who stand fast in the Christian life.  These are the ones who are not given to extreme highs or extreme lows.  These are the people in it for the long haul, who endure to the end.

They are not turned aside by the seduction and allurements and enchantments of the world, not because they are less susceptible to temptation than you and I, not because fate has given them a better marriage or a better job or better finances, but because they are steadily preoccupied with Jesus Christ.

There is no mystical “secret” to the Christian life.  It is simply training our minds consistently upon Jesus Christ.

We need to remember who we are, but we need to focus our attention and affection upon Jesus Christ.

And then he gives us three reasons why Jesus Christ (not Moses) should be the object of our steady preoccupation.

First, because Jesus Christ is our faithful apostle and high priest.

We should keep our focus on Jesus because He meets our two basic needs.  We need a word from God and way to God. We need revelation from God and we need reconciliation with God. And the point of the book of Hebrews is that Jesus is both. This is why verse 1 ends with two descriptions of Jesus: “Therefore, holy brethren, partakers of a heavenly calling, consider Jesus, the Apostle and High Priest of our confession.”

“Apostle” means “sent one,” sent from God to us with His Word.  He brings us our “heavenly calling.”  Jesus repeatedly describes himself (over ten times in John’s writings alone) as being sent by the Father into the world. Jesus is “the first apostle, the great apostle, the source of all apostleship” (Philip Edgcumbe Hughes, A Commentary on the Epistle to the Hebrews (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1972), p. 127).  Yes, Moses was sent by God, but Jesus is the apostle par excellence. Jesus was sent on a mission and the cross and resurrection meant that the mission was accomplished.

As “high priest” he is the mediator between God and man, offering sacrifice to bring us to God.  Jesus is also the “high priest” par excellence. Because he was perfectly human and perfectly divine, he can relate to both man and God.  Thus, He can perfectly mediate between God and man.

We saw back in Hebrews 2:17

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.

Jesus came in a human body, allowing Him to die in our behalf, to “make propitiation” or to “satisfy” the wrath of God against my sins.

Moses performed part of the role of a priest by interceding for the people, but never could do anything to satisfy God’s anger against them.  Moses himself was a fallen man.

John Piper says…

So what the writer is saying is: You Christians, you who share in the calling of God from heaven to heaven, you have great confidence that you have heard from God (through your apostle) and you have great hope that you are going to God, loved and reconciled and secure, you Christians consider Jesus, think about Jesus, meditate on Jesus, listen to Jesus.  Why?  Because he is the Apostle from heaven who brought you your calling.  And he is the final, once for all High Priest of God whose sacrifice of himself reconciled you to God and guarantees your homecoming to heaven. Consider Jesus, God’s Apostle—the final word from God—and God’s High Priest—the final way to God. (“Jesus Worthy of More Glory Than Moses”)

So, our author is telling us to consider Jesus, specifically in comparison to Moses, this great man in Israel’s history.

Have you thought much about Jesus as your “faithful apostle and high priest?”

John Brown of Edinburgh, a puritan in the 19th century, wrote:

It is because we think so little about Him, that we love Him so little, trust in Him so little, so often neglect our duty, are so much influenced by “things seen and temporal,” and so little by “things unseen and eternal.”

Jesus was “faithful” as an apostle and high priest from the time he was 12 years old, throughout his earthly ministry and to the last moment on the cross.  He could declare, “It is finished!  I’ve accomplished it.  I’ve faithfully finished what you sent me to do.”

Yes, there are some similarities between Moses and Jesus.  Both were faithful, but the magnitude and meaningfulness of Jesus’ faithfulness was so much greater.

Moses was an apostle and priest, but an imperfect shadow of all that Jesus Christ would accomplish as the apostle and priest par excellence.  This is why he says in verse 3: “Jesus is worthy of greater honor than Moses.”

Remember, he is writing to believers tempted to take their eyes off Jesus and go back to Judaism.  Brilliantly he takes the best guy Judaism had to offer and shows how inferior He was to Jesus.

First of all, he shows the similarity between Jesus and Moses and then he shows the superiority of Jesus over Moses.

Look at it.

“He [Jesus] was faithful to Him [God the Father] who appointed Him, as Moses also was in all His house.”  So first there is a comparison before there is a contrast.  The writer is not putting Moses down.  That’s not the point.  Moses was faithful in the household of God.  The writer is quoting from Numbers 12:6–8 where God says,

Hear now my words: if there is a prophet among you, I, the Lord, shall make myself known to him in a vision. I shall speak with him in a dream. 7 not so, with my servant Moses, he is faithful in all my household; 8 with him I speak mouth to mouth, even openly, and not in dark sayings, and he beholds the form of the Lord.

When the writer turns now to contrast Jesus and Moses, it really means something because Moses was one of a kind in his day—with a more intimate relation to God than any other prophet.

In what ways is Christ superior to Moses?  In the following verses our author will show:

Moses was a member of an “house;” Christ was the Builder of one (v. 3).  Moses was connected with a single house, Christ “built all things,” being the Creator of the universe (v. 4).  Moses was a man; Christ, God (v. 4).  Moses was but a “servant” (v. 5); Christ, the “Son.”  Moses was a “testimony” of things to be spoken after (v. 5), Christ supplied the substance and fulfillment of what Moses witnessed unto.  Moses was but a servant in the house of Jehovah, Christ was Son over His own house (v. 6).

Let’s look at each one.

First in verse 3,

For He [Jesus] has been counted worthy of more glory than Moses, by just so much as the builder of the house has more honor than the house.

Verse 3 says that Jesus is worthy of more glory than Moses in relation to God’s house. And he gives an astonishing reason.  Because Jesus is the builder of the house and Moses is a part of the house.  Look at it carefully. Verse 3: “[Jesus] has been counted worthy of more glory than Moses.”  In what way? “By just so much as the builder of the house has more honor than the house.”  In other words he is saying: Jesus is to the people of God as a builder is to a house.  Moses is to the people of God as one of the people of God is to God’s household.  Therefore, Jesus is Moses’ builder.  In short, Jesus made Moses.

The architect or builder is greater than what he builds, thus Jesus is greater than Moses.  It’s not that Moses wasn’t important, or that he wasn’t faithful.  It’s just that he and Jesus are in different categories.  Jesus is the Creator, Moses is the created.  He is a creature and Jesus created Him.

John Piper compares it to decathlon athletes bragging about their accomplishments:  One said, “I threw the javelin farther than anyone else. I’m the greatest.”  Another said, “I put the shot farther than anyone else. I’m the greatest.”  Another said, “I jumped higher than anyone else. I’m the greatest.”  And eventually they all look toward Jesus in his burgundy sweat suit sitting calmly in the corner, and someone says, “What about you?”  And Jesus says, “I made all of you.  So, I’m the greatest.”

We might admire the house, but we honor the builder.  It’s a misdirection to honor the house for being a house.  But that’s exactly what they did when they honored Moses and the Mosaic system of rules and regulations.

The existence of a house presupposes a builder, thus verse 4 says, “Every house is built by someone” and concludes “but the builder of all things is God.”  Thus, Jesus, the builder, is God! Focus on Him!

How to Persevere in Your Faith, part 1 (Hebrews 3:1a)

On a foggy morning, July 4, 1952, a 34-year-old woman named Florence Chadwick waded into the Pacific Ocean in an attempt to swim from Catalina Island to the California coast.  She had already laid hold of the honor of being the first woman to swim the English Channel in both directions.  Now it was her ambition to swim the 21 miles of ocean from the island to the California coastline.

Though millions were watching on television the fog was so think that July morning that Florence Chadwick could barely see the boats that were accompanying her on either side along the way.  It was just as well, for repeatedly sharks tried to draw near her lone figure in the water and had to be driven away with rifle shots.

Hour after hour passed by.  She continued to swim.  In incredible physical condition, fatigue had never been her problem.  The dilemma in this particular swim was the bone-chilling cold of the water.  More than 15 hours later, numbed with cold, she asked to be taken out.  She could go no further.  Her mother and her trainer, alongside her in one of the boats, pleaded with her to continue, insisting that land was not far off.  But when she looked up out of the water toward the California coast, all she could see was the thick fog.

A few minutes later, 15 hours and 55 minutes since she had begun, she was taken out of the water.

As her body began to thaw, she soon felt the shock of her failure.  She had climbed out of the water less than half a mile from her destination.

Later, she was to reflect that she had been defeated not by fatigue or even by the cold.  She had been conquered by the fog which had obscured her goal.  She said to reporters, “I’m not excusing myself, but if I could have seen the land, I might have made it.”

A fog had blinded the eyes, which in turn had compromised her will to continue.

Athletes from every form of competition tell us exactly the same thing:  The key to perseverance is to keep your eyes on the prize.  Distraction spells defeat.

At the Olympic games in 1920, Jackson Shultz, known as the “New York Thunderbolt,” lost the goal medal in the men’s 100-yard- dash because he broke the cardinal rule of sprinting.  In his very last stride he took his eyes off the tape, turned his head to the right to locate the position of his American teammate Charles Paddock, who in turn thrust his chest into the tape, and beat Jackson Shultz by a millisecond.

The key to successful perseverance in life, as in sports, is to keep your eyes on the prize.

As we come now to this second major section of this letter to the Hebrews, it is the burden of this pastor to say the same thing.  You see, a great anxiety was plaguing his heart—an anxiety that plagues the heart of every true pastor.  He was fearful that some among these Hebrew Christians had taken their eyes off the prize—off of Jesus Christ—and as a result they were very close to pulling out of the Christian race altogether—just shy of their goal.

To do so, as he wants to make abundantly clear to them, would be eternally disastrous.

Now, we understand that God preserves those who are truly His.  Don’t we?  The God who calls us keeps us.  “No one can snatch them out of His hand” (John 10 reads).  Paul tells us in Romans 8 that “Those whom God called, He glorified” (past tense—a done deal).  This is one of the most comforting truths in all of the Bible for the true child of God.

While the book of Hebrews doesn’t seek to undercut this doctrine, the writer is inspired by the same Spirit to present the flipside of the coin.  More than any other book in all of the Bible, it takes up the issue of our perseverance.

Hebrews makes it clear that perseverance—remaining faithful to Jesus Christ to the very end—is an evidence of authentic Christianity.

Look at verse 6 in chapter 3: “…And we are his house if [notice the conditional “if”] indeed we hold fast our confidence and our boasting in our hope.”

And down in verse 14: “For we have come to share in Christ, if [there’s that conditional again] indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end.”

So there is a strong emphasis here on our need to “hold fast” and “hold” onto our confidence, to maintain our faith.

Now the writer of Hebrews is not at odds with Paul; He’s not at odds with John—He’s simply establishing the necessary theological balance in this issue.  It is theological balance that is very important to every single one of us where this doctrine of eternal security and assurance is concerned.

We affirm that those whom God saves He keeps.  But we must not allow this doctrine to become perverted into this kind of thing that says, “Well, I prayed to receive Christ when I was six years old, and I know that I haven’t really lived like a Christian since then…but isn’t it great to know that I’ll be in heaven on that final day?”

There is no assurance in that!

God keeps his children, but those who are His children maintain their pedigree—they act like their heavenly Father!

The writer of Hebrews is standing with a bullhorn in his mouth, telling those who are Christians, who are wearied from the race: Keep your eyes on the prize.  Keep your eyes on the prize.  KEEP YOUR EYES ON THE PRIZE!

Why is he saying this?  Because under the incredible pressure of spiritual opposition and the pull of familiar culture, these believers were beginning to turn their heads to the left and to the right.

To the left is the allurement of the Roman pantheon of gods.  As far as Rome was concerned, any god or any combination of gods was fine, as long as you refused to confess Jesus as Lord, as long as you didn’t profess allegiance to Him alone.

To the right, an even more enticing allurement, coming at them from family and friends, was “Come back to Moses.  Come back to Moses, the embodiment of everything Jewish.”

Taking up with the Roman polytheists was less likely, given their traditional monotheism.  They were raised with the shema: “The LORD our Lord is God, the LORD is one.”

On the other hand, to embrace Moses, to return to Judaism, that would instantly alleviate a lot of the present difficulties they were experiencing.  Rome would leave them alone and their former friends and family would gladly take them back in again.

We may not be able to appreciate the pressure these people were under, but the temptation for them was enormous.

I suppose it is impossible for us, at this time in history, and most of us Gentiles, to exaggerate the significance of Moses in the minds of 1st century Jews.

He was revered, next to Abraham, as the greatest man in all of history.  In fact, most Jews believed Moses to be the greatest man who ever lived.

When you think about it, his life from the very beginning was very miraculously preserved.  Plucked from the bulrushes by Pharoah’s daughter, cared for by his own mother.  He was given the finest of educations.

Then, as a man, his election as deliverer was sealed when God, the “I AM,” called and ordained him at the burning bush (Exodus 3).

He was called by God to be the deliverer of God’s people, to have a showdown with Pharoah and deliver his people by parting the Reed Sea.

He was a prophet, and the great lawgiver, a kind of Old Testament apostle sent by God with God’s Word on his lips.  But unlike any of the other prophets, God spoke to Moses like a friend “face to face.”  His face would glow from being in God’s holy presence.

Numbers 12:6–8:

If there is a prophet among you, I the LORD make myself known to him in a vision; I speak with him in a dream.  Not so with my servant Moses.  He is faithful in all my house.  With him I speak mouth to mouth, clearly, and not in riddles, and he beholds the form of the LORD.

He was the conduit for the ten commandments, the Levitical priesthood, the building of the tabernacle.  He wrote the first five books of the Bible!

Everything in Jewish religion was neatly summed up as “the law of Moses.”

He not only spoke for God to men, but he spoke for men to God.  While Aaron and his family was the official priesthood, Moses was faithful to intercede for the people, gaining God’s forgiveness (Exodus 32), providing what they needed in the desert, and giving them victory over their enemies (Exodus 17).

And beyond all this, God called Moses “more humble than anyone else on the face of the earth” (Numbers 12:3).

Finally, God buried him where no one could find him, because in all probability, given the track record of the people of Israel, they would have worshipped his bones!

It can be summed up under one grand heading: Moses—The Great Apostle and High Priest of the Old Testament.  Apostle means “one who is sent,” and Moses certainly was that because he was called by God, appointed by God, and sent by God as his representative both to his people and to the court of Pharaoh.

To all Jews, Moses was simply the greatest.  According to one early tradition, Moses was superior to the angels, having higher rank and privilege than the ministering angels.

Imagine growing up in this kind of tradition—this kind of legacy and heritage—all your life hearing about God’s great man…Moses.  And by and by, by the grace of God, you’ve been brought out of the shadows and into the substance; you’ve been brought into the reality of the Person to whom Moses always pointed, Jesus Christ.

And for awhile things go kind of smoothly, things are rather neat in your life, but before long, there begins to be a cost to confessing Christ.  Opposition intensifies, pressure comes at you from multiple angles.  Suddenly this doesn’t seem to be as sweet of a deal.  What’s more, whispering in your ears is the call, “Come home.  Come back to Moses.”

So because Moses was held in such high esteem, our author knew he needed to show how much better Jesus was than even Moses.

So we read in Hebrews 3:1-6

1 Therefore, holy brothers, you who share in a heavenly calling, consider Jesus, the apostle and high priest of our confession, 2 who was faithful to him who appointed him, just as Moses also was faithful in all God’s house. 3 For Jesus has been counted worthy of more glory than Moses–as much more glory as the builder of a house has more honor than the house itself. 4 (For every house is built by someone, but the builder of all things is God.) 5 Now Moses was faithful in all God’s house as a servant, to testify to the things that were to be spoken later, 6 but Christ is faithful over God’s house as a son. And we are his house if indeed we hold fast our confidence and our boasting in our hope.

This major portion of Hebrews begins here and goes through chapter 10, verse 18.  Having concluded that Jesus is superior to the mediators of the Mosaic law (i.e., angels, 2:2), the author now establishes the superiority of Jesus to Moses himself (3:1–6), of Jesus to the Aaronic high priesthood (4:14–7:28), of the new covenant in Jesus’ blood to the former covenant (8:1–13), and of Jesus’ death to the Mosaic sacrifices (9:1–10:18).  This exposition also leads to three prolonged exhortations to Christian perseverance (3:7–4:13; 5:11–6:12; 10:19–39).

So in vv. 1-6 our author points out that Jesus is greater than Moses, wanting to persuade his readers to maintain their confidence in Jesus Christ.  While it might seem anticlimactic to go from angels to Moses, this was not the case.  To the Jew it would have been impossible to conceive that anyone ever stood closer to God than Moses did, and yet that is precisely what the writer of the Hebrews sets out to prove.

While Moses was one of God’s most faithful servants (vv. 2, 5), Jesus is the faithful high priest and Son of God.  Thus Jesus is worthy of more glory (vv. 1–2, 6).  This leads to exhortations and warnings (3:6–4:13).

The first thing our author does is to remind them who they are.  The twofold description of the readers makes it clear that they are converted people.  But they needed to remember this.  They are, like all believers, “holy brothers.”

We’ve already seen, in chapter 2, how Christ is “not ashamed” to call us brothers (Hebrews 2:11).  Through faith we have been born into AND adopted into the family of God—with God as our Father and Christ as our brother.  We are a part of God’s family.  We belong to Him; His precious possession.

The designation “holy” doesn’t mean sinlessly perfect or eminently pious.  Rather it means that we are specially set apart to God.  It has a moral application as well, meaning that we are positionally holy, having been united to Christ and credited with His holiness, and we are progressively becoming more and more holy as we are filled with the Spirit and walk in the light.

So we are first being encouraged to remember who we are.  Being a Jew has its privileges, but none better than being a brother to Christ and being made more like Him in holiness.

Then he says, “holy brothers, who share in the heavenly calling…”  He is telling them that he fears they have forgotten why they were made “holy brothers.”

No unconverted Jew or Gentile could lay claim to the heavenly calling.  To be sure, there was a point in time when you turned from your sins in repentance and embraced Jesus Christ through faith in His finished work on the cross.

But why did you turn from your sin and trust Christ?

It was because you were made the partaker of an irresistible, magnificent call that came from heaven itself.

Throughout this book, the heavenly is contrasted to the earthly as something that is more substantial, more desirable, more valuable.

This is not merely the “call” of the preacher that fell upon your ears when the gospel was preached to you, but the calling of the Holy Spirit himself, the effective calling, the calling that saves, that awakening of your heart so that you willingly, joyfully, and repentantly believe in Jesus Christ.

While the gospel call is extended indiscriminately to every sinner, the effectual calling of the Holy Spirit actually achieves what it calls—it enables the sinner to hear the gospel and believe.  Like the words of Jesus to Lazarus, “Lazarus, come out,” those words don’t just offer new life, but create that life within so that a response is possible.

Timothy George describes this calling as God being “able to accomplish what he has determined to do in the salvation of lost men and women” (Amazing Grace:  God’s Initiative—Our Response, p. 74).

It is the call that originates in heaven and works to bring you there.  It is a heavenly calling because it comes from heaven—from God. And it is a heavenly calling because it invites us and leads us to heaven—to God.  It is “the upward call” (Phil 3:14) summoning the Christian to a heavenly homeland (Heb 11:16) and to the heavenly Jerusalem (Heb 12:22). 

So you can’t turn back.  You are not what you once were.  You have been changed into something more wonderful and called to something more glorious.  There is too much at stake, too much to lose.  You have a heavenly destiny.

How in the world can you take your eye off the prize??

But far more important than how we view ourselves is how we view Jesus Christ, and that is what we will get to next week.

Why Jesus Became Man, part 6 (Hebrews 2:17b-18)

Jesus is the perfect mediator between God and man, precisely because He is the God-man.  It was important for the writer of Hebrews to uphold Jesus Christ as the God-man.  The Jews didn’t value the idea that God could come and suffer and die on a humiliating cross.

We’ve been looking these last two weeks at the final words of Hebrews 2:

16 For surely it is not angels that he helps, but he helps the offspring of Abraham. 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. 18 For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.

We noticed last week that Christ is the perfect mediator.  But he was also the “propitiation for the sins of the people.”  He was “made like his brothers” by becoming flesh and blood.  Why? 
“So that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God.”  Why?  “to make propitiation for the sins of the people.”

Not only does Jesus rescue us from sin (v. 16) and represent us before God (v. 17a), but He also reconciles to Himself (v. 17b)

The word “propitiation” is a theological word for “satisfaction.”  What a wonderful word!

Puritan John Owen pointed out that there are four elements in propitiation: (1) an offence or crime to be taken away; (2) a person offended, to be pacified or reconciled; (3) a person offending, to be pardoned; and (4) a sacrifice or other means of making atonement (An Exposition of Hebrews, p. 476).

What needed to be satisfied was God’s wrath towards us because of our sin.  As a holy God, God is adamantly and fiercely against sin.  The wrath of God abides on every sinner (John 3:36).  We are “children of wrath” (Ephesians 2:3).

When people sin, they arouse the wrath of God (Romans 1:18) and become enemies of God (Romans 5:10).  The Old and New Testaments reveal an utterly holy God whose holy nature demands wrath against all sin.  Wrath is the expression of his holiness against sin.  God cannot set aside his wrath toward our sin and remain holy.  It is impossible for God’s holiness not to hold sin in repugnance.

Because we are sinners, we are God’s sworn enemies, recalcitrant rebels.  And yes, there are verses in the Psalms that say that God hates sinners.

But He also loves sinners.  He loves those whom He has chosen for salvation enough to give His one and only beloved Son to die for us.  He did not spare the only truly and completely innocent person that ever lived, but put Him to death.  Why?  To satisfy His wrath, to pay the debt we owed.

We cannot diminish the wrath of God without correspondingly reducing His love.  God’s love is a holy love, just like a parent’s love is a holy love, hating anything that harms the beloved child.

What God’s holy justice required, His love and mercy provided, in that “while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).  As Philip Hughes exclaims, “Our hell he made his, that his heaven might be ours.  Never was there such mercy, never such faithfulness as this!” (A Commentary on the Epistle to the Hebrews, p. 120).  He truly is a merciful and faithful high priest!

We need to take more seriously than we do the wrath of God.  But God’s love is as constant as His wrath, His grace as firm as His righteousness.  To procure our restoration, God himself has met the demands of His own holiness.  He has, so to speak, propitiated Himself in our place, thereby achieving the reconciliation to himself of mankind, who otherwise were hopelessly alienated and under condemnation because of sin.

The word propitiation is used in several key verses to explain what Jesus accomplished through His death on the cross.  For example, in Romans 3:24-25 we see that believers in Christ have been “justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness…”  These verses are a key point in Paul’s argument in the book of Romans and are really at the heart of the gospel message.

Paul had made the point that we are all sinners (Romans 3:23), there is absolutely “none righteous” (Romans 3:10).  We all deserve His wrath and punishment.  But God, in His infinite grace and mercy, provided a way that His wrath can be appeased and we can be reconciled to Him.  That way is through the sacrificial death of His Son, Jesus Christ, as the atonement or payment for sins.  It is through faith in Jesus Christ as God’s perfect sacrifice that we can be reconciled to God.  It is only because of Christ’s perfect life, His substitutionary death on the cross, and His resurrection on the third day that a lost sinner deserving of hell can be reconciled to a thrice holy God.  We are saved from God’s wrath not because “we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be a propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:10).

Christ met all the requirements of the law and then offered His life in our place, which theologians call his active and passive obedience to the Father.  God vented the fury of His wrath, crushing His Son under the weight of the sins of humanity, so that Jesus experienced hell in our behalf.

To be our propitiation, Jesus had to be (1) sinless, (2) share in our humanity, and (3) be sympathetic to our need.  He voluntarily fulfilled each of those requirements out of love for you and me.

So, not only does Jesus rescue us from sin (v. 16) and represent us before God (v. 17a) reconciles to Himself (v. 17b), but He also relates to us in our temptations (v. 18).

Verse 18 looks back to verse v. 17 and tells us why (the word “for” at the beginning of this verse) he became a merciful and faithful high priest—“to help those who are being tempted.”

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

When Christ lived on earth, He too was tempted.  Not just in the wilderness temptations, but throughout His life.  Remember that Satan left him “for an opportune time” (Luke 4:13).  That time probably came up quite often.

While here among us, He was a genuine human being, fully tempted.

Even in the wilderness temptations, Christ experienced the very spectrum of temptations we face—the lust of the flesh, lust of the eyes and pride of life.

Not only was Jesus tempted, but “suffered when tempted.”  Most of us don’t suffer when tempted because we give in right away, we don’t experience the “good fight of faith.”  In fact, we find it be a source of pleasure…for a season (Hebrews 11:25).

I am reminded of the story of the young boy in the kitchen who, asked by his mother, “What are you doing?” replied, “I’m just standing here with my hand in the cookie jar, resisting temptation.”  That’s not fighting temptation, that’s preparing to surrender!

Being the sinless Son of God, temptations repulsed him far more than they could us.  And being faithful to the Father’s will, He never gave in.

Our Lord was saddened and suffered as he sinlessly lived out his thirty-three years assailed by everyday temptations.

But his greatest suffering occurred, as the Scriptures specifically point out, when he was tempted to forsake his calling and take an easy way out.  Matthew tells us that immediately after Jesus’ baptism, he was led out into the desert where he was tempted by the devil and that at the root of each of the three diabolical temptations was the lure to leave his vocation for an easier way (Matthew 4:1–11).  Jesus was tempted for forty days.

Later, as he was establishing his ministry, Satan employed Jesus’ own family to try to dissuade him through a domestic kidnapping, because they thought “He is out of his mind” (Mark 3:21).  

And then, at the apex of his ministry, Peter publicly rebuked Jesus for intimating that he must die on the cross.  Significantly, Jesus denounced Peter’s words with a statement almost identical to that with which he earlier dismissed Satan in the wilderness—“Get behind me, Satan!” (Mark 8:33; cf. Matthew 4:10).  Next, in Gethsemane Jesus repeatedly cast himself to the ground, sweating great drops of blood and crying out, “Abba, Father, all things are possible for you.  Remove this cup from me.  Yet not what I will, but what you will” (Mark 14:36).  And finally on the cross he was put to the ultimate suffering.

What a temptation to escape!  What suffering!  But he bore it all.  And even more significantly, he bore it as a man.  He was tempted and suffered and endured with a human mind, body, and emotions—and he never for a moment turned away from the cross.

Satan has dangled the bait of temptation before Jesus Christ many times, all without success.  Yet, because He was tempted “in all ways like we are” (Hebrews 4:15), He is able to understand our temptations.

We would be wrong to assume that because Jesus never gave in to sin, or because He was God He wasn’t really even able to be tempted, that He never really experienced temptation nor could understand the depths of our temptations.

C. S. Lewis in Mere Christianity, explains it like this:

“No man knows how bad he is till he had tried very hard to be good.  A silly idea is current that good people do not know what temptation means.  This is an obvious lie.  Only those who try to resist temptation know how strong it is.  After all, you find out the strength of the German army by fighting against it, not by giving in.  You find out the strength of the wind by walking against it, not by lying down.  A man who gives in to temptation after five minutes simply does not know what it would have been like an hour later.  That is why bad people, in one sense, know very little about badness—they have lived a sheltered life by always giving in.  We never find out the strength of the evil impulse inside us until we try to fight it; and Christ, because He was the only man who never yielded to temptation, is also the only man who knows to the full what temptation means—the only complete realist.”

As Philip Hughes explains regarding Christ’s temptations: “Some have objected that only by the experience of sin could Christ have evinced full fellow feeling with fallen mankind; but for the incarnate Son to have succumbed to temptation, while it would certainly have meant his becoming a fellow sinner, would also have meant his failure and defeat, with the consequence that he would have been disqualified for the fulfillment of his high-priestly office (cf. Heb. 5:8-10) and unable to come to our aid and lead us in the way of victory” (A Commentary on the Epistle to the Hebrews, pp. 123).

“It is a fallacy also to imagine that the fact that he did not fall into sin means that he knows less about temptation than those who have given in to it; for his conquest of temptation, while ensuring his sinlessness, in fact increased rather than diminished his fellow feeling, since he knows the full force of temptation in a manner that we who have not withstood it to the end cannot know it.  What good would another who has failed be to us?  It is precisely because we have been defeated that we need the assistance of him who is the victor” (A Commentary on the Epistle to the Hebrews, pp. 123-124).

Kent Hughes offers a simple illustration that helps me grasp what our writer is saying.  “Think of it this way—which bridge has undergone the greatest stress, the one that collapses under its first load of traffic, or the one that bears the same traffic morning and evening, year after year?” (Hebrews: An Anchor for the Soul, p. 86).

  • Jesus can say to the young person: “So, your family doesn’t understand you?  They won’t let you do your own thing?  Well, mine didn’t understand me either.  They reprimanded me when I stayed in the Temple (see Luke 2:48-51).
  • Jesus can say to the housewife, “So, your neighbors are unfriendly?  Well, mine tried to kill me.” (see Luke 4:16, 28-29).
  • Jesus can say to the businessman: “So your associates criticize you?  Well, mine ridicule and cursed me” (Mark 3:6, 21)
  • Jesus can say to the condemned: “You complain that the legal system is not fair?  Well, I was condemned by a biased judge who listened to bribed witnesses” (Mark 14:56).
  • Jesus can say to the deprived: “You complain that the economy is oppressive?  Well, all I had were the clothes on my back” (Luke 9:58)
  • Jesus can say to the persecuted: “You complain that people are prejudiced against you because of your race or religion? Well, I was called every vile name in the book” (John 7:20, 32).
  • Jesus can say to those who’ve been forsaken: “You complain that your pals are disloyal? Well, mine all ran away at the first hint of trouble and claimed they didn’t know me” (Matthew 26:74)
  • Jesus can say to the disappointed: “You complain that your plans didn’t materialize and you failed to reach your goals?  Well, I wasn’t able to accomplish anything in my hometown!” (Matthew 13:54-58(
  • Jesus can say to the frustrated: “You complain that you can’t get anyone to help you and they let you down when the going got rough?  Well, my followers let me in droves.” (John 6:66)
  • Jesus can say to the disadvantaged: “You complain that you had a deprived childhood?  Well, I sent my first few years in a foreign country hiding out from a death sentence!” (Matthew 2:13-15)
  • Jesus can say to those who feel out of place: “You complain that folks in my church are too pious and critical? Well, the leaders of my own religion condemned me as a sinner!” (Matthew 13:14, 24)
  • Jesus can say to the outcast: “You complain that you were born on the wrong side of the tracks? Well, society said I was illegitimate and, furthermore, my city was the pits!” (John 1:40-50)
  • You say, “Even when I try to do good deeds, people criticize me.” Well, they said I was working for the devil when I healed the sick! (Matthew 12:22)
  • You say, “I’m single and will never get married.”  Well, me too, but I was fulfilled doing my Father’s will.

In short, Jesus can say, “If you’ve got a heartache; I’ve had it too!  If you’ve got a problem, me too!  If you’ve met a temptation, so have I.” (Hebrews 5:2)

And what God would he be to us if he had fallen to temptation?  His help is strong precisely because He was able to conquer every single temptation.

Because He has suffered through temptation, He is able to help us as we suffer through temptations.

Comfort drops but coldly from lips that have never uttered a sigh or a groan; and for our poor human hearts it is not enough to have a merciful God far off in the heavens.  We need a Christ who can be touched with the feeling of our infirmities ere we can come boldly to the Throne of Grace, assured of there finding grace in time of need.

We have two advantages – knowing the example of Jesus in temptation, but also having His active assistance from heaven, providing strength and a way of escape.  With these aids we can find victory in the midst of temptation and come out better from being tempted. Jesus did not lose anything from being tempted – He only gained in glory and sympathy and ability to help His people. In the same way, we do not have to lose anything when we are tempted.

How important it is to know that Jesus provides such aid to us in time of temptation.

“This is the most powerful preservative against despair, and the firmest ground of hope and comfort, that ever believing, penitent sinners could desire or have.” (Matthew Poole)

“Were the rest of the Scripture silent on this subject, this verse might be an ample support for every tempted soul.” (Adam Clarke)

So, “With vv. 17-18 the writer prepares to lead his hearers directly into the body of the discourse devoted to the exposition of Jesus as priest and sacrifice.  Common to the concepts both of champion and of high priest are the elements of representation and solidarity with a particular people.  The presentation of Jesus in 2:10-18 provided assurance that the exalted Son continues to identify himself with the oppressed people of God exposed to humiliation and testing in a hostile world” (William Lane, Word Biblical Commentary, Vol. 47A—Hebrews 1-8, p. 67).

Why Jesus Became Man, part 5 (Hebrews 2:16-17a)

We have been exploring Hebrews 2, which starting in verse 10 expounds our solidarity with Christ through His incarnation.  The progression of thought is like this: the fact of solidarity (2:10, 11), the character of solidarity (vv. 12, 13), the liberation that comes from solidarity (2:14–16), and now the significance of the Church’s solidarity with its high priest (2:17, 18).  Thus, the weightiest truth, in terms of comfort for the storm-tossed church, is given last.

The magnificent train of thought in this famous text presents Christ as a being who is at once a perfect priestly mediator, propitiator, and helper.

16 For surely it is not angels that he helps, but he helps the offspring of Abraham. 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. 18 For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.

Here is the mystery:  Jesus is both God and man.  He is not 50% God and 50% man, but fully God and fully man.  There is no salvation unless Jesus is undiminished deity and undiminished humanity.  He must be fully both.

1 Timothy 3:16 says, “Great indeed, we confess, is the mystery of godliness: He was manifested in the flesh…”

How can it be that…

Perfect deity took on sinful humanity?

Omnipotence becomes weary?

Omniscience grew in wisdom?

Sovereignty became a bond slave?

Omnipresence was confined to a womb?

HOW He was both God and man is a mystery; but WHY He came as the God-man is at least partially explained for us here.  Our passage gives us three reasons in vv. 16-18.

First, to rescue us from sin (v. 16)

Second, to represent us before God (v. 17).

Third, to relate to us in temptation (v. 18).

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

Verse 16 is actually the reason, or grounds, for which Christ “share[d] in flesh and blood” (v. 14).  Christ did not come to help angels, but rather “the offspring of Abraham,” He had to become like them, taking on human flesh.  Only in this way could He die for them/us.

Angels do not need to be saved.  One third of them fell with Satan in rebellion.  But there is no Savior for them.  They’ve made their final choice and there is no recourse for their defiant rebellion.  Some of them have already been confined to hell, only to be let loose during the great tribulation.  Most of them are present and active in our world (Eph. 6:12).  Yes, they need to be saved, but there is no Savior for them.  Jesus did not come for them.

“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels’” Jesus said in Matthew 25:41.

Peter tells us: “For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell and committed them to chains of gloomy darkness to be kept until the judgment;” (2 Peter 2:4).

And in Jude 6 we read: “And the angels who did not stay within their own position of authority, but left their proper dwelling, he has kept in eternal chains under gloomy darkness until the judgment of the great day—”

How gracious God is to give us a Savior!  He didn’t have to.  Do you realize that?  He could have left us to judgment after Adam sinned.  He could have left the whole human race in condemnation because we chose to rebel just as Adam did.

But He didn’t.  He sent a Savior.  God in flesh.  Jesus Christ.

We just sang at Grace Bible Church this past Sunday:

  1. “Man of Sorrows!” what a name
    For the Son of God, who came
    Ruined sinners to reclaim.
    Hallelujah! What a Savior!
  2. Bearing shame and scoffing rude,
    In my place condemned He stood;
    Sealed my pardon with His blood.
    Hallelujah! What a Savior!
  3. Guilty, vile, and helpless we;
    Spotless Lamb of God was He;
    “Full atonement!” can it be?
    Hallelujah! What a Savior!

Christ gave “help the descendants of Abraham.”  This is not his physical seed, but his spiritual seed, those who believe in Jesus Christ.  In Galatians 3:29 Paul says, “If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed…”

The word “help” here is epilambano, an intensive word.  It is the same verb used in Hebrews 8:9 where God recalls how he “took hold” of his people Israel by the hand to bring them out of Egypt, and in both places it carries with it the idea of delivering help.

Used in Matthew 14:31, when Peter was sinking, Jesus reached out his hand and “took hold of” or “grabbed” Peter and rescued him from drowning.

It reminds me of a story.  I don’t know if it is actually true or not.

Some years ago, on a hot summer day in south Florida, a little boy decided to go for a swim in an old swimming pool behind his house.  In a hurry to dive into the cool water, he ran out the back door, leaving behind shoes, socks and shirt as he went.

He flew into the water, not realizing that as he swam toward the middle of the lake, an alligator was swimming toward the shore.  His mother, who was in the house and looking out the window, saw the boy swimming towards the alligator.  Petrified, she ran toward the water, yelling to her son to get out as loudly as she could.

Hearing her voice, the little boy became alarmed and made a U-turn to swim to his mother.  It was too late.  Just as he reached the bank where his mother was, the alligator reached him.  The mother grabbed her little boy by the arms just as the alligator snatched his legs.  And then began an incredible tug-of-war between the two.  The alligator was much stronger than the mother, but the mother was totally consumed by her passion for her son and was gripped by a holy strength.

While this terrible struggle was going on, a farmer happened to drive by, heard the screams, and saw what was going on – he took his gun, raced from the truck, and shot the alligator.

Remarkably, after weeks in the hospital, the little boy survived.  His legs were badly scarred by the vicious attack of the alligator.  He also had deep scratches on his arms where his mother’s fingernails had dug into his flesh in her efforts to hang on to the son she loved.

The newspaper reporter, who interviewed the boy after the trauma, asked if he would show him his scars.  The boy showed him his legs.  And then, with great pride, he said to the reporter, “But look at my arms.  I have great scars on my arms, too.  I have them because my Mom wouldn’t let go.”

Jesus Christ came to our rescue.  Satan, the great dragon, had us firm in his grip.  But Jesus rescued us and now holds onto us and will not let go.  The only difference is that the scars are His, not ours.

Salvation is not us reaching up to God and pulling ourselves to safety, but Christ reaching down to us and rescuing us when we were helpless to save ourselves.

I was sinking deep in sin
Far from the peaceful shore
Very deeply stained within
Sinking to rise no more
But the master of the sea

Heard my despairing cry,
From the waters lifted me
Now safe am I

Love lifted me! Love lifted me!
When nothing else could help
Love lifted me!

There is no other way for us to be rescued from sin and Satan and judgment and death.  Only Jesus could have done that.  Only His deity was of infinite value to pay for our sins; only His humanity made Him vulnerable to death.  Only His life and death offered a sufficient sacrifice to pay the penalty for our sins.

So He came to rescue us from sin.  But secondly He came to represent us before God.

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.

In this verse Christ is presented as a mediator and a propitiation.

The writer introduces these thoughts with a memorable reference to Christ’s incarnation, saying, “Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect” (v. 17a; cf. 2:11).  Jesus did not merely resemble humanity in some qualities of human nature, but “in every respect”—“in all things” (NASB).  Christ did not just “seem” to be human (Docetism), but really was human.  Christ’s likeness to us was not simulated but absolute and real (Philippians 2:7)—except for sin (4:15).  “In every respect” means in every way, specifically by experiencing human life and by suffering.

The result of becoming fully human is that he “might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God…”  Eli was a high priest, but he was neither merciful nor faithful.  He interpreted Hannah’s prayers as drunken ravings and allowed his sons to misuse the offerings and rebelled against God.  But Jesus Christ is merciful towards sinners and faithful towards God.  He never fails in His priestly ministries.

Mercy is more than an emotion.  It might begin there, but it ends in action—action which helps relieve someone’s misery.  We are in misery because of our sin.  We don’t always realize that, but we are.  We are in a miserable condition.  And Jesus did something about that.

Mercy doesn’t just rubberneck as it drives by, nor does it merely express sorrow or hope that someone else helps, but mercy moves to give help.

Christ our mediator actually feels the pangs of human existence in himself.  And thus, his compassion is not simulated but perfectly real.  Even more, from the depth of Christ’s compassion springs mercy as he acts to meet our needs.  This in turn involves his faithful priestly mediation between us and God as he bears our sins and infirmities, interceding for us with tender mercy.

He is faithful in that He always lived in obedience to God, therefore was imminently qualified to serve as our high priest.

Jesus implicitly expressed this when he said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing.  For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise” (John 5:19).  As Leon Morris says, “It is not simply that he does not act in independence of the Father. He cannot act in independence of the Father” (The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, vol. 12 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1981), p. 312).

His faithfulness to God is seen in two ways.  First, he was faithful as mankind’s sin-bearer.   He did everything required.  Nothing deterred him from the cross.  He drank the bitter cup to its dregs.  “Our hell he made his, that his heaven might be ours” (Philip Edgcumbe Hughes, A Commentary on the Epistle to the Hebrews (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1977), p. 120).  Never has there been such faithfulness!

Second, he is faithful in representing us to the Father.  At God’s right hand his blood is applied to man’s sins.  There he faithfully prays for his own with compassion and tender mercy, honed by his human experience.  This is a truth every informed heart holds dear, as did Paul when he encouraged Timothy, reminding him, “For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all” (1 Timothy 2:5, 6).

As our high priest He must deal with our sins.  He couldn’t just turn a blind eye to our sins.  Because of His holiness and unchanging hatred of sin, it had to be dealt with.  Sin cannot be swept under the carpet and ignored.  The Father’s just and righteous character demanded the death of the sinner.  Jesus became human, took on sinful flesh so that He might become a sin offering and die in our place.

In the Fellowship of the Ring, the first of the Lord of the Rings movies by Peter Jackson, Arwen, a female elf, exchanged her immortality for mortality, out of love.  Talking to Aragorn, a human, she asked him if he remembered what she had said when they first met.  Aragorn replied, “You said you’d bind yourself to me, forsaking the immortal life of your people.”

Arwen committed again to give up her immortality out of love.  “I would rather share one lifetime with you than face all the ages of this world alone.  I choose a mortal life.”

In essence, this is what Jesus said when he took on humanity.  He became mortal.  He gave up His immortality so that He could live with us and die for us.  “I would rather share one lifetime with you than face all the ages of this world without you.  I choose mortal life.”  That is what the incarnation is all about.

Jesus “became a…high priest.”  This will be a major theme of the center section of Hebrews and a major motif throughout.  A high priest was commissioned by God to represent the people of God before God.  The prophet represented God to the people; but the priest represented people to God.

Once a year he made atonement for the people, spreading the blood on the mercy seat to make atonement for the sin of the people.  Only the high priest could do this.  What one man did had an effect for all the people of God.

Throughout Old Testament history, from about 1445 B. C. to the coming of Christ, for 1,500 years, the high priest had been entering the Holy of Holies to offer sacrifice to God.  But it was always an inferior sacrifice, only temporarily remitting sin, until the Perfect Sacrifice appeared.

Jesus, at the cross, went into the Holy of Holies and sprinkled His blood on the mercy seat.

Jesus represented us before God.  He took our place, bearing the judgment and condemnation of our sins.  To represent us, He had to become like us.  He had to take on flesh, to become human, so that he could be qualified as a high priest for us.

Hebrews 5:1 makes this clear.  “For 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.”

No angel, no God, nor the Holy Spirit, could represent us.  Only Jesus Christ, the God-man.

Here is what is so wonderful about Jesus Christ.  Many high priests came before Him, representing the people before God.  But they were all fallible sinners, bringing imperfect sacrifices, and therefore sin was never fully and completely and finally removed.

But Jesus, the God-man, could represent me as man, but offer a perfect sacrifice because He was God.e was GodH

He became a man to become my high priest.  I can’t be my own high priest.  I cannot argue my case before God.  I needed someone to represent me before God, to plead the sacrifice for sin on my behalf.  And Jesus did just that.  Through His shed blood my sin has been fully, completely and finally removed.

Why Jesus Became Man, part 4 (Hebrews 2:14-15)

This theme of “the crucified Lord” scandalized the first-century world.  To the Jews, the idea that their Messiah could die, especially a death like crucifixion, was a “stumbling block” (1 Cor. 1:23), an expression of “weakness” (1 Cor. 1:25) that was unworthy of God. 

There was nothing about the Teacher from Nazareth to show that he was greater than the angels.  Indeed, the reverse was true, for he had undergone humiliating sufferings culminating in a felon’s death.

Yet, as Paul pointed out “the weakness of God is stronger than men” (1 Cor. 1:25) and it was precisely through the cross that Jesus Christ defeated Satan. In 2 Corinthians 2:14 Paul presents the victory of Christ as a “triumphal procession” (cf. Eph. 4:7-10).  This reflects a Roman emperor’s custom of leading conquered leaders of hostile forces through the streets in a victory parade.

The apostle John tells us that one of the reasons Jesus came was to “destroy the works of the devil” (1 John 3:8).

Here is how our author puts it:

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, 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.

Have you ever had to face a bully?  I remember a guy in third grade.  I won’t tell you his name just in case he is a relative of yours.  He was head and shoulders above the rest of us…must have been held back two or three years.  He looked like Arnold Schwarzenegger to me.

If he had told me to meet him after school on the playground, I would have run the other direction…fast!

If you’ve ever faced a bully you know that the best way to do that is to have a bigger brother you can bring to the fight with you.

Christ came, as our Elder Brother, to defeat out greatest enemy and to make null and void the greatest weapon in his arsenal.

The incarnation was an invasion.  Jesus came on a mission to rescue to captive slaves.  Jesus came to rout the devil and release His captives.  In verses 14-15 we see four actions: (1) incarnation, (2) crucifixion, (3) domination, and (4) liberation.

Christus Victor is the element of the atoning work of Christ that emphasizes the triumph of Christ over the evil powers of the world, through which he rescues his people and establishes a new relationship between God and the world.

Christ, through both His death and His resurrection, conquered Satan and broke the power of death.  That victory meant victory over sin and the condemnation of God’s law as well (1 Cor. 15:51–56), for death is the only fair wage for sinning, and God’s condemning law passes its judgment on violations of any kind (Rom. 6:23a).

Martin Luther said: “Christ resisted Satan’s power and won “a victory over the Law, sin, our flesh, the world, the devil, death, hell, and all evils; and this victory of his he has given to us.  Even though these tyrants, our enemies, accuse us and terrify us, they cannot drive us into despair or condemn us. For Christ, whom God the Father raised from the dead, is Victor over them, and he is our righteousness” (Luther’s Works, 26:21–22).  This victory of the Savior means that he “takes away the law, kills my sin, destroys my death in his body, and in this way empties hell, judges the devil, crucifies him, and throws him down into hell.  In other words, everything that once used to torment and oppress me Christ has set aside; he has disarmed it and made a public example of it triumphing over it in himself” (Luther’s Works 26:160–161; cf. Col. 2:15).

According to our passage, one of the primary tools Satan uses to torment and oppress us is death, and the fear of death.  Jesus died to free us from death, thus we no longer have to be afraid of death. 

We have just lived through a time when many people died of the COVID-19 virus.  Many people were frightened.  Death has become real and palpable to so many people in ways that it was not before the pandemic.  The response, by and large, was not one of confidence and peace, but of anxiety and fear.

As a hospice chaplain for 16 years, I met hundreds of people who were near death.  Some of them had a sweet peace, knowing that when they died they would be in the presence of Jesus.  They had no fear of death.  Like E. H. Hamilton, they thought, “Afraid? Of what?  To feel the spirit’s glad release?  To pass from pain to perfect peace.  The strife and strain of life to cease?  Afraid – of that?”  They know that the Good Shepherd will walk with them through the valley of the shadow of death. 

Do you know that peace?

Others, however, had some fear, not so much of death itself, but of the process of dying.  Then there were those few who truly had a fear of dying.

Like Puritan Samuel Bolton said, “Death is the godly man’s wish, the wicked man’s fear.”

Why might we fear death?  The reasons are many and of various weight: (1) the fear of pain (though most deaths are, medically speaking, not that painful); (2) the fear of separation from what we know and from the ones we love; (3) the fear of the unknown—launching one’s vessel on an uncharted sea; (4) the fear of non-being—in Bertrand Russell’s words, “Brief and powerless is man’s life; on his and all his race the slow, sure doom falls pitiless and dark”; and then there’s (5) the fear of everlasting punishment.

Maybe we have the same opinion as Woody Allen, “I’m not afraid to die, I just don’t want to be there when it happens.”

Death reveals our brevity (Psalm 103:15), exposes our weakness (Job 14:2), taunts us with its suddenness (Job 21:13), and mocks us with its power (Ecclesiastes 8:8). Death is an intrusion into God’s original design (Genesis 1-2). Perhaps the anonymous author captured the power of death best with these striking words:

He is a preacher of the old school, but He speaks as boldly as ever.  He is not popular, though the world is his parish and he travels over every part of the globe and speaks in every language. He visits the poor; calls upon the rich and preaches to people of every religion and no religion, and the subject of his sermons is always the same.  He is an eloquent preacher and he often stirs the feelings, which no other preacher can stir and brings tears to eyes that seldom weep.  His arguments none are able to refute; nor is there any heart that has remained unmoved by the force of his appeals.  He shatters life with His message.  Most people hate him; everyone fears him. His name?  Death.  Every tombstone is his pulpit.  Every newspaper prints his text.  And one day, every one of us will be his message” (As quoted in John MacArthur, 1 Corinthians (Chicago: Moody Press, 1996), 441-442).

Linger over that last line, “And one day, every one of us will be his message.”  It’s chilling.  And true.  Life is fleeting and death is real. It is required of us all (Luke 12:20), the appointment we will one day keep (Hebrews 9:27).

Much of our lives we can deny death, pretending it won’t happen.  We refuse to think about it.  We try to avoid it.

Somerset Maugham told the story of a servant and his master, from Samarra, who were in Baghdad near the market.

The servant said, “Master, just now when I was in the marketplace I was jostled by a woman in the crowd, and when I turned I saw that it was death that jostled me.  She looked at me and made a threatening gesture.

Now lend me your horse and I will ride away from this city and avoid my fate.  I will go to Samarra and there Death will not find me.”

The merchant lent him his horse, and the servant mounted it, dug his spurs in its flanks, and rode as fast as he could.

When the merchant went down to the market he saw Death standing in the crowd and he came to Death and said, “Why did you make a threatening gesture to my servant when you saw him this morning?”

“That was not a threatening gesture,” Death said, “It was only a start of surprise.  I was astonished to see him in Baghdad, for I have an appointment with him in Samarra tonight.”

When it is our time, our appointed time, we cannot avoid death.

Thankfully, Jesus didn’t ignore or avoid this problem.  Instead, he entered right into it.  Our text says that in order to die He had to become like us.  He shared our life and died our death, that we might share His life.

His humanity was real.  Since we “share in flesh and blood,” Jesus did the same.  He was not a ghost, a disembodied spirit, as the Docetists claimed.  Jesus added a real human nature, complete with a physical body.

It was the incarnation that was amazing.  Paul confesses this mystery, that the “mystery of godliness is great: He appeared in a body!” (1 Timothy 3:16).

But to fulfill the role of the Elder Brother, He had to become like us.  To free the captives, He had to enter the prison.  In order to stand in our place He had to become “flesh and blood.”

Humanity shares in “flesh and blood.”  It is part of what makes us human.  We are unique in many ways, but what unites us is that we have bodies made of flesh and blood.

Since mankind is flesh and blood; he became flesh and blood (cf. Jn 1:14).  Men are sinners; he became sin for them that through him they might receive the righteousness of God (cf. 2 Cor 5:21). 

Malcolm Muggeridge captured this truth when he wrote: “As man alone, Jesus could not have saved us; as God alone, He would not; Incarnate (God in flesh), he could and did” (Jesus, The Man Who Lives, p. 30).

He came onto enemy turf.  Our stronger brother took on flesh to come onto the playground and beat up our bully.  Our champion stepped onto the battlefield, made himself vulnerable to death, all to rout our enemy.

If we are careless in our thinking about Jesus, we can slip into a form of Neoapollinarianism, embracing Jesus’ divinity but holding his full humanity at arm’s length.  Yet, it is important that we understand the extent to which God went to win our redemption.  Through the Incarnation God became an “insider,” not merely acting on our human predicament from without, but transforming it from within.  In a famous answer to Apollinarianism in the fourth century, Gregory of Nazianzus stated, “What has not been assumed cannot be restored,” meaning that for redemption to reach into every darkened corner of human existence, Jesus had to take on that existence in its entirety.  He was not merely God encased in flesh, but was truly human, as human he was vulnerable.  (George H. Guthrie, The NIV Application Commentary: Hebrews, 118)

His taking of flesh and blood is an act of total identification for the purpose of our everlasting redemption.  Though he had every cause to be ashamed of us and to abandon us to the judgment we justly deserve, he compassionately abased himself in order that we with him might be raised to glory (Phil 2:5ff.; 2 Cor 8:9).  It should be emphasized that, as the NT consistently shows, and not least this epistle, our brotherhood with Christ rests not solely on the fact of his incarnation, but much more precisely on the redemption which that incarnation enabled him to accomplish at the cross.  (Philip Edgcumbe Hughes, A Commentary on the Epistle to the Hebrews, 106)

The only way to destroy Satan was to rob him of his weapon, death–physical death, spiritual death, eternal death.  Satan knew that God required death for us because of sin.  Death had become the most certain fact of life.  Satan knew that men, if they remained as they were, would die and go out of God’s presence into hell forever.  Satan wants to hold onto men until they die, because once they are dead the opportunity for salvation is gone forever.  Men cannot escape after death.  So God had to wrest from Satan the power of death.  And for just that purpose Jesus came.  (John MacArthur Jr., The MacArthur NT Commentary: Hebrews, 69-70)

He did this for the purpose of defeating the power of death and delivering us from the slavery that comes from fearing death.

The fear of death enslaves unbelievers in that this fear leads them to behave in ways that please Satan (e.g., selfishly, living for the present, etc.)

“It is ironical that human beings, destined to rule over the creation (Ps 8:5-7 LXX, cited in vv 6-8), should find themselves in the posture of a slave, paralyzed through the fear of death (Kögel, Sohn, 80).  Hopeless subjection to death characterizes earthly existence apart from the intervention of God…” (Lane, p. 61).

Christ’s atoning death effected the destruction of Satan’s power of death and thus freedom from the fear of death.  Our glorified Lord commands us, “Fear not, I am the first and the last, and the living one.  I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades” (Revelation 1:17, 18).

Satan is described as the one who had the power of death.  This does not mean that he has the power to kill people at will.  The risen Christ holds the keys of death and Hades (Rev. 1:17, 18).  God determines the length of each person’s life (Ps. 139:16) and He alone has final authority in this matter (Job 2:6Luke 12:5).  But Satan tempted Adam and Eve to sin, and through sin, death entered this world.  Satan was a murderer from the beginning (John 8:44).  He delights in seeing people die outside of Christ, because they then join him in hell throughout eternity, which is the second death (Rev. 20:14-15).

Sinners are held in “lifelong slavery” because of the “fear of death” (Heb. 2:14).  Satan holds the “power of death” insofar as he tempts people to sin, accuses sinners of their sins, and, in God’s providence, wields a certain power over death.  Sinners are powerless to free themselves from the enslavement of the fear of death and from the vise grip of the power of death.  That bondage can be broken only in one way—through the death of the incarnate Son of God (Heb. 2:14).

The only way we can face death with hope and confidence is if we know Jesus Christ as our Savior.

For His people, Christ brings an end not to the experience of death but to the fear of death.  That is to say, death and its terrors no longer hold us in bondage.  Why is that?  Because Christ died, experiencing death in all its terrors, pains, horrors, and agonies of soul and body.  Because Christ, in His death and resurrection, defeated death.  

He did this for us.  As we approach death, we need to see it through the spectacles of the finished work of Christ.  The gospel tells us that Christ has conquered and subdued death.  That is the only way that we can face death with hope or confidence.

Christ has conquered death.  It is a, for Christians, toothless foe.

Let us have the attitude of Paul.  In Philippians 1 he saw death as “gain” (Phil. 1:21) and whereas continuing to live would be advantageous to the Philippians, for him death would be “far better” (Phil. 1:23), not a little better, but incomparably better!  So instead of trying to ignore the reality of death, we need to say “Go ahead, death — make my day.”  Say, “If you let me live, Christ will be honored on earth in my life.  If you take away my life, I just get more of Christ in heaven.  I can’t lose.”

I close with the first question and answer of the Heidelberg Catechism (1563):

Question 1: What is thy only comfort in life and death?

Answer: That I, with body and soul, both in life and in death, am not my own, but belong to my faithful Saviour Jesus Christ, who with his precious blood has fully satisfied for all my sins, and redeemed me from all the power of the devil; and so preserves me that without the will of my Father in heaven not a hair can fall from my head; yea, that all things must work together for my salvation. Wherefore, by his Holy Spirit, he also assures me of eternal life, and makes me heartily willing and ready henceforth to live unto him (in The Creeds of Christendom, ed. by Philip Schaff [Baker], 3:307-308).

Why Jesus Became Man, part 3 (Hebrews 2:11-13)

Because the angelic host was so highly regarded in 1st century Judaism, and because Jesus was crucified, which symbolized to the Jews that Jesus was accursed, the author of Hebrews has been showing that Jesus, by becoming man, accomplished His work in our behalf, yet still is superior to the angels.

God didn’t “subject the world to come” to angels, but to Jesus Christ (Heb. 2:5).  He was, for a “little while lower than the angels” but now is “crowned with glory and honor” (Heb. 2:7).  Yet, He became man so that he might “taste death for everyone” (Heb. 2:9) and “bring many sons to glory” (Heb. 2:10).  The picture of verse 10 is of a great family procession as it winds its way through this life and moves ever upward to “glory.”  Leading the procession is the pioneer, the captain, the champion of our salvation.  He has gone before us as the perfect man—living a perfect, sinless, spotless life—overcoming every temptation and hardship—dying as the perfect atonement for all our sins—then resurrected to glory—and now leading us over his bloodstained path to the same glory.

The endless procession follows its leader until they are before the throne.  “After this I looked,” says John, “and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb” (Revelation 7:9).

The great retinue is made up of redeemed sons and daughters who all part of the family of the Father and the Son.  Their hearts’ cry is, “Abba ! Father!”  They are brothers and sisters, “fellow heirs with Christ,” the pioneer of their salvation (Romans 8:15–17; cf. Galatians 4:5, 6; Ephesians 1:5).

Our author goes on from this foundational truth to say…

11 For he who sanctifies and those who are sanctified all have one source. That is why he is not ashamed to call them brothers, 12 saying, “I will tell of your name to my brothers; in the midst of the congregation I will sing your praise.” 13 And again, “I will put my trust in him. “And again, “Behold, I and the children God has given me.”

Christ, through his humanity and through His death on the cross shows His solidarity to us.  We are “of the same family” (NIV, “from one source,” ESV) and are “brothers.”  In the context of this family relationship, He sanctifies us.  The “he who sanctifies” in this context is Jesus, who sanctifies us principally through His death (cf. Heb. 10:10, 14).  United to Him, we receive His righteousness (2 Cor. 5:21).

Verse 11 shows that Jesus (“he who sanctifies”) and every believer (“those who are sanctified”) all come from the same stock, we have a common paternity, Adam.  Jesus and all humanity share the same human ancestor.  Jesus Christ was 100 percent homo sapiens, just as all of us are descendants of Adam.  But his relationship to humanity was different than that of any other man, because he imparts holiness to those who are in him, the second Adam. Sin came to all humanity through “one man,” Adam. But righteousness comes through the “one man,” Christ (cf. Romans 5:12, 19).

As believers, however, we also have a common paternity in God the Father.  Of course, Jesus is Son in a unique and special relationship to the Father, but through adoption we have become sons of God in a real, though different sense.  As such, we become co-heirs with Christ.  Jesus brought us into the family of God by entering into the family of man.  His incarnation, perfect life and substitutionary death created, through the Holy Spirit, a bond between Jesus Christ and every believer forever.  We are God’s sons, brothers of Jesus Christ.

Through the baptism of the Holy Spirit we have been united to Christ, and His divine nature has been given to us (2 Cor. 5:17; 2 Peter 1:3).  This does not mean that we are now divine.  We are in no way equal to God.  But it means that our old nature has been radically changed, or exchanged, for a new nature, a nature that loves God and loves righteousness.

Thus, Christ is “not ashamed to call [believers] brothers.”  Isn’t that a fantastic statement?  Jesus Christ could call us much worse things, like weak, sinners, enemies (Rom. 5:6, 8, 10).

A. B. Bruce says…

“On the contrary, he calls them brothers with all his heart, with the fervour of love, with the eloquence of earnest conviction” (A. B. Bruce, Epistle to the Hebrews (Minneapolis: Klock & Klock, 1988), p. 16).

Christ glories in these family designations: “These are my brothers and sisters!”

Isn’t it wonderfully liberating to know that Jesus is never ashamed to own me as his brother?  And why is that?  It is certainly not because of my daily behavior, as if I’m always pleasing to Him.  No.  It is because He has sanctified us.

This is definitive sanctification, which happened the moment we believed.  We were made “saints.”  Christians are people who have been “sanctified in Christ Jesus” (1 Cor. 1:2; 6:11Acts 20:32Heb. 10:10, 141 Pet. 1:2).  We are “holy” by virtue of God’s calling and our faith union with him.

God counts us as righteous because He sees the righteousness of Christ in us.  Jesus Christ is unashamed to call us his brothers because He sees Himself in us.  He is proud of me!  His chest swells up with pride when he thinks of me.

This expresses the destiny of believers.  Believers will be glorified and there will be no condemnation or shame.  Unbelievers, however, will be filled with shame as God turns His back on them forever.

This is different from progressive sanctification, which is the day-by-day process by which I cooperate with the Holy Spirit in making me more like Jesus Christ.  In progressive sanctification we “become what we are.”

This is reflected, for example, in 2 Corinthians 7:1: “Let us purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence for God.”  That is, our consecrated status must become evident in real life; “be what you are,” as we like to say (cf. 1 Pet. 1:16).  But the New Testament writers generally address this matter of personal godliness in other categories—they use the terminology of renewaltransformation, becoming like Christ, becoming godly and pure, living out what God has worked in us, even the now/not yet experience of glorification (2 Cor. 3:18), and so on.

Finally, there is ultimate sanctification, which will happen the moment we see Christ.  Then we will become like Him in fact just as we have been in God’s eyes from the moment of salvation.

Verses 12 and 13 quote three passages from the Old Testament.  These quotations illustrate that Jesus will not blush to identify with the people of God. The emphasis in the first quotation is on the character (name, reputation) that Jesus Christ and believers share.  The point of the second quotation is that Jesus, as well as His followers, trusted God. This is the basis for intimate fellowship. Daily trust in God characterized Jesus, and it characterizes Christians who continue to follow God faithfully.  The point of the third quotation is that believers are Jesus Christ’s spiritual children.  As such He will provide for us and prepare us for the future—like a loving parent who has had greater experience traveling the same path (cf. John 14:1-3)

The writer of Hebrews then quotes from Psalm 22:22—a Messianic psalm—in which Christ refers to his people as his brothers.  What a marvel of grace—that Jesus Christ left the glories of heaven, took upon himself a human nature and human body, making Him vulnerable to suffering and death, all so that we could be born again into a new nature and be a part of His family.

Jesus says, “I will tell (or declare) of your name to my brothers.”  Jesus magnifies the name of God so that our hearts will be filled with wonder and adoration and praise.  He is our worship leader.

From Psalm 22, this first quote stems from that portion of Scripture that the early church perceived as containing significant prophecies of Christ’s sufferings.  It begins with the cry of anguish from the cross (Psalm 22:1; Matthew 27:46), then verses 16-28 speak of the piercing of Christ’s body and casting lots for his garments (Matthew 27:35; John 19:23, 31-36). 

Psalm 22:14, 15 describe his agonies: “I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint; my heart is like wax; it is melted within my breast; my strength is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to my jaws; you lay me in the dust of death.” 

But later the psalm turns to a declaration of praise in the very midst of suffering, in which the righteous one expresses joy and praise for God’s attention to his cry for help.  This is why He declares God’s name to his brothers.

This idea will tie in to the idea of trust in verse 13.

The later part of verse 12 says, “in the midst of the congregation I will sing your praise.”

Did you realize that you have a singing God?

Zephaniah 3:17 tells us that He sings love songs over us.  Here He is leading in worship, singing praise to God.

Spurgeon says…

“Behold, then, in your midst, O Church of God, in the days of his flesh there stood this glorious One whom angels worship, who is the brightness of his Father’s glory in the very heaven of heavens; yet when he stood here, it was to join in the worship of his people, declaring the Father’s name unto his brethren, and with them singing praises unto the Most High.  Does not this bring him very near to you?  Does it not seem as if he might come at any moment, and sit in that pew with you; I feel as if already he stood on this platform side by side with me; why should he not?”

John Calvin remarks here: “This teaching is the very strongest encouragement to us to bring yet more fervent zeal to the praise of God, when we hear that Christ leads our praise and is the Chief Conductor of our hymns” (Hugh Montefiore, A Commentary on the Epistle to the Hebrews (London: Adam & Charles Black, 1964), pp. 63, 64).

Note that it is only to his brothers, his congregation, that Jesus sings praises to God.  Unbelievers will not participate in this.

This verse supports the author’s proclamation of solidarity between Jesus and believers in two ways.  First, he sees in its reference to “brothers” the establishment of a spiritual family relationship made possible by the Son’s sacrificial death.  Second, the phrase “in the congregation” places emphasis on Jesus’ location in our midst on the earth, where he was for a little while “lower than the angels,” thus referring to His incarnation.

Here in verse 13 he quotes from Isaiah 8:17 and 18, two short declarations: “I will put my trust in him.” And then “Behold, I and the children God has given me.”

Isaiah 8:17 is also a Messianic passage.   Isaiah 8 is sandwiched between chapters of immense messianic teaching.  Chapter 7 of Isaiah is decidedly messianic, containing the famous prophecy of Christ’s birth: “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign.  Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel” (Isaiah 7:14).  And chapter 9 is likewise messianic with its equally famous prophecy of Christ’s names: “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6).  But most of all, chapter 8 itself is a well-mined quarry of messianic prophecies.  Verse 8 with its prophecy of the name “Immanuel” (along with Isaiah 7:14) is used in Matthew 1:23.  Verse 12, an exhortation to have courage, is quoted in 1 Peter 3:14ff.  And verse 14, which describes “a rock of stumbling,” is applied to Christ in Romans 9:33 and 1 Peter 2:8. So the whole of Isaiah 8 (though it is by and about Isaiah) has a rich messianic aroma!

The full passage says

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

Due to God’s judgment that was about to come upon Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, Isaiah expresses this deep trust in God, to wait upon Him and hope in Him.  It wouldn’t be an easy time to maintain hope in God!

So it was with Christ as he shared the solidarity of our humanity.  Isaiah’s words in the mouth of Christ—“I will put my trust in him,” quoted in 2:13—show that while undergoing persecution in the flesh Jesus depended on God.  While in the frailty of human flesh, Jesus exercised faith!  Even his final words on earth were words of dependence: “‘Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!’” (Luke 23:46).  What solidarity—what communion of nature—Jesus shares with the suffering church.  They suffered?  So did he!  They were weak?  So was he!  They must depend on God—just as he did!

The third and final Old Testament quotation immediately follows in Isaiah 8:18, though the author of Hebrews introduces it with the formula,  “And again . . .”  This is because he wants to make a further point, this time about the confidence that Christ’s solidarity with his own brings.

When Isaiah originally said, “Behold, I and the children whom the LORD has given me,” he was referring to his own two physical sons, of whom he continued by saying, “[We] are signs and portents in Israel from the LORD of hosts, who dwells on Mount Zion.”

Both boys had been given prophetic names.  One was named Maher-shalal-hash-baz, which has the meaning “the spoil speeds, the prey hastes,” signifying the speedy removal of Syria and Israel as enemies of Judah (cf. Isaiah 8:1–4).  The other was named Shear-jashub, which expressed the confidence, “a remnant shall return” (Isaiah 7:3).  Along with this, Isaiah’s name means, “Yahweh is salvation.”

Isaiah 8:18 gives a vivid picture of confidence.  Let’s envision Isaiah (“Yahweh is salvation”) standing between his two boys.  He places his hand on Maher-shalal-hash-baz, whose name predicts the removal of his oppressors—“the spoil speeds, the prey hastes.”  Then he places his other hand on Shear-jashub—“a remnant shall return.”  Now, with both hands on his prophetically named sons, he confidently says, “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.”  His sons have given him the confidence that he and those sons (and, indeed, all God’s people) have a future.

These words, applied to Christ, are a sublime statement of confidence.  It is as if he places his arms around the sons and daughters of the suffering church and says, “Behold, I and the children God has given me” (v. 13)—“The fact that I have this family—my brothers and sisters—is a prophecy of the future.  This blessed remnant will survive the onslaught, whatever comes.”

The phrasing of this quote from Isaiah 8:18 shows how precious Jesus’ people are to Him.  “He likes to dwell on that fact.  They are precious to him in themselves, but far more precious as the Father’s gift to him.  Some things are valued by you as keepsakes given by one you love; and so are we dear to Christ because his Father gave us to him.” (Spurgeon)

The phrase “children God has given to me” is an uncommon phrase.  It parallels the fact that Christ had made himself an offering for sin, and would “see his offspring” (Isaiah 53:10), those “whom [God] gave me out of the world” (John 17:6).

Jesus had told his disciples (John 6:37) “All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out” (cf. John 6:39; 10:29; 17:2, 6, 9, 24: 18:9).  Thus, “all that the father has given me” equals the fruit of His labors.  It also strongly communicates the finality of it all—being given to Jesus means that we will always be His.

Taken together, these three Messianic quotations provide such a comfort to the fearful believers, because they reveal the rich benefits coming from Christ’s solidarity with His people, through His incarnation, death and resurrection.  This solidarity would not have been possible had not Christ taken on a human nature and had he not died a cruel death on the cross for us.

In each of these examples the Messiah is willing to associate Himself with His brethren, whether it be in a congregation of worship, a community of trust in the Father, or declaring a common family association.

Throughout these verses, the author of Hebrews is expressing quite strongly that Jesus’ humanity does not make Him inferior to angels, but rather it allowed Him to fulfill His purpose of redeeming to Himself a people for His own possession.

As the Cappadocians, a group of early church fathers, affirmed, “What he (Christ) did not assume he could not redeem” (Allison, p. 107, citing Gregory of Nyssa, Against the Eunomians, 2.10).  To redeem people, Jesus had to assume human nature in its entirety, yet without sin.

Why Jesus Became Man, part 2 (Hebrews 2:9b, 10)

The New Testament theme of the “crucified Lord” scandalized the first-century world.  Paul spoke of the cross as a “stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called…the power of God and the wisdom of God” (1 Cor. 1:23-24).  To many minds a suffering Savior was not a God-worthy concept.

As the writer of Hebrews pens his letter to the harried little church, having reminded them of this dangerous drift in thinking as he alluded to Christ’s suffering death in 2:9, in verse 10 he turns the tables on the critics with an eloquent assertion that the cross is the most fitting and the most God-worthy way of salvation.  The argument crowns and controls all that follows to the end of the chapter.  Moreover, its few lines contain so much that we must give them extra attention before we proceed.

Agreeing with Paul, the author of Hebrews shows how the death of Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, was “fitting” (ἐπρεπεν), placing that word at the beginning of this first sentence for emphasis.  As unthinkable as was the death of Christ to men, it was “appropriate” and “suitable” from God’s viewpoint.  Conceivably God could have done it some other way, but He did not, and the way He chose to do it is amazingly fitting.

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.

Here the writer of Hebrews is giving us a commentary on verse 9, especially his last phrase, “by the grace of God.”  Here is how that grace was displayed.

It was fitting that Jesus Christ should suffer and die for sinful man.

  • Jesus became a man, what we are, that we might become what He is.  (Not God, but holy like God.)
  • He took upon himself our flesh, so that he might take upon himself our sins.
  • He was born in our image, that we might be re-born in His image.
  • The Son of God became the Son of Man, so that the sons of men might become the sons of God.

Basically, Jesus became man so that he might die for mankind.  If He had only a divine nature, He could not die.  But by dying, He paid the penalty for my sins, since “the wages of sin is death.” 

Becoming man, dying, and especially dying a shameful death on the cross, was horrifying and despicable in the eyes of Jews and Greeks.  But it is God’s way of salvation, His marvelous way of salvation!

The means of salvation is by no means arbitrary or out of line with God’s will or God’s nature.  Rather, it befits the God “for whom and by whom all things exist.”

As the work of creation is totally of God, so also is the work of salvation.  Just as God poured Himself into the work of creation, not only being the agent that accomplished it but the receiver of all its glory, so Christ poured Himself into the work of our salvation, not only being the agent who accomplished it but who now deserves all the glory.

Christ’s sufferings and death are not only congruent with the character of the almighty God who did everything in creating the universe—they are an even greater demonstration of his power.  Creation was done with a word.  He spoke and voila!—there it was and is, ex nihilo.  But his speech was not enough to effect salvation.  It took not a word, but the Word—his Son incarnate who was humiliated, suffered, died, rose again, ascended, and is in session at the right hand of God—to effect a salvation that was consonant with his character.  From the cross come the loftiest conceptions of him “for whom and by whom all things exist.”  Our salvation is the greatest display of his power and character (Alexander Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1974), pp. 237, 238).

In other words, the display of the glory of God is even more powerful through the crucifixion of Jesus than through the creation of the vast cosmos.

The purpose of Christ’s death, the reason that He endured the cross and despised its shame, the reason He did all this with joy in His heart, is because it would allow him to “bring many sons to glory.”

This was His heartfelt desire in going to the cross.  This is the reason He endured the disgraceful shame of the cross—to bring you and me to glory.  The glory that Adam originally possessed, but lost in the fall, spoken of in Psalm 8 and back in vv. 6-8, will be restored.

It’s the same glory promised in Psalm 8 in Hebrews 2:7, “You have crowned him with glory and honor and appointed him over the works of your hands.”

Paul identifies this glory with the final stage of God’s work in our behalf.  In Romans 8:30 he says…

30 And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.

We experience some of that gloryifying now, as we behold Jesus in His Word.  In 2 Corinthians 3:18 Paul says “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.”

We are in the process of becoming more and more like Him, but one day that process will be super-charged and we will immediately take on the dazzling purity of His righteous glory.  The moment we see Jesus “we shall be like him, because we shall see Him as He is” (1 John 3:2).

Someone has said, “sanctification is glory begun, and glory is sanctification done.”  Verse 11 will speak more about this process of sanctification.

Every single believer in Jesus Christ will be glorified.  Notice that Romans 8:30 puts this in the past tense, as if it has already happened.  Why?  Because in God’s eyes it already has, and that gives us the strong assurance that nothing can derail it.

Jesus here is called the “founder” of our salvation.  He is the source, yes, but more than that, the word (ἀρχηγὸν) is literally more like “pathfinder, pioneer (NIV)” or “captain of a company.”  It describes someone who begins something so that others may enter into it.

Notice that Christ only brings “many sons” to glory.  Not everyone partakes of this glory.  Only those whom the Father draws to Jesus Christ.  But at least there are “many,” not just a few.

Literally, He is “leading” us to glory.  He has been glorified through His death, resurrection and ascension, and is leading us to that destiny in Him.  Marcus Dods says, “He is the strong swimmer who carries the rope ashore and so not only secures His own position but makes rescue for all who will follow.”

Kent Hughes points out how this title bears resemblance to the second of four names Isaiah gives to the “son born to us” in Isaiah 9:6, that he is El Gibbor, “mighty hero God.”  As such, He accomplishes our salvation.  Yes, He did so through a battle with the forces of darkness.  He triumphed over them in the cross.

Have you recognized Jesus as the captain of your life?  Are you submitting to His orders, following in His path?  He will lead you and encourage you, but you have to follow Him.

That pathway, notice, is through suffering.

Oh, we don’t like that.  No thank you, Jesus.

This verse says that Jesus was made “perfect” through suffering.  If you’re like me, this take you aback…because you know that Jesus, by nature, is already perfect.  There is no sin in Jesus, no fault—neither His enemies nor those closest to Him ever reported any fault or failure, any sin, on His part.  Even this letter comments on this.  Hebrews 4:15 says he is “without sin.”  And Hebrews 7:26 claims that Jesus was “holy, innocent, unstained, separated from sinners…”

The apostle Paul boldly asserts that He “knew no sin” (2 Cor. 5:21).  At the announcement of His birth, an angel called Him “that Holy One who is to be born.”  Pilate’s wife told her husband: “Have nothing to do with that just man.”  Pilate himself said, “I find no fault in Him.”  The dying thief acknowledged the innocence of Jesus when he said, “this Man had done nothing wrong.”  The centurion, at the foot of the cross, said, “Certainly this was a righteous man” (Luke 23:47).  Even the demons recognized that Jesus was “the Holy One of God” (4:34).

If Jesus were not sinless, He would have been required to die for His sins, and His sins only.  His death would not have been accepted in the place of others.

So Jesus had to be man to die; had to be God for that death to be universal and eternal; and had to be sinless so that His death would pay for others’ sins, not His own.

This is what v. 9b said, “so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.”  In other words, Jesus became man so that He could die for us.  “Taste death” is a metaphor, but it does NOT mean “to take a sip,” but rather it refers to drinking the full measure of that “cup” of suffering.” 

In the garden Jesus had asked God to “remove this cup from me,” but He went on to submit to God’s will so that He could bring “many sons to glory.”

What was in that cup?  All of man’s iniquity and depravity, the poison of the curse, the filth of the defilement of sin.  This was handed to Christ and He took that cup and fully drank it.  He then handed it back to the Father and said, “It is finished.”

It was a self-initiated death—“by the grace of God.”  What pushed Him to the cross was grace! It was not my goodness or worthiness or value that drew Him to the cross, but God’s initiative to show us kindness and mercy.  God doesn’t love us because we are valuable; rather we are valuable because God loved us.

What did God see when He looked at me?  I was pitiful, poor and perverted; hopeless and helpless; condemned and judged.  Yet…within Himself there arose this passionate love and richness of mercy and out of grace He commissioned His one and only, beloved Son to enter this world and die on the cross for me…and for you.

The initiative that procured our redemption is God’s, not ours.  Were it not for the priority of divine grace we should be without help and without hope.  This truth is pressed home by Paul is his threefold insistence that “while we were still weak,” “while we were yet sinners,” and “while we were enemies” God reconciled us to Himself through the death of His Son (Romans 5:6, 8, 10; cf. 2 Cor. 5:18ff) and by John’s reminder that “in this was love, not what we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:10).

Because this love is entirely motivated by God’s own heart it makes it stronger.  It cannot be caused or forfeited—by me.  It didn’t begin with me and it cannot end with me.

This death He tasted was also a substitutionary death.  He didn’t deserve to die.  He wasn’t a sinner.  He didn’t deserve to drink that cup.  We deserved it, but He drank it.  He died in our place.  Not only was it voluntary, because of grace; but it was vicarious.  “Bearing shame and scoffing rude, in my place condemned He stood, sealed my pardon with His blood.  Hallelujah! What a Savior!” (Philip Bliss)

“Taste death for everyone” is the gospel in a nutshell.  That word “for” is (ὑπὲρ), which means “in place of” or “in behalf of” another.  This is the heart of the good news—that Jesus died in my behalf, for my benefit, in my place.  I should have been there on the cross paying for my sins.  Instead, He took my place and paid my sin debt with His own life.

We find this in such passages as 1 Corinthians 15:3, “Christ died for our sins…”. Galatians 1:4, “gave himself for our sins…”.  Galatians 2:20, “gave himself for me.”  John 10:11, “the good shepherd lays down his life for his sheep,” in their place.  A chorus says…

He paid the debt he did not own, I own the debt I could not pay
I needed someone to wash my sins away.
And now I sing a brand new song, “Amazing grace”
Christ Jesus paid the debt I could never pay.

Thirdly, this death was a “sufficient” death.  This death did enough to reconcile mankind to God.  Verse 10 says only “many” are brought to glory because the reality is, not everyone believes in Jesus Christ.

And that gets us back to verse 10, where we see that through the suffering of death Christ was in some sense “made perfect.”  Obviously this doesn’t mean that He was a sinner in need of sanctification.

Rather, it means that through his suffering his humanity was brought to maturity.  Here being “made perfect” means “learning obedience” through suffering. This does not mean that he was once disobedient and then became obedient.  It means that Jesus moved from untested obedience into suffering and then through suffering into tested and proven obedience.  And this proving himself obedient through suffering was his “being perfected.”

Incarnate, Christ underwent a series of perfections.  Hebrews 5:8, 9 tells us, “Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered. And being made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him.”

He was, of course, already obedient or he would never have undergone the Incarnation.  But he became perfect (complete) in experiencing obedience in human flesh.  Likewise, we believe that he learned such things as patience and faith.  Jesus became perfect in regard to temptation by suffering temptation and putting the tempter to flight (Matthew 4:1–11).  Christ’s sufferings through his atoning death on the cross when “he himself bore our sins in his body on the tree” (1 Peter 2:24), taking all the sins of the world so that they were on him and in him, so that he became sin for us (2 Corinthians 5:21)—rendered him horribly perfect as our atonement.

And finally, all of this—his perfection in incarnation, temptation, and atonement—rendered in our pioneer a perfect identification with us.  It was impossible for God to fully identify and thus fully sympathize with mankind apart from Christ’s incarnation and human experience. But now Christ’s perfection makes possible an unlimited capacity to sympathize with those exposed to troubles and temptations in this life.

Lewis Bayly, one of John Bunyan’s two favorite writers, eloquently portrayed Christ’s willingness to embrace suffering, and his resulting ability to sympathize and lend assistance, through this imaginary dialogue between a redeemed soul and Christ:

Soul. Lord, why did you let yourself be taken when you might have escaped your enemies?

Christ. That your spiritual enemies should not take you, and cast you into the prison of utter darkness.

Soul . Lord, why did you let yourself be bound?

Christ . That I might loose the cords of your iniquities.

Soul. Lord, why did you let yourself be lifted up upon a Cross?

Christ. That I might lift you up with me to heaven.

Soul . Lord, why were your hands and feet nailed to the Cross?

Christ . To enlarge your hands to do the works of righteousness and to set your feet at liberty, to walk in the ways of peace.

Soul . Lord, why did you have your arms nailed wide?

Christ . That I might embrace you more lovingly.

Soul . Lord, why was your side opened with a spear?

Christ . That you might have a way to come near to my heart.8

What wonders of tenderness and sympathy Christ’s incarnation and suffering have wrought!

Perfection in Hebrews has to do with fully completing a course, making it to the end of God’s plan.  Remember in His high priestly prayer in John 17 that Jesus had said, “I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do” (John 17:4).

That Jesus was made “perfect through suffering”, therefore, connotes his full obedience to his mission of death on the cross and, perhaps, the adequacy of that act for bring the children of God to glory.

Now the writer says (in Hebrews 2:10) that it was fitting for Christ to attain this proven perfection through sufferings.  Why?  Because Christ is leading many sons to glory and so he must succeed where we failed.

His being made “perfect through suffering” has reference to his being made a perfect pioneer of salvation.  The idea is that he was perfectly equipped to do the job. His perfection was rooted in the Incarnation.  Man was created in the image of God, the imago Dei, but when Christ came he took on the imago homini—he became man.  

Mike Mason beautifully states the significance of this: “In Jesus the centerpiece of the human race, the wild tangent of all the frayed and decrepit flesh of this fallen old world touches perfectly the circle of eternity” (Mike Mason, The Mystery of Marriage (Portland: Multnomah, 1978), p. 115).

Why Jesus Became Man, part 1 (Hebrews 2:5-9)

Whereas Jesus’ family and disciples had no problem initially seeing Jesus as a man, and only later grasped that He was also fully God, we today seem to have a greater problem believing that Jesus was ever human, that He was fully man as well as fully God. 

Significantly, the first false teaching about Jesus in the days of the early church did not deny that He was God, but rather it denied that He was really human and said He only seemed to be human.  The heresy was called Docetism, coming from the ancient Greek word “to seem,” and was taught by Cerinthus, who opposed the apostle John in the city of Ephesus and whose teaching is probably the focus of 1 John 4:2 and 1 John 5:6.

Some of the original Jewish readers of Hebrews felt inclined to abandon the Christian faith because of Jesus’ humanity and, even more so, because of His death.  The writer said that Jesus was superior to angels, even though Jesus died and angels do not die (Luke 20:36).  The writer had stressed Jesus’ deity first, in chapter 1, because some Jews failed to appreciate that.  In chapter 2, he showed why Jesus was not inferior to the angels even though He was a man.

So far in our study of Hebrews, the author has maintained a persistent focus on the exalted status of the Son of God as Creator, Sustainer, Purifier, etc.  In 2:5-9, however, that focus shifts to move the discussion from the Son’s heavenly position to his earthly ministry.

In this paragraph (2:5-9), the author resumes his exposition on Christ–from which he had briefly departed in 1:14-2:4—by introducing Psalm 8:4-6 to his discussion.  This Old Testament quotation, interpreted Christologically in 2:8-9, contains both elements of exaltation and incarnation, and therefore, it provides the perfect vehicle for moving to a discussion in 2:10-18 about the Son’s solidarity with humanity.

This paragraph might be titled, “The Superior Son for a Time Became Positionally Lower Than the Angels.”  It consists of an introduction, followed by the quotation of Psalm 8:4-6, and then the author’s interpretation of the Psalm’s Christological implications in vv. 8b-9.

Why did Jesus become man?  Why did Deity add sinless humanity?  Chapter 2 will give us four reasons: (1) to recover lost dominion (vv. 5-9), (2) to redeem lost sinners (vv. 10-13), (3) to rout the devil (vv. 14-16), and (4) to relate to saints (vv. 17-18).

So let’s read vv. 5-9

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

If we were to read Heb 1:14, skip 2:1-4, and pick up with 2:5, the connection would be seamless. In 1:14, the author refers to angels as ministering spirits who render service for “those who will inherit salvation.”  Then, in 2:5, he mentions angels again and refers to the future world “concerning which we are speaking,” connecting the readers not to the warning of 2:1-4, but to the argument of 1:1-14. 

This fledgling congregation, tossed about by persecution, wondered if hanging onto Jesus Christ would be worth it, will be comforted again to know that who Jesus is gives them massive significance in the world to come.

Once again, the author is illustrating the superiority of Jesus Christ over the angels.  Ancient Judaism held to the belief that God had placed angels over the nations of the world.  This belief goes back to an interpretation of Deuteronomy 32:8, which referred to the boundaries of the nations as set according to the number of God’s angels, literally “sons of God.”  Later, in Daniel 10:20-21 and 12:1 it is even more explicitly explained that angels are designated with the titles of “prince of Persia” and “prince of Greece,” and Michael is referred to as “the great prince” who watches over God’s people, Israel.  Some of these principalities are evil—they are demons.

It was the quoting of Psalm 110 back in Hebrews 1:13 which causes our author to clarify…

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

The “world to come” refers to the “new world-order inaugurated at the enthronement of Christ at the right hand of God and will be culminated in the kingdom when Jesus returns.  While it may seem that angelic beings—good and bad—have dominion, it is actually Jesus Christ who holds dominion.

Some believe that the “world to come” refers not to this present age, but the kingdom age to come after Christ’s return.  Dwight Pentecost says, “This will occur at His second advent when He returns to this earth to sit as David’s Son on David’s throne and rule over David’s kingdom in fulfillment of God’s covenants and promises.”  In that case, angels will not have dominion, but man will, co-reigning with Jesus Christ.

The author establishes this as the ultimate intention by demonstrating that it is in accord with the original intention of God for humanity. 

His proof is a quotation from the middle of Psalm 8 that celebrates God’s original intention for man. He introduces and recites it in verses 6–8a of our text: “It has been testified somewhere, ‘What is man, that you are mindful of him, or the son of man, that you care for him? You made him for a little while lower than the angels; you have crowned him with glory and honor, putting everything in subjection under his feet.’”

Let me just note something which you may have picked up in verse 6.  Our author is definitely quoting from Psalm 8, but he curiously says, “It has been testified somewhere…”  The fact is, this author never identifies the human author of any quotation he uses.  This is because he is concerned that his audience realizes that it is God’s voice they should listen to, not the voice of man (or angels).  It is the voice of the Holy Spirit that concerns him; the human author is incidental.  And John Owen is right: his audience would be well familiar with these passages and know where they would be found in the text and who the human authors were.

So getting back to our text:

“It has been testified somewhere, ‘What is man, that you are mindful of him, or the son of man, that you care for him? You made him for a little while lower than the angels; you have crowned him with glory and honor, putting everything in subjection under his feet.’”

These is a significant difference between this quotation in Hebrews 2, which is using the Septuagint—the Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament.  The actual Hebrew text has “little lower than God” whereas the Septuagint reads “little lower than the angels.”  The writer of Hebrews evidently chose the Septuagint version because it suited his purpose. God made man a little lower than both Himself (God the Father) and the angels, so what the writer of Hebrews wrote is true.

This marvelous declaration of God’s intention can only be appreciated in the full context of the Psalm.  The psalmist is contemplating the mighty expanse of the evening sky, studded with its orbs of light, and he is so overwhelmed with the greatness of God that he bursts into psalm—first celebrating God’s majestic name, then declaring God’s worthiness of praise, and next wondering at God’s intention for puny little man.  Says the psalmist:

When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him? Yet you have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor. You have given him dominion over the works of your hands; you have put all things under his feet. (Psalm 8:3–6)

Compared to this vast universe, man is next to nothing.  But in God’s creation, man is exalted to the highest place.  F. F. Bruce comments: “The Psalmist is overcome with wonder as he thinks of the glory and honor which God has bestowed on mankind, in making them but little lower than himself and giving them dominion over all the lesser creation.”

Think of man’s astonishing position: “You made him for a little while lower than the angels.”  Puny man is only lower than the angels in that man is in a corporal body and the angels are incorporeal.  Man is therefore limited in a way angels are not and has much lesser power.  However, man is not lower spiritually or in importance.

Think of man’s astonishing honor: “you have crowned him with glory and honor.”  Adam and Eve were the king and queen of original creation.  God set them in a glorious paradise and walked with them.

Consider man’s amazing authority: “Putting everything in subjection under his feet.”  This was given to mankind through Adam (Genesis 1:28).  Man was given rule over the world. Adam and Eve were God’s viceroys—creature king and creature queen with the responsibility of ordering creation under the Lordship of God.

God’s original intention is that Adam and Eve and their progeny, would have dominion over all the earth.

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.”  So, God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.  And God blessed them.  And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” (Genesis 1:26–28)

The original intention of God, to say the least, was stupendous. If the intention had been carried out, we descendants of Adam would be living with our primal parents in the same astounding position and honor and authority—a world of kings and queens.

However, something went terribly wrong.  This is totally different from what we see in the world today.  We have no dominion, no control.  Our author wants us to feel this disjunction, to recognize the incongruity.  In fact, he voices it: “At present, we do not yet see everything in subjection to him” (v. 8c).

One author says

“Some traces of the old lordship are still apparent in the terror which the sound of the human voice and the glance of the eye still inspire in the lower creatures…But for the most part anarchy and rebellion have laid waste man’s fair realm…So degraded has he become, that he has bowed before the objects that he was to command; and has prostrated his royal form in shrines dedicated to birds, and four-footed beasts, and creeping things.”

Paul expresses it this way in Romans 8:20-23

20 For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. 22 For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. 23 And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.

Man’s rule over creation has through the centuries become an ecological disaster.  Chesterton was right: “Whatever else is true about man, this one thing is certain—man is not what he was meant to be.”

Because Adam and Eve failed in their dominion over creation, we see a greater “Son of Man,” Jesus Christ, fulfilling this role.  The last Adam did what the first Adam could not do.  The author understands both Psalm 8:4-6 and Psalm 110:1 to contain a reference to those placed under Christ’s feet, signaling His victory over a vanquished foe.

Here our text takes a great turn in the transition between verses 8 and 9: “At present, we do not yet see everything in subjection to him. But we see him [Jesus] . . .” “We do not yet see . . . we see him [Jesus].”  Not only is God’s original intention achieved, but his ultimate intention is achieved in Christ, the second Adam.

We must understand that Psalm 8 was not only a celebration of the significance of man in the vast cosmos—it was also a messianic psalm that had its ultimate fulfillment in Christ.  We know this because while the term “son of man” originally meant nothing more than man, with the advent of Christ it came to be a messianic reference to Jesus.  He repeatedly called himself “the Son of Man.”  He is the son of man par excellence and fulfills everything the psalm celebrates regarding man.

Through Jesus, man can regain the dominion originally intended for Adam (Revelation 1:65:10 and Matthew 25:21).

Jesus Christ fulfills this passage in a way that the original Adam could not.  He became man, coming from heaven and being incarnated and for a little while as a human being he voluntarily took on a lower status than the angels.  Thus, our author says, “you made him a little lower than the angels.”  It is possible that this word refers to a temporary time period, a “little while” rather than an inferior status, “a little lower.”

The Psalm then moves from Christ’s humiliation to his exaltation, in which He is said to have been “crowned with glory and honor” and to have had “everything” placed “under his feet.”

As mankind’s true representative, accordingly, He must share in the conditions inseparable from the human condition; only so could He blaze the trail of salvation for mankind and act effectively as His people’s high priest in the presence of God.

This means that he is not only the One in whom the sovereignty destined for humanity is most fully and initially realized, but also the one Who, because of human sin, must attain that sovereignty through suffering and death.  Therefore, although he has already been introduced as “so much better than the angels,” for a time He had to be “made a little lower than the angels.”

The important thing is that we believers, “see” Jesus this way, through the eyes of faith—that we see Him, although having suffered and died, now exalted in glory.  It is important that we see Him as our Savior, who died for us.

When the author says we “see” Jesus, he anticipates later exhortations to “consider” Him (3:1; 12:3).  These exhortations focus both on Jesus’ earthly obedience to His Father and to His subsequent exaltation.  To “see Jesus” therefore, does not mean a physical perception, but rather a spiritual perception, recognizing the truth about his earthly endurance and his present exalted position.  One day we will see every knee bow and hear every tongue confess!

Jesus was “crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.”  God crowned Jesus with glory and honor precisely because he suffered and died on the cross.  He did this for us—tasting our death.  Jesus didn’t come to live a long and happy life on earth, but to suffer and die for others.

Jesus’ death was for everyone in that by dying He paid the penalty for the sins of every human being—elect and non-elect (cf. 1 John 2:2; 2 Peter 2:1; John 3:16).  His death was sufficient to accomplish the salvation of everyone, but it is efficient (it accomplishes its intended result) only for those who belong to Him.

To summarize, the writer made three main points in verses 5 through 9: (1) God created man to have mastery over the earth, (2) man through his sin failed to obtain the mastery, and (3) Jesus, the man superior to the angels, came to enable man to do what he was created to do.

“There is a profound note of anticipation in the OT teaching about humanity. The words of the psalmist look forward into the future, and that future is inextricably bound up with the person and work of Jesus.  His condescension to be made for a brief while ‘lower than the angels’ set in motion a sequence of events in which abasement and humiliation were the necessary prelude to exaltation.  His coronation investiture with priestly glory and splendor provide [sic provides] assurance that the power of sin and death has been nullified and that humanity will yet be led to the full realization of their intended glory.  In Jesus the hearers are to find the pledge of their own entrance into the imperial destiny intended by God for them” (William Lane, Word Biblical Commentary, 47a, Hebrews 1-8, p. 50).

This final phrase in v. 10, “so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone” anticipates the next section, which deals with the Son’s suffering on behalf of the heirs of salvation.  Only as man could Jesus die.  Only as man could He die for man.

So Great a Salvation, part 2 (Hebrews 2:2-4)

Last week we began looking at the first warning passage in the book of Hebrews in the opening verses of chapter 2.  The author is very concerned that his audience–mostly Jewish Christians or Jewish people curious about Christ–that they would stop paying attention to the apostolic message—the gospel—and began to listen to the siren call of the more familiar, more comfortable, Mosaic Law—with its rituals and regulations.  So the author of Hebrews says…

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.

Having established the supremacy of Christ to the angels in chapter 1, our author reminds them that the Old Covenant was “declared by angels” and that those who disobeyed it received “just retribution”—severe punishment—for that disobedience.  But our gospel was “declared…by the Lord,” by the exalted Son of chapter 1, and thus will receive an even greater condemnation for those who disobey it.

C. H. Spurgeon said:

Seeing Christ is so excellent in His person, and seeing the Gospel has such a glorious Author, let us take great care that we esteem His person, revere His authority, reverence His ministry, and believe His message; and let us take heed that our memories be not like leaking vessels, suffering the word at any time to slip or run from us.

The writer wants to drive this point home in an even more forceful way to his wandering friends. So he uses a Hebrew argument style called qal wa homer (literally, “light and heavy”), which employs the reasoning that if something is true in a light or lesser way, it is even more true in a heavy or greater way.

We see it at work in a backwards way in Romans 8:32, where Paul says, “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?”

God giving us “all things” that we need to be glorified (v. 30) may seem like the more difficult thing, but it pales in comparison to the greatest difficulty of God giving up His one and only Son for us.  Thus, we can be certain that if God has already done the most difficult thing, that giving “us all things” is a cinch.

Here the writer of Hebrews argues from the lesser to the greater.  If disobeying the Old Covenant–“declared by angels (v. 2),” by the way—brought “just retribution”—which we will see in a moment involved some pretty terrible judgments—then disobeying and disbelieving the gospel message “declared by the Lord” (v. 3) will bring even greater condemnation and judgment.

The qal, the less heavy argument from the Law, is stated in verse 2 and then flows into the great question in verse 3: “For since the message declared by angels proved to be reliable, and every transgression or disobedience received a just retribution, how shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation?”

The writer refers to the common view in contemporary Judaism and in the New Testament that the angels mediated the giving of the law.

For example, Stephen, in his famous sermon, referred to Moses as being “with the angel who spoke to him at Mount Sinai, and with our fathers.”  Speaking of that memorable event, Moses said that God came “with myriads of his holy ones” (Deut. 33:2). The Greek translation of the text, which was the Bible the pastor read, added these words: “angels were with him at his right hand.”  He received living oracles to give to Israel (Acts 7:38; cf. Acts 7:53; Galatians 3:19).  In the midst of all the fire and lightning on Sinai, God the Father spoke through an honored angel who in turn dictated to Moses.  Josephus also repeated this idea in his ancient history (Antiquities, 15.53).

The Old Testament Law and Prophets were “proved to be reliable.”  God has always been, and ever will be, faithful to keep His promises.  Even in the midst of the horrific judgment upon Jerusalem, Jeremiah reminds us that God’s faithfulness is “great” (Lamentations 3:23) and when God brought victory to Israel against all their foes as they came in to possess the land God had promised to Abraham, we read this refrain near the end of the book:

43 Thus the LORD gave to Israel all the land that he swore to give to their fathers. And they took possession of it, and they settled there. 44 And the LORD gave them rest on every side just as he had sworn to their fathers.  Not one of all their enemies had withstood them, for the LORD had given all their enemies into their hands. 45 Not one word of all the good promises that the LORD had made to the house of Israel had failed; all came to pass.

No promise failed, every one of them came to pass.  That is true of the New Covenant promises as well.  In fact, Paul says in 2 Corinthians 1:20 that “all the promises of God find their Yes in [Jesus Christ].”

Since God is faithful, even His promises of judgment would come to pass.  Yahweh had warned Israel that He would bless obedience and curse disobedience.  Thus we read in Deuteronomy 28:15-68 that Yahweh enumerates all the different judgments that could come upon them, from crop failures to barren wombs to sicknesses to exile from their homeland.  Penalties for breaking the Old Covenant were temporal and largely physical.

These were serious and painful consequences because of their “transgression” and “disobedience” to the covenant made with Moses through angels.  “Trangression” likely refers to a positive offense—doing something that they had been commanded not to do—while “disbobedience” refers to the negative offense of failing to do something they were supposed to do.  Disobedience is that unwillingness to heed God’s voice.

The sanctions which attended the law given at Sinai were severe and inescapable.  Every commandment had the appropriate penalty prescribed for its infringement, and for those who deliberately defied or disregarded the law of God there was no reprieve—no escape from judgment, sometimes the death penalty.

As in chapter 1, verses 1 and 2, the validity of the Old Testament is presupposed.  Our writer is not denying the validity of the Old Testament as if it were now false and the New Testament was true.  Rather, he is arguing from the lesser to the greater.

We also see that God is always consistent in bringing about punishment for sins, whether under the law or under the grace period delivered through His Son, transgressions will still be confronted and punished.

Paul tells us that the law is holy, righteous, and good (Romans 7:12).  “The problem lies not with the law,” writes Philip Edgecombe Hughes, “which is the divine standard of life…, but with the sinful man who is the law-breaker. With the consequence that the law stands over against him as an ordinance of condemnation and death” (A Commentary on the Epistle of the Hebrews, p. 76).  It is at this point that the comparison is enjoined.  “For the glory of the law is completely surpassed by the glory of the gospel because the latter brings life where the former brought death” (Hughes, p. 76).

A greater word brought by a greater Person having greater promises will bring a greater condemnation if it is neglected.  Whereas the penalty for violating the Old Covenant was temporal and mainly physical, the penalty for neglecting the great salvation we have in Jesus Christ would be eternal and primarily spiritual.

There is no escaping that judgment, as the next verse reminds us with the question, “How shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation…?”  He will go on to tell us why this is such a great salvation but for now let’s just linger on the reality that he is telling us—you and me—that there is no escaping the penalty for neglecting this apostolic message, the message of the gospel.  There is greater judgment, in other words, if we go back under the law after learning about Jesus Christ, entertaining the idea that He is such a great Savior, and then trading that all in to go back under the law.

We like escape stories against impossible odds.  Your favorite might be The Great Escape, or Shawshank Redemption, or escape from Alcatraz.  Mine is The Count of Monte Cristo.

Edmond Dantes is falsely accused and unjustly convicted of a crime.  He is sent forth to the most dreaded prison, Château d’If.  There he suffered for years in solitary confinement, until one day he met a co-prisoner, an aged priest who had been there for decades and had spent much time trying to dig a tunnel to escape.  But he didn’t do his math correctly and ended up burrowing into Dantes’s chamber.  So the two met and had fellowship together.  The old priest became Dantes’s mentor and counselor, teacher of science and philosophy and theology.  The priest also told Dantes about a map that led to a vast treasure, hidden under the waters in the sea.  The old priest died in prison.  Through an extraordinary series of circumstances, the death of the priest led to the possible escape of Edmond Dantes from Château d’If. Dantes found the vast treasure that financed the remainder of his life and his nom de plume became the Count of Monte Cristo.

We have NO ESCAPE if we neglect this great salvation.  There is a much more dire and dreadful kind of captivity to those who neglect this salvation through Jesus Christ.

Alcatraz could possibly be escaped from, or Devil’s Island, or even the Château d’If.  But the one prison from which no one ever escapes is hell.  There’s no escape route. You can’t dig under it.  You can’t climb over it.  No guard can be bribed.  The sentence cannot be amended.

Now this is a sobering word for the world and for the church, because most people do neglect the greatness of salvation.  How many people do you know who give serious, sustained attention to the salvation accomplished by Christ—who love it, and think about it, and meditate on it, and marvel at it, and feel continual gratitude for it, and commend it to others as valuable, and weave it into all the lesser things of their lives, and set their hopes on it?

John Newton, near the end of his life, while lying on his death bed, was visited by a young ministerial student named William Jay, hoping to gain some nuggets of pastoral wisdom.  But Newton said: ‘My memory is nearly gone; but I remember two things: that I am a great sinner, and that Christ is a great Saviour.’” John Newton, Wise Counsel: John Newton’s Letters to John Ryland Jr., Ed. Grant Gordon (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 2009), 401.

Of course, he was the one who wrote Amazing Grace.  Are you still amazed by grace?  Is your salvation great in your estimation?  Do you treasure it?

John Piper helps us out in understanding what’s at stake here:

Only what is it really—this great salvation?  What he’s really saying is: Don’t neglect being loved by God.  Don’t neglect being forgiven and accepted and protected and strengthened and guided by Almighty God.  Don’t neglect the sacrifice of Christ’s life on the cross.  Don’t neglect the free gift of righteousness imputed by faith. Don’t neglect the removal of God’s wrath and the reconciled smile of God.  Don’t neglect the indwelling Holy Spirit and the fellowship and friendship of the living Christ.  Don’t neglect the radiance of God’s glory in the face of Jesus.  Don’t neglect the free access to the throne of grace.  Don’t neglect the inexhaustible treasure of God’s promises.  This is a great salvation.  Neglecting it is very evil.  Don’t neglect so great a salvation.

We have a great Savior who saved us from a great penalty because of our great sin.

And we “don’t neglect” it by paying utmost attention to it (2:1).

How shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation? After it was at the first spoken through the Lord [contrast “through angels” for the law in verse 2], it was confirmed to us by those who heard [that is, the apostles, the eyewitnesses who heard the earthly teaching of the Lord Jesus], 4 God also bearing witness with them, both by signs and wonders and by various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit according to His own will.

Why is this great salvation neglected?  One reason might be because we don’t value it as much as something else, so we spend our time and effort valuing whatever it is that we find more valuable—which the Bible calls an “idol.”

Another reason is that we just might not know how great this salvation really is.  Maybe we don’t have the evidence.  That is what vv. 3 and 4 address.

Besides being “great,” why should we devote such attention and affection to this salvation?

First, it is announced.  It was declared to us “by [or “through”] the Lord” Jesus Christ.  While angels mediated the Law, Jesus Christ proclaimed the gospel.  That makes His communication infinitely superior and absolutely true.

“The good news of salvation, then, derives from the Lord, whose mediatorship is absolutely other than that of angels” (Philip Edgcumbe Hughes, A Commentary on the Epistle to the Hebrews (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1977), pp. 77, 78).  “For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time” (1 Timothy 2:5, 6).

That it was “through” the Lord Jesus Christ means the revelation of this great salvation comes from the Father (the source), but it comes through the mediation, not of angels, but through Jesus Christ.

In Acts 10:36, Peter says to Cornelius that the gospel is, “The word which [God] sent to the sons of Israel, preaching peace through Jesus Christ (he is Lord of all).” So the great salvation was spoken by God through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all.

Second, it was confirmed.  Next the text says that the salvation “was attested to us by those who heard” (v. 3c).  This primarily refers to the apostles attesting what Jesus said and passing it along from faith to faith through the succeeding generation (cf. Luke 1:2). The apostles were the first generation eyewitnesses to the life, ministry, crucifixion, resurrection and ascension of Jesus, while these were second generations recipients of the apostolic message.

Eusebius, in his Ecclesiastical History , has preserved an autobiographical fragment from Irenaeus of Lyons that relates how the Apostle John passed along the story of the gospel to Polycarp who, before his martyrdom in AD 155 or 156, passed along the story to young Irenaeus. Irenaeus says of his experience:

And as he [Polycarp] remembered their words, and what he heard from them concerning the Lord, and concerning his miracles and his teaching, having received them from eyewitnesses of the “Word of life” [John], Polycarp related all things in harmony with the Scriptures. These things being told me by the mercy of God, I listened to them attentively, noting them down, not on paper, but in my heart. And continually, through God’s grace, I recall them faithfully. (Eusebius, Hist. Eccl. , V.xx.5ff., A. C. McGiffert’s translation.)

Remember that Paul, wanting to establish the credibility of the resurrection, mentioned more than 500 eyewitnesses, most of whom were still living.  This gospel could be fact checked.

Now, just consider for a moment how critical and strategic these witnesses were.  Without them, there would be no faith communicated to the next generation.  These peoples’ faith rested on the testimony of these witnesses.  Many people today will not hear of this great salvation without the testimony of witnesses.

Finally, God authenticates the gospel message.

“God also bore witness by signs and wonders and various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will” (v. 4).

The testimony was dynamic.  “Signs” pointed beyond themselves to the mighty hand of God.  “Wonders” brought awe and amazement to those who saw.  “Miracles” (literally “powers”) showed the power of God beyond human ability.  And “gifts of the Holy Spirit” were given according to God’s will to minister to the church.

These spectacular gifts served to get people’s attention and attest to the authenticity of the one giving this “new, strange message” about Jesus Christ as Messiah and salvation by grace through faith.

To neglect a salvation announced by Jesus, confirmed through multiple eyewitnesses and authenticated through signs and wonders is very serious indeed!  The neglecting of God’s “great salvation” deserves the severest penalty “in view of the greatness of the grace which is offered in it….God wishes His gifts to be valued by us at their proper worth.  The more precious they are, the baser is our ingratitude if they do not have their proper value for us” (Calvin’s Commentaries: The Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Hebrews and the First and Second Epistles of St. Peter , trans. William B. Johnston (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1963), p. 19).

We, too, must take action to guard ourselves against this impertinence.  It is not necessarily an intentional act, but something that happens through inattention and laziness, through lack of vigilance regarding our own hearts.  It comes through a little neglect of reading and meditating on God’s Word, a little neglect of one’s prayer life, a little neglect of fellowship and accountability.  If we are not actively and studiously availing ourselves of these opportunities, we are in danger of drifting away…and that is very dangerous!

For most of us the threat of life is not so much that we should plunge into disaster, but that we should drift into sin.  There are few people who deliberately, and in a moment, turn their backs on God; there are many who day by day drift farther and farther away from Him.

Don’t let that be you!